Dugnad … The Next Chapter for the Progressive Movement

“We have to be idealists, thus we can make man what he is capable of being.” — Viktor Frankl

It is striking how many of the world’s problems are created by leaders who lost their way and fail to live up to basic idealistic principles. Somehow idealism is perceived as weakness in current times and not as a sign of courage or integrity. In the words of author and thinker Peter Block: When we defend idealism, we defend imagination. We defend possibility. We defend the world of ideas.” The argument against idealism is an argument against democracy, an argument against love, an argument against justice and equity, and all the things that our culture has abandoned in the name of privatization and economic profit maximization. 

Earlier this year we saw a movement in the United States spearheaded by young people. Bernie Sanders, with no help from the media nor the party establishment (in fact just the opposite), made a serious run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Seventy-five years old, bespectacled with white disheveled hair, visually he was the not the prototypical candidate to embody the hopes and dreams of the Millennial generation, those fifty-plus years his junior. But in many states garnering over eighty percent of that demographic’s primary vote … he was.

While many pundits attach Sander’s popularity with his campaign promises of free college education and universal healthcare (whatever that’s means) – I’ve believe there was something less concrete behind it … something more philosophical. Even though he was a self-proclaimed socialist, he attracted people who would never have referred to themselves as that. I believe what drew people into Sander’s lair was his nebulous aura of idealism. He represented something that could be; something different from what currently is. His primary opponent Hillary Clinton embodied the status quo. Sanders did just the opposite.

Unfortunately for his supporters, and for idealists everywhere, his campaign couldn’t make up deficit it was put in by those in power in the Democratic National Committee. How different things might have been if Sanders and Clinton entered the race on even footing. Thus was not the case – so here we are with our presidential options consisting of a career politician who is the very definition of a Washington insider … and an orange clown who nobody knows what level of Dante’s Hell he could relegate us to. To put our future in the hands of either, thinking they will lead us to the “promised land,” is well … not very idealistic.

But this doesn’t mean we need to throw in our civic towel and spend the next four years licking our wounds. I’m afraid to say, Washington probably won’t be much different then than it is now. Regardless of party, who we put in the White House is going to have to stare down into the same abyss of governmental dysfunction.

“The man in the white hat, the man on the white horse … he ain’t coming.”

What we need to do is not waste this momentum of “striving for something different.” Rather than let our idealism whither with the defeat of a candidate, let’s rejuvenate it by taking it to the streets – and turn it to reality ourselves through action … not just voting.

We are in a precarious position right now, both as a nation and worldwide. Most of all it affects our young people. The Millennial generation is often looked at as being entrepreneurial and breaking the mold. In actuality, this is not true. Millennials are less entrepreneurial than their parents. The reason for this are multi-fold. The societal obsession of higher education for everyone and the debt that accompanies it has created a generation more risk-adverse. Young people are so loaded up on school loans they have to get regular jobs to pay for it. And maybe even more so, a stifling preponderance of mega-corporations owning the business landscape has left little opportunity for a fledging entrepreneurial idea to take wing. America has become much the same as the oligarchy-ridden Gilded Age of a century ago or even Russia today. No presidential candidate, no matter the promises and well-intentions, is going to change this. 

“The man in the white hat, the man on the white horse … he ain’t coming.”

Change will have to take place in the streets by those who live there … not in the ivory towers of Washington D.C..

Ecovillage
Evolution Institution

Dugnad is one of those concept type words. You know the ones that cannot be defined by a few sentences on paper because they embody so much more than that. They are words with cultural resonance that represent a way of life or an expectation, which is not easy to translate.

Dugnad can best be described as a type of civic and communal mindset where people get together and volunteer to fix, clean, paint or tidy things up for the betterment of their community. If you live in Norway I am pretty certain you will have already heard this term or even participated in one. Dugnads are organized in neighborhoods, blocks of flats, at summer homes, marinas, mountain cabins even at schools and especially places of work. The dugnad knows no bounds! It can be summed up as a time of coming together and contributing to the community that you are a part of. Most of us belong to several communities or groups so it is possible that your presence is required at multiple dugnads throughout year.

Last month the World Economic Forum released a study ranking countries on their ability to convert economic growth into well-being for their citizens. Norway came out on top. While there are many reasons for this, I’m sure no small one is their focus on community engagement in the form of dugnads. Not only do these civic gathering entities mend the social safety net, they build the Middle Ring, or neighborhood relationships that transcend ideologies and politics.

It’s around the concept of dugnad that I’ve organized the Community 3.0 platform for civic engagement. It’s time we all pull out our sewing kits and get to work mending the societal well-being safety net our alleged leaders have so negligently let almost fray to the point of no return.

Our call to action must be one of taking to the streets, not to protest but to act … to implement our idealism ourselves. In the Community 3.0 model, the dugnads take form in the Front Porches of our communities. These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. These Front Porches are where the Middle Ring or neighborhood relationships flourish. This is what the French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, observed as the source of America’s “exceptionalism” of the 1800’s.

As a part of the Community 3.0 platform we’ve put together a roster of several examples of what can result from Front Porch collaborations. These examples represent Solutions to many common needs and opportunities a community may encounter. By no means is this roster complete, but it’s a start – enough to get your synaptic connections firing.

The Solutions I listed above are mainly the products of the volunteer work of an single independent Front Porch. But that doesn’t mean multiple Front Porches can’t band together for a larger more community-wide common cause. An extreme example of this is the Let’s Do It! worldwide clean-up effort I mentioned in a recent post. But regardless of the size of the project, this dugnad approach to civic engagement involves a significant change in societal thinking: “one of doing rather than waiting for someone else to do the doing.”

Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as most all governments do, the Community 3.0 Front Porch approach focuses on destroying the“silos”that retard our evolution. This bridging of chasms improves the overall well-being of our community including the physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health of its citizens.

The priority of these Front Porches is to create environments that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectations … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system.

Build … Don’t Tear Down

I know it’s frustrating to think that our options look bad and worse. The seeds of optimism that took hold with the Bernie Sanders campaign are running the risk of being starved of the emotional momentum they need to survive. And without metaphorical food and water, it’s doubtful they will withstand a another four years until the next election.

Never doubt that a small group of committed, citizens can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

But this is the case only if we view our only option is turning over our lives to someone sitting in the White House. Our real solution lies right here in our home towns – both large or small. It is us who must make the change, not the government. It’s always been that way … whether we realize it or not.

But being committed does not mean marching in the streets demanding those in the ivory towers change their ways and all of sudden adopt policies of empathy and altruism. However noble this cause may be, Don Quixote best be left to the annuals of fiction past.

Rather than tear down … we must build. We need not walk into the lion’s den and challenge the lion. We starve the lion. After all, the lion is a captive of ours. Our problem is that all along we have been feeding him through our habitual actions, creating a societal mega-corporate personality we’ve let dictate our world.

At first there will not be many of us. But as our success stories spread – others will want the same (i.e “starving the lion”). They will see there is a road other than the one they habitually travel without thinking. We must find ways to work with those intrenched in the status quo. Direct conflict will only harden their cemented views … accomplishing nothing.

There will be defeats. There will be times we want to throw up our hands, let our impatience take over and rush head long into the lion’s den. These are the times we need to continue to build, meticulously one societal brick at a time. Eventually our evolutionary construct will be complete.

Only each one of us can make the decision if we are willing to stand up straight and pull our knuckles off the pavement and reach for the sky. And to do this we all need each other.

The movement of idealism and “hoping things can get better” will only wither if we let it. It will only starve is we assume its success is dependent on others and not the direct volunteer action of us in the streets. The Norwegians made this part of the their communal mindset and even coined a term for it, dugnad.

Maybe it’s time we follow their lead and adopt it for ourselves.

_______________________________________________________

Join me in building your own neighborhood dugnad … and create your own societal evolution.

