Hivos International

Travelling to and for liberation(s): Reflecting on the first day of Movements Rethink

<p><em>Movements Rethink Blog Post 2</em></p><p>The second in a series of reflections around Movements Rethink, convened by the Hivos Knowledge Programme, 9-12 September 2013.</p><p>The context of the <i>Movements Rethink</i> discussion is an unraveling surprise for most of us who have never been in the rural Netherlands or considered how change happens in a small European farming community. And here we are, a vibrantly diverse set of people from all global regions, engaged in the question of supporting progressive change in multiple sites, getting to know each other in the context of the small village of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pingjum">Pingjum</a>. We sleep in an energy neutral farmhouse, make our own beds, clean up our own dishes, and will cook for each other as part of sharing space. We have actively taken on a &lsquo;double burden&rsquo; of productive and care labour as part of considering what it means to live and be activist in the world. The topic under consideration: the politics, visions and strategies of progressive social movements, and an open invitation to rethink it all.</p><p>During a tour of the village where we are staying, our local guide Herke Giliam, a Christian theologian, teacher and avid gardener advises that &ldquo;life is traveling. People go traveling through life to find their own oasis&rdquo;. His kinetic framing of human existence echoes an intervention by participant <a href="http://www.alangreig.net/photo/art/">Alan Greig</a>: &ldquo; in many of the countries represented in this meeting the formal political process is very stuck. Movements offer a sense of <i>movement</i>- that change is possible because people are taking it into their own hands and taking action on the issues that really matter to them&rdquo;. In Pingjum we have all embarked on this journey out of a sense that movements (and activism in its many forms) hold the potential to carry us towards the oasis of social, political and economic liberations. In our first full day together we have willfully begun the journey into our complex worlds.</p><h2><b>Pleasant journeys</b></h2><p>Part of the potency of this particular group of people is a willingness to speak honestly about personal and collective challenges. A number of participants speak to a feeling of blockage, of a sense of dead ends, and to a cynicism about the project of change as we currently engage it. One activist here expresses &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know if I am capable of imaging what freedom actually means. What I do know is that where I am is <i>not it</i>&rdquo;. In informal conversations over dinner and during coffee breaks, participants speak about the realities of the &lsquo;cost&rsquo; of activism, and the depth of the loss surrounding many of us, as we live in and struggle alongside people in our communities who face daily indignities. People speak to digital surveillance by the state because they live it, through the censorship of their activist work and with state agents harassing their families.</p><p>In response to this sense of heaviness, some consider that our work has focused excessively on the down side- the violent exclusions and discriminations we are fighting against- and not necessarily enough on the inspiring possibilities that we are fighting <i>for</i>. In the words of Rola Yasmine from the Lebanese feminist collective Nasawiya, &ldquo;collaborating on the negative is killing our movements&rdquo;. In the context of the body, Geeta Misra of CREA asks if we should turn to celebrating and struggling for positive rights to sexual well being for all, in particular people&rsquo;s whose sexual expression is marginalised or policed, instead of an incessant focus on sexual violation. Rebecca Gomberts, founder of <a href="http://www.womenonwaves.org/">Women on Waves</a>, reinforces that point by provoking the question of why there is a multimillion dollar pharmaceutical indu</p><p>industry that supports men&rsquo;s pleasure through drugs such as Viagra, and yet there is on-going regulation of women&rsquo;s access to <a href="http://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/702/how-to-do-an-abortion-with-pills... products</a> that enable women to terminate pregnancies safely. She provokes with the question of why certain forms of sex &ldquo;sell&rdquo; and yet self-pleasure through masturbation remains a social taboo. Kristen Palland-Oosterbroek of <a href="http://stoerevrouwen.nl/">Stoere Vrouwen</a> speaks to her experience of changing consumer preferences towards fair trade and socially responsible lifestyles by using concepts of fun and shaping campaigns by projecting a sense of the attractiveness of new ways of doing, while also ensuring that consumers are informed of the thinking behind the suggested changes in consumer choice.