Tag Archives: Gandhi

Year of activism #16

A lot of people are lonely during this pandemic and I am one of them, but I am not alone. There is a difference.

I have been reflecting on the relationship between loneliness and activism. So many activists start off as the lone nut (it is one of my favourite videos about leadership, so if you haven’t seen it click here for a three minute lesson). In our times think Greta on her own outside of the Swedish parliament, or Vincent Lingiari walking off a cattle station and going on strike, or Mary Lee setting out to change the age of consent from 13 to 16 and starting that pretty much on her own.  In these times of isolation, it is easy to feel lonely especially if you are the solitary person in your house. This of course is also a privilege and one not afforded to most of our species.

In these times being isolated is calling forth new ways to mobilise. The keyboard warriors of petitions and letters are being seen for what they really are just old style campaigning in a digital form. Transformative methods of mobilising are emerging. I can see glimpses from artists holding concerts on line and communities of fans fund raising to keep art and music in the public domain. I can see facilitation tools being employed in digital spaces and forcing innovations in exiting products and tools.  I can see value being created without the exchange of money.  I can see gratitude being expressed in song and story by creatives who are reaching out to health care workers.  I have a sense that something else is brewing and the yearning for community that is not founded on digital platforms.  For places on the planet where lockdown has been possible and in places where it has been impossible will be the two ends of the extremes and what is happening in the messy middle could well be birthing some new ways forward. I am looking forward to seeing what will happen from this space and time where people have been lonely.

Loneliness is a craving for connection. Joining an idea for change with being lonely is maybe a super power for activists?  For years working in volunteering, I discovered so many people who took up volunteering to manage their loneliness and I used to talk about how their volunteering was their activism to them.  My line was – you can vote every few years for the kind of government you want; but every time you volunteer you are voting with your hands, heart, feet, mind,  for the kind of world you want to live in.  It always went down well and helped build the foundations for volunteers to see themselves as not being solitary givers of their time and talents, but making a huge contribution to health, literacy, well being, access, equity, safety. Being connected to these big ticket items and re-framing see your antidote to loneliness as addressing the inequity ledger is reflection and action coming together. What might have started as self support can turn into something way beyond yourself.

Loneliness maybe a crucible for an activist to emerge, being able to reflect and discern what is uncomfortable, what doesn’t feel just or right.  I have a hunch that there is a new age of activism dawning. After all, now we can see what it looks like to have clean air, to notice rivers less polluted, to value the place of high quality publicly funded health care, to be prepared and know public funds can be released to provide minimum income, to discover what leadership looks like in times of crisis and who we are drawn to in their leadership and equally what qualities repel us, to appreciate science and interpretations of data at population level … and the litany goes on.  Let loneliness be the activists friend and see what emerges when the experience of being disconnected is embraced.

Being lonely is not being alone. And the lone nut is an invitation to followers and may well be the beginning of starting a movement.

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Photo by George Coletrain on Unsplash

 

Dancing with speeches #14 Gandhi

Gandhi began a journey to the sea to make salt with a speech. It was a declaration of war with the most powerful of weapons – nonviolence.  It was a call to leadership, duty, responsibility, action.

A Satyagrahi, whether free or incarcerated, is ever victorious. He is vanquished only, when he forsakes truth and nonviolence and turns a deaf ear to the inner voice.

Each step in the journey to the sea is one towards vastness, openness and with a focus on the horizon is a rare clarity – but once seen can’t be unseen. Swaraj (Hindi: स्वराज swa- “self”, raj “rule”) was used as a synonym  for “home-rule” first by Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati and then by Mahatma Gandhi, and in turn became synonymous with Indian independence from  British colonisation.  But at it’s heart, swaraj is to be accountable to your true self and that is all about self discipline. It is the quest of the satyagrahi, a  person is dedicated to the campaign for truth.  Like the Quaker maxim to speak your truth to power based on the eternal Christian biblical reference of the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), the quest to be true to yourself and to be truthful with others is indeed a discipline. To speak and act nonviolently requires a deep compassion of yourself as well as others.  Gandhi understood these acts require community and a campaign and a confidence if you felled then others will rise up in your place and carry on the journey.  Civil disobedience in the public domain, begins with accepting your cooperation with your oppressor. Nonviolent direct action of sit-ins, strikes, workplace occupations, blockades, or hacktivism is organised, disciplined and focussed on the result. This must be matched with a personal practice to support your well-being and to bring no harm to others.

So many systems, in our first world are enslaving the poor in our country and in turn our first world enslaves the third and fourth worlds. Colonisation has deep roots in systems, hearts and minds – we have to be honest with ourselves. I live on land where there was no just settlement and no recognition of the land as mother, I consume more than my fair share of energy and calories and moire often than not,  I often fail to change my behaviour even though all the evidence is in about climate change. Behaving as if I am not connected to others of my species and other species is delusional – we are all connected.

Withdrawing our cooperation from what oppressors us is at the heart of this quest for truth.  What is the truth that sets you free? Removing yourself from what holds you back or worse holds you down, and keeps you enslaved takes just as many steps as Gandhi took to travel to the sea. Each step towards the sea is one more removing you from what is holding you back.  Just as Polonius gave his blessing to his son as Laertes stepped out with humility.

The steps towards our truth are blessed in nonviolence and taken in good company, the path made easier by those who have gone before us and are taken in confidence, knowing others will follow.

Polonius:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Laertes:
Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.

Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82