I have a lot of admiration and sympathy for Greta Thunberg and fellow #ClimateStrikes campaigners (those campaigning for change on twitter or taking to the streets). Children in my school find them inspiring; they give them hope; they give them ideas.
There will be times when our imagination will be seduced by inspirational figures and there will be times when politicians will be forced (or led) to make decisions which will positively impact the lives of millions. I am hopeful that Greta’s demands will be met with a degree of positivity by national governments. The publicity and support she and her followers are receiving is clearly leading governments to feel rather foolish when disagreeing – or not engaging – with the ‘voices of the future’.
We like a hero. We like a figurehead. Cultures around the world have develop folklores based on the principle that there’ll be times when some saviours will come to our rescue and we’ll all be fine. Greta has reached that symbolic status rather quickly and it’s wonderful to see her grow as an international leader.
However, I am also reminded that change rarely happens that simply. It is easy to be tempted to think that a viral campaign is where the answers to our many societal ills lie. But it’s not the case.
In relation to climate issues, the pathetic response a group of students got from Senator Feinstein is sadly too common when it comes to young people (or people in general, for that matter).
Whilst we need to find ways to inspire our children and get them to realise that change is exciting – and global campaigns such as #ClimateStrikes are brilliant for that – we also need to teach them that the change is a tough process, one that is rooted in universal principles.
In order to achieve change at systemic level, we are invited to focus on the craft of leadership development and community organising (collective and sustained action). In doing so – teaching people about the real meaning of democracy and citizenship, as touched upon in a previous blog, with a brief reference to Socrates – we need to develop strategies which enable us to embrace our sense of personal and collective agency. Agency is the key to change. And if we’re serious about having an impact on our lives, we need to build our collective agency.
In order to move from the world as it is (a world with all its pressurising complexities and injustices) to a world as it should be (where justice and unity prevail), we need to teach our students what politics – as a process – is about. This process is threefold:
- We need to start with what’s on our doorstep.
- We need to learn to win.
- In starting with what’s on our doorstep and in learning to win, we need to grow personally (as leaders) and collectively (as leaders/teachers of others).
This threefold approach centres around the notion of power which, straightforwardly, can be defined as ‘the ability to act’ (some will call this agency). The ability to act is something we all have, so let’s get our students to exercise their birth right, but only by being supported strategically. Otherwise, it’d be like telling them to ride a bike without having been taught how to. Furthermore – and see what happens when you ask young people what they’d like to change – if they’re not guided, they’ll want to tackle things which are out of their reach or too nebulous.
In our schools, we can successfully address issues on our doorstep: the fact that street lights don’t work properly, the fact that playgrounds on our council estates are never repaired when broken, etc. These issues affect our students, they are winnable, and they can help us develop the skills to be strategic whilst also helping us focus on the need to build links with others interested in change. From personal growth, to growing a team, to developing multiple teams, our agenda for change also grows.
Martin Luther King Jr. described power as “the ability to achieve purpose” and “the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change.”
We all have power – the ability to act. What we don’t automatically have, though, is the ability to win. That only comes when collective power is built. And when that collective power is built and sustained, the influence we can exert on the world around us grows too. In other words, the more power you have, the more change you can bring about.
See more examples of what this can look like here.
Want to share some of your successes, get in touch @sebchapleau.