How can democracy result in an equitable, sustainable society?
New animation produced with Nimblebot explores turning patterns of exclusion into Big Democracy.
People’s participation in our democracy is hindered by unequal access and structures that are hard to navigate. In Big Democracy the public sets the agenda, society designs solutions for those most in need, and institutions are directly accountable to the public.
IISC presents a new animation which explores Big Democracy from multiple vantage points. There is a mayor, firm in her belief that people know exactly what they need to solve the problems of today. There are newly engaged residents, reluctant to trust that their participation will result in changes. And there are people, moving through the city, experiencing the triumphs and failures of the system.
The following is a slightly edited re-post from a couple of years ago. The impetus for both the re-posting and editing was a recent conversation on On Being with Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk, writer/speaker on the topic of gratitude, and known for his participation in interfaith dialogue and his work on the interaction between spirituality and science.
In a recent interview with Brother David Steindl-Rast, On Being host Krista Tippett introduces the topic of gratitude, by saying that at times it can come across as fairly cerebral or precious without much gravitas. Case in point, writer Barbara Ehrenreich, approaches gratitude with considerable skepticism, seeing it as another “feel good” way to be self-satisfied and unconcerned with the world and people who are suffering and oppressed. Yet Brother David, who has lived through war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country (Austria), teaches what he calls “gratefulness” as a deep and important spiritual practice.
Gratefulness in Brother David’s view and experience is not at all superficial, or a practice purely for the privileged. It allows for and leans into the very real anxieties of life, and when invoked in “full-bodied ways” can help prevent those anxieties from becoming disabling fear. Brother David acknowledges the tragedies and injustices of the world, while saying: Read More
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.
How focusing on diversity, flow and structure in human networks can be a foundation for great change.
Over the past couple of years, we at IISC have partnered with a few different social change initiatives that have engaged in system mapping to both align diverse stakeholders and surface leverage points for collective intervention. In looking back at these different mapping processes, it is striking the similarities of the areas of focus that have been identified, despite the variety of issues being addressed (food system fragility to educational disparities to public and environmental health). Across these efforts, common areas of leverage have surfaced around:
First things first: shoutout to Coretta Scott King for founding the King Center in 1968. Without this institution, we would not have a national holiday celebrating her husband’s life and work.
For the past few years, in honor of Coretta’s wishes and Martin, I’ve been doing a little bit of self-education on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Last year, I discovered his speeches were on Spotify so I listened to about 4 hours worth. This year, I’m taking a long look at his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. (Coincidentally, the Letter has always been important to me because he wrote it on my birthday). Read More
“We can create a public that includes us all, and together bring in a new form of democracy.” -Ceasar McDowell #BigDemocracy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
IISC President Ceasar McDowell brought Big Democracy to TEDx Indiana University on November 13, 2015. The talk explores how disconnections in narrative, communications, and design stand in the way of democracy and what today’s global social movements are doing to repair these connections. McDowell articulates that we are in a new era called Big Democracy, one which can hold the diversity and complexity of people in the world.
McDowell calls on the audience of 4,000 to begin the change today by practicing a micro-inclusion, or small way to show someone “you’re included, I can see you’re there.”
The talk closed a powerful evening of speakers around the theme “Eyes on the Stars, Feet on the Ground.” Thanks to everyone at TEDx Indiana University for the invitation to speak and for an incredibly well-produced event.
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.
In the first of this three part interview with Dr. Ceasar McDowell, he describes the central focus of his work in the development of community knowledge systems and civic engagement. He also shares some examples of how that focus has manifested. In his words, “I can boil it down to one thing. My work, my research interests, my life, is about voice. And particularly how people—and specifically the people who are at the margins of society–are able to both name their experience in the world, have that naming be recognized, and also open themselves up to the experience of others.”
Image by Tom May (www.flickr.com/photos/sleepyhammer/13877245315/sizes/c/)
The following is a slightly edited re-post of something I wrote in early 2014. Since writing this, I continue to see the need to be vigilant around not privileging extroversion in groups, to provide more opportunities to tap a range of cognitive styles to leverage fuller potential in networks.
Here I want to reflect on some of the insights Cain’s work has to offer collaboration and “net work” for change. Essentially, Cain reminds us of an important element of diversity that we should not overlook in our change efforts –different cognitive processing styles and ways of responding to social stimulation. Read More
Jen Willsea at the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. March 2015.
I am angry that the murder of Tamir Rice is being explained away as a “perfect storm of error” in Cleveland, that Sandra Bland is being blamed for her own death in Texas, and that police in Chicago chose to “shoot first and ask questions later,” killing two more unarmed African Americans the day after Christmas.
When will we stop recycling, reinventing, and reinforcing American racism—the same old oppression in new forms? Why have we allowed it to persist for so long and why do we continue to explain it away, denying the magnitude and depth of racism as it manifests the 21st century while wary of the ways our past is actually impacting the present? Read More
A couple of years ago, I was turned on to the work of Louise Diamond. Diamond has been bringing insights from the dynamics of complex systems to peace building work for many years. Her efforts connect to a growing number of practitioners and thinkers who see the need to approach social change with an ecological and evolutionary mindset. In one of her papers, she extracts some of the “simple rules” that yield core practices for working in this way. Here I have adapted and adjusted some of them in application to network building for change and resilience in food systems. Read More