The idea of Citizen Network is extremely modest and wildly ambitious.
Our simple belief is that everyone matters and we want to help create a world where this fact is recognised, where everyone is welcomed, where everyone can find a way to contribute and share their unique gifts. This is not a new idea. Different cultures, faiths and people have often recognised that every life is important – these values ring through the centuries and can be found all around the world. But somehow this truth keeps getting lost or forgotten.
Many of us seem to live in societies that operate according to very different values. Instead of building a world where everyone can contribute, we get fooled into scrambling for money, power and fame – dead values that lead us nowhere.
Worse, we allow some people to become scapegoats, to be isolated, blamed and oppressed. As we begin 2019 we see some politicians still exploiting our fears: building walls, letting refugees drown, sowing dissent and burning the bridges that exist between people. It is worth remembering that 2019 marks the 80th anniversary, not only of World War II – with its many horrors – but also of the T4 Aktion. This was the state-sanctioned and professionally organised murder of over 200,000 people with disabilities and mental health problems, inside German institutions. The fact that the Holocaust began with the murder of people disabilities is something that is often forgotten.
The need for Citizen Network has never been clearer.
We certainly need better leaders, but ultimately we need to become the citizens that the world needs. A world of equal citizenship cannot be gifted by the powerful to the weak; a world of equal citizenship can only be made by people who are determined to start acting like citizens – who know that each one of us has something special to give and who know that there is nothing more important than helping others to contribute and share their own gifts. This is the key to inclusion, or to what some of our teachers call the “beloved community.”
There are many dimensions to citizenship and inclusion but it strikes me that it may be useful to begin to explore how our values can contribute to distinct aspects of the challenges ahead of us. We may be able to distinguish several threads of interest within our community which, when combined, can create an even more powerful movement for change.
For instance we might think of the work of citizenship like this:
- Being the best we can be – Varun Vidyarthi, the Citizen Network coordinator for India, has been leading work for decades to help people develop themselves as citizens and to ensure that – in aiming to help others we do not deprive the other of freedom or the opportunity for growth. The work of Ester Ortega and the development of Airea also shares this same commitment to change that is truly authentic – rooted in the person’s true needs – the inner dimension of citizenship.
- Empowering each other – The original spark for Citizen Network was struck in Vancouver in 2015, at the international conference on self-directed support and citizenship. Working with leaders like Tim Stainton and Brian Salisbury, we agreed that we must find ways to learn together about how best to share learning and good practice around the world. Today these ideas remain central to the work of Citizen Network around the world, and we are increasingly extending our work to explore how ideas like basic income might also help us create a better foundation for active citizenship.
- Building community – It is a strength of Citizen Network that so many great groups have joined who are working to build the kinds of communities we need in the future. Inclusion requires diversity, self help and a commitment to the possibility of contribution. So many groups are demonstrating new ways bringing inclusion to life, whether through the arts, food, mutual assistance, faith or social activism. I am sure we will find out about even more exciting initiatives this year.
- Welcoming the stranger – It is inspiring to see how members of Citizen Network, like Katie and Nadia Clarke, do not stop at fighting for disability rights or inclusion: they see that we must also offer help to the refugee, the migrant and the asylum seeker. Everyone must be welcome. Others, like Catherine Hale, are working to show how people with chronic illness are also being excluded, and how to challenge that exclusion. We must be permanently attentive to what Tom Kohler calls “the bigger we.”
- Restoring democracy – Underpinning any ongoing effort to build a better world must be a commitment to the constitutional and democratic arrangements that shape our societies. In Wisconsin, USA, Marcie Brost and Matt Rothschild are challenging the abuses created when private money can buy public policy. In the UK Gavin Barker has been leading work to identify wide-ranging constitutional reforms that will support and defend principles of social justice. Citizen Network Europe’s priority for 2019 is to share work on how to make electoral processes more inclusive.
- Caring for the planet – David Towell and Jo Kidd have been leading thinking about the need to combine thinking about justice with the idea of sustainability and respect for animals, environment and the diverse natural wonders of the world. Citizens take care of the world, they do not treat it as resource to be taken, used and thrown away.
I am very aware that this summary doesn’t capture all the great work being done by Citizen Network’s members – but perhaps this framework might be useful as we go forward:
Over 2019 I am sure Citizen Network will keep growing stronger. As we begin we have 505 individual members 131 group members 18 partners and 12 country coordinators. This is a fantastic achievement since we launched the idea of Citizen Network in Auckland in November 2016. We have grown because people want to see a better world and increasingly people are willing to share, contribute and act as leaders to make this possible. Thanks to everyone who has joined the journey so far. Over this year we are going to focus on making it easier for people to get involved in Citizen Network and I’d welcome help from anyone with ideas or energy to help us make this happen.
It is still early days. But things to look forward to in 2019 include:
Glasgow 2019 – Citizen Network is working with IASSIDD to create a celebration of citizenship. If you are attending the world congress please connect with us. We are working on a festival of citizenship for the Saturday after the Congress and there will be other chances to meet up during the week beforehand.
- Webinar Series – Kate Fulton is organising a series of webinars, organised around the Keys to Citizenship, which will bring together some of the great thinkers who inspire our work, alongside practitioners leading some of the most interesting innovations.
- Atlas of Self-Directed Support – Working with our European partners, in the SKILLS Project, we aim to establish an atlas which will allow us to see where good practice in support is emerging and where there are problems that need to be challenged.
- Basic Income and Disability – There will be further work to explore how the idea of basic income could be used to create welfare systems that truly empower everyone.
- Learning from Manavodaya – We are hoping to organise an event for people to learn from Varun in the UK during 2019 and you can also attend the international sessions in India.
I am sure there will be much else besides, but the big question is: