Transforming the System

purpleThe 2016 campaign shows the need to answer this question: What is “the system” and how can we change it?

Several colleagues and I have formed a team to help answer that question. By posting a comment here, you can join this effort, share your own answer, or refer us to other answers.

Election campaigns are money-making machines. They generate income for the media, campaign consultants, other professionals, and elected officials who use their status to enrich themselves. As discussed in “Seven Other Nations That Prove Just How Absurd U.S. Elections Really Are,” other Western democracies demonstrate sensible alternatives to that madness. Options listed in that article include:

  • Make elections shorter
  • Limit how much money can be spent
  • Limit television advertising
  • Use public financing
  • Automatically register all eligible voters
  • Hold elections on weekends

Our election system is one element of our larger social system. During a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Warren brought the crowd to its feet when she declared, “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged.” During the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump built campaigns based on that theme.

When most people address “the system,” they only talk about the government and the economy. But some sociologists and other systems thinkers adopt a more comprehensive perspective. That approach makes sense to me.

As I see it, the self-perpetuating System consists of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals who support the System in our daily lives. Those elements of the System fit together, overlap, and reinforce one another.

Americans can best restructure the System by reforming all of its elements and shifting American society away from the drive for money and power toward compassionate action.

Our greatest division is top-versus-bottom, not left-versus-right. As Arlie Hochschild addressed in Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, most Republicans, Democrats, and Independents agree on many proposed changes in national policy that would move us in the right direction.

Yet, despite widespread agreement on those  “crossover issues,” the American people are fragmented and have a gridlocked Congress. Countless activist organizations are doing good work on many specific issues, but they rarely unite to focus on a priority demand and build the sustained pressure that is needed to impact Washington.

If enough organizations and individuals, while continuing to work primarily on their own particular issues, choose to devote some time and energy to working together to promote legislation that is supported by a majority of Americans, we can grow a Purple Community that is powerful enough to persuade Washington to respect the will of the people. We can win victories, build momentum, restructure the System, and transform the United States into a compassionate community.

Forging that unity will require activists to acknowledge and control personal weaknesses that foster division — such as arrogance, dogmatism, and prejudice. Dealing with such issues can happen internally, with each individual addressing issues of concern to them. But it often helps to talk about one’s mistakes with trusted friends or family members. Regardless, learning how to work with others respectfully is essential to serving as an effective activist.

Building a Purple Community will not be easy. But my colleagues and I are determined to help make it happen. We’re talking about the following five-step process:

  1. Write a 1-2 page proposal-for-action that addresses: What is “the system” and how can we change it?
  2. Meet in small groups to discuss drafts of that document. The next meeting is Saturday, November 19, 11 am.
  3. Seek online feedback.
  4. Convene a workshop with community leaders to evaluate the proposal.
  5. Convene a public forum with nationally prominent speakers to gather more feedback.

Throughout that process, we’ll incorporate feedback into our 1-2 page proposal-for-action. At some point, we may invite potential supporters to sign a pledge to participate in this project if and when a certain number of others sign the pledge.

Eventually, a separate, fully inclusive team may organize a national Purple Community founding convention, with highly regarded speakers who will lend credibility to the project and help attract participation.

Along the way, I’ll post links to related resource material and, with help from my review team, write a small booklet that elaborates on the thinking behind this project.

What do you think? If you might like to join in this effort, please let me know.

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