Welcome

 

We have published this booklet to begin the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hind Swaraj, written by M.K Gandhi in 1909. At it release — and still today — Hind Swaraj represented a very significant effort to re-orient the fundamental direction of the Indian freedom struggle. It offered to Indians (and to the world) a unique analysis of the crisis as a civilizational crisis, and it also suggested the deeper purpose behind the struggle to be free of British rule/institutionalization.  For the various actors and actresses in the movement, Hind Swaraj also set forth questions, processes and actions, which Gandhiji later expounded upon in subsequent writings.

 

Several people have called Gandhi ji an ‘epochal man’:  that is, someone who was deeply concerned with linking his own life to the specific challenges of the age he lived in. His assumption was that each age has its own peculiar problems and opportunities. Gandhiji dedicated himself to constantly engaging in personal experiments to deepen his understanding of truth. Indeed, Gandhiji’s activism pushes us to think in terms of both the Self and the System, as well as to make connections between our means and ends. A good example of this was Khadi (homespun cloth). It served as a political-economic symbol, as well as a direct form of personal action/meditation. Khadi dynamically integrated elements of both resistance and regeneration

 

The idea for this dialogue on Now Activism emerged almost two years ago during a conference held in Halifax, Canada. Observing the failure of Americans and other concerned citizens from around the world to stop the Iraq war and to remove Mr. Bush from office, many friends from different parts of the planet were asking: What do we do if the System isn’t listening to the voices of people? How are we ourselves hypocrites in the Game? What kinds of new activism are required to face the crisis that threatens us today? What is at the roots of this crisis? What gives each of us hope?    

 

Many of us felt a need to start a discussion on activism in a deeper way, to go beyond visions of elect-our-own-president, send-letters-to-your-politicians, go-to-protest-rallies, fight-court-cases, get-our-piece-of-the-pie, join-the-system-to-reform-it-from-inside, etc.  Today, there is a profound mismatch between these institutionalized responses and the magnitude of the crisis before us.  Many of these conventional activist responses further strengthen the System and therefore deepen the crisis. Oftentimes, the activism has been framed in such a way that only a small cadre of technocratic elite can manage or run it. Not only have these forms of activism, for the most part, proved ineffective in changing the Game, they oftentimes have undermined the regenerative power and courage that lies within individuals and communities.

 

So, rather than ‘mainstreaming’ everyone and everything into the frames of the dominant System, we believe that it might be more inspiring to understand what is happening at the MARGINS around the world.  And instead of ‘scaling up’, ‘standardizing’, or ‘replicating’, maybe together we might explore how to strengthen and connect the diversity that bubbles at the MARGINS.

 

It is worth saying something about the cover of this booklet, which was inspired from a painting by Salvador Dali. Many friends today feel that in order to fight the Machine, one must either join the System, or create their own huge, expensive Machine. Sometimes they drift into despair because of the seemingly giganticness of the System. How can a few individuals and communities stand up to such a massive challenge? The problem is, we are usually conditioned to only see the top half of the picture – the fat elephant stampeding over everything (including us). Rarely, do we see how fragile that elephant is – that he is indeed standing on stilts.

 

Understanding this frailty can liberate us in several ways. First, we can unlearn that we do not have to be part of producing more huge elephants to fight this one (a trap that many socialists fell into). Once we understand this, our strategies can be completely different.  Second, we can remember that we already have many simple forms of power, tools, relationships and local knowledge systems at our disposal, which are capable of tripping up the elephant or by-passing it altogether.  Are we the termites who will slowly eat away at the stilts? Are we the bicyclists who will maneuver underneath the stilts and find new paths?  How do you want to engage with (or disengage with) the elephant?

 

 

In pursuit of ideas and experiences, we offered these questions to circles of friends around the world:

 

- What are the kinds of activism that are needed now?

 

- What kinds of inspiring examples of such now activism are emerging around the world? What are some of the key principles/symbols that are underlying these efforts?

 

- In what ways should we now rethink ‘activism’ and who is an ‘activist’?

 

- What should we learn now from activist movements and freedom struggles of the past?

 

- How do we need to now understand terms like ‘power’, ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ and ‘social change’ in new ways?

 

- What do we need to unlearn for now activisms to continue to grow?

 

- What important questions do current activists need to ask themselves today to open up more possibilities for now activisms to emerge?

 

- What important questions can be used to invite/engage people who do not currently think of themselves as ‘activists’ into exploring their roles in now activism?

 

- How do you see yourself as a now activist?

 

Many people shared their own responses, while other shared stories, essays and quotes that they found meaningful for this dialogue.

 

As with most of our previous booklets, this one should also be seen as invitation to join with us in an unfolding dialogue. We hope to hear your experiences and thoughts on Now Activism.

 

April 2007