How do people find a job without a telephone? How do they avail themselves of services, receive timely information, or stay connected to loved ones if they do not have a reliable message number? Even in this very wired age, the need for a phone number remains; the lack of a constant telephone number becomes a very real obstacle for the homeless or phoneless.
Communities around the world have different levels of technological sophistication for supporting the everyday conversations of its members. The health of a community is sustained by these conversations and people who are blocked from this universe of conversations are, in a fundamental way, blocked from membership in the community. For that reason the integration of people into the broad community conversation network is important to all communities. Voice mail is a low-cost solution that substitutes for dial tone for those unable to afford it. Community Providing voice mail to a community of people cut off from the communications infrastructure is technologically plausible and works well in urban environments where there is existing infrastructure (telephone service, community providers, and pay telephones); however, the need for the service exists anywhere there are disconnected people. The audience of users runs the gamut from the homeless to the working poor to people fleeing domestic violence or dealing with health problems in need of a confidential communication link that is easy to access.
In 1991, two program directors at the Seattle Worker Center conceived of a small project that had an unpredictably potent impact. Called Community Voice Mail (CVM), the idea responded practically to a specific problem: How can a homeless person find work or housing, receive medical or social services, or navigate daily life without a reliable and direct point of contact? Furthermore, how can the job developer, the doctor, the advocate, in short, the social services system charged with the mission to respond to the needs of the poor and homeless, do so efficiently and effectively if they must devote hours to tracking down the individuals they serve?
Community Voice Mail responds to this need by acting like a home answering machine for thousands of people across a community. The CVM service is a shared resource operated by the CVM national office and a local community-based organization that takes on the role of host. This host builds a network of participating agencies to maximize the distribution of the resource cost-effectively. People in crisis and transition may enroll in CVM through any number of social, human, or health services agencies in the community. By providing multiple points of access, the service allows practical and flexible eligibility criteria while maintaining basic measurement standards.
As of 2008, the program operates in forty-one U.S. cities and in Melbourne, Australia, connecting more than 461,000 people annually. The CVM national office provides guidance on how to start a CVM service and supports the resulting federation of peer sites. Cisco Systems is the majority funder of the nonprofit program and donated equipment and software for a centralized network that uses Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to manage accounts for tens of thousands of users. The networks advanced capabilities include a broadcast messaging feature that is used to distribute information about job openings, training opportunities, community resources, and emergency weather warnings to the voicemail subscribers.
Connecting individuals via communication services integrates people into existing communication networks but, also, helps establish new networks. These networks could help support the community of people who use the system by allowing the users and the managers of the system to share relevant information and mobilize users in relation to specific issues and events.
Universal voice mail presents a meaningful pattern and objective that can assist communities by encouraging the integration of all people into the community. At the same time the employment of this pattern will necessarily take a wide variety of forms depending on many factors. These forms will be determined by the people who will use the services, organizations in the community that are providing the services, and the general nature and climate of social services in the community. Other things, including the technological infrastructure, social capital, and the ability to raise funds in the community, perhaps through an innovative commercial sector are relevant as well. The dedication of the organizers is also key, as is their ability to collaborate and incrementally improve the level of support over time. Since technological systems are still changing rapidly (although they are unevenly distributed, with the more technically sophisticated systems concentrated in economically privileged regions) the nature of the service needs and the technological support that is needed to support the service will undoubtedly change as well.
Universal voicemail should be available as a low-cost alternative to telephone service so that all people, regardless of income, have a reliable point of contact that maintains dignity and restores connection to opportunity and support.
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Even in this very wired age, the lack of a telephone number can be a real problem. Universal Voice Mail is a low-cost solution for those unable to afford their own telephone. Potential users include the homeless, the working poor, people fleeing domestic violence, or those otherwise in need of confidentiality. Universal Voice Mail should be available as an alternative to telephone service so that all people have a reliable point of contact and a link to their community.
Fifty years ago, there was little doubt that unions had dramatically raised living standards for workers. But while more than one in three American workers belonged to a union in the early 1950s, today scarcely one in ten workers do. As companies move jobs away from unionized workplaces, its no coincidence that fewer workers have health insurance and that pay has stagnated. Non-union workers are only one-fifth as likely to have reliable defined-benefit pensions. In their heyday, American unions became somewhat complacent, confident that they were an accepted part of American life and secure in their ability to bargain middle-class living standards for millions of workers. Many neglected the need to vigorously organize new members or reach out to the public.
New technology has helped businesses consolidate into huge multinationals that swiftly move jobs around the world to where labor costs are the lowest. This has vastly strengthened the power of employers to keep workers from unionizing and getting a fair shake. American workers watch their jobs transfered to Mexico, where workers can be controlled by management-run unions. When Mexican workers organize real unions, they encounter government hostility and threats to move work to China. In this global
Recent surveys show that U.S. workers want to join unions. But employers often prevent this from happening by illegally threatening or firing union activists. More than 23,000 U.S. workers are dismissed or punished each year for exercising their legal rights to form or join a union.
Trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT further weaken worker power. While they strongly protect corporate intellectual property and investment, they open up nations to unfettered competition in terms of jobs and living standards. Even workers in high-tech fields like programming see their wages and job security battered by international outsourcing.
Unions have historically helped workers overcome this competition by uniting them to win across-the-board justice for the majority. In the 1900s they won equal pay and benefits across whole industries like automobiles and steel. The challenge today is to overcome international competition and join hands to win good wages and conditions worldwide.
The challenge is daunting to say the least. The AFL-CIO split in 2005 when several big unions formed a new federation that pledged to organize more vigorously. This division, however, may also dilute the clout of labor to act in concert. Nonetheless, steps being taken today suggest ways we can move toward the vision of global worker justice and unionism, aided by fast, global Internet communications. These steps include:
Build broad support for workers and communities, regardless of location or whether there is a union contract, and apply pressure to encourage government support for workers.