_______________________________________________________

Related Posts:

 

Plugging the Small Town “Brain Drain”

America is obsessed with sports. And nowhere is this more evident than with high school sports. Very often 16 and 17 year olds are the masthead of a community’s sense of pride. How goes the local high school football or basketball team … so goes the collective psyche of the community. This is especially the case in “Small Town U.S.A.” They are revered not unlike that of the gladiators ancient Rome. Stories of their exploits hold high priority in the morning newspaper and on the 10:00 local newscast. In some areas of the country, Texas for example, high school football games can draw over 20,000 rapid fans. In fact the successful television series, Friday Night Lights, was based entirely on this phenomenon.

An unfortunate circumstance of this is that other students of this same age group are for the most part looked at with either irrelevance or outright distrust. “They don’t have any experience, so how can they know anything. And since they don’t know anything, how can’t we trust them. They’re all lazy, spending all their time staring at the phones or playing video games.”

I’m not trying to demonize high school sports and their student participants though. On the contrary, I want to use them as a template for a more inclusive view of how a community should view all its young people. And hopefully we can use this evolved view as the foundation for building sustainable communities of future … especially in small towns and rural America.

I grew up in a relatively small city in North Dakota of 35,000. However, because of the neighboring Air Force Base and structure of my high school my graduating class was fairly large, 600+ students. Like other towns and cities, the students athletes were highly regarded and well-known. I participated in sports and was on the varsity on a couple of them, but was no means a star – far from it. My focus in school was more academics and government; I was the Student Body President my senior year. My tenure at this position was far from passive. Programs and events I initiated improved student participation to levels never seen (and probably not since then) at our high school. Yet when I walked down the down the street with my friends from the basketball or football team, adults (even community leaders) stopped to engage them – not me. This didn’t make any difference to me at the time. In fact I hadn’t even thought about until recently. But when I did – it became the genesis of this post.

Unfortunately, I think this dynamic is all too common on the streets of most American communities. As a society we celebrate our student gladiators – but our student leaders … not so much. But what would happen if both were celebrated – or at least acknowledged. And why limit it to just leaders and athletes, but also to any young person who had shown a drive to excel in their field of passion, say art or music or entrepreneurship? What effect would that have on the engagement level of students other than athletes? And what effect would this acknowledged engagement have on them after graduation (assuming that even happens)? Imagine the sense of community kinship that could be nurtured with these engaged young people early on. Recognition plays a critical role the in the positive psychological development of the young brain. Any parent with teenagers can attest to this.

And aside from the positive individual development – what other effects would this evolved way of how we look at our youth have. After all, those that excel early in life, whether it be in government, in leadership or creatively – will probably excel as adults somewhere when opportunities present themselves. And why shouldn’t they excel in the towns and cities they were raised in. After I left my home town to go college – I returned after I graduated. I tried to get something entrepreneurial off the ground, but after a year, I left and moved to Minneapolis never to return. Most college graduates in my position wouldn’t have even given it a year. Fortunately for me, there was a local entrepreneur who was a friend of my father who extended a hand to me. It was this hand, the recognition that someone in my hometown cared enough to want me to come back – that brought me back. Unfortunately the community infrastructure wasn’t set up or integrated enough to accommodate young entrepreneurs or provide me a creative platform that would keep me around.

Small town

Plugging the “Brain Drain” and Cheating the Grim Reaper of Small Town U.S.A.

The phenomenon of the defection of young talent, or “brain drain,” is very real in rural America – even if many civic leaders and politicians don’t want to admit it. Small town communities have pride when they graduate their kids off to big town universities. But really all they’ve done is provide the minor league system to ready their young people to star in the big leagues elsewhere.

Rather than provide their high achieving young people the platform to return to and excel, they practice the “out of sight, out of mind” thing. Or worse yet, many small towns are so seeped in tradition and “the good old days” there’s no room for the next generation and the new ideas of what they think their home town could look like. One of my most read and shared posts ever was “Cheating the Grim Reaper” of Small Town U.S.A. In this piece I discussed a strategy how small towns and rural communities could create a sustainable strategy for the future to counteract the inevitability of decline that would occur if they didn’t adapt. One common thread was prevalent throughout the piece: embrace change and specifically embrace young people. And if this holds true – then why not have the young people who you embrace be ones you already know and who know you and the traditions of you community. We dedicate entire industries to offering expertise on business and family succession planning. Why do we not have or do the same for the places we live?

Shouldn’t our goal be to create a platform designed to engage our younger generations in their home towns while they are still a captive audience in high school – in hopes they will return after college and succeed us in the roles of civic leadership.

The Community 3.0 Student Civic Engagement Model

The purpose of my community empowerment project, Community 3.0, is to connect small businesses to the members of the community in efforts to solve its community’s problems directly by bringing back the Front Porch civic gathering concept. The Front Porch empowers us to reclaim the priorities of our neighborhoods and communities – and do something about them through hands-on volunteer projects. It allows us to organize and take action directly, not wait on the sidelines while traditional institutions and government may or may not act.

Under this societal model each business or Front Porch will sponsor Solutions as part of their involvement in the Community 3.0 network. They are designed to help their community pick up the slack and mend the societal safety net. These Solutions can range from organizing a cleanup effort, to fixing a playground, to even spearheading a high school mentoring or apprentice program. And by being a customer of a merchant on the Community 3.0 network, whether young or old, you can get involved with whatever Solution fits your strengths and your desires.

The Student Anti-Congress is Community 3.o‘s vehicle for the younger generations to get their voices heard civically. Here they devise strategies on how they can build their community into a place where they would like stay or come back to after college. It’s way for them to actively engage and create a sense of civic ownership in their community, presently and for the future.

“The Bridge is a group of civic oriented teachers and other community members who wish to bridge the chasm to engaged adulthood for today’s students. They help transition young people (members of the Student Anti-Congress) and pave the way into their communities outside of school by offering direction to Front Porch based volunteer and apprenticeship opportunities. The members of “The Bridge” also act as coordinators connecting students to the community’s strategic master plan or “Well-Being Vision Map” that is tactically implemented by the community’s Front Porch network with direction from the community’s Vision Team.

Student engagement can take place on an individual basis through mentoring and internships with the community’s merchant Front Porch network. The liaison efforts of “The Bridge” will help coordinate these efforts. But also engagement can also be jump-started through larger school-sponsored programs designed.

The Center for Green Schools provides participating “green schools” the opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of school facilities, both buildings and grounds, while having a positive effect on student and teacher health, and increasing environmental literacy among students and graduates. Working directly with teachers, students, administrators, and their communities, green schools create programs, resources and partnerships that transform schools into healthy environmentally conscious learning environments.

Green School learning environments show students how the connection to their environment both in school and in their community, is not only important … but imperative. Imagine high school students canvasing their city giving businesses complementary energy audits and then recommend and help implement solutions through internships. The intent is to take these experiences in school and turn into to a lifetime of environmental stewardship. And through the Green Apple Day of Service program The Center for Green Schools is taking this instruction to the streets through inclusive community service projects, often those organized by students. Any of the above mentioned Community 3.0 Solutions qualify here.

Another example of organized student involvement is my Farm-to-School-to-Market program. What if high schools and middle schools created programs where students could be the marketers for local farmers producing farmers market ready crops. Not only could the kids market the crops, they could handle the whole post-harvest process as fledging entrepreneurs. They could even help with the harvest if need be. And why stop there, they could even work out co-op deals with the farmers helping grow the crops in the first place. And who says the Farmers Market has to be their only outlet for sales? The students could negotiate deals with local independent grocers and restaurants for additional revenue streams for their products.

Many aspects of Farm-to-School-to-Market could be integrated directly into regular class activity, either as part of traditional instruction or as independent projects. Each student group would also have to keep an account of their experience with their entrepreneurial venture, probably through an online blog. Their ideas, tips and suggestions would also be included and shared as other Farm-to-School-to-Market groups spread geographically and became commonplace in the rural eduction curriculum.

Green School efforts and Farm-to-School-to-Market are excellent examples of how organized school-sponsored programs can plant the seeds of positive student/community engagement and the collaboration that can bear fruit long after high school graduation … often directly benefiting the communities the students grew up in.

