Voices from the Past – Lessons for the Future

How do social movements lead to systemic change, when and why? What can we learn from past protest movements to help us build a better future from the present?

Voices from the Past – Lessons for the Future

How do social movements lead to systemic change, when and why? What can we learn from past protest movements to help us build a better future from the present?


In order to drive change, we need to understand change. This is why we created the program “Voices from the Past – Lessons for the Future”, analyzing historic key-moments of transformation processes in Europe and beyond. The program seeks to determine how legacies of collective movements of the past feed into contemporary or future movements. In extended filmed conversations with witnesses of past movements, the aim is to reflect on “lessons learned”. This allows for an exploration of conditions for successful transformative action.

Initially, this initiative will look at different protests globally, e.g., 1989 peaceful revolution in Germany or the 1956 protest in Hungary, as well as environmental movements as a transformative attempt cutting across a wider time span. Treating change as a generational practice as well as an exercise in memory, it will unveil the pattern of transformative actions, from the initiation of the Club of Rome at the end of the 1960s and their much-quoted publication “Limits to Growth” (1972) to more recent movements such as Fridays for Future.

THE NEW INSTITUTE will preserve important testimonies, intellectual insights and give voice to those involved in past protests that have not yet been sufficiently heard. The result will be a comprehensive collection of testimonies, the beginning of a global archive of change. The insights gained will have the potential to immensely support THE NEW INSTITUTE in drafting a viable agenda for action and change and, thus, in shaping the future responsibly.

  • How do we preserve voices from the past and how do we communicate them for and to the future?

  • In the interviews, we emphasize the exploration of interconnections between past, present, and future:

    • What moved people not only to join protest movements at the time, but also how do they look at their actions from back then today?
    • How do they appraise the influence of the protests - on politics, society and not least on themselves and their future lives? 
    • What influence did or does the Club of Rome have on protests in the 70s, 80s or even today? 
    • What lessons learned do previous generations pass on to current and future activists? 
    • Which parallels and discrepancies appear between different generations, contexts, issues, social roles, and forms of organization?

Lin May Saeed. Mureen / Lion School, 2016 // OR // Hawr al-Hammar/Hammar Marshes, 2020

The Silence of the Animals

Different reasons could be imagined why an animal does not answer when it is asked a question. One is the rather esoteric sounding theory, which claims the animal remains silent because it is meditating. The meditation would be so deep that it cannot even be lifted when the animal dies a violent death. Its super-conscious is silent while its unconscious makes sounds, which are misunderstood as “unarticulated” and fill the space surrounding the animal and its adversary.

The other possibility would be that the animal can actually speak, though only very slowly. Ages can pass before an animal enunciated the sentence, “Please, don’t kill me!”, in an almost infinite expansion of syllables. Like someone writing his name on the surface of the moon. Depending on the particular species, this can take hundreds of thousands of years.

Curatorial Note

Working with eminent psychologists, the THE NEW INSTITUTE has by now conducted a number of interviews with activists from different movements, ranging from the anti-nuclear movement, to the democratic movements in the former German Democratic Republic all the way to Fridays for Future. An archive of interviews that goes well beyond oral history and delves deeply into the psychological dimension of protest is in preparation.


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