Changing the System with Love, Wisdom, and Power: A Declaration for Action (10/17/14 Draft)

NOTE: This declaration is intended to indicate the kind of brief statement that could be considered, along with other similar declarations, at a national conference to launch one or more projects focused on systemic reform. The latest draft of a proposal for such a national conference is posted at http://www.wadeswire.org/?p=1232. As it is amended, the latest draft of this statement will always be posted here. Feedback on both is welcome.


Changing the System with Love, Wisdom, and Power: A Declaration for Action
By Wade Hudson  (10/17/14 Draft)

The system is broken and we know it. To turn this nation into a compassionate community, Americans must unite as never before. . To build popular power, we need a long-term vision rooted in shared values and a realistic, step-by-step plan for achieving that goal. This Declaration outlines how we, the signers, aim to help achieve that goal. You are invited to join us.

The percent of voters who believe the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves increased from 29 percent in 1964 to 79 percent in 2013. Almost four in five Americans are dissatisfied with the political system. That same percentage is convinced that corruption in government is widespread. Two-thirds are dissatisfied with the state of the economy. Most Americans report they’re so upset they “would carry a protest sign for a day” if they could. Strong majorities favor major changes in national policy and believe grassroots pressure is needed to achieve that

Our major institutions, including our economy, our government, our media, and our schools, and ourselves as individuals and our culture, are interwoven into a self-perpetuating social system that preserves the social ladder, which has become increasingly steep. Most of those who do well pass on their advantages to their children and grandchildren, with little regard for others or the environment.

The system corrupts our culture and dehumanizes our people. No one escapes its impact and everyone reinforces it, actively and passively. Most Americans are seduced by the hope of “making it” by climbing the ladder. We seek to make ever more money and gain more power over others. We deny who we really are so we can please parents, teachers, and bosses. We accept that some one person must always be “in charge.” We dominate when we can, and submit when we cannot. We reduce others to objects, use them, and discard them. We look down on those we consider inferior. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, trying to prove ourselves (to others and to ourselves). We fail to develop the self-confidence that is needed to challenge authority effectively. We fear to be different, We become self-centered, which limits our ability to collaborate with others as equals. We’re almost always thinking about what to do next and neglect to examine our feelings honestly and develop our humanity. We have few intimate friends with whom we discuss personal issues. We rarely actively and respectfully listen to others. Hopeless about prospects for joining with others to affect national policy, we resign ourselves to voting on Election Day.

To change the system we need to change ourselves, consistently become more fully who we really are, tap into our inner strength and courage, let go of our fears, and join with others to leave the world a better place for future generations.

Most Americans embrace shared values. We want to treat others as we want to be treated. We want to learn how to better respect and love ourselves so we may better love and respect others. We want everyone to have healthy food, clean air, drinkable water, peace and quiet, economic security, a safe environment, rewarding social interactions, good friends, a healthy family, ongoing learning experiences, and  a fair chance to realize their best potentialities. We want to be productive and happy, have fun, experience joy, be of service to others, steadily become better human beings, relieve suffering, and advance human evolution. We appreciate intangible realities, ponder or revere the Mystery that energizes and structures the universe, and want to be in harmony with Mother Nature. We affirm being honest, courageous, humble, free, generous, disciplined, responsible, firm, and flexible.

We believe working-age adults who are able and willing to work should be able to find a good job that enables them to avoid poverty. Private businesses should serve the public interest, treat their workers fairly, and refrain from damaging the environment. Law and order is essential and everyone should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Legitimate authority should be respected and when individuals abuse their power they should be held accountable. Individuals have the right to their privacy as long as they don’t violate the rights of others. Throughout society, we must promote nonviolence, reconciliation, empowerment, partnership, cooperation, and collaboration.

Down deep, we care. When others suffer injustice, we want to relieve that suffering and prevent future injustice. Identifying problems is not enough. We also want to correct root causes, which requires changing national policies.

We have majority support on important issues. Now we need to sustain popular power to push for what we want. With concentrated action, we can restructure our society.

Persuading Congress to respect the will of the people will not be easy. Though we are a divided nation in many ways, we have seen positive results when we have united.  We have the ability to break through discouragement and apathy. By taking a small amount of time each month to communicate with our Congresspersons, we can unite and speak with one voice. When we do, we will have the numbers of our side. It will take time, but if we move forward step-by-step, we can eventually build the unity we need.

We who engage in political action need to overcome weaknesses that divide us. By improving how we relate to others, we can increase our effectiveness. With peer support,  discipline, focus, patience, and willingness to  examine ourselves honestly, we can learn better how to face our mistakes so we can avoid them in the future. No one needs to tell us how to change and we don’t need to tell anyone how they should change. Each one of us can set our own goals and support others in their efforts.

To foster that personal and collective growth, we who sign this declaration will gather at least once a month with a team of at least two other signers to share a meal and report on our self-development efforts and our political action aimed at national policy. By setting aside special time to share a meal, listen to one another, enjoy each other’s company, have fun together, and explore how to move forward, we will improve our skills and increase our numbers. Knowing that others are participating in this network will deepen our sense of community.

