How do you create positive social change?
I have always advocated that it is through bringing people together to share stories and experiences, and then brainstorm ways forward. Through my research into social change movements and experience with Tamarack, I have seen that we as humans are natural problem-solvers: when we come across a barrier, we immediately work to come up with some kind of solution and work with those close to us to help overcome it. This leads to innovative ideas and actions. When the barrier is society-wide, what occurs is the creation of many different groups who each try and tackle the barrier in their own way. A bunch of mini movements, if you will. With time and the right conditions and catalysts, these movements start to combine forming bigger movements. Eventually the movements become big enough that they reach a critical tipping point and a social shift happens.
In university, I developed a real interest in democracy. Through my studies I came to the conclusion that a healthy system of decision-making is required for us to effectively tackle the many major challenges that we are currently facing. I felt and still feel that the current model of democracy we have in Canada is outdated, impractical and simply does not work in our current context. This leads to it being a barrier instead of a aid in helping us create the necessary social change to tackle issues such as poverty or climate change. How do you create a change of a system on this scale? I simply did not know.
When I graduated from university, I wanted to be part of the solution so I started on a journey to see what was already happening. I was amazed and excited to discover an incredible group of people working passionately to create political systemic change whether at the local or the national level. These people were brilliant and passionate. I started to notice an interesting and frustrating pattern: though these people were working towards similar goals, they did not know each other. This really hit home when I met with the board chair for Samara (a research institute who specializes in the Canadian democratic system) and then the head of Fair Vote Canada (the largest activist group in Canada focused on voting reform). To my shock they did not know each other and knew little about each other’s organizations despite the fact that they worked within a kilometer of each other.
That fall I had a chance to attend a conference and connect with the heads of LeadNow (an online activist mobilizer) and Democracy Watch (Citizen Watchdog of the Federal Government) this was their first meeting and they have not met since.
What we had was a series of small and impressive movements yet, alone they could not effectively create the public pressure required for necessary social change. Worse, some were now competing with each other for resources both human and financial. I made it my quest to find a way to bridge this gap, and to help weave together a larger movement.
After months of planning, this past weekend, a group of us gathered at my cottage on the coast of Lake Huron. In the group were representatives from five different organizations all working to fix democracy in Canada. Another six people who shared their stories and experiences also joined us through skype. It was incredible to see people feed off each other’s ideas. We brainstormed a provincial campaign to give voting rights to permanent residents, we talked about a new media platform to inform the public about Canadian political issues that the mainstream media was ignoring, we talked about giving more power to the people at the next federal election, we even talked about extending voting age to 16 while reforming the Ontario Civics program at the same time.
Beyond fun conversations, we shared what each of us were doing, wrestled together with the challenges we faced and found ways to support and collaborate. Each person built off the other. Everyone had resources that we could share and networks that we could leverage. Because of this, all of us will be able to more with greater impacts. Because of the diversity of perspectives we were also able to see the big picture and how each of us were contributing to change at different levels. Some were working at the local level which built the necessary momentum to create the larger change while others were working to create large national networks that could be mobilized at key points to leverage change.
For me this weekend highlighted the power of a community to do far more then any individual or group could do. To create social change you need a movement and to create a movement you need a community or rather a community of communities. This is what we are creating and it is building and growing.
I am really excited to see where all this leads and what change we help create.