‘Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.”
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
I’m not naive, I know that most of the people reading this are facing the biggest challenge of their lives right now. We are living through a pandemic of epic proportions, every day we are facing new traumas and even higher mountains to climb. We are scared, we are lost, and we are grieving.
So, when I say that we can be hopeful right now, I want you to know that I understand the deep grief of this moment and that I feel it too. But we don’t have to conquer grief in order to feel hope – both can exist at the same time.
Today I am hopeful about the future of the Uplift community, and our ability to shake the traditional halls of power. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the future is created from the choices we make together – that nothing is inevitable, and that we can change the course of history if we choose to.
This month, the 250,000th person joined Uplift – we are now ¼ of a million humans working together to fight for a better Ireland and to hold the powerful to account. In a time of great uncertainty and upheaval, I feel more than ever that we need to take a minute to breathe and find it within us to celebrate the power we have built as a community over the last six years.
So, here are some of the reasons we can be hopeful in these strange times.
We have the ways and means to take powerful action
The digital revolution is changing the rules of the game – and there’s no going back. Under the old rules, a closed system dominated by political and economic insiders made the decisions, relatively immune from public scrutiny.
Under the new rules, vast numbers of people are able to take coordinated action to influence decision making in ways never imagined a decade ago.
This week alone Uplift members met with national politicians on a video call to present our demands for the new Programme of Government. At the very same time, another group of members were learning how to use digital tools to support communities to stay connected and take action across Ireland.
When decision-makers understand that people can be easily mobilised again and again – it makes it impossible to ignore our voices.
When properly understood and deployed, online tools allow us to employ time-honoured strategies while aiming for the big changes our times require.
Everyone and every action counts
For most of us, the first step we take in becoming involved is by signing a petition, perhaps on an issue in our local community or something we feel really passionate about.
Signing a petition is like walking through a door into a room with other people who share your values. It’s a necessary first step, but it’s usually just a first step. Though, it’s worth noting that the very first petition set up on MyUplift was successful after just 27 people signed!
Since Uplift started, together we’ve taken over 2 million actions and pooled our resources to push for positive change – resources that include our opinions, votes, time, relationships, skills, money, and creative talents.
From signing petitions, sending emails, sharing on social media, calling and meeting politicians and decision-makers, donating for research reports, newspaper ads, Facebook ads, making submissions, taking surveys, joining webinars and strategy calls, turning up to protests and meetings – there’s no end to the possibilities for people-powered action and the impact that we can have together.
Every year we do an annual member survey that helps shape our priorities and give Uplift members an opportunity to give feedback and share their ideas. It’s a powerful insight into where members are at, how they feel connected – or not, what action they want to take together.
For members like Mary, being part of this community has been transformational. “I spend most of every day in bed with a debilitating disability and have always felt left out of everything. Now I have a voice and a way to take part in what’s going on”.
The drumbeat of hope and solidarity is building
There are more of us who care than not, who believe that everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from deserves to be able to thrive, not just survive. As Uplift members, we believe that decent pay, health care, a warm and safe home and great education should be for everyone, not just the well off.
Just a few weeks ago [feels like decades, to be honest] voters in the general election were explicit about what was motivating them – decent healthcare and homes. The uprising for urgent action to combat the climate crisis has been huge. Terrible trade deals have been stalled because of people power.
But we often feel alone with these feelings and beliefs, that the dominant view is against equality, solidarity, care and community. That the powerful are just too powerful, that there’s nothing we can do.
And I won’t lie to you, the business of change isn’t easy, and big enemies don’t fall at the first hurdle. That’s why so much of what we do is not just about winning, but also building community, building resilience, and having fun.
A few years ago we mobilised thousands of people to push back on the government’s decision to hold back support for people seeking refuge from the war in Syria. They wanted to take just 400 people from refugee camps – when we knew that the need for refuge, and our capacity to share it – was so much greater. So, Uplift members – knowing that this moment wasn’t about pity or charity, instead found a way to show real solidarity with people who had been displaced in Syria. Members organised to go to their local famine grave to share a message to our leaders – ‘we should know better and we can do better’.
I can still hear the voice of Tim, a member from Clare who said afterwards ‘I never knew that some of my neighbours felt the same way as I did about how refugees are treated.’
After that, something miraculous happened – all over Ireland Uplift members started emailing us to pledge a bed for someone in need. We quickly cobbled together the tech that we needed, and before we knew it we had thousands of members all across Ireland, showing more leadership than our actual political leaders.
I knew then that not alone were we protesting against a heartless government decision, we were also showing our values to each other, becoming more confident, finding each other, standing proud together and becoming more resilient in our belief in a more just, equal and fair Ireland.
The government was quickly forced into a u-turn and multiplied the amount of offers of support x 10 – we went from pledging to take 400 people seeking refuge, to pledging to offer refuge to over 4,000 people. Since then Uplift members have always taken a strong position on rights and protections for people seeking asylum, people who are undocumented and all who suffer because of the hate of the far-right.
Uplift’s starting point is that more people like Mary and Tim should be involved in decisions that affect their lives, that politics affects everyone so politics should belong to everyone.
This is a moment to think big and take bold action
This is a truly collective transformational moment in all of our lives. One of the ways we are going to weather this Covid19 pandemic storm is to push harder for the kind of society we clearly so badly need.
One thing that has crystallised in recent months is how important public health care is, that the people who do essential work to keep us safe deserve the fair and decent working conditions, and that having a safe and secure home to live in is essential to us all.
How we not just recover, but transform after Covid19 boils down to political choices – about who will pay the most, how public services will be improved, how people who work are treated and how communities are supported to thrive.
These are choices that have yet to be taken, but they lay before us. The groundwork has been laid – private hospitals taken into public control temporarily, a raised pay support for people who have lost their income, a freeze on rent increases and evictions.
But if history has taught us anything it’s that there are always going to be vested interests that take our country in dangerous directions.
That’s why Uplift members are working even harder than ever, joining forces to think big and bold, being vigilant, getting organised, turning frustration into action and not wasting any time in shaping the Ireland we want to be coming out of Covid19 pandemic.
The drumbeat of hope is growing – slow, steady, getting louder.