‘The power of we’ - the topic for Blog Action Day 2012. Photo: Nick J Webb, reproduced under a CC license.
Forty-three years ago today millions of Americans demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. Although US involvement continued for nearly another three years after 1969, it was a day that changed many people’s lives.
For many people now in their twenties in Britain, the 2003 protests against the Iraq War marked an awakening of their political consciousness – as did last year’s Arab Spring for young people in countries like Egypt.
One year ago today, Occupy London began outside St Paul’s Cathedral. While Occupy camps across the globe were eventually dismantled, and did not achieve an end to inequality, other changes happened. People met others they wouldn’t otherwise have met; had conversations they wouldn’t otherwise have had; or got their first taste of direct action. In every Occupied city, there were projects, ideas and affinity groups that sprang directly or indirectly from the camp.
Of course, protest movements are about much more than igniting a new generation of activists. But large movements of public opinion weaken the mandate of those in power. It shows those who feel the same but are unable, or unwilling, to take part that they are not alone in their opinions. As with votes for women, civil rights in the US, and apartheid in South Africa, the causes people are acting on are seen as common sense a few years down the line, thanks to the groundwork which activists put in through visible, physical action and chipping away behind the scenes.
The embers of revolution that burned so brightly during the Arab Spring have largely died in the mainstream narrative, but as we watched the throngs of people on the streets last year, there was a real feeling that the people were winning.
Holding on to that feeling is difficult as the shine wears off and people continue to struggle around the world. As well as the crises hitting the headlines, there are countless instances of war, oppression and humanitarian disaster that go unnoticed. It is easy to wonder whether we can do anything at all.
But even in the last week there has been positive change brought about by ‘people power’. In India, around 60,000 people who had started a land rights march, intended to last a month, called it off after the government agreed to their demands. Of course, the practical outcome is not yet known –but it shows what mass mobilization can achieve.
Internationally, our fortunes are becoming increasingly entwined – economically and environmentally. Globalization has a lot to answer for, but we need to strengthen our own narrative – one that exists on global solidarity.
A tweet sent to @newint last week by development professional Jonathan Glennie was part of the inspiration for this post. He pointed out the need not to become too introspective, especially as, in Europe, austerity measures bite. Internationalism is as important, if not more so, as it was when New Internationalist began nearly 40 years ago.
While fighting to save our jobs we can learn from those fighting to save their jobs elsewhere. While trying to stop the degradation of our environment we can share tactics with others across the globe.
Although individuals can make a difference, the power of we is ultimately stronger than the power of I – but it has to be believed in to work. We may not win every battle, but we owe it to ourselves to try: we have no other choice.
This blog post is New Internationalist’s contribution to Blog Action Day’s topic ‘Power of We’ on 15 October 2012.