Bengaluru citizens’ solutions to combat civic activism fatigue

Citizens cite diversity, recognition, a sense of ownership, and ward committees as vital to keep the flame of civic activism alive.

(In part 1 of the series Srinivas Alavilli and Vikram Rai wrote about their experience of moderating the masterclass, ‘Is there burnout in civic activism?’, at the India Civic Summit, organised by Oorvani Foundation. Part 2 covers the discussions and insights by the participants

The 35 plus participants in the masterclass-‘Is there burnout in civic activism?’, at the India Civic Summit, organised by Oorvani Foundation, were divided into six groups, who shared their observations and solutions to civic activism apathy. While nine questions were put to vote, the following six got the maximum votes in the following order: 

  1. Is there a feeling that civic activism is usually elitist and not inclusive? How to bring collaboration across various forms of civic activism?
  2. What are the motivations and incentives for people participate?
  3. What motivates young people to get involved in civic activism?
  4. What are the fears and disincentives that are barriers to activism?
  5. Is there a tipping point for serious and at scale participation to happen?
  6. Can continuous civic action build more engagement and participation from the government?
Masterclass participants
Masterclass on ‘Is there burnout in civic activism?’ Pic: Shruti Gokarn

Group 1: Is civic activism in Bengaluru elitist?   

Group 1 discussed the question of whether there is a feeling that civic activism is usually elitist and not inclusive and how to collaborate across various forms of civic activism.

There was consensus among the group that civic activism in Bengaluru is elitist. They put forward these solutions:

  • Diversity in civic activism: Incorporating gender, religion, caste, sub-caste, and sexuality is crucial
  • Inclusion of diverse groups: It is not enough to include various groups in designing civic activism ventures, but it is also important to involve diverse groups in the implementation of these programmes
  • Ward committees: The constitutions of ward committees should embody this diversity
  • Instilling civic activism: Civic activism should be integrated into education to foster a culture of participation from a young age
  • Participation avenues should be created for those lacking time or financial resources
  • A collective reimagining of activism is required to redefine inclusion, extending beyond thought to action, and encouraging public contestation
  • At whose cost, for whose benefit? Civic activism should be guided by the principle of identifying who bears the cost and who reaps the benefits
participants interactions
Group 1 participants: Vani Murthy, Raj, Priya, Sid, Avinash, Odette, Krishnamurthy, Shakti and Laly. Pic: Shruti Gokarn

Group 2: Incentives and motivations   

The second group discussed the incentives and motivations to get people involved in civic activism:

  1. Local focus, local impact: Addressing community issues by focussing on local concerns is crucial for creating local impact
  2. Reciprocity in action: It is imperative to give back to society. We get a lot from our surroundings and we need to give back to it too
  3. Driven by passion: The heartbeat of civic activism lies in people who are passionate about a cause and keep working towards it
  4. Acknowledging efforts: The power of recognition in civic activism is vital, as acknowledging the efforts of civic activists motivates them to keep going
  5. The reward of fulfilment: The personal satisfaction that activists derive from their work is a crucial motivational catalyst
group 2 participants
Group 2 participants: Gautam Kamath, Kamesh Rashtogi, Rupal Ralph, Tara Krishnaswamy, Valli Srinivasan and Aravind B. Pic: Shruti Gokarn

Group 3: Inspiring youth to engage in civic activism 

The third group focussed on how young people can be motivated to get involved in civic activism. These were their observations:

  1. Cultivating ownership: The earth is ours to save, instilling a sense of belonging in us all. For instance if young people love the earth, they will want to work towards saving it. So, it is important to cultivate a sense of ownership in young people. If they feel a sense of ownership they will believe that their city, society, and surroundings are worth fighting for
  2. Relatable content: The key to youth engagement is to make the content of civic activism interesting so that young people can relate to it
  3. Systemic change: It is important to work towards creating systemic and cultural change. Engaging with civic issues should be embedded in our daily lives, whether it is at home, at educational institutions, or even in the content that we consume in the form of serials, movies, or other forms of media
  4. Social media engagement: Tailored content for every age group should be the goal. When engaging with young people on social media platforms, keep it short, and tailor it to suit your target audience. For instance, the means and modes of engaging teens will be different from those involved in engaging people in their late teens or in their twenties
group 3 participants
Group 3 participants: Neetu, Meera, Shweta, Swarnalata, Divya and Smita. Pic: Shruti Gokarn

