It is rare for any of us, by deliberate choice, to sit still and weave ourselves into a place, so that we know the wildflowers and rocks and politicians, so that we recognize faces wherever we turn, so that we feel a bond with everything in sight.”
|Photo by Muffet|http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/150903281/|
Some dozen years ago I went on a road trip with my grandfather to our ancestral home in Arkansas. Leaving from upstate New York at this time of year was not exactly a recipe for easy driving and awe-inspiring views. After a particularly dreary stretch in Ohio, I was ready to snooze the rest of the way when we crossed over into Kentucky. Suddenly things opened up. As we continued south on Route 75, I felt my body started settling into the lovely rolling farm-studded landscape. I remember how my breathing eased and the extraordinary sensation of “being home,” though I had only been to the state once before.
|Photo by Digital Agent|http://www.flickr.com/photos/specialagent/2241064739|
It was at this time a year ago that I made the trip to Keene, New Hampshire to teach my final weekend Change Models class of the semester at Antioch New England. Just a few days prior, the entire region had been rocked by an ice storm for the ages. When the storm hit I was in Maine. Driving home the next day I heard reports about the worst damage being concentrated in western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. All that had slipped my mind when I got up early on Sunday morning to drive to Keene. It came rushing back when I got off of Route 2 heading north and the world turned dark and quiet. Everything in sight was cocooned in ice. Trees sagged. Homes along the roadside for miles were without lights. Businesses were shuttered. The awesome force of nature really began to sink in.
Today’s post is inspired in part by a story I heard recently about a foundation that was paying consultants to work with grassroots community initiatives at a lower rate than it was for them to work with “more formal” organizations. It is also fueled by last week’s work with some amazing community activists in Holyoke, MA at the Food and Fitness Policy Council and from around New England at this year’s Grassroots Retreat convened by the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF) and Toxics Action Center (TAC). It both blew me away and fired me up to learn about all of the initiatives that are under way from Hartford, CT to Hardwick, VT, Great Barrington, MA to Little Compton, RI, focused on local food and energy production, the preservation of local water rights, smart growth promotion, healthy lifestyles for our children . . .
Many of these efforts are being run with very few resources beyond the passionate people who have other full-time jobs or who in some cases are unemployed and still working as volunteers (this is not to overlook the financial support and wonderful technical assistance offered by the likes of NEGEF and TAC). Often these change agents are in the work because they cannot not be in it. This is about their lives, their families, their homes. And yet, what seems to get lost is that it really isn’t just about their lives and communities, it’s about all of us and wherever we live. We always live downstream or upwind from someone. We are all connected. Read More
Vision is up. It’s everywhere. President Obama has brought the fine art of visioning to the highest office in this country and is inspiring others to partake in his enticing images of an engaged and service-oriented citizenry as well as in becoming fellow storytellers of a preferred and more hopeful future. Just the other day people I know who work in state government mentioned that they are seeing visionary language on Massachusetts state websites the likes of which were lacking prior to Governor Patrick taking office. And many who have been laboring for years for a more just and sustainable world, sense the window of opportunity that has opened to audaciously put forth their intentions for, and commitment to, a reality that may have seemed unimaginable only last year. Despite (or perhaps because of) the economy, boldness is in!
Which raises the question for me – what makes vision work? I mean, what really makes it take? For every group or person I work with who gets excited about personal and organizational visioning, there is another who sees the endeavor as being lightweight and fluffy. “Where’s the beef?” they want to know. Where’s the action? How does intention become invention? Read More
As I prepare for what I’m sure will be a challenging and exciting process, I look back on Bill’s insights on network building (thankfully, LCW is an organizational partner in this process!) and his following quote really stands out:
“A network is best understood as an environment of connectivity rather than an organization in the traditional sense. At its best, it is an environment that is value driven and self-generating, where control and decision-making is dispersed and where being ‘well connected’ is the optimal state for any participant. Networks are established in order to create efficiency and optimum value for its participants – with only as much infrastructure as is needed to create effective connectivity. Read More
Just a month ago, the President called on foundations, philanthropists, and others in the private sector to partner with the government to find and invest in innovative, high-impact solutions that are found outside the Beltway. The press release for this new White House initiative, Community Solutions, stated:
“Now more than ever, we need to build cross-sector partnerships to transform our schools, improve the health of Americans, and employ more people in clean energy and other emerging industries. These community solutions will help build the new foundation for the economy and the nation. “
What say ye? What are the implications of a government that, at least in some sense, “gets it”?