But that’s only half the story …

But for a community to truly grow and create a sustainable future, it needs its young to not only stay in town – but become educated and put that knowledge they obtain in college to work for their home towns. Therefore it’s integral that the our local colleges assist in the continuation of the civic engagement planted while their students were still in high school. Think of their role as that of an incubator. Whether it be specific classes designed for students to learn the mechanics of being leaders in their respective home towns – or just endorsement and synthesis with the programs began during their students’ years before college. The collaborative goal of all schools, high school and college – should be to nurture the local communities by replenishing them with educated talent, specifically talent who has a participatory vested interest in them.

“Going Home” College/Community Initiative

The “Going Home” Initiative is designed around a progression of organized college participation levels. However wonderful it would be if all institutions of higher learning recognized they are tied inextricably to the communities from which their students come from and acted accordingly … we’ll take whatever effort we can get. Below are five levels of commitment – gradually increasing in participation.

Acceptance: The bar is pretty low if the first progression is a simple acknowledgement that college has a responsibility not just to its students, but also to the communities they come from – but it’s often not recognized. This interconnected view of the individual (student or other) as a part of the community ecosystem is a fundamental tenet of Community 3.0.

Transition program support: A step up from acceptance is acting on it. This 2nd level recognizes the programs that were started in the high schools of the communities that feed their student body have merit and should be continued even with the originating student being away from home. Ways to support this is nurturing the continuance of communication between the mentoring parties at home and the student. Dialogue during counseling should also include discussion of the students plans after college graduation and how they fit into any current work being done with parties “back home.”

Transition programs augmentation: The 3rd level takes the support a step further by integrating home town issues and Solutions into existing classwork. College resources should be opened up to non-credited home town project work. Colleges can even sponsor entrepreneurial or cause-based contests to further develop college relevant opportunities in the home town communities.

Authorized independent credit: Level 4 expounds upon “Transition program augmentation” by authorizing independent credit for community-based research and project development. The goal here is to spur dedicated “credit-compensated” projects that can take hold when the student returns home or even stays in the town the college is located. It’s also crucial to have professorial and staff support during this level since they will also be acting as informal mentors via their involvement.

Community-oriented class creation: Level 5 is the actual creation of a community-oriented curriculum. Classes could focus on disciplines that revolve around developing community-based sustainability efforts, placemaking, planning, entrepreneurship, nonprofit organization or any other related study. A further development of this commitment level is structuring a concentration or even major that would feed into a “Going Home” set of goals.

It is the intention of us at Community 3.0 to make the “Going Home” Initiative a major player in the battle to fight the rural “brain drain.” Institutions willing to join in and commit to active participation in this battle will be acknowledged so by Community 3.0. With this acknowledgement member institutions will have a potentially potent marketing tool in their recruitment efforts with small town talent and the civic leaders from those locales.

Student Engagement and the Big Picture

Imbalance in talent across geographies benefits nobody. And this is exactly what we’re seeing in the United States and many other western nations. A deficit of talent in a community, such as rural ones, starves it of a sustainable future. And an over-abundance of talent in an area drives wages down, while raising housing costs. We’re currently seeing this in many large urban areas that are witnessing high levels of inequality and social strife. Neither situation is sustainable … let alone preferred.

These unbalanced situations are remedied by creating opportunities in the towns where young people are raised … rather than having them “jump ship” to supposed greener pastures elsewhere. The most effective solution is to empower these young people by offering them opportunities to help design their communities while still high school and then having them gain further relevant knowledge in college so they’re prepared to implement their ideas when they return.

But the boon to small town talent retention does stop there. Imagine the cross-generational benefits and co-mentoring opportunities that can materialize when the elderly teach the young and young teach the elderly. Aside from alleviating underlying generational tensions, community talent retention accommodates the ‘carrying on’ of traditions and skills. These relationships will then form a cohesive sustainable community designed to last and prosper in the future while retaining its sense of historical identity.

Many generations ago a community had to look after itself – the young and the old. They had no choice. Their survival was at stake. They didn’t have the sophisticated market system of exchange spanning unseen geographies nor live in the relative luxury we do now. They just had themselves. And with age expectancy increasing and the Millennial generation being smaller than the retiring Boomer generation was at this time in their lives, we have a ticking time bomb. Cross-generational cooperation will not be an option it’ll be a necessity – and mainly one for the older generations.

Young people pursuing higher education attainment are trained to think. And hopefully their college experiences includes interactions and collaborations with those different from they are. From it let’s hope they will develop a diverse mindset, one that shuns polarizing ideologies often prevalent in small towns and rural areas. This resulting more diverse and accepting worldview will hopefully then rub off on their neighbors in their home town, both young and old. And better yet these expatriates will return with friends and significant others in tow ready to assist, socially and economically.

This “bridging of the gap” of ideologies and political views is especially vital today in America’s current toxic intolerable political climate. Existing residents will need to mix with those who are coming back. The young and old (with different views) working together to strengthen what they both call “home.” This is how we combat the “brain drain” eating away at our small towns.

All this won’t happen on its own though. Even with the release of the new long-waited Happy Potter book, there are no Hogwarts graduates ready to wave a magic wand.

First – as leaders in our communities and schools, we need to realize that there’s more to our young than football and basketball. All our students need to be acknowledged and be given the support to be what they can be. Their input and ideas must not to be shunned – but embraced. And we need to realize the “brain drain” is real, not just something that happens in other places. The rose-colored glasses of our home town fanaticism provides us little help when we need to focus on the stark reality of our town’s future.

Next – our youth organizations, both local and national, need to realize they have an important role in this initiative. It’s not enough to just lend developmental hand – but acknowledge our young people look to you for guidance. You need to tell them with the right planning and community support, their best opportunities for the future might very well be in the towns where they grew up.

And finally, last but definitely not least – our colleges, the storied institutions of high learning, you must realize it is your job to not just send our young people out to sea of “real life” untethered after graduation, but rather help them help the communities where they come from and where they choose to reside. For without these communities you’d have no students … and no institution.

_______________________________________________________

Jennifer Lawrence Poker House

In 2008, a teenage Jennifer Lawrence starred in her first movie, “Poker House.” Three sisters fought for life with their prostitute, drug addicted mother in a run-down Council Bluffs flop house. In the opening scene, Lawrence, fifteen, who had just got done kicking out her mother’s last ‘john’ at 6:00 AM, explained her life in a nutshell … a line we should all take to heart.

“The man in the white hat, the man on the white horse … he ain’t coming.”

_______________________________________________________

Such is the same situation in the small towns of America. No one in any hat or on any horse is going to save the day.

I challenge you all to help me create and implement an integrated solution that will solve this problem of talent loss that is decimating small towns and rural communities. It’s not going away … and it’s going to take all of us to fix it.

I can be reached below in the comments section below, email at clayforsberg@gmail.com or on Twitter @clayforsberg.

_______________________________________________________

Related Posts:

Let’s Clean Up the World!

When I started the Community 3.0 project a few years ago my goals was to synthesize community civic empowerment with organic small business development. In doing that I proposed the concept of turning locally owned businesses into a concept I termed “Front Porches.” A Front Porch was a hub for informal community gatherings designed to promote civic engagement through volunteerism. I created examples of twenty projects, or Solutions, a Front Porch could create to serve its community. These projects included both solving the problems that had fallen through the cracks or taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves.

The Solution that always seemed to gravitate to the front of my consciousness was“cleaning up the community.” Clean up efforts also seemed to be the one thing everyone could coalesce upon. No one wants their neighborhoods littered with unsightly garbage. Plus before anything else can be done – you need a clean slate … a platform to build on, literally and figuratively.

Do you ever walk past that vacant lot and wonder what could be … what could be if someone did something, anything. If someone just cleaned it up, that would be a start. But then, who knows what we could make it. And maybe if this vacant lot became something – something beautiful, then maybe it would catch on. In 1982, James Wilson and George Kelling wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly titled “Broken Windows.” Here’s an example from the article:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

This article became the basis on the “Broken Windows Theory.” In 1994 Bill Bratton became the New York City Police Commissioner under Rudy Giuliani.  A cornerstone of Bratton’s reign was the implementation of the  “Broken Windows” philosophy in New York. A portion of the police budget was put towards the clean-up of neighborhood in high-risk crime areas, including repairing broken windows in abandoned buildings. Bratton even went so far as to repaint subway cars each night if they had been “tagged” during operation that day. Every car left the terminal the next morning “clean.”

