Thursday, March 3, 2011

Believing Again that We can Make a Difference

As I watched the television the other night of the peoples' victory in Egypt, I was transported back into the 1960s and 1970s. These were the years of my youth. The ones that shaped my whole life since. They were the years when we truly believed everything was possible. We could actually change the world if we wanted to. We could shape a new destiny. We would strategise and plan and then take action in groups to make things happen that we believed needed to change. We believed we could make a difference!

And we did it! Over and over we did it. We changed workplaces. We changed the churches. We impacted on indigenous land right issues. We changed the balance of power in childbirth from doctors and hospitals back to mothers and families. We walked in the Vietnam moratoriums and believed we changed the Australian government's position. We prepared and signed petitions almost monthly. We wrote letters to important people. We were always having action oriented meetings, like I’ve never since experienced, to plan the next project. I had a very distinct and empowering feeling back then that I was able to change the world.

It wasn’t because I was young and idealistic either. I was connecting and working with people who were 20 years older than me. We all believed it. We were proving over and over that it could be done. It was the age of liberatory movements.

We adopted a process of action and reflection, action and reflection. We would take action, come back and reflect on it and take more action. Such a powerful strategy. Every success we had, spurred us on to more successes. We read Paulo Freire. Saul Alinsky, Ivan Illich, Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Che Guevara. What a mixture!

I can’t believe now some of the things I did back then, that I could never see myself doing today in my “old age”! I would get politicians direct phone numbers and ring them - and they would take my calls. I was heavily involved in the youth movements in the Catholic Church, but we weren’t being listened to and taken seriously. I would go and ring the door bell of the Bishop’s Palace and I would be invited in. Yes, it was called a Palace so that gives you an idea of how extraordinary it was that I was invited in.

I was in Europe just after the Student Power Riots had taken place in Paris in the mid 60s. The barricades were still in the streets. I met with student leaders in little upstairs rooms like we now see in the movies. My children can’t believe I was in the States when Woodstock was on and didn’t go. I was actually engaged in meetings and talks to effect bigger change than that and didn’t have time for such frivolity. I was a bit too serious I must admit. Although they now think I was a hippy then because I gave birth to them at home in the late 1970s and early 80s.

About 5 years ago, I called together a group of key people with whom I had worked back in the 1970s. We wanted to look at what had motivated us back then and where that dynamic energy and spirit gone. Really we wanted to re-capture it – a bit nostalgic I now admit. Why was there so much apathy around today? Why were our own children so apolitical? Where were the action-oriented people who were strategically planning to make a difference? We met monthly for 18 months. We came to the conclusion that it was gone forever, that we had experienced one of the most exciting times in history but that it was over. We would never experience that momentum again.

Then something happened to change all that!

The people in the streets of Egypt rose up against a dictatorial leader. They stayed the course of the race and they won. They fought for freedom, for human rights. Once again the people in the street were making a difference. They had brought about the most extraordinary change in a country where no one would have thought it was possible. They had confronted the greatest odds and won. I was actually on the edge of my chair at one stage, until my husband asked me what on earth I was doing and brought me back into 2011.Now the people of Libya have been inspired and empowered by Egypt.

So I now believe again that all things are possible. We can make a difference in 2011. We have to think differently to the way we thought in the 1970s. As Einstein said: “A problem cannot be solved with the same type of thinking that created it”. Nor can it be solved with the same “tools”. And if, as was reported, it really was social media that moved the people of Egypt, that united them, that fuelled their commitment for change, that created the momentum and sustained it, then we have to begin to recognise the potential of this empowering medium when it goes viral.


  1. Wow, great message, Maree! I missed out on that era, and by the time I got to Uni it was all a bit bland - to the relief of my parents, who were worried that I would get caught up in demonstrations with all the dreadful students and their activism. What a wonderful era to look back on, and you are right - if it was possible then, it's possible now.

  2. Shelley, when I returned to uni in the late 1980s to do some post-grad work after my children were born, I was doing a course that related to this era - pure indulgence! There were quite a few mature age students in the group who were still basking in the sunlight of this time. We had great difficulty, however, communicating to younger members of the course the impact these times had had on us. For them that course was intellectual, for us it was about passion. My own kids roll their eyes when I begin to talk about it, however. I do think they admire my passion.