Monday, April 08, 2013

Don't Agonize, ORGANIZE!

 Some Words of Hope by Onyango Oloo

Enough I say.

Enough of the wailing and whining; the screaming and moaning.

End of the hand wringing and foot stomping.


Enough of the fulminations and vituperations.

Enough of the shaking of fists and gnashing of teeth.

But I am not saying it is time to move on.

Move on from what to what?

Actually it is time we stayed put.

It time we held even more tenaciously to our core beliefs.

Our convictions about justice, about democracy, about the truth.

We must stand tall in fighting for equality and equity; stand firm in demanding an end to impunity and duplicity.


The elections are over.

We have new ward representatives, senators and governors in each of our 47 counties.

We have women representatives from each of our counties sitting in the National Assembly.

We are swearing in the fourth president and his deputy.

Soon, that president will have a cabinet appointed for the first time, from outside parliament.

Soon, we will have cabinet secretaries taking over from the old permanent secretaries.

We have an economy to build; a nation to unite; we have a constitution to implement.

And we are on the verge of doing this when on the surface it would appear that all hope is lost, all victories reversed.

But I have never felt more hopeful.

I have never felt more optimistic.

I think I am the one who invented the phrase, “cynicism is a luxury we can ill afford.”

 I will shortly check with Google to verify if this is the case, but right now I feel I own those words, because that is my credo.

As a poet I get my sustenance from other poets, other spoken word artists, the ones who are progressive; the militant ones, the ones who breathe, drink, eat and sleep revolution.

They inspire me. 

They make me spring up when I have stumbled.

Poets like the late South African activist Dennis Brutus who talked of “stubborn hope.”
Poets like the Vietnamese national liberation hero and revolutionary Ho Chi Minh who gave the following advice to himself:

Without the cold and bleakness of winter
The warmth and splendour could never be
Misfortune has steeled and tempered me
And strengthened my resolve even further.

(From his Prison Diary, composed when he was incarcerated by the fascist regime in China at that time between 29 August 1942 and 10 September 1943. He was arrested by the Chinese authorities when he was trying to cross the border from Vietnam to China secretly in the course of his clandestine organizing for his country’s liberation. I picked the yellow covered little booklet in Hanoi when I was in Vietnam in September 2007 for a solidarity meeting bringing together activists from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America).

I am thinking of Langston Hughes, the African-American icon of the Harlem Renaissance:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

And Chile’s great gift to the world Pablo Neruda’s lyricism still pulsates in my heart as he tells us about dictators:

An odor has remained among the sugarcane:
a mixture of blood and body, a penetrating
petal that brings nausea.
Between the coconut palms the graves are full
of ruined bones, of speechless death-rattles.
The delicate dictator is talking
with top hats, gold braid, and collars.
The tiny palace gleams like a watch
and the rapid laughs with gloves on
cross the corridors at times
and join the dead voices
and the blue mouths freshly buried.
The weeping cannot be seen, like a plant
whose seeds fall endlessly on the earth,
whose large blind leaves grow even without light.
Hatred has grown scale on scale,
blow on blow, in the ghastly water of the swamp,
with a snout full of ooze and silence

Even as the evergreen literary genius, the German born Bertolt Brecht underscores the theme of solidarity:

Peoples of the world, together
Join to serve the common cause!
So it feeds us all for ever
See to it that it's now yours.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

Black or white or brown or yellow
Leave your old disputes behind.
Once start talking with your fellow
Men, you'll soon be of one mind.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

If we want to make this certain
We'll need you and your support.
It's yourselves you'll be deserting
if you rat your own sort.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

All the gang of those who rule us
Hope our quarrels never stop
Helping them to split and fool us
So they can remain on top.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

Workers of the world, uniting
That’s the way to lose your chains.
Mighty regiments now are fighting
That no tyranny remains!

Forward, without forgetting
Till the concrete question is hurled
When starving or when eating:
Whose tomorrow is tomorrow?
And whose world is the world?

