Engaged Civic Activism:
Ten Lessons and One Caveat
Dr. Mashael Alhajeri
A Talk delivered at the ‘Dialogue X’ forum
Faculty of Architecture, Kuwait University, 20 November 2017
(1) A broken pipe? A badly loaned grass? Tattered street signs? No matter how small the problem is, remember Mother Nature’s basic rule: the little ones always grow up (sometimes to gigantic proportions, even). Do not be passive. Speak up, before it’s too late.
(2) Not only does complaining create bad energy, it leads to nowhere. Act, or you lose all right to be heard (and honestly: nobody wants to listen to another grumbler).
(3) Do not work alone. Find (or create) a small cohort of like-minded people, and gather around your chosen common cause.
(4) The smaller the group, the better the interaction (group dynamics, logistics, decision-making patterns etc). Remember: numbers do not mean anything. It is qualitative, not quantitative; even a train of 20 compartments is driven by one small engine-equipped locomotive.
(5) Be civilized. Do not dramatize.
(6) Mind your language. Anger is not an excuse for defamatory rhetoric. Use offensive, obscene words, and you will be amazed to witness the law machine moving faster, and more efficiently, than its administrative counterpart, ie the one you have been struggling against all the time!
(7) Practice sound, moral judgments. Even wars, when waged, are salvaged by ethics and chivalry. Integrity is key.
(8) Educate yourself about your topic, eg:
– Social history
– Administrative plan
– Civil experiences
– Best practices
– Regulatory requirements
– Comparative law, etc.
(9) Keep your messages short, concise, and well-defined. Result-oriented public platforms are not meant to be arenas for intellectual muscle-flexing.
(10) Administrivia, all over the world, is a factory of vain hopes and meaningless promises. However, remember: this is only natural, as administrivia is merely the backdrop of politics. So, do not have great faith in classical administrative hierarchies (ie bureaucracies). These are merely structures; they only function when inhabited by a ‘soul’ (a believer, an angry citizen, a driven group, community demands / rejections etc).
Despite all the above, there is always a good chance that your passionate civic endeavors will not necessarily be fruitful. In fact, and statistically speaking, there will be frustrations and defeats more than there would be satisfactory, tangible results.
But that’s absolutely fine. The reasons for this being:
– You are not alone. It is a relay race. Somebody else will always pick up right where you stopped. This is what is particularly beautiful about community work.
– Most importantly, you get to show the world what you’re made of 🙂