“Help Me … I’m Dirty” is Community 3.0‘s version of implementing the“Broken Windows” philosophy through its network of Front Porches. Its premise is that a when a community has a clean environment, free from debris, vandalism and of course broken windows … it has a much higher likelihood of staying that way. It’s a start to all other things a community can do to better itself and help its residents to realize their “Perfect Worlds.”

Lets Do It WOrld logo

Let’s Do It! World

A couple of months ago I was tagged on a Facebook post by David Wilson,Do NGOs Still Have a Right to Exist?“ The topic of the post centered around the lack of scrutiny we put on no-profits and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on where and how they spend the money we give them. Seldom is there any public discussion on the effectiveness of the strategic and tactically operations.

I decided to comment; but little did I know that comment turned into one of those moments of serendipity that may prove to be a pivotal point in my life. As I was writing, another comment one popped up right in front me. Rather than finishing mine, I stopped and decided to read the comment that appeared first. That comment was from you Kadi Henk from the Estonia based NGO, Let’s Do It! World.” Kadi is their Director of Partnerships, and one of the core members of the organization.

Let’s Do It! World is a civic-led mass movement that began in Estonia in 2008 when 50,000 people united together to clean up the entire country in just five hours. Since then, Let’s Do It! has spread this model—one country in one day—around the world. To date, 112 countries and 14 million people have joined us to clean up illegal waste.

On September 8, 2018, World Cleanup Day, people in 150 countries will stand up against the global trash problem, making it the biggest positive civic action the world has seen. Imagine a powerful “green wave” starting in Japan and ending in Hawaii with hundred of millions of people taking positive action together on the very same day.

Let’s Do It! World has never been only about cleaning up waste. We also aim to unite the global community, raise awareness and implement true change to achieve our final goal– a clean and healthy planet.

Kadi’s response was articulate, and considering the topic of the post – very elegantly non-defensive. Personally, I don’t think I could have articulated the way she did without “throwing out some attitude.” Without even finishing my comment, which meant I had to open another Facebook tab – I had to find out who you Kadi was. And once I did, I sent a “friend” request. Within minutes you not only accepted, but ask for a LinkedIn “connection” and messaged me requesting we talk about collaboration possibilities. We did a few days later … and now I’m spearheading the efforts in the United States for Let’s Do It! World.

Be a Shepherd

It’s time for us all to assume a new role, a new place for us in our communities and in the world. It’s not enough to just agree the status quo isn’t working and move on expecting someone else will fix it. We must assume the responsibility ourselves. We must be the guides. In his brilliant piece from 2011, “From Patterns of Emergent Cities: 1. The Founder,” Seb Paquet gives us, those who must be the shepherds, a philosophical guide to what we must provide those in our communities.

A departure: an escape route from the old and tired, into an open space with few constraints;

A sense of possibility— the promise of a new freedom he has had a glimpse of, but has not yet experienced;

Mystery, adventure, and challenge— an experience; danger, even!

An opportunity to contribute his unique talents towards creating something meaningful that, in his eyes, deserves to exist;

And finally, the chance to design a new ‘home’, a new life for ourselves and others.

This departure from “the old and tired” of the our current civic malaise must be replaced not with just new faces; because the problems lie much deeper than just “who.” The problems stem from decades of systemic decay of an institution never designed to solve all that ail the 300,000,000 of us alone in the United States. The foundation of all society (both here and abroad) must rest on the underpinnings of direct civic participation and “sweat equity.” And by participation I mean volunteerism – whether that “sweat equity” be manual labor, expertise or organization.

Now is the time … and a perfect place to start is cleaning up our communities by joining me in the Let’s Do It! World effort. Even though Let’s Do It! is a worldwide ambition, my focus is here in the United States. America is big place, in all context, so please help me. We have a little over two years to put this together … but in a country of over 330 million people – there’s no time to waste. Our goal is to clean every neighborhood and community in the country. And while doing this I intend to create a platform to build on. Imagine this platform as a network of Front Porches and the clean up will be just the start. Because once we have the platform and network of grassroots civic empowerment – reliance on government dysfunction and juvenile political squabbling will be a memory.

I’m looking for individuals that are ready to transform their respective neighborhoods, cities, and the world by taking on the following roles. Roles correspond to geographic locales or as I call them – Nodes.

Each Census defined Micropolitan area (ranging between 15,000 and 150,000 and averaging about 50,000) will be a designated Node and will have a project leader or Community Empowerment Concierge (CEC) coordinating the efforts. Census defined Metropolitan Areas, being larger, will be Node segmented per 150,000 people, sub-divided by county (or further if necessary).

Director

Think of the Director as the one casts the production, only the production is a multi-community engagement platform. I’m looking for five Directors. Each Director will be responsible for identify and recruiting leaders(CECs) for each community Node. Once these CECs are in place the Directors will be responsible for training and overseeing their efforts. The Director positions are core members of Community 3.0 and their input on all matters is not only welcomed … but expected.

Community Empowerment Concierge (CEC)

A CEC is the local leader. Each designated Node (approximately 3000 nationwide) will be led by a CEC. He or she is the catalyst, or concierge to community and neighborhood engagement. Their main role is set up and organize Front Porches, normally in the community’s locally owned businesses, but not exclusively. Once set up, these Front Porches will act as launching pads community direct action volunteer projects, or Solutions. The CEC will also assist these Merchant Front Porch in installing the 3.0 Contributor Experience Platform. The platform is Community 3.0‘s proprietary 1-to-1 marketing and loyalty program designed specifically for locally owned small and medium-sized  businesses.

Once set up, the CEC will be the one to keep “stoking the fire” of civic altruistic momentum. The first order of business will be community clean-up organized in conjunction with the worldwide efforts of Let’s Do It! World.

James Rizzi - Summer in the City

Leave person, every place and everything better off from you being there

We will discuss how compensation works for both the Director and CEC position upon contact. However, involvement in this project of societal evolution should not be determined by monetary compensation alone. We are looking for people who are cause driven and want to make the world a better place. However cliché that might sound, it’s imperative. The motto that underpins everything we do is: “Leave person, every place and everything better off from you being there.” You must want to be part of something that is only as big as the people involved and at the same time is only limited by our imaginations. You have to want to create something that can change society from the ground up … with you being one of the underpinning cornerstones. It’s this network and foundation that we build that will support not only the Let’s Do It! World project, but many other altruistic ones … possibly even one you are currently working on. Community 3.0 is a platform for everyone’s contribution and a vehicle to realize dreams and aspirations.

I ask for your help. Who do you think would be interested in this opportunity – colleague, a friend, a family member or even a student? Do you happen to know anyone who’s cramped in his or her job – someone who’s great but hasn’t been given the opportunity to do great work? Someone who’s stuck in a situation that feels like a job instead of a career? We need someone with drive and willingness to learn, and above all … a commitment to making things better.

And as I mentioned above – join me and, Make every person, every place and everything better off from you being there. This would be a great way to do it.

__________________________

Please direct your referrals, ideas and questions to clayforsberg@gmail.com.

America and Its Exceptionalism

I wasn’t going to post anything today, but Dave ‘Tex’ Smith, a good colleague of mine from Australia posted a wonderful tribute to America yesterday on Facebook. Aside from the fact that I was honored to be called out in it (in a good way) … it got me thinking about whether or not we really deserve the credit Tex gave us.

AmericanFlag
A symbol of exceptionalism?

Today a lot of you will be at the barbecue, waiving flags and celebrating the 4th of July. This is the day that us in the United States are supposed to celebrate our independence from the tyranny of King George III of England. And along with this comes talks of how great this country is … its exceptionalism.

Well, I ain’t waiving no flag! Now don’t get me wrong. I love the United States and have no intention of going anywhere anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean in its current state this country is exceptional. And I didn’t live in the past so I don’t how great the United States was or wasn’t.