Closer to our time, we  all remember Tracy Chapman talking about a revolution in the late 1980s but who remembers her telling us that she was born to fight:

They're tryin' to take away my pride
By stripping me of everyhing I own
They're tryin' to hurt me inside
And make me into a white man's drone

But this one's not for sale
And I was born to fight
I ain't been knocked down yet
I was born to fight
I'm the surest bet

There ain't no man no woman
No beast alive that can beat me
'Cause I'm born to fight

They're tryin' to dig into my soul
And take away the spirit of my god
They're tryin' to take control
And monitor my every thought

I won't let down my guard
And I was born to fight
I ain't been knocked down yet
I was born to fight
I'm the surest bet

There ain't no man no woman
No beast alive that can beat me
'Cause I'm born to fight

Or Zap Mama (fronted by Congolese Belgian chanteuse Marie Daulne) singing about a New World:

I sat in my room
So dismal and blue
 Feeling that I can
Communicate with you
So I picked up my thoughts
 Picked up paper and pen
I know there are causes to defend
Now everybody stand up
Let’s spread these words
Around the neighborhood
Return to the source, all isn't lost
Now the world is changing
Beyond recognition
And it’s not too late
Don’t seal your fate
With radiation, with pollution
And all that confusion
It’s not too late
For making a new world
 It’s not too late
 For making a better world
 It’s not too late
 There, there, my fellow Kenyan.

Take this dry handkerchief.

I know those four hankies you have by your side are soaked through and through.

Seriously, we as progressive, patriotic and democratic minded Kenyans must chart the way forward.

And that starts with reflecting on  how we can rebuild our movements, how we can recharge our political batteries, how we can defend our democratic gains over the last twenty years.

Veteran US activist Bill Moyer teaches us:

Social movements are collective actions in which the populace is alerted, educated, and mobilized, over years and decades, to challenge the powerholders and the whole society to redress social problems or grievances and restore critical social values. By involving the populace directly in the political process, social movements also foster the concept of government of, by, and for the people. The power of movements is directly proportional to the forcefulness with which the grassroots exert their discontent and demand change.

The central issue of social movements, therefore, is the struggle between the movement  and the powerholders to win the hearts (sympathies), minds (public opinion), and active support of the great majority of the populace, which ultimately holds the power to either preserve the status quo or create change.

There needs to be a revival of democracy through “people power”. The increasingly centralized power of the state and other social institutions, combined with the new use of the mass media to carry out the political process, has all but eliminated effective citizen participation in the decision-making process. Centralized powerholders now make decisions in the interests of a small minority, while simultaneously undermining the common good and aggravating critical social problems.

But people are powerful. Power ultimately resides with the populace. History is full of examples of an inspired citizenry involved in social movements that achieve social and political changes—even topple tyrannical governments. Powerholders know this. They know that their power depends on the support or acquiescence of the mass population.

Nonviolent social movements are a powerful means for preserving democracy and making societies address critical social problems. They enable citizens to challenge the prevailing centers of power and become active in society's decision-making process, especially at times when the normal channels for their political participation are ineffective. Social movements mobilize citizens and public opinion to challenge powerholders and the whole society to adhere to universal values and sensibilities and redress social problems. At their best, they create an empowered citizenry, shifting the locus of social and political power from central elites and institutions to new grassroots networks and groups.
-From THE MOVEMENT ACTION PLAN: A Strategic Framework Describing The Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements  by Bill Moyer, Spring 1987

But he goes on to caution:

The lack of a practical analytic model which describes the long process normally taken by successful social movements disempowers activists and limits the effectiveness of their movements. Without the guiding framework that explains the step-by-step process that social movements go through, many activists are unable to identify successes already achieved, set long and short term goals, confidently develop strategies, tactics, and programs, and avoid common pitfalls.

Many experienced activists are “take-off junkies”. They know how to create new social movements, but they do not know how to wage long-term movements that progress through a series of successive stages and win actual positive change. Within two years after “take-off”, most activists inevitably perceive that their movement is failing, and their own efforts are futile. This leads to burnout, dropout, and the dissipation of movements. 

