Jul 30

Let’s get to work.

by in Making a Difference

Several of us have been talking for some time about how to best use our energies to change the world. A lot of the answer depends on what you mean by “best”, “use”, “our energies”, “change”, and “world”. But does it have to be that daunting?

Perhaps. But is that any reason to fail to at least explore the problems and possible solutions? The answer to that is a definite, no.

It just so happens I have my eyes on a problem I’d like to get more people talking about. Perhaps you do, too. Wouldn’t it be great if our problems were related and we could work on both at once? We’ll never know if we don’t start talking about them.

So here’s my idea. How about if we create a forum to bring forward problems, with or without solutions for the moment. Lord knows we have plenty to choose from. So why not send a list of what you think the 3 biggest problems are which require a “change” in your “world”?

Eventually, I’d like us to share ideas about topics. So, as an example, I’m going to tell you three of my questions. I’ll expand on the first. I invite you to comment on it, as well.

  1. How do we reform our democracy so it works for the people?
  2. How do we ensure all people are treated with justice?
  3. How do we ensure the ecosystem is healthy enough to support all life?

I invite you to comment, make suggestions to improve the questions or point at possible solutions, disagree wildly with whether these are important, or suggest your own areas of concern. I only ask that you be open, honest, and caring in how you respond. Everyone who initially gets this link is a friend. If it gets spread around, which I hope it will, I’ll still wager that everyone who gets it is human and therefore worthy of respect and caring.

Here’s a starting place.

Our government isn’t our own anymore. The elected officials at the national level are not beholden to the voters, they are beholden to the people with money. I invite you to watch this TED talk which lays out what I feel is a compelling line of reasoning.

Lawrence Lessig has formed an organization called Rootstrikers to get at this problem. Right now it seems as though the main purpose of the organization is to raise people’s awareness. It’s not active enough for me. I wonder how I can get more people talking about this corruption and implementing ways to stop it?

Because, in my view, we can stop it. There isn’t that much money involved in state and city politics. Individuals CAN still make a difference there. Some states already have public-financed elections as do some municipalities. That’s both a a good start and a good example. We should build on these.

What did you think? Let’s get started. Let’s talk.

9 Responses to “Let’s get to work.”

  1. From George Draffan:

    Thanks Spencer for starting this conversation.

    A few of my impressions during Lessig’s talk: Money is not the root of evil. As he points out, there have been and are many proposals for getting money out of politics, but the proposals haven’t gone very far, which tells me this isn’t an economic or a technical problem. Heck, we even know pretty much what to do to minimize climate change. But these aren’t technical problems, they’re a political (people) problems.

    You say raising awareness isn’t enough, that you want action. Here’s my observation about social change: if it happens, it happens on three (main) levels:

    (1) education (consciousness-raising)

    (2) organizing (that is, people-organizing)

    (3) direct action (either constructive actions that put good alternatives in place, or deconstructive actions that attack dysfunctional structures).

    Education is useless if organizing and action don’t follow. And organizing isn’t possible and action isn’t effective without consciousness. Since the three are mutually-supporting, it’s best to have all three running all the time, and steering oneself and others to the vehicle that suits one’s current interests and energies. Encourage people to get involved on the level they relate to, but keep all three levels communicating and coordinating with each other. Splitting the three by debating which of the three is most important is fatal to social change.

    One organization that seems to have a pretty good record with all three is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund ( http://www.celdf.org/ ). They educate, they organize, and they take (legal) action, and they’ve managed to do it in many communities, including the rural communities (where much of the harm is done and where much of the reform and organizing needs to happen). And they’re active and cross-fertilizing multiple issues (democracy, agriculture, fossil fuels). They’re clearly not the only model, but I think they’re a good one.

    Thanks again Spencer for kicking off this conversation. I’d like to help publicize it when the time is right.

