The revolutionary power of telling the truth

New political movements are forming out of a willingness to challenge the most powerful with unspoken truths.

School students strike for climate action in London, February 2019 (credit: David Holt/Flickr)

How human beings organise themselves, and function as a society, is often viewed through the prism of diametrically-opposed ideas: left versus right, capitalism versus socialism, nationalist versus internationalist, etc. Increasingly, though, it seems there is a much greater battle being fought which transcends mere philosophies – the battle for truth over obfuscation, misinformation and downright lies.

One example of this battle can be seen in the global movement of schoolchildren who have begun striking about climate change – a protest which has done more to create a sense of urgency around our environmental crisis than any politician in recent memory. The premise of these children is simple; namely that climate change threatens the planet’s very future, that the youngest in society will be the worst affected, and that governments worldwide aren’t taking the radical action needed to properly deal with this existential threat.

It’s very hard to argue with any of this – particularly in this week of all weeks, when we’ve experienced the hottest February day on record, and with mounting evidence that the catastrophic impact of climate change is already taking hold. The protest has been so powerful because of the clarity with which such damning facts have been laid out.

These schoolchildren have been willing to tell the truth about the scale of the danger we face, unlike countless politicians who have paid lip-service to the climate crisis while taking limited, piecemeal action designed not to be overly disruptive to vested interests. The fact that the protest has gone viral, achieving huge publicity across both social and mainstream media, shows its potential to galvanise people and spur a genuine movement for far-reaching change.

For another example of the revolutionary power of truth-telling, look too at US Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become the star of the most-watched political video ever posted on Twitter after she used the forum of a congressional committee to ask a series of questions that demonstrated the ease with which politicians in Washington can be corrupted by donations from special interest groups.

The video has taken the internet by storm, simply because Ocasio-Cortez had the courage and clarity of vision to shine a light on something that’s normally shielded from view by the most powerful.

In our age of labels and bitter identity politics we tend to get caught up in the notion that the world is just a bunch of competing interests, one idea versus another. We forget that simply telling the truth is often the most powerful – and revolutionary – thing we can do, particularly if we are to challenge the perceived wisdom and practices that are working against us all in the first place.

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