Astoundingly, this happens even when social movements are progressing reasonably well along the road normally taken by successful social movements in the past! Consequently, many activists keep repeating the cycle of “take-off” to “despair and burnout” with each succeeding new movement… Most social problems need to be resolved through changes in policies and structures at the national level. But the national power of social movements comes from the strength of its local groups; national social movements are only as powerful as their grassroots, yet grassroots groups often are unable to make a connection between their own efforts and what happens at the national and international level. It all seems too distant and unconnected. 

The only strength the Kenyan people in confronting the elite forces of the powers that be is ORGANIZATION.

There is enough congealed, accumulated experienced amidst and across the much derided Kenyan Left and of course a lot of resources available all over the place.

Today I just want to give you a  small sneak into what is possible.

In building or rebuilding our various movements I found a document I came across on the internet very  useful. It  is from the Institute  Sustainable Communities and it is entitled Leadership Roles Within an Advocacy Organization

Here it is :

Ideally, a movement must have a plurality of leaders, filling a cabinet of distinct, yet complementary, leadership roles.  By utilizing a diverse cabinet of leaders, a movement develops a powerful dynamic that strengthens and emboldens, bringing the movement closer to optimum gains and successes.

The current version of the leadership taxonomy includes Visionaries, Strategists, Statespersons, Experts, Outside Sparkplugs, Inside Advocates, Strategic Communicators, Movement Builders, Generalists, Historians, and Cultural Activists.

Leaders who make up the leadership taxonomy each bring to the movements they serve a special skill set.  Visionaries raise our view of the possible.  Strategists chart the vision and achieve what’s attainable.  Statespersons elevate the cause in the minds of both the public and decision-makers.  Experts wield knowledge to back up the movement's positions.  Outside Sparkplugs goad and energize, fiercely holding those in power to account.  Inside Advocates understand how to turn power structures and established rules and procedures to advantage.  Strategic Communicators deploy the rhetoric to intensify and direct public passion toward the movement’s objectives.  Movement Builders generate optimism and good will, infecting others with dedication to the common good.  Generalists anchor a movement, grounded in years of experience.  Historians uphold a movement’s memory, collecting and conveying its stories.  Cultural Activists pair movements with powerful cultural forces.  The happy confluence of each of these leadership roles is the hallmark of a successful movement. 

  • Visionaries.  Movements take flight through visionaries.  Visionaries lift the horizons of others, setting goals that have never before been imagined or seen as realistic.  Visionaries challenge the conventional view of the possible, aim high, take risks, and rethink priorities.

  • Strategists.  Strategists sort out that part of the vision that is realistically attainable, and develop a road map to get there.  Strategists anticipate obstacles, including those laid by unruly coalition members, and provide guidance to insure that the movement remains headed in the right direction. 

  • Statespersons.  Statespersons carry the movement flag.  They are the “larger than life” public figures that embody authority and trust.  Statespersons radiate credibility for the movement far beyond its core supporters.

  • Experts.  Experts ensure that all new discoveries and public policy positions are well reasoned and grounded in facts.  They possess special skills and knowledge that lend credibility to and back up the positions.

  • Outside Sparkplugs.  Sparkplugs are agitators:  unabashed tellers of truth to power.  They operate outside of conventional, political (or other) establishments, free of the ties that bind “inside” players, and capable of holding our governments and other established organizations up to their own rhetoric of mission and commitment.  Sparkplugs can kick-start a movement or coalition and keep energy flowing through it.  A community may be concerned, even outraged, but it may not be moved to action without a fiery goad.  Sparkplugs are often irritating and difficult, but they churn up our collective conscience and annoy us into action.

  • Inside Advocates.  Inside Advocates are wise in the ways of the political process, they are skilled negotiators, and positioned to influence key policy makers.  Inside Advocates occupy seats of power or establish an open door to them, intuit the approaches and arguments that resonate with policy makers, and press them in ways that are not easily dismissed.  