</p><p>As always in activism, we face a conundrum. We of course seek to inspire and to help shape the world with positive visions; yet the &lsquo;negative&rsquo; is often the instigator of for our activism in the first place. Speaking from her work with JASS in Mexico and Central America, Lisa Veneklassen JASS points out that indignation &ndash; a state of creative rage- is the fuel for the courageous mobilisations of women at the frontlines of community responses to narcotrafficking. Rage moves us, and can inspire us to action. In order to sustain us on the journey however, we clearly need to be &lsquo;refueled&rsquo;.</p><h2><b>Unlikely travel companions</b></h2><p>As we talk transformational change we think about who we have travelled with so far, and whether these choices have been the right ones to enable us to engage or influence the constituencies we seek to impact. In the spirit of self-critique, we are willing to contend that as progressive activists we can sometimes be too insular. Thinking through digital spaces, Jac sm Kee, manager of the Women&rsquo;s Rights program at APC looks back at the experience of mobilising around political change in Malaysia and the lesson that &ldquo;social media can trap us in a bubble of people who think like you, who see the world the way you do... and curate it, refine it and circulate it amongst yourselves&rdquo;. When we leave the bubble we may start to realise that the majority have headed towards a different oasis.</p><p>In the desire to refresh and grow our base of allies we consider reaching out to unusual suspects. In this call to collaborate, Njoki Njumi, (medical doctor turned activist creative from <a href="http://www.thisisthenest.com/">The Nest</a> in Nairobi) asks what possibilities are opened by the &ldquo;non-violent restoration of dialogue&rdquo;. She considers that transformational change may require us to &ldquo;listen, to learn to analyse less and feel more. In order to listen to someone I need to soften what my hardest stance is&rdquo;.</p><p>And yet this turn to open and welcome a stranger as fellow traveller is again itself a strategy that requires interrogation. Remkho Berkhout from the Hivos Knowledge Program traces the explosion of all things &ldquo;social&rdquo;- from social design to social marketing, and concurrent emergence of a fad-like interest in activism that he jokingly terms &ldquo;<a href="https://universityofbrokenglass.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/mcchange-a-crit.... Indeed, there is now potentially a broader array of people interested to travel through the diverse journeys we are on. But do we seek out allies we have not previously worked with, or are significantly different in the politics and strategies simply because we believe that collaboration is always &ldquo;good&rdquo;? As some debated during the break, would we chose to collaborate with the police in a context where the police is known as an aggressor simply because they are potentially a strategic ally or have never been engaged before by community activists? What are the activist bottom-lines that we use to identify and negotiate external alliances?</p><h2><b>Creating the oasis</b></h2><p>If liberation is our oasis then the desire for it is not new. Ireen Dubel of Hivos and a new resident of our host village of Pingjum tells the story of a morning in 1899 when the village woke up to find that the church had been painted red. Farmworkers facing poverty and hunger in the surrounding area had chosen to express their dissent and solidarity with socialist principles of radical redistribution. In our own forum, Driade Aguiar, a Brazilian creative activist speaks to an experiment in collaborative economics today, with people in one organization that she works in choosing not to receive salaries but instead to combine income in a collective pot with each withdrawing according to their needs. These two stories also suggest that the oases we seek are not destinations in a geographic sense but rather ways of relating constructed by us out of the present.</p><p>Speaking to the notion of transformational change, Anouka van Eerdewijk, a researcher at the <a href="http://www.kit.nl/">Royal Tropical Institute</a> in the Netherlands offers that while disruption is central to transformation there is also continuity with the past: &ldquo;[in reconstructing the world] people tend to draw on the heritage that they have, meaning that there is a chance that [the changed world] will include elements of the old&rdquo;.</p><p>On day 2 of this convening we continue to pick through our activist histories, elements of the old and possibilities in the new, analysing strategies for change and imagining where next we might place our feet. The discussion continues.</p>

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