    Posted on Aug 4, 2013 at 11:50 am #
  2. From Spencer:

    George, good thoughts. I wasn’t implying that we should not keep working on all fronts. I’m just trying to figure out how to get conversations to start. Here is a link to an article that I thought was interesting, not because it addresses climate change, but because it addresses how to talk with people about stuff. http://grist.org/climate-energy/how-to-write-about-climate-pull-up-a-barstool/

    Posted on Aug 24, 2013 at 9:13 am #
  3. From Dave:

    Most of these efforts fail due to not internalizing the thinking of those on the other side. Our dialogue is then really a monologue. Your video is a good example; it’s all about why to do it, how important it is, with only a minute or so touching on how to do it, with few details and no mention of the downside. The worldview of someone on the right is the other way around; first show how the goal can be reached and discuss the (inevitable) downside, only then can one argue that the goal is worth the downside. The video makes a powerful argument to people like the speaker but to people of a different worldview — even if they agree — it misses the point entirely. This is just what I’ve typically seen in attempts at conversation; each side presents points that they see as key, only to have them dismissed as trivial or irrelevant, and concludes the other side is not listening to them. And the other side has the same experience and reaches the same conclusion. In fact, it’s not a failure to listen, it’s a failure to talk TO each other. To be heard, you have to present your argument cast in the other side’s worldview rather than your own. This requires a lot of effort to understand those we disagree with ON THEIR OWN TERMS, rather than our caricatured view of them. That’s hard, and rare, and you can see why these attempts at dialogue so rarely succeed.

    Posted on Aug 25, 2013 at 9:17 am #
  4. From Fran:

    Hey Spencer,

    I think you are very courageous to post such a plea, and I am grateful, as it takes courageous people to change the world. I struggle all the time with this dilemma as I feel strongly that the only thing that will change our world is people standing up en mass and refusing to “go on,” refusing to maintain the “status quo.” However, I also observe that when a group that is slightly smaller than “a lot” stand up, others call them names like “fringe” and “crazy” and “punks” and “lazy” etc. There has to be a very large effort to educate before action works. The 100th monkey syndrome comes to mind constantly. There is a tipping point to “thought” – to an idea. Like marriage equality. So many were on board finally because they were informed or educated and so states started introducing legislation and the supreme court had to listen. I think that’s what it takes. Unfortunately, there is a HUGE lobbying effort to maintain certain economic and financial power structures and to change that piece is going to take TONS of education and then action by multitudes. This reminds me of Occupy Wall street and Wisconsin 2 years ago and Chicago last year. HUGE numbers of people came out and slight changes were made, but then the momentum receded. WHY? Why did the momentum recede? Is it fear? Is it that we are too comfortable still? Not sure. Still have questions.

    Posted on Aug 25, 2013 at 12:55 pm #
  5. From Rob:

    Hi Spencer! Sorry I am so late in joining this discussion, but a trip to Sedona and life stuff delayed my response. I thought it was an interesting video, but I believe it ignored how deeply polarized the country is politically. While the speaker said this issue affects both the Left and the Right, aren’t the Lesters perceived as moneyed conservatives? And haven’t the candidates from the Left found a way to circumvent that advantage by giving more and more people entitlements in exchange for their votes? I do believe the system is badly broken. Can you imagine being a principled politician who then has to constantly deal with fundraising? And then there’s the problem of voting on bills you believe in that have been loaded with amendments which contain elements you don’t. Mark Hatfield wrote a book years ago titled “Not Quite So Simple” which dealt with the unintended consequences tied to many pieces of legislation. Compromise is seen by one side as a good thing, and as betrayal of core principles on the other. I guess in one way the system is working – we actually voted for gridlock by electing President Obama and House Republicans. Don’t see this getting better anytime soon.

    Posted on Aug 28, 2013 at 4:55 pm #
  6. From Spencer:

    Now I’m seeing some of the problems of starting this conversation. There are so many ways it wants to go. I may have to re-design this so conversations fit together and you can easily comment on the thread you are interested in.