  • Strategic Communicators.  Strategic Communicators are public teachers, masters of the “sound bite” as the concentrated encapsulation of potent messages.  They translate complex scientific data, complex public policy, and basic concepts of truth and justice into accurate, powerful metaphorical messages, the significance of which can be instantly grasped by the broad public. 

  • Movement Builders.   The quiet heroes of any successful movement, Movement Builders reach out to draw in new allies; they recruit new activists and make them feel welcome, valued, and heeded.  They do the same for longtime movement members as well.  They know that a movement is weakest when it shuns diversity and seeks only a narrow, homogeneous base.  Builders bridge generations, link local with national, even international advocacy, create space for the knowledge gained through experience to be passed on, and initiate new approaches to participation so diverse voices are heard and their demands heeded. Builders also heal.  They circumvent organizational turf hurdles, they convene and facilitate, seek to explore differences through civil discourse and debate, and eschew rancorous division.

  • Generalists.  Generalists bring multi-layered skills to the effort, often cultivated through many years of experience.  They see a movement’s activities from many sides, and can turn their hand to many tasks.  Generalists model and live out the ideals of a movement, integrating them into their day-to-day perspective.

  • Historians.  Historians are keepers of the movement’s memory, bringing to bear the learning of past experience.  They recount the history of relationships with partners and key players, as well as the history and evolution of the issue itself over time.  They ensure that activists benefit from the hard-won lessons of those who came before them.  Historians provide activists with a sense of their legacy, an honor of and obligation to the past, which renews the call for continued action in the present, and the hope of leaving a new generation of lessons and accomplishments for the future.  They are the teachers, torchbearers, and conscience for a movement.

  • Cultural Activists.  Cultural Activists use cultural preservation, history, and activism to sustain movements.  They are public opinion leaders, trusted insider figures whom members of a cultural community tend to believe and follow.  They build bridges between the movement’s actions and powerful cultural meaning, interpreting back and forth between them in a way that strengthens both.

I hope that I have helped provide a small pointer as to the way forward.

Stay tuned for more…

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya
Monday April 8, 2013
12: 17 am East African Time


Anonymous said...

foko jembe

Anonymous said...

Many experienced activists are “take-off junkies”. They know how to create new social movements, but they do not know how to wage long-term movements that progress through a series of successive stages and win actual positive change.

dont you think the above statement describes you? i find you a bit confused, what is this hope you talk of? and can it only be achieved through formation of new movements? why are you finding yourself in this situation of despair and failure? how many movements until you win positive change? What is this positive change that we have been clamouring for forever and ever?

Victimhood is ‘the militant ones, the ones who breathe, drink, eat and sleep revolution’.? This is surely an unfortunate situation for any human being to find themselves in. most of which is imported victimhood which is then contextualized and applied to any perceived situation just to further the cause. Amkeni ndugu zetu.

What happens to a dream deferred?Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? maybe we are dreaming too much that we are out of touch with the reality. Wake up man! The common mwananchi has little time to dream, its about the bread on the table, the size of the next payday, .. Dictators you say… even under dictators the sun still rises and sets, the hay is made, we toil regardless.. we are the resilient bunch, we are not victims. this is the kind hope we should be focusing on, not endless revolutions that disrupt the very core of our being.

History is full of examples of an inspired citizenry involved in social movements that achieve social and political changes—even topple tyrannical Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria blah blah blah…

The only strength the Kenyan people in confronting the elite forces of the powers that be is ORGANIZATION. WRONG. Most of us have no time for confrontation let alone time to form ‘movements’. Surely the ‘chamas’ and merry go rounds have been more revolutionary than most revolutionary crap we get shoved done our throats endlessly.

Let those who are paid to organize and confront full time, do it. (Paid for victimhood) And in the process of their work let them not misinform and misuse their fellow citizenry.

We the ordinary mwananchi have maize to plant, mikokoteni to push, simiti to koroga, offices to go to…

Anonymous said...

