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Sharing My Thinking on How to Build a Movement

All year since the Sustaining All Life project at COP21 in Paris (France), I’ve been thinking about how to bring RC tools to wide world activists. Recently a leader in my monetary reform activist group asked me to share my thinking on how a movement is built. I’m no “expert” (meaning I don’t have a PhD in this), but I shared what I knew from my experience as an educator and community builder and from my many years of counseling in RC. Here’s what I wrote:

For the last twenty years, this group has operated as a “think tank” and done excellent work. It’s now time to expand and share what’s been figured out about the money system and build a grassroots movement to make it into a reality.

(I listed some accomplishments of the group and said that they put us in a good position to launch something significant. Then I quoted Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”)

I see building a movement as creating an ever-growing community of people, with us at the centre. Building such a movement includes the following:

1) Starting with a strong, diverse core and working out

2) Creating a strong network of cooperative relationships

3) Coordinating local efforts

4) Finding funding for a core staff who can do the overall coordinating and planning

5) Communicating regularly, including sharing resources and learnings and celebrating successes

6) Having a human side—being able to listen and care about people, especially in the places where they struggle, without judging or giving advice

(I said more, but it’s too long to include here. The morning after I sent the e-mail, I thought of one more point to add to the list—maybe the most important one.)

7) Transforming society requires transforming people, which requires personal transformation. With our monetary reform activism, we essentially want to transform society as we know it. In order to do that, we have to transform how people around us think and feel. That requires us to transform ourselves. For instance, I had to do a lot of my own personal work to even get myself to that monetary reform conference, to even open my mouth, dare to bring attention to myself, and be “visible” in the midst of older white USer male experts. My conditioning as a female, immigrant, Asian, non-native-English-speaking, working-class, Catholic Canadian was such that I understood my place in society to be to “follow orders and do as I’m told” and “stay on the sidelines and not take up space.” I felt, “It’s dangerous to be visible,” “I don’t understand enough,” “I’m not smart enough,” and “No one will listen even if I do have an opinion.” I had to fight an internal battle against this conditioning to hold on to my sense of significance, remember my right to participate and be heard, and trust my thinking. In the past, my mind would go blank simply being in the presence of an older white man. He didn’t have to do or say anything—he could even be encouraging me—and my brain would be empty (fear was at the root).

(Note: At the conference I made myself visible and central throughout the four days and was taken seriously by the leadership. I’m now in charge of a communications project in which I have access to some of the best minds internationally in this field.)

For my beloved older white male colleagues in this organization, the personal work is about relationships. It’s about reaching out (to anyone!) when you’re used to being and working on your own. Once you’ve gotten over the hurdle not to isolate, it’s about reaching out to people different from you—be that a woman; a person who is Latina/o, Black, Asian, or Native; someone who has less knowledge or is “less educated” than you; someone who identifies as GLBTQ; someone whose first language is not English; and so on. This will feel painfully awkward, scary, terrifying, humiliating—simply not pleasant!

Okay, if you manage to get past that and get your foot in the door, then it’s about building and deepening the relationship to where you’re invited into the kitchen where everything happens. Then it’s about staying with people when there’s confusion, disagreement, criticism, or conflict and not getting defensive; staying grounded (pleased with them and with yourself) and continuing to hold out the hope of possibility. The internal pull to run away and hide or disappear will be compelling. Or you could be pulled to attack, criticize (also known as “correct”), or unawarely dismiss the other person’s thinking. With both routes, the trust is undermined and the relationship either fades away or gets severed. Game over.

Reality: Solid, durable individual relationships based on mutual respect, caring, and trust are the essential building blocks of an effective growing and resilient movement.

Think about the two presentations that changed the whole tone of the monetary reform conference this past summer: the ones by E— (the one female presenter) and R— (the one African-heritage presenter). Why? Because they understood the personal transformation piece! And they said it in a way that everyone could hear, because they’d done their personal work. We all need to do that if we want to transform society and make monetary reform a reality.

(Remember that my audience is ninety percent older white USer English-speaking men. I use ordinary language, not RC terminology, and communicate my belief in their complete goodness. They have struggles, like the rest of us. I’m not bashing them as people for being of the groups they belong to. I deliberately stay away from triggering language, like “Work on your sexism and your unaware racism!” Thus these older white men can stay present and actually hear what I am saying. I think I did well to express what I wanted. That is what I’m most proud of!)

Bo-Young Lim

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion lists for leaders of wide world change and for leaders in the care of the environment

(Present Time 187, April 2017)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00