Often with members from other teams, at least one member of each team in our network will meet with their Congressperson’s staff to explore how the Congressperson and the community can work together to promote the kind of change affirmed in this Declaration.

At the same time, we will steadily encourage activist organizations to form a broad, national coalition to launch a Million Member Mobilization to communicate the same message to Congress in a timely manner on a top priority proposal backed by a majority of the American people. With those numbers, at least one member of every one hundred households will act in unison and the impact will be enormous. Congress will listen when 2300 persons per Congressional district speak in one voice.

That goal is ambitious. But as we steadily mobilize more like-minded Americans, more people will participate. Many people are passive because others are passive, not because they don’t want to act. We must try to break that downward spiral with an upward spiral. Without massive, sustained unity, our chances are limited, so we intend to do our best to encourage the development of a Million Member Mobilization.

In addition, other forms of action are available. Some of us can and will engage in nonviolent civil disobedience focused on winnable objectives and negotiating compromises. If enough of us back a top-priority consumer boycott, we can persuade corporations to honor the public interest. And, if we have to, we can stay home from work on the same day in large enough numbers to persuade key decision-makers to take our concerns seriously.

Individual members of our network will consider supporting those actions as they emerge. By developing our network and strengthening our personal capacity to be effective, we are building a pool of concerned individuals who “promote the general welfare” (the goal presented to us in our Constitution). With this shared vision, time-efficient work, discipline, persistence, patience, and a positive spirit that attracts people, we hope to motivate others to join in this movement.

By pushing for realistic, positive change to advance the common good, we can move forward step by step, meet neglected needs, build our collective power, and restructure our deteriorating society into a compassionate, truly democratic community.

Changing the System: A Proposal for a National Conference (10/17/14 Draft)

By Wade Hudson

The system is broken and we know it. In the short run, our social system appears to work for a few, but their gains are superficial, the system is not working for most Americans, and in the long run the system may collapse as it becomes increasingly top heavy.

The percent of voters who believe the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves increased from 29 percent in 1964 to 79 percent in 2013. Almost four in five Americans are dissatisfied with the political system. That same percentage is convinced that corruption in government is widespread. Two-thirds are dissatisfied with the state of the economy. Most Americans report they’re so upset they “would carry a protest sign for a day” if they could. Strong majorities favor major changes in national policy and believe grassroots pressure is needed to achieve that.

To build popular power, we need broad agreement on a long-term vision rooted in shared values and a realistic, step-by-step plan for achieving that goal.

Given those realities, concerned individuals must increase and broaden understanding of how the system functions and how we can reform it fruitfully. Toward that end, I have proposed to Berrett-Koehler Publishers (BK) that they convene a national working conference focused on the following questions:

  1. What is “the system”? How can we best describe and analyze it?
  2. How do we need to change it?
  3. What organizing strategies are needed to build a popular movement pushing for those changes?

A careful, deliberate, collaborative process could pull together the best ideas available about how to restructure our society. That plan could help motivate a massive number of individuals to work together toward that end. Using the “wisdom of crowds,” the efficiency of the Internet, and careful collaboration, we can change the world in a deep and sustainable manner.

BK is a logical candidate to organize a national conference whose participants would consider written proposals for action that had been posted online and discussed extensively beforehand. BK’s best-sellers include Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins, The Serving Leader by Ken Jennings, Leadership and Self-Deception by Arbinger Institute, and When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten. Their books fall within three categories, “BK Life” (the personal), “BK Business” (the social), and “BK Currents” (the political). With this broad perspective, BK is dedicated to “systems change” and adopts a holistic approach to the world.

Their current strategic plan affirms:

We seek to abolish class systems (wherein one group has an enduring structural advantage over another group) in all areas of organizations and society, including ownership, wealth, belonging, power, accountability, compensation, and access to information and resources.

Given their credibility, connections, and commitment to systemic change, I believe BK could initiate a process that would engage readers, authors, and activists in developing a plan for how to improve our world fundamentally. BK could contract with a diverse set of prominent writers to draft brief responses to the questions posed above and invite those writers to dialog with one another and then consider modifying their original statements. That dialog could be posted on the Web for review and comment by the general public. The writers invited to participate could include individuals such as Alice Walker, Cornel West, Van Jones, David Brooks, Fritjof Capra, Robert Reich, Naomi Klein, and others whose prominence would help elicit strong participation.

The conference could be loosely based on “Open Space Technology,” with a variety of proposals presented for consideration. Participants would “vote with their feet” and participate in breakout groups focused on those proposals that most appeal to them. Space could be provided at the outset for new last-minute proposals from participants. If no unanimous consensus emerged concerning a specific proposal for action, after the conference different groups could implement those proposals that most appealed to them.

If you support this proposal or have suggested amendments, please comment below. As this proposal is amended, the latest draft will be posted here.

NOTE: Though I do not assume that the conference organizers would select it as a focus for the conference, my own suggestion for the kind of statement that could be considered is “Changing the System with Love, Wisdom, and Power: A Declaration for Action.” I also welcome feedback on that statement.

 

Many Activists Need An Intervention

sunset's trumpet : plate from the children's story "Mr. EveNing" (1991)

To turn this nation into a compassionate community, Americans must unite as never before to change national policies. To achieve that unity, political activists need to improve how they operate.

