Moving Beyond The Hierarchy

We assume our way of life in 2018; one of governments and states, and the endless media coverage of their every detail are the pinnacle of civilized existence. We depend on these hierarchies to delivery us from evil or whatever else ails us. I suppose we believe this since that’s all any of us have ever known. And in contrast, we view leaderless societies stereotypically as less-evolved primitive groups of hunters and gatherers running around in loincloths hunting mastodons with spears made of tree branches and flint.

What if this wasn’t true. What if the more evolved society was the one closer to that of the ones with the spears. What if the societies they created, ones that didn’t need to be dictated by an overarching authoritarian power, represented a higher state of human evolution. These communities of hunting and gathering were not governed by force, intimidation and manipulation; but rather by group norms of altruism, fair play and cooperation. Isn’t this what we teach our children in kindergarten? Why does our society abandon it as we supposedly mature.

Hierarchy In The Forest

Through decades of research in the fields of conflict resolution, altruism, and moral origins; cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm makes a compelling case our assumed anthropologistic evolution isn’t so much “evolved.” Boehm, director of the Jane Goodall Research Center at University of Southern California, believes the decentralization of power represents a higher level of human behavior.

Boehm outlines decades of research in his seminal book, Hierarchy in the Forest. Combining an exhaustive ethnographic survey of human societies from groups of hunter-gatherers to contemporary residents of the Balkans with a detailed analysis of the behavioral attributes of non-human primates (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos), Boehm investigates whether humans are hierarchical or egalitarian by nature. Boehm also suggests that democracy, both ancient and modern, could be understood by looking at the egalitarianism of nomadic bands and sedentary tribes. In short, do the ideals we strive for in a truly democratic society actually originate with the actions and norms of the hunting and gathering tribes of Africa and Asia thousand of years ago. And is the version that has permeated our government today actually one that is a step back on the evolutionary scale.

Starting about five thousand years ago … societies functioned as chiefdoms, with highly privileged individuals at the top of the food chain. But before then, humans basically were egalitarian. They lived in what might be called societies of equals, with minimal political centralization and virtually no social classes. Everyone participated in group decisions, and outside the family there were no dominators. For more than five millennia now, the human trend has been toward hierarchy rather than equality. (Overcoming Bias)

All primate societies, Boehm notes, were governed by similar dynamics. If any one individual had the opportunity to climb the hierarchy, he or she is likely to seize it; unfortunately, as soon as power is gained, others resent it. In such a society, there are three potential outcomes. One is conflict, in which newcomers continually and overtly challenge the powerful for a position at the top. Another is stable dominance, where the powerful relentlessly and permanently dominate the rest. And a third is an equally stable social structure which Boehm calls “reverse dominance hierarchy,” in which those on the bottom of the pyramid figure out a way to band together and “deliberately dominate their potential master.” In such a society, dominance is still exercised. It just comes, collectively and consistently, from below. (New Yorker)

Boehm’s main thesis is that forager egalitarianism is sustained by moral communities that enable the rank and file to build coalitions to put down would-be “alphas.” Forager bands, in his view, have “reversed dominance” hierarchies that prevent bullies and aggressors from creating a dominance hierarchy of their own: egalitarianism (equality) is sustained by the coordinated dominance of the strong by the weak. Without the ability of the rank and file to form large coalitions to put down would-be dominators, the primate tendency is to establish dominance hierarchies, as we see in chimpanzees and bonobos (and now ironically in the vast majority of human societies, even our current so-called democracies). The ability to form large and stable coalitions in turn depends on the development of the capacity for communication. Low-ranking chimpanzees can sometimes band together and put down alpha males (as the chimpanzees at Yerkes Primate Research Center are reported to have done) but they do not seem to be able to create stable coalitions that get rid of the entire dominance hierarchy, unlike human beings can [in theory]. (Abandoned Footnotes)

In order for status and functional equality to be resilient against attempts to subvert it, it requires a vigilant community to sanction provocateurs and bullies; primarily made possible via a set of norms that strongly promote values such as generosity, altruism and sharing. These values in turn eclipse those of arrogance and selfishness.

