The Nature of Change

I talk about progressive change a lot, yet that idea does not fully capture my ideas about how change occurs.

I like the word progressive because it indicates forward movement. It is also nonpartisan, or at least it can be understood in that way. Yet, progress is linear, logical, and rational. There is a beginning and an end. Yet, change does not always occur in this way. In fact, change is an ongoing, continual process. Every breath is a potential transformation.

When I was an undergrad, my theology professor shared two views of history with us. According to him, a line with a set starting point represented the Western view while a circle represented the Eastern view. Not being satisfied with either, I developed a third idea – a spiral with no beginning and no ending, with cycles that build upon what has occurred in the past.

Social change happens in all three ways, reflecting the multiple understandings that humans have about the nature of history. Social change also occurs in quantum space when openings are created through chaos.

So how does one become an advocate for quantum change, rather than progressive change, without being physically or psychologically violent?

I think this can be achieved by detaching, opening up to possibility, and flowing.

So how does one effectively do this in a politically tenuous environment?

By focusing on our intention, trusting, and being love.

Releasing our unrealistic desire to control everything in the universe leads to an increased sense of self-control.

I think that the concepts of progressive change and quantum change are complementary, perhaps even paradoxical. Activists can simultaneously employ different means toward the same ends either inter- or intra-personally. The important thing is to be aware of what we are doing, our purpose, and to do something to express our deepest values in the social sphere.

20 Questions: Advocacy

  1. What social condition(s) are we trying to shift?
  2. What change will positively influence this social condition?
  3. What is the specific ask?
  4. Are there any acceptable alternatives to this ideal solution?
  5. What will be the result of making such a change for the community overall and in the lives of individual people?
  6. What are the financial, environmental, and human costs and benefits of making such a change?
  7. What stories illustrate the need for this change?
  8. What data support the need for this change?
  9. What visuals can be used to communicate the need for this change?
  10. What structural obstacles are preventing this change from taking place?
  11. What personal or organizational resistance exists toward this change?
  12. What are the values and priorities of the decision makers that we need to influence?
  13. What other individuals and groups are working on this issue?
  14. Who else cares about this issue and why is it important to them?
  15. How will we engage others in our advocacy efforts?
  16. What key messages do we need to share?
  17. Who needs to hear our key messages?
  18. How will we communicate our key messages?
  19. How will we prepare others to be effective advocates for our cause?
  20. How will we strategically time our advocacy campaign?

The Tao of Political Leadership

“The female overcomes the male with
stillness,
Lying low in stillness.
Therefore if a great country gives way
to a smaller country,
It will conquer the smaller country.
And if a small country submits to a
great country,
It can conquer the great country.”
— Tao te Ching
How would a Taoist view influence politics and activism? Why are we so afraid to submit? Why do we allow fear to govern our private and public lives? Why do we grasp and cling to our ideas? What would happen if we let go?

365 Ways to be Social+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you read this blog, then I suspect that you are Social+ (“social positive”). People who are Social+ aim to have a net positive social impact by considering the environmental and human impact of everyday decisions and interactions, being actively involved in the community, and expressing kindness and compassion toward others on a daily basis.

We recently opened up the Social+ Boutique so that you can demonstrate your commitment to living Social+ and open up conversations with others about how to create a more peaceful, loving planet.

We now also have a lovely 2013 Social+ calendar available. Each month has a beautiful picture and inspirational quote and every day has one idea of how you can be Social+. For example:

January 9 – Write a letter to the editor about poverty in your community

February 13 – Be kind to everyone you meet today

March 4 – Let something go today

April 15 – Enjoy the fresh air with a friend

May 18 – Visit a relative that you don’t see very often

June 9 – Ask someone for their assistance

July 3 – Be kind and gentle to yourself

August 31 – Learn a new language

September 28 – Visit a local park

October 26 – Make someone else’s day really special

November 3 – Let your light shine

December 19 – Be fully aware of the ripple effect of your every thought and action

The Social+ 2013 calendar makes a wonderful holiday gift for all of the people in your life who care about their community – and it makes a nice gift for you, too! The calendar costs $15.99 but you can save 20% through tomorrow by using promo code VETS 2012.

