Monday, February 22, 2016

The world does not run just fine without you


I hope this note finds you well.  And doing something interesting that counters the long February ... that lone February 29th  must surely equal 5 days in any other month!

Without expecting to, I've been reading about how to be an activist.  A friend recommended a book with a title as long as many a 19th century classic: Blueprint for Revolution: how to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other nonviolent techniques to galvanize communities overthrow dictators, or simply change the world.

Author Srdja Popovic touches on all those things and more as he recounts his own experiences with the Serbian revolution, and going on to train people from other countries in how to focus on goals and bring them about.  His experience is mostly with people whose countries are under the thumbs of political tyrants, and the movement is toward democracy.  The dangers of such situations are real; the consequences of mistakes can be fatal.

His focus is on "big picture" things, important things like having a clear idea of what your goal is, defining your group's "brand", figuring out the biggest audience you can get on your side because they already agree with something you agree with, using nonviolence and humour, beginning with actions that are small and achievable, following through ... and other things like making sure any action has the details planned and people assigned to carry out the details.

Reading, I knew that what he said was important, and correct ... and I also had some nagging feelings of distress. 

Where were the people?  Particularly, where were the women?  I think he cites only two examples where women are the leaders of actions. 

And although I recognize that his "how-to" book is a sort of "meta" how-to" - and forgive the term "meta"! - I would have liked him to at least mention some of the resources that give the how-to organize and carry through the individual events that lead to the big change. 

There were few references to change other than political governance.  Where were the references to environment, gender, social justice, economy, city bylaws, school board rules ... all sorts of things where the ordinary people (Hobbits, in his reference) make so many changes?

Just a note on Hobbits, characters in J.R.R. Tolkien's books.  Popovic is not the first person to refer to Hobbits when he describes how people can come from everyday lives to make change.

A Canadian woman,Bobbi Speck, became a leader in the 1969 fight against an expressway that was to be built through a neighbourhood in her home city of Toronto.  She was in the late stages of pregnancy and then a new mother when she and others went door to door, met with city council, and did all sorts of organizing work. At some later date she had a chance to note that:

" ... And life can seemingly return to normal, but the little people are forever changed.  This is the theme of The Hobbit and the trilogy by R.R. Tolkien, and this is something we know in our hearts without being told."  [Speck]

This quotation, given in Elizabeth May's (2006) book, How to Change the World in Your Spare Time, is just one place where May emphasizes the power of individual people, and that we become more powerful by doing because it helps us recognize just how much we do know.

"The first step of engagement will leave you feeling empowered.  Moreover, any notion you may have had that the world runs just fine without your help may be shattered. ... it becomes increasingly clear that those in power are not very competent.  It becomes obvious that you know more about the subject than those who are regulating an industry or making zoning decisions.  [May]

Elizabeth's book is a how-to that advises how to handle details of many types of activities that make up the big picture of change.  She stresses the utility of humour, and the necessity of kindness, clarity, and nonviolence in actions. 

I only recently found out that she lived in Muriel Duckworth's home in Halifax, during at least part of her time at university.  Muriel was one of the founding members of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, and someone I met and knew during my two years living in Halifax in the mid 1980s. 

I've met Elizabeth May only once here in London, Ontario ... and, as you see, my blog is named after her book.  Knowing that two of my most important influences had not only met each other but were long-time friends and colleagues, was a pure sit down and cry moment.  Totally soggy, throat swollen, and completely good ... knowing I was truly connected to not only a big picture but a big, many-coloured, many-peopled, vision.

Well, this post drifted from where I thought it would go!  I'd intended to make a few more notes on non-violence stuff and activism from The Transition Companion and mention more about Voice of Women, and the Raging Grannies ... mostly to say that Popovic's book might be a most recent one, but it sure isn't the only one, and I prefer the inclusivity of my other references.

The world needs us all.

Very best regards,

Why's Woman

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