That said – critical to establishing these values in a complex society is a universal assumption of “permission.” This societal state of permission must empower everyone in the community, regardless their socioeconomic standing (or other outlying difference), to be able to contribute to the community. This is easier said than done though. Existing hierarchies will fight, both figuratively and literally, to retain their power. Fortunately for the most part (although in an anything but perfect manner), technology and social media can level the playing field. It gives us implied permission, as well as vehicle, to express ideas and organize around a cause. I view it as a modern-day means of “reverse domination.”

Advantages of Self-Policing

Team survival has a fundamentally different logic than self-maximizing. Hunter/gatherers are ever vigilant against free-riding and elite-exploitation; as both can be as threatening to team survival as any predator would be. This self-policing rigidly enforces social rules to ensure that skilled cooperators fare better than self-maximizers. For example, meat is never distributed by whomever made the kill, but by another stakeholder. Enforcement can be by ridicule, shaming, shunning, and, ultimately, exile or execution. Socially enforced rules create powerful pressures. Lowest-cost strategy to avoid social penalties becomes preemptive self-control. This phenomenon even applies to powerful humans, as “counter-dominant coalitions” punish “resented alpha-male behavior” (like hogging an unfair share of meat). Ultimately this becomes inverted eugenics: eliminate the strong, if they abuse their power. In addition, our moral emotions enable “self-policed” social contracts. Conscious, reputation-based social selection for collaborative activities become dominant. Those known to be poor cooperators would not be selected for joint ventures – ultimately acting as a societal control mechanism.

Competitions for positional rank in a hierarchy generally drive added, and often avoidable, overhead costs.  Resources expended for these “arms races” (longer trunks, larger antlers, fancier cars, etc.) could be minimized by intelligent coordination and better allocated for mutual group benefit.

The Evolution of the Theory of Evolution

A few months ago I explored an alternative theory of evolution, spurred by the work of Bill Hamilton in the piece The Evolution of the Theory of Evolution.” Hamilton believed evolution extended beyond the individual organism to that of the family unit. He proposed that altruism could have evolved within family groups, whether genetically or through shared environmental habits and tendencies. Normally an individual altruist would seem to be at a disadvantage, but that was not the whole picture because other individuals who shared the same genes associated with altruism would all influence each other’s “inclusive fitness” by reward this behavior through increased involvement.

Hamilton’s extrapolation of Darwinism, while seemingly radical – made complete sense. By choosing to open the door to new thoughts on evolution – we’re not necessarily kicking Charles Darwin to curb, but expanding on his work based on new levels of research and observation. Consider it letting the theory of evolution evolve. I believe any scientific discovery should be looked at not as an end – but rather a journey down a new road to another level of enlightenment.

“I believe that the community – in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures – is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a  contradiction in terms.” – Wendell Berry

If we embrace Hamilton’s idea that evolution can occur in family units as well as in individuals – what’s saying we can’t take it a step further and expand it to that of the community unit as well.

If we view our community as an evolutionary unit, then we must look to enhance the components that can contribute to its sustainability and prosper – specifically those that proliferate benevolence and kindness. A community is really nothing more than the aggregation of individuals and the interactions between them. Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. If they are not included in the conversation, or given permission – they still will be heard, but it may not be in a socially accepted way (e.g. crime). Prejudice, bigotry or even indifference hurts not only them, but us as part of the overall community. All of our actions, or lack there of – have collective consequences and establish norms that will be carried forward … whether we want them to or not.

The question we should be asking ourselves is how can we evolve our actions (and as a result our norms and expectations) to ones closer to that of the egalitarian societies of hunters and gathers of the past … while adapting them to today’s societal complexities? How can we prioritize generosity and cooperation from early ages and not hypocritically abandon them as we fall into adulthood – adopting them not only individually, but also as fixtures in our beleaguered institutions.

Breaking Hierarchies to Combat Authoritarianism

A lot of us, me included, are still wallowing in the “sugar high” of the mid-term elections. The last two years of Trumpism seems a little less dark looking at how voters repudiated it by establishing a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. We shouldn’t be so quick to think the battle has been won though; nor should we think a similar result in 2020 in the next presidential election will be the panacea either. While these steps are definitely an improvement: the underlying reasons we are in this situation, and by us I include Europe also, are still very much with us. We have turned over the state of our political affairs to mechanisms and the manipulation of often corrupt hierarchies. We might get lucky and elect a “leader” with integrity and compassion – or at the sight of inevitable demographic changes, where “things just ain’t like they used to be” … we fall for the next modern-day Pied Piper. In the end, we’re giving up our agency by absolving ourselves from any personal or civic responsibilities, responsibilities our fore-fathers fought with their lives to acquire.

