Moving Beyond The Movement

Well here it is, May of 2018, and we’re six months away from the mid-term elections. We have descended into Dante’s Hell of campaign missives. All news is to now to be framed in a political narrative – yet none of it is really informing us to make better decisions at the polls. Combine this bi-annual event with Trump being at the helm of this Titanic of a federal government … and retaining ones sanity is easier said than done.

Here in Billings, Montana, I’m subjected to a daily barrage of GOP hopefuls on full display strutting their stuff in hopes of uprooting the Democratic incumbent Senator Jon Tester. You have Troy Downing, out-Trumping even the orange clown himself – trying dearly to conjure up a bucket of patriotism by enlisting Mike, the felon, Flynn on the campaign trail. Not to be outdone, we have Billings’ own former judge Russell Fagg. His message to the world is death to them murdering marauders from south of the border. But of course the vengeance will have to wait until after his weekly morning prayer meeting for the local business community. God help us all please … as I cry from the depths of Circle Five and the River of Styx just hoping Cheron the oarsman doesn’t toss me overboard with the other wallowing souls. Come to think of it … put me out of my misery.

Regardless of what end of this ideological political absurdity you reside – there’s still one question virtually no one asks. Can these politicians subjecting us to all of this narcissistic babble do the job they so desperately want. We just had the Tester/Trump battle over Trump’s pick for the VA, Ronny Jackson. All the attention was on whether on his character was suitable; as if that has really mattered for any of Trump’s other picks. While this definitely should be addressed – shouldn’t also the fact the man had nowhere near the background to do a job like this. Nothing indicates any level of ability coinciding with the magnitude of running the VA. Unfortunately this is normally always the case. Ideology trumps ability.

Corporations and business have interview processes that hopeful identify competent candidates and then from there a qualified decision is made. This isn’t always the case, but at least the attempt is there. Politics doesn’t work that way. And unfortunately neither do social movements and cause-based activism.

Let’s look at gun control efforts. Since Columbine, there’s been many opportunities to launch strikes against the NRA and those beholden to them. In addition to Columbine, the Gabby Giffords’ shooting and Sandy Hook being two in particular. None of them have really gained any traction. They have NGOs set up and I’m sure there are people out making an effort, but if anything the gun lobby is as strong now than ever. Donna Dees wrote an interesting article for Fast Company, just yesterday on her experience founding the Million Moms March after Columbine. She blames branding primarily for its lack of being able to “change the game.” I think it goes a lot deeper than that.

Now we have the #MarchForOurLives student crusade that seems to be making some headway. The founding high school students from Parkland, Florida have social media followings several times that of any effort to date. They may also be more organizationally adept than any other movement also … believe it or not. We’ll see how this all plays out come November and the midterm elections though. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Let’s not forget Occupy Wall Street and all the other hundreds of Occupys. This was supposed to be the start of a decentralized push to bring down “the man.” No one was in charge, so all participating voices would be heard and no one could be targeted by the establishment. Emotional momentum is a hard thing to maintain though. This is especially the case if there’s no one leading when the inevitable push back comes from those in the status quo who are affected.

Historian Bill Moyer wrote an excellent account of movements called, History is a Weapon: A Movement Action Plan.” Moyer’s essay is a strategic framework describing the eight stages of successful social movements. Moyer outlines the decades long fights for the curtailment of  nuclear power in American. He details the eight stages activists and their opponents battled through. The piece is a must read for anyone who wishes to make it a life protesting against “the man” … and a life it is. Ask anyone fighting for a woman’s right to choose. Just when you think the battle is done and you can finally go home and put your feet up … out pops the latest reincarnation of pathetic sexist zealotry.

Another movement I’ve been following is #MeToo. For all accounts, it should succeed. It has potentially huge numbers with what should be virtually all women and the men who aren’t assholes. That said, what’s actually happening though? What’s being accomplished? We’ve had some women come up publicly and face their abusers. We had a favorable Bill Cosby verdict (which I attribute to #MeToo). But what about women’s equality in the workplace. What’s the game plan by those in charge? Is there anyone in charge? Unfortunately these questions are all too common.

Social movements normally arise out of nowhere with a tsunami of momentum – only to burnout just as fast. There will be a few people who will hang on, create an organization and try to stay relevant. Is anything accomplished … normally not. Implementation is hard, and those who ignite a movement (if many can even be called that) are not qualified or have the resources to sustain it once the media and its twenty-four hour news cycle moves on. These people are not hired to run and grow an organization like those hired to run a corporation. They weren’t chosen … most often the movement chose them.

New Power … and maintaining the momentum

Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms just released an excellent book called “New Power,” which has been getting a lot of attention. Jeremy’s organization, Purpose, has been groundbreaking in its support for “new power” efforts worldwide. And Henry made a historical impact with Giving Tuesday. New Power is a manual for anyone who wishes to create change through the empowerment of the “people in the street” in their battle against the status quo of what they call Old Power.

For most of human history, the rules of power were clear: power was something to be seized and then jealously guarded. This “old power” was out of reach for the vast majority of people. But our ubiquitous connectivity makes possible a different kind of power. “New power” is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It works like a current, not a currency–and it is most forceful when it surges. The battle between old and new power is determining who governs us, how we work, and even how we think and feel. (Amazon description)

Now let’s say we all follow Jeremy and Henry’s book – very well we could see results and things might start changing. But ultimately it’s going to come down to actions and leadership of a few to organize, and keep the momentum going. This is not easy and much of the time – it takes what seems like forever – as Bill Moyer so aptly chronicled with the anti-nuclear movement

Wael Ghonim, the main instigator (and I say that in the best possible terms) in the Arab Spring protests articulated the Participation Scale in tweet outlining the multiple steps we can take to sustain a movement.

Ghonim’s suggestions are excellent when it comes to making the movement go – and keep it going. But what happens after the movement? How do we keep the supply of devoted coming, not just for this cause – but for other causes that should follow? How do we create a fertile ground where there is always the manpower to fight that next worthy cause.

But it’s not enough to just have these often random and reactionary outbursts against the Old Power of the status quo. We need a new societal mindset that doesn’t default towards conformity and obedience to Old Power institutions in the first place. Today we have the modern-day Gutenberg printing press in everyone’s hand – social media. The potential is there to create a new way. We just have to decide that we’re willing to do it.

We need to create a new civic norm and power structure that isn’t so much a structure, but a flow. And specifically we need a flow that comes not through the whims and selfish obsessions of “representatives” (and I use that word loosely). We need direct response that truly represents an engaged populace. The advantage will go to those who are engaged, connected and informed; not naive and obedient to a “higher power” that falsely claims the path to the promised land.

Rhizomes and Decentralized Civic Engagement

An increasing mass of people agree that long term human survival depends on us replacing the status quo with a fundamentally different set of behaviours and structures. I believe the root of that challenge is essentially cultural, and the best place to grow culture is in small groups. And until we’ve got a critical mass of activists that are embedded in a new way of thinking, relating and communicating, any mass movement is going to replicate the errors of the past. (5 Reasons to Build a Network of Small Groups – Richard Bartlett)

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Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)

We need to look no further than our backyard to find a perfect example of decentralized civic participation. One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability is the rhizome. The rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. The rhizome retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards, giving rise to a new node of above ground activity.

rhizome
Credit: Debi Keyte-Hartland

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even non-sign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

This phenomena of decentralized activity in rhizomes was best articulated in the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s. Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which  looks for the single origin of “things” and looks towards conclusion of those “things,” a rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a Nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence and application spreads like a body of water, occupying available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type. This is a perfect alternative to the morass of governmental hierarchical dysfunction we’re current immersed in.

Front Porches

In every town and every neighborhood are places where informal leaders go to hang out and do the real business of the town. In Minot, North Dakota where I grew up, we had Charlie’s restaurant and the Elks Lodge. These were the places where the “business of the community” was done (not at the city council meetings). This is where ideas were hatched and where the future of Minot was mapped out … often under the influence of a libation or two.

These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are what I call Front Porches, 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 flourishes and what the French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, observed in the 1800’s as the source of America’s “inclusive exceptionalism.”

Your neighborhood’s Front Porch can be anywhere or anything. It can be the local pub down the street or the coffee-house where you get your morning sustenance from. It can be Bill’s garage where everyone gathers to watch Sunday football games. It can even be your kitchen table. What happens at the Front Porch is what matters … not what is looks like or where it is. These Front Porches are what provides the bridge from the naturalistic examples of the rhizome organization articulated by Deleuze and Guattari and your community’s civic sustainability.

Growing New Power In Your Community

With a rhizome-based civic philosophy built around your community’s Front Porch network, the foundation has been laid for a sustainable implementation of New Power; one that will endure well beyond a single movement or display of activism. Your activism will be organized, but not from a conventional hierarchical sense, but rather from a case-by-case basis emanating from Front Porch tactical execution.

In the end, the effectiveness of a movement is dependent on more than structure. It needs the strength and abilities of the individual members of your community. It needs talent. This talent also needs to be schooled in the functions and use of New Power. Just as important though is training future members and new generations to keep the cause going. This is where long-term thinking and a decentralized activist game plan is needed. Sustained engagement requires a learned mindset of change, one that stresses inclusive involvement by all members of the community, regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic level. Imagine if Front Porches were used as the classrooms and incubators honing the skills for mindsets of change, encouraging engagement at any level; be it simple participation, project organization and even social movement development.

