Are you waiting for Hanuman to right the wrongs in the world? Don’t. Mahatma Gandhi’s oft repeated quote comes to mind, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
We witnessed global unrest last year with the Arab Spring revolt. It began in Tunisia, spread to Egypt, Libya, Greece, Spain, Chile and emerged in North America with the Occupy movement. The Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement mobilized Indians en masse and energized the country behind a cause other than cricket. The dots are finally connecting. The people of this world are empowering themselves to take action.
Come to think of it, every massive change has a grass-roots beginning. Back in 2007, a state senator running a very aggressive ground campaign, depended on an electronic network of neighborhood organizers, volunteers, activists, and energized young precinct walkers to take on Goliath—and ended up in the White House. Yes, President Obama used simple Neighbor-to-Neighbor tools with volunteers reaching out to their community brethren.
The volunteers walked within their own neighborhoods talking about the reasons why they were supporting Obama, their personal opinions of his policies and other election issues. That resonated across the country. The results were spectacular.
Does the name Daniel Valenzuela ring a bell? It will in the next few months. Daniel Valenzuela is a fourth-generation Mexican-American who won a Phoenix City Council election by having local university students knock on more than 70,000 doors and increasing the Latino voter turnout by more than 400 percent. The statistics were so compelling that President Obama is looking to copy Daniel’s playbook for the upcoming elections.
More recently the KONY 2012 video, a short film created by “The Invisible Children, Inc.,” has reached over 90 million views on YouTube creating a grass roots movement to oust Joseph Kony, a Ugandan guerilla leader, from power. Kony, your days are numbered.
People’s sentiments can push the wheels of many a cause, and it is for each of us to take the first step. Growing up in Mumbai, I had the typical “chalta hai”attitude, that typical Mumbaikar attitude of absolute disregard, wanting to be somewhere yesterday. Hey, that’s not my problem, was a common refrain.
I discovered the state of total empowerment in graduate school. Tuition hikes wereproposed for the state schools during the recession of ’92. As a graduate student I did not need to worry about the tuition, this topic was only of passing interest. But, I was surprised upon reading the Daily Campus newspaper, how students from all over Connecticut had descended onto the State Capitol and were raising a hue and cry over the upcoming hikes. And I was even more surprised to discover the then Governor Weicker back down when faced with the student protests. As a result, the tuition hikes were not as significant as originally planned. It made my mind boggle when I realized that the common man could exert this kind of influence.
Back in early 2000, as I settled down in Saratoga, a small town, in the heart of Silicon Valley California, I was told again and again about Saratoga’s antiquated ordinances and stringent processes that seemingly slow projects down to the point of frustration. I knew there was more to it. How could something be that wrong? I decided to become a part of the process and the solution. I joined the city planning commission, and found myself beginning to understand the motives behind the process driven culture that the city forefathers had adopted.
Admittedly there were quirks. On the one hand we wanted to promote development in Saratoga to lead to the revitalization that is talked about at every election. On the other hand we needed re-vitalization for the development to happen; the classic chicken and the egg.
I began to wonder what could be done to revitalize Saratoga’s downtown? The intention was to bring in more foot traffic into the Village to help out the city’s businesses. I teamed up with the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce and came up with the idea of a weekly “Saratoga Village Karaoke,” positioning it as a “Celebration of Cultures” to bring all the various cliques and cultures to join in and mingle.“Saratoga Village Karaoke” rebranded as “Saratoga’s Got Talent” gradually succeeded in bringing lots of newcomers to Saratoga downtown. Did I ever expect that? Not in my wildest dream.
At the end of the day, issues are not complicated. All it needs is thought leadership and focused interest, to come up with answers. If we can sift through the issues and really try to make a difference, answers eventually come. The key is to get started and get engaged.
The grass roots movement is taking over. Hanuman is here and within each of us. Are you ready to jump in?
Rishi Kumar lives in the heart of Silicon Valley with his wife Seema and their two boys. Rishi’s day job is in the valley tech industry selling software. In his spare time, Rishi loves being involved in volunteering for charity, local politics, and hosting the “Saratoga’s Got Talent” event.