It is Sunday morning and the last day of a conference that I have been attending called Deep Change: Transforming the Practice of Social Justice. We are at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the beautiful state of North Carolina. The South is a perfect location for this convening for as one of the participants said, “I long for the South to heal because if the South heals the United States heals and if the United States heals the world will heal”.
Eighty frontline organizers, intermediary organizations and funders have gathered here to learn together, deepen their connections to one another and thereby create a shared sense of identity and an expanded field of spiritual activism. This coming together is a fractal, a small slice of a movement renewed and re-grounded in “an ethic of sustainability, spirituality and a broader understanding of freedom’ committed to infusing spiritual practice into the pursuit of social justice.
I am one of the veterans here. My own activism launched 40 years ago as an anti-poverty community organizer on the Mexican border town of Laredo, Texas. Movement work at that time was inspired by and rooted in the spirituality of the civil rights, farm workers and anti-war movements. Many activists were animated by their Jewish understanding of social justice or of their Christian roots in the social gospel. As the movement and sector evolved political analysis and spirituality became disaggregated as the movement turned its attention to building effective organizations and leaders. This detour was probably an important leg of the journey but one that needs to be left behind as we seek new ways to build a just and sustainable world.
My own experience during that time had the wilderness quality of wandering and confusion for I could never understand how or why we had created this kind of oppositional thinking. I am so very grateful and inspired by this new generation of activists who are committed to re-integrating inner and outer transformation in the pursuit of social justice and transformative change.
As part of this extraordinary gathering we were enchanted and changed by our encounters with the artistry and talent of two of North Carolina’s best: Spoken Word poet, Glenis Redmond, and bluegrass musicians, Baby Cowboy.
“The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.”
As current President and CEO of the Orton Family Foundation Bill Roper tells the story, a couple of decades ago Lyman Orton, proprietor of the Vermont Country Store, was involved in local town planning efforts in Weston, Vermont. In the 1980s, at a time when the state was experiencing a building boom due to the rise of second home ownership, Weston and other small towns found themselves struggling to preserve their unique character while continuing to grow and embrace change. The local town planning commission in Weston, of which Orton was a member, discovered that it was ill equipped to address existing zoning restrictions and bylaws, which left town members powerless around policies that affected land use in their community. The frustration of this experience spurred the creation of the Orton Family Foundation, which began supporting small towns by providing resources, including user-friendly GIS mapping and visualization tools, to citizens to help them envision and ultimately have a say in their communities’ future.
Under Bill Roper’s leadership, the Orton Family Foundation places a particular emphasis on helping towns identify and protect the essence of their community through the collection of shared stories. Like all of the work of the Foundation, efforts have been made to make planning accessible to non-planner types. To this end, language is everything. Roper and his staff avoid jargon by asking residents simply (but profoundly) to identify the “heart and soul” of their community. As they say on their website, “Traditional quantitative approaches use important data about demographic and economic shifts, traffic counts and infrastructure needs, but frequently fail to account for the particular ways people relate to their physical surroundings and ignore or discount the intangibles—shared values, beliefs and quirky customs—that make community. . . . Furthermore, a collection of quantifiable attributes without an understanding of shared values and a sense of purpose does not motivate citizens to show up and make tough, consistent decisions.” In other words, when it comes downs to it, it’s about people.
Time and again, this revelation comes up in various policy debates where experts come together and more often than not leave out the people who are most impacted by (and who have much to offer) their decisions. We know the devastating impact this can have, and yet it continues. In a recent blog post, Dave Snowden rails against obsessions with outcomes measurement when it comes to reforming social services, saying that we continue to look for fail safe, quantifiable, and expert-driven solutions to problems that are much too complex to lend themselves to expertly engineered solutions. He makes a case for greater involvement of the system (including everyday citizens) and the use of narrative to understand the dynamics of and ways of working with the system. With the Orton Foundation example, we might add the importance of using language that invites broader and deeper engagement. This is about creating space for people to share their own experiences and perspectives, allowing not only for the relevance of these stories, but their power to shape something new.
How might we do more of this in our work, to make room not just for the sharing of facts and figures, but stories? And what are the stories we are telling ourselves that are shaping our worlds?