 

Cookie Cutter Correspondence

“When a person takes time to write you a letter, you’ve got to pay attention to that person.” — My grandfather in The Morning Call, January 26th, 1985

I care deeply about many issues, and I have the email log to prove it. I think Harrisburg and Washington have had to upgrade their email servers just to handle my correspondence. In fact, my state representative’s chief of staff, who sadly passed away almost two years ago, once offered to make me a certificate for being the constituent who sends the most frequent email communication. In retrospect, I wish I had not succumbed to false modesty so that I could have something from him. I would have loved to have it, but could not publicly acknowledge my vanity. I have since learned that it is selfish to not accept gifts offered by others, and I truly regret if I hurt him in any way.

More recently, I was at a workshop about lobbying at which a state senator, not from my district, audaciously told us to not even bother sending email form letters to his office because they don’t read them. They don’t count.

When I receive a call to action by email, I often use the online systems created to generate email correspondence to legislators as this is an efficiency that saves me time. While it may be able to send my emails with ease, my intentions for doing so are anything but casual.

I thought deeply about what this senator said, and possible ways that I could change my behavior to be a more effective advocate. I considered limiting my areas of interest and focusing on just a few critical issues. But then I realized that doing so would result in poor citizenship, as a legislator doing so would result in poor public service. I considered going to the legislators’ website and submitting my letters directly there, and I sometimes do this. I now pay more attention to the content of the suggested language provided by organizers to make sure it is aligned with my values and intentions. I don’t demand, I educate.

While I am grateful that he provoked this line of thought within me, I still kind of think he was too brazen about it. Elected officials should welcome correspondence from constituents, in whatever form they are able to produce. Many people do not have the ability to write effective letters or the time to do so because they are raising families and working multiple jobs. They still need to have the opportunity to genuinely and clearly express their opinion. How dare someone being paid by taxpayer dollars denounce the good intentions and engaged citizenship of those whom she or he was elected to serve.

I also spoke to a friend who works for one of my U.S. senators. She told me that many senators use a computerized system to categorize letters and tabulate the wishes of constituents. Perhaps state legislators do not have the resources or capacity to organize correspondence in this way.

Yet, I am reminded of the sincere kindness and dedicated service of my friend Leon. I wish all other offices had the same respect for constituents that he did. I am grateful to have known him, and will remember his example as a model of public service and leadership.

Changemaker Chat: Matt Meyer

Matt Meyer is a New York-based educator-activist-author, co-editor of the two volume Africa World Press series Seeds of New Hope and co-author of Guns and Gandhi in Africa, and editor of PM Press’ Let Freedom Ring. He is the War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator, and UN ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his introduction to Guns and Gandhi in Africa, wrote: “Sutherland and Meyer have looked beyond the short-term strategies and tactics which too often divide progressive people . . . They have begun to develop a language which looks at the roots of our humanness.”

How did you first become interested in social change?

Growing up, my dad was a teacher and teacher’s union chapter leader, and my mom was active in community-based social service projects. But neither were very activist oriented beyond that; they gasped as the television images of the war in Vietnam were blasted across the screen, but attended no demonstrations. For me, when I was a senior in high school, and co-editor of my school newspaper, I began to look at some of the political issues facing my age group. Foremost amongst these was President Carter’s re-institution of registration, the first stage in the process of drafting people into the military. We ran a poll of students (who were, of course, overwhelmingly opposed), and an editorial, and then – when my high school sweetheart broke up with me the day before graduation – I plunged into the only thing I found consoling: political work! That summer, the Democratic National Convention was held in my own home town of New York City, and I volunteered to help get a four-star mother (someone who husband and son had been killed in Vietnam) nominated for vice president, just so she could give an anti-registration speech. We got enough delegates to sign, then on the final night the organizers somehow got some press passes so that those of us who had worked the hardest could view the convention from the inside. On that fateful night, it did not matter that I was sitting in the far-away seats at the top of Madison Square Garden. The sitting President of the United States was right there before me, giving his acceptance speech to run for a second term. When he mentioned his policy of registration, a grouping of us booed him, an act heard by millions on national television. The idea that after only a few weeks of social change activism I could boo the President on national TV seemed too good to be true. I wondering what I could do if I remained active for a bit longer!!

How do you define social justice?

