|"Cowboys and Indians" coalition march on Washington|
If in my self motivation I can seek out and find what motivates you, then together we may be able to form an alliance that fulfils each of us. That is no less true of groups than it is of individuals. You could say that our mutual self-interests are what builds the alliance. It is important to note here that self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness claims that my cause, my issue, my concern is paramount and that all other causes, issues, and concerns are not only of lesser importance, they are of no worth at all. Self-interest on the other hand, speaks more to who I am and what my aspirations are; to my essence. Indeed, the word essence and interest have the same root, esse.
Looked at this way, it is possible to discover that my self-interest and that of someone else share something – a common humanity.
Noticing this common humanity it becomes much easier to build alliances. No concern or issue today stands alone. All are interconnected. All issues, and their solutions, have an impact upon other issues. When that too, is understood, it becomes much easier to build alliances.
Easier – yes! Doing so, however, requires intent and it requires thinking “outside the box.” It requires each of us momentarily dispensing with our self-interest and listening to, accepting and understanding the self-interest of others. Oftentimes that can be difficult to do when we get caught up in the issue that is of concern to us. We see our issue as urgent, a priority, and we see our campaign building entirely from within this perspective.
We must learn to look outside our own perspective.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing alliances that has been built in recent years (at least in the western world) has been that of the Cowboys and Indians coalition. Intriguing because of the nominally politically incorrect name, but also because of the historic animosity between North American native peoples and the European settlers who invaded their lands in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The two groups, as well as environmental organisations, came together to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline1 that threatens both the Cowboys and the Indians. The ranchers and farmers are opposed to the pipeline because of their lands being confiscated for the building of the pipeline. Native American organisations (such as Idle No More) claim that sacred lands are being desecrated, resulting in health and environmental perils.
This example brings together at least three concerns: loss of land/livelihood, health threats, and climate change activism.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in Australia, the Lock the Gate coalition has also brought together often disparate groups. Farmers, Aboriginal owners, environmentalists and others have joined forces to stop the coal seam gas and coal mining in rural areas of Queensland and New South Wales. The alliance has successfully overturned gas license applications as well as declaring 280 communities across Australia to be mine-free. The importance of this alliance in the opposition to fossil fuel exploitation cannot be overstated, with Australia being one of the world’s largest exporters of coal.
These two examples are of large, nationally-based alliances; however, the need to seek alliances even at small, local level is just as important. No issue is paramount. No concern is of greater urgency than any other. No cause has priority. All are interconnected and supporters of one cause will find that by seeking alliances with other groups, that there will be common ground. That common ground is often our common humanity.
The case for building alliances can best be summarised by an African proverb:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.”
1. The XL pipeline is a 3,500 km pipeline planned to be constructed from the Alberta (Canada) tar sands drilling grounds southwards, across the USA, and terminating at the refineries in Illinois and Texas. It is estimated to cost $7 billion and produce release approximately 1.37 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over its 50 year timeframe.
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