People can join AFL-CIO campaigns to support better laws and worker rights at workingamerica.org. The Jobs for Justice coalition also rallies public support for worker-justice battles. The campaign against Wal-Mart, one of the most powerful economic forces on earth, is proof that the movement can reach beyond its members. Wal-Mart paved the way for retailers to aggressively demand lower costs from producers around the world. The union movement is using the Internet to tap into a broad reservoir of resentment to these tactics, including small businesses and towns devastated by Wal-Mart super-stores, states fed up with covering health costs Wal-Mart should have paid for its own workers, and young people upset with the Wal-Mart-ization of culture and opportunities. Laws are being passed in Chicago and elsewhere to demand that major retailers pay good wages and benefits.
Connect with immigrants and workers across national borders to build permanent support networks and apply global pressure on companies and governments to respect workers.
Given the vast distances and differences in living standards, culture and language, as well as interference from repressive governments, reaching across borders is not easy. To succeed, unions must connect with other social movements and take maximum advantage of technology to communicate quickly and cheaply around the world.
Organize globally against corporate threats to play workers against each other.
The New York-based National Labor Committee exposes the appalling conditions in foreign sweatshops through creative media events that attract support from churches and the public. The Campaign for Labor Rights in the U.S., Britains LabourStart and the U.S.-based UE electrical workers union (which publishes a virtual newsletter on Mexican labor and is allied with a democratic Mexican union) also organize powerful email campaigns to support union struggles around the world, while groups like the Comité Fronterizo de Obreros organize on the ground across borders.
Challenge the commercialization of culture and inspire an ethical framework in which people are called upon to make sacrifices such as not buying products made in sweatshops to press for gains that benefit all.
Students are organizing to support labor rights locally and globally. The first group of Mexican workers to organize at a maquila clothing factory (i.e., a factory producing products for export under conditions favoring multinationals) was at the Korean-owned Mexmode factory in Puebla. A courageous strike by young women workers won a new union in 2001 through key support from the U.S.-based United Students against Sweatshops, which in turn is allied with labor and global anti-sweatshop groups. They quickly mobilized using the Internet.
Share technical ideas, information and organizing experiences with activists and labor supporters worldwide.
Academics have been sharing information globally on labor organizing, as evidenced at the Global Unions conference sponsored by Cornell in 2006. And union supporters from several nations meet biannually at LaborTech conferences to showcase creative uses of modern communications.
Push for trade agreements that protect not just corporate investment but workers rights, with trade penalties for mistreating workers. Insist on democratic input into international trade rules.
Several Latin American governments have rejected the neo-liberal basis of modern trade agreements and the anti-worker conditions imposed by lending institutions. In 2006, a popular French revolt against watering down job protections for young workers won a surprise victory. Recent rounds of trade talks have failed, and Mexican voters turned out en masse for Lopez Obrador, who wants to renegotiate NAFTA.
The labor movement cannot and will not die. Workers are struggling for union rights around the globe -- even against the greatest of odds. And the public is increasingly supportive.
After decades of losing ground, unions and advocates of worker justice are striving to overcome the competition for jobs that pits worker against worker in a global race to the bottom. A vision of global progress, based on humane values, solidarity and local community, can motivate a union movement that transcends borders and involves all workers and allies. The Wal-Mart campaign, the anti-sweatshop movement and international networking are evidence that unions, the public, foreign workers and academics are reaching out in new ways to form support networks to raise standards for all workers. And they are pressuring governments to reject the neo-liberal trade policies that disadvantage workers, and insist on trade rules that require justice for workers.
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As companies move jobs away from unionized workplaces, fewer workers have health insurance and pay has stagnated. New technology has helped businesses create huge multinationals that move jobs to where labor costs are the lowest. Labor Visions, based on humane values, solidarity and local community, can motivate a union movement that transcends borders and involves all workers and their allies.
Repression and other forms of injustice and other social ills are often overlooked, dismissed in a cursory way, or deemed to be inevitable and immutable. Even when these problems are acknowledged, resistance to them is shallow, erratic, uncoordinated and ineffectual. Although art can be used to deliver a message of inspiration and information for the disempowered, it is often irrelevant; it can be a tool of the powerful and a diversion of the wealthy. In many cases, a distracting and ubiquitous corporate media has replaced the tradition of people and communities telling their own stories.
People and societies around the world have over the years developed their own versions of hell on earth that some subset of its inhabitants is obliged to endure. These regions exist within all societies, but vary in size and in magnitude of abuse ranging from neglect to active repression.
Artists occupy a unique role in society. Through a diversity of approaches, they explore new terrains that words alone are incapable of describing. Art can address issues, help solve problems and even serve as a "public psychiatrist" that surfaces social anxieties. Art speaks to places that other languages can't and affects consciousness on a level that we don't understand and can't map. Some, but not all, artists work for social and environmental justice. Notably artists can explore ideas of personal or societal importance or they can operate within a world circumscribed by religious authorities, corporations or the art-buying public, a decidedly privileged class economically.
The "world" that "resistance" strives to understand and confront provides an exhaustible fount of inspiration for artists professionals and non-professionals alike. The media through which messages and stories can be conveyed includes T-shirts (indeed, wearing the wrong t-shirt is an invitation to harassment, fines, and imprisonment in my regions and countries around the world) and comics and zines, opera, ballet, graffiti, murals, sculpture, film, film or many other approaches. Art can be immersive and engaging; it can help build community and involve the "audience" in rituals or processions. Art can be an invidual or collective effort, big or small, public or anonymous, clandestine and furtive, In can be created by children or by people or emotionally disturbed. The art of homeless people, refugees, or incarcerated people is likely to present a view of the world that the rest of us may not see.