Nurturing “Civic Self-Efficacy”

Now imagine this effort to build “civic self-efficacy” was a concerted effort nationwide, if not worldwide. The Front Porch concept scales well beyond neighborhood businesses in single communities. As long as the tenets of rhizomatic growth is adhered to, and local issues and needs prioritized – why can’t community empowerment scale worldwide? 

Why can’t a farmer from Oregon, via their Front Porch, share a success story with farmer from Nigeria via theirs. Their civic needs and resource availabilities may be different, but the serendipitous sharing of insight could “turn on the light;” solving a problem with a solution not otherwise seen. And why do we limit collaboration to only those of common vocations when anyone, anywhere of any profession should cross-pollinate and share solutions to civic fixes in their respective locales. Why can’t our worldwide Front Porch network establish a civic empowerment help line. In fact the Parkland kids behind the #MarchForOurLives have done exactly that. They created Outreach For Our Lives to answer questions and lend assistance to student leaders setting up and running their own local chapters of gun control activism.

We need to find organizers in our communities’ Front Porches who can lead, much like the students of Parkland. We then need these leaders to train and mobilize fellow members and friends from these Front Porches … seeding the process to continue on. The act of activism is preparation for more activism. So in essence, a movement is not just cause or content, but rather a platform to individually build civic muscles, or “civic self-efficacy.” Collectively we can then build an organization (and database) that can be mobilized for additional movements, causes and even structural changes. And with each movement and each participation our collective New Power strengthens and proliferates. No longer will we be dependent on the illusion of the “man on the white horse” riding in to save us. We will save ourselves!

We must evolve, individually and collectively – even if some don’t seem to think so. But to do this, we will have to change our thinking. Instead of relying on past expectations and cultural assumptions as our guides — we must envision what could be …. not just what always has been.

But the vision is only part of the journey. We have to look past how things in past have been done. No longer should the Old Power of government and traditional institutions be looked at as our first line defense … rather should be looked at only as a last resort. Our reaction should be to assemble our friends and neighbors at our local Front Porch, organize and flex our New Power muscle.

We can make the change we need — but it won’t be by thinking the way we’ve always thought, and doing what we’ve always done … the way it’s always been done.

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

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If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo – join me in building a New Power coalition in your community … one that is more representative, inclusive and equitable. Please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and well-being is priority.

I can be reached via email me, at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

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Battling our Epidemic of Loneliness

Eight years ago I wrote my first blog post here. The topic was silos; how cities and towns isolate themselves and competing against each other to the detriment of both – while cooperation would be mutually beneficial. Silos aren’t limited to civic strategy and geographic jingoism though. They’re everywhere.

Silos are easy to create. They allow us to compartmentalize. We can separate things, put them aside and go on. Diving deep, finding connections and trying to wrap our heads around how everything affects each other is messy, ambiguous and difficult. However making the connections between disparate issues very often shines light on them – producing clarity. In a strange way this inter-connectivity simplifies. Even though we say we want to simplify things – we actually go to great lengths to complicate them. As Einstein said: “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” But genius takes work – work we seldom undertake … especially when silos are available.

We deal with civic and social issues at the most digestible level. We treat symptoms rather than underlying causes … creating even more silos. And with this come more policies, laws and power struggles that attempt to deal with them. This is what make bureaucracy so inefficient. It’s filled with unconnected silos all fighting over scarce resources, attempting to address symptoms rather than the root causes that often are connected themselves. Progressive civic problem-solvers call these often neglected root causes, social determinants. They’re buried deep and confronting them seldom produces the quick short-sided fixes politicians and policy-makers feed on. They’re indirect and obliquitous. But ironically these root causes are often obvious to those outside the confines of the echo chambers and ivory towers of public policy governmental malaise. For example: hungry kids will have problems performing well at school – yet so many remain exactly that – as year after year policy makers concentrate instead on the reform de jour, or worse yet threaten school shutdowns for those that under-perform.

The one thing …

What if there was one thing we could focus on that could simultaneously address many of the societal ailments that we encounter and at the same time fixed an important issue its own directly.

Every day there’s a never-ending stream of research and reports detailing the ailments affecting America. But seldom do we hear about any solutions for these ailments; isolated success stories yes – but not overarching policy, governmental or societal.

Obesity: No matter how many alarms are set off – the nation keeps getting fatter. It doesn’t matter, young or old – obesity numbers keep rising, regardless the efforts being attempted (and I say that liberally).

Dementia: Our current elderly, living longer and often alone, have become a generation plagued by dementia and Alzheimers. This is compounded by the fact that most look to doctors and the healthcare system to fix a problem there is no “pill” for.

Addiction: The chronic stresses of today’s non-stop, uncertain lives makes coping with it all a major undertaking … and too much for many. Combine this with the knee-jerk over-prescribing of pharmaceutical quick-fixes and we’ve created a culture who inevitably ends up addicted to whatever they can get their hands on.

Child care issues: No matter what our socioeconomic level is, we all seem to struggle with the same plight – adequate and available child care. Dual-income households as well as single parents find that finding that place to stash their kids during the day while they work – anything but easy.

Finding not just work, but rewarding work: Unemployment is at historical lows, but how many people are happy in their jobs. Many are either underemployed or just unfilled working for “the man.” In addition – college, once the panacea for future employment dilemmas, has turned into a nightmare of student loans for many.

Polarizing political views: Politics is no longer just a lightening rod for uncomfortable Thanksgiving family gatherings. Fueled by the election of Donald Trump and his daily stream of partisan controversy … the United States is anything but that. His divisive anti-social behavior has firmly taken root in our neighborhoods as social engagement has become replaced by isolation and an obsession of cable news.

Too often we look at these aliments in isolation – disconnected from each other. It’s as if obesity has no affect on why we hate our neighbor because he’s a Republican. But actually they can be connected. As are not finding rewarding work and why too many Americans have problems with quality child care. Our goal must be to find what ties all these things together.

Isolation, Illness … And Hate

Recently several articles have surfaced on the detrimental health effects of loneliness, whether it be physical or psychological. Everything always seems worse when we’re sick and there’s no one there to lean on for support. This is especially the case in rural areas where the sparse population adds to the isolation. This condition isn’t exclusive to the geographically remote either. The same can even be said in urban areas when we feel isolated in our communities because our social or political views, or just don’t have anyone emotional close to us anymore.

Can these health detriments due to isolation be a breeding ground for hate? The outsized elderly vote for Donald Trump and his message of division and national isolation makes a case for it. Sadly I’ve never seen hate rise to the levels of today. Why is this? Could it be the source of it is the unprecedented level loneliness and isolation in America? Maybe. Hannah Arendt in “The Origins of Totalitarianism, her chronicle on the rise of Nazism makes a parallel argument decades ago.

Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result. This isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together…; isolated men are powerless by definition.

Has America turned into a nation of isolated, sick and angry people – waiting impatiently for someone to ride in on a white horse to save them from their lives of misery  – no matter the consequences? Politics is killing us, literally. If all this isn’t enough to make us wake from our cerebral stupor … then what will?

We need to call it like it is. It isn’t a preference. Only in extreme cases is loneliness a choice. It’s an epidemic … like the plague. Very few wish it upon themselves. This isn’t just another city or county budget item like a roundabout or off-ramp to pacify some well-heeled real estate developer. Loneliness is a scourge that is literally killing our country.

Lonely people probably aren’t just a damper on the national morale; they’re likely to be a strain on national productivity and health-care systems, too. The bodies of lonely people are markedly different from the bodies of non-lonely people. Prolonged loneliness can put one at risk for chronic health conditions, exacerbate various health conditions, and ultimately put us at increased risk for premature mortality. (What Loneliness Does to the Body)

Loneliness is a problem that is getting worse too. We are living longer. More and better healthcare is keeping us physically alive longer. Technology, while wonderful for some people, myself included – isolates (emotionally and socially) those who aren’t connected.

We’re geographically separated, and especially in small towns, it’s getting worse. Many parts of the country are losing young talent., such as rural areas that are not keeping up with the technological revolution. This talent are the exact people who would normally be around to keep elderly family members company. And our traditional institutions (churches, fraternal clubs, etc.) no longer hold the same attraction as they did in our parents time. The decline in bowling leagues, the moniker of the famous book on community sociology by Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone – exemplifies the decay of the American social fabric. These are just a few of the reasons, and I’m sure we all can offer up others specific to our own situation too.

Pushing back …

“Our true destiny is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places.” – David W. Orr

What if the answer was as easy as just getting people back together again; physically engaging with each other. What if we as a society made a concerted effort to re-establish civic and social gathering places. And what if our social policies focused on physical engagement with one another. This engagement would create serendipitous civic resource maximization through synergy – a synergy we often didn’t even know was available to us all the time.

What if a renewed obsession with engagement put us in a place even better than we’ve ever had. By realizing that loneliness is a devastating social disease we can attack it by creating new norms of engagement and awareness. We can forge a new society – one evolved to be better positioned for inclusion and self-transcendence, focusing beyond just our own needs. We would be creating communities where connectiveness and well-being was how we measured themselves, not just jobs and obtuse economic activity often distorted through a one-dimensional lens of irrelevant statistics.

Imagine meeting with a fellow group of customers from the local hardware store to create a small community garden, only to find out the woman working the plot next to yours has a daughter who just moved back in town after college and is looking for a part-time job. And you just happen to be looking for someone to watch you daughter after preschool. A simple engagement at the local hardware store turns out to be a solution for fresh food and childcare.