Group 4: Barriers to activism

The fourth group discussed the fears and disincentives, which keep people from getting involved in civic activism. The following points came out of their discussion:

  1. Hesitation in action: The fear of inadequacy and lack of confidence can often deter individuals from participating in civic movements
  2. Fear of repercussions: The potential for harassment and threats, especially when personal interests are at stake, can intimidate individuals and discourage them from engaging in civic activism
  3. Apathy and disillusionment: A sense of indifference and the belief that actions won’t bring about change can lead to a general sense of apathy towards civic issues among citizens
  4. Passing the baton: The younger generation often feels overwhelmed by time constraints and tends to delegate the responsibility of addressing civic issues to older generations
group 4 participants
Group 4 participants: Nitin Seshadri, Ravichandran Tavag, Ganapathy, Lalana, Purushottam, Ashwin and Rajesh. Pic: Shruti Gokarn

Group 5:  Civic groups’ tipping point

The fifth group discussed how groups involved in civic activism can reach a tipping point to scale their operations:

  1. Data-driven awareness: Providing accurate and concrete data can help create awareness and convert people to support a cause
  2. Providing alternative solutions: The narrative of “development” often justifies environmental harm. Offering alternative solutions can help protect the environment while meeting community needs. For example, people may feel that building a road or a flyover is important for them to live life smoothly, and hence it does not matter if trees are chopped to make way for it. In such cases, the larger community needs to be provided with alternative solutions to the project so that the environment can be saved.  The idea of what is necessary for a smooth life may differ among smaller groups within a larger group. So, it is important to keep in mind the needs of different people while discussing alternative solutions
  3. Identity connection: If the cause can be related to their identity, at a personal and community level, then people will support the cause
  4. Utilising diverse resources: Different skill sets, motivations, and time availability should be effectively utilised for the cause. Even a small contribution like devoting fifteen minutes in a day to a cause can make a difference
  5. Social media influence: The power of social media in rallying more people to join civic activism is immense
group 5 participants
Group 5 participants: Krishna, Preethi, Shruthi, Vedika, Akshata and Deepa. Pic: Shruti Gokarn

Group 6: Can civic action build drive government engagement?

Group 6 discussed how to get the government to engage with activists on a regular basis and what happens to activism and activists if the government does not engage with them.

  • Importance of numbers: Increased participation in civic activism enhances the effectiveness of government engagement. The more citizen volunteers, the less the burnout
  • Public concern advocacy: The cause that is being taken up by activists should represent a genuine public concern
  • Collaborate with authorities: Help authorities to help you in such a way that they feel like both they and the activists are a part of the solution. This can be done by giving them tips and suggestions on how they can engage with activists
  • Activism with solutions: Whenever activists approach government authorities with problems, they could also be ready with solutions to the problems. The process of getting them involved might be smoother if alternatives and suggestions are provided to them, instead of only complaining about the issue
  • Persistence and consistency: Activists have to make a consistent and persistent effort to engage the authorities because things will not change in a day or two
  • Empathy/balanced advocacy: It is also important to empathise with the government officials because they have their own constraints too. It is easier to talk about what is possible when one is outside the system, but authorities may be grappling with their own constraints. Don’t approach government authorities in combat mode
  • Creating two-way feedback loops for inclusive governance: Arrange for forums where there is feedback from citizens to the government and vice-versa, making it a two way feedback loop. It is important to consult the public on issues which affect them
  • Awareness: Stay mindful of your rights and regulations whenever you communicate with the government
  • Importance of media engagement: Learn to leverage media and social media for a cause
group 6 participants
Group 6 participants: Poornima, Alex, Devyani, Veda, Zahid, Lalithamba, Devare and Lingaraj. Pic: Shruti Gokarn

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