Resistance art brings hidden knowledge out of the shadows. The historic roots of contemporary experience, a common theme of Chicano murals, such as those created by Los Cybrids collective, in Los Angeles and other southwestern cities in the US explore themes of identity and hybridity. Another approach is to present the reality of a situation in a documentary style, such as Walker Evans' sparse, unadorned depression era photographs of the rural poor. Another approach is exemplified by George Grosz's grotesque and piercing caricatures of militarists and war-profiteers, or Hitler garbed in a bearskin.
In the 1980s, Artists of the World Against Apartheid based in France issued a broad appeal to artists around the world to contribute anti-apartheid works of art. Ernest Pignon-Ernest of France and Antonio Saura of Spain worked unselfishly for two years to make it happen. A major exhibition was mounted in late 1983 at the Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques in Paris. Since the organizers had stipulated in advance that the art would be held in trust and given to the people of South Africa on the occasion of "the first free and democratic government by universal suffrage" as the basis of an anti-apartheid museum, the collection was moved to South Africa at the request of president Nelson Mandela.
A similar event took place in the U.S. two decades later. With the invasion of Iraq looming, first lady Laura Bush, picked an inopportune time to invite poet Sam Hamill to a special White House event, "Poetry and the American Voice," which was to celebrate the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes. Instead of being seduced by to the allure of power and prestige, Hamill refused Bush's invitation. Instead he emailed several friends asking them for poems on the theme of war which would be bound and presented to Bush. This ignited a poetic firestorm that claimed no national border. Inspired by Hamill's defiance, a web site (http://www.poetsagainstthewar.org) was established that provided a platform for poets around the world to express their feelings related to the impending war. The site proved immediately and enormously popular at its peak it was averaging several new poems a minute. Now the site has over 20,000 poems online including works by Adrienne Rich, W.S. Merwin. and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and spotlights several poems per week. The project ultimately published two volumes of poetry and an excellent documentary film, "Poets in Wartime," was inspired by the effort. Moreover, the work engendered a non-profit organization, "Poets Against War", was formed with the simple yet direct mission statement: "Poets Against War continues the tradition of socially engaged poetry by creating venues for poetry as a voice against war, tyranny and oppression."
This episode (Poets Against War) raises the general question of the role of occupational groups and whether there is an implicit or explicit obligation to help deter aggression and war. A short list of such candidates would include teachers, religious leaders, engineers, journalists, farmers, and doctors and nurses and other caregivers. A longer list would include almost everybody for very few people in the world actually want to be within war's lethal compass, as either participant or as innocent bystander.
Another fascinating example, is the beehive design collective, an amazing anarchic and itinerant design collective that, although home-based in Vermont, travels around the world to create region-specific murals. Members often work with indigenous or other people to develop murals that capture the unique circumstances of the people who live there. The murals they develop grow organically; containing a variety of elements sinuously weaving indigenous plans and animals, historic referents, and symbols of corporate and colonial domination, with images of fanciful and realistic resistance.
Resistance art has many audiences. In the anti-apartheid movement, for example, the audience would obviously include the victims of apartheid and the supporters of their struggle. It would also include the people who believe themselves neutral of hadn't thought about apartheid from a moral standpoint and people who were actively promulgating it: politicians, policemen, the media, and business spokespeople who benefited from the cheap labor provided by the marginalized victims. Beyond that, the audience extended to the rest of the world. Many people outside of South Africa worked on anti-apartheid campaigns. Gill Scott-Heron's anti-apartheid anthem, "Johannesburg," was played on the radio in US cities, where its uncomfortable references to big segregated cities in the US like New York and Philadelphia showed that South Africa was not the only country in the world where prejudice and racism flourished.
From Goya and Picasso to Johannesburg's T-shirt artists of and anonymous graffiti artists around the world, resistance artists, generally acting on their own have portrayed the horrors of war or other abominations. Activists in Seattle, hoping to help cultivate a supportive community network for resistance artists have convened an Arts of Resistance conference for the past two years. Through workshops, presentations, videos, and, most importantly, through face-to-face dialogue and debate, the idea that art can be socially transformative became more widely recognized and more thoughtfully practiced.
People ultimately also need to be reminded of two things that they are not impotent and disconnected spectators but active and engaged participants in the ongoing vibrant fabric of life. Art, therefore, can tell the story of the ongoing struggle while suggesting ways for people to take part. It can also sketch out, in possibly indistinct and uncertain terms, a future that may exist, after successful struggles, where children, and their children, and their children's children do not experience the daily injury of living in an unjust and unhealthy world.
Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, a longtime foe of apartheid, notes that when resistance art is successful, "People come to the forceful realization that they are not entirely the impotent playthings of powerful forces." According to Tutu, resistance art, whether it's a play, song or T-shirt represents, "a proud defiance of the hostile forces that would demean and dehumanize."
Art can convey beauty, love and joy. It can also convey justice, fairness, dignity and resistance. Engaging in art can hone creativity by encouraging exploration within a plastic medium. The future itself is a plastic medium and we will never know how malleable it is if we don't explore it. Resistance art can be a seed that helps people understand their situation and how they might work to improve it.
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Repression and other forms of injustice and other social ills are often overlooked, or seen as inevitable. Art can be used to deliver a message of inspiration and information for the disempowered. Art can convey beauty, love and joy. It can also convey justice, fairness, dignity and resistance. The future itself is a plastic medium, a canvas that we all help paint. Arts of Resistance can be seeds that helps people understand their situation and how they might work to improve it.