But all I know … it isn’t that great right now. Let me first qualify. I’m talking about this country’s institutions (i.e. government, etc.) – not its people, well most of them. Most of the people are great.

I don’t know how a country can be great when its government is mired nonsensical partisan dysfunction and incompetence. Petrified in gridlock solidified by selfish ideology detrimental to the constituents it’s there to serve, this is a government bought and paid for by the upper 1%. This is a government filled with those who consider themselves leaders, when the real leaders are living next to you and doing the real work.

I don’t know how a country can be great when it seems it has complete disregard for its future, its children. It has let its public school system fall into rote memorization, standardized testing disrepair. And in addition to that, a good portion of the government wants to cut subsidies to less fortunately children … through no fault of their own, often go hungry.

I don’t know how a country can be great when it lets twenty percent of its population exist in a perpetual welfare state. And instead of coming up with ways to maybe help, the only talk on Capitol Hill is: “How can we add to this percentage by enacting a Hunger Games budget. America to many of them is the land of the survival of the fittest. The rest be damned.

I don’t know how a country can be great when it views its environment as its dumping ground – its toilet. At every turn it blocks international efforts to save the planet, siding with glutenous polluters and narcissistic oil companies instead. And instead of trying to curb further pollution, its government is making inroads turning back clock … back to a dirtier time when coal ruled.

This be an election year, I wish I could say the prospect for governmental leadership in the future looked brighter – but needless to say, I can’t. Our presidential options consist of a career politician who is the very definition of a Washington insider …  and an orange clown who nobody knows what level of Dante’s Hell he could relegate us to. To put our future in the hands of either, thinking they will lead us to the “promised land,” is well … very un-exceptional.

For the record, I have more faith in the insider.

In lieu of all of this, I’ve decided to come up with my own Declaration. I’m going to call it “The Perfect World Declaration” .. in honor of the name of this blog.

“The Perfect World Declaration”

I declare, we the people of the United States of America, break free of the tyranny of thinking the government and all its related institutions are there to act in our, the populace, best interests.

Instead, I declare we take care of ourselves. I also declare we assist our friends and neighbors in taking care of themselves. For what matters most when all else has let us down, is our community. And only we can save our communities.

I declare we not depend on the government’s ill focused education system. But instead, I declare we view ourselves as the primary educators of our children, with whatever coming from the system as an extra benefit. For more is learned in the time outside of school than inside the restrictive walls of the classroom.

And I declare we as humans acknowledge that we are connected to a system greater than just ourselves. Our fates are forever connected to the land, water, air and all its inhabitants – animate or inanimate.

If you take anything from this diatribe – may it be this:

Leave every person, every place and everything better off from you being there.

I believe American exceptionalism lies not its past and definitely not in with government and its constipated institutions. Rather I believe it dwells in the potential of its people to band together and lead – not only here, but also by setting an inclusive progressive view all the world can gain from. But this potential will not surface on its own. It’ll take a collective effort – one that involve a focus of commonalities, not differences.  

Now go out there and make things better … and don’t burn the steak.

______________________________________________

I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg.

______________________________________________

Related Posts:

The Caregiving Dilemma … “How do we take care of our old people?”

One of the most difficult circumstances affecting families is the care of an elderly member. I remember when I was growing up in North Dakota thirty years ago, common practice was to put them in an “old folks home.” Or should I say commit them, commit them to their death. I hated visiting my grandmother in the Lutheran Home in Minot. Not because I didn’t want to see her, but rather the place. It was an abyss of hopelessness. Everyone there was just waiting, just waiting for the inevitable staring them in the face every morning … if they even dared to look in the mirror.

Often family members don’t live nearby. They’re states removed. And the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family don’t want to move. Often where they’re living, they’ve lived for decades. It’s the only place they know. What few friends they have left are nearby. The garden, the porch … it’s home. 

The only other option is to put them in an “old folks home.” Often these “old folks” can take care of themselves with just a little assistance. It’s the younger family members who want them sent away. It puts them at ease. Out of sight – out of mind. This way they can tell themselves they’ve done something. But instead – what if that “something” was just that little assistance. It may only be by checking in on them every other day, making sure they’re taking their medication, washing the dishes, washing their clothes or making sure they have a supply of healthy food. Or much of time it may just be sitting down and having a cup of coffee or taking a walk around the neighborhood and listening … listening to stories of the way things used to be in time when things were simpler.

old woman posterize

In the last few weeks there have been a couple newsworthy stories here in Montana on the caregiving front. First, Montana’s Democratic Senator, Jon Tester, announced he was proposing a bill in Congress intended to assist caregivers, often family members, who lend their time and financial resources in aid of others. Tester’s bill offers up to a $3000 tax credit for anyone who invests at least $2000 assisting the elderly.

While well intended, I look at the proposal as little more than political posturing. Caregivers who most need assistance probably don’t pay $3000 total in taxes, since a good portion of their time is spent rendering unpaid assistance to those needing care. And even if they did, I didn’t see the proposal offering any concessions for investment in time and labor – only hard financial outlay.

Being a caregiver myself for my two elderly parents, I can empathize with those put in this situation, voluntarily or not. To not take on this role isn’t even a question. You just do it, regardless of what effect it had on my personal life. I view my job description here as, “I make sure things don’t go sideways.” I make sure there’s good food on the table, food bought from the end isles at the grocery store … not from boxes in the middle. I make sure they realize they can’t do the things they used to do. What is it about ladders. Ladders and old men are like bees and honey. But all this is nothing compared to the effort needed to make sure “sideways” doesn’t include mental atrophy. I’m living in their world. Mine is fifteen hundred miles away in Los Angeles. But I recognize this is what I have to do and deal with it accordingly.

The second bit of news related to a work group put together by Montana’s Governor, Steve Bullock. Bullock announced the formation of an Alzheimer’s assistance plan for the state. Alzheimer’s disease falls dead center in the middle of the caregiving dilemma – stretching its tentacles of family overwhelm, economic and emotional, far and deep. From what I can gather, this initiative mainly concentrates of public awareness and connects dots between the different services the states and communities already have. In addition there’s some mention of training existing nurses on dementia and Alzheimer’s care. Nice idea but pragmatically naive since Montana already has a chronic nursing shortage.

The creation of this plan recognizes grim reality of the generational shifts America is facing. And with these shifts we’ll see also an increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s. Montana is projecting an increase of 40% by 2025. State governments are now starting to see the picture, but they have a long way to go.

However, government and formal institutions can only do so much, in fact they normally end up doing a lot less than even that. Even with the valiant attempts to streamline the formal assistance process  – the responsibility of navigating the maze is still up to the overworked caregiver, or worse yet the elderly person directly affected. Having dealt with my personal battle with lymphoma and its treatment, I know the integration between the medical system and the effects it has on the realities of a person’s actually life is greatly lacking. Formal institutions don’t play well others … and silos are their specialty. The healthcare industry is much the norm rather than the exception.

While much attention is directed to those in the most dire situations, such as what we’ve discussed above – dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, we can’t ignore our elderly that can still function in society. There’s always formal care in nursing homes as a last resort.But what about those who are just getting old? But shouldn’t we make every effort to keep our elderly loved ones at home if possible?

Being cut off from society is a killer for the elderly and shut-ins, literally. The less fortunate often have no family or friends around to make sure their basic needs are taken care of. They don’t have anyone to make sure they eat properly or take them to the doctor or get their medications. And that’s not even saying anything about mental support. Their likely future involves depression … or even premature death at home or worse yet, in an “old folks home.” And for those who have experience, “old folks homes” aren’t cheap. If caregiving family members can avoid bankruptcy – they are some of the lucky ones. My parents weren’t when my grandparents got old.

I’m not a fan of the government, but here’s an area they can help with and all they have to do is divert some of the money they’re already paying out to “old folks homes” and at the same time get a much better return on it.

