Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Be the Change

The following is speech presented by CEO and founder of Catalyst Miami, Daniella Levine, at the Ghandi Day of Service October 2nd, 2011. Considering we just celebrated another service oriented holiday, MLK Day, let’s consider Daniella’s words and engagement in our community. Beyond being engaged in beautification projects, and short term service projects, real change stems from a change in attitude. Society and its structure reflect the aggregate attitudes of its constituents. If we work internally towards becoming better selves, we can then band towards becoming a better “us.”
UM  Ghandi Day of Service October 2, 2011
Be the Change

This line is attributed to Ghandi, the inspiration for this day, for this movement of student engagement. 
So, let us stop and consider the question:
What does it really mean to “be the change”?
1.       Does it mean to live a life of service, seeking ways to make a better world?
o   Yes.
2.       Does it mean to live a life of inquiry, to question the status quo, the reasons for inequalities and injustices?
o   Yes.
3.       Does it mean to act based upon this understanding, to seek to alter the status quo and right inequalities and injustice?
o   Yes.
Yes. Yes and Yes. All three.
To be the change means to EMBODY the change, to authentically reflect it.
Addressing it for individuals through service:  providing food, clothing, shelter, education, jobs. YES. But is this enough?
Don’t we want to understand why some are more fortunate? Why the wealth gap continues to grow in this country? Why it is harder for people to move out of poverty? Why it is harder to find good jobs?
Don’t we want to understand the systemic and structural reasons for these inequalities in society?
Why people who have dark skin in this country are so much more likely to be arrested, imprisoned, receive inadequate healthcare or face discrimination in jobs, housing and voting?
When I look out at this audience, I do believe that you indeed can be the change. You have what it takes to move out of your comfort zones and to move the nation. To help the individuals and to help the whole. To question and challenge the status quo that is leading to greater inequality and injustice, that is moving us further away from many of the precious rights and freedoms we must protect.
You have the knowledge. You have the understanding. You have the freedom. You have the tools: communication, connections.
But: Do you have the motivation? Do you have the courage? Do you have the hope?
I recently explained that compelling circumstances make people take risks. My 25 year old daughter had just been arrested outside the White House as part of the protests about the Alberta Tar Sands Pipeline. Why would my daughter take that risk to her safety, her career, her reputation?
Why would she? Why would you?
I’ve been reading the news about Occupy Wall Street. Last night it accelerated with arrests for obstructing traffic. What do you think about this occupation? Do you agree with the message? Do you agree with the tactics? Do you have hope that things can change?
No matter what is your point of view about nonviolent protests such as those for the pipeline or Wall Street, you have what it takes to learn about these issues, understand the implications and formulate effective strategies for change. You CAN be the change, and, let me exhort you, plea with you, that you MUST be the change.
The future is in your hands, and your participation CAN make the difference.
Today’s paper has an article by Senator Bob Graham showing how communities with greater civic engagement create more jobs. People feel connected, committed, invest and hire locally, see that their actions are making the community better. This virtuous cycle benefits all. So, your investment in being the change has long-term implications for communities wherever you live.

I have confidence in your ability to make it so. You have the knowledge, the attitude and the tools, so hopefully you will now have even greater hope that you CAN be the change. Let today be the first day of the rest of your life of making it so. Moving from service to understanding to action, changing not just for the benefit of individuals, but for the whole of society.

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