Yet most activists, habituated to their traditional methods, fail to engage in serious self-examination, honestly evaluate their strategies, admit mistakes, and evolve. Our efforts are commendable. At least we are trying. Overall society is likely better off than it would be if we did nothing. Nevertheless, we need to do better, much better.

The Occupy Central demonstrators in Hong Kong offer inspiration with their deep, disciplined commitment to nonviolence. A recent interaction with David Harris, the renowned 1960s’ draft resister and author, offered me encouragement. The response to the “A Meditation on Deep Community” that I presented to my Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples heartened me. I was pleased that my minister, Rev. Dorsey Blake, liked a draft of a “declaration for action” that could be the focus of an action-oriented national conference and said he would ask Jakada Imani, head of the  Center for Spirituality and Social Transformation whether his center and our church might co-sponsor such a conference. A dialog about that draft declaration with Ronnie Dugger, the writer and activist, was reassuring. The feedback I’ve received to my limited distribution of print copies of the first edition of my autobiography, My Search for Deep Community has been encouraging. And my organizing with the Residents’ Council at my 200-unit, non-profit apartment house has been rewarding. On the other hand, certain encounters with activists recently have been less positive.

The other day, while walking home from the store, I saw an old friend with her back to me talking to two people. I walked up to them and joked, “Don’t believe a word she says.” The two strangers informed me they were canvassing for the upcoming election. They asked me how I felt about two ballot measures and I told them I was supportive, but when they asked me about David Campos’ campaign for Assembly, I replied, “I’m not sure. I just heard that some friends of mine are supporting David Chiu because he offered more support to them on the domestic-violence controversy surrounding Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.” The male canvasser replied, “Campos merely wanted due process,” and proceeded to talk for almost two minutes about the two officials’ positions on other issues. Having been unclear about the facts in that case, suspecting his statement was inaccurate, and truly wanting to discuss the dilemma, I replied, “I do not appreciate you lecturing me rather than engaging in a dialog with me about my concern.” He answered, “Well, I’m a school teacher and I can be pedantic.” “That’s a problem too,” I said, and everyone laughed. My friend then hugged me and told them about how we first met and the second canvasser asked me where I lived, after which we learned that I do not live in the district they were working. I commented, “Well, I guess I wasted your time,” and walked off, irritated because none of them engaged me in that dialog that I told them I wanted. Afterwards, I realized my alienation may have led me to be unduly rude. I expressed no appreciations, did not even say goodbye to my friend (who also failed to engage in a discussion about my concern), and walked away too quickly. But I knew the canvassers had probably been trained to avoid wasting their time.

A few days later I received a phone call from the same campaign on the same three issues. The caller immediately started reading his script at some length. When he finished and asked me his question, I said, “I have a suggestion. In the future, when you reach someone, first ask them if they have a minute to talk about your issue.” He replied, “OK,” but proceeded to read me the rest of his script without asking me if I wanted to talk. He was reading from a written script, but most activists have a script in their head and repeat it endlessly, like a tape recording. Their understanding is that “leadership” involves mobilizing people to do what the leader wants, a notion that is reflected in President Obama’s attitude about “American leadership.”

On September 30, I drove down to Stanford University for an opening reception for a new exhibit of incredible documentary photographs from the 1960s taken by Bob Fitch, an old friend. The event, titled “Movements for Change,” featured a panel of activists from the 60s, including Harris. The panel made opening statements and engaged in a conversation with the audience for about 90 minutes.

When none of the panelists offered any reflections on lessons learned from the past that could inform the future, I tried to get the floor to pose that question, but was unable to get recognized. No one from the audience raised the issue either. Before we adjourned, Bob suggested that the audience circulate and engage in dialog with one another.

In line with his suggestion, I approached a Stanford student who had spoken eloquently from the floor about his activism and asked him, “Have you noticed any weaknesses in past movements that need to be avoided in the future? Mistakes that we can correct moving forward?” He replied by talking about how activists’ intellectual frame needs to shift toward a more transnational focus. I responded by commenting that his remarks were outer-directed and I was more interested in how we relate to each other and the general public. He then said we need more face-to-face interaction. I agreed and asked if any other points come to mind. He said none did. I half-expected him to then ask me about my thoughts, but he didn’t, so I thanked him for his responses and moved on. I was amazed that this elite student of activist movements had apparently not been prompted by his professors to reflect more deeply on that issue, and that the panel would engage in a 90-minute conversation about their activism without reflecting on the question.

I then connected with Harris and asked him the same question. He replied by talking about how “the movement” fell into drawing an ideological “line in the sand,” which undermined its original openness to various perspectives. When I asked him for other examples of weaknesses, he addressed how “ego” is often a problem and that activists tend to “stop learning.” I found his comments very astute and reassuring.

The informal reception that followed was unsatisfying. I approached a few people, including another old friend, but experienced no substantive dialog. (I need to find some new ways to deal with “cocktail parties.”) And my ride home with my friends was also lacking. In the car, I reported on my interactions with the Stanford student and Harris, hoping it would lead to an exploration of the issue. But it elicited only one brief comment, and the rest of the ride involved no real evaluation of our past and ongoing efforts.