Imagine coming together with your neighbors to rebuild the local grade school playground, including the one who you would never talk to due to his political ideology. Working side-by-side with him you find out he is an expert in the exact software program you been needing help with for weeks. Now that freelance opportunity you’ve been struggling with can now become a reality.

Imagine grabbing your teenage kids and hauling them down to your local coffee shop for its elderly outreach project. Instead of just brooding around the house every weekend – your lovely offspring are making connections, and changing lives, with those who have literally built the very town they live in. Your son is so taken by a 90 year-old gentleman he has befriended, he decided to stay in town for college and help the coffee shop expand their outreach program … and regularly stay touch in touch with his surrogate grandfather.

Community 3.0, Front Porches … a Call To Action

How do we makes this happen though? How do we transform our communities into ones where opportunities to engage are around every corner? How do we break the habit of the couch, cable news and waiting for “the man on the white horse” to ride in to save us?

In every town and every neighborhood are places where informal leaders go to hang out and do the real business of the town. In Minot, North Dakota where I grew up, we had Charlie’s restaurant and the Elks Lodge. These were the places where the “business of the community” was done (not at the city council meetings). These were the places where ideas were hatched and where the future of Minot was mapped out … often under the influence of a libation or two.

These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are what I call Front Porches, 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 flourishes and what the French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, observed in the 1800’s as the source of America’s “inclusive exceptionalism.”

Your neighborhood’s Front Porch can be anywhere or anything. It can be the local pub down the street or the coffee-house where you get your morning sustenance from. It can be Bill’s garage where everyone gathers to watch Sunday football games. It can even be your kitchen table. What happens on the Front Porch is what matters … not what is looks like or where it is.

It’s not enough just have a place to get together though. Front Porches need to promote the activity that bolsters engagement. This activity should be more than just idle talk though. What if it took the form of informal volunteer projects. I call these street-level Front Porch based civic fixes, Solutions. They are designed to help pick up the civic slack and mend its societal safety net while bringing your community members together through action, not just talk. These Solutions can range from organizing a cleanup effort, to fixing a playground, to even spearheading a high school mentoring or apprentice program.

Community 3.0 is my community engagement platform built around the concept of the Front Porch and the Solutions that are nurtured in them. Using street-level direct civic participation as an augmentation to governmental representation, I believe we can not only create a more responsive and inclusive society – but one that leverages its members to build an environment of physical, mental and social well-being.

Community 3.0 uses the bleedingEDGE 1-to-1 marketing system to mobilize Front Porch patrons and keep them emotionally motivated to help not only help their community, but also themselves through a set of pre-programmed event-driven nudges. These nudges not only focus on recruiting members for volunteer projects, its content advocates for healthy behaviors. Rather than just ‘push burgers’ … your local Front Porch can offer a deal on a Caesar Salad for those who helped with the Saturday morning clean up effort organized by them.

As a part of the Community 3.0 platform we’ve put together a roster of several examples of what can come from these Front Porch volunteer collaborations. These examples represent Solutions to many common needs and opportunities a community may encounter. By no means is this roster comprehensive, but it’s a start.

What the 3.0 Front Porch network will provide is an opportunity to engage through civic collaboration – often with people you don’t know and may be nothing like you. By taking advantage of these serendipitous engagements, you will provide yourself with the resources that will help you and your community strengthen individual and collective self-efficacy. And through this self-efficacy, and by breaking the habit of the “man on the white horse” our epidemic of loneliness will find a formidable foe … and that foe is us.

Ask yourself: “If not me … then who? And if not now … then when?”

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I realize that we need more than just a prodding to “do something.” I suppose one way is just interacting with your neighbors more, or striking up a conversation with the person behind you in the grocery line. But no matter how many of these ‘one offs’ we do – they’re still just that … ‘one offs.’ Here’s how we can leverage our commitment and make our actions contagious. Just let me know how you feel you would like to participate at clayforsberg@gmail.com.

  • Join the Community 3.0 as a Community Empowerment Concierge (CEC). As a CEC you will help find and set up Front Porches in your community.
  • Or you can help find a CEC in your community and assist them.
  • Or once your community gets set up on the 3.0 network – you can help develop engagement projects (Solutions) in your community’s Front Porches.

Community 3.0 will be up and running in the Fall of 2018

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New Power! Using Those In The Streets To Make Change

Since Donald Trump has taken office, we’ve seen the streets of America come alive in ways we haven’t since the Vietnam protests of the ’60s. Last year millions protested in the #MeToo movement and for the rights of women. This year we’ve seen the students of #NeverAgain take their turn in like numbers to protest the insane gun culture that has infected the United States. And just last month, teachers in Oklahoma and West Virginia and beyond protest the equally insane disregard this country has for funding education. The country has had it. We are no longer willing to idly sit by and let this decimation of democracy continue brought on by Washington D.C. and state capitals nationwide.

In my last post I followed the lead of Parkland organizer Jaclyn Corin and implored we get up and scream at the healthcare industry for their refusal to make any effort in fixing the bloated fiefdom they’ve created. Now I’m asking for a new target to scream at: the Democratic party.

Now it’s easy to target the GOP. I’m not to go into why. Let’s just say – it’s been said, in copious detail – starting with Trump. The Democratic party on the other hand has been getting a free pass during this year of civil awakening. It’s time for us to rethink this though. The absence of their formal endorsement of either the striking teachers or the #NeverAgain kids is conspicuous.

Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms just released an excellent book called “New Power,” which has been getting a lot of attention. I’ve known Jeremy’s organization, Purpose is groundbreaking in its support for “new power” efforts worldwide. “New Power” is a manual for anyone who wishes to create change through the efforts and empowerment of the “people in the street” in their battle against the status quo of what they call Old Power.

For most of human history, the rules of power were clear: power was something to be seized and then jealously guarded. This “old power” was out of reach for the vast majority of people. But our ubiquitous connectivity makes possible a different kind of power. “New power” is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It works like a current, not a currency–and it is most forceful when it surges. The battle between old and new power is determining who governs us, how we work, and even how we think and feel. (Amazon description)

Political parties have traditionally concerned themselves with the money and big backers of Old Power. They believe the road to personal and political power is paved by those outside of government in the private sector who hold the gold and silver. Once in a while a politician tries the buck the system and enroll the actual people in their cause – but the gale winds of Old Power eventually knocks the effort of course careening it in the rocks only to sink like yet another ship of democracy at the bottom of the political sea. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign of 2016 was a perfect example of this. Just when Sanders’ campaign was gaining momentum, Democratic kingmaker Debbie Wasserman Schultz extinguished it by cutting off access to the supposedly unbiased national party database and voter logs. These shenanigans would eventually get her tossed from her perch as the national party chair. But alas … the damage was done, Sanders stalled and Hillary Clinton was awarded the nomination. Now every morning we wake up to clown tweets … each one more absurd than the last.

Even without Wasserman Schultz – would Sanders have won the nomination? Probably not. I don’t believe he was the right vehicle to rally the “new power” to a level where it could have successfully scaled the castle walls of Old Power. Heimans and Timms believe change only occurs when a movement has garnered both enough Old Power and New Power to topple the status quo. Sanders didn’t have enough of either. Does the #MeToo movement or #NeverAgain or the teachers have enough ground-level support as well as traditional affluence to affect change. We’ll see.

That said, the GOP – helped by the extremist positions of anti-gun control NRA adherents along with religious zealots protesting abortion, Planned Parenthood or most anything else they deem a violation of their mutated take on the bible … have succeeded in rallying their disciples. Instant mobilization of this “new power” working in unison with bought and paid for politicians in all levels of government have taken the castle and turned it into a modern-day Caligula.

In the case of the NRA, much ado is made about how much they donate to political candidates – their Old Power. But where their real effect lies is in their New Power, or ability to rally their membership (as well as other gun owners) by using paranoia and scare tactics. Regardless of their views on other issues – the NRA faithful come out in droves to vote on that one thing – keeping their guns, however credible that threat may or may not be. The GOP have the NRA and the abortion foes at their disposal for New Power. These one issue voters will overlook any shortcomings, or horribleness in the case of Roy Moore and their other white-supremacists candidates, if they align on these two issues.

The Democrats, well I don’t what the hell they’re doing. They couldn’t ask for a better opportunity for a rallying cry. By Democrats, I don’t necessarily mean all of the individual candidates. I’m referring to the party establishment and the politicians that have been running it for decades. Few of these career power mongers have any idea what’s going on in the streets, let alone respect their efforts and take an encouraging role. The primary driver behind the New Power efforts has been social media. Most of those in the party establishment look at it as a threat, not an asset or a tool. Even though much their constituency lives on it (young people and technologically adept educated professionals) – few of those in the ivory towers can coherently compose an original tweet that isn’t self aggrandizing promotion.

Now what’s up here? Why hasn’t the Democrat power structure embraced this display of New Power? The logical answer is that the Democrat party, like the GOP, is beholden to corporate interests for campaign donations. The Democratic party steadfastly stands behind the House leadership of Nancy Pelosi due to her fundraising prowess. This is definitely Old Power thinking. It’s all about the money. The irony of the situation is money is only as good as it’s ability to deliver votes. And the votes of the current Democratic party are not to be had through traditional media buys and party bosses. It’s about making yourself relevant, accessible and immediate to the voters through the media of THEIR choosing – which is Twitter, Facebook and Instagram … not CBS, NBC and ABC.

The streets are full of voters who have passion for change in areas of gun control, women rights, education … but the Democratic party hasn’t joined them in this passion. This New Power is already organized and mobilized – and waiting for the members of the Old Power they can get behind. This is even more bewildering in the fact that these movements are intertwined. To sit on the sidelines while these voters, present and future, are “screaming” to be heard and represented is frustrating.