People outside the major spheres of power are often denied access to the tools and technologies of self-expression. This is often the unfortunate by-product of poverty; education is out reach of the majority of the majority of the world's population and access to media tools (including cameras, editing software, recording studios, the Internet) and other systems is often prohibitively expensive. Although this situation can be debilitating to people who are caught in those circumstances, the rest of society suffers as well: they are deprived of stories and perspectives that could enrich their understanding of the world while preparing them to become better citizens of the world — and their local community.
Anybody with a story to tell — and this includes everybody — could benefit from this pattern. This pattern, however, specifically addresses those people with little to no access to media production of any kind. Although this pattern focuses on the people who lack the access, implementation of this pattern often requires the assistance of people and organizations who have both the resources and interest in working with people in a participatory way.
The story told in the 2004 documentary "Born into Brothels" is an excellent example of this pattern. In 1997, New York-based photographer Zana Briski traveled to India to document the lives of women, children and men who lived in Calcutta's impoverished red light district. During the next three years, some of which was spent living in the brothels, Briski noticed that many of the children of the prostitutes were fascinated by her photographic equipment. Soon she started giving them cameras and helping them to use them as a new lens to look at their world. Later she organized shows at galleries for the photographs and made the photographs available on the Internet. The money from the sales is now being used to help support the children's education. While raising money for the worthy cause of education — and raising the consciousness of millions of others who watched the documentary — is exemplary, the most important outcome of the project may be the increased awareness and perception that seemed to be unlocked in the children by the acts of observing and recording their surroundings with the camera.
While the Homemade Media pattern is not a panacea it does have many possible benefits. The first benefit is of course that learning to create media helps build skills and as such may lead to employment. Regardless of that, however, it helps build confidence and self-esteem. These positive attitudes about oneself and the desire to keep persisting in the craft of creating media — whether photography, interviews, audio recordings, or newspapers — is a good defense against self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol or other drug abuse or gang activity or criminal outlets. The act of capturing an image in a camera's viewfinder or writing down fragments of overheard conversations or otherwise recording promotes the idea of reflection upon various aspects of life or the imagination.
Media is inherently shareable in some way. Photographs can displayed for viewing in galleries, printed in magazine or hung on public walls. Videos can be shown on televisions or in theaters. These can be artistic, informational, or lead to social change in some way. In any case, however, they can be used to communicate with others. Homemade Media can open up channels of communication with people, as audience or as potential partners for additional collaboration.
A few other examples can show a little more of the breadth of the pattern: Drawings of children in Darfur present the horror of genocide that is hard to shake off. Gumball Poetry (http://www.gumballpoetry.com/) allows people to buy a short poem from a gumball machine for 25 cents. One of the most remarkable projects, however, took place in Bogoto, Colombia. Film-maker Felipe Aljure developed the Rebeldes con Cauce project in which he worked with 140 young people with no filmmaking experience to help them learn how to make films (Dowmunt, 1988). Most of the students were from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. They studied film, developed outlines and created ten to fifteen minute films which were ultimately aired on Bogota's channel Canal Capital where they received "outstanding" ratings.
The Plugged In Project in East Palo Alto helped teach underprivileged youths how to create web pages that told their stories (while teaching them a skill, self-confidence, etc.) from celebrating Thanksgiving holiday with their family to witnessing the seizure of a family member by immigration officials for now have the appropriate papers to remain in the country.
The homeless newspaper movement is active in many cities around the world. Although it takes different forms in different cities, the basic model is the same: The newspaper concentrates on issues of homelessness and poverty, two subjects that are likely to be covered sensitively or in much depth by mainstream media. Beyond that the newspaper is often actively engaged in the struggle for the rights of poor people and engages poor people and their communities in every aspect of the newspaper production and distribution. The Real Change weekly newspaper in Seattle is sold by people who are homeless or otherwise in underprivileged positions for $1.00 and receive 70 cents for each paper sold.
The Homemade Media can be applied in a million ways. Support and enjoy homemade media in your community and around the world.
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Capturing an image or conversation encourages reflection and introspection yet people outside the major spheres of power have little access to the technologies and tools of self-expression. Although this can be harmful to those people, others are deprived of enriching stories and perspectives. Homemade Media helps build confidence and self-esteem as well as employment skills. Anybody with a story to tell can benefit from Homemade Media.
How people are represented — in speech, story, or image — will influence to some degree how they are preceived — by themselves and others — and, hence, are treated. Africa, for example, is typically presented to the rest of the world — and to Africans as well — by CNN and other western media — not by Africans or African media. This problem, of couse, is not confined to Africa. Poor people everywhere are portrayed — if they're portrayed at all — as nameless and voiceless, rarely as people with ideas, aspirations, creativity, culture or values.
This pattern is applicable in any setting where information about one group of people is being developed and distributed by another group of people.
"More recently, in later modernity the theme of the everyday has been considerably more prominent. But this does not mean that questions about who is representing for whom and why and how have been resolved. Issues about legitimacy of representation remain crucial, and indeed I shall argue that how to articulate and represent the everyday is the main issue in the politics of culture." - David Chaney (2002)
Non-whites, convicts, the poor, sick, starving people, flood victims, uneducated, aged, rural as well as intellectuals, dissidents, gender, ethnic and other marginalized groups are often the victim of mis-representation. Their presentations are often paper-thin, stereotypical at best. (While mention of other people are simply omitted; they don't exist.) The net result is a compelling, free-floating image of "normalcy" that serves as a model to be emulated.
This pattern represents a concept that gets very little notice. After all, there is really no way to fully control your representation or what people do with it. Ultimately its an expression of power: Who is creating the representations, under what conditions, and how can they be maintained, changed, or challenged? When somebody else is determining how you will be represented you have been robbed of your right to defend yourself, to make your own case for who you are. On some level, it's a type of identity theft. Who you are has been determined elsewhere and stamped on you.
