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Reflections on Comhlámh’s 2017 ‘Be The Change’

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” I learned that change in whatever form, isn’t something that happens quickly. It’s a slow process that begins with reflection-which can be a scary process-though it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.”


Robert Johnston reflects on his time participating in Comhlámh’s 2017 ‘Be The Change’ course, run annually in conjunction with UCDVO


“Be The Change provided an environment that nurtured questioning and reflection, filled it with people with different perspectives and backgrounds which ultimately, broadened the lens through which I view change, challenges and activism. As well as that, I learned what the word ‘intersectionality’ means. It’s the kind of word that will either a) show someone you know what you’re talking about, or b) trick someone into thinking you know what you’re talking about and stop them asking questions.  It’s right up there with ‘juxtaposition’ in that regard.


Each session comprised of two parts. Firstly, a warm-up followed by an exercise designed to get us reflecting upon our reasons for being there, our ideas of change, the “power” required in creating change etc. We would then take a ten minute break for tea, biscuits and a chat (I’d usually try to drop ‘intersectionality’ into conversation as much as possible). During the second half we would hear from guest speakers who introduced us to a campaign they’re working with, how they got involved, their goals and challenges and how we as a group could get involved.


Throughout our six weeks, it never felt as if we were being told any answers, yet it still felt like we were learning. One session centred around a quote brought up in a previous session, that “politics is the art of the possible”. We discussed in groups, broke down the question and used the knowledge we had gained from previous sessions to draw our own conclusions. This summarises Be the Change. The whole course was reflective of the nature of what we were learning about. If we want to see some kind of change, then perhaps our approach in this endeavour must change too. There is no one set route, only the decisions you make on how to get there. The same can be said for our guest speakers. Each one different, none with a set approach.


If before the course, you asked me what an “activist” was, I would have said someone who is highly opinionated, isn’t shy in sharing those opinions, and an endless ball of dedicated energy that won’t stop until they achieve their goal of creating change. In other words, an activist was an entirely different species from us mere plebian mortals, and something that I- a particular unorganized pleb- could never be. Be The Change showed me that I was wrong (which I now know, is not the end of the world). Our guest speakers weren’t super-powered Gods, just ordinary people with a goal greater than themselves and the courage to act upon it.


In the end, I learned that change in whatever form, isn’t something that happens quickly. It’s a slow process that begins with reflection-which can be a scary process-though it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. So now when I find myself thinking about how conceptions of social change juxtapose the realities of intersectionality, I know I may not be the only one, and that it’s okay to ask someone what that really means because wherever change leads, it begins by questioning what’s around you. Especially articles about change.”


Be The Change runs for a six-week block from October to November each year and is open to UCD students, staff and alumni. Big and special thank you to Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland, Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Ireland, Fossil Free TCD and North Dublin Bay Housing Community for their contributions to this year’s course



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