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But just because we’re frustrated in the Democratic party or even the GOP if you believe in its older version of fiscal conservatism, not moral hypocrisy (back when it was a sensible alternative) – we shouldn’t dismay.

Politics aside, what can we do with this concept of New Power. Up to this point we’ve talked about New Power in the context of trying to get people, mainly politicians and elected officials, to do things for us. But how can we use this power of activism and engagement for direct civic action.

Instead of just lobbying for more money for education – why not organize a mentoring program implemented by you and your fellow community members. Every community, regardless of it socioeconomic level has human resources that go untapped just because they don’t fit into the normal realm of government-run programs. For example: the generational disconnect of retired people and adolescents is a crime of waste of resources that we can not afford to ignore any longer.

Instead of just lobbying for more money for elder care, what’s stopping you and your friends at your local watering hole from organizing a food give-away for elderly people and shut-ins. Or why not set-up a weekly coffee delivery for those who don’t get out, isolated from friends and family – if they even have any.

Instead of lobbying for legislation for equal pay across all genders – you and your neighbors should patronize those businesses that provide it without being legally forced to. And by the same token – those businesses who don’t should be shunned and avoided. No one’s forcing you to shop at the sexist bigot down the street. Hit them where it hurts most – their business.

Not all change can happen at street level through direct civic engagement though. Changes in federal laws – such as immigration policy, and international trade pacts can only be affected through lobbying and getting legislators to do the right thing.

But still, amazing things can happen without legislation. We just have to open our eyes to the possibilities.

In 1986, John Gage, then of Sun Microsytems, organized NetDay in California. NetDay was historic grassroots effort in the classic American barn-raising tradition. Using volunteer labor, their goal was to install all the basic wiring needed to make five classrooms and a library or a computer lab in every school Internet-ready. If the same work was financed by taxpayers, it would cost more than $1,000 per classroom. Volunteers from businesses, education, and the community acquired all of the equipment and installed and tested it at each school site. As a result 20,000 volunteers helped to wire 20 percent of California schools to the Internet. In addition, by bringing together these diverse elements, NetDay established a framework for lasting partnerships among business, government, educational institutions, and local communities provide ongoing support for the schools to this day.

And John Gage didn’t have Twitter and Facebook.

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If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo that will inevitably take anyone and anything down with it … please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and well-being is priority. Or even better email me, at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

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Related Posts:

Hobbes, Hume … and Healthcare

A recent 60 Minutes episode on the Stoneman Douglas leaders of the #neveragain movement included a discussion with Emma Gonzales’ mother. We stand behind her, Emma’s mother’s friends said. “You go out and get that law changed. But where are we – we should have done this 20 years ago.” – was the elder Gonzales’ response.

In the six weeks since the Parkland shooting, the kids of the #neveragain movement have successfully waged war on the ridiculous gun promiscuity in the this county. They’ve helped spearhead a nationwide student walkout that took place in over 3000 schools. On March 24th, a week ago, they organized the March For Our Lives in Washington D.C. and over 800 other cities worldwide. Crowd estimates in D.C. alone were over 700,000. Limited gun control legislature has been passed in several states as well as nationally. These kids of the “no fear” generation have become the adults in the room – while the adults are at the kids table throwing peas at each other.

The older generations in power are standing behind the kids. But that’s as far as it goes. As adults we sit by paralyzed – hoping the kids will fix the problems we created. We’ve become fat and lazy. We complain about special interests in government yet we keep electing the same clowns. We complain about the Russians manipulating our beloved Facebook news feeds getting us to believe some nonsense that any 12 old year with common sense wouldn’t fall for. The fat from our McDonalds quarter pounders has seeped into our brains and made us functionally illiterate barely able to conduct our daily lives without help. So instead we look for a crutch – “the man in the white hat … riding in on the white horse.”

The most basic of human instincts is fear. And fear was the main reason Trump was elected … and now it has become an integral part of our society. We’re so scared we don’t even try to think whether the perceived threat is real. The prospect of the bogeyman under the bed dictates our daily decision-making. Trump and his GOP minions are portraying anyone and anything that isn’t white and god-fearing as being evil and out to take your job, your right to the American dream … and most importantly your guns.

America’s Cable News Democracy

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Politics is no longer something we participate in. It’s something we observe from our living room couch while watching whatever cable news channel we’ve become addicted to. We take sides with our television remote and go to battle on Facebook and Twitter slinging mud via anonymous usernames like @JesusLovesGuns. The actual work of civics and building of communities – we have no time for that. @JesusLovesGuns has too much work to do battling the hordes of teenage heathens out to impose their George Soros implanted communist mind control on us true patriots. God, guns and good old American whiteness … that’s what we’re here for. In the end though, we know the “big man” in the White House will do the real work for us … white hat and white horse right along with him.

After all, we’re American and we deserve it. We deserve it all. It’s our birthright. The government (even though we hate it) is here to ensure our American Dream – regardless what decisions we personally make. The idea we would band together and work ourselves to create something for the collective good – no that’s not how it works. We got the White House, the white hat and white horse.

Health and the Fallacy of Care

But our abdication of responsibilities doesn’t end with our misconstruct of civic duty. Maybe more impactful than America’s distorted opinion of democracy – is its view of health and the role we play in our own. We’ve elevated the profession of medicine to unhealthy levels. Most of us, no matter how intelligent we may be, seem to turn off our brains when in the presence of a doctor. And if it’s not bad enough that we stand there self-imposed intellectually naked – we’re rarely thrown a metaphorical robe … instead peppered with jargon and really, really big words designed only to intimidate us. Claustrophobic nondescript exam rooms, and accompanying clinical props create the psychological equivalent of an alligator-filled moat separating us from parity and any human aspects of the experience.

I don’t mean to be insinuating that physicians aren’t caring (most are) and empathetic (many are). Instead I want to bring to light the role of the ill-designed concept of Electronic Health Records. Fueling this physician/patient disconnect is the abomination otherwise know as EHR systems. These EHRs are billing software that have morphed into the central nervous system for the convergence between computer technology and healthcare. They are universally hated by practitioners, but the C-Suite continues to pile them on, oblivious to the detrimental effects they have on the health of the life blood of the their organizations – physicians. These EHR systems now dictate the parameters of the physician/patient relationship. It’s like physicians have given up and turned their careers and the healthcare industry over to the Boss Hoggs in the C-Suite. But the true losers are patients. Instead of ways to restore humanity to the healthcare process, all I hear are high-tech bells and whistles like AI, VR and blockchain. I’m as technical as anyone – but is the solution really to add more technology on top of a fundamentally flawed foundation to start with.

The technical solutions I see having have promise are related to patient engagement and collaboration, mainly communication-based behavior modification. But even here – imagination is lacking. Most firms seem to be focused on creating apps reminding us taking take our pills. It’s probably no surprise that the when discussing careers in healthcare, we say medicine. Instead of saying they were in medicine, imagine if a doctor said they were in the field well-being and self-efficacy enhancement. You’d tell them to take a pill.

I find it bizarre when it come to healthcare we feel the need for patient advocates. Do we have advocates for our experience at McDonalds or 7-Eleven? It’s not like we’re given our healthcare for free. On the contrary, the healthcare industry should have advocates to justify their unaccountable high prices. Unlike any other industry, we can’t describe ourselves as customers. It’s akin to blasphemy. Being a customer means we have a choice and that alters the balance of power. Whether intentional or not – the concept of patient subservience is baked into the healthcare model. In some cases it applies and needs to … but in most it’s purely a choice (or lack of) we make when we personally define what health and being healthy means to each of us.

I feel like we’re dogs walking around with leashes around our necks only there’s no one holding onto the other side. We just assume there is. In fact we just assume that’s someone holding onto the leash in most everything we do. In fact it’s so bad that we spend our days conforming to societal norms and expectations. We seldom think about where they came from or question whether they have relevance today. Conformity is what we strive for

Locus of Control, Hobbes and Hume

In 1966, renowned behavioral scientist Julian Rotter developed the concept of locus of control – a variable that describes individual differences between people. Based on this concept, people vary in terms of the degree to which they have an internal locus of control (meaning that they believe that outcomes in their world follow from their personal actions) versus those who have an external locus of control (meaning that they believe that outcomes in their world are generally unrelated to their personal actions). If you have an internal locus of control, you are confident that your actions will lead to change. But if you have external locus of control, you might not even bother trying, because you have learned across your life that little follows from your actions. (Psychology Today)

This tradition of giving way to the external locus of control is rooted in the philosophies of Englishman Thomas Hobbes and his theory of social order. From his perspective, individual actors pursuing their own interests and trying to maximize their welfare lead inevitably to chaos and conflict. From that is derived the necessity of a single center of power imposing order. In Hobbes’ view, social order is the creation of the unique “Leviathan,” which wields the monopoly power to make and enforce law. Self-organized and independent individuals thus have nothing to do with making order. Most modern theories of “The State” have their origins in Hobbes’ vision of Leviathan.

Thomas Hobbes and his theories of the Leviathan have forged the foundation of industrialization. While at the time it seemed only applicable to the reverence of the church and royalty, it morphed once Adam Smith arrived in the 1700s. Even though Smith’s philosophy is the gospel of capitalism – his real message was much deeper and humane. To Smith, every business transaction is a moral challenge to see that both parties come out fairly. Unfortunately much of that message has been lost in transition or just discarded over the years for not fitting into greedy overlords’ predetermined agendas.