Medicare pays these institutions at a rate of up towards, well who knows – it’s a lot. It’s well into the tens of thousands of dollars a year. What if in some cases this care could be handled at home with a periodic nurse and a live-in relative. The nurse would be paid by Medicare, but so would the relative – say a grandchild. This way not only would the care be handled, but the family ties would be maintained and the young person could have a source of income when they may not have one – or maybe not a full-time one.

This cross-generational solution is especially attractive in rural communities that are experiencing severe generational greying. These communities are literally dying off. And the ones that aren’t often move away to a care facility in a larger city. By compensating young family members, you’ve not only provided a healthcare and wellbeing solution … but are doing it by rejuvenating the small community. And imagine if these young people had children of the own who would replenish the schools, both financially and socially. And what if on the side a couple of young people worked together to breathe some fresh air into one of those abandon buildings on Main Street – turning them into organically founded and operated small business ventures. Small towns, specifically rural ones, rely on the maintenance of family ties to survive. Once those ties are severed – so is the lifeline. Hoping this lifeline will be repaired by unrelated newcomers is an unrealistic pipe dream.

Now I’m sure there are hurdles that would have to be overcome to create a system that extends Medicare vendor or provider status to family members, but there are hurdles in any new idea. But the institutional stakeholders in an idea like this are significant and diverse. Rural states, the elderly (i.e AARP) and small business organizations all could see their members benefit greatly. The existing players in the elderly care facility industry would most definitely provide resistance though. So be it. They’ve had a free ride for too long.

But let’s look past the government as being the solution. Even if they are, it’s just a bonus. Ultimately the solutions will found closer to home, and not just with family members – but also within the community as a whole. Through organized efforts of friend and neighbors, community caregiving efforts are a perfect application of solutions generated by the Front Porch method I’ve been advocating. We just need to adapt our social behavior to make this happen.

“Few Americans today say they know their neighbors’ names, and far fewer report interacting with them on a daily basis. Pulling data from the General Social Survey, economist Joe Cortright wrote in a recent City Observatory report that only about 20 percent of Americans spent time regularly with the people living next to them. A third said they’ve never interacted with their neighbors. That’s a significant decline from four decades ago, when a third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only a quarter reported no interaction at all.” (Community Ties in an Era Isolation)

This needs to change. We have neither the time nor the resources to waste to think that these issues, specifically with the aging, are going to solve themselves – or be fixed by the government. Even the Medicare idea I laid out above, however much common sense it makes, has little if any chance of becoming reality in today dysfunctional Congressional state. Instead, the clowns in Washington will pat themselves on the back celebrating Jon Tester’s pragmatically inept tax credit plan instead – or something equally vacuous.

The first step we need to take is to “bridge the gap”  between our generations. It’s the young people in our community who are our biggest asset. Not only will the young provide the physical care the elderly need, they’ll also be the ones we need to rejuvenate our communities so there’s something to live for … regardless of generation.

Back a hundred years a community had to look after itself – young and the old. They had no choice. Their survival was at stake. They didn’t have the sophisticated market system of exchange spanning unseen geographies nor live in the relative luxury we do now. They just had themselves. And with age expectancy increasing and the Millennial generation being smaller than the retiring Boomer generation was at this time in their lives, we have a ticking time bomb. Cross-generational cooperation will not be an option … it’ll be a necessity.

Through the program “I’m Not Alone Anymore,” Community 3.0, and its Front Porch network, aims to not only help these forgotten people with their physical needs but also provide emotional support by bringing them back into the community. Even if just means a weekly visit for a cup of coffee … they will not be forgotten for long. The weakest link of a community ultimately determines the health of the overall community.

We can’t let our neglect of the elderly and resulting burden that would put on our young be the undoing of our entire society.

Each “Client” (elderly person) can be entered into a central database that Front Porch “Helpers” will have access to. In addition to the basics, the database will include information such as contact information for friends and family, favorite foods and activities, historical info and anything else that can be used by the “Helper” to connect with and make the lives “Client” more meaningful. Also included will be logistic information: date of last visit, schedule date of next visit and relevant agenda information. The database will provide an informed point of reference for anyone that might have to step in for the primary “Helper” should they not be able to visit.

I’m not insinuating that the community can provide that magic pill that will solve everything. But what it can do is provide the tools to mend the “safety net” that we’ve let fray to point of utter disrepair. Turn your entire community into the caregiver who helps make sure “things don’t go sideways” by maybe catching things before they become problems that are beyond fixing.

And who knows … you might even make some new friends.

_________________________________

If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.

Ask yourself: “If not me … then who?”

Update 7/9/2016: I originally posted this piece after the Orlando massacre at the gay club, Pulse, thinking its content was relevant. Only three weeks later – that seems like old news. In just the last few days we’ve had the questionable police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in St. Paul (who both were black) – and retalitory Dallas sniper attack killing five police officers. Thus it’s time again to “Ask ourselves …”

Sunday morning, June 12 of 2016, Omar Mateen walked into the Orlando club, Pulse, and executed 49 people. This massacre now qualifies as the most horrific gun crime in the history of the United States. Pulse is known for being a popular gay club. While the news media and most politicians want to label it a terrorist attack, fueled by allegiance to ISIL; make no mistake … this was first and foremost a hate crime. Mateen’s hatred of gays was well know, even to his father. “He had hatred deep inside him,” said the elder Mateen.

For Donald Trump, Sunday’s mass shooting in Florida was a moment to redouble his call for tougher action against terrorism and to take credit for “being right” about the threat. For Hillary Clinton, it was a time to reiterate her call for keeping “weapons of war” off America’s streets. And then later Clinton proclaimed, “For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.” It seems like this disaster was an opportunity to reinforce political ideologies. But in both cases – it was “us versus them” whomever them may be. Of the statements from Montana’s congressional delegation, none mentioned the shootings happened at a gay bar or that it was a hate crime. All three mentioned terrorism however.

I don’t wish to discuss Trump’s misdirected xenophobic blame on Muslims, nor do I want dive into the debate on gun control, even though I believe the guns laws in this country are absurdly inadequate. Neither conversation will do anything but further cement the country’s polarized views only sending us deeper into the abyss of “government needs to fix the problem.” Isn’t it obvious that government isn’t doing a very good job fixing much of anything? Why should we assume more rhetoric about yet another gun massacre will produce any different results, especially when it’s automatically blamed on Muslims and terrorists. Both camps will simply just circle their respective wagons, doubling down on their existing positions.

Where I’ve seen hope though has been with people in the street in communities, literally all over world. While I’m sure these vigils of solidarity were organized by leaders in gay communities, their participation has by no means been limited. On the contrary, these mourners have used the bloodshed as a uniting factor for inclusion. It seems like the ones that don’t get it are the politicians. They’d rather extrapolate this incident to paint an “us versus them” picture. While of course there are exceptions and I’m sure there’s many who have put down their ideological battle axes for a day or two. We’ll see how this lasts though. 

urban decay

If all this isn’t enough to make us wake up from our cerebral stupor … then what will?

It’s time for us to assume a new role, a new place for us in our communities and in the world. It’s up to us to use the massacre in Orlando, this hate crime, to evolve – and make it more inclusive by setting new societal norms. Ideology based policy and zero-sum political games must be relegated to the boneyards of the past. In this war of “us versus them.” The “them” may very well be us ourselves. It’s not enough to just agree to the status quo isn’t working and move on expecting someone else will fix it. We must assume the power ourselves. We must be the guides to show the collective a better way – one where the direction is set not by federal mandate and legislation, but rather by community expectations of behavior and thought.

In his brilliant piece from 2011, “From Patterns of Emergent Cities: 1. The Founder,” Seb Paquet gives us, those who must be the shepherds, a philosophical guide to what we must provide those in our communities in our efforts to lead society to a new evolution.

A departure: an escape route from the old and tired, into an open space with few constraints;

A sense of possibility— the promise of a new freedom he has had a glimpse of, but has not yet experienced;

Mystery, adventure, and challenge— an experience; danger, even!

An opportunity to contribute his unique talents towards creating something meaningful that, in his eyes, deserves to exist;

And finally, the chance to design a new ‘home’, a new life for himself and others.

