NOTE: The following is the latest draft of a work-in-progress. An earlier version was “Changing the System: A Proposal for a National Conference (10/17/14 Draft).” I always welcome your feedback, but I would especially appreciate your comments on this draft, which is particularly important to me. The latest draft will always be at http://goo.gl/3zkOoP.
Reform the System with Love and Power:
A Call for Action
Power without love is reckless and abusive,
and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The system is broken and we know it. On the surface it appears to benefit a few. But their gains are superficial, most people are excluded, and the whole system may collapse soon as society becomes increasingly top-heavy and destructive to the environment. The need for a nonviolent movement to transform our society into a compassionate community is urgent.
When love is not backed by political power, it is severely limited in what it can accomplish. But if we base political power in love, we can promote justice and democracy.
A broad range of activist organizations do good work on a wide variety of important issues. Those efforts are grounded in similar values, and the problems they address are rooted in the same cause: a destructive, self-perpetuating social system that must be reformed fundamentally and comprehensively. Yet those organizations are largely fragmented.
If they briefly supported one another than they do, while regularly maintaining their primary focus, they could achieve much more united than they can isolated. To encourage that unity, let us engage in an open, participatory collaboration to compose a brief vision statement that responds to the following questions:
- How can we best describe and analyze “the system”?
- What role do individuals play in maintaining the system?
- How do we need to change the system?
- What long-term strategies can help build a popular movement to achieve that goal?
- What short-term steps can we take toward that end?
With this statement, we could affirm our core beliefs and clarify how our issues are interconnected with a commitment that we could sustain over time.
References to “the system” are common. People intuitively have a sense of what the phrase means. When at the 2012 Democratic Convention Elizabeth Warren declared, “The system is rigged,” she received a standing ovation. 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. 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, people power is needed to achieve that.
Nevertheless, there is no consensus among activists concerning how to reinvent our social system. We need to fill that void and build broad agreement on those issues.
No one group controls the system. It is self-perpetuating. Our major institutions — including our economy, government, media, entertainment, schools, and religious communities — our culture, and ourselves as individuals are interwoven. All of those elements support one another.
The system’s primary purpose is to preserve the social ladder. As those who prosper pass on their advantages to their children, the pecking order becomes increasingly steep.
The system corrupts our culture and dehumanizes our people. No one escapes its impact and everyone reinforces it. In particular, our hyper-competitive culture encourages harsh judgments of others and undermines our ability to collaborate with others. Instead, we learn to either dominate or submit.
Because the various elements of the system are intertwined, to transform the system we need to steadily change each element of the system. We must change our institutions, our culture, and ourselves.
The first step toward lasting social transformation is to establish a new mission statement for our society that affirms a primary commitment to promote the common good of the entire Earth Community. Climbing the ladder of success is not our highest calling.
Most people would like to be a better person. We want to more fully:
- Treat others as we want to be treated.
- Love ourselves as we love others.
- Avoid both selfishness and self-sacrifice.
- Respect ourselves so we can better respect others.
- Be productive and happy, have fun, experience joy, be of service to others, relieve suffering, and advance human evolution.
- Appreciate intangible spiritual realities, ponder or revere the mystery that energizes and structures the universe, and seek harmony with Mother Nature.
- Be honest, courageous, humble, free, generous, disciplined, responsible, firm, and flexible.
To “be the change” and strengthen ourselves, we need to honestly evaluate our mistakes and accomplishments, and our strengths and weaknesses, while drawing on mutual support and peer learning. Merely verbalizing the results of our introspection is valuable, especially if we are understood by supportive allies.
And we certainly don’t need to dictate to others how they should change. Individuals can define their own goals.
Self-development efforts are most fruitful when they are intentional and consistent, rather than occasional and haphazard. To facilitate that growth, we need to develop new methods for providing mutual support.
One option is to design formats for soulful conversations that others could use quickly, with little or no special training or expert facilitation. In these groups, members could set aside time to dig deep, acknowledge mistakes, and consider how to avoid them in the future. By developing user-friendly templates that small, member-run sharing circles could utilize easily, these tool could spread widely. Large numbers of activists could engage more fully in steady self-improvement, which would increase our effectiveness by helping us improve how we relate to others.
If we developed agreement on a long-term vision statement, small groups of endorsers could gather regularly to break bread, enjoy one another’s company, share a cultural experience that engages the heart such as listening to a song, and report on both their self-development efforts and their political action. These circles could attract new members with contagious happiness, and occasionally gather in regional, national, and international gatherings.
If we tap our inner strength and courage, we can join with others to leave the world a better place for future generations, in part by impacting national policies in our own country and supporting people in other countries to do the same in their nation. When others suffer injustice, we want to relieve that suffering, prevent more injustice, and correct root causes, which requires changing our nation’s policies.
With this approach, we can more completely assure that:
- Everyone has 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.
- Working-age adults who are able and willing to work can find a good job that enables them to avoid poverty.
- Private businesses serve the public interest, treat their workers fairly, and refrain from damaging the environment.
- Workers are fully able to organize.
- Everyone is treated equally in the eyes of the law, while we preserve law and order.
- Legitimate authority is respected and when people abuse their power, they are held accountable.
- Individuals have the right to their privacy as long as they don’t violate the rights of others.
- Promote nonviolence, reconciliation, empowerment, partnership, cooperation, and collaboration throughout society.
With an equal emphasis on both long-term goals and short-term objectives, and a balanced focus on simultaneous personal, social, cultural, and political change, we can win victories that build momentum, while recognizing that no victory or defeat is final. In this way, we could inspire both concerned individuals who want to do more than “tinker” as well as those who want to see results.
People are passive in part because others are passive, not because they don’t want to act. We must break that downward spiral with an upward spiral. As we steadily mobilize like-minded people, more concerned individuals will participate.
By pushing for realistic, positive change to advance the common good of the Earth Community, we can promote evolutionary revolution, meet neglected needs, build our collective power, and restructure our deteriorating society into a compassionate, truly democratic community.