So I resolve to be patient. I’ll continue with our Residents’ Council and maybe expand to some neighborhood organizing. I’ll remain active in Fellowship Church (including our October 19th 70th Anniversary) and work to enrich that experience, participate in the October 18 “Soul of Work” workshop, and post to my blogs more frequently, where I hope to plant seeds that will somehow bear fruit someday. I’ve begun posting a Web-edition of My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography. I envision a new book, which may be a brief memoir focused more narrowly on deep community. Perhaps a strong, inclusive committee will eventually organize a national conference to launch a holistic project that integrates the personal and the political, as I suggested to Rev. Blake. I invited Harris to participate in a public dialog concerning how activists might be more effective, perhaps using a yet-to-be-defined format that would foster rich dialog among all participants. And perhaps I can make some new connections by posting this October 23 Meetup.com event:

San Francisco Personal-Political Mutual Support Workshop
Let’s explore how political activists can be more effective.
We’ll explore developing one or more models that political activists might use to support one another in their efforts to become better human beings and more effective activists. One option is for each member to confidentially report on their efforts and their plans, with no unsolicited feedback. We may experiment with various other models at future workshops. care of myself and others in my life as best I can.

In the meantime, as Kathy Kelly’s Iraqi friend advised her, I try to remember to “love the Universe.”

My Search for Deep Community — Web Edition

Cover A-page-001

 

After making some corrections, I’ll be posting My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography to the Web. If you want to receive the chapters as they are posted, you can subscribe here: http://www.deepcommunity.org/ I just posted the Front Matter.

Uber Attacks Taxis (and Readers’ Comments)

Gas-guzzling Uber cars are killing San Francisco’s energy-efficient taxi industry. San Francisco needs to protect and improve its publicly regulated taxi system.

Prior to Uber, which uses smartphone apps that allow customers to get rides from drivers using their personal cars, San Francisco limited the number of taxis. That policy enabled drivers to make a decent living, so they stuck with it, became more knowledgeable, provided better service, and had a relatively good attitude with tourists. We were called “ambassadors of tourism,” the City’s biggest industry. Many passengers visiting the City told me they were impressed with San Francisco cab drivers. Cab companies made enough money to buy new cars frequently, so the City requires all new taxis to use natural gas or electricity.

The City also requires drivers to service all law-abiding people and accept paratransit vouchers for seniors and the disabled. And the City requires drivers to undergo background checks for egregious criminal activity and requires cab companies to carry substantial insurance to cover accidents whenever the cab is in operation. None of these regulations apply to Uber. So as Uber grows and taxis decline, the City will suffer.

But the California Public Utilities Commission ruled that Uber vehicles are not “taxis,” even though the dictionary defines that term as “a car that carries passengers to a place for an amount of money that is based on the distance traveled.” So Uber enables several thousand cars to illegally operate as taxis and take business away from taxi drivers, which adds to air pollution.

Uber, which means “over” in German, considers itself above those regulations. The word “Ubermensch,” or Superman, was central to Hitler’s philosophy. Why a company would brand itself with that word boggles my mind. I take it to be a reflection of Uber’s arrogance, and the elitism of the tech world.

This development is another example of worshipping the “free market.” Uber declares its intention to break up the “taxi monopoly.” To see that what future will look like, take a taxi in Washington, DC, where there has been no limit on the number of taxis, and observe the condition of the old, run-down vehicle.

Salon.com has covered the issue well. A search for “uber” from their homepage reports many excellent articles, including “Why Uber must be stopped.” That article begins:

What is Uber? A paragon of free market efficiency and technological innovation serving the greater convenience and comfort of the general public? Or living proof for why capitalist societies require regulation?

On September 23, the San Francisco Chronicle featured a page one article titled, “S.F. taxi owners, cabbies join forces against Uber, Lyft, others.”  That article begins:

Taxis, badly losing the battle on San Francisco’s streets, are finally fighting back.

After seeing 65 percent of their business migrate to ride services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, taxi drivers and company owners, at odds for decades, have joined forces — not only with one another but with their overseer, the Municipal Transportation Agency.

Their common goal is to save the taxi industry — highly regulated by the city as part of its transportation network — from extinction at the hands of the largely unregulated upstarts… .

“The Tragedy of the Commons” has hit the San Francisco taxi industry. As defined by Investopedia, that phenomenon is:

an economic problem in which every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource. As the demand for the resource overwhelms the supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms others who can no longer enjoy the benefits.

Yellow Cab, the City’s largest company, used to fill all of its available shifts. Last month, it filled only two-thirds. That means fewer hybrids on the street and more air pollution, thanks to Uber.

As I told the California Public Utilities Commission at a hearing last week, when I was thinking about switching the Uber, I asked Uber if they have a limit on the number of Uber drivers. They told me that they do not, and have no plan to establish a limit.

This development is reflected elsewhere in the emerging “sharing economy.” As Jon Taplin wrote:

the average 30 year old might be holding down four or five jobs simultaneously in this brave new world–driving an Uber car while renting their spare room on Air BnB and raising money for their video on Kickstarter while doing odd jobs on Taskrabbit.

