Denmark has a strong history of showing how much a society can achieve if it’s influenced and shaped by strong movements rooted in local communities, and supported by committed citizens who take responsibility for the future on their shoulders. Not only for themselves, and never just for others. But our story is under pressure these days, and sometimes you have to travel out to be wise to the challenges and problems you have at home. The following story about 6 Danes visiting Barnsley in northern England is one such journey.
Together with about 25 others we had the pleasure of participating in an intensive training with Movement for Change. Our background in Danish politics is different, but common for us is that we are Social Democrats who want to change the society we are part of. We are all organising in different parts of Denmark – some of us are directly involved in organising efforts locally, while others work with training and campaigning.
However, it is only within the last few years that we have started to rethink and organise along the lines of the traditions of Community Organising. In Denmark, organising has been reserved for trade unions and almost entirely reserved for workplace organising. But this needs to change. The strong Danish labour movement, and hence our Party, has grown out of organised communities. With door-knocking and 1-2-1 conversations, our ancestors forged the relationships that, over time, have made the Danish workers enormously powerful. Power which has resulted in average hourly wages for low-wage jobs of up to £15, five weeks paid holiday per year and employer-paid pensions.
But why did we put the methods and the belief that policy is created from the bottom on the shelf? It is a question we have pored over, but now, with the help of Movement for Change, we are beginning to use the methods again. For though there are cultural differences, the recipe for change is basically the same: People – Power – Change; in that order.
What did we learn at our stay in Barnsley in November? Three elements were particularly inspiring and will stay with us as we move forward:
1. The strength of public narratives
Being able to tell your own story and relate it to our shared history and the story of now is important if you want to motivate and bring people together. Nothing is as motivating as being a part of a group with shared values, dreams and stories.
2. 1-2-1 meetings – a way to build strong relationships
The epitome of human interaction is to meet and talk. It is, on the one hand, quite simple, but on the other hand – actually not. How do we commit more fellow citizens to take action? How do we realise the potential resources and will to get involved? 1-2-1 meetings are the key starting point.
3. Real strategy generates better results
It is not enough that we know the answer to why we have to organise. We also need a clear answer on how to organise. A well thought out strategy which considers target groups (who are our constituencies, enemies and potential supporters), which actions to be executed and when etc. is crucial to the success of your organisation. Strategy is in short about turning the resources we have into the power we need to get the change we want.
The weekend in November was, for us, the first step on the road to becoming even more involved in the work of organising at home. Because, as mentioned, we face a challenge here in Denmark. Our civil society is under pressure both by the market and the state. If we do not succeed in building power with people and communities the future is not bright for the generations to come and it isn’t bright for our party.
Aided by the training course in November we feel a sense of a slowly but firmly growing wave of citizen participation and empowerment spreading across Europe. We are proud to be a part of that wave. We see it in the UK with Movement for Change and Labour’s renewal process. We see it with the Social Democrats in Germany and the SP in the Netherlands. And who knows, maybe Copenhagen will be the place where the next good experience that the Socialist International has with community organising occurs. We are certainly optimistic about the future here in Denmark, and we have some more members travelling to the UK for the next Movement for Change intensive training weekend in March.
Change is indeed possible. Now it’s up to all of us across the North Sea to make it happen.