Yes we can (make a difference)

Three Points We Should Take Away from President Obama’s Speech in Brussels

The full video

Laura Hemmati hands the floor to President Barack Obama
Laura Hemmati hands the floor to President Barack Obama

For many of us involved in the Leadarise movement, President Obama’s speech in Brussels on Wednesday may have come as an afterthought, as we were all so thrilled to see Leadarise’s co-founder Laura Hemmati introduce the President himself.  However, President Obama’s speech contained a strong message for today’s youth; one that the members of Leadarise will remember well.

Over the past few years we have seen a rise in a certain kind of pragmatic idealism, which seems to be a reaction to the increasingly complex and intertwined global reality in which we live. For example, a young idealist with an entrepreneurial spirit may be inclined to think: “I can’t change the global food market overnight, but I can make the most awesome organic pork sausage in all of Amsterdam”. The President’s speech was a reminder to all young people that this local and pragmatic approach can work, but we should not let our attention slip from the bigger picture: the continuing global fight for human dignity. Is there a way we can harness the energy generated by local activism to address global issues? I think there is and here are three important steps to get there:

1. Adopt a musketeer mentality

A pragmatic approach to idealism works best if you pick a cause that is close to your heart. Lose yourself completely in pursuing the specific goals you have set for yourself and your organisation. President Obama reminded us that we must not forget all our idealistic projects are part of a bigger movement to safeguard human dignity around the world. So, every once in a while, we will need to step out of our own bubbles and look around at how others are making a difference. We need to look at where our different goals and approaches can strengthen each other and we need to support the projects of those we believe in. It’s the only way we can create a truly global community: by realising it’s one for all and all for one.

2. Spread the message

In his speech President Obama stated that the Cold War was won by the power of the ideas that were cherished in the free world. One of the true blessings of the 21st century is that positive ideas can be spread ever more quickly through social media and other internet-based outlets. The Arab Spring did not require illegal printing presses and home-made pamphlets; Facebook and Twitter did the job. So let’s use this gift for the better. Be vocal about your own undertakings to make the world a better place and showcase other projects you believe in to inspire other members of our generation across the globe. Gain courage by seeing the courageous actions of our peers taking a stand on Tahrir square, seeing young women driving cars in Saudi-Arabia or reading a message from the Maidan in Kiev. These are all embodiments of the great ideas of justice, equality and freedom that won the Cold War and we might take for granted in large parts of the world, but are still being fought for in other parts. These are ideas worth spreading.

3. Fight for a free flow of information

If, like president Obama insists, it’s important to ensure that we continue to spread the great ideas, a free flow of information is fundamental. The internet is the 21st century equivalent of the portico’s of Ancient Greece, a place where a free and open exchange of ideas can take place without interference of anyone. Sure, you might run into the village idiot or get offered contraband by a dodgy salesman, but a place where ideas can be exchanged freely is vital if you want to propagate values like free speech and self-determination. The freedom of the internet is currently under threat by the recently uncovered NSA spy-programmes (which the President promises to scale down), censorship crack-downs by other governments and plans to sell broadband capacity to the highest bidder. We need to rise against this and we need to endorse projects to realise the physical infrastructure needed for people to join the debate online and encourage the education of boys and girls around the globe, so they too can navigate their way to the information needed for their empowerment. If there is one cause for which we should make our voice heard, it’s the right for everybody to get their voice heard.

By embracing these three points, each of us can create and endorse powerful messages of equality, unity, and liberty that are distinctly local, but resonate with millions of young people around the globe at the push of a button. #ShareDignity #WomenSucceed

Article by Wouter IJzermans, Leadarise blogger

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