Taplin quoted an unnamed mentor:

for better or worse – the sharing economy has to lower the GDP and at least currently would speed up the demise of the middleclass and push more onto the long tail of minuscule incomes that in turn accelerates the sharing economy since that is the only way these folks can survive. This all has many unintended consequences and in the long run may not enhance sustainability.

And he reported:

The writer Venkatesh Rao makes the basic point that the so called sharing economy is designed by the 1% to help the 90% destroy the livelihoods of the 9% who make up the small business middle class.

Whether “designed” for that purpose or not, Rao describes the Internet-facilitated impact precisely: another reason for growing inequality.

I rode in a few Uber cars and learned from the drivers that they must drive six ten-hour shifts each week in order to make a non-poverty income. As the number of Uber drivers increases and it becomes harder to make money, Uber drivers are going to be more stressed out and will drive more recklessly.

One reason I’ve driven taxi half-time is that I could make enough money to live simply and have time to do my community-service work as a volunteer. Then I got on the first-come, first-served list to get my own permit, or medallion, for a small sum, and did after twelve years. Since then, I no longer have had to rent my cab and, through the company, I collect rent from others who use my taxi when I don’t drive.

Then the City changed the system to require new drivers to buy medallions from current owners for $250,000. After the City takes 20%, if I sold my medallion now, this policy would leave me with $200,000 before taxes. And I could sell my Yellow Cab stock for $30,000. So I’ve figured that once I’m no longer able to drive, that would be enough for me to live on for the rest of my life. (Since I lived on “movement wages” before switching to cab driving, my Social Security retirement is minimal and I have no savings, so I feel the need for some cushion.)

Now, however, I fear that my medallion will soon be worth much less. Already my income has taken a big hit. My monthly share of our co-op’s profits has declined by almost 50%.

So I’ve devoted long hours to evaluating different options and developing an emergency, barebones budget in case I become disabled prematurely. And for the first time in my life, at the age of 70, I’m getting serious about saving money.

I also drove more taxi to see how much I can earn now that City streets are flooded with Uber vehicles (and Lyft cars, another so-called “transportation network company”). So I was driving more and writing less than I would prefer, which was frustrating. Fortunately, I’ve finally developed a good plan for how to proceed.

The breakthrough was discovering that seniors in San Francisco have access to free and low-cost food. Monday I paid $1.50 at the Salvation Army for a good meal and walked away with five granola bars and four apples. And next week I’ll start getting one of the bags of free food from the Food Bank that are delivered to my building. And I’ve learned that the maximum food stamp allotment is $179 per month. So I now realize I won’t have to worry about going hungry.

And here at my residence, when I move to the top of the list for the Section 8 subsidy, my rent will only be 30% of my income (after counting 2% of my assets as income). At that point, my rent may be only $300 per month. So if I have to, once I stop driving taxi, I figure I can manage if I stop paying for massages, concerts, and movies, and get the cheapest cable, Internet, and phone services.

In the meantime, however, I’ll still indulge in my middle-class comforts and travel two months a year. But that reality check has prompted me to now take public transit home at night and limit myself to one restaurant per month (except when I travel). My current budget indicates that I can do that and still save $500 per month by driving taxi 20 hours a week.

This plan will enable me to get back to my real work, which will include posting more here.

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READERS’ COMMENTS

In response to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Fostering a National Movement:

From R:

Interesting. I’ve been wrestling with this for some time. I’m afraid I’m becoming very cynical and for the most part feel the majority of Americans don’t give a damn. Where I’m at in my thought about all of this is: if the American people keep voting in incumbents and turn the senate republican does it affect me? Yes and no…psychically it is very difficult but economically it doesn’t as I have my own business and I’m on Medicare now. Mind you the air, water and environment will be worse but hardly worse than it is now under a so called democrat. The rich will get richer, there won’t be unions and everyone will be policed in their bedrooms. So if the people want to vote against their best interests…fuck’em. R

My reply:

I do not believe that most Americans do not give a damn and I do give a damn about them.

++

Anonymous:

What you write is important, valid and of hopeful spirit.  I know from the experience of being retired and not having the same work community that nourished me in the banter of staying true to myself while listening to others opinions is deeply missed.  And, I find there is a community divide within the labels we once gave, such as, “lefties”, progressives, liberals, moderates, conservatives.  It is more difficult today to organize within a local community around local issues nonetheless national or international issues.  Unless the community is organic, it is difficult to sustain.

I applaud your many attempts, your consistency, your hope, your creativity, your thoughts and words.  Everyday I try and make a commitment to be involved and each day that commitment is softer than the day before.  If there is anything I need more at this point in my life is a quiet, contemplative arena to rid myself of the cynicism of today’s politics and my aging.

Thank you always for trying.  Thank you always for your faith and hope.

With respect and friendship,

My reply:

Thanks for your kind words and best of luck finding that arena that will enable you to deal with cynicism, which certainly afflicts me from time to time.

++

From Richard Moore:

You explore here the most important questions of our time: Is it possible to transform society in line with what people really want and need, and if so, how might that be accomplished? These are questions I too have been studying and thinking about for more than ten years.

