The world is experiencing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. It is more than a climate and ecological emergency, it is a point in history where our ecological and social systems can no longer sustain our collective lifestyles.
As a result, many of us are realising that we will not overcome our current situation with the same thinking that led us into it. Part of the challenge is to recognise that our culture reduces complex systems thinking into soundbites. Overcoming this may seem like a daunting proposition, but we could achieve amazing solutions once we move from a mindset that seeks to ‘other’ those who disagree with us to one that looks for common threads of understanding.
Take for example the contentious topic that is overpopulation. Rather than activists becoming divided by arguing about whether or not it is an issue, we could instead unite on the ‘solutions’ to overpopulation such as the empowerment of women, education as a means of escaping poverty and access to healthcare through a process of mutual aid – all of which are issues in their own right. It is this willingness to look towards de-escalation while also looking to find a broad common ground, that could help to define what activism means in the 2020s.
This is why I have been particularly interested in the work of Charles Eisenstein, Joanna Macy, Uncle Lewis Walker and John Seed. One thing that all of these people have taught me is that the very process of being involved in activism can help us to heal our internal wounds, because the outside stuff and inside stuff are one and the same.
For example, in the same way that we can find inner healing through a combination of forgiveness and mindful assertiveness with those that have hurt us, we can also use radical acceptance and compassionate assertiveness to help us to become better activists.
This of course does not mean that we shouldn’t fight the good fight and continue non-violent direct action or stop calling out massive wealth inequality. It is essential that we do all of these things and also look towards building connections at a personal level or, in the words of Extinction Rebellion, ‘to welcome everyone and every part of everyone’.
So how can we protest what is happening without losing our need to be inclusive? It is in part about understanding the difference between government, corporations and individuals. For example, directing the fight against Adani as a corporation by using legal challenges coupled with fierce lobbying of those companies that do business with Adani, is continuing to be very effective. This has been more effective than the anti-Adani convoy which appeared to get a lot of people offside.
Had the emphasis with the Adani convoy been more about reaching out and listening to what people had to say and looking for the points of connection, the conversation could have led to a different outcome; one that embraced the need for long-term economic security while working to reverse the climate and ecological crisis.
Another example is when violence and intimidation is initiated by the police. Not only should the police as an organisation be strongly held to account, so too should those individuals within the police who carry a violent agenda into their work. A recent example of this was the behaviour of the police during the 2019 Mineral Conference blockade.
However, it is also important to take into account the many individuals within the police who, in other circumstances, would have a sympathetic ear to the concerns of protestors. In the past, massive movements for change succeeded when links with people across many different institutions were made. Again, if we are to be successful in bringing about systemic change we need to be a broad based inclusive movement that is both assertive and compassionate.
Therefore, as we enter what is likely to be one of the most tumultuous and defining decades in modern human history, we need to consider embracing a new holistic approach to activism. This approach would mean working to include a diverse range of organisations from community gardens to Extinction Rebellion. To be truly effective, many groups would need to connect under a banner for systemic and behavioural change such as a Movement of Movements.
This could develop into a regenerative form of activism, where solutions could be developed through a number of forums including Citizens Assemblies. These forums would enable crucial issues such as regenerative farming, First Nations land management and sustainable town planning to hold equal importance with more prominent issues such as green energy.
Underlying all of this would be a willingness to determine how our interests thread into a systems-thinking based movement for change, with the understanding that the days of allowing opinions to constantly conflict with each other are over. There is a role that everyone can play right now.
In the words of the poet Rumi, “out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there”.
Special thanks to Cheryl Knee for the feedback, editing and proofreading and to Victoria Rose Campion for helping me to steer this article onto the course it has taken.
Mark Allen – January 2020