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The power of the manifesto to spark a movement

Have you ever joined a social, political or cultural movement? How did it feel to be part of something bigger than you, your workplace or your immediate circle of friends and family? What injustice or problems sparked you to action? Did you make change happen?

When I was in my early 20s in 1999, I attended a ‘speak out’ in Queen Street Mall for East Timor’s freedom, waving a cardboard sign saying ‘Indonesia Out’. I was a history teacher at the time, teaching Year 10s the consequences of the December ’75 US/Australian-sanctioned invasion of East Timor. Afterwards, my landlord sent me an official letter asking me to remove the sign from my front window where I’d proudly taped it up. I was glad to be told off – it meant people felt uncomfortable, and that is always a signal that something needs to change.

A year later I joined colleagues to plant a hand in the national, travelling Sea of Hands installation to show my solidarity with Australia’s Indigenous people. We taught an ahead-of-its-time unit on Indigenous civil rights in a private all-girls school, and we put our bodies where our mouths were, so to speak.

In London in 2009, I marched with 35,000 people of all ages from Embankment to Hyde Park for ‘jobs, justice and climate’ before the G20 started. Witnessing anarchists unite with church groups, trade unions with Friends of the Earth, and Climate Camp with the Stop the War Coalition was truly mind-blowing (and it cured me of any naive notions I’d ever had about becoming an anarchist – I was truly frightened by the depth of their vitriol). 

Recalibrating energy to inspire change

Every time I marched, the air was charged with the electricity of hundreds of angry, passionate, souls. I knew I was a small cog in the bigger picture, but as I stood alongside other people who shared my energy and ideas, I felt our collective power. And then I went home and turned on the telly and saw that nothing really changed.

And this is our problem. Not that we live in a time of unprecedented change, but that we live in times that are all too bloody familiar.

It’s been a long time since I’ve marched for anything. I feel jaded about the growing wealth divide, the murder of women by their intimate partners, the rise in homelessness, the continued monopoly of the wealthy upper middle classes on our political system and the global shift to the political right.

When I feel like this I remind myself that it means my contribution is needed now more than ever. It’s a signal that I must take what I’m great at – writing and teaching others – and mobilise you all to stir things up! 

Why the Manifesto? 

If you’re feeling a little uncertain about where to direct your own concerns and energy, consider a Manifesto as your starting point.

  • A manifesto, during drafting, helps you clarify your purpose and vision
  • A manifesto, once written, drives your focus and alignment
  • A manifesto, being shared, builds community and belonging
  • A manifesto, when re-read, helps you feel inspired and empowered
  • A manifesto, being acted upon, is a catalyst for change and innovation

How Manifestos Mobilise Movements

Witness the impact of some of the world’s most daring manifestos:

The Uluru Statement from the Heart (2017) was a collective effort by Indigenous leaders from around Australia to highlight Indigenous inequalities and racism and call for empathy and lasting change. It led to the instigation of a vote on the Voice to Parliament in Australia.

In Reasons to Strike, Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future group passionately advocates its case for students striking every Friday to fight for the future of the planet – and themselves. FFF has created a global network of passionate climate activists.

The Occupy Wall Street Declaration (2011) from the former General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street critiqued economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of money in politics. It sparked the global Occupy movement, which although short-lived, put economic divisions under a spotlight that has not since dimmed.

The Pussy Riot Manifesto by feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot (2012) highlighted issues of free speech, political repression and gender inequality in Putin’s Russia. The manifesto was preceded by public stunts that put the women in danger, and they’ve since been arrested more than once for their brave advocacy.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech was a powerful manifesto for the American Civil Rights Movement. Delivered during the March on Washington, the speech offered a vision of an American Dream that realised equality for all. It played a key role in landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The resonance of small, intentional steps

When we marched and protested, we didn’t always change the status quo. However, our passion, fresh thinking and commitment fuelled a momentum that carried forward change in different ways. Other people have taken up the banner for change in many areas. Their voices are still loud, often heard, and occasionally, heartwarmingly acted on by the powers that be.   

You may not be ready to start a movement. But starting to put your ideas down in a form that resonates with other fed-up souls is your first step to shaping a different kind of future, aligned to your purpose and passion.

It’s time to design your own Manifesto.

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