As part of my research, I looked in history at examples of revolutions and of mass movements, both those that succeeded and those that failed. And I have noted the differences between conditions then, and the nature of our regimes today, which include sophisticated means of mass propaganda and mind control.

My negative conclusion from these studies is that a mass movement, where deep community comes from being a member of the movement, is not a viable approach in our modern societies. If they are not suppressed, they will be co-opted. In the domain of mass persuasion, and with it’s ability to ‘create conditions’, the state cannot be overcome.

My positive conclusion from these studies is that a decentralized movement, where deep community comes from belonging to an engaged local community, does show hope for bringing about transformation. Among other advantages, such has not having a vulnerable center, a community-oriented movement can be inclusive, while a mass movement is always divisive, particularly in its early stages.

How to build such a movement, however, has eluded my grasp so far. My latest ideas are here: Building the new in the shadow of the old.

thoughts?

richard

My reply:

Evading the system is impossible. Co-optation is inevitable and is problematic only if it leads people to be satisfied. We need to steadily restructure the system step-by-step, while keeping our eyes on the long term. Local efforts are valuable, but eventually they must unite to change national policy. Otherwise they reinforce those policies.

++

From Roger Marsden:

Hi  – yeah – I like the idea of linking up – formalizing a community grfoup with a representative. Kinda obvious really — integrating grass rfoots into the “system.” It requires the representative to be responsive. it would be nice if there was a way for it not to be only depedndent on each community to create it for themselves but in concert with a national movement.

Roger

My reply:

Good to hear, Roger. Might you want to meet with one or more close friends to experiment with one or more models for how to structure such a group?

++

From Yahya Abdal-Aziz:

Great idea!  I’ll be listening out for anything that may help you in this search, and for any insights you gain or any such tools you create.

And try this one on for size: AA have the archetypal 12-step program, and it’s their best-known tool.  And it’s user-friendly, except for two sticking points:

that some people don’t want to admit that there is a higher power;

that some people don’t want to submit to any power whatsoever.

Because of these points, people have been experimenting with various non-theistic, non-submissive versions of the AA approach.  Which is fine if it works better for them.

So bearing in mind those difficulties, can we craft a step-by-step program that:

is as inclusive as possible

helps people with the learning you describe

helps unify their efforts at bettering the lot of all the disadvantaged in your [or my (*)] society

That would be one suitable tool, wouldn’t it?

(*)  Australia is not the USA, although we have many similarities – some of which we tend to blame you for! ;-)

Regards,

Yahya

My reply:

Yes, I agree AA is suggestive, but limited. I also think it’s 12 steps are too complicated. I hope to continue to experiment with developing a model or models and to suggest to others that they do the same. I’m particularly interested in doing it with people interested in impacting national policy.

++

From Michael Larsen:

Write on!

My reply:

Thanks!

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Fostering a National Movement

A friend recently asked me, “What is missing in your life?” I replied, “I would like to participate in a massive grassroots movement to impact national policy.” She replied, “That’s a tall order” and changed the subject. Her response is typical. Interest in building a national movement is limited.

Nevertheless, I persist. From time to time, certain events encourage me. One example was the August 17 op-ed in Time magazine by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar @kaj33, the former basketball star. Titled “The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race,” the essay argued, “Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it’s about class warfare and how America’s poor are held back.” The sentence that struck me most strongly was the following (the key phrase was emphasized with italics): “If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.”

Precisely. That is what I was trying to get at with “A Meditation on Deep Community,” which I presented to the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples on July 14. In that piece, I stated:

• Relieving suffering requires addressing root causes, getting deep.
• Addressing root causes requires correcting national policies that are the source of so much suffering.
• If we see a child drowning, we don’t tell her to pray. We change her environment.

The most problematic element in Abdul-Jabbar’s formulation is the “how.” One barrier that any such strategy must address is the social conditioning that has been embedded in each one of us. This dehumanization divides us and undermines our ability to work together effectively. To unite, we must unlearn this “internalized oppression.”

Different individuals have different issues. Trying to tell others how they need to change is counter-productive. Each individual can make their own decisions. But we can support one another in these efforts, if only by listening to one another report on our successes and challenges.

Growing a unified movement will be enhanced if we develop user-friendly tools, like Alcoholics Anonymous did, that concerned individuals, without going through any elaborate training, can easily use to meet the unmet need for deep connection. I would like to experiment with such options that could be easily replicated, and learn about other such efforts.

We also need to develop new structures that will facilitate broader political engagement between elections. The other night, a disturbing dream woke me up in the middle of the night. It involved a double murder, the first of which was a mistake. The dream left me with a sense that my dream of a national movement was dead. I had trouble going back to sleep.

But I woke up with a wrinkle on an old idea: get a group together to engage in a series of open-ended, problem-solving discussions with their Congressperson’s office about how the Congressperson and the community might work together to build that movement. One option that could be placed on the table at the outset would be monthly Congressional Community Dialogs, the carefully structured forums I’ve been proposing for some time.

Regardless, we need to keep on pressin’ on. If we do, eventually we can fulfill that dream that Abdul-Jabbar and so many others have articulated.