Why bother with representations? Is there really anything to worry about? Are there any negative implications? Yes. For one thing, there seems to be substantial evidence that people start believeing their own representations — and act according to them. Representations, unfortunately, can have exceedingly long life spans since culture tends to replicate itself. Also people individually see little reason to change the way they view the world unless there is a compelling reason to rethink themselves.
This pattern on the one hand depicts the need for people everywhere to grab hold of their own representation and challenge the mechanisms (generally of media production) that perpetuates the stereotypes. At this level of analysis the pattern recommends a more accurate and bi-directional approach to "representation" — often of entire countries, ethnic and other marginalized populations. At a deeper level this pattern seeks to remedy a problem much more insidious -- that of a steady colonization from "within."
The importance of this pattern is obvious. It's why people may be suspicious when others are talking about them. It's why big corporations and political parties spend enormous sums on public relations and "spinning" news and other information to their advantage. Corporations and government agencies have elaborate and professional strategies for ensuring that their public portrait is painted according to their specifications. Movies stars, writers, etc. have their own publicists whose job it is to bring (or push) certain information to certain people. On the other hand, powerful people and institutions also go to great lengths to keep some information submerged and hidden forever.
There are several tools for addressing these problems. People in the group who may be perpetrating the stereotypes — white males (like me) for example — have the responsibility to acknowledge these transgressions and strive to overcome them. Media literacy and media critique are two skills worth developing and media monitoring is a worthwhile way to develop a fact base that can be used to confront the mis-representers. Much of this work should be done at a community level: the analyses should be shared, for example, with the community because it's often the community that is being mis-represented. Also, as was alluded to earlier, it may even be possible that members of the mis-represented community may be unconsciously living down to the stereotypes of their community.
Media is essentially a one-way street, a mute, wall-to-wall hallucinatory enclosure. (Although people do interpret according to their own rules that the media doesn't necessarily control.) The "message" of this medium is rarely acknowledged — it is truly the fabled 800-pound gorilla. Like a voice in your head, its message is compelling and persistent. It won't go away! It sows indecision while removing individual autonomy and opportunities for authentic social learning. Yet media producers aren't necessarily evil. Often laziness, lack of imagination (cloning the popular movie), and financial decisions factor in.
The first step to addressing this problem is to acknowledge that it exists. Since the media (and cultural representations generally) are so ubiquitous that it's hard to believe that there is a bias, however implicit. The second obstacle is thinking that nothing can be done about this. As you dig deeper in this you may simultaneously be amazed at the extent of the problem and your desire to help overcome it.
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Whether through speech, story, or image how people are represented influences how they're perceived and treated. Non-whites, incarcerated, sick or starving people, disaster victims, uneducated, aged, and rural people as well as many others marginalized by gender or ethnicity are misrepresented. One cannot fully control self-representation but it can be addressed. The first step is increasing awareness of the problem; the second is analysis; the third is action.
Tourism has largely developed unhindered by environmental and community concerns. Its sole basis is economic growth, with the majority of profits funneled to already rich industrialized nations. At its worst, tourism devastates rich landscapes, displaces long-established and thriving communities, causes pollution, creates a culture of drug and sex-trafficking, abuses access to clean water, and eradicates culturally unique lifestyles and livelihoods.
Individuals or organizations seeking to take part in travel and tourism that benefits local communities should investigate the many resources for Engaged or Responsible Tourism. The hallmark of Engaged Tourism is that it is community-determined, sustainable and draws on the existing people and environmentally centered resources of the community.
The challenges to participating in responsible tourism are many. A westerner's perception of travel and vacationing are already formed to expect a certain kind of product. Swimming pools, air-conditioning, lavish meals, subservient staff, "staged" traditional activities and the like leave little room for discovering the many wonders of foreign cultures or experiencing the complexities of a different lifestyle. Foreign governments share in the global race to classify tourism as a national export, paving the way for multinational corporations to build a tourist infrastructure at the expense of whatever may be in its way.
Tourism Concern, an NGO based in the United Kingdom is a primary source of information about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of tourism at the same time that it advocates and provides information about alternatives. According to Tourism Concern's Web site, some of the main negative effects of tourism include displacement of people (particularly native peoples living on their traditional lands), environmental damage from uncontrolled development, and water abuse. In examining water abuse it's easy to find that "the presence of tourists naturally means a much higher demand for water. Local communities normally do not benefit, and in most cases, are not allowed access to infrastructure built to ensure safe drinking water. The development of golf courses and hotel swimming pools are responsible for depleting and contaminating water sources for surrounding communities; this is especially true in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. An average 18-hole golf course soaks up at least 525,000 gallons of water a day - enough to supply the irrigation needs of 100 Malaysian farmers."
Equations, an East Indian NGO promoting responsible tourism, documents several tourism projects that are moving ahead without local support. The mega Bekal Tourism Project plans to convert Bekal, a northern rural coastal fishing district, into Asia's largest beach tourism resort of 6500 units by 2011. As a consequence, four entire fishing communities would be destroyed, communities that are among the most sustainable in all of India. In addition, unique cultural practices are at risk: "The indigenous fishing community of Kasaragod is the last remaining community along the Keralam coast with traditional fishing techniques. They abhor over-fishing and adhere to sustainable harvesting practices. The community still practices the traditional 'sea courts' where the community heads assemble at the place of worship every day to hear and decide on issues within the community."
The Bekal project illustrates more. The government of Keralam has already begun acquiring land as cheaply as possible under "public purpose" and intends to sell the land to private and multi-national tourist organizations for this same price. To date, there is no Environmental Impact Assessment despite the fact that as planned it would violate national Coastal Regulation Zone rules. Local community members are being denied due process through hearings that are a sham.
