Ask yourself: “If not me … then who?”

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

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

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

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

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

urban decay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good morning full.jpg

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

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

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

Because hopefully you’ll see …

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


Clay Forsberg

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