On ‘Blessed Unrest’ and the worldwide social movement

When we are working for progressive change, it can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. It can be hard to see ourselves as part of a broader movement, especially if we are focussed on making change at the local level.

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World is an inspiring reminder that we are all part of a much larger, worldwide movement. Author Paul Hawken, an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author, published this book in 2007 after many years working with colleagues to create a global database of civil society organizations working for environmental and social change. There are millions of such groups, located in every corner of the globe. Together, they constitute a worldwide movement without a name.

Hawken tells a compelling story of this new movement. While it is rooted in older movements for progressive change, this new movement is not organized around ideology or charismatic leaders, but instead appears to be fundamentally grassroots, decentralized, and dispersed. Groups vary widely in their concerns, methods and goals, yet all share an understanding of the need for equity and fairness for all people, and an understanding of humanity’s dependence on the life support systems of our planet. For Hawken, this movement constitutes a new social phenomenon in human history. He suggests that the emergence of millions of groups working for social justice and environmental change is humanity’s organic, immunological response to the multiple threats our planet is facing.

It is easy to miss this story of a worldwide emergence in the daily grind of working at the local level. It doesn’t help that the mainstream media does not recognize or report on this movement, despite its magnitude and global reach. The sheer diversity of groups discourages us from seeing this as a collective response. Movements have typically been understood in narrower terms—for example, we tend to think in terms such as environmental movements, antiracist movements, or peace movements. In telling a different story, Hawken breaks down those divisions and shows us the unity in our diverse expressions of activism.

I’ve been pondering the implications of this book for our work in Transition. Building local resilience is a complex task, and it makes sense that we need a diverse array of people, groups, and approaches to accomplish it. Yet working with diverse priorities in a movement can be very challenging; not everyone sees the problems and solutions in the same way. Perhaps if we can learn to perceive diverse expressions of activism as part of a shared movement story, it will give us the courage to engage with concerns and activism that are unfamiliar or challenging.

I’m thinking particularly here of how we engage with social justice concerns. Hawken concludes Blessed Unrest with an insight that I found particularly penetrating:

There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But it is the other way around; the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus.

Most of us in Transition understand social justice to be a crucial part of community resilience. But are there ways that we could be more proactive in directly addressing the ongoing wounds of social and racial injustice? We can take inspiration from work happening in other Transition groups. For example, a recent post on the Transition US website offers some excellent resources. How might these insights and resources be applicable here in Kamloops?

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