Then, he decided to strip himself naked.

When he was about to take off his clothes, Hans was nervous. But he had already made up his mind and was determined. His fingers were slightly trembling as he unbuttoned his shirt. Mindful of his vulnerability, he mumbled what he had been repeating to himself for several days: Dead isn’t evil. Instead, what’s evil is a regime that doesn’t let you live.

Once completely naked, with his arms stretched, holding a Bible in his right hand, Hans began to walk towards the tanks and the heavily armed guards that were launching tear gas into the crowd.

What a paradoxical reversal! Now, the fragility of his naked and harmless body looked far stronger and invincible than the heavily armed body of the police force.

Hans Wuerich is a 29 years old young who lives in Caracas. Like millions of others in Venezuela, he has enough of the country’s economic collapse and the restrictions on freedom that an increasingly authoritarian regime imposed.

“I’m not an opponent nor am I a Chavista. I did this because I want freedom and change,” he said to journalists who interviewed him after his naked protest.

He had prepared for that dramatic gesture. On the internet, he had searched for other iconic moments of protest around the globe. Thus he learned about the women in the United States who stripped themselves naked to protest against Donald Trump. He watched the videos of people in Spain marching naked against the tradition of the corridas. Hans became aware of the power the esthetic of a naked body has in speaking truth to power.

And thus he decided to act.

When he reached the tanks, he climbed on top of them, to talk with the agents who were launching tear gas devices into the crowd. “Stop the repression! Don’t be let by evil. God is with the people,” he said to them.

The image of Hans walking naked towards the tanks became an icon of the Venezuela’s protest against president Nicolás Maduro. Besides, that image embodies also something that is happening within many of our societies across the world.

In fact, have you noticed?

A new awakening of civic engagement is happening. A new future wants to emerge.

The cynics, the haters, the dividers want us to be separated and frightened. Suggesting that the Others in their diversity are perilous for our survival, they promote all sorts of walls to avoid the compassionate encounter of our gazes and the sharing of our stories. They want us to be isolated and individualized. They want us to continue bowling alone.

They want us to forget what makes us human; our capacity to connect, to communicate and to care; our ability to build community and to participate while we also affirm our freedom.

Civic Engagement in Venezuela

Anti-Government Protest in Venezuela | Photo: Adres Azp.

How To Awaken Our Remarkable Power to Change the World.

In fact, the more the haters, the dividers push, the more they are met with our mounting resistance.

Whether in the United States, in Venezuela, in Turkey, or in Hungary, we are pushing back and discovering that often the masses are far wiser than their rulers. Machiavelli believed that already a long time ago.  

The people’s latent power to build their destiny is emerging. It’s the power to act, to deliberate, to engage, to share, to contribute, to participate.

It’s the power we have to build community.

“Community grows out of participation, and at the same time makes participation possible,” wrote in Strong Democracy the great political theorist Benjamin Barber, a dear friend who passed away recently.

And community building is the attitude and the action of citizens who come together and embrace the ethics of civic engagement. Civic engagement is the attitude and the method. A vibrant and resilient community is both the dream and the outcome.

The awakening of a new stream of civic engagement is the reality emerging today. It is the response to the curbing of our freedoms, the polluting of our world and the denigration of human dignity.

In fact, it’s not just the populists that are arising today. We are also witnessing a new commitment to civic engagement.  

civic engagement washington dc

What’s the meaning of the protest in the United States?

The mass protests across the United States began the moment Donald Trump was elected to the White House.

Women have been on the forefront of protest. The day after Trump was sworn in, one million women swarmed the streets of Washington DC and cities across the United States and the world. It was a women’s led unprecedented worldwide mass protest.

Among the organizers of the protest, there was also a courageous woman I admire and I know: filmmaker and social activist Paola Mendoza, who migrated to the United States from Colombia when she was two years old.

Paola has used movies and short documentaries to tell compelling “marginalized stories” and open our eyes about the living conditions of immigrants, women, and children like she did in the award-winning movie Entre Nos.