Fortunately, there are organizations that are becoming involved in the process of re-vitalizing community efforts to direct tourism. An extensive list of responsible travel organizations can be found on Tourism Concern's Web site, (http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/). Reference books also published by Tourism Concern include "Good Alternative Travel Guide: Exciting Holidays for Responsible Travelers" by Mark Mann, and the new, "Ethical Travel Guide" by Polly Pattullo, lists ethical and sustainable tourism in over 60 countries.
Global Exchanges is a model organization in creating opportunities for Engaged Tourism. Their Reality Tours operate give people "the chance to learn about unfamiliar cultures, meet with people from various walks of life, and establish meaningful relationships with people from other countries."
Engaged tourism represents a shift in both attitudes and activity. Tourists traveling to developing nations shift their attitudes from participating in inexpensive fun abroad to participating in meaningful experiences in international communities. Interestingly, it is exactly the presence of western engaged tourists that assists in re-establishing the values, culture, status of local people and communities adversely affected by commercial tourism.
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At its worst, tourism devastates ecosystems, displaces communities, causes pollution, promotes drug and sex-trafficking, restricts access to clean water, and degrades culture. A westerner's perception of travel often is oblivious to foreign cultures or different lifestyles. Engaged Tourism shifts from fun abroad to meaningful experiences. In fact, engaged tourists can help re-establish values, culture, and status of people adversely affected by commercial tourism.
Individual capacity among poor peoples in the developing world, particularly women to establish credit and develop self-sufficient businesses is problematic. Lack of assets, and stable employment lends a view that these peoples are not credit worthy, thus they are barred from a variety of economic opportunities.
Organizing groups to support collective and individual credit acquisition, as well as formal and informal skills training can assist peoples in accessing the capital necessary to initiate small businesses and ultimately help build livelihoods for families and communities.
A very basic description of the Self-Help Group (SHG) has been summarized by the Rural Finance Learning Center. According to their definition: " Self-help groups are usually informal clubs or associations of people who choose to come together to find ways to improve their life situations. One of the most useful roles for a self-help group is to provide its members with opportunities to save and borrow and it can act as a conduit for formal banking services to reach their members. Such groups can provide a guarantee system for members who borrow or they may develop into small village banks in their own right. In rural areas self-help groups may be the only way for people to access financial services " (2006).
The structure of the SHG is meant to provide mutual support to the participants by assisting one another in saving money, opening up cooperative banking accounts that help women and other peoples to build credit with a lending institution. The SHG also functions to support members through maintaining consistent contact among group members to aid the individuals savings goals, to help support the creation of these micro-enterprises. Often the SHG helps in the conception of these businesses and even the implementation of these enterprises upon receipt of the micro-loan.
The SHG also supports accountability for ensuring that the loans are paid back and the SHG can continue to include other members and support greater access to credit and capital to those within their community. SHGs also provide a space which facilitates the discussion of many issues pertaining to the communitys socio-economic, educational and health status. Thus, the formation of this group provides a forum to initiate many participatory activities (including training and awareness camps).
This process has also shown to increase confidence among participants, and help support greater levels of decision-making status in their society, particularly within South Asia. This hopefully will encourage members to participate and contribute in general social and political matters in their respective villages.
As peoples are supported in building their credit they in turn are able to apply for micro-loans geared towards a number of self-sufficiency based business ventures. Many of the business commonly financed consist of seamstress shops, beautician parlors, and in the rural areas these business can be as diverse as natural healing clinics, chicken farms and aqua-culture projects, to silk weaving or any number of handcraft based ventures.
While a great number of SHGs have been initiated by communities themselves, many of the SHGs are implemented through the help of an NGO that can provide the initial information and support to establish these groups. Such information and support often consists of training people on how to manage bank accounts to include deposits, withdrawals and balancing of the cooperative and individual accounts. Similarly informal education regarding a number of possible trades can take place in order to build up the capabilities of the participants to function as business owners.
But the SHG has some instances shown problems that must be addressed when considering their use as a pattern of community empowerment. For instance, many of these people are in absolute poverty and the little that they do save can put a family in an already precarious financial situation in a worse of place.
Other issues revolve around the nature of work and the family in developing countries where the women are often the primary householder while the male is involved in work outside the house. The creation of these businesses often adds greater levels of work upon women as they are committed to the SHG and the creation of their business to support their income and yet their household duties are still expected to be met by their husbands. In these situations the pressures can be immense to juggle the business, household chores and the rearing of children.
However, in response to some of these problems many NGOs have sought to play a critical role in lessening that burden by offering school to children and thereby giving women members the ability to pursue their career goals by providing a place for their children to go while simultaneously providing education to those children that would otherwise be working at home. Despite some of the draw backs the role of the SHG is still a vital and growing component of bottom-up development, and hopefully eventuating self-designed development in the future
Despite the problems some of the participants have faced due to the changing nature of their socio-economic status; the SHGs offer one approach to create associations of support for some of the most economically marginalized groups within society. Through the desire of women and other members of the community these SHGs can provide an organized structure for providing employability and ownership for peoples otherwise left out.
Overall, communities themselves can act to develop similar groups (or with the aid of NGOs working in the area), as these programs can be realized with relatively little resources from the outside.
It should also be noted that the SHG is not a panacea to social and economic development, and should only be one part of a larger solution to addressing poverty in communities. Other patterns must be called in to address some of the social consequences that can arise from the creation of an SHG.
Careful attention must be paid particularly to women as they are often the primary benefactors of the SHG and yet the amount of work involved is no less stressful and difficult for them. Other steps might also be taken to addresses these issues to pursue and integrated approach to supporting development.