I suppose America can take solace in the fact that we’re not the only ones who choose to be subservient to a greater human power. In so-called industrial nations, industrialization isn’t necessary synonymous with being cerebrally evolved. In fact there’s a case to be made that industrialization has hindered our ability to make decisions for ourselves. Years of working for “the man” where “the man” makes our decisions for us; giving us long-term employment, health insurance and the such has cauterised our synapses – making us unable to forge the new cerebral pathways needed to function in a self-determinant society.

On the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum are the social constructs of 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume. Hume theorized that people are inherently good. What if rather than religiously following the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (proponent of all-encompassing government) and his pessimistic views of humanity … we looked instead to Hume. He believed we were born with the virtues of benevolence, trust and commitment. This ‘spontaneous order’ did not need to be enforced by a greater overarching power or institution of human or theological making., but rather would individually and collectively be more efficient and ordered on its own. Hume’s argument was that, in the absence of a system of centralized command, conventions emerge that minimize conflict and organize social activities (including production) in a manner that is most conducive to the Good Life.

The No Fear Generation and Future of Healthcare

Let us not lose hope though. Even as us adults continue to fight over the toys in the toybox – the real adults in the room, our nation’s youth, all full of internal locus of control and self-efficacy, might actually be “the man in white hat on the white horse” riding in to save us. They don’t fear the system. They don’t expect the system to fix anything while they sit idly by. And they are not acting individually. They are taking the social media tools they’ve grown up with and are using them collectively as weapons to battle the unjust, inequitable system they see as functionally and morally wrong. Many call it a David and Goliath story – and that it may be. But because of their organizational and technical savvy, unbridled energy and intolerance of bullshit – today’s youth may actually be the Goliath. The status quo is walking dead and it doesn’t even know it.

The questions us adults should be asking ourselves is – how we be like the young and harness their sense of self-efficacy? How can we break free of the shackles that bind us to the couch as we get fatter and lazier pounding out keystrokes, parroting what we see in front of us on cable news.

While we could focus on the sad state of politics and civic engagement in this country – all that’s contingent on the more pressing issue of how do get and keep ourselves well. How do we decide that keeping ourselves physically, mentally and socially healthy is our responsibility – not of a healthcare system that we can all agree on is an operational disaster. And when we do – what steps must we take to set us on a path of self-efficacy and internal locus of control.

This internal locust of control needs to start with us by defining who each of us are and who we want to be. Then can we create an action plan to connect the two. This action plan is a road map for what I call our “Journey To Our Perfect World.” The emphasis is on the journey rather than the destination. Below are the ground rules for our new plan of self-actualization.

  • Our locus of control is internal: What we do as individuals matters to our health and well-being. We are not tools of fate. We understand many parties play a role – but we are the ones who have the greatest stake in the outcome of our actions. As a result; we may want to incorporate new ideas, additional players and new technologies to help us elevate our self-efficacy and improve outcomes.
  • We want collaboration: Our goal is positive health and well-being – and from whomever we choose to join us on this journey, we expect to work together collaboratively (including physicians, stakeholders, other friends and family and even fellow community members).
  • We are customers: At times we may be patients, some of us more and longer than others – but in the end, we’re still customers. And with being a customer comes choice, a choice that is ours.
  • Our community is an integral part of the solution: Not only do our own actions dictate the level of our health – so do our interactions with those around us where we live. We are products of our communities and the level of health is dependent on the engagements we have. The healthier and stronger our communities are – healthier and stronger we will be individually.

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The Journey To Our Perfect World: The Map

  • Overview and Assessment:
    • Where do I want to go and when do I want to get there (personally and professionally)
    • Where have I been (personally and professionally)
    • Where I am now (personally and professionally)
  • Resources:
    • What do I need to go where I want to go (personally, from others)
    • What do I currently have
    • What do I need that I don’t current have and where can I get it

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How can we demand the healthcare model I described above – one where we’re at the center of the process? How can we demand that our doctors and healthcare providers view us as true collaborators? How do we break the nonsensical cycle of unnecessarily procedures, appointments and tests that produce little benefit and only further perpetuate the inefficiencies of the status quo? How can we break the norm of thinking that our health begins and ends at the clinic walls? And how can we get our healthcare providers to see the community as integral part of our health and in turn use their power and financial resources to make it better?

In the end, it will be up to us to organize like David Hogg, Emma Gonzales, Jaclyn Corin and Cameron Kasky. Even though their cause is gun control … we can learn from them and the other young empowered leaders of the #neveragain movement. The healthcare industry won’t change on its own. It will have to be forced to – screaming and yelling … and throwing up unimaginable obstacles along the way . But we have power in numbers … and our numbers can speak truth to power … if we only dare.

We just need to keep screaming … and may we have half the insight, passion and courage Jaclyn does.

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See Community 3.0 for your prescription for speaking truth to power by organizing your towns and cities around the Front Porches of your community by elevating the health and well-being of you, your neighbors and friends.

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Related Posts:

#NEVERAGAIN

This group — like that underestimated rag-tag band of patriots nearly two and a half centuries ago — want to make it crystal-clear to those who think they’re in charge that the status quo is no longer viable and will no longer be tolerated. (James Coffin, Orlando Sentinel)

The last week I’ve been so distracted I’ve gotten little done. #NEVERAGAIN has taken over my conscience. It has me laser focused on a group of “not-so-rag-tag” teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their every move in their David and Goliath fight against the NRA and the GOP powers that embody the above-mentioned status quo.

It’s now been about two weeks since the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. I’m not going to reiterate the specifics. That’s been done ad nauseam everyday since it happened. But what I am going to do is breakdown these kids’ reaction to what happened – the #NEVERAGAIN movement for gun control.

The day after the massacre, Wednesday, February 14 – the media descended on Parkland like buzzards on fresh kill on the side of the road in Montana. They looked for any teenage survivor who could mutter a coherent sentence. Two that initially stood out were David Hogg and Emma González. The faces of #NEVERAGAIN began to come into focus … even if those being looked at didn’t know it.

As it attempted to pull itself together – the community of Parkland united to hold a rally on Saturday to begin the healing process. As Emma recounted on the Ellen Show last week, “a lady from the school board” asked her if she could give speech at the rally since she had shown composure in front of the cameras over the last two days.

“We Call BS”

At that rally, with pages of notes from her AP Government class in her hand, Emma González, continually wiping away tears – delivered a ten minute oratory that will forever be know as “We Call BS.” With this rousing call to action reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s “I Have Dream” … the #NEVERAGAIN movement was born. The speech highlighted multiple glaring injustices of the status quo leading up to what now looks like the inevitable result being a school shooting massacre. At the end of each, Emma proclaimed, with crowd increasingly joining in – “We Call BS.” This rallying cry was no accident – the four syllables of “We Call BS” was intentional, made to repeated. Very few so-called marketers can hold a candle to González. She held nothing back – everyone was in her sights, especially Trump and the NRA. And each point (centered around gun control and the abolition of assault weapons for civilian consumption) was well documented … unlike those normally spewed by Trump and the NRA.

School shootings are nothing new in the United States. After every one there’s public outcry, groups formed, meetings in Washington called and politicians offer the boilerplate “thoughts and prayers.” But whether it be Columbine, Sandy Hook or any of the many others we’ve forgotten … nothing happens. The NRA draws their line in the sand, which is more or less a return to the Wild West – and Washington cowers. Screams of infringement on the 2nd Amendment drown out any compassion and sensibility.

Now I get the whole NRA influence thing. But aside of being scared that they’ll actually be gunned down … I don’t get the level of fear these politicians exhibit. It’s like reelection plays as hard as basic survival. Will they tumble-down into depths of Dante’s Hell if they lose their perch on the balcony of power of the ivory tower of the capitol? They probably deserve to – but still. It’s just astounding none of these Republicans (and a few Democrats) beholden to the NRA put their integrity and basic respect for human life above their unquenchable thirst for power. But apparently not.

Special interest groups, with the NRA being a poster child, control the fervorous vocal minorities who dictate who wins congressional primaries (especially Republican) in districts that have been gerrymandered to such an extent the general election has been rendered irrelevant. Combine that with the absurd dynamics of the electoral college which awards out-sized influence and Senate power to rural states with small populations and pro-gun conservative agendas … you have the American political climate of today.

Regardless of the reasons, the iron grip the NRA has on this country has literally put us on a path of paranoia and death. And the American public has been complicit in this death spiral. There’s bogeyman under every bed lying in wait … with the only thing that’s going to stop him is an AR-15. To not prepare accordingly is considered criminal. The NRA’s membership of 5 million, parroting platitudes any religious zealot would be proud of, literally controls a country of 330 million. This 2% has hijacked American democracy – and they consider this assault patriotic.

This time it may different though.

David Is Armed And Has The Philistine Is In His Sites

We may have found our David – and he’s in the form of a group of high school survivors of the Parkland shooting who have branded themselves #NEVERAGAIN. This group is headed up by Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and other classmates who are primarily theater students (who I apologize to for not naming them). They have created a campaign like nothing I’ve ever seen. And I’m not just talking about activism. This group of 16, 17 and 18 year olds are waging a war for public opinion as strategically and tactically brilliant as any multi-billion company I can recall.

Even while the media coverage has concentrated on condolences, skepticism of their efforts have been in abundance. References to the failed efforts of Sandy Hook and Columbine seem to litter most conversations. After all, it was adults who organized those efforts and they failed to gain any traction up against the NRA. What could these kids do that the adults couldn’t?