We have to step up and take control — and not just at the voting booth, even though that’s a positive step. And it’s not enough to lobby for local control if that control still resides in just a different level of government. While I’m not an anarchist and believe government and institutions hold a valuable place in our society, over reliance on them in lieu of personal agency is rendering us impotent to dictate the terms of our own futures.

We have look to ourselves and our neighbors for the solutions not only for our problems – but also for societal norms that will dictate the composition of our communities’ relationships far into the future. And we need to build the infrastructure (physical and virtual) that will empower them. Existing constructs only reinforce the hierarchies we must disassemble.

We need to look to altruism as what we should teach our kids – not just rules and laws that we take to the very brink of what we can get a way with (and often beyond that). We need to aspire not to dominate, but cooperate. We have to establish expectations of rising to the occasion and embracing those around us by helping them see what they can contribute to tapestry of our community – and not penalize them for not adhering to the rigid framework of hierarchical preconceptions set forth by those who reside in ancestral positions of power in their ivory towers.

We must mold our modern-day society to synthesize a rational and appropriate level of self-maximizing with collective self-actualization. This needn’t mean being “devoutly egalitarian”; nor delegating our interdependent futures to mindless market forces and inept governments we entrust to control them that is neither rational, nor survivable. We can and must regulate better than the invisible hand’s invisible brain.

But for us to accomplish this we need everyone on board. Inclusion is paramount in today’s diverse society, one of inhabited by a plethora of ethnicities, religions, ideas, wants and needs. To feel included is synonymous to be given permission to truly be who we want to be, free of encumbering societal norms and expectations. And when society gives us permission … anything is possible.

See Community 3.0 for my version of a prescription for speaking truth to power by organizing your community around decentralized empowerment, inclusion and altruism.

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A.I. and the Decline of Human Intelligence

When my daughter Alex was in third grade she had the reigning Marin County (California) Teacher of Year. Her name escapes me (I’ll blame it on the chemo brain). The parents of all the kids in this Tiburon classroom were beside themselves with praise for her. Me … not so much. A big one thing I had a problem with was she encouraged the students to use calculators in her class. Her reason was that it would be good practice for real life – where no one did math long hand anymore. Well, I do.

Now I still use a calculator, but daily I make every effort to do math problems in my head. Percentages, grocery bill estimates, gas mileage … anything and everything. it’s something I’ve always done and probably always will. It’s cerebral exercise, and it’s something I’ve encouraged my daughter to do also. On road trips as a grade-schooler, she’d have to look at the mileage, take in account our speed, and determine when we’d get to the next stop. I don’t know if she liked it … but she did it anyway.

Now I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite. On the contrary, I self-taught myself how to program in college on FORTRAN 77 on my college’s IBM 360/370 (how many of you remember FORTRAN or a 360/370). I’d sneak in to the computer center at night and drop off my boxes of punch cards. I wasn’t so bright that I used a terminal like the other nocturnal geeks in training though. I used punch cards … and for a many months carried around my three boxes of 1400 cards.

I bought my first Mac in 1985 and I was transferring data online before there was an online. My first email address was at the Well in the San Francisco. In fact I gave Well email addresses for Christmas presents. Alexandria was raised on a Mac, and instead of going to college when she graduated high school … she went to Apple.

That said, I didn’t like the idea of supplanting the exercise of the brain for the exercise the fingers hitting the calculator buttons. And the excuse: “they’ll need to learn how to use a calculator in real life when they’re older” is lame. What they’ll need to learn is how to use their brain. And considering who this country elected as president – we’re in short supply of those that either can or will.

Now I’m not blaming calculators and their use in grade school for the orange clown in the White House and utter disintegration of the democracy before our very eyes … but then maybe I should. Maybe we should look it as a symptom … a touchstone of sorts, emblematic of how we view intellectual development in this country. I get the whole “recognizing the value of tools” thing. But unless the foundation is built for which the tools are to be used (and hopefully complement) – we’re building a skyscraper or citizens’ equivalent of it – on a landfill.

