This new year, shake the world with a new dream

Today’s inspiration: activist, author, and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs.

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The fierce and graceful Grace Lee Boggs.
(photo courtesy boggsblog.org)

Civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs is still at it. At 98 years old, she continues to be an impassioned voice for blighted urban communities, empowering them to rise up.

How? By “putting the neighbor back in the ‘hood.”

In this video, Grace is with her neighbors in her hometown of Detroit. What I love about this footage is how unassuming Grace is. She’s a legend — and the subject of the upcoming documentary American Revolutionary — yet here she is, wearing a sweatshirt and having a low-key chat about bettering the community. This is grassroots activism at its core.

I could listen to her talk all day. She says:

“Whatever your walk of life, race, or class, you have the right and duty to shake this world with a new dream. Because the world is waiting for a new dream.”

It’s 2014. What’s your new dream?

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Help Everita promote freedom of artistic expression

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Everita

Everita Dave is a woman who has experienced vastly different worlds: East and West, Soviet and Post-Soviet Latvia. Although not explicit to outsiders - Amnesty International rates Latvia as above average in human rights – Everita believes freedom of artistic expression in the region still suffers from a lack of inspiration, and often, a bureaucratic heavy hand. (The recent jailing of a feminist punk-rock collective in Russia is one example that has garnered international attention.)

Everita now lives in Maryland, but splits her time between there and Latvia. Although her professional background is business and project management, she’s always been drawn to the arts as an avenue for independent thinking, and a catalyst for change.

“Art, especially conceptual art, is a reflection of society, history, and culture that can tell us more than news,” she says.

The intention

Everita would like to create an organization that promotes freedom of artistic expression in the post-Soviet region.

The vision is two-fold: first, a citizen journalism platform where people submit stories of censorship for partner organizations to take action on. Second, an online art gallery to expose, empower, and support post-Soviet artists, with the hope of selling their work.

“I believe that freedom of expression can be stimulated by art that inspires and provokes people. Inspiration would lead to action and only action could prevent the re-birth of regime,” Everita says.

Obstacles

Everita has created a website, Cross the Red, and is in the process of refining her idea. Here are some challenges she has identified:

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A beachcomber’s DIY garden art in Nida, Latvia. (Photo from Flickr’s Creative Commons via **Maurice**.)

  1. While the project is international in scope, she needs local buy-in to communicate the idea in the post-Soviet region.
  2. She’s solo now, but would love other people to help her so she can approach this in the smartest, most efficient way.
  3. Like most projects out there, finding funding is proving difficult.

How you can help

  • Is creating an organization the right way to go? Or should this remain a project?
  • Do you know of any organizations dedicated to freedom of expression that might want to partner?
  • What are the legal considerations Everita needs to keep in mind if she decides to form an organization? What resources would you point her to?
  • How can she find pro-bono legal counsel?
  • Do you know of foundations that might want to partner to give artists grants, fellowships, etc.?
  • Do you know of potential avenues of funding?
  • Are you interested in collaborating in some way?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

 

 

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Idea File: Sticky solutions for a better community

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Image: http://candychang.com/i-wish-this-was/

It’s been more than five years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. While the city is still grappling with rebuilding efforts, its residents have proven nothing less than resilient. From floating homes to affordable health care for local musicians, NOLA has seen a recent resurgence of innovation and community.

With so much potential, the city has become a breeding ground for new ideas.I Wish This Was” is an art initiative that collects citizen’s thoughts for re-imagining the space around them. The project is the brainchild of Candy Chang — co-founder of the design studio Civic Center — and was born because her neighborhood still lacks a full-service grocery store.

The concept is simple: free stickers are distributed throughout the city in cafes, bookstores, hair salons and more. You pick one up, and pen your wish, dream or hope. Afterward you stick it on an abandoned building or any other public space that could use some wishful thinking. Wishes so far range from the practical (butcher, bike rack) to the abstract (owned by somebody who cared, heaven) to the cheeky (big old cupcake, Brad Pitt’s house).

Pros

  • Awareness. The stickers publicly merge your innermost desires with the city’s pressing needs.
  • Inspirational. The hope is that the creative, collective consciousness will spark actual transformation.
  • Easy. It’s super simple to do. And democratic distribution so that anyone, regardless of class, race, age, etc., can participate.
  • Ecologically friendly. The stickers are made of vinyl, not paper, so they don’t damage storefronts.
  • Accessible. If you’re not currently based in NOLA but want to follow along, Chang is working on a digitized version of the ideas.

Cons

  • Free, but not for long. Vinyl stickers are more expensive. Unfortunately, the free supply has run out, so you’ll have to throw down some dollars to make a wish.
  • Art or trash? Some may view the stickers as added blight.
  • Good intentions…but will stickers lead to action?

Plenty of cities, towns and villages have abandoned spaces and could implement a project like this one. Could this benefit your community?

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Does social media really mean the end of social revolution?

“The revolution will not be Tweeted,” claims Malcolm Gladwell in this week’s issue of The New Yorker. Bringing us back to the early 1960s and the U.S. Civil Rights Movements, Gladwell writes that huge upheavals coming from social unrest that led to major change happened precisely because of a lack of texts, tweets, and Facebook friends. The social change mini-revolutions that happen today are smaller scale and have less impact than ones like the Civil Rights Movement due to the fact that the tools that drive them rely too heavily on the weak bonds between members of social networks. Further, being that online social activism is based on ease of participation — people end up making very little personal sacrifice, a necessary component of any social change movement.

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Via flickr user david_shankbone (Creative Commons)

Gladwell seems to think that these aspects of social networking might have hindered the civil rights movement by decentralizing the authority of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the N.A.A.C.P., destabilizing the strong, in person bonds of the movement’s members, and letting people “participate” without having to make the huge sacrifices that were required to stage sit-ins, march, or speak out in public, risking abuse, jail time, and even death.

But what about the large scale social revolutions that are happening today?

Social networks don’t seem to have eliminated protests, even if it might be true that they are not being driven by them. Look at the extremely well organized students of Buenos Aires, Argentina who have essentially taken control of 30 city public schools to protest deteriorating conditions. These students became highly organized offline, inside their classrooms. But, when thousands of people gathered to march in the capital earlier this month, information was shared via social networks, increasing participation and pushing the protesters’ message to government officials and traditional media outlets.

Yes, movements that have a lasting societal impact are going to happen offline. For every hundred thousand people that “like” an initiative on Facebook, nothing is going to change unless at least a fraction of these people show up at rallies, donate, or vote in upcoming elections. But, didn’t only a fraction of people participate in the Civil Right’s Movement? Hopefully, the real power of social media is making information about a movement’s progress and how to participate more visible and accessible — hopefully increasing the percentage of people who will take things offline, and make real sacrifices for their cause.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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