    First of all, let me know if you were notified about this response because you had commented previously. I’m curious if I’m just writing into a void.

    Both Dave and Rob point out the difficulties in how we communicate with each other. I think Fran’s response reinforces those opinions. There WAS a huge response to Occupy last year and it did pretty well fade away. Much of that is probably due to not being able to communicate beyond the people who agreed with it.

    It can easily seem hopeless to be able to talk and listen well to others who disagree with you. All the more reason to make the attempt, I say.

    Rob says the country is deeply polarized. Perhaps. But that is not my experience of the people of the country. I think it is the money running the political system that is polarizing us. If you are the least bit political, you get hit up daily for $$ for this or that cause or candidate. Somehow I got on the mailing list for a candidate in Maine! Money is made upon outrage. SO the system gins up as much outrage as possible. “Last chance to double your impact!” “We can’t let them get away with this!” “Did you see this?” Money is running our politics.

    And it is not that the money is just conservative right money, it’s everyone. And it reduces our thinking to sound bites, outrage, and fuzzy thinking. When was the last time you saw a report that looked without bias at a big problem? Shoot, you could do a week’s worth of network TV news, non-stop on any subject from Syria to climate to improving education. But I (unfortunately) find it hard to read articles that stretch too long, as this is becoming.

    And without trying to understand both the problems (or facts), possible solutions, and probable outcomes (as Dave points out) we are incapable of making good, meaningful decisions.

    Thanks, if you’ve taken this much time to read. Now let me know if you actually got to the end.

    Posted on Sep 1, 2013 at 10:36 am #
    • From George Draffan:

      Thanks Spencer,

      I did get to the end. And I do get everyone’s comments sent to my email box, where they fall into the big pile that includes everything from bills and work to politics and poetry. And no, it doesn’t help to sort them into different email boxes, because they’re all jumbled up in my mind and life anyway 🙂

      Agreed, this conversation is going in different directions. But anything worth pondering is complex and ambiguous — that’s the reality, isn’t it? And it’s all too easy to fall into ignoring, or attacking, or defending the status quo, and there are any number of people and organizations that will take advantage of that.

      I don’t control the world, or even my own experience.

      The world’s problems will continue long after I die of old age or other circumstance.

      The self and territory I habitually defend is pretty much an illusion, but this defining and defending definitely causes confusion and suffering.

      Disillusion and resetting of intention and action are the only choices worth making.

      Sharing experience and common intention is a source of true support.

      So thanks everyone for the time and attention, whether we agree on each particular every time.

      Posted on Sep 1, 2013 at 12:59 pm #
    • From Rob:

      Got it Spencer. No talking to the void here!

      Posted on Sep 1, 2013 at 11:56 pm #
  7. From Spencer:

    I was talking to a friend the other day about the state of the planet – ocean acidification which is destroying their health, the enormous amounts of pollution we are creating in order to have more “stuff”, the entire consumer culture which piles up waste as we rush to buy the newest iPhone while filling the dumps with perfectly good but no longer desired old models. It all seemed overwhelming.

    Why should we even try to make things different? If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, why not party on and just ignore the long term implications of our current lifestyle? Her reply touched me deeply.

    She looked at me, eyes brimming with hope, and said, “I’m a grandparent now. I look at my grandchild and think about how to tell him when he gets older, ‘I had a choice to make and I decided that it was better for me to have the (fill in the blank) than for you to have enough.’ How could I say that with a clear heart? How can anyone?”

    That, right there, gives me hope. Because who wouldn’t do whatever they could for their grandchild? Who wouldn’t make some changes to ensure that little baby’s future? Even if you don’t have a grandchild yet, you would still gladly try to find an answer. So let’s tell that story. Let’s convince ourselves not that we CAN make a difference, but that we MUST make a difference. The next question is what do we do?

    Posted on Oct 18, 2013 at 6:52 am #