I’m currently engaged in a number of projects that have me working at the margins, exploring margins, eliminating margins and generally working with difference, otherness, power and exclusion. These projects include:
- Running an Open Space Technology event in September to create collaborative actions around reducing addictions-related stigma in the health system in Vancouver.
- Working with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in the United States on supporting and expanding a culture of welcome and acceptance in their work with migrants and refugees, work that is stunningly radical in the context of the current “conversation” on immigration in the USA.
- Part of a team co-hosting an Art of Social Justice gathering in New York City, looking at how power, privilege, race, class and other forms of marginalization and control crop up in society and what challenges those pose for the application of self-organization and participatory leadership in addressing these challenges.
- Working with youth organizations that support the reduction of stigma for youth with mental illnesses in Ontario and the inclusion of youth voice in policy and practice.
What is common to these projects is the idea that voices matter, that diversity matters and that the reality of community life now is that solutions to complex social problems are not going to emerge without participation from the margins. It is in fact the margins that will probably produce the solutions to the radical problems facing societies these days. If you look at the debate in the United States between Republican and Democrats about the fiscal future of the State, the conversation is being conducted on very narrow lines. There is a huge hole in the debate where the voices of those disempowered by the current financial situation are not being heard. A radical restructuring of the way people think about national economies is needed if the US is to make a transition from what is clearly an unsustainable path to something that ensures that the needs of citizens are met over the long term. Where are the solutions? They are not in the Congress, the are not in the financial pages of the newspaper, they are not at Davos, or the G20 or the IMF or on Wall Street.
It is the same with all of the intractable problems that we face. My friend Willie Tolliver, one of our Elders for the work we are doing in New York, says that change in social systems comes from clients, not from those within the system. Radical changes are driven by the clients and consumers of services re-designing the structures that provide for them. It happens when people claim the ownership of a problem and are able to get their hands on enough power to turn the ship. What keeps those voices out of the conversation is both the vested power and the unconscious practice of privilege which excludes and stigmatizes voices from the margins, and especially the voices and talents and capacities of those who have been victimized, oppressed, excluded or plain beaten down by the prevailing system.
It’s time for movement and movements, for action and activism, for engaging with power and questioning power, for creating ties and breaking them. That’s what’s in the air at the moment.