Our recent field visit to Zahirabad serves to be one of my favorite parts of this whole semester in India so far. To me, the week or rather four days with the Deccan Development Society provided me with many inspiring interactions that allowed me to see the power in real community led and driven change. It was incredible to see change happening by the community, for the community – reclaiming the true meaning of participatory democracy. Two moments come to my mind when I reflect on the interactions in Zahirabad and this idea of reclaiming democratic participation: the participatory tools used when identifying the poor in their communities and the creation of an alternative Public Distributing System (PDS). Both were created and utilized with the leadership of women from these groups in the communities called Sanghams.
Through certain participatory tools (a problem tree + resource mapping), the Sanghams are able to create their own criteria of poverty, assess and identify poverty in their communities all together, in a collective way. With resistance to the current distributing system of seeds, the Sanghams also created an alternative PDS. In this system, the food is produced, consumed and stored all within the community. After witnessing real, on-the-ground action taking place by groups of individuals in communities, I’m feeling incredibly encouraged and empowered to accept the challenge of moving forward to address injustice in our world.
At this point in the semester, on this Social Justice, Peace + Development program, we’ve been moving our sessions from identifying the kind of injustices happening across all levels from race, class, gender, etc. to now, discussing what we can do and how we can move forward with what we’ve been learning. For me personally, I’ve been building up to this question for quite some time. Back in September, when all first arrived in India, we had a session discussing “why is there poverty.” It was in that class session that I began to think deeper about what I could do, as an individual to address the deep, root causes of social justice issues. Last week during class, we had a fishbowl conversation, which is an interactive learning tool that creates an environment + space to discuss and debate an issue, question, topic, etc. In this recent fishbowl conversation, we discussed the question, “What are our responsibilities in responding to climate injustice?” I really appreciated the perspective and insight this conversation gave me. This discussion also allowed me to vocalize some thoughts and ideas that have been on my mind.
I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on this question more broadly, in terms of all social justice issues. What are my responsibilities as a human being in society? What is my commitment to social justice, to the communities I’m a part of and to humanity? What does that commitment look like? Before I begin to discuss how I individually plan to move forward (these reflections will come in another later post), I would like to step back and talk about where I am at in the current system that exists. Why have things not changed, why do things continue to remain the same? As Gar Alperovitz describes it in The Next American Revolution: Beyond Corporate Capitalism and State Socialism, we currently live in a system that is “stalemate, stagnation and decay.”
It’s not that the people don’t care, well maybe that’s part of it, but that’s another issue to discuss in another reflection. There is a video serious call the Story of Change and one video highlights that in the U.S. there is 74 percent support for tougher laws on toxic chemicals, 85 percent support for getting corporations out of government and 83 percent support for clean energy laws. From these numbers, there is support (and in mass numbers, if I may add), but things in this system remain the same, toxic chemicals still find their way into much of the food we consume and in the products we buy and major corporations still have a huge hand in the legislative policies + procedures. We have the support in numbers, but we’re lacking the follow through of action. I believe, this action piece is lacking across a majority of initiatives theoretically working for social justice. I do believe education, awareness and some level of consciousness is absolutely essential in understanding and addressing systemic, root causes of social injustices, but it cannot stop there.
In our fishbowl conversation, one of my classmates, Laurel brought up the need for participatory democracy and I instantly thought of the work done + change being made by the Women Sangham Groups in Zahirabad. These women groups bring all their community members together, identify what the issues are and decide collectively how they want to go about making changes – if this isn’t inspiration, I don’t know what is! If we, as a society, nation and collective of humans want to see change, we have to start from the bottom up and reclaim our own participation in democratic decision-making and demand change. Gar Alperovitz points out that we don’t take it seriously, as we ought to and maybe should because, “We just may be in the pre-history of the possible transformation of the most powerful, corporate capitalist system in the history of the world.”
Making real change takes all kinds of citizens.
So now the question is what kind of change maker am I and are you?
Thank you for reading and don’t worry – the conversation doesn’t end there! In my next post, I will be sharing questions that I’ve been reflecting on. I also would like to invite you to join me in an ongoing, collective conversation about social justice, change and action!
Love + light,