One thing is for sure; no matter how many songs you hear, or movies you watch about a revolution, nothing feels quite like a revolution but a revolution. And it’s not overrated.
I was travelling a few month back in India for 4 months, where one of the reflections that was consuming my mind was about our revolution. I want to start on the night of the 28th of Jan 2011, when the system collapsed on itself. When those in power assumed catastrophe would follow and that they would be needed, but to their -and everyone’s- surprise, society reacted pretty well. Despite the fact that we were isolated and fragmented, mostly uninspired and in complete shock over this political uprising, somehow it worked.
For two weeks we didn’t have a government, we didn’t have police. The void that the system left created the space for self-organization. Tahrir square was transformed into an area were protesters lived for two weeks a true community living, no hierarchy. No one organized cleaning teams, they emerged whenever needed, people securing the entry points of the area in rotation. Later, a vibrant art museum appeared, and activities for the children in another part of the square. Respect was a mutual value along with solidarity and cooperation, all were part of the fabric that created Tahrir. We were living the ideal life we imagined for ourselves.
For the rest of Egypt, local watch groups emerged for each area, neighbourhood members were on the streets to protect it, they got to meet and talk unlike the rest of their normal days. Self organization appeared in Tahrir and the rest of the country. Although none of the millions knew what self-organization was at the time, we lived it. Now, ironically, we try to organize self-organization, and it’s not working!
I felt we only needed the government later because people believed we needed them. Maybe the people in the system had taken their bags and fled the country, people would still ask for another government, simply because people believe they need a government. If we would imagine that the revolution had happened to an isolated population that didn’t believe government was necessary, what would have happened? I would put my money on the emergence of a more self-organized system.
I learned that we create politicians and believe in them, and in doing so, they believe in themselves too, so it becomes a reality for everyone. I unlearned how necessary they are. I learned how history was written, and that made me question everything I know about history. I saw how news is made, and now I don’t bother watching it. I unlearned how solid institutions are. I was surprised to see the same institutions that were being built for so many years so useless in the face of community mobilization. Their functionality disappeared in a second and the community emerged and took their places. I saw how ideologies melted in Tahrir and values emerged.
I think the highlight of my learnings and unlearnings was how much we create boxes and dimensions and live within them, we created the concept of time and thus, will always be in hurry, always early or late, is it too late now? We keep building boxes in our minds, giving them labels, and boxing ourselves in them. Our schools, families, mosques and western philosophy gave us truths and perspectives, and for the rest of our lives we try to unlearn these ‘truths’ and get rid of these boxes and live reality as is.
What I learned and unlearned was a revolution in itself, a revolution in one-self. Are we a drop in the ocean or the whole ocean in a drop as Rumi once said?
Then it made sense, what is an institution but another attempt to box in ideas? We label it, give it a brand identity and a product or service to provide and voila!
Yet institutions have failed during the revolution just like all the boxes we created did, including ideologies. I saw people preaching one ideology or the other so religiously it became hard to see beyond it, they kept on reading about the same ideology until they brainwashed themselves. I now know not be too sure of anything, I need to unlearn every day, and with everything I unlearn I learn something new, and the cycle continues.
If I think I am too sure about an ideology or anything actually, I should adopt that ideology by living it, by testing it out, what is life but a big experiment? I believe now that there are only day-to-day values in our world, no more ideologies, and these underlying values are the building blocks for life, and if we live by them, that’s all we need.
Tahrir, and the neighborhood watch groups were spaces were we met many people that share the same values and intrests. On the web and on the ground you could see that a new ‘civil society’ had emerged, one that doesnt see itself as something different from society, its not another institution on top of society but rather of the same social fabric, on the street, not inside NGO walls or big conference rooms. In each field there are people who want to question the status quo, whether they are experimenting with alternative ways of learning, farming, building or getting energy. They are eager to experiment with new solutions rather than the ones handed over and hammered into them. And so the journey continues.
The revolution is an ongoing process, but just as the political and social revolution in Egypt weren’t defined in a time bracket -it’s still ongoing- so is our own revolution within.
We now are ruled by the same system that ruled before, only different ideologies, different boxes to box ourselves in, a different cage, only now it has religion as a political card to use and collect votes and support in that so called democracy.
Nothing was revolutionized in governmental or educational institutions, in the management, or the constitution, nothing was revolutionized except the people. The only revolution that actually happened was inside of us, the most sustainable revolution. And it’s reflecting slowly and organically on the larger society, it’s a learning process, with its beauty and ugliness, its all a reflection of humanity changing, evolving, and in that process there are ‘mistakes’ or lessons learned. They are the path towards a new world, the world we enjoyed for a couple of weeks in Egypt. The world that is inside each of us that needs to be reflected outwards, rather than the world created by economists and politicians shaping us. The spark was ignited, we are inspired, we are connected and we are eager to get our hands dirty to explore local and organic solutions. We are idealists, we are realists, we are all that shape humanity. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can stop inspired youth with a dream of more peaceful living, peaceful towards the people around us, and the living system we are part of.
We are facing another moment of these soon, where we will be left with a space to create our own world, or maybe we will create this space ourselves, it could be for a few hours, better if for a few days, or maybe it will be another leap forward towards realizing the power of community and values over institutions and ideologies. Its up to us.
Truth is, I am not bringing anything new to the table. I think the underlying point I am making is actually just repeating an overused cliche about ‘being the change’. But with every step we each take away from Babylon, we take a collective step towards a new world. What is a revolution but a collective step out of the system? So just be your own revolution.