For Paola, civic engagement is the work of her life:

The day after the election I was totally devastated. I laid on my couch and cried. But then I went to my office and I realized that even though I wanted to just sit around and cry I couldn’t.

What I could do in that moment was call my friends, my community of filmmakers and really try to peel them off the ground, which is where I was. In those calls, I began to heal myself, slowly.

A week later I found out that my friend Carmen Perez was one of the national co-chairs of the women’s march. I called her and I said ‘I want to do this, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’

Our goal is not to challenge the Trump administration. Being anti-something doesn’t work. So this is not an anti-Trump rally. It’s the opposite. It’s actually a rally and march for what we are for.  

Paola hasn’t stopped since January. On Women’s Day last March, while she was protesting outside of Trump International Hotel in Manhattan, together with other twelve women, she was arrested.

When I Joined the Anti-Mafia Movement in Italy.

I too experienced the sense of frustration and impotence, which Paola mentions and that’s why I joined one of the peaceful protests in front of the Trump Tower in Manhattan.

I made my way slowly through the crowd, among people who were chanting slogans, rising signs to the sky.  

“Build a wall around Trump.”

“Hands off my pussy.”

“Down with the system.”

A group of Hispanics and white Americans sat in a circle in the middle of the Avenue, holding hands and singing in a cacophony of accents El pueblo unido jamás será vencido: a united people never will be defeated.

What I was witnessing conjured with memories of other times when I took to the streets my frustration.

The first time I hit the street was in Palermo, in the summer of 1992. A car bomb had gone off killing the anti-mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino and his bodyguards. We took our anger and indignation to the street. We were tens of thousands.

For days we marched through the streets of Palermo. Wearing white shirts, we formed human chains, holding hands and voicing our anger and indignation. We encircled the justice palace, wanting to symbolically embrace and protect the prosecutors who had the courage to fight against the Mafia. One day, in the death of night, we even occupied the City Hall.

The last time I went to the street was in Colombia, in Medellin, in 2007. The FARC guerrilla had killed 11 members of the Valle del Cauca Assembly who had been previously kidnapped.

Once again, millions of citizens put on white shirts and took their indignation to the street. In more than half a century of internal armed conflict, never before had a heterogeneous citizenry taken massively and spontaneously their disgust for violence to the street.

What’s our choice?

Today an invitation comes from history: it’s a call to respond to the complex global challenges by building a new way, generating new civic habits, fostering new connections, promoting new dialogues, creating new solutions.

Therefore, to the cynics, the haters, and the dividers we say that:

We choose to build bridges, over walls. We choose compassion, over violence. We choose caring, over indifference.Click To Tweet

civic engagement protest columbia university

Protest at Columbia University | Photo: Aldo Civico

Here Is My Invitation to You.

Maybe you too have been wondering if it is still possible to overcome the divisions and the polarization that mark our times.

Maybe you too have felt frustrated, isolated, disempowered.

Maybe you too have been asking yourself: What can I do? What’s my role? What’s the next step?

Maybe you feel that the time has come to awaken the leader within you and take a new step to make a meaningful contribution to the world.

Maybe you wonder what the purpose of your life is for these challenging times, and you wonder what you can do with your talents, your interests, and your work, to build a better world.

Maybe you have been already active and are eager to connect and share experiences with even more people like you around the world who are committed to generating a cohesive society who cares about and lives in solidarity with others.

If what you have read so far resonates with you, say yes to civic engagement.

Because you too believe in a world that is united, not divided.

Because you too believe that unity is possible when we appreciate and celebrate our differences, not when we suppress them.

Because you too believe that the complex challenges of our times are an opportunity to create and to innovate, not to destroy.

There are so many other ways beyond marching and protesting to participate in the life of your community.

It starts with opening your eyes and become aware of the problems that affect your community (which can be as little as your apartment building and as big as the entire world).

On this content hub, you will more and more meet inspiring stories, fundamental readings, and essential training. To join this community, click here. I will send you my guide on how to influence others in a positive way.

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