Dugnad … The Next Chapter for the Progressive Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution Institution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build … Don’t Tear Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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