For me, social justice is defined by people’s empowerment–a constructive space filled with equal opportunities and equity, with a communalism that suggests not simply that people should “live and let live” but rather “live and help to live.” I was taught that by an old leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement, so I guess it is important to say that social justice includes an end to all colonialism and neocolonialism, and end to imperialism, an end to racism, sexism, heterosexism and patriarchy. But for me, it also means an end to militarism and the violent ways in which we treat one another–both personally and structurally through poverty created by capitalism and the drive for unchecked profits.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

This is a tough one; I have had so many. Could it be when, weeks after the above-mentioned experience, I decided to become a public draft resister, refusing to register when I turned 18. At the press conference, I was greeted by a sweet little lady who was feeding me apple strudel and asking how I was. Turned out this woman, who emceed the press conference, was none other than celebrated author Grace Paley! I met Abbie Hoffman within the year, and ended up doing some secretarial work for him. It became clear that the “left” was much smaller than I could have imagined, and I would end up meeting many very inspiring people over the years: from Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, to Assata Shakur, in exile in Cuba; from my mentors Pan African pacifist Bill Sutherland, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party leader Mawina Koyate, and Puerto Rican human rights elder Luis Nieves Falcon; from my partner and companero Meg Starr to all my comrades in Resistance in Brooklyn; from so many icons of the War Resisters League and peace studies communities…I am always excited about meeting the wonderful people also working so hard to re-shape the world for the better. Perhaps the experiences I’d have to rate as most exciting are the countless creative demonstrations, from when the huge puppets of Bread and Puppet Theater led one million of us into Central Park for an end to nuclear power and arms in 1982, to when hundreds of us blockaded the Liberty Bell to demand that the jailers Let Freedom Ring for death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, to just a year ago, when I went with my 11-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to a street action in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street. They are all my most exciting, along with all the ones still to come.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

I spent three weeks in South Africa this past July and August helping put together a new network, now calling itself the African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network. Along with the War Resisters International and other groups, we will be putting together a major Pan African gathering in 2014. Building up for that, across the African continent and throughout the Diaspora, is the most exciting thing I am currently involved in.

ALSO, I am proud to be part of growing efforts to shine special attention on two prisoners who deserve and demand immediate release. One is Russell Maroon Shoatz, serving close to forty years behind bars, with over thirty of them in torturous solitary confinement. If the US is to even come close to living up to its image of “justice for all,” it must unconditionally release old men who are in prison largely due to the fact that they joined the Black Liberation movement (Panthers, etc) in the late 1960s. Though he is convicted of various “criminal acts,” no common criminal spends this long in solitary or behind bars. The fear is that, once prisoners like Maroon are released, they are going to do what Mandela did when he was released: lead revolutionary movements for massive and radical change. We know, of course, that movements are made by more than just leaders, and our social justice movements must be at least string enough to help these warriors of past struggles get out of jail before they die.

Similarly, the case of Oscar Lopez Rivera, in jail for the thought crime of “seditious conspiracy” to overthrow the US government’s control of his Puerto Rican homeland, must be given full immediate attention.

What are your plans for the future?

A book I have been working on for six years, as co-editor and contributor, is about to be released. We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America contains a foreword by Cornell West, after-poems by Alice Walker and Sonia Sanchez, and a host of amazing essays by scores of activists. So I will be doing some work to promote that book, which Maya Angelou has graciously said “is so needed” at this time. More information about the book, including how to order it, is here: https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=433

I am a full-time teacher, and also a full time (or as much as is left) father, and I take those two responsibilities very seriously, as a central part of my commitment of working for a better world.

Typology of Activism

Activism can be classified according to many characteristics. Based purely on anecdotal and intuitive evidence, I believe there is a positive relationship between the proactivity of a strategy/tactic (independent variable) and the sustainability of the change that results (dependent variable) Whether or not this is accurate, I do think that it is helpful to organize activism according to these variables as such:

Four quadrants are created based on whether strategies/tactics are reactive or proactive and whether the changes sought are short-term or long-term. I started to think of a name for each quadrant and fit examples into each, but this became problematic. It is difficult to “fit” complex activism into such neat categories. Nonetheless, this chart may be useful as we evaluate the fit between our actions and goals.

Based on my earlier thesis, I placed proactivity on the y-axis and length of the change sought on the x-axis. This suggests a movement toward more proactive strategies to result in longer-term social changes.

In my experience, much progressive activism is reactive; it is based on an external stimulus rather than internally driven. Applying the Pareto Principle, perhaps about 80% of progressive activism is reactive and defensive. I think we should begin with the vision of the world we want to create and start building it – rather than erratically undoing the work of oppressive systems and the people who benefit from them.  Let’s shift 80% of our activism to proactive, offensive strategies to realize long-term, sustainable change.