50 Essays Guaranteed to Make You a Better Person

Originally posted by Emily Temple on Flavorwire 

It’s hard to be a person in the world today — or, really, any day, but today’s what we’ve got. Humans are striving creatures, and also empathetic ones, so most of us are always looking for an opportunity to improve ourselves, even in tiny, literary ways. We’ve already established that novels can make you a better person, but of course, novels also take you down a long winding road to get there. If you’re looking for a more direct shot to the heart, try an essay. After the jump, you’ll find 50 essays more or less guaranteed to make you a better person — or at least a better-read one — some recommended by notables of the literary and literary nonfiction world, some recommended by yours truly, incessant consumer of the written word. Don’t see the essay that changed your life? Please do add it to the list.

To read commentary on the 50 essays and the essays themselves, click here.

Fellowship Church: August 24, 2014

The August 24 service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples included the following.

Readying the Spirit featured a piano prelude by Dr. Carl Blake.

Ingathering of Community included this responsive reading from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference:

A Litany For Children Slain By Violence and Traumatized By Those Called to “Serve and Protect”
August 17, 2014

Leader: A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.

Assembly: We pray for the families of children who have been slain by gun violence, left to die on streets with less dignity than is given to animals.

Leader: A sound is heard in every city. Communities are weeping generationally for their children. Our sons, like Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown and John Crawford. Our daughters, like Ayanna Jones, Miriam Carey, Malisa Williams and Tarika Wilson.

Assembly: As people of God, we weep for the lives of all children who instead of enjoying the sweetness of innocence become victims of hate, victims of war, and victims of violence.

Leader: Now, let us rise up and interrupt these rushing waters of violence that leave children and communities wounded and paralyzed, traumatized by internal disintegration and state terror. Let us rise up and demand this nation abandon its affair with beliefs, practices and laws that are rooted in militarism, justified by racism and propped up by systemic inequities.

Assembly: We will rise up against laws rooted in evil that have no concern for life, nor any concern for God’s love. We will rise up until justice rolls on like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream.

Leader: Oh Lord, we commit ourselves to seeing all children the way that you see them. No matter their age or race, they are precious gifts made in your image, created with transformative purpose and unlimited promise.

Assembly: And for that cause, we pledge to be hedges of protection for their lives, we pledge to stand against anything that threatens their potential or promise.

All: We embody the universal spirit of Ubuntu, “I am because we are and because we are, I am.” We are all Rachel crying for the children! Therefore, we pledge to lock arms in solidarity with the families of the slain. We pledge to let our voices be heard all over this nation and the world, for we know we are called to do what is just and right.

Practicing the Presence included this Meditation from Wade Hudson:

On August 3rd Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson’s offered a very thought-provoking sermon here. He recommended cultivating “intimate direct action” by traveling the Four Roads to Intimacy: Move away from self-deception and really get to know yourself; Utilize solitude; Establish a strong sense of community; and then without fear experience intimacy, or the “uncircumscribed engagement in the world.”

Webster’s defines “intimate” as “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature.” As I see it, intimacy involves “speaking from the heart.”

What does “speak from the heart” mean to you? [Members of the congregation offered some answers.]

I googled “speaking from the heart” and the top result said “Ask yourself: is what you’re saying coming from your analytical mind or your intuitive heart?” and “Know that speaking from the heart doesn’t mean getting carried away by your emotions.”

I think of speaking from the heart as a blend of speaking from the gut and speaking from the intellect. After all, the heart is half way between the gut and the brain.

But an intimate conversation involves more than speaking. It also involves being a good listener.

What does being a good listener mean to you? [Members of the congregation offered some responses.]

Also, to my mind, I am not a particularly good listener when I immediately respond to someone with something like, “I hear you. The same thing happened to me,” and then proceed to talk about myself.

We have good reasons for being reserved, for not being more transparent. For one thing, what we say might be used against us. Teachers and bosses punish us for saying what they don’t want to hear. So we learn to be guarded and it becomes a habit.

Howard Thurman, however, affirmed Gandhi’s maxim, “Speak the truth, without fear and without exception” and Thurman wrote, “Be simply, directly truthful, whatever may be the cost.” I don’t know if I can ever live up to that standard. I would, however, like to move in that direction.

How many intimate friends do you have with whom you at least weekly discuss highly personal matters, problems as well as joys? Would you like to have more intimate friends? How many of those friends belong to Fellowship Church? Would you like to have more who are?

If we want to grow a strong sense of community, as recommended by Rev. Johnson, do we need to nurture more intimacy with one another? If so, how might we do that, either during the social hour or at other times during the week? Some questions for reflection.

Maybe, if we make more of a conscious effort, we can practice more fully what Dr. Thurman preached.

Resting in the Presence included a sermon by Dr. Kathryn Benton reflecting on the following quote from John Lennon:

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.

Offering Our Gifts included Announcements by Elanor Piez, Church Treasurer.

Sending Forth included this poem by Rev. Takashi Tanemori:

We can create our lives by
Transforming our experience
Into something new,
Like a butterfly soaring freely
Into the splendor.

Meditation Idea: 8/20 Draft

NOTE: Following is a Meditation that I may give at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.

