- Date published:
12:30 pm, May 9th, 2017 - 10 comments
Categories: activism, Deep stuff, democratic participation, election 2017, Politics - Tags: how change happens, Incognito, political change, prefigurative politics, social change
The following is a Guest Post from The Standard regular commenter Incognito.
It is election year again and political parties have started to draw the battle lines and are sharpening their political swords of sorts and a few pre-emptive strikes have already been delivered to show off political and economic prowess and social conscience, court the voters, and intimidate the political opponent(s).
New Zealand has large problems that urgently require effective and bold political action and our country is not unique by any means. One of the root causes of our societal ills is neoliberalism, which is arguably on its deathbed, but an alternative has not (yet?) emerged. This is a reoccurring topic here on TS and elsewhere but on the face of it little progress seems to be made; entrenched partisan thinking and attitudes are a sure recipe for predictable comments and exchanges. Similarly, the recent presidential election in the US and Brexit in the UK, for example, and the ensuing fallout have also led to a lot of (personal) nastiness and vitriolic comments that served no good.
This blog gives us all an opportunity to combine our individual and collective efforts for a positive change. However, it does sometimes feel like we’re squandering this beautiful opportunity by infighting, egotistical grandstanding and point scoring. (NB Why and how do we expect politicians to be any different when we ourselves show the exact same behaviour, behaviour that we apparently disapprove of and even despise!?) Coalitions are based on mutual respect and trust and common/shared values. Despite some voicing that the fabric of our society seems to be changing and unravelling I believe that we have much more in common with our fellow Kiwis than we (like to) realise and that more binds us together than separates us.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement rested on the concept of prefigurative politics. It created public spaces and forums for political discourse for each and every one; they also made use of the “people’s mic” that ensured everybody could have a say and exercise their right to free speech in a safe and respectful environment. Not too dissimilar from Open Mike here on TS I reckon.
Interestingly, the Occupy movement, possibly due to its free-for-all inclusive philosophy, did perhaps not achieve as much as it could (or should!) have and was perhaps not as effective as it could have been although it might be too early tell. It has been argued it lacked direction and leadership.
I searched for “prefigurative politics” here on TS and found only one comment by Jan Rivers in a post by Stephanie Rodgers called Building a mass movement. Jan very succinctly gave her understanding of it as “being the change you want to see”. [I hope Jan doesn’t mind that I’ve taken this as the title of this post]
If there is one common theme that connects the dots it is change. According to humanists we all have agency, i.e. the capacity to choose, individually as well as together, regardless of whether we use it or not. For example, we can opt for the status quo, because it suits us, or we can choose to do nothing and refuse to engage because we feel powerless (futility) or because we are too apathetic to try and change anything; e.g. we don’t even vote or worse, we even discourage others to vote! We get upset or fearful of and by things we cannot control, we lash out, get depressed, or stick our heads in the sand or all of the above. These are all perfectly ‘normal’ human behaviours and responses.
Or else we could go to the other extreme and become revolutionary radicals and try to deconstruct and overthrow anything and everything – that’s an easy thing to say (“drain the swamp” ring any bells?) – before we (can) reconstruct society (TBA).
Alternatively, we could go for a more pragmatic approach and just try to change what we can; we can act as and become “tempered radicals” (1). These are grassroots leaders without formal authority who try to elicit change and go about it quietly and gently, without drawing too much attention, at least initially. Most importantly, they work within the system and its specific rules and regulations. Most importantly, they “not compromise on the vision, but must be flexible on the approach” (2).
To achieve change tempered radicals (need to) live by example, model it (cf. prefigurative politics), seize opportunities, and celebrate and leverage off small ‘victories’. They treat others with respect and use language and expression that not only leaves intact the sense of self-worth of others but also does not push them into a corner (no gotcha tactics) because it is non-aggressive and non-confrontational. Another crucial attribute of these people is that they form networks and alliances, which might be just one or a few steps away from building a movement. It will be a hard long road especially in New Zealand but it is a path worth taking.
1) An example of quiet activism and a tempered radical approach to enact change.
2) Another link to a long piece on tempered radicals with plenty of illustrative examples of not compromising but being flexible. The term/concept “tempered radical” originates from academic research into business (change) management in a corporate environment, which perhaps is a little ironic.