1 June 2015 Edition
Building an Alternative
There’s been a surge in political and social activism. Leadership is everywhere – workplaces, in the community and beyond
SIOBHÁN O’DONOGHUE is Director of Uplift, social justice
campaigning organisationFOR MANY IN IRELAND, the ability to effect change seems to be an ever-decreasing possibility. Corporate power is rising and trust in political parties and the traditional structures of democracy are in decline. Representative democracy is failing the majority and more and more people feel disempowered and distanced from decision makers.
Inequality at every level has deepened in recent years. Current and future generations have been saddled with an enormous national debt that has resulted in grinding austerity, a hollowing out of essential public services, increased poverty. A deregulated and broken economy has led to unprecedented levels of unemployment, emigration and ‘in work’ poverty.
The impact of climate change and environmental destruction is at crisis point.
Transparency and accountability are sadly lacking at every level of society, reinforcing cynicism and disillusionment.
The world is changing. The way citizens engage with politics is also changing, and democracy needs to change with it. Formal politics is out of touch with ordinary people. In parallel, there’s been a surge in political and social activism – from community gardens to festivals, national rallies and campaigns to a surge in online debate. Leadership is everywhere – the schoolyard, workplaces, within families, in the community and beyond.
We can no longer ignore the desire for change.
The digital revolution is helping change the rules of the game – and there’s no going back.
Under the old rules, a closed system dominated by political and economic insiders made the decisions, relatively immune from public scrutiny. Under the new rules, vast numbers of people are able to take co-ordinated action to influence decision-making. Information transparency and rapid online communication means we can know when it’s time to act. When decision-makers understand that people can be easily mobilised again and again, it makes it harder to ignore the people’s voice.
There’s no shortage of creative and enthusiastic people who care about the direction Irish society is going in and who want to be part of shaping our future.
Uplift formed in 2014 to provide a campaigning platform that connects with people who share progressive values in real and immediate ways to take co-ordinated action. Social justice, equality and sustainability are our bedrock values and political independence is what defines us.
Uplift uses digital technology to support online and offline campaigning. Since launching at the end of 2014 we have built a campaigning community of close to 10,000 members. The common denominator across the community is that we share progressive values.
The Uplift approach is to build unity and community by taking co-ordinated action on selected campaigns.
Campaigns are selected on the basis of member preference and interest, urgency and timeliness, and relevance to promoting progressive values. We find moveable targets and take co-ordinated action to apply people-powered action. Campaigns often start by engaging members and potential members using accessible ‘low bar’ actions such as signing a petition. As the campaign gets stronger and a community of people become more engaged and involved, the tactics and actions become more ambitious – i.e. direct contact with decision-makers
Uplift members come from every walk of life, generation and every part of Ireland. Typical members are busy, interested in the world but don’t usually define themselves as politically active. They are grandparents worried about their grandchildren’s futures, young people who feel politics has nothing to offer them, farmers who value their role as custodians of nature, low-paid workers who are busy just trying to survive, public sector workers who want to be in solidarity with other workers, employers who believe in equality and fair taxation.
Uplift members have started to define their vision for a progressive Ireland. This conversation is in the early stages and will continue over the coming year. The views of members are varied and wide ranging but can be all captured under the following headings
- Trust in decision makers
- Democratic participation
- Economy for the common good
- Our planet protected
- A secure home
- An adequate income for everyone
- Care is valued
- Decent work for everyone
- Quality publicly-owned public services
- Equality for women
- An empowering education system
- Decent healthcare
- Eradication of poverty and inequality
- Flourishing local communities
Whatever happens next, what’s clear is that there has been a vacuum in Irish civil and political structures. What’s also clear is that this vacuum will not be filled by one overarching new structure but by a range of mechanisms. Uplift hopes to make a contribution to building a politically independent, people-powered campaigning community. It will take time and to be successful must be member-driven and defined.
• Uplift is completely independent and not aligned to any political or corporate interests.