The sermon that Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson offered on August 3rd was very thought-provoking. He recommended cultivating “intimate direct action” by traveling “Four Roads to Intimacy.” The first road is to move away from self-deception and “know yourself better than anyone else.” The second is to utilize “solitude.” The third is to establish strong “kinship,” or a sense of community. The fourth is to then experience “intimacy,” or “the uncircumscribed engagement in the world,” without fear.

Webster’s defines “intimate” as “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature.” An intimate conversation therefore is one that comes from your deepest nature.

How many intimate friends do you have with whom you discuss highly personal matters, your joys and your troubles, at least weekly?

As I see it, intimacy involves “speaking from the heart.” What does “to speak from the heart” mean to you? [Allow for answers from the congregation; respond to those comments.]

I googled “speaking from the heart” and the top result said “Ask yourself: is what you’re saying coming from your analytical mind or your intuitive heart?” and “Know that speaking from the heart doesn’t mean getting carried away by your emotions.”

I think of speaking from the heart as a blend of speaking from the gut and speaking from the mind. After all, the heart is in between the gut and the heart.

But an intimate conversation involves more than speaking. It also involves being a good listener.

What does being a good listener mean to you? [Allow for answers from the congregation; respond to those comments.]

Also, to my mind, I am not a particularly good listener when I immediately respond to someone with something like, “I hear you. The same thing happened to me,” and then proceed to talk about myself. I find that kind of response to be far too common.

We have good reasons for being reserved, for not being more transparent. I don’t fully understand those reasons. I’m trying to better understand them. One factor seems to be that what we say might be used against us. Teachers and bosses punish us for saying what they don’t want to hear. Partly for that reason, we learn to be guarded and it becomes a habit. That is understandable.

Howard Thurman, however, affirmed Gandhi’s maxim, “Speak the truth, without fear and without exception” and wrote, “Be simply, directly truthful, whatever may be the cost.” I don’t know if I could ever live up to that standard. I would, however, like to move in that direction.

Most conversations strike me as a series of monologues, telling stories, gossiping, superficial chit-chat, or intellectual discourse. They rarely involving speaking and listening from the heart.

So let me ask again, How many intimate friends do you have with whom you discuss highly personal matters at least weekly?

How many of those friends belong to Fellowship Church?

If we want to grow a strong sense of community, as recommended by Rev. Johnson, do we need to nurture more intimacy with one another? If so, how might we do that, either during the social hour or at other times during the week?

Maybe, if we make more of a conscious effort, we can practice more fully what Dr. Thurman preached.

 

Brandon Visits SF

Allyne ParkBrandon Faloona, my soul mate from Seattle, visited San Francisco for 48 hours last weekend and slept on my couch. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The most rewarding moments were our quiet times alone, when we engaged in rich dialog. As I’ve said before, he’s the best listener I know. There are many understandable reasons why most people (or so it seems) are so reluctant to speak from the heart and interact openly and mutually. I’m constantly trying to better understand and accept those reasons. Nevertheless, it is refreshing when I experience greater authenticity.

The fact that Brandon possesses a high degree of emotional intelligence and is very astute in his observations of others’ behavior and social conditions helps to enrich our time together. In particular, I appreciated his forgiving me for some mistakes I made in what I wrote about his father, Gerry, in my autobiography. His comments helped me see my residual bitterness about a conflict with Gerry that led to some passages being too curt. If there is another edition, I’ll try to correct those mistakes.

Brandon’s visit has had a particular enduring impact. While he was here, he encouraged me to think more about my retirement plan. Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” I lived my life according to that principle. Partly out of an ego-driven desire to be recognized as a great man, and partly out of a commitment to community service, I have not concentrated on making money. And whether from good karma or good luck, I fell into ownership of a taxi medallion, which provides me with some security. Brandon’s comments, however, have led me to realize that if I were disabled, that medallion would not provide me with enough income to make ends meet. So I’m researching retirement accounts. Indications are that I will have to drive taxi at least ten hours more each week than I had expected, which means I’ll have less time to write and travel. Hopefully, I’ll find time to write another book, my manifesto, which is tentatively titled Changing the System with Love and Power.

Otherwise, highlights of Brandon’s visit included visiting Allyne Park at Green and Gough where we used to play when we lived together and Brandon was three (see group photo of our household), walking by the six-bedroom, split-level apartment where we lived, hanging out in North Beach, hearing some great blues at The Saloon, and going around the corner to a new gallery, The Emerald Tablet, on Fresno Alley.

DSC02163After we arrived, we learned that the gallery was hosting an 80th birthday party for the esteemed Beat poet, Diane di Prima. When I wished her a happy birthday and referred to a 1968 poetry reading with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Thom Gunn, herself, and others that I co-organized, she said, “Oh yes. I remember that. It was the only time I ever read with Thom.” She then signed for me a copy of a poem that was distributed that day as a memento for her birthday. The poem reads:

The Phoenix is
timeless
as gold is

She heads for
the sky

like a grown child
leaving Mother

leaves the warm ash
resplendent
above

below

Later Brandon helped me produced a one-minute video of our time in North Beach, which I uploaded to YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?

And here are some photos I took:

DSC02159 DSC02153 DSC02146 At My Window