We deliver a powerful (by all accounts) leadership development program at IISC called Facilitative Leadership. It is our flagship training program because it directly speaks to the mindset, heartset and skillset needed to lead in the Age of Connectivity. Facilitative Leadership starts, ironically, with the notion that we must radically change our perception and thinking about leaders and leadership, itself. Originally based in a Newtonian, mechanistic understanding of how the world works, our ideas about leadership have evolved over the last fifty years. We’ve gone from a heroic, command and control approach to a more participative, collaborative approach that involved teams, less hierarchy, and a much higher level of engagement and input, to now — a time when ourunderstanding of the world is informed by quantum physics and complexity theory…a world described byTom Freidman as flat, where all of knowledge, not to mention finances, has been connected and democratized. We are defining and understanding leadership at a time when our systems breakdowns and global crisis demands that we create a future that is so radically different from the past
Several thought leaders with whom we are familiar have themselves been struggling with this concept: Peter Senge in his new book The Necessary Revolution introduces us to the idea of the animateur, the French word for people who seek to create systemic change. He says that an animateur is someone who brings to life a new way of thinking, seeing or interacting that creates focus and energy.” And, in Peter Block’s new book, Community – The Structure of Belonging, he renames leaders as “social architects” defined by their ability to set intention, convene, value relatedness and present choices. The animateur and the social architect seem to be getting us closer to the kind of leadership we need for these times.
As we embrace leadership as being first and foremost about shared responsibility, as a leveraging and unleashing of much needed collective intelligence and commitment; we see in fact that the central task of leadership today is to create the conditions for others to flourish and to thrive, to step into their own power. We see that the roles that leaders play in these times are more aptly described as catalysts, champions, connectors. We see that these leaders are strategic, collaborative, and flexible and they are most often rooted in real authenticity, service and love.
We are daunted in our sector by the demographic reality of baby boomer leaders exiting in the next five to ten years, leaving a massive leadership gap. Or, now, because of their disappearing 403(b)’s, postponing retirement and causing another set problems. I am wondering if this conversation – while important and real – may also be taking us off course or at least maybe taking up too much of our time.
My belief, particularly in these most troubled times, is that we are being called to boldly invest in and develop networked, boundary-crossing social architects….multi-cultural, multi-generational social architects. We need to build their capacity in collaboration, design, facilitation, network building and the uses of new social media in service of real change. It is our collective capacity that will lead us into a future that is so very different from the past.
At the 2008 White Privilege Conference, I went to a workshop on Critical Liberation Theory, led by Barbara Love, Keri DeJong, Christopher Hughbanks, Joanna Kent Katz and Teeomm Williams. I was recently re-reading the piece they gave out at that workshop. Their workshop talked about the ways that we can each take daily actions toward liberation. This, they suggested, requires first clearly articulating our own theory of liberation, through which we can then build a praxis of liberation – daily work that brings us in the direction of liberation itself. I was remembering that during their workshop, they talked of the need to know fully where you’re coming from (understanding oppression), but to look forward toward liberation. Otherwise, they described it as if one were leaving on a car trip from Massachusetts to drive to California while looking out the back window instead of looking at the road ahead.
Rereading this, I started trying to think about how to actually articulate a theory of liberation. What would be in it? And I began to see that while I know what I don’t want, the vision of liberation is a little more challenging for me. This, I’m sure, is the legacy of internalized oppression, internalized supremacy and white privilege. The system has put limits on my ability to fully see what liberation looks like, and I’ve internalized these limitations. I know bits and pieces, but a clear articulation seems a bit of a challenge. So I’m making the commitment to start really attending to this in my life, to a clear articulation of my theory of liberation so that I can start taking daily actions toward its realization.
At the same time, I began thinking of Damali Ayo’s piece on five things white people can do and five things people of color can do to end racism. At her workshops on racism, she was constantly getting requests from people wanting to know what they could do. So she sent a request to her mailing list asking people to send in five things white people and/or people of color can do to end racism. About 2000 people responded and she condensed it into a guide (the Fix It Guide).
So I started wondering what would happen if we did a similar thing here – put it out there and ask you: what would be included in your theory of liberation?
Here are some random thoughts from a long plane trip I took yesterday – please add!
relationships and society would be demonstrations of fairness and equity
sustainability would be demonstrated in all our actions
love and compassion would be at the root of our thinking and our actions – and would help guide our creativity
all people would be able to fully participate in and have voice about decisions which affect their lives (directly or indirectly)
all people would be able to express their full humanity and potential