During that time Alex was in grade school, I ran a recruiting firm that specialized in electronic prepress. Over the fifteen years I was a headhunter, I saw the prepress industry evolve from journeymen craftsmen working on stripping tables manually composing high-end film and color etching dot-by-dot … to everything being done via electronic workstations (Photoshop for example). Many of my candidates made the transition and some didn’t. Those who did, those who had the conventional experience and knew how everything fit together manually, were worth much more than candidates who came to me with only electronic background. The latter didn’t have the fundamentals and didn’t know the reasons the code behind the screen was designed to do what it did. Working every day with these people is what flamed my visceral reaction to Alex’s 3rd Grade teacher. Without doing it long-hand or better yet in your head … the numbers on the calculator are just that – numbers. They don’t have history and context.

The mind is like a muscle. The more we think and figure things out … the more we’ll be able to figure other things out. Even something as mundane as a grocery bill guess is like walking a cerebral mile. Every bit counts. Shouldn’t we be looking for opportunities to think more – not less? Just because we can automate and mentally farm something out … should we?

Unintended Consequences

This brings me to A.I. – artificial intelligence. In my Twitter stream, my curated portal to the world, there is no single topic at present that takes up more characters than AI. And if it’s not A.I., it’s what feeds it – big data (I hate that term). Google has even created an A.I. app that can make a haircut appointment for you and sound like a human doing it. Great … no not great. Do we really need our computer to set up a haircut appointment for us? What happened to the opportunity to communicate with someone? No one can tell me they’re so busy that they can’t spend two minutes to make a phone call and engage with a fellow human. And if they are … they shouldn’t be.

This is insane – even while writing this, I’m getting bombarded by more A.I. obsession. Teaching A.I. in grade school just popped into my stream. We’re going headlong into STEM at the expense of everything else (different topic for a different day). Where are the visualists, the artists and the social scientists who will help us communicate with each other and nurture our humanity rather than sending us in the other direction of letting us avoid each other. Never before in my sixty years on this earth have we needed more engagement.

It’s like we’ve just given up on the concept human-to-human interaction. I’m wondering if the ultimate goal of all this is just machine-to-machine engagement. Us humans, at least the majority of us, will sit on the sidelines of life waiting for yet another algorithm to tell us what we’re suppose to be doing and what we’re suppose to be feeling. Those creating the algorithms will run the game — because … well, most of us don’t know any better and can’t do anything about it.

Silicon Valley and all its other “silicon” siblings seem to have this competition for who metaphorically has the biggest one. “What can we have the computer do that will be cooler than the guys (and it’s always guys) down the street are doing?” Driverless cars are the big thing; and I’m sure there will be a time in the not so distance future where knowing how to drive will be a long-lost art. Even with the prevalence of automatic transmissions, operating a manual transmission is one of these arts. Alex, who can, is always called upon to help when there’s moving to be done. It’s not because of her sinewy 120 pound physique – but rather her ability to drive a manual truck. Driving a manual transmission is more than just not shifting. It’s knowing when to shift – and that means thinking … again, like a walking a cerebral mile.

I’m sorry if I’m coming off like Luddite again – and I’m not against A.I. or technology. In fact my Community 3.0 project uses A.I. and database marketing to elevate the health and well-being of our communities by bringing people together. But we can’t let advanced human-like technology displace our own human functions in the process.

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

In the future, King’s quote will become even more applicable if we continue on our current path. Our epidemic of physically obesity will be replaced by cerebral obesity as our brains turn to mush from lack of use. The exact thing we need to train our minds for, more complex thinking – is what we are weaning ourselves of. The daily task of navigating our car has been supplanted by GPS. The days of “fixing things” are long gone and with it are the critical thinking skills we need for the remaining jobs not taken by the artificial intelligence we’re suppose to be embracing. Quite the paradox.

