CIVIC ACTIVISM BEARS FRUIT
„Persistence pays off despite all denials, threats, physical and verbal attacks, inspection tortures of the government that neither wanted to speak nor solve the problem with the unsafe water in Gevgelija“ - this is part of the Facebook post of the civic initiative „Arsena“ from Gevgelija. At the very beginning, they start the post with the words: Six years of tireless civic activism that has born fruit and in this way they marked the end of a big battle for the citizens, a battle in which the people from Gevgelija received clean and healthy drinking water which, as the mayor Pockov says „has no arsenic, only H2O runs in the faucets at home“.
Civica Mobilitas has supported the tireless activists of Arsena, who made as many as 10 analyses of the water in an international licensed laboratory to convince the local government to undertake steps towards solving the problem. The results showed as much as 177% more arsenic than the maximum allowed limit, according to the World Health Organisation. Apart from the authorities, the Arsena activists also informed the citizens, educated them and then together with the organised various activities to make pressure to build a new well water supply system. And they succeeded! This is a shiny example of civic activism or engagement. And luckily, it is not the only one. For example, „Na Tochak“. When they gathered for the first time in the spring of 2012, there was very little talk and even less action to raise awareness about the bike as a means of urban transport. Raising it to the level of an equal participant in the Skopje’s traffic, they would agree, was just a nice thought.
Today, after seven years of activism and #81 Critical Mass in Skopje only, thousands of people have personal awareness about urban cycling. Not only in Skopje, but also in other cities in the country. Skopje has more than 80 km of bike lanes, in the city and by the river, and the local authorities work on reconstructing and building new ones that would connect the whole city. There is still a lot to be done, as the „Na Tochak“ enthusiasts would say, but they managed to attract the attention both of the previous and current local government about this issue. Their proposals are well thought through and every government that has a vision for the future and anticipates the trends will consider them. In the end, if these two stories are summarised, if questions are asked, who has contributed to clean water, who has started an initiative to lobby for new biking trails in the capital? The only possible answer is the citizens via their civic engagement.
The engagement means work, but such work that would make changes in the life of a community, such as the citizens of Gevgelija or the community of bikers and thanks to them all participants in traffic. For such a change it is necessary to include knowledge and skills, values and motivation, such as the activists of Arsena and Na Tochak. Building and protection of democracy do not only mean the adoption of laws and conducting elections, but it also involves all other segments of living in a society, which makes the society healthy. ACTIVE CITIZENS solve problems; ACTIVE CITIZENS choose better leaders and stimulate better leadership; ACTIVE CITIZENS do not tell the politicians „tell us what you think we want to hear“, but „tell us the truth and we will help you do your job better“.
Welcome to the new issue of Civica Mobilitas‘ Citizens for Change, the cover theme of which is civic activism.
Gonce Jakovlevska Civica Mobilitas National Coordinator for ICO