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.

 

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

  1. Shortly after I posted this proposal, Berrett-Koehler Vice-President David Marshall posted the following on Facebook:

    Super reader Wade Hudson advocates for a “Changing the System” National Conference in 2015. It’s cool to see such leadership from somebody in our the largest BK stakeholder group: readers. This may fit with three of our five initiatives from our 2014-16 Strategic Plan: Connect with Customers, Build Our Brand, and Commit to Diversity and Inclusion. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

    He also tweeted about it and @BKpub retweeted his tweet.

  2. Wade,

    First off: Great idea! Such meetings are necessary, and a broadly-based conference is a good first step.

    Second: People must trust the organiser. While BK is a logical choice as a partner, and as a major provider or sponsor of facilities, and as an established network of realist activists passionate about social justice (Whew! pretty impressive already!), it’s still a business. As such, the distrust that people have for business in general – as evidenced by your own statistics – may compromise your plan. So while you want BK on board, it must not be seen as owning, or potentially profiting from, the campaign.

    Third: The human face. Even people who believe in the power of the collective want a particular person to speak for them, either at times – when they’re unable, or most of the time – because they trust that person to do it better than they themselves can. In short, the campaign needs a highly visible spokesman. (NB: that last word is ungendered, the “-man” in it denoting “human” rather than “adult male human”.) So make sure people can put a face (or two) to the campaign, that they will come to identify with it.

    Fourth: Please note that I say spokesman, not leader, because the general notion of a “leader” is of a capable public figure probably partly blinded by self-interest. However, if the spokesman is one who genuinely and humbly calls themselves a “servant leader”, that person may also change public perceptions of leadership for the better.

    Fifth: Let me suggest a way to leverage BK’s commitment and network: Use instead the BK authors collective, and make sure that it has a trusted and highly visible spokesman. (Effecting this may take some time and determined efforts. For instance, how many of the BK authors would prefer to belong to an independent “Authors for Social Transformation” network not organised under the aegis of any business, but able to impartially accept the support of any like-minded body or individual, including businesses and public trusts and foundations (Think Melinda and Bill, for example.)?)

    Last – but certainly not least: I pray that you will succeed. So please plan to!

    In friendship,
    Yahya

    • Thanks, Yahya, for your astute comments. I trust BK will bear them in mind. The ball is in their court now. Take care.

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