October 29, 2011 Leave a comment
Some friends and I are marveling at an important shift taking place among protestors in Egypt and around the world. One friend, who was in Tahrir when the #Jan25 demonstrations erupted, noted that there weren’t nearly as many protest signs in English at that time. Now, looking at these powerful photos posted on boingboing and the profound sense of solidarity…my mind revisits a question that has been keeping me up every night for the past two weeks:
How can we (we meaning regular people from all over the world) leverage this shift to spur a deluge of change-making across sectors and addressing various issues–education, community building, health, water, child labor, human trafficking….we are unlikely to run out of work anytime soon. How do we channel our rage, our passion, our DEMAND for social justice into actual on-the-ground projects? Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that demonstrators should shut the heck up and get to work (the protests against police brutality and political corruption are MUCH needed). On the contrary, I’m suggesting that we all need to open the heck up and get to work–pour this passion into grass roots projects. Such projects, in the first place, will address very real and urgent needs and in combination–as we collaborate, communicate, and continue to inspire one another–our collective efforts will unleash a deeper revolution as we not only shout “That is wrong” but we also act out on a day-today basis what is right.
Education is my personal obsession, and so most of my energy is spent working on various education projects. During the past week, I’ve been chatting with several of my friends in Egypt about the state of education in their country. We have been brainstorming to uncover ways in which we collaborate with one another–through people-to-people networking that continues protesting corruption, brutality, and cronyism but which also creates space for new forms of protest. The protest of the mentality that we should “just get used to it” because “life isn’t fair” and “that’s just the way it is” and when will the “government” (or fill in the blank with any other authority figure) “fix this.” Don your tool belts people, roll up your sleeves, and start building.
Healthy democracies require active, informed, and sustained civic engagement. This is not possible when brutal police crackdowns prevent us from assembling in public or private to openly express our ideas, this is not possible when education systems are broken and citizens lack the skills to gather and interpret information, and this doesn’t happen when we focus the majority of our time and energy on frivolous things (how many f$%king hours a day can a person spend shopping online, watching trash TV, or gossiping?).
Ask yourself, now, What can I do. What can I do NOW? What can I do tomorrow, and the next day too? What is my speciality, what is my passion? How does it relate to one of the myriad social/political/economic issues in my community, another’s community, or the world at large? Perhaps you fly solo and barely make any money at all (ahem, me)–look at your day and create an hour during which you can sit down and actively contribute to peacebuilding and social justice by sharing what you know with someone who is seeking knowledge. Volunteer in your community: This could mean babysitting for the single-mom who lives upstairs or volunteering at the local senior center. It could mean spending your time to help move the globe closer toward achieving the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals by supporting local education initiatives such as Skateistan, the Alliance of International Women’s Rights or BWorks.
We ALL have resources–some are intellectual, others emotional, some financial, and so on. How can you commit a portion of your resources to actively contribute to the construction of social justice? What are some of the needs in your community–and other communities–that might be satisfied in part or whole by a project that you and your network can implement? I’ll start here with one suggestion for a collaboration among Egyptian college students and individuals who have the resources to address the following needs. First let me provide a bit of background.
A friend of mine and I were chatting about education in Egypt. I had asked her for her insight into the current state of the Egyptian education system and how it might (need to) change in the post-Mubarak context. As I mentioned in a previous post–conversations about this topic tend to inspire a bit of swearing! We talked about various issues–from attrition rates among the poorest people–especially girls–due to pressures of poverty but also corruption among teachers (who don’t teach in order to recruit students to pay for private lessons) to the out-dated and insufficient university system. She echoed a sentiment that was heard numerous times from several young people protesting in Eygpt’s streets: We go to university, we graduate, and we are not prepared to work. One very specific example she gave me is this: “For instance,” she said, “I was working with an organization and I was approached by a young person who wanted to join. I told him, The first step is to provide me with your CV. He looked at me like I was a martian–he had no idea what a CV is.” She added that students do not learn how to make presentations, speak in public, or other activities that are so often required in the work place.
Project: Jot down a list of folks I know who have mad CV writing and/or presentation skills and see who is willing/able to donate an hour per week working as a mentor to folks who are interested in acquiring these skills. Work with my friend in Egypt to similarly identify folks who have those skills and those who are interested in acquiring those skills. (Of course, this project could take place at the local level only, but I’m particularly committed to digital cross-cultural exchanges and collaboration–AND this idea emerged from a conversation with my friend who is in Egypt!) Determine a way to put those two groups of people in the same space–live Webinar, Skype conference, simultaneous dinner parties at my house and my friend’s house linked via Skype!!!…the options are limitless. It does not have to be a HUGE project–person-to-person change-making multiplies quickly when we each recognize: I have to power AND responsibility to make change happen. Obviously there are details to work out–that, I would argue, is the fun part. Then, there is the getting down to it and implementing it–that, is the transformative part. That’s the revolution.
Greg, Rabab, and I will be discussing opportunities and obstacles in post-Mubarak Egypt at the Global Washington Annual Conference on October 31st. In my next post I will discuss potential models for parallel change-making in the informal and formal education sectors.