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.
I find this video fascinating. My girlfriend showed it to me a few months back as she presented on theology and social media for her graduate program. Aside from the breadth of topics that bloggers can post on, this video gives us an insight on how vital technology, and specifically the Internet, is becoming to our everyday lives.
There is no denying that blogs allow individuals to have a voice. If that voice is read and responded to, communities are created, not limited by physical space. These virtual, content-oriented communities are especially strong in arenas such as Twitter. Twitter is a dynamic and responsive interface for conversation. Blogs have the same ability, though the conversation is not necessarily as seamless as it can be on Twitter. Regardless, the powers of shared thought, understanding and education are alive in these worlds and there exists a great potential to create real action, and even social change.
What I often question is how this will all play out over time, because though blogs are a tool which are not limited by physical space, access to their creation and use is limited. Blogs, and social media overall, are limited by the resources one has at their fingertips (pun somewhat intended), be it a computer, Internet access, electricity or even literacy.
History shows us those with technology often grow at an exponentially greater rate than those without it. So how do we most effectively create sustainable social change with the aid of social media, without further separating ourselves from the majority of the world (which doesn’t have constant access to a computer)?
Hugh Jackman, Australian dreamboat and actor, recently said he wanted to donate $100,000 to charity and asked his Twitter followers who he should donate to. After thousands of suggestions, Jackman said he would donate $50,000 to two different charities, Operation of Hope and Charity:Water. Both are incredible organizations. Most inspiring though is that this a success story on the power social media has to aid in social change. (Credit where it is due, my knowledge of Jackman’s charity donation is again the result of my girlfriend.)
Today we can communicate in ways rarely dreamed of five years ago. To have a voice, to contribute to conversation, to act, are all invaluable to the promotion of justice in our world. From Iran to Twitter, our need to bridge the gaps has never been more pressing, and our potential to create sustainable social change has never been so great.
I’ve had an uneasy relationship with the term “pragmatism,” specially as used in popular culture, which is somewhat different from the way it is used in the academy. My activist roots were grounded in an ideological framework that tended to equate pragmatism with compromise. In my work for social change I have often found myself identified with those communities that are more likely to have their needs and demands compromised away by some “pragmatic” solution or other. With this lens, pragmatism has often felt like a way to keep the balance of power stable while giving away enough crumbs for the excluded not to riot.
However, our recent national experience shows us this argument from the other side. We have seen how eight years of ideological leadership wreaked havoc on the country and the world. And today we find progressive hope in the thoroughly pragmatic approach of an even-keeled Obama administration, whose approach to leadership that has thus far proved amazingly steady even in the throes of ongoing turmoil. So I am interested in sifting through the sort of pragmatism that seems to generally keep things as they are, from the pragmatism that facilitates change and the pragmatism that Carreira was talking about on Friday night.
While the conversation has only just begun, I am starting to understand that the pragmatism of the American tradition, which Jeff was connecting to the Integral Philosophy of Ken Wilber and the Evolutionary Enlightenment of Andrew Cohen, is called pragmatism because it demands to be experienced. This sort of pragmatism looks suspiciously at a philosophy that is purely conceptual, it is a pragmatism that calls for the observation and experience of the actual – but it doesn’t stay there. We are talking about a sort of experiential pragmatism that demands we engage the very process of evolution, and this is what makes it exciting.
This is the first of a series of blog posts. Next, I’m interested in distinguishing between pragmatism as doing “what works” vs. pragmatism as doing “what could work.” Your insights are needed and welcomed!