But this is exactly the point. Being kids, specifically survivors of this horrific experience, they represent the exact ones who are most directly affected by this gun nonsense. During the Ellen Show interview Emma proclaimed, “our classwork in school prepared us perfectly for this moment to rise up and make this change.” Their theater experiences prepared them to communicate in public. Their AP social studies classes focused on current events and nuances of the reasons behind them. But probably most of all, their lives have been forged in the world of the internet and social media. Organizing … and organizing now is what their generation is destined to do. God help those who are on the receiving end of it. In this case – it’s the NRA and the politicians that bow down to them.

Within hours of the massacre, those students who didn’t have Twitter accounts, launched them, Emma being one of them. They set up hashtags such as #neveragain and branded their campaign will repeatable catch phrases and continuity – all of which could be repeated in their public appearances. With the foundation of the movement set-up and ready to proliferate, they took to the mainstream media … and the media was all too ready to oblige. And it wasn’t just the main players of the movement in front of the camera. It was Delaney Tarr with her speech at the Tallahassee capitol proclaiming: “we’re coming for you.” It was Ryan Deutsch. It was Cameron Katsky eviscerating Marco Rubio in a CNN Town Hall meeting. These kids were better in front of the camera than the six figure mainstream media hosts interviewing them. And their message was consistent: “get rid of the assault weapons.”

But it wasn’t just the mainstream media. The real power behind #NEVERAGAIN was Twitter. Each of the students quickly begin amassing big followings, several over 200,000. But the gorilla in the room was Emma González. In less than two weeks Emma has amassed over 1 million followers, more than twice as much as the NRA or any of their spokesholes.

These are not just faceless survivors or victims – they’ve become revered personalities to their peer group around the country. Following their tweets, reactions and mentions, we see them as friends, cohorts and especially leaders in this struggle we many of us feel strong about – including me. I can’t even imagine being their age – the camaraderie must intense. It’s not like politicians who seldom make themselves feel real, let alone engage.

Their online messaging and delivery is impressive to say the least. Their approach is creative and varied. Five days ago David Hogg posted a tweet asking for a boycott of Florida for Spring Break until they pass some sort of gun control legislation. That tweet has accumulated 70,000 comments and 61,000 retweets. A multinational corporation couldn’t buy that. And this is just one off-handed tweet by a kid. Welcome to the true power of social media.

The actions of the kids of #NEVERAGAIN have not gone unnoticed by the opposition though. Cameron Kasky deactivated his Facebook account because of death threats. Twitter has a lower character count so the trolls can’t go into such graphic detail, he said. Because of their composure, the kids have been repeatedly called “crisis actors” by the right-wing media and their pundits, such as Fox News. GOP politicians can’t believe kids are behind this and claim the left, such as George Soros, are organizing it. The Democratic party could only hope to organize and execute a campaign so sophisticated and effective. One of the movement’s most effective wordsmith snipers is seventeen year old Sarah Chadwick. She routinely goes after the right’s big hitters, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingram, Ann Coulter, etc.; and decimates them with her wit. After the CNN Town Hall, Chadwick volleyed maybe her most epic of tweet bombs: 300,000 likes and counting!

Or on a more solemn note, Antonio Delotero‘s retort to a right-wing commentator’s criticism – that since it was only days after shooting and they hadn’t even buried their friends, there’s no way they could put this movement together … was spot on and showed who the real adult was.

With the attention the #NEVERAGAIN movement has been getting, donations having been rolling in. Two of the most notable were $500,000 each from both George and Amal Clooney, and Oprah Winfrey. That said, it must be noted that this movement is running on social media and publicity – not money and paid advertising. That’s the brilliance of it. It doesn’t need millions of dollars to make an impact – not like unimaginative politicians seem to think. If #NEVERAGAIN wakes up the political world to other ways of doing things  – ways that don’t come with donors and financial springs attached, it’ll be a success. But that’s probably too much to ask for.

To date we’ve seem some legislative movement, or should I say talk about legislative movement. Most of it is mainly posturing for the media and wishful thinking by the GOP hoping that with some vacuous promises and intentions – this effort will just go away like all the other ones. But most of all, the biggest outcome so far is that NRA is looking fallible – and in some cases, outright panicked.

As part of their tactical game plan #NEVERAGAIN is targeting specific people and villainizing them by simply showing who they are. The main NRA spokesperson, Dana Loesch, could not look more evil. Put against Loesch at the CNN Townhall, Emma González began her questioning with a matter-of-fact comment: “Dana Loesch, I want you to know that that we will support your two children – in the way you will not.” Bring it on Emma!

Wayne LaPierre and his other disciples are coming off even more toxic than usual as they attempt to engage these teenagers on their home field of Twitter. Comments directed to the heroes in #NEVERAGAIN containing anything but support are met with thousand of reply flames, often of unflattering personal nature.

But #NEVERAGAIN is still in its infancy, barely home from the hospital (literally and figuratively). The real pressure is yet to come … and that pressure will come from March For Our Lives.

March For Our Lives

Organized, by Junior Class President, and #NEVERAGAIN co-founder, Jaclyn Corin, March For Our Lives will be a march for gun control on Washington D.C. on March 24 and anywhere else where a group chooses organize. Even though the Washington march will be the focus – the real genius behind this will be the organization of the other marches and database they are assembling from it. Having almost four weeks, the millions of #NEVERAGAIN activists are encouraged to not only organize hometown marches … they are being recruited to create and share their own videos of activism under the hashtag #WHATIF. These second tier activists will seep into every community in the country and many around the world. Using the #WHATIF hashtag as an aggregator of the fight against the oppression of the elders, the viral potential is enormous. And with it will be political pressure that will very difficult to ignore, even for the most ardent NRA allies.

It’s About Much More Than Guns

This is not about guns and school safety. Well it is … but it’s about so much more. #NEVERAGAIN is about empowerment. It’s about young people realizing they can create change directly – not just rely on their parents and other adults. #NEVERAGAIN has created a platform that highlights a new sense of adolescent civic self-efficacy.

Our young people are beginning to think they can change the world. They have the tools in social media, unbridled optimism and the energy they never thought could be used in the adult world. They are now finding out the adult world is theirs too. They’re finding out that their parent’s institutions and processes that are bedded in years and years of youth repression are not the only game in town, and their game may very well be more powerful … and they are masters at it. They had the key. They just didn’t know what it opened.

An Open Letter To The Education Overlords

As Trevor Noah said in the above video clip; after Parkland we now know what is possible if we give young people the resources and combine it with their ideals and passion.

Ask yourself, and even more so your school board and district superintendent: “Are you taking steps to create kids like this … or are you looking at young people as just future pawns in the system you created? Do you see them creating their own system? And if so – are you prepared to live in this system they create … or will you respond by just keeping them down – and instead try to hang on to the status quo where you’re the ones in control.

If you are prepared to be part of the solution … ask yourself:

  • Are the schools in your community stacked with debate, speech, journalism and theater classes like the ones that prepared the students of Parkland?
  • Do your schools teach life – and how to succeed and excel regardless of the discipline each student may desire to pursue?
  • Does your district base its idea of success on graduation rates, college acceptance and test scores  – or does it look years in the future? Schools routinely espouse inclusion and teaching leadership – but few even know what that means, let alone able show young people the roads to attain it.
  • Does your district visualize your community as a function of the future for its students? Do you even try to empathize and look at your community through your students’ eyes? Is your community inviting with opportunities to grow and build a life? And what steps is your community doing to make it that way?

Do your schools empower young people – or they afraid of what may happen if they do? Are they looking for and then nurturing the students to become your local versions of Emma or Sarah or Cameron – the young people who are not only challenging the system – but changing it?

Where your community ends up and how it competes will depend on how you answer these questions. Our young people are not the future – they are today! And if you don’t realize it now, soon enough you will. Because, as Delaney Tarr proclaimed … “we’re coming for you.”

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Creating a Civic Self-Assessment

Thursday October 19, was the application deadline for hopeful North American cities to persuade Amazon to locate their second headquarters, otherwise known as HQ2, to their communities. It is anticipated over the next ten years the Amazon project will result in a $5 billion direct investment and as many as 50,000 job with salaries in the $100,000 range.

It’s been entertaining reading the editorials from local papers around the country. It’s been a civic who’s who of  “what’s great about our town.” Unfortunately it’s going to take a lot more than a nice videotaped speech by a mayor surrounded by Amazon shipping boxes to attract a $5 billion investment that could be leveraged into ten times more.

Amazon

Needless to say there’s been an unprecedented frenzy of civic activity over the last two months in virtually every city of size in the United States and Canada. Even though Amazon has said they will only consider applications from cities of at least a million residents – that hasn’t stopped solicitations from locales a tenth that size. Some of the pitches have been nothing short of embarrassing. For example, Tuscon shipped a twenty-foot cactus 1500 miles to Amazon’s current home in Seattle. I wonder how a Sequoia will like Seattle’s weather?

Local and national, and in some cases international media, have spared no time and effort prognosticated on whether or not it’s worth it for a municipality to dive into this pool. Most of these article use academia as their “expert witnesses.” Specifically they use economics wonks to determine the viability of mortgaging their city’s future through what they claim is excessive tax concessions.