I recently read an article about physicians second guessing themselves and their intuition honed from years of experience because they instead default to data interpretation. Many of my radiologists fiends on Twitter are struggling with the spectre looming in the future that will push their careers to be among the first casualties of A.I. in healthcare. Would A.I.-driven diagnostics improve outcomes? The data says it would – but will it really? I suppose if it replaces physicians who aren’t using their minds to their fullest, it may. But what if these same physicians, didn’t default to technology – but instead used technology more as a complimentary tool, with their minds being the primary processor. But if they don’t continue to think and use their stores of experiences – they won’t run (or even walk) those cerebral miles needed to keep in shape. All too often the EHR software at your healthcare provider operates as  malignant shadow government. The interface design of Epic and its competitors covertly dictate our relationships with our doctors, PAs and nurses. If there isn’t a field for it, it doesn’t matter – or worse, doesn’t exist. Technology, and especially artificial intelligence systems are only as good as the algorithms that drive them and interfaces that allow one to interact with them.

The proponents of A.I., or should I say the obsessionists, say that it frees up our minds from mundane activities in order to pursue cerebral deep dives – deep dives that will result in societal fixes that will save our imperilled world. These deep dives don’t just come when called though. There’s no magic bag of pixie dust that when sprinkled liberally, life-saving ideas will fly out our eyes like butterflies. More often nothing comes out. When we over-rely on technology, we haven’t trained of brain to do much of anything – let alone save the world. But to question the pious of A.I. is akin to blasphemy. Ironically IBM just announced significant layoffs of 50 to 70% in their Watson Healthcare division. Its Watson division was supposed to bring artificial intelligence to markets such as healthcare, although it ended up attracting the wrong sort of headlines when some projects faltered, and financial analysts described it as a money pit.

A Collective Call to Action

Steve Jobs was once asked about creativity and how one becomes creative. His response was epic:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they had more experiences and they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

They had more experiences and then they thought about those experiences more. The operative word was “thought.” We need to not sacrifice our minds for technological progress. And I rather doubt that’s intent of those who drive the artificial intelligence bus. But rather if it’s intended or not – it could very well be one of those dreaded unintended consequences – the ones who no one thinks about in the euphoria of the moment. Well I’m thinking about it … and we all should.

Being aware is the best counterbalance. We shouldn’t necessarily try to curb the innovation benefits of A.I. – not at all. We just must be aware of the price that may be paid if we ride along never taking off our rose-colored glasses. The old adage “use it or lose it” is especially applicable here. We all need to make conscious efforts to walk (or run) that extra cerebral mile. We need to trust our gut once in while. Dust off that map book and shut off the GPS for your next trip. A wrong turn won’t be the end of you. Don’t just default for technology. Be present and engage with the world around you. As Steve Jobs said; “have experiences and think about them.”

And don’t just have experiences; get out of your comfort zone.  Humans are creatures of habit.  We tend to do the same things, associate with same types of people and be influenced by the same sources as we always have. If you’re a doctor, hang with a plumber. If you’re white, talk to a black person. Take the bus sometime (no – people on buses don’t bite). If you live on the west side, have dinner on the east side. And most of all if you’re old (yes Boomers you are old) … get some insight from someone young – someone that’s not your own kid. Our brains are nothing more than synaptic connections which are built and strengthened through habitual activity and thought. If this habitual activity actually isn’t thinking (e.g. leaning on A.I.) – that’s even worse.

While we can all make efforts personally – we also have to look at how we can leverage these efforts. Make sure our kids’ schools aren’t over-relying on technological crutches. We must stress critical thinking and basic problem solving  – and start early. Kindergarten isn’t for obsessing over reading. It’s about play and learning dispute resolution in the sandbox and on the playground.

Success does not mean looking to past, nor does it mean blindly ignoring it. Technology is a tool, and tools are meant to compliment. It’s our responsibility to evolve along with the tools we create … or the compliment will end up replacing us. We need civic and social solutions that take into account the unintended consequences. Societal norms need to be established. What if engagement and thought was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity too often over-emphasized by the naiveté of the echo chamber. Rather than focusing wholly on jobs for “hard-working folk,” we create paths for “hard thinking” people. Too often, in efforts to include everyone, we lower the bar. We look for inclusion in the current state – not at potential. While hard work is fine, hard thinking provides the future – individually and collectively as a community.

Think about it.

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If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo and help us build based on the true power of the minds of those in our communities  … 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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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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Related Posts:

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 beginning of 2019.

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Related Posts:

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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#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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