Bwana Oloo.

Good piece. Mercifully short too.

But you must forgive me for feeling underwhelmed. I have seen you call for 'new progressive people’s movements, organizations etc' a number of times in the past, usually as an emotional reaction to an event like the past election, where you equate your favorite candidate’s loss to a reversal of the nation’s progressive trajectory.

Yet your call remains just that. Words. Exactly when will this nirvanian peoples movement that will solve all our problems come to be?

When will you realize that Kenyan people have already 'moved?’ They created their own ‘movement’ when they decided they will not deposit their hopes for the future in individuals or ideology. They know that, by the sweat of their brows, not through long words or politicians - that common tribe of bottom feeders - or their activists’ ilk, will a path to a better future be found.

More important, it seems clear that Kenyan’s have decided that they will not pay the price of instability, no matter how it is packaged, (as revolution, justice, mass action, progressiveness and other tripe) having seen the price that our neighbors have paid from such adventurism. Call them conservative, right wing reactionary, if you like, but that is the choice the majority seems to have made.

If your call now, to progressive forces movement… does not start by acknowledging this reality, you will be talking into the wind for a long time to come.

Kenya Democracy Project said...

Thanks for all your comments. Please keep them coming.

You may have noticed that most, if not all of you (I am talking about the three comments above this one I am making now)were NOT the intended recipients of the message in my essay. I was writing for my comrades, especially my fellow leftists, not cynical commentators who have made a blood sport out of sneering, deriding and trashing Kenyans who are not ashamed as standing up for truth, progressive causes and a new, more just, more equitable world.

I have purposely left the inane "foko jembe" comment stand because I want it to be a PERMANENT EXHIBIT testifying to the astonishing childishness and stupidity of some of my detractors.

Onyango Oloo

Kenya Democracy Project said...

And to all those haters, I dedicate this ditty that I composed in honour of one of the most vigorous proponents of the incoming status quo. He is very active in Jukwaa, the online forum that I founded in 2005 and still administer:

Whoa b6k!!

You have really blossomed into

a full fledged cheerleader for Team Uhururuto

Who knew you had it in you?

Such gusto, such panache, such flourish!

A cobra would envy you for your venom!

A tarantula would marvel at your sting!

An infected canine would crave your rabies!

Onward Jubilee soldier, marching on

Slay all these CORD antagonists!

O ye glorious TNA knight

Vanquish, demolish all these demons

With evil monikers like Kalonzo and Raila-

Ama namna gani Mkenya mwenzangu?

Read more:

Anonymous said...

Im surprised that all this was about cord and jubilee? what happened to truth, progress, justice and equity? This was about your team winning and I guess after that truth progress justice would magically rain down on Kenyans like manna from heaven. Sounds more like brainwashing.

You comrades must be doing very badly if after 50 or so years you have not managed to dismantle the status quo. And to imagine the amount of dollars gleaned in the name of funding.

Dishonesty is, to choose to fight for a cause that you already know you cant win because of your incompetence, and feeling jack about getting paid for it. Its what we expect from shrewed nairobi conmen, not 'CIVILised' Society. For how long will you guys ride the gravy train in the name of justice, truth and other lofty sounding ideals, whilst being so brazenly partial?

Since we are condemned to another 5 years of tyranny, retrogression and poverty, let us suffer our fate silently. We do not need you comrades to organize for our sake, after all you’ve had fifty years to dismantle the juggernaut but have failed time and time again. Simply,you are not up to the task. Whatever new movements are formed, they will not work. The difference is the same. Talk of status quo.

Anonymous said...

"I was writing for my comrades, especially my fellow leftists, not cynical commentators who have made a blood sport out of sneering."

Ah! That is OK then.

Good luck to you and your leftist myth spinners.

While at it please be careful not to impute labels to the wrong people: Raila, Kalonzo, Uhuru, Ruto etc are as leftist as I am the Pope.

Meanwhile Kenyans have moved on.

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