The civil society community is actually a small one. Many employees know others by name. I met some of my precious friends in civil society activities. Speaking the same language and having similar problems was a great effect of course. We don’t spare much time to each other, but we can chat between the breaks of the meetings we attend. Usually we do the work of five and are on the run continuously, from one province to another or from one meeting to another. It is great that the number of the ones exercising among us has increased recently, but unfortunately I am still not included in that group. The reason for this introduction is not to share a professional situation. I said two weeks ago that the world was changing and we needed to change our methods and discourses as well. While civil society organizations defend rights on one hand, I’ve been researching about what new things they have been saying or doing. At that time, I ran into a group that wasn’t really on the run, but actually running.
RunDemCrew is a group running on the streets of the capital of England, London. Amnesty International has named Charlie Dark, a middle-aged London DJ who launched the RunDemCrew movement, as one of the human rights supporters worthy of following-up in 2018. So what did Charlie Dark do, and what is he doing now? RunDemCrew has both attracted the attention of one of the world’s leading human rights organizations and taken the first steps to become a global movement…
“We’re not a running club.” Charlie says; so the goal is to run, yet it is as well a tool. When a stadium was built next to his house for the London Olympics, Charlie Dark took action. “The authorities assumed that when the stadium was built, it would be used directly for sports, but I knew it wouldn’t, and I didn’t want to see a pile of concrete rotting next to my house.” he says. Since he also teaches at schools and observes young people, he also realizes that young people have problems with the school but how enthusiastic they are for sports. Charlie Dark’s ‘Eureka moment” was perhaps the moment when he was enlightened by the people being together and the spirit of the community as he was looking at a million-dollar investment from the Windows of his house. In short, Charlie Dark has observed, defined the need and acted.
RunDemCrew members pour into the streets of London at night, feel the city, explore it and support each other. They begin to sense the texture, the smell and the sound of the city they live in. They don’t have ear buds in their ears because everyone in the group is asked to socialize with the one on their right and left. Mentoring is provided to the participants of the group and they are supported in various ways. “One of the runners may be the CEO of a company, but we value each other, watch out for each other.” Charlie says. In other words, going out to the streets of the city and setting group rules have created a common ground and contributed to the formation of a community. Because while people maintain their identity as individuals, they also like to belong to somewhere.
A young man from the group told us how insignificant he felt before, that he was hesitant to mingle because he didn’t have confidence and how he spent his days in front of the screen. In his first run, the person who ran next to him took care of him, asked him questions, listened to what he said, and in short, he did what he needed to do in every human relationship while running. The young man has begun to take steps into a change in many things in his life. Activating and empowering people is what makes a community dynamic and especially young people are drawn into this dynamism.
My concern is not telling a Cinderella story of course. What RunDemCrew actually does is combine what’s in hand and form a totally different thing. What Charlie Dark did was transforming his own life and a need that he had discovered by observation into an appropriate tool at an appropriate moment. So the important thing is first realizing what you need and defining it. What we mean here by a need is the framework of the change we want to make in a wide range of rights. This may sometimes be related to the city we live in, sometimes with children, sometimes with access to information, or sometimes with the right to freedom of expression. Once the need is well understood, you usually take the first step to reach and trigger people.
The most emphasized and perhaps the most difficult stage in all advocacy work is to create a community and triggering them by keeping their interest alive. So why is it so important to create this community? If civil society has a problem about providing the change it has been promising, it needs to build its strength and legitimacy through the existence of the people standing behind what it says, as well as the values of the rights and the things it defend. People who feel closer to an issue, a case or a right and that they belong to a group do not have any problems with taking action. We have experienced many examples of that in this country where getting organized for historical and cultural reasons is a barren area. But, of course, one should ponder about this feeling of belonging and building this feeling among people. We said that this is not a Cinderella tale, as a real pumpkin grows in soil, and the cars are produced in factories. There’s no magic, and sweating blood is not a bumper sticker expression here.
There is also the concern of civil society of strengthening individuals and making them feel valuable. Because we know that individuals who feel powerful and useful will be the ones to take steps to participate in political and social processes and create value. This is especially true for young people. It is not enough to create new and interesting tools to reach young people. The youngsters who take action are the ones who come out of their shells, feel useful and who feel addressed. When a young person, in fact a considerable number of individuals, realizes that he/she is useful once, he/she can take initiatives not only to change their own lives, but also to contribute to society and support others. This doesn’t mean that all individuals in the community or everyone we can reach will suddenly become civil society volunteers. But it is worth winning those who intend to take a step with us. Of course, the fact that young people are involved in civil society work is more than a necessity, it’s a big opportunity for us to understand the changing dynamics.
As the quality and quantity of attacks on rights increase all over the world, many activists and organizations have been compulsorily developing new methods to respond effectively to these attacks. RunDemCrew is just one of them. However, when you look closer at these new methods and tools, you can see that the basic elements remain the same. Belonging, understanding and defining the needs and designing the processes that make individuals stronger are just some of these elements. Once you understand them well and put your creativity into a format that will appeal to people, it will be a simple matter to convince people who come from work exhausted to run through the city streets in the middle of the night.