In this increasingly turbulent time, many campaigners are struggling to stay hopeful and engaged. I don’t know how I would be able to keep going if it weren’t for my mindfulness practice and some incredible activist trainings I’ve taken part in, so I wanted to share a little of my inspiration. I’ve written this now because I want to promote the shiny new Ulex project activist training platform – they’re running a crowd funder that has 25% of its goal still to reach by May 2nd.
It’s not looking great out there…
It’s hard to keep going with work for positive social change when all around us it appears the world is headed in the opposite direction. The right is on the rise across the globe, and here in Europe the impending elections in France, Germany and the UK could bring more big changes. To say that staying engaged, present and positive is a challenge is putting it pretty mildly! But yet, there are exciting progressive social movements gaining momentum. For these to grow, have impact, and remain resilient, they need capacity building and training…
Mindfulness & activist training
I started meditating just over a year ago when I was having a bit of a personally tough time, using the app headspace. That was the start of a my mindfulness practice which I began by sitting for just 10 minutes a day. It made a difference to my life fairly quickly, transforming my relationship to my body, my emotions, my work and to people in my life for the better. Around the same time I started meditating, I signed up to do a course in Mindfulness for Social Change which was then hosted at Ecodharma – this is from the course blurb:
Mindfulness is about being fully present in the here and now, being in touch with what is going on inside us and around us. It enables us to arrive in a place of centred awareness – able to be responsive and connected, to engage courageously and effectively in the world. On this training we seek to harness the empowering skills of mindfulness to values and action for social and ecological justice.
This course turned out to be utterly game changing for me. I literally came back to London and quit my job after I realised (following the course) how bad it was for me. Since then I’ve gone freelance as a campaigner, I’m doing work (paid and unpaid) that I really care about, and I’m taking much better care of myself.
The integral activist approach
This approach was developed by Ecodharma in their secular courses for activists, to address the root causes of the challenges to organising for the transformational systems change we need. We need to start with self care, overcoming and avoiding burnout. Then we need to learn to practice collective care, re-imagining how to work collectively for social change, embedding a new culture from the beginning to avoid replicating macro social problems in our activism. From there we can move from personal and collective to wider social and political transformation. The Ulex training centre’s programme embodies this three tiered approach in all its training:
We take an integral approach – combining personal, inter-personal and political transformation. We look for systemic responses to systemic challenges – building movement capacity for social justice and ecological integrity. We deepen reflection and strengthen connections for personal and collective empowerment.
What is Ulex?
Ulex is the latin name for gorse, a plant that grows well under challenging conditions, helping to heal land that is damaged and paving the way for the returning health and biodiversity of an ecosystem. The Ulex centre is attempting to be a catalyst for a similar process in European social movements, by expanding the training begun at Ecodharma with a whole range of courses to build transformational movements. There are so many amazing courses coming up, from their flagship Regenerative Activism Training (previously called sustaining resistance) to Creative Tools for Social Change and the two week summer camp I’m co-leading next year exploring The Ecology of Social Movements. I’m so excited about this last one!
The new space and the crowdfunder
The Ulex project has an amazing space in Catalonia which they want to transform into a residential training centre. They have the space (and old farmhouse which they were gifted), the trainers, the programme, and the plan, but not quite enough money to make it happen. You can take a look at the space and hear about their plans in this short film. A month ago they launched a crowd funder and to date they’ve raised just under 75% of their 40,000 Euro target. They have until Tuesday May 2nd next week to find the remaining 10,000 Euro.
I know we’re all surrounded by excellent causes to give to, but I really do think this one could have a huge impact in building the European social movements we need to win.
Acting from stability – beyond June 8th
In the UK right now, I’m seeing a lot of panic about the impending election, and there’s a fresh flurry of activity. It’s good people are getting active, but we need to remember two things.
1. Activity isn’t very effective if it happens from a place of reactivity, rather than a place of stability – it can burn us out fast. We need to centre ourselves and consider strategy before we act, so we can stay active for the long haul. There are some excellent tips in the resource Finding Steady Ground (developed by the awesome Daniel Hunter from Training for Change) on how to stay effectively active in a turbulent and challenging world.
2. Democracy doesn’t start or end at the ballot box. Whatever the outcome of all the upcoming European elections, we’re still a hugely long way from where we want to be, so we need to organise to win big in the long term (and change everything).
As I said in a blog I wrote just before the 2015 UK election:
The real work needed to make our society sustainable and equitable is going to have to be done outside mainstream politics until this work becomes so successful that it changes politics itself.
If you’re part of a grassroots group or a paid campaigner, and you want to innovate or re-invigorate your approach, you might want to check out the new Organising for Change training I’m running July 1-2 in London with Kat Wall and Tatiana Garavito – or get yourself along to one of the upcoming courses at Ulex!