In this final segment of our three part interview, Dr. Ceasar McDowell introduces some early experiences that have inspired his work in community development. He also discusses the evolution of how we organize ourselves as human beings in community. He comments that while in the past we were born into specific communities or chose communities that were local and familiar, now “all of that has changed.” He adds that “we often find ourselves in places where we can’t then build an integrated community, so we look at how do we then take care of that other part of ourselves, which we can say is spiritual, relational, whatever it may be…For some people, they start to do it around work, or they do it around their habits, or they do it around church…All of that still keeps us separate, because now you’re holding this multiplicity of the places where you’re finding your identity and yourself and your connection, and it ends up being fragmented in some ways.” Dr. McDowell continues by exploring this new space that we find ourselves in, one of transition and change.
In the second of this three part interview, Dr. Ceasar McDowell details his vision for democracy as an ongoing process of interaction and engagement. He shares that the work of democracy is “how people come to know and understand both each other, the issues that are important to them, and how they want to make meaning together.” He adds that his current work is focused on the idea of Big democracy which he describes as, “an aspiration. And at the core of this aspiration is the belief that the public is fully capable of working together to create sustainable, just, and equitable communities. But to do so the public must have ongoing, peaceful ways to interact around traditions that bind them, and interests that separate them, so they can realize a future that is an equitable improvement on the past.”
Since the origins of this country we have been embedded in a belief about the hierarchy of human value, a belief that some lives are more important than others. Two examples of this clearly expressed are racism and sexism. As long as this belief system persists, it will undermine democracy. One way it shows up is as microaggressions, those little bitty acts that say to someone, “you don’t belong, you can’t be trusted, you’re less-than”. It’s a message a black man gets crossing the street in front of a car when people lock their doors. Or the catcalls a woman gets walking down the street. Brain scientists are teaching us that these types of aggressions are deeply wired in our brain and to change them we actually have to change the experiences that people have.
An antidote to microaggressions are micro-inclusions. These are little symbolic actions that force us to recall our humanity. They’re acts of humanity that signal to those at the margins they are included.
IISC has long believed that this image, illustrating the difference between equality and equity, is worth a thousand words. As a gift to the world of equity practitioners, IISC engaged artist Angus Maguire to draw a new version of an old favorite (since we could only find pixelated versions of the original). Please feel free to download the high-resolution image and use in your presentations.
This image is free to use with attribution: “Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.” For online use please provide links: interactioninstitute.org and madewithangus.com.
We love hearing stories about how the image is being used so please get in touch with us and let us know how you used it. We especially enjoy hearing about how this image helps to start conversations about equity and equality. We’re on social media and email (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com).
Updates since this article was first published:
20 May 2016: We were notified via Twitter that the original creator of the original graphic wrote a piece cataloging the evolution of the meme. Here’s the piece. It even encompasses our version and a few riffs on it, including our followup collaboration with the Center for Story-Based Strategy & Angus, #the4thbox.
Sustainable City Network publishes about best practices for Leaders in Government, Education, and Healthcare. Recently they featured IISC Senior Associate Cynthia Sila Parker, reflecting on Rhode Island’s 2-year planning process, which incorporates equity goals. Read More
Ceasar McDowell Speaks at TedX Event from 3-6PM EST on October 10.
Hamilton College has produced a TedX to remember, with speakers united under the theme “Curiosity and Creativity Uninhibited.” It was an honor for IISC President Ceasar McDowell to be invited, and supported by Hamilton student Chidera Onyeiziri.
Ceasar’s talk is entitled, “Big Democracy: A Fundamental Shift.” See him open with the vastness of wonder that exists in the universe, literally displaying a photographic representation of the Big Bang. He then presents the comparison to the Human Universe with its constellation of different races, ethnicities, languages, sexual orientations, and belief systems. So while the complexity of the universe inspires, the complexity of the Human Universe feels daunting.”
His answer to help us see and understand the complexity of the human universe is Big Democracy. Ceasar describes the artifacts democracy produces and interactions needed for an equitable society. He invites we frame our collective agenda using inquiry, explores why we need to design for the margins, and shares his latest idea for inter-personal change: micro-inclusions.
The talk calls on the audience to acknowledge the choice-point we are at as a society, and to imagine a new series of actions and interactions for social change.
