You can think about most types of community mobilizations as either utilitarian, addressing specific needs for developing local communities, or transformative, changing the conditions that set up a scenario. Many NGOs have a more utilitarian, development-oriented approach, and many activist groups and social movements have a more transformative approach, but the opposite can be true as well, and you can certainly combine the two approaches at various times.
Here are three different videos where mobilizers talk about different projects that follow different measures.
Ruwwad al-Tanmeya – Locality Development
The first are Samah, Hanaa, and Hiba, from Ruwwad al-Tanmeya in Palestine. They work on the locality development model, which aims to enhance the well-being of a given community. There is an emphasis on capacity development in order to address problems, enhancing local leadership and promoting social integration.
Samah: The idea that we have is that our students at the Ruwwad Al-Tanmeya association spend their community service hours in the local community itself, like in schools, in libraries, municipalities, pharmacies if available. The idea is that we are creating a connection between the student and the association. The association then creates space and opportunities for these students, and the student then begins to think of what he can do in these places. From one aspect, the student thinks of ways to develop himself and how the spaces can open opportunities to the youth. We create a connection between the two, and both sides develop. The places benefit and the student also develops himself.
Hanaa: I believe that the core of the work that we do, that’s the idea, of how we can prepare groups of youth to return and work in their communities, the villages that we work in, in a way that develops the community itself. I believe that we have the same community work that they.
Hanaa: I believe that this idea is the foundation of the work that we do in the area… how we can create groups of youth capable of working in their communities and help these communities in developing and rising through solving the problems that these communities face. Essentially it starts with how we support them economically, from a financial perspective so that they can study in universities, and in return how we can help the student develop his personality through the community service work he provides to the organizations in the community that he lives in. As well, the cultural enrichment program that we’re working on developing its material, from tours, to meetings, regular or monthly, in every meeting we have a group of topics that we discuss and engage the students with, and the initiatives that the students sometimes do in the community. Eventually you feel that there is something that changes in the student’s personality that they themselves might not realize the development, but after a while of working or graduating from a program by the association, he feels a change in his personality.
Hanaa: He now knows the community that he lives in, his personality is stronger, he now knows people and how to communicate with them. So this happens through the work done in Ruwwad and eventually the student feels a social responsibility towards the community that he lives in. he would want to work harder, stop asking about the hours he had worked towards the scholarship or not, the scholarship stops being the main focus as it is when he first starts work with us. It becomes a secondary incentive, the main being serving the community that he lives in.
Hiba: We, at Ruwwad Al-Tanmeya, in short, we try to create the circumstances or the surrounding environment for the student that would support and encourage the student and push them forward. The student might start with us feeling that they just come to Ruwwad to benefit from the scholarship and continue university. But the student discovers themselves and find things inside of themselves that weren’t apparent to begin with. They discover that they like to serve their country, like to work these hours, like to move forward. As if we’re lighting the way for this person as they walk the path.
Jai Sen – Social Welfare
This second video is of Jai Sen, a community mobilizer and scholar from India, who works on housing rights issues. Jai discusses working on a social welfare model, where people work to increasing a community’s access to social services by building coalitions or lobbying.
I worked as an activist and architect in (Indian city), we worked in terms of the housing struggles of ordinary labouring people. By virtue of the kind of economy that India has, on the one hand, it is displacing huge numbers of people from agriculture – which has always been the dominant occupation – because of mechanization, because of the agricultural revolution, the green revolution that took place in India, as well as subsequent development in the field, industrialization of the field. Also, the industrialization of the country and the building of huge development projects has led to the displacement of millions and millions – like hundreds of millions- of people that have been displaced in this time. They have moved to the cities, but by virtue of having lost everything, they have to live on the margins. So they usually have to live in what is called illegal base or unauthorized base. It is a dehumanization of a kind which is very difficult to imagine, perhaps other than for people such as the students whom the course is directed at – people who have been evicted from their home. People of that kind have a very different perspective to life and I learnt a great deal from them from 1975 and onwards.
The work that we did was very – initially new work – was successful and I think everybody was surprised. We were basically organizing people to be able to gain their rights and consciousness of what their rights are, whether it be women, men or children and to be able to put forward an organized voice. I think the state was also surprised that people were conscious that they had rights under municipal laws, such as drinking water, sanitation and getting letters where they live, voting. In India at that time, people would receive ration cards which were essential in getting essential commodities like rice, grain and oil at controlled prices. These people had been left out of this loop entirely. This was a very simple elementary part of life that we take for granted, but for them it was very real.
For the first few years it was successful yet very unpopular with the government. We were attacked by the government frontally as well as by the political parties. They attacked us because, in a way, we were playing a role that they did not expect anybody to be playing: organizing people. It was a historically new thing that was taking place. However, – and it worked- it was also successful in other manners. Similar things were happening in other parts of the country. Similar people had simultaneously started working, and we came together to build a national platform, called the national campaign for housing rights and it became the first broad cross-sectoral platform in India composed of hundreds of organizations of all kinds. From slum-dwellers and tenants, through agriculture workers, through factory workers, through women, environmentalist, political parties and human rights activists – just about any field you can think of. Because the home is so central to every part of life.
In the five years of its existence, it succeeded in raising this question – some likened it to a fire that was burning in the country – a lot of people came around agreeing that housing was not about buildings, it was about a place to live in security and dignity. This redefinition – aside from our trying to bring it to national policy and into law – ended up also going up to the UN and becoming embedded into UN agreements and covenants and so forth. We did not do that by ourselves, we joined an international coalition of people concerned about housing issues and it was that coalition that carried that forward.
Trycia Bazinet – Social Action
Finally, this third video is of Trycia Bazinet, a white settler Canadian who is active in decolonization and indigenous issues activism. She describes her work in the social action model, which is transformative and aims to redistribute power and help marginalized people gain access to resources. Here she discusses her experience organizing a mobilization which involved people putting up a Teepee on Canada’s Parliament Hill.
One of the challenges that we faced when we brought the Teepee on parliament hill, the ceremonial teepee on unseeded Algonquin land on parliament hill, at Canadas 150th birthday was that, it was mostly youth organizing this action, we were responding to Idle No More’s call to action which is a national organization, grass root organization, that supports indigenous struggles, so we were youth and not a lot of people believed in us.
We were youth and not a lot of people believed in us. So we had to hold our own meeting and we did not get any support until people started to arrest some people from our group, like there was violence and then all the media showed up, and all the politicians showed up. That’s when people start to show support, when it becomes big.
But that’s not the reason why we did it. We had kind of a vision from the start and if you stick to it and try not to be influenced by changes in media attention and professor attention or community, like the wider community attention who now starts to believe in you, once you’ve somehow gotten attention form the wider public sphere, then usually its good because you’re not going to get such a huge success every time. It depends on so many factors, so some rallies are direct action that you will organize and almost no people will show up, it happens and people don’t talk about that, but there’s also, its also part of it, so sometimes you’ll do something that’s really successful and will affect public opinion about something, so that’s great, but it doesn’t mean it’s always going to be like that and its important to remember that, to not get discouraged and to keep going.
Also for older people to believe your youth when they want to come up with a plan that seems impossible when they want change, when they are driven to change communities, one of the most important things you can do is to believe them and to offer whatever small support that you can. So to not always shut down possibilities of world making really.