Individual capacity among poor peoples in the developing world (particularly women) to establish credit and develop self-sufficient businesses is often unrealized. Organizing groups to secure collective and individual credit, and skills training, can help in accessing the capital needed to build businesses and livelihoods. Self-Help Groups offer one approach to create associations for economically marginalized groups.
There are myriad forces in the world. Some of them are working to change it, to create an alternative future while some of them are working to preserve the status quo and to perpetuate injustice and privilege. Many of the forces that are the strongest are the ones that must be challenged: A casual response is inadequate: a sense of struggle is necessary to meet those challenges.
This pattern is applicable to any person or group that is working towards the solution of a seemingly intractable social or environmental problem.
Social change is not easy. Effecting change is long term and not trivial. The change that is needed may not occur until long after the deaths of the people who first seek it. A sense of struggle can bind together a group dedicated towards positive social change.
A sense of struggle emerges from the realization that the problem is very deep and the appreciation that there will be setbacks over the long-term. A sense of struggle lies midway between unwarranted optimism and helpless despair and cynicism.
A sense of struggle which is often necessary in social activism can change over time into something less desirable. Sometimes, a too grim sense of struggle can result in not acknowledging a genuine opportunity when it comes along. A sense of struggle unrelieved by humor, cameraderie, etc. can even give way to dogmaticism, paranoia or messianic thinking. Being flexible and open to new approaches and to new people who share your concerns is the best way to avoid these problems.
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its mighty waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand!" —Frederick Douglass
We need to cultivate a sense of struggle and, at the same time, make it easier for those who do struggle.
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Many of the strongest forces in the world must be challenged. A Sense of Struggle can unite a group striving for positive social change. A Sense of Struggle lies between optimism and despair. We need to cultivate a Sense of Struggle and, at the same time, make it easier for those who are involved in the struggle. According to Frederick Douglass, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."
Anti-poverty advocates and activists are isolated in their own communities. They often do not have the communications and education and training resources they need to do their work. Poor people do not have the information they need to exercise control over their lives and get the resources to which they are entitled or to advocate effectively for themselves.
Lack of access to communication severely limits opportunities for building communities where poor people can help themselves access the resources they need and for advocates and activists in the anti-poverty community to be involved in organizing for social change locally, nationally and internationally.
The players in this online movement include poor people and advocates involved with community advocacy groups, settlement workers, multicultural groups, seniors organizations, disability groups, legal aid, test case interveners, labor organizations, public libraries, women
Poverty is a debilitating worldwide problem that affects poor people directly as well as society at large. Although access to information and resources is critical to overcoming poverty and alleviating the problems of people living in poverty, poor people and anti-poverty advocates traditionally have less access to the Internet and other communications technologies.
Although poverty and computers do not make for an obvious alliance, it is clear the two worlds must connect unless we want to have a society where access to information and resources is only for those who can afford it.
Public access sites are rarely adequate to satisfy public need; users need people to help them do online research and free printers to print out forms and information. Hosts of public access sites need funding to keep equipment up-to-date and tech support to keep computers and Internet connections running smoothly. Lack of access to communication makes it difficult to connect communities in the anti-poverty world outside their local regions.
PovNet is a non-profit society created in British Columbia, Canada in 1997. It is an online resource for anti-poverty advocates and poor people, created to assist poor people and advocates involved in the communities identified above through an integration of offline and online technology and resources.
PovNet works with advocates and activists across Canada involved in direct case work and social action and justice. Some of these groups include:
* The National Anti-Poverty Organization (http://www.napo-onap.ca/), a national voice for poor people, working to eliminate poverty in Canada
* DisAbled Women's Network of Ontario (http://dawn.thot.net/), an online inclusive community fostering virtual activism and individual empowerment locally and globally
* The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) (http://www.fafia-afai.org/home.php), a coalition of over 50 Canadian womens equality-seeking and related organizations organized to further womens equality in Canada through domestic implementation of its international human rights commitments.
* The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) (http://www.tdrc.net/), a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti-poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community who provide advocacy on housing and homelessness issues and lobby the Canadian government to end homelessness by implementing a fully funded National Housing Program.
PovNet has become an online home for advocates in BC and across Canada. Its Web site provides regularly updated information about issues and policy changes.
Using PovNet resources is an interactive process. Advocates learn the tools because they find them useful in order to do the social justice and case work that they care about; poor and otherwise marginalized people find the Web site when they need information that is relevant to their lives.
For example, PovNet email lists have grown over the years into invaluable resources for specific campaigns (for example the Raise the Rates campaigns in both Ontario and British Columbia to raise welfare rates). They also provide an online support network for advocates working in sometimes quite isolated areas in British Columbia or in other parts of Canada.
As one advocate put it: "I love the PovNet list - on the lighter side there's the kibitzing going on amongst the subscribers which often brings me to laughter - always a good thing in this job. On the serious side - the exchange of ideas and generous sharing of experience is a huge boon to those of us who often don't have time to pick up the phone to seek advice from our colleagues."
Another subscriber says: "The lists that I am a subscriber provide me with first-hand current information on what issues are affecting BC residents and/or newcomers. I am able to provide useful information and referrals to some of the requests coming through PovNet lists. They are an invaluable and efficient resource for community advocates, settlement and family workers, especially those issues that are time-sensitive and need an immediate response."
Other PovNet tools include a Web site which is updated once a month with new information, online education and training courses (PovNet U) for poor people (for example the course, "Be Your Own Advocate") and for advocates ("Introduction to Advocacy," "Disability Appeals" and "Tenants' Rights"), as well as an online space for anti-poverty community groups to have their own Web spaces, calendars, and discussion boards.
