Lessons from Frances

May 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Today is May Day.  A few weeks ago I had the unique opportunity to share some ideas about working with complexity with a group of funders who are committed to social justice.  It was quite an honor to sit in the same panel as the great Frances Fox Piven and the amazing Ai-Jen Poo.

Ai-Jen was recently named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. I’ve been following her work for a while and I can tell you that the mention is well deserved.  Frances has influenced, informed and inspired thousands of people who have committed their life to this work.

In the presence of such an elder and a luminary anyone would be a fool not to take notes.  I thought I would share some highlights from Frances’ talk with you:

  • She reminded us that one out of three Americans are now poor or near poor
  • Today’s growing inequality can only be changed with courage, vision and defiance of the level of mass mobilization
  • We have to wonder why economic freedom became the only type of freedom that we’ve learned to celebrate
  • Movements can do two things:
    • Get out new  messages
    • Make it impossible to govern without dealing with social problems
  • Let us a look at how we contribute to the functions of institutions and ask ourselves how do we withdraw our cooperation
  • Be intentional and strategic about providing defense strategies for those willing to disrupt
  • Seek to create new legal spaces

These have been freely paraphrased and they’re not stated in any particular order. I am grateful to Frances, to Ai-Jen  and to our conveners for keeping the spirit of May Day alive.

What will you do today? How might you disrupt the status quo? What kind of freedom are you looking for?


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  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks for this! When I first saw your graphic I said it was a good thing I liked my work so much (since it routinely finds its way into the “as I will” and “rest” time slots). I spent my May Day thinking about how much of my time is actually spent trying to upset the status quo. Here’s to increasing the quotient!

  • Gibrán says:

    I think you do a lot of that upsetting the status quo. I also think it was revolutionary to ask for 8/8/8 and as I see stress, unhealthy bodies and families everywhere I look I often wondered if this knowledge worker thing was a swindle that disconnected us from nature and community…

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