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CIVICUS: Reflections on the Power of Civil Society

For three days several civil society representatives met in Montreal, Canada for the CIVICUS World Assembly to discuss different ways to mobilize people, starting with their own aspirations.

The subjects were (and still are) diverse: from civil movements, social equality, and the effects of new technologies, to climate justice. Participants discussed the role of technology in empowering communities, the necessary changes in the relationship between citizens and governments, the online and offline world, movements in the Arab world, and the role of youth in building new societies.

Tristan Brand | CIVICUS World Assembly 2011 – Used with permission

Between activists, academics, workers, thinkers and bloggers, the discussions filled webpages, posts, tweets and other media. Ideas where exchanged with the purpose of continuing with the activities that have made changes in civil participation visible.

In order to maintain ideas flowing, here are some posts that covered the assembly, particularly during the end of it. The discussions are far from over, and the more you read and share, the better!

Paul McAdams wrote his reflections in a letter dedicated to his children. He named it “You can make a difference”:

The people I met agreed that “new technologies” like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and text messages (none of which were ever new to you) are important tools to connect us together and learn more about struggles happening half a world away. But (…) is not enough.

Anna Mazgal says in her post “All Kinds of Mushrooms”:

I think big thanks go to both the facilitators and the audience that posed very good questions to inspire the rest and avoided easy answers. Any answer conceived in an hour-and-a-half workshop would be strikingly false on the issue that still belongs to the future.

In the post “When Communities of the Poor Empower Themselves“, written by one of the organizers, there were some interesting thoughts:

The heady events we have come to know as the Arab Spring are just one recent example of the aspirations of millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East for a greater say in their lives, for more just and economically equitable societies. In many other countries, from Brazil to Thailand to Senegal – to name only a representative few – social movements already decades old have also been struggling to define their own development processes.

Finally, in a blog post in French, Sophie Verdon shares her conclusions :

(…) la participation citoyenne est bel et bien présente à travers le monde, les citoyens de partout veulent exercer leur pouvoir citoyen de diverses façons. Le contexte amène souvent des complications à cet exercice, mais la volonté y est! Le pouvoir du nombre et la solidarité pourront amener les citoyens à se mobiliser (…). Profitons de la conjoncture favorable qui nous est offerte ici, et dont nous ne profitons malheureusement pas assez…! Tout cela est en émergence et en évolution constante, tout cela m’a beaucoup inspirée.

Citizen participation is well represented around the world, people everywhere want to exercise their civic power in various ways. This context frequently leads to complications, but the will is there! The power of numbers and solidarity can lead citizens to mobilize (…) Let's take advantage of the connections that favor us here and which, unfortunately, we do not use enough! Everything is still growing and continually evolving, and has been so inspiring for me!

Tristan Brand | CIVICUS World Assembly 2011 – Used with permission

This is just a small sample. It is worth going to the Assembly's blog and reviewing what has been said. Bloggers have shared their perspectives in English, French and Spanish, and through various tweets.

The hope is that after this event more voices in favor of empowering citizens will join in. Ideas and experiences gain strength when they are shared, as we have seen before. Technology has come to the aid of those who did not attend CIVICUS: the videos of the conferences are available here. The public space is open, may ideas keep flowing!

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