21 March 2006

Social change beyond the state

“The democratic power of civil society becomes relevant at both these points of vigilance: first as a means of resisting tyranny within the state and laying the foundations of political equality and popular control, and second as a means of building democratic counter-power to the anti-democratic sources of power outside the state, which have long been eroding the power of the franchise.”
[Hilary Wainwright, “Civil Society, Democracy and Power” chapter in Global Civil Society Yearbook 2004/5]

Wherever there are relationships between people, between people and organisations, even between people and the environment, there is hope that harmony will prevail. There is hope that social change will improve our living conditions, our cultural and moral decadence, and remove the barriers that now stand between us and a better world.

This may sound like a utopian view, but according to Hilary Wainwright, this can happen through civil society organisations exercising their rights against repressive political (and economic) power... without resorting to violence. As a case study, she cites the example of the World Social Forum (WSF) which began as a local movement in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, but has now become a globally-reputed forum exercising international influence and achieving a great deal of political equality for many.

To me, the WSF is symbolic. What the WSF really represents is a model for others to follow. A model that supports the idea that social change beyond the state is possible – and can be achieved in a democracy. That, together, people can ensure that instances of injustice and oppression are reduced, that social order is achieved in harmony, that moral integrity is restored in a society, that elected governments are persuaded to implement their election promises.

It’s not everything, but it’s a start.

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