This departure from “the old and tired” of the our current civic malaise must be replaced not with just new faces; because the problems lie much deeper than just “who.” The problems stem from decades of systemic decay of an institution never designed to solve all that ail the 300,000,000 of us in the United States alone (and billions more worldwide). The foundation of all society (both here and abroad) must rest on the underpinnings of direct civic participation and “sweat equity.” And by participation I mean volunteerism – whether that “sweat equity” be manual labor, expertise or organizing those that can.

We must use what we have and maximize it – following the Indian practice of jugaad innovative fix using few resources. We must not ask “what something is going to cost,” but rather what resources do we have to get it done – and then do it. We must not limit our perceptions to solving problems … but broaden it to include seizing opportunities. We must use well-being and hope for all our fellow residents as the standard-bearer for societal advancement. We must be Solutionists!

I paved a road to my version of this Perfect World in the post “Orion … a Feline Metaphor of Hybrid Governance.” Rather than assume the only way to reform is rehashing the tired old economic debate of state vs. markets, I explored a hybrid alternative pulled from the philosophies of 19th century Scottish thinker David Hume and Nobel Prize winning American economist Elinor Ostrom. Both stressed that the people can best govern themselves within the bounds of the community. Only in the event of large civic applications such a mass transit systems, national defense and power grids should overarching hierarchy be preferred.

The vehicle for the community governance expression I have chosen is the phenomena of decentralized activity in plant rhizomes observed by French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in the 1960s. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type.

The “nodes” at the center of this rhizome organization are the Front Porch gathering spots in our communities and neighborhoods. Most often these Front Porches reside in the locally owned business community of our communities. From these often informal, non-structured gatherings will come collaborations that solves the problems and realize the opportunities our communities encounter. The peer-to-peer structure of the Front Porch governance model empowers all members of society – regardless of their social or economic status. This emphasis on diversity will ensure our communities will be able sustain themselves in the most inclusive manner possible during the most adverse times.

Imagine …

Close your eyes and think about where you live – your neighborhood. What does it look like? Imagine walking the streets, looking at the broken playground at the elementary school down the block, the vacant lots riddled with weeds, the elderly woman outside the blue house that hasn’t been painted in years.

Imagine looking inside the local middle school where you know there are children that have fallen behind, and could catch up with just a little extra help – but won’t get it. And think about how they will probably drop out … forever handicapping their future.

You walk down Main Street. Remember when it was “the place” to go, whether you wanted a gift for your niece’s birthday, those few special grocery items or even that “once-a-month” night out. It’s not the same now. The Walmarts, Wall Street chain restaurants and big box stores have made those memories a distant thing of the past.

In 2013 Marc Dunkelman wrote an excellent book on the evolution, or should I say the de-evolution of the American neighborhood, The Vanishing Neighbor.” In his book Dunkelman introduces the concept of the Middle Ring. The Middle Ring is what Dunkelman calls our neighborly relationships. This is in contrast to the inner-ring of family and close friends, and the ever-expanding outer-ring relationships fostered by the digital age and social media. Unfortunately the “middle” is not holding, collapsing from pressures on both sides. Social media sites have brought our closest contacts closer and expanded our reach to include ‘weak ties’ that we know only through cyberspace. Compound this with the proliferation of politically and socially segregated cable and internet news outlets, we have little time or attention for anyone else, physically or philosophically. And what suffers are our neighborhood acquaintances, our communities and the memories of what they used to stand for.

Our new society, our “Perfect World” of civic participation, will use the sociological premise of the Middle Ring as the foundation for us to build on. A society should be a construct of people’s dreams and plights. And it is the purpose of this society help its people realize the former and assist in alleviating the latter. From these efforts, we will weave them into a unique tapestry that are the communities we all live in. And from the Solutions we create through our local collaborations – we will scale the effects to evolve society on a broader scale. Or as the societal thought leader (and he is one of the few deserve the acclaim), Indy Johar, professed: We need first mile solutions for our last mile crisis.

“For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.” – Albert Einstein 

I believe most of us want to leave the world a better place than when we found it. Or as I like to say, “Leave person, every place and everything … better off from you being there.” How we do that depends on our stories, chapters of our personal journey on the “Road to our Perfect World.”

Mine was never what you’d call conventional. Whether it be promoting rock concerts in college or raising my daughter, Alexandria, as a single father … my road was often less than smooth. I feel my life has been like a box of chocolates, as my Australian friend, Annalie Killian says: “Sometimes it’s good and … well sometimes, it’s like those awful ones with the cherries in them.”  Thank God for a waterproof tent and: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Just ask Alex (her side seem to leak more than mine). And just last year another of those ones with cherries popped up again as I a spent the year battling lymphoma. But as before I had a waterproof tent (this time metaphorically speaking) and I’m in remission.

I have had the opportunity to rub elbows with those in ivory towers, the ones that built those towers and the ones that clean them. And often the ones that have given me the greatest insight have been the latter. What all these experiences, these people and this “road” has taught me (potholes and all) is that it all comes down to community. Because without community, no matter how big or small; or what rung on society’s supposed ladder of success you are  – it’s really all we got. This is why I’m here, and why I think you’re here reading this.

And how I want to leave this world … is using community to make it better for all of us.

Good morning full.jpg

I ask you – let our roads intersect and we travel together. I ask you join me in helping our world, our society and our communities in making them places where we really want to be and live – not in places other people tell us we should live. I want you to travel with me, combining your journey with mine; joining me in an effort that alone we cannot accomplish.

If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

When you’ve circled back to here … contact me.

Because hopefully you’ll see …

“If not us, then who … If not now – then when?”

________________

Clay Forsberg

Building Community Through “Green” Student Engagement

“Creating communities for the future created by those of the future”

That seems like common sense. Shouldn’t those who will live in the future have a say in what is looks like? Pathetically so, seldom do they. On the contrary, the future normally is designed by those near or at retirement age often mirroring what the past was like seen through their rose-colored glasses. Young people, especially those not yet of voting age, seldom get a say in the matter. Minors are looked at more as pieces of property with few rights rather as than active civic participants with voices to be heard.

Everywhere communities systematically lose their “best and brightest” as they graduate and go off to college. This is especially problematic in rural areas. Communities can only hope they will return or they can recruit other communities’ “best and brightest” to fill their pipeline. Communities attempt to attract outsiders by mortgaging their towns with subsidies and promises to attract businesses from elsewhere – only to create unsustainable “houses of cards” supported by the fleeting benevolence of these corporate carpetbaggers concerned only for their own pocketbooks. This competition amongst neighboring towns for false hope of prosperity leads to nothing but broken relationships and broken dreams where there should be cooperation and collaboration.

From early ages our young people go to school, school they’re required to attend by law. Isolated in irrelevant silos seven hours a day, often behind locked doors – they are cut off from their community and its prospects of a future there. The connection between school and community is nonexistent. After over a decade behind these locked doors, the top students graduate (hopefully) leaving to go to college – probably never to return. They leave behind a community they never knew, not really knowing what it had to offer. They leave behind potential opportunities, opportunities often right outside the locked doors they couldn’t wait to escape from.

What if this didn’t have to happen? What if the brain drain was replaced with nurture and development? What if irrelevance was replaced engagement? What if the future of your community was built on those who were raised there? And while still young and accessible (mentally and physically), what if these future leaders had a say in what their community was going to look like? What if they had a vested interest, ownership, in their community from the start? Would they still leave? Would you have to try to attract others from elsewhere? Probably not.

Lake Mills cafeteria

The Center For Green Schools

Recently I was introduced to The Center for Green Schools via Mark Swiger. Participating “green schools” reduce the environmental impact of school facilities, both buildings and grounds, while having a positive effect on student and teacher health, and increasing environmental literacy among students and graduates. Working directly with teachers, students, administrators, and their communities, green schools create programs, resources and partnerships that transform schools into healthy environmentally conscious learning environments.

