Redefining success: our new normal is outrage, opposition & polarization
Steph Roy McCallum
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Wow, Steph! What a brave and honest clarion call! So much that resonates here…

YES, to a conversation where “indigenous communities, oil companies, environmentalists, government and regular Canadians” (or regular inhabitants of any national entity) “come together to talk about HOW to create a viable economy that leverages our natural resources, respects and recognizes indigenous rights and territory and protects and stewards the environment”… instead of having piecemeal struggles, pipeline by pipeline.

YES, to developing a vision and strategy for social change, that includes both activism AND creative solution-finding. (Especially as it may need a LOT of non-violent activism, to get all of those stakeholders to the table, for that awesome conversation!)

and YES, YES, YES, to recognizing the energy of deep caring that is buried within passionate, emotional conflicts, and yes to finding ways to work creatively with those energies… and without vitriol, public shaming, marginalization and hate”. YES to the value of inviting solutions as well as concerns, and YES to “brave and honest conversations on really tough issues”…

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Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about a real-life story illustrating the interconnectedness of activism and participatory processes. As your very timely article points out, those of us in the public participation field need to expand our ideas about what participation looks like — and take a wider and broader and longer view, of what it takes create effective social change.

I’ve been gathering key resources on this topic for some time now, which I recently compiled into a prezi for the Dialogue and Deliberation Climate Action Network. Yet prezis can be a bit challenging to navigate for those unfamiliar with them, so here is the gist:

Activism (aka civil resistance) as a spectrum of activity — from education and organizing to civil disobedience and non-violent action — that raises awareness of the need for change, and is a key part of societal growth toward greater justice.

— One excellent resource is Doing Democracy: The MAP model for Organizing Social Movements, by Bill Moyer. His model, which is informed by his many decades in social change work, is based on the assumption of “people power”; that is, the legitimacy of governments as based on the consent of those governed. I was reminded of this when I looked at your earlier blog post on reeimagining the spectrum of public participation, and saw Becky Hirst’s model of, “what if we saw the community as the decision-makers?” Bill’s point is a reminder that, in some ultimate sense, we are; therefore activism’s ultimate goal is awakening, educating, and organizing public opinion. From that perspective, he develops a powerful theory about the developmental stages of movements, which also includes some thoughts about what kinds of public participation can be most relevant at each of those stages.

— Another excellent resource is Engler and Engler’s This is an Uprising: How Non-Violent Revolt is Shaping the The Twenty-First Century. In addition to many riveting stories, it also introduces Gene Sharp’s work on strategic non-violence; another highlight is the call for a synthesis between organizing (Alinsky) and movement-building (Frances Fox Piven).

Peacebuilding — group facilitation, dialogue and deliberation, public participation, can all be seen as part of “peacebuilding”. This framing is from Dr. Véronique Dudoet’s thought-provoking report on Powering to Peace: Integrated Civil Resistance and Peacebuilding Strategies, published by the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict. In it, she explores the parallels, differences, and complementarities between activism and peacebuilding, whose respective aims she sees as seeking a just peace by peaceful means, and transforming destructive conflict into constructive conflict.

Dudoet points that civil resistance is often quite useful as a pre-negotiation strategy, as it seeks to highlight injustice by non-violently intensifying necessary conflicts, and aims to get the powers-that-be to the table (both of these can be seen in the real-life story I linked to earlier!) She also makes the point that peacebuilding alone can tend toward mitigating conflict, which can, in turn help preserve an unjust status quo. Yet peacebuilding can be extremely valuable for the purpose of translating the gains that are made through civil resistance, into the “multiple solutions that meet all needs”, as you call for in your blog post…

And, as I’ve also learned from my indigenous friends in Ecuador, Dudoet points out that sustained civil resistance is also key in post-conflict contexts, to help prevent backlashes, and “pressure stakeholders into implementing commitments to reform and social justice”.

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There’s more on the prezi — I explore in a fair bit of detail, the “White Ally Toolkit” as one practical example of a fruitful combination of dialogue and activism — but this is enough here, for now.

Thank you, Steph, for your strong clarion-call to much needed “brave and honest conversations”… and, for your pointing out the need to re-think and re-vision the role of the public participation field, with regard to social change.