Social movements sincerely trying to create a better world, whether in big or in modest ways, have always been important. Their importance has increased much more in present times characterized by the unprecedented crisis of a serious human-made threat to the basis-nurturing conditions of our planet, in turn caused by climate change, related serious environmental problems and weapons of mass destruction.
With the emergence of this overwhelming reality in the 21st century, how will social movements respond?
This writer has been fortunate in coming in close contact with several leading social movements of India as well as several more modest efforts which were no less in their sincerity and commitment. These social movements made significant contributions and for me personally there was much to learn from these associations, even though my involvement was generally limited more as a writer and reporter.
Learning from these experiences, what is the most important role of social movements in the present unprecedented times of a human-made threat to life-nurturing conditions of earth?
It is important to assert that despite the changing conditions and unprecedented challenges, the solutions must still be sought within a broad framework of commitment to justice, equality, peace, democracy and environment protection. These broad commitments of most social movements should continue. They should be transparent, democratic and non-violent in their reach-out to people, seeking to engage with people instead of trying to impose their views. People can continue to be questioning or critical of some aspects of a social movement, even while contributing to some aspects. There should be a sincere effort to establish broad agreements on some crucial aspects, and to achieve very encouraging results by establishing cooperation on this basis, without being disturbed too much by other disagreements.
What is most important is that social movements create such conditions in which more and more people are encouraged and helped to think in well-informed ways about their most relevant role in present times, and then strive to live life in accordance with these roles. This has always been important, it is much more so now.
The first part of this effort is of course to analyze the present world situation as well as the local situation. On this basis various persons decide what are the most important issues and problems. Then these persons decide how they themselves can best contribute to the resolving of these problems in their own limited way, what is their own role and what changes they need to make in their own life to contribute as best as they can. They are encouraged to make their own decisions but the social movement can be helpful in this, in making more well-informed decisions. The social movement should not insist that anyone should be a part of the social movement. As long as people are thinking in this way and deciding their most creative role to contribute to a better and safer world, the social movement is happy. On the other hand, if they seek to join the social movement in a more active way, then the social movement is even happier.
People should be encouraged to think in terms of evidence-based and rational ways, encouraged to think independently and make an effort to research on their own, and at the same time get rid of restrictive, dogmatic and outdated approaches.
A particularly important effort should be to prepare people to have a wider and more holistic understanding by integrating issues of justice and equality, peace and harmony, protection of environment and biodiversity and then linking this with the protection of life-nurturing conditions of earth.
An effort should be made for social movements to function in such non-imposing, democratic ways that there can be increasing cooperation of people all over the world, cutting across narrow boundaries, for improving the prospects of peace, justice and environment protection, but in addition also for several smaller issues which reduce distress and improve welfare.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Man over Machine, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.