Whatever side of this economic debate these Rasputins fall on; their analysis, based mainly on whether concessions made will balance lost tax receipts, is short-sighted and shallow. I would hope we look at our communities as more than just a projected revenue stream. I would hope that we would look at our populace’s well-being as consisting of more than just a local government’s bank account balance. This analysis (if you want to even call it that) seldom discusses the social implications, good or bad. It doesn’t project the potential non-tax impact of what an influx of a population of this size and education level can mean to a community. Aside from only a handful of the largest cities, the indirect benefits (and costs) of this project this will forever change the underlying fabric of any community that is awarded it.

Civic Self-Assessment

Looking beyond whether winning the Amazon lottery is good or bad for your community; the process of putting together the proposal is an endgame in itself. Aside from flexing a city’s gimmick muscles, Amazon’s request for proposals can provide some very beneficial civic spillover benefits. City planning is a precarious endeavour. There’s really no right way or wrong way to do. It’s a confluence of politics, talent, culture (historical and future) and incumbant processes. It can be reactive or proactive. And it can be long-term or obsessively short-term.

Amazon created the the request for proposal  document to guide municipalities through the application process. Providing a roadmap, it gives planners and city officials an opportunity to see where their community rates in the eyes of one of world’s most progressive and dominant enterprises. It’s an opportunity for what I call a civic self-assessment. Each community will have to conduct a comprehensive civic development and competence evaluation. Below are the six areas which Amazon has indicated it will look at in their selection process:

  • Available physical sites (existing and buildable land)
  • Tax and other financial incentives
  • Talent synopsis (current and the ability to attract)
  • Higher education capacity
  • Transportation (internal and outside access to market)
  • Housing (available and costs)

It should be noted that even though something isn’t specifically mentioned in the formal “request,” it doesn’t mean it won’t be considered. In the end, it is human beings who decide where HQ2 lands. What if one (or more) are gay. Would they be inclined to choose a homophobic state with a “bathroom bill?” Doubtful. Seattle, Amazon’s home, is a progressive city in a state that legalized marijuana. Are Amazon’s decision makers going to want to subject their employees, or even themselves, if they choose to relocate – to a state or locale that has spawned what we are seeing in the current federal administration and their puritan ideals? There are many reasons the progressive tech industry is located where it is. Social and political climate plays no small role.

Even though only one community will be the winner … any one that goes through the rigorous application process can also reap benefits. The goal here for cities and municipalities should be an in-depth analysis that empowers them to build a long-term plan going forward. This is an opportunity to break from myopically reacting to the lowest common denominator of political noise and self-interest which too often monopolizes civic decision-making.

How many will create operable plans of action or modify their existing multi-year plans to reflect this new self-awareness? I hope many do … but realistically, most of these cerebral rays of light will be fleeting and become clouded over with a haze of civic myopia and lethargic “sameness.”

Looking Beyond Bezos

But let’s assume a community has seen the light and wants to keep from having this Amazon-lit civic self-awareness from being extinguished. And what of instead of just looking at this self-assessment through the eyes of Jeff Bezos and his fellow site selectors … your community chooses to take it further and looks deep inside, revealing to itself a more comprehensive perspective.

What if the goal was to look beyond your local economic development group – one that too often channels their vision through the single number of jobs … jobs and more jobs. Jobs are easily calculated. It’s one number, a number that can be compared to last year or the year before. Show improvement and the civic leaders are off to the local watering hole in celebratory procession. But isn’t there more? Isn’t there more to our lives and what makes them worth living?

What if civic and social engagement and well-being was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through one-dimensional rose-colored glasses. Rather than focusing just on jobs for “hard-working folk,” we create paths of self-actualization for “hard thinking” people … paths that help them and those around them navigate the “Road to their Perfect World” (which I hope is all of us).

In conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and building on the work of America’s Health Rankings; the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute created a model in 2003 to rank the health of Wisconsin’s counties every year. They expanded their efforts to nearly every county in the nation in 2010. The Rankings are based on a model of population health that emphasizes the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play. 

This coalition broke down what they consider to be the factors that go into the good health of a community. Below are the components of their analysis along with the corresponding algorithmic weights they used to create a composite score for each county.

  • Health behaviors: .30
    • Tobacco use
    • Diet and exercise
    • Alcohol and drug use
    • Sexual activity
  • Clinic care: .20
    • Access to care
    • Quality of care
  • Social and economic factors: .40
    • Education
    • Employment
    • Income
    • Family and social support
    • Community safety
  • Physical environment: .10
    • Air and water quality
    • Housing

Note: The above components are further broken down into sub-areas and can be accessed through the approach section of the County Health Ranking and Roadmap site.

The Robert Wood Johnson/University of Wisconsin effort is an excellent benchmark for assessment. Knowing where your community stands is good. In fact it can even be a revelation. But this information is worth little if you don’t do anything with it. I suppose you can put together a few well-meaning programs: Maybe add a few bike paths. Maybe organize a few more cancer walks. Maybe if you work hard enough and package it well enough – you can get your fellow voters to pass a bond issue for more parks. All of this good … but where is it going to take you?

Over the last eight years I’ve written countless blog pieces on community building and societal evolution as the descriptive nexus for my Community 3.0 project. These pieces highlight different antidotes and feature diverse demographics – and mainly lean on my personal experiences. But what all these countless words have in common is one thing; “Elevating our human condition” … revealing ways (individually and collectively) for us to better ourselves to be more able to contribute positively to society.

Elevator 2

Elevating The Human Condition

Now it’s time to take the “where we’re at” and turn it into “where we want to be.” Think of this operational transcendence as an Elevating The Human Condition Implementation Plan.

The first step is to build your core group. Finding those to join you in shepherding such an undertaking is no small measure through. The natural reaction is to turn to the normal power players – your elected officials. This may not be the best approach though. Elevating your community’s human condition is not about politics, and your efforts can’t be held hostage by those with political aspirations, their ideologies and the civic money they wield power over. Not that these people can’t join in later after the ball starts rolling; in the beginning it’s important to populate your team with the ones who you want to define your initiative’s culture going forward.

Once a culture is set – it’s very difficult to undo it. Bringing someone into the initial flow just because of their influence may be a decision you’ll come to regret. Look for who your community’s true leaders are. Look for who is tirelessly mission-driven and able inspire those around them to be the same. You’ll see drive, expertise and imagination can come from the least likely places. Break through your own personal silos. Remember, the more work that is required – the more you should look outside of the normal circles for help. As Albert Einstein famously said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” The same goes for those who did the same thinking in the first place. Legacy thinking and myopia poisons creativity and innovation.

Once you’ve put together your team, now it’s time to journey down your community’s collective road to its Perfect World. Consider what follows to be your community’s doctoral dissertation. And when you’re done you have earned a PhD in “Elevating the Human Condition.”

The route we’ll venture on is through the concept of Salutogenesis. This is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a former professor of medical sociology in the United States. The term describes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis). Antonovsky’s theories reject the “traditional medical model dichotomy separating health and illness.” He described the relationship as a continuous variable, what he called the “health-ease versus dis-ease continuum.”

In 2008 Scotland, specifically Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, adopted salutogenesis as national public health policy. Burns helped Scotland conceptualize health improvement differently, being aware that the small gains that resulted from a range of interventions can add up to produce significant overall improvements. Much of these interventions were and are aimed at empowering the populace through engagement with their own health outcomes.

Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The key is to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity and engagement – personally, socially and civically. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.

Now our role as “elevators” must be to create an environment of engagement and nudge our populace along to positive behavior change, bettering their self-efficacy. Opportunities for engagement must be bred into every nook and cranny on every street corner. I call these opportunities or physical places of serendipitous engagement, Front Porches. What we’re creating is a platform or space for community engagement and sustainability built around informal but operationally significant gatherings. While these Front Porches can form anywhere, say even in your garage, the ideal locations will be in the locally owned businesses of our communities. Our Front Porches must be inclusive, diverse and responsive. It’s not enough to just talk – we must act to better our communities.

The Community 3.0 Front Porch network is about creating a platform that integrates all available resources, human and otherwise, in a proactive manner to elevate our community’s level of collective human condition.

Through our Front Porches network we must organize and implement Solutions, or patron and employee-organized community volunteer projects. These Solutions are responses to our community’s needs and opportunities. They are designed to help our community pick up the slack and mend its societal safety net as well as lead it into the future. They can range from organizing a cleanup effort, to fixing a playground, to even spearheading a high school mentoring or apprentice program.

Now we have the places and we even have the what we’re going to do once we get there. What we need are the “nudges” to get there – what we need to do to engage and “elevate” ourselves.

Engagement Nudges

Amazon’s digital personal assistant is called Alexa. To say it’s been a runaway success is an understatement. Originally created to help you buy more Amazon products easier – if that was even possible, Alexa has turned into a repository of over 10,000 possible lifestyle automation uses and applications. It controls the heat in your home, it gives you a word definition (by voice) and provides recipes for the finicky guests at your next dinner party. And everyday its uses only multiply.

Imagine if you had an Alexa for engagement. Imagine if you had a virtual assistant that gathered communications and ways you could improve yourself and the community you live in. And imagine if these were sorted, prioritized and “nudged” you to do things that best helped your physical, mental and social self. These Engagements could be advice from your doctor, special deals from your neighborhood small businesses or even alerts of volunteer opportunities sponsored by a community non-profit. 

Constructing a well-being environment in your community is a collective project. All residents must be included in the effort, no matter what their socioeconomic level is. And creating the well-being messaging content must be a community effort, especially including our healthcare providers. Their expertise is invaluable. This network of nudges must be monitored to see if they’re effectively motivating the populace. This system of feedback will be crucial to the success of this project aimed at empowering your community to be what it can be … well beyond the issue of just “jobs.”

