Posts Tagged ‘Citizen Action’

Gathering Hope Tree © SR Euston

It’s nearing the end of day 48 of Occupy Wall Street. Yesterday (remarkably to me) 10,000 Occupy Oaklanders managed to bring the Port of Oakland to a standstill. Although there have been clashes  and arrests there, as well as in other locales around the nation and the globe, overall this massive public demonstration has proved peaceful. It’s obvious that at its core this a nonviolent movement of passive civic resistance and, if necessary, disobedience.

At first the condescending voices of the self-appointed pundits and prophets, those “grown-up” plutocrats, tried in order to: dismiss, brush off, smirk at, marginalize, and demonize these “99%ers” as they have come to be called. (In our little town a letter writer to the local paper fell back on that old 50s’ saw—socialist/marxist/communist. Good grief.) Now the “wise men” are demanding “a plan” and, in the absence of a piece of paper (what no PowerPoint?), expect this (currently) loose cloth of fellow citizens to unravel in short order.

I would suggest the opposite: that the fabric of resistance is growing stronger, the stitches knitting together closer and closer. As we watch the debacle which calls itself our Congress continue to do nothing to ease national and international economic distress, it seems logical that more, rather than fewer, Americans will demand action. We will expect a new civic engagement toward positive action.

In 1995, at the beginning of the Gingrich congressional era, Gathering Hope, summing up nearly two years of citizen dialog about the state of the nation and the power of envisioning the future, stated the following:

America is entering an extraordinary time of uncertainty and challenge. Our democratic institutions are failing in multiple ways to ensure our own security, our children’s future, and the future of the planet itself.  

Understanding the role of power is essential to understanding our current situation. Large, complex, interlocking institutions of power (including corporations, international financial systems, and government) operate within a dehumanizing value system summed up as “modern market individualism” that is inimical to economic and environmental justice. 

A just and sustainable economy in balance with earth ecosystems demands transformation of all institutions toward a responsible democracy. A reformed, legitimized government must restore trust and pursue energetically its role as protector of the commons, guarantor of justice, and trustee for the future. 

The path to a sustainable future requires a renewed citizenship of responsibility. Intense individualism must  give way to care for the commonweal, for the future. We must envision a new social compact which affirms the claims of community and posterity on all our actions.

To this might be added today:

Unless we do, the future—our children’s future—will trail into narrowing corridors of no return.  

Here are the closing words of Gathering Hope. Perhaps it will serve as one of many jumping off points for the movement to come.   Ann

This Citizens Call ends where it began, with a reaffirmation of a civic democracy in which we as citizens proclaim a rendezvous with a new destiny, that of a just and sustainable future. We further affirm our confidence in the power of citizen deliberation, in the need to question power and the necessity of searching for truth in public life. In these affirmations, we accept the challenge of a participatory citizenship that demands that the boundaries of the possible widen, so that we today can say to the future that we have done all we could do.

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In the early 1990s, with the environment in rapid decline, the idea of sustainability emerged. The term implied this question: How does society pass on to future generations a reasonably whole environment and a reasonably stable and fair economy, all within the framework of social justice?

Gathering Hope © SR Euston

In 1993, Ann and I with several others founded an organization with a presumptuous mission: to understand what it meant to be a “sustainable society”. Pretty quickly, it became apparent that sustainability meant lots of things to lots of people. Almost everyone agreed that “sustainability” or “sustainable development” was a good thing, which only reinforced the need for better understanding of this significant but amorphous idea.

Happily, The Sustainability Project (TSP) attracted the involvement of some leading lights in the nascent sustainability movement.

At the time, the high-minded idea of “civic discourse” was in the air. Talking through public decisions, listening carefully, paying attention to facts. Initiatives aimed at local sustainability were active. TSP set out to get a better handle on just what a sustainable society might look like. We applied the model of “civic discourse” as our means of engaging citizens.

The Sustainability Project received a handful of grants. We sponsored a series of two day workshops across the country, with abundant participation by grass roots activists, writers, academics, and folks from the private sector. The question posed at each workshop was both simple and profound: “What is sustainability and how do we as a society achieve it?”

A couple of years into the dialog project, we published a document summarizing the findings of these workshops, Gathering Hope. It represented a big dose of civic optimism in the  face of vast countervailing forces.

Today, sustainability is not much more than a commercial “branding” for products of dubious value. Nonetheless, society is more and more experiencing the inexorable effects of non-sustainability, the reaching of tipping points over which institutions have no control. It’s indeed frightening. The world economy and the earth’s atmosphere are in fact near such tipping points, and many are finally waking up to this fact, politicians and most economists the giant exceptions.

We are now in a time of extreme uncivil discourse. Current political talk about the future is surreal, adolescent and selfish.

