Tag Archives: Civil society

The Time of Civil Society

by Grian A. Cutanda

Published on 19th September 2014, in People’s Climate March Edinburgh

“The origin of all the serious problems of the current crisis is mainly caused by the dissociation between the scales of economy and politics. Economic forces are global, while political powers are national. This imbalance, which devastates laws and local references, turns the increasing globalization in an ominous force.”
—Zygmunt Bauman (2011)

The renowned sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, author of the theory of liquid modernity, points in just a few lines to the root of the serious social and environmental problems we are facing, climate change being the most pressing of them.

Globalization has come to pass the political powers worldwide under the yoke of financial markets, of banks and big corporations. Thus, it has plunged us into a deep undemocratic state in which decisions are made not according to voters but to the interests of the major economic forces. This is what has led to civil society in much of the world to mobilize against such blatant loss of rights and freedom, through civil grassroots movements that have spread from the countries of the Arab Spring, going through Greece and Spain, to spread around the world and culminating in the famous Occupy Wall Street.

Given the ineffectiveness of political powers, incapable of going beyond their national borders in search of political globalization, the only force that is fighting back the claims of a purely economic globalization is the global civil society

As Bauman points out, these social movements are making up for the lack of a true global political force, and are doing so by popular opposition. Given the ineffectiveness of political powers, incapable of going beyond their national borders in search of political globalization —the case of Europe in this regard is paradigmatic—, the only force that is fighting back the claims of a purely economic globalization is the global civil society. Through the World Social Forums, and especially the myriad of NGOs scattered worldwide collaborating to create vast action networks on our planet, only civil society is able to offer some outright global resistance and opposition to markets interests.

But the problem with this kind of movements, a product of liquid modernity, as correctly stated by Bauman, is that they lose strength and dissolve, that they do not acquire enough solidity to face and overcome such great powers. In this very fact, indeed, lies the hope of the established economic powers.

That means that protests such as the current People’s Climate March should not be left in an isolated expression from the planetary citizenship; yes, a powerful and global expression, but without continuity. It is crucial that these movements do not dissolve in a vacuum within a few weeks of their activation. It is also essential to perpetuate the momentum in a liquid shape, like a tide or, perhaps better, like a groundswell sea storm, able to become a permanent global movement that undermines the foundations of the anti-democratic economic powers in the background, behind the “thrones”.

If we want to give a future to our children and grandchildren, if we are to bequeath them this beautiful planet that our ancestors left for us, if we want them to live in a fair society, a society respectful of differences, in a world without wars and violence, we will have to maintain the drive over time to get enough liquid momentum to sweep and compel those powers that are hidden in the stock markets to cooperate.

Our time has come, the time of the civil society. Beyond what our political representatives can do or not, it is up to us to become a global force capable of changing the course of humanity and our planet

Our time has come, as this is our time, the time of the civil society. Beyond what our political representatives —those we have chosen— can do or not, it is up to us to become a global force capable of changing the course of humanity and our planet. We have reached, at least in a good part of societies on Earth, the coming of age of consciousness. We can’t sit and wait for our politicians-parents to resolve a problem on our behalf for which they do not have enough global strength. We alone can make the necessary change of direction in world affairs.

But this will mean doing things differently. In a liquid society, the hierarchical verticality becomes horizontality, collective leadership and collective thinking. Not that there are no leaders, but leadership should be exercised now through proximity, through equality from the base, through a sense of accompaniment, through an openness to ideas and people.

Our operating model will have to stop being a pyramidal one —rigid, vertical, based on discipline— to become a vast network of interconnections in a flexible, horizontal and closeness liquid model. And, especially and above all, our model should be in its deepest essence a non-violent model, based on Gandhi’s ahimsa, in the pursuit of truth, justice, beauty and the common good.

Now it is the time of civil society, and the enormous responsibility of leaving a habitable and just world for future generations has been placed in our hands. It is a huge responsibility. But if Life has given us such responsibility, it is because we can assume and overcome this challenge.

Now it is the time of civil society, and the enormous responsibility of leaving a habitable and just world for future generations has been placed in our hands.

Honestly, despite the deep respect I have for him, I think Zygmunt Bauman was wrong when, in 2011, analysing the emerging 15M movement in Spain, which would result in the Occupy Movement in half the world, said that this movement, being liquid, would not be a lasting one (El País 17/10/2011). Right now, three years after, a party born out of the entrails of this movement, is about to become the second party in that country’s vote intention polls, and all of this with a horizontal and participatory model, making decisions within local assemblies.

Who knows if the power of the liquid will not end up becoming a powerful wave impossible to stop? After all, water, drop by drop, is able to hollow out even the hardest rock. Only persistence is required.