Context

WE LIVE IN EXCITING TIMES. A global economic crisis is crushing our hopes for the future. At the same time people around the world are demanding more democracy, because a better future is exactly what they hope for. The practice of politics and civic engagement is changing. People have lost their faith in the truly representative potential of political institutions. Not only the bankers have proven to be unaccountable, but also the politicians.

At the same time, new forms of protest are emerging which do no longer fit to the traditional strategies of social movements and political parties. Young people take the lead in this development. They make use of new web technologies and social media to gather people in real time and space. They no longer depend on mainstream media, but make their demand for real democratic access widely heard via their own blogs and facebook-accounts. They express their civic engagement in ways, which are often not even recognized as political. Nevertheless, they manage to mobilize millions in their quest for social and political change.

Tahrir square, Gezi Park and Puerta del Sol became iconic for the contemporary power of the people, but what may be even more promising is what is happening in countless smaller squares and parks, community centres and coffee houses, where young people are coming together to work on their own alternatives for good governance, community building, sustainability and economic prosperity.

Such initiatives give hope. At the same time, a lot of young people feel hopelessly stuck behind real or imaginary walls that prevent them from realizing their own potential. Many youngsters, often with an Islamic and immigrant background, living in Western European countries, feel discriminated and excluded. In their experience they are treated as ‘second class’ citizens, who cannot equally share in the opportunities, respect and rights, which are reserved for other, ‘first class’, citizens. They do not expect any change for the better from the world of policy and politics, but also hesitate to take matters in their own hand. Both traditional party-political participation, as well as more unconventional forms of political activism, do not seem fit to their experiences.

Often living in deprived neighborhoods, under challenging socio-economic circumstances, they miss role models in their direct environment who can show them the route to emancipation and success. They often seek confirmation in extremes, either drawn by the promise of hasty individual success by means of criminality, or drawn by the promise of belonging to a community of like-minded in fundamentalist faith.

These young people could use some inspiration in order to tear down the walls, and claim their respected place in society. The project “Transformers!” aims to offer such inspiration. Every neighborhood has its own young heroes in disguise; people who have special talents and wish to contribute those talents to the enforcement of their community; people who can bring the struggles and needs of their peers to the attention of the general public.

The “Transformers!” project aims to provide these heroes in disguise with the skills to make a difference in their own neighborhood. Heroes of transformation do not slightly reform a society in which youngsters with an immigrant background have to work twice as hard to fit in. They hope for a genuine transformation of social and political reality as a whole. This transformation starts close to home and is directed at inclusion and access to democracy in a social world, which is characterized by diversity.