Social Change: Working With the Inner and Outer Dimensions of Self Organization

Less than three weeks ago I posted on my personal Facebook page that I wanted to get a van filled with supplies to deliver to refugees in "The Jungle," Calais, hopeful that a few of my friends would be able to help me.
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By: Justine Corrie


Less than three weeks ago I posted on my personal Facebook page that I wanted to get a van filled with supplies to deliver to refugees in "The Jungle," Calais, hopeful that a few of my friends would be able to help me.

Today we have a dedicated Facebook group with over 1500 members, over £2000 raised, 6 local donation drop-off points, a central sorting and packing storage hub donated by a local town council and are likely to be sending a convoy of vehicles now.

We are not the only community doing this. There are literally hundreds springing up all over the UK, initiated by people like myself, impacted by news reports and images of the thousands of refugees and the homes they are no longer able to feel safe in. The relief effort to get aid to the refugees is a demonstration of self-organisation on a grand scale.

The bulk of the collaboration between people, to turn impact to action, is happening online, on social media platforms, often mobilised between people who have never even met in person.

While so many of us have been moved by the desperate images of refugees: the capsized boats and floating bodies; the endless procession of thousands upon thousands of the weary and numb walking across eastern Europe; the razor wire fences and the make shift flooded shanty town in Calais -- I'm also curious what else is being triggered deep within us all.

The archetype of the refugee looms large in my ancestral story and I have a lot to be personally thankful for: My great-grandfather was a refugee. He came to England from Russia as a 15-year old boy fleeing the violence of the Pogroms. My children's grandfather came here in 1939 as a three-year old fleeing the persecution of the Nazis.

I wonder also whether something more is being ignited in our collective psyche. The volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world conditions with which we find ourselves facing in the 21st century and the inadequate responses of those we place in power, can result in a sense of feeling powerless, disenfranchised and dispossessed.

Perhaps there is a part of our inner-world that also finds itself bewildered and wandering the lonely road of grief and despair. Perhaps it is in part this that is driving so many of us to want to "do something now."

What has been witnessed in the last few weeks has been a monumental call to action among the public of this country: a brand of activism on a scale rarely seen before in the UK. Individuals, groups and communities are mobilising to collect donations and deliver aid to refugees in Calais and beyond, and this is wonderful.

But, as with many human endeavours on a collective scale, we are seeing some unintended consequences which are not helping the situation. This is another example of where action, without the balancing influence of awareness and reflection, can also greatly hamper the very thing it seeks to achieve.

The small volunteer organisations that distribute aid in Calais have been overwhelmed, their capacity at breaking point. The spontaneous arrival of well-intentioned, but unplanned, groups and individuals bringing aid to Calais has completely disrupted the distribution system currently in place.

A collaborative effort of self-organisation is required, a huge challenge on this scale of operation. The fact that most of the activity is generated via social media offers potential for activism and social-change on an unprecedented scale as well as bringing with it a deluge of challenges for effective organisation. We need to learn from our mistakes fast.

Can we find ways to use the mass-scale platform of social-media effectively and consciously? I see the same patterns and difficulties of organisational-life play out within the groups, pages and forums online: un-clear purpose, non-existent decision-making processes, conflicts and struggles with power dynamics.

We require models to help us find a shared purpose; communicate more collaboratively; create structures where tasks and roles are clear and empowering; learn effective decision making skills to meet a wide range of contexts and support the harnessing of collective wisdom and individual autonomy.

And balanced with this important action, we also need to bring a deep awareness to our own intentions, relationships and who we become in our groups. This is the work I'm developing with Conscious Collaboration.

What I am seeing reminds me of Charles Eisenstein's words:

Without deep work on yourself, how will you avoid re-creating your own internalized oppression in all that you do? So often we see the same abuses of power, the same organizational dysfunctions among social change activists as we do in the institutions they seek to change...

Unless we have done transformation work on ourselves, we will remain products of the very same civilization we seek to transform. We need to change our habits of thought, beliefs and doing as well as change our systems. Each reinforces the other...

This is one of the great balancing acts of the 21st century human: we can only be as effective as we are aware. I feel this is the one of the greatest challenges we face in our work of collaborating together. Together, our communities are capable of immense accomplishments and service, but we need to bring awareness to the, often unconscious, dynamics at play both within our groups, and within ourselves.

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About Justine Corrie:
Justine is an Awareness Activist. She has an MA in Core Process Psychotherapy, a mindfulness-based modality, and works with both individuals and groups. Together with Nick Osborne she co-founded Conscious Collaboration to offer trainings and consultancy for groups wanting to self-organise beyond hierarchy.

Working with the dynamics of all kinds of relationships is something Justine feels impassioned about, along with the wider implications of the relationships of humankind in the global systems of interconnectedness and interdependence.

As well as her psychotherapy practice and conscious collaboration, Justine is developing and delivers courses in relational mindfulness. She lives in Somerset with her two daughters.