PovNet is a flexible in that it can adapt to needs as specific campaigns emerge. For example, we set up an email list for a new campaign to raise welfare rates, and created an online hub for papers and press releases when a group of anti-poverty activists traveled to the United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of the social and economic rights of poor people in Canada.
Building a successful online movement in anti-poverty communities includes, first and foremost, the people. Start by finding local community workers who want to broaden their connections, getting together key people (without computers) to talk about what is needed and identify the technological limitations, communicate with advocates and activists in diverse anti-poverty communities, both urban and rural, First Nations, aboriginal, different cultural communities, disability groups, women, youth, seniors, workers, human rights and anti-poverty workers, and international anti-poverty workers.
Then identify the barriers, which could include access to the technology (education, money, literacy, language), how to share information, resources and skills between "have" and "have-not" advocacy communities (e.g. community advocates and advocates in funded agencies, etc.), researching how to provide online resources in languages other than English and how to provide an online space for poor people to communicate and access information via public access sites and interactive Web-based resources.
Barriers for advocates and activists using PovNet tools have changed over the years. Initially, fear of technology was a big factor. But as advocates observed its use as a communications tool, they taught and continue to teach each other. Money for computers and printers is an ongoing problem; as the technology demands higher-end equipment. For example, advocates in rural communities with dialup access get frustrated with attachments that take up all their dialup time. The anti-poverty work becomes harder as governments slash social services; the advocates have fewer resources to do their work. Technology cannot address such needs.
Despite the difficulties, the network continues to grow, establish links with other organizations both in Canada and internationally, and exchange ideas and strategies for advancing social change.
The most effective online anti-poverty communities are constructed from the bottom up rather than the top down. Their resources are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address the need for online anti-poverty activism as it arises. Electronic resources can provide additional tools, but they are activated and made useful by the underlying human and locally based networks where the work of advocacy is actually being done.
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Because anti-poverty advocates and activists often don't have the education and training resources or communications they need, their opportunities for building communities are limited. At the same time, poor and marginalized people don't have the information they need to exercise control over their lives or get the resources they need. The most effective online anti-poverty communities are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address needs as they arise.
Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces, as well as grasp and utilize the various assets the community has to work with. The lack of grassroots knowledge has proven problematic in that development schemes are often mismatched in scale and relevance to the communitys needs, abilities and liabilities. Thus the conceived solutions for encouraging community capacities and livelihoods fall short of their objectives.
Through their lived experience, community members trained in assessment techniques and information gathering can provide contextual understandings of the assets and liabilities a community possesses that would otherwise go unnoticed to the outside professional. Similarly they can act as agent for the process of conscientization and subsequent mobilization for peoples to pursue change and empowerment.
In response to the failures of 'top-down' approaches to development, a shift towards emphasizing participation and empowerment have begun to make their way into the mainstream of development practice. This move toward "bottom-up," "farmer-to-farmer," and "grassroots" communication has been a fundamental reorientation. Following, the 70s and 80s, years often associated with the dark ages of development a new light has come about through alternative practices that seek to employ the communitys themselves in defining their needs, mapping out there assets and coming to terms with their own liabilities.
Through a variety of participatory processes both community members and development professionals have had the opportunity to jointly design community improvement schemes that are both appropriate to the community's needs and wants, as well sustainable and empowering.
As a result of relative success, the role of the community animator has become an increasingly important component for enabling this process of cooperation and participation between the development practitioner and the community members themselves. In some ways the animator acts as both initiator and on-going advocate for his or her community's development through regular open communication with both community members and the representative staff working in the area.
In the past highly educated teams of researchers and development field workers would enter a community and employ any number of assessment tools to identify community needs. Some of which were participatory in nature (see Power Research pattern). Upon return to their offices these assessments would be used to design various projects ranging from indoor lavatories, to treadle pumps, to community telecenters. In many cases it was shown that these projects failed to support the kind of long-term growth in peoples livelihoods they were thought to bring. Rather than looking at what the community wanted or needed from their cultural and social point of reference; these professionals designed projects relative to their point of reference.
Instead of persisting with this paradigm, NGOs such as the Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) have pursued vigorous development campaigns in Bangladesh. In this example the community animator has become a central agent for helping to identifiy and express the needs and desires of a community, as well as initiating and supporting change to include, informal education, ideas for micro-enterprise, and even supporting the creation of womens self-help groups that have enable a number of women in rural areas to gain access to credit and thus empower them to pursue economic generating activities.
Here organizations such as IIRD would send exploratory panels out to the communities, as a "get to know you" campaign. Over a period of time they would identify predominately young men and women that they would sponsor for further education. The pool of students would often serve as the primary group that would go on to perhaps become powerful community animators.
Not only were they given a valuable education they still retain those familial bonds to their community that often gives them an immediate advantage in having the lived experience of their particular area, as well the rapport of being a community member.
However, problems of jealousy and apprehension can be potentially problematic and it is important that groups and agencies that do seek to draw advocates from the field they seek to assist find ways to mitigate the potential social conflict that might arise. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to completely eliminate it. But it is perhaps a far better approach than previous alternatives
The community animator can act as a critical link between the community and any NGO Collaborator. It should be noted that by those in the field for social change that local citizens and activists can often better activate a communitys sentiments and bring about awareness for the possibility to realize change than an outsider who may be perceived to have little understanding of the real issues at stake.
Beyond the processes of concientization that a community animator can bring to the process; NGOs can also assist these community members in training for information gathering and needs assessments to help refine the basic kinds of projects and programs that might be of benefit to a community.
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Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces — or the various assets the community has to work with. This often means that development schemes are mismatched with the community's needs, abilities and liabilities. Community Animators can act as critical links and local citizens can often better activate a community to realize change than an outsider.