Gifts of My FatherFebruary 29, 2012 28 Comments
I offer this post in memory of my father, John D. Ogden Jr. (1942-2012), who passed away much too young this past Saturday after a two year fight with cancer. Known to all of his friends and family as a good and kind man, my father was also the inspiration for much of my interest in conscious evolution and the fight for justice. From his time as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia, he spent his career promoting inter-cultural understanding, most recently as director of international programs at SUNY Cortland. My dad once told me the older he got, the more radical he became. Especially in his retirement, starting six years ago, he began speaking out more stridently in favor of electoral reform and the idea of creating a U.S. Department of Peace. At the same time, he continued to take his explorations of consciousness deeper as a regional convenor of the Institute of Noetic Sciences Network. And then there was “the sign,” that still sits in my parents’ house in Cortland, NY and is pictured in the piece below that is re-posted from early 2010. I like to think of my dad as one of the early agitators in the Occupy movement, someone who was always eager to change the conversation in favor of greater fairness and meaning. With love and gratitude for all that you gave me, Dad . . .
Changing the Conversation
The photo above was sent to me by my father, who is also the photographer. In fact, he is also the sign maker. This statement currently sits by the roadside in front of my parents’ house in upstate New York. When I asked what sparked this action, he wrote:
“There really wasn’t a single event that brought this about. I got increasingly frustrated with the so-called health care reform debate, knowing that wealthy corporations had donated millions of dollars to the “campaign funds” of many legislators. Citizen groups retaliated by collecting millions of dollars to counter the corporate propaganda. What a waste of money! Then I saw an interview on PBS with Christopher Dodd, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The interviewer pointed out that Committee members had received 30 million dollars from banks and financial institutions. Dodd himself had received 7 million dollars. When asked if this might not influence his decision, he replied something like ‘Of course not.’ That was probably the straw that broke this camel’s back.”
And he is not alone. What frustrates many I know the most, is how those of us who are outraged no matter our political leanings then end up taking it out against one another, through media-manufactured circuses and so-called public “hearings” (just who is really listening?). In many cases it’s not that we fundamentally disagree, but that we are seemingly set up to fail by the existing structures and processes. As Judith Innes and David Booher say in a critique of public participation processes in this country, many of these create or reinforce an us-them dynamic that ends up (pre)serving the status quo and eroding trust across the board. Ultimately, everyone involved is in some sense demeaned.
Innes and Booher go on to advocate for a multi-stakeholder (multi-way, not just two-way) collaborative approach to public political participation. They promote authentic dialogue (not rigid “hearings’) between these multiple perspectives as a process that yields the learning, networks, and social capital that is required to build civic capacity for problem-solving and the realization of shared visions. In this complex networked world, that is both the need and the opportunity in front of us– self-organization and political design must go hand-in-hand.
My father ended the explanation of his signage by saying: “I would love to see this go viral in some way, prompting a grassroots movement for publicly funded elections.” That would be our cue, the self-organizing blue and red signmakers among us . . .