Hope is a Muscle

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My facebook feed is full of politics, but you would barely know that Canada is in campaign mode. A number of Colombian community leaders are running for local political office. Gabriel Pulido, a community leader from Mampujan, is running for mayor of Maria la Baja. Jorge Montes is in the race for council in El Carmen de Bolivar. Others from places I know, and places I don’t, are throwing their sombrero vueltiaos into the ring.

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For most of Colombia’s history, there has been little space for formal politics as a way of working towards positive change. Elections are bought and sold. The governance system itself encourages political favours and buybacks. Promises are easier made than kept. One of the roots of the armed conflict is political exclusion; the only way that seemed possible to have a say in the future as a non-member of the oligarchy was armed struggle.

From the assassination of presidential hopeful Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948 to a recent killing of mayoral candidate Karina Garcia in Cauca, the decision to participate in politics is a way to choose nonviolence while also confronting the very real risk of violence.

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It is exciting and a bit terrifying to watch Gabriel’s campaign grow on facebook. Gabriel himself is a victim of forced displacement. He was only a young man when he rose to leadership by advocating for his community when the members of Mampujan fled to Maria la Baja in the early morning of March 11th, 2000. Gabriel was part of the team of leaders who forced the state to implement reparations when I lived in the community. Almost twenty years after displacement, he is now running on a promise to transform the rest of the municipality.

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Getting ready for a meeting in Mampujan Viejo

I don’t know what type of mayor Gabriel will be if elected. I do know that his story can’t be separated from communities and organizations that take conflict and transform it into action for change. Often, there is no other option. When the leaders of Mampujan demanded their reparations by leading the community along the highway to Cartagena, they were also saying that without these changes, their children would have no access to basic services. They do not take actions because they feel like change is possible; they take actions because they must make change possible.

MCC’s advocacy network recently met for three days to take about strategic planning. We drew our theories of change, arrows flying across newsprint. We discussed measuring success, stakeholders and systems thinking. Underneath the planning language, we were really talking about hope.

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It is a practice of hope to be strategic about seeking change. To be clear eyed about the challenges and the complexity, yet to look for points of connection. Hope is not pretending that everything will be okay, but it is acting like we believe we can make a difference.

There are days that I cry at my desk. Top FARC leaders are re-arming and I am terrified for the people I love. Climate crisis looms. My tax dollars shut borders and kill indigenous children.

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If there is one thing I learned in Colombia, it is that hope is not a feeling. Hope is not a wish. Hope is a muscle we exercise. I do not get up in the morning and go to work because I feel hopeful. I get up in the morning and go to work and that is hopeful.

Paradoxically, that engagement often allows me to feel hope. The more we practice those muscles of hope, the more we come to believe that our actions, as communities together, do actually make a difference. A friend recently shared this John O’Donohue passage with me: “When you give in to helplessness, you collude with despair and add to it. When you take back your power and choose to see possibilities for healing and transformation, your creativity awakens and flows to be come an active force of renewal and encouragement in the world. In this way, even in our own hidden life, you can become a powerful agent of transformation in a broken, darkened world. There is a huge force that opens when intention focuses and directs itself toward transformation.”

Here in Canada, we are also approaching an election. I’m voting for transformation. But as Colombian community leaders would remind us, a vote is just one action in the practice of hope. The decision to view each day as a chance to join with others across the world in creating change is even more transformative. There is no other choice.

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