Green school learning environments show students how the connection to their environment both in school and in their community, is not only important … but imperative. And hopefully they take this awareness from their years in school and turn into to a lifetime of environmental stewardship. And through the Green Apple Day of Service program The Center for Green Schools is taking this instruction to the streets through inclusive community service projects, often those organized by students. 

Using School Sustainability as a Tool for Community

Up to this point in my discussion of Community 3.0 and my concept of community empowerment, I’ve focused on the core of civic engagement being small business. These Front Porch gathering spots are the focal point of Community 3.0‘s model for direct participation societal evolution. While I still stand by this – maybe my thinking has been too limited … stuck in one of those silos I so dread. While I’ve included schools and students, they’ve normally been limited to being recipients of the Solutions I’ve presented through the model. However one youth concept I’ve modeled is “Millennials Rising”.

“Millennials Rising” is an opportunity for a community to listen to and utilize the younger generational perspective. Under the model young people, often students, are given an organized to debate, formulate and present issues relevant to not only them as an age group but also the community as a whole. Through the Anti-Congress, younger generations are given a physical forum to strategize how they can be a positive part of their community, beyond the walls of their schools. These students will have the opportunity to beautify their community and make it more sustainable. As “foot soldiers of change,” the young participants of “Millennial Rising” will be empowered to create a community that fits their needs and desires, not just those of their parents and their parents’ friends. 

Our idea of civic infrastructure needs to be broadened. Think more of it as a Cerebral Infrastructure.” By this I mean accommodation for the physical and mental spaces self-employed and small business owners (young and old) need to congregate, collaborate and create – molding the future for themselves and those around them. They want coworking sites and makerspaces. The Millennial generation wants bike paths and sidewalks and trees. They want places. They want their towns, cities and neighborhoods designed for them and their fellow residents … not for cars. They don’t want to be an afterthought, a nuisance to the automobile culture of their parents and grandparents. We need to look beyond tradition and what worked in the past to “now and ahead.” What might have worked a decade ago, may be obsolete today, let alone tomorrow. Hell, maybe their parents and grandparents would even like these new places too given the opportunity.

It’s easy to envision the benefits a project like “Millennials Rising” would have for the young people and students involved. These benefits would also extend to their peers since their futures and needs coincide.

But we can’t understate the benefits that would be had by the community as a whole.

Not only would the community be best positioned to prosper in the future, increased community retention rates in the younger generations would fill employment pipelines. This is especially important in smaller towns and rural communities where much of the work force is reaching retirement. This fact is amplified by the demographic realities of the extraordinary large Baby Boomer generation and their average age being seventy years old. Combine the thinning of the labor pool and increasing health needs of this age group – the health industry in particular is in the middle of an employment shortage crisis. Darren Walker, St. Vincent Healthcare vice president for human resources, hears from job candidates that Billings (where I live) lacks the infrastructure they expect. St. Vincent is the second largest healthcare organization in the Montana and Billings has a population of 100,000. Imagine the problems smaller communities have retaining or attracting young talent.

At present in Billings, Montana, the lead city planner is composing a twenty year long-term plan for the community. While on face value this process may seem prudent, a closer look shows it to be very problematic. To begin with, the planner is retiring later this year. What accountability does she have in it if she’s not going to be around to see its execution? Shouldn’t the one doing the creating also be the one implementing it?

During the course of the plan’s creation, she’s held public input meetings. In a recent meeting she was surprised at the public’s insistence on the inclusion of sections on education and conservation, neither of which she included originally. This is alarming, especially in regards to young generations, where these two areas hold very high priority. In addition, there’s been no indication any efforts to include these younger people in the drafting of it. These are the people who will have to live with this plan (if they chose to stay).

The Billings’ head planner, and indirectly the rest of the city’s leadership, is taking an approach that is the antithesis of what I’m proposing here. And it’s not a stretch to imagine the adverse effects it will have on the retention of young talent in the future.

While “Millennials Rising” attempts to include young people in civic decision-making and placemaking by giving them an organized voice, there is still the process of reaching out to them – extending that welcoming hand from the community. This is easier said than done. But what if they came in unison – as leaders in their own right coming from a place that was an example of progressive sustainability and forward thinking. What if they came from the green schools they attend or have attended bringing with them their knowledge of “how to do it” in an environmentally positive manner. And what if they came as active participants willing to help the community for everyone. Two excellent examples of how this can work would be a collaborative between a Green Apple Day of Service program and the worldwide clean-up effort put together by Let’s Do It! World, of which I’m coordinating for the United States.

Building Community through Student Engagement

What if we took “progressive sustainability and forward thinking” to include all aspects of a community’s well-being. What if we created a systemic approach of integrating the future needs of the community with those of the students as well as the current adults. And what if we made it a priority to identify points of engagement that would connect each individual student with an aspect of their community where they feel they can involve themselves with and make a positive contribution. These “points of engagement” would represent ownership in their community, present and future. They would then want to see it through to the end while becoming a long-term fixture in the community … a community they helped design and build from the time they were young.

Suppose you were designing a school to help students find their own clear end — as clear as that one. Say you were designing a school to elevate and intensify longings. Wouldn’t you want to provide examples of people who have intense longings? Wouldn’t you want to encourage students to be obsessive about worthy things? Wouldn’t you discuss which loves are higher than others and practices that habituate them toward those desires? Wouldn’t you be all about providing students with new opportunities to love? (“Putting Grit In Its Place” David Brooks, New York Times)

Now imagine if these “opportunities to love” where connected if not embedded in the community where the students live. The concept of triadic closures stresses the importance of a three-way bond. Relationships that extended to three connections are much stronger and more resilient. The triadic relationship between students, small businesses and the adult residents in a community provides the foundation for a community – today and tomorrow. Building off the knowledge they learned in their sustainable green schools, students can cement their bond with the real pillars of the community, locally owned business through collaborate civic projects or Solutions. These relationships will also serve in a mentoring and apprenticeship capacity, to be taken advantage in the future as employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. This triad closure will create an integrated partnership that will form the basis of a community’s well-being efforts.

“Just as important as the actual accomplishment of creating a new asset for the community is the message sent to people living there: Good things can happen in this place. One of the biggest problems for poor communities, is that “we teach young people to measure success by how far they can get away from these neighborhoods.”

It’s absolutely crucial to let people know, “you don’t have to move out of your neighborhood to have a better one.” (Majora Carter — a strategy consultant, entrepreneur and grassroots real estate developer who played a pivotal role in bringing back New York’s South Bronx)

Solo flower

The Roadmap to Your Community’s Future

Imagine your community not populated by silos and generational division. Imagine your community being designed and built for all its citizens, regardless of age or status. “Building Community Through Student Engagement” is a plan to do just that.

  • Increased school performance: Create an environment for students that seamlessly connects schools to the outside community resulting higher engagement and performance (i.e. graduation rates).
  • Higher talent retention levels: Create an integrated community building platform that breaks down silos and connects students with adults for collaborative activities that transform communities into future looking places students will build on after they graduate.
  • Enhanced elderly care resources: Create an integrated community perspective that transcends generations ultimately helping older residents as much as younger as more elderly health care is needed due to demographic changes.
  • Increased environmental resourcefulness: Play off Green Schools to create a community mindset of conservation and resource maximization regardless of generation.
  • Expanded worldwide contribution: Create a foundation for students to build a better world as a whole for themselves and others by introducing them to sustainable practices and connection to the community and beyond.

Not all communities look to the future. They want to remember the past, even though that past may not have been quite as rosy as they would like to think. Change is hard. Handing over the reigns to the next generation is not a science, but an art. But whether we know it or not there is an artist in each one of us. Sometimes we just have to let those coming after us with their naive optimism, show us.

Let’s take those rose-colored glasses we’ve used to look to past … and give them to our children and grandchildren so they can point them to the future. We may even enjoy the ride.

_______________________________________

You reach me on Twitter at @clayforberg and the Center for Green Schools at @mygreenschools.

_______________________________________

As a part of the Community 3.0 platform we’ve put together a roster of several examples of what can come from Front Porch collaborations. These examples represent Solutions to many common needs and opportunities a community may encounter, Solutions that can bind the relationships between the generations – young and old alike.