The European Foundation Centre (EFC) is an international membership association of foundations and corporate funders working to strengthen the philanthropic sector in Europe and further afield. It is currently creating a new strategy for 2016 and onwards. IISC staff based in Belfast are supporting the EFC with the design and facilitation of this process. In developing the strategy EFC really wants to engage with a wide range of stakeholders so that the plan will be aligned closely with the needs, interests and aspirations of foundations and corporate funders in Europe and the wider world.
From Louise O’Meara, Regional Director of IISC Ireland: “We are delighted to be working on this project. The future of philanthropy in Europe and beyond is hugely important in addressing issues of social justice. Across the planet people are looking for new ways to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives. Philanthropy is central in enabling this and the European Foundation Centre has an important role in helping foundations and others to maximise their impact”.
IISC has worked with the Board of EFC and its staff in the early stages of the planning process and is now reaching out to its wider membership, seeking their views and wisdom, to inform the new strategy. A key mechanism for this is EFC’s Annual General Assembly and Conference, this year being held in Milan, Italy. IISC and EFC staff members will be hosting strategy workshops, conducting one to one conversations and employing a ‘strategy booth’ where participants can post ideas on where EFC should be heading in the future. They will all be donning super sized ‘strategy spectacles’ during the conference to help promote the strategy process and encourage people to get involved – even if at risk of looking a little bit silly!
Cities are complex places that can lack the infrastructure and processes to stitch together their constituencies. Today, cities are innovating, but many times that innovation is laser focused around data, big data and getting more data. This only gives us a glimpse of the reality regarding citizen experiences within a city. In short, big data by itself is insufficient for innovation.
In a guest commentary for the City Accelerator, Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, argues we must bring together the public to gain a holistic picture of the problems in our cities and the solutions needed to build communities that are economically healthy.
Fiscal scarcity and competing policy demands bring with them a tendency toward favoring utilitarian solutions that do the most good for the greatest number of people. Discussions of urban innovation are sometimes limited by concerns that in an environment of scarce resources, communities cannot afford to focus narrowly on sub groups with unique needs.
In a guest commentary for the City Accelerator, Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, argues just the opposite. Not only does the old adage that the measure of civilization is how it treats its weakest members still stand, McDowell contends that designing for people living on the margins can create powerful positive change that flows outward and up.
Last year, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, I was facilitating a group of students and faculty at MIT reflecting on the impact and meaning of the bombing. The participants ranged from people who had been at the marathon site to those who witnessed it on TV. All experienced the lock down that occurred in Cambridge and felt the impact of the death of eight-year-old Martin William Richard, and many of them shared something deeper, the trauma of being an unwilling victim and sometimes perpetrator of planned, unexpected, unwarranted or thoughtless violence. From a former Israeli solider, who asked “do I kill these 4 men in my line of sight because of the threat they may pose?” to a woman who survived a brutal rape, the bombing made visible the deep trauma so many people live with from day to day.
But something remarkable happened that evening. As we sat in circle listening to each story a young veteran spoke up about his experience with violence in the streets of LA and the deserts of Iraq. He spoke with a deep passion that disrupted the quiet reflection of the group. “We can’t just sit around and talk about this. If things are going to change we have to shift something fundamental in ourselves in order to stop the massive violence in our world.” He continued, “For me it is the following commitment I have made to myself and that I tell each person I am engaged with I Will Not Harm Your Children.” Then he stopped.
“Some of my relatives lived for decades in the North, in Kano and Bornu. They spoke fluent Hausa. (One relative taught me, at the age of eight, to count in Hausa.) They made planned visits to Anambra only a few times a year, at Christmas and to attend weddings and funerals. But sometimes, in the wake of violence, they made unplanned visits. I remember the word ‘Maitatsine’ – to my young ears, it had a striking lyricism – and I remember the influx of relatives who had packed a few bags and fled the killings. What struck me about those hasty returns to the East was that my relatives always went back to the North. Until two years ago when my uncle packed up his life of thirty years in Maiduguri and moved to Awka. He was not going back. This time, he felt, was different.” – Chimamanda Adichie
Last week Darren Walker opened the Resilient Cities lunch reminding us that not only do we need to work to make cities resilient and sustainable, we must also work to make them just. As I listened to Xav Briggs, Joan Clos, Toni Griffin and others speak, I thought about my work at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and what working to make just cities means for planning and planners. How does one attend to the myriad issues facing cities: poverty, crumbling infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic collapse? Read More