Reflections from post-Bogota experience: Continuing the dance of the revolution


Happiness and excitement were my two emotions when I first stepped into the Ágora Bogota International Convention Center in December 2023. They were the same feelings I had when I joined a group of activists at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee, USA, for its 75th anniversary.

Highlander was started by Myles Horton in 1932 and gave birth to civil rights leaders, including Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists. Being at Highlander for the 75th Anniversary was like being in a mecca for community organizers. There was a feeling of utopia, with hundreds of people celebrating and reaffirming each other, declaring that change is possible.

The gathering in Bogota had the same intensity, renewing the hope that indeed another world is possible. We can really shift the power if people are ready to change the status quo and have the commitment to stick with it until that change is realized.  This was my reflection when we facilitated the conversations with activists from different parts of the world to contemplate on their work during the session, ‘What’s the point of the revolution if we can’t dance? Sustaining ourselves, nurturing our movements and regenerating our activism’ at the #ShiftThePower Global Summit.

It was an opportunity to just be in the present, free to expr ess our vulnerabilities, discuss issues of burn-out, of not feeling safe in fighting for social justice, and feelings of isolation and not being supported. These were concrete issues of those who are at the forefront and are still committed and passionate about what they do amidst the exhaustion.

What’s the Point of the Revolution if We Can’t Dance: Collective Care and Nurturing our Movements

Burn-out is not an isolated issue but one that affects many in the social movement. Collective care involves a commitment to care for each other. It is about making sure that we address the systemic issues of society, but also attend to keeping the fire burning without burning ourselves out.

My encounter with the indigenous Misak in Silva affirmed that ‘it is our responsibility as indigenous people to make sure that the fire in our ritual house never goes out. Even a flicker is enough of a flame to sustain us. Their obligation to keep the fire burning represents their responsibility of keeping an eye on individual members of their society and making sure that each one of them is safe. This is something that I realized we need to integrate in our organizations. Strengthening networks of solidarity among ourselves is important to sustaining the movement. Supporting community organizations and movements to incorporate self and collective care practices are integral parts of sustaining our activism and nurturing our collective wellbeing.

The fire from Bogotá is taking place in different forms. One is the call to continue the dance of the revolution by engaging the international philanthropic community, donors, and advocates to take part in an honest conversation on how to support the work of the frontliners and their own welfare. Organizations that have clear strategies in building movements that value collective care and the wellbeing of their organizations must be supported.

Our path to social transformation cannot be accomplished by one person alone. We need a sense of community to continue the work. We must learn from other organizations that have developed tools and integrated collective care systems and contextualize them based on the needs of our communities. We need to transform the spaces within our organizations that promote solidarity and wellbeing.

Regenerating Activism and Intergenerational Organizing

The first time I heard ‘regenerating activism’ was when we were preparing for our bucket session for the Summit. I was taken aback, as there was much to unpack because the phrase was so new to me. During the conversation in Bogotá, it was emphasized that care needs to be contextualized to be sensitive to people’s realities. As an anthropologist by training, contextuality and sensitivity are important aspects that I value in my work. Providing collective care is not something that outsiders have asked us to do but is a felt need. Exploring care practices that work and discovering an organizational culture that allows people to be inspired and improve their well-being is something that we need to commit to.

A recent conversation with three African feminists as input for their podcast reminded me that activism is something that cultivates joy, beauty, power, community, and love on the path towards freedom for ourselves and our communities amidst the multiple crises that we face. This is how they envision regenerating their movement and continuing for the long haul.

In my own context, regenerating activism is about being able to strengthen an intergenerational approach to sustaining the movement. We need all the forces in the community to make change possible. Based on my experience in working with indigenous communities, it is always the older generation that provides wisdom and lessons from the past, while the young generation brings new dynamism and new energy to realize the future they aspire to.

In the context of sustaining the movement, it is critical to invest in the young generation and to strengthen intergenerational organizing. This is something that I am committed to do. There were mentors before me who invested in my own development with the hope of sustaining the movement. Now, it is my time to invest in the next generation to keep the fire burning!

From the time I was a community organizer-trainer many years ago I’ve had the commitment, but I am reaffirming it again, along with the hundreds of people I met in Bogota, to solidify that obligation to cultivate power and joy in sustaining our collective wellbeing and sustaining our movement. The stories of activists and community philanthropists whom I met in Bogota with the hope of shifting the power remain with me to this day.

Jane dela Cruz Austria-Young is a ShifthePower fellow with more than 20 years of experience in issue-based community organizing and in strengthening the capacity of indigenous peoples to safeguard their rights.

Tagged in: #ShiftThePower

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