27 November 2014

Recruiting for a rebellion

One person is not a front.  Sometimes a single person can make a big difference, but if you want radical social transformation that (hopefully) lasts, you will need some pals.  The problem is that when you do need people, they are not there or they are not ready to ‘take the streets’.  Issues have a way of arriving when we least expect them.  Therefore it is not easy to anticipate and plan when it comes to objection and protest.  You turn around and you find yourself alone. 

So what do we do?  We post a protest-notice as an ‘event’ on Facebook, email, share, invite, tweet the works.   There’s a lot of cheering.  A lot of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.  A lot of people will say ‘I will be there’.  As you get closer to the event you get some comments such as ‘I will be there in spirit’.  Come event and you wonder what happened to the cheering squad. 

When conditions mature towards what could be called ‘a revolutionary moment,’ friends become comrades, association based on similar likes and dislikes turns into association marked by shared political believes and ideological preferences.  But ‘revolutionary moment’ is something that takes years to mature.  Only very few would design their lives in anticipation of such a moment.  In general people not only have multiple personalities but have multiple interests, politics and ‘rebelling’ being just a couple of aspects among dozens of ‘concerns’.  So how do you ‘recruit’?

There’s no easy answer.  And there’s no ‘perfect answer’ either.  But there’s something people tend to forget.  In politics, what really, really counts is often assumed to be shared believes or rather similar outcome preference, and ideological agreement.  Something that is often discounted is the fact that people join people, people stand with other people, not just on account of political loyalties but rather personal friendship.  You like someone, trust him/her, believe him/her to be a good person, and you are more likely to stand with him/her.  If you don’t like someone, similarly, you might be reluctant to join him/her in a demonstration even if you were in agreement with the relevant politics. 

Of course this is not to say that people don’t factor in their own political preferences when deciding to join others.  They do.  Saying ‘comrade’ is not the same as ‘feeling’ comrade.  People will follow and stand by those who think they way they do, but when it comes to crunch point, that place where the faint-hearted pause  or second-guess themselves, that’s when both leader and the led are tested.  That’s when courage comes into play.  And that’s when the heart of the leader gets factored in.  He or she is followed not just because he or she is thought to be doing the right thing but because he or she is seen as a good person, a person of heart and a person who deserves to be supported. 

In the late eighties, not all students, including those who considered themselves ‘radical’, supported the student movement, which was essentially an arm (a pawn?) of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.  And yet, even those who ideologically opposed the student movement would on occasion march with the leaders or join in some awareness-creating campaign.  Why?  People the particular leader making the request was considered to be honest, good and even ‘pure’. 

It is not something that’s easy to cultivate and it would sound silly to cultivate goodness or heart just to help along some political project that might be picked at some point.  But there is virtue and profit in being good.  In being honest.  In being a person of word.  In being generous.  In being a friend regardless of the other person’s political beliefs.  Most importantly, in being all these things with ‘recruitment’ being the last thing on your mind. 

Then, when ‘moment’ comes and you look around, friend will find it easier to become comrade, enemy will be neutralized or at least reluctant to fight you.  In the end, the world is changed for the better by good people who are prompted to go an extra mile at critical moments. 

Why do people like ‘Che’?  Why do people like Bob Marley?  Why did people like Vijaya Kumaratunga?  Why was Sarath Muttetuwegama’s untimely death lamented by people across the political spectrum?  Why would you follow one person and not another? 

Goodness.  It counts. 

This is the ninth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.