by Cherline Bazile
In the age of social media activism and one-click donating, there seems to be an expectation that solutions to societal problems should come more quickly. Instead of thinking deeply about particular structures or barriers at play, people are more apt to jump to the simple solutions. At workshops discussing issues between the municipality and its citizens, participants declared that solving the problem to bureaucracy was as simple as improving communication. Or that granting temporary use to organizations or individuals that do positive deeds for the city of Athens will empower them . When people are cooking meals in the streets for the impoverished, look the other way. Don’t punish people who do good on the basis of arbitrary laws. While these declarations are true and well intended, they mask the complexity of the situations at hand.
Whether it’s a shortage of years under my belt or the hubris of an outsider that thinks the answer is more simple than people are making it out to be, I’ve found myself frustrated by the rate of change I’ve observed in Athens. During a Eurocities working group on creativity and active citizenship, Creative Citizenship, I listened to representatives of 5 cities talk about ways in which they engage their populations. Although each city had vastly different notions of how to improve, there were a few times when some of the practices in Athens were received by confusion. Like a woman from Berlin who thought she misunderstood the president of a social enterprise venture when she explained that though her organization is a non-profit, it was still taxed as a for-profit institution. Or the woman from the Ghent who was beside herself at the difficulty of informal organizations acquiring a public space to promote good. Some solutions to bureaucratic inefficiencies in Athens seemed to be curbed by other cities.
And I wondered, Why isn’t the city of Athens avoiding these issues too?
But the thing is, if it were that simple, we would already have solutions. One of the basic components of modern economics is the concept of scarcity. We have a limited amount of time, and so we must prioritize the issues to which we allocate time. One stark example was realized through the workshop. We spent all day presenting initiatives by city. Then after a certain amount of time, a couple organizations from Athens came in to describe how they were using creativity for public good.
One such person was Michael from the Anasa Cultural Center. While we had spent about 6 hours sharing great ideas about the usage of public spaces and leveraging the municipalities as facilitators, Michael’s story was distinct. He talked instead about organizing for the emancipation of 2nd generation migrants. And I realized this perspective was missing from the entire discussion. I couldn’t understand how one could talk about creative citizenship before beginning to address the populations who have been here for generations living under the fear of being deported. Groups like Anasa are elevating those who may not have citizenship but are still creative in the way they inspire their communities by holding a multicultural festival or by making their presence known on school campuses to increase empathy.
In a conference in Thessaloniki last year on creative entrepreneurship, Stefanos Vallianatos (Anna Lindh Foundation) declared that though groups may have divergent goals, they must find common ground and work toward it if sustainable change is to occur. While the priorities at the workshop struck me as jarring, both had a common end in mind despite different ideas of how to achieve this aim. They were united in a desire to improve circumstances in Athens. We all want to see a more thriving Athens wherein people feel connected to each other, especially in the face of the looming uncertainty of these coming months. The solutions may not be easy, but we must keep pushing.
About the author: Cherline Bazile is our summer intern through the Future Leaders Programme. She a student at Harvard University and experiences with our small team the world of active citizenship and community empowerment.