We hear a lot of, frankly, trite comments in times of disaster about how the people affected are ‘tough’ and a special breed. People are people. But communities can be more resilient in the face of disaster if they have existing civil society organisations to rally around and help coordinate their actions. Canterbury Students’ Association is a perfect example.
As after the first earthquake, the Students’ Association has taken it upon itself to form a volunteer army of thousands to tackle the liquefaction that has devastated suburbs. All the reports are that they’re doing great and selfless work and helping nieghbourhoods back on to their feet.
(if you want to join, the info is on the Facebook page)
Without the Students’ Association, how would this kind of manpower be organised? It would be more ad hoc, smaller-scale, and less effective. Many uni students who will gladly rally behind a cause like the Student Volunteer Army might stay at home without an organisation to lead and coordinate them.
This is where the dig at Roger Douglas’s Voluntary Student Association Bill comes in. That Bill is designed to kill off the student associations because the extreme Right sees them as a breeding ground for its political opposition. Think what might have been lost if he had got his bill through a year ago.
Indeed, it is a hallmark of all extreme ideologies to try to kill off civil society organisations like student associations, unions, and private clubs. Civil society organisations make communities resilient, whereas atomised individuals are easy to control. Look at Libya and other countries in the Middle East – the dictatorships there have survived so long because they have destroyed all organisations they don’t control. Until recently, anyone trying to oppose the regime had to do so more or less as an individual – a doomed prospect. As in Christchurch, technology has been vital, allowing opposition to the regimes to organise quickly and in large numbers via Facebook and Twitter.
So, there is a lesson to be learned from the earthquake and from the Middle East as we enter an age in which peak oil and climate change will create challenges for communities again and again. Those communities that do well are not those were everyone is a stand-alone individual, viewed as a worker and a consumer and nothing more. Communities withstand and react to shocks better when the people in them are bonded by networks of civil society organisations, and a culture, born of those organisations, of looking out for each other. In our uncertain future, resilient communities will get us through.