The Opportunity Is Ours … If We Dare

Most so-called journalists are playing the big bad wolf angle against tax breaks for the Amazon HQ2 project. But in the end, all the money in world isn’t going to make any difference if the well-being and human condition of our populace, young and old, rich and poor – isn’t elevated. Regardless whether a city gets the bid or not … it’s an opportunity for civic self-assessment. What we do with it is up to us – win or lose.

It’s time to change our thinking. Our current political climate and the rate of technical evolution and opportunity – has necessitated this. Instead of relying on past expectations, cultural assumptions and archaic myopic metrics as our guides — we must envision what could be … not just what always has been. 

But the vision is only part of the journey. We have to look beyond how things in the past have been done. No longer should government and traditional institutions be looked at as the first line defense. Our mobilization must be centered around us. Our reaction should be to assemble our friends and neighbors at our local Front Porch, organize what has to be done  … and do it!

We can make the change we need: but it won’t be by thinking the way we have always thought and doing what we’ve always done the way it’s always been done.

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

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Why Do We Hate Our Kids?

Montana’s Joint Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee (in the state I live) turned heads in June when it made the decision to consider cutting the department’s budget by $93 million during the next two years. That’s a 15 percent reduction during the last biennium and on top of cuts proposed by Governor Steve Bullock during the legislative session.

Recently revised revenue projections revealed an additional ten percent cut will be required. Since then a daily war of words has played out in the newspapers. Democrats in the minority party have decried the fate of our state’s children, while the state Republican majority have stayed hard and fast in the need to maintain fiscal conservatism – even in the light of homeless and neglected children running abandoned in the streets at ever-increasing numbers.

The Child Services department has struggled to deal with an increase of children in care. In 2008 there were 1,507 children in foster care. By 2016, the number of foster kids had grown 111 percent to 3,179. And as of June of this year, the number has risen again to 3,454 kids. Methamphetamine use by parents has fueled the number of severe child abuse cases and fatalities. More than 1,000 foster kids had parents who were using meth. That’s four times as many as in 2010. Welcome to the new realities of life in idyllic rural America.

Child abuse and neglect cases filed in court more than doubled to 2,321 — up 125 percent from 2010 to 2015. Yet the caseworkers handling the flood of calls, the permanent staff in the state Division of Child and Family Services, actually decreased 4 percent. The 2013 Legislature provided more money for Child and Family Services, but ordered reductions in employees – figure that one out. In Montana caseworkers carry workloads that “far exceed national standards.” This is compounded by the fact that working conditions are atrocious. Computer systems are older than many tasked with working on them, resulting in an average job tenure of less than two years. By the time they’re fully trained, they’re burned out and out the door on the first bus out of town (since they can hardly afford anything else).

Child Welfare Is Not A Cold

Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula, carried several bills during the last legislative session, among them was one to designed to create more pilot projects to look at working with families who come into contact with Child and Family Services before they go to court. The bill passed the House with a 99-0 vote even with a $75,000 fiscal note attached. The bill would revive a pilot project approved last session that is meant to let division employees work with children and families on treatment plans before having to file a court case.

While on the surface this program seems like a logical answer … it’s nothing other than window dressing – and on a dirty window at that. More studies looking at what we already know. A statewide allocation of $75,000 is hardly enough to buy donuts for the planning meetings – let alone actually doing something that these studies might come up with. And tell me where are the people going to come from to do this pre-emptive intervention when there isn’t enough human resources available to handle the cases they already have. This is just more of government vying for press over production. After the local news crews pack up and go home – the children behind the soundbites will still be making Top Romen for themselves at home (if they have one) and falling through the cracks at ever-increasing numbers as their so-called parents are busy “chasing the bag.”

While I applaud the efforts of Dudeck and her recognition that efforts need to be focused before-the-fact … they’re still nowhere enough, nor far enough before-the-fact. Governmental efforts to deal with societal child maladies are too often treated like the common cold. We look at the symptom thinking if we mask them with a short-term solution like a Tylenol (or in the child’s case – foster care), with time it’ll pass. Let the virus run its course and endure the discomfort in the interim. But even with a cold, eventually – sooner than later there’s a test for an infection. And if the test is positive then antibiotics are prescribed. Without them, the problem will only get worse. Somewhere underneath there’s an underlying cause. Waiting out a child’s social problems and hoping they’ll pass is tantamount to waiting out an infection. The prognosis will not be good … possibly even fatal.

Where’s The Community?

Governmental departments operate in silos. It’s a little of poor design and obsession with protecting turf. They seldom communicate, let alone coordinate efforts. Conducting a deep dive into a community’s true problems is well beyond the scope of any of their job descriptions – whatever the silo. Child service problems are normally attributed to unemployment, drug use, lack of affordable housing – or all of the above. These causes are really just symptoms too. Dig deeper, the more complex the situation gets … and yet the solution may be more simple.

Take drug use. Addiction is not only a psychological problem – it also has sociological and even anthropological components. A drug user or alcoholic could have PTSD or other psychological issues contributing to a dual diagnosis. Neither component of the diagnosis can be treated separately or without consideration for a person’s environment. Treatment rarely works when the patient is returned to associate with the same peer group they left (or were removed from). Yet where do they go? Most of the time – right back to where they were in the first place. This is their familiar point of social contact. Helping them find another one, one more conducive for a positive change in behavior, is far beyond the “job” of the governmental social safety net our society has become addicted to rely on.

And even if drugs were the problem, how did the situation get to the point that there was no safety net for the child available other than the government. Where are their friends and their parents? Where is the family?  Where’s the community? It’s understandable it’s possible for someone to go off the rails, whether they have a child or not. But to have this happen and there be no one there to help – especially in the case of the helpless, is not understandable … nor is it acceptable. Has our society become so torn apart and callous that even the basics needs of our children are looked at optional? And are they subjected to the same budget priorities as digging a hole in the ground to build a road out in the middle of nowhere where maybe five pickup trucks an hour will use.

Animals abandoned by their packs and herds in the wild seldom make it on their own. Why should we expect a different fate for humans? Is it we think it’s alright to just “go it alone?” Have we become so collectively stubborn that we don’t think we need help? Or do we know we do, but just can’t find anyone – anyone but the government, which is pretty much a feel fall into Dante’s Hell. If those who need basic neighborly help can’t find it … what does that tell us? How far are we willing to go to let this John Wayne, Clint Eastwood loner Hollywood prototype manifest into reality. At the end of the day John and Clint could get off their horse and go home to a house, a soft bed and a hot meal cooked by someone who loved them.

Outside of Hollywood in our real lives – this doesn’t seem to be the case. And with it we take our youngest with us on this journey of living hell. Where did they sign up for this? Many, policy makers included, wholeheartedly believe “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I suppose in some circumstances that’s true. But for the ones it’s not – there will be a lot of carnage. Is this the Machiavellian society we want?

Rebuilding The Middle Ring

In 2014, 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 neighbourly 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 has 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 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.

There’s been much discussion in the last decade about the decay of the American community, at least as we like to remember it, or as Hollywood portrays it. But really it’s the loss of the Middle Ring we’re seeing. We still have communities, they’re just not inhabited by “our neighbors.”

“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)

It’s the loss of these neighbors who were physically around that could be counted on (often without even asking) that’s creating a social divide in America. In the past, before World War II, our neighbors were our support. They were the doctors, the midwives and the handymen. They were where we could go to get food when we needed it. It’s what got America through the Great Depression.

We didn’t have to agree with them politically, socially or otherwise, but we knew them and they were still our neighbors. And we could count on them.

But with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, the government became America’s support system. The help of your neighbor wasn’t as important. That worked fine, but that reliance on the township, the community, the neighborhood and in turn the nurture of our Middle Ring began to wane. It wasn’t so evident at first. But the chinks in the armour, so to say, were beginning to show, even back then.

And now it seems as if we’ve all but lost our Middle Ring. Maybe not physically. There’s still people who live next door and down the street, but we don’t know them. Maybe we’ve never even met them. We don’t know where they’ve been or where they want to go. And it kind of makes it hard to help them get there.

In this time of Trump we’re going have rely on our neighbors as the government is on a fast track to absolve itself of any responsibility of the well-being of the populace it supposedly represents. I guess they feel if we a have a horse and a cowboy hat we’ll be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and ride off. This being the case – maybe we can use this governmental neglect as wake up call. Maybe we can face the inevitable that the days of Roosevelt may have irreparably aged. And from it, maybe we can usher in a new age, one not based on Leviathan to take care of us, but rather one that values the Middle Ring and the benefits of having neighbors close. This involves work on our part though. The government can’t legislate that we go meet our neighbors. It can’t make us shovel out the driveway of the elderly woman down the street … let alone move in with her. And it can’t make us be a friend with guy down the street who’s glued to Fox News 24/7 and overcome whatever ideological differences we may have. And it shouldn’t.

Isn’t it time we take back our communities and neighborhoods? It’s not that anyone or anything really took them from us. They’re still there, but they need care like a garden. Left unattended, they’ll dry up or get taken over by weeds – figuratively and literally. The way we start this “garden” restoration project is by rebuild our Middle Ring … and recognize the solution has been here all along no matter the age or their plight.

That shovel is waiting … and so is the woman down the street and the child cooking Top Romen.

If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo that will inevitably take anyone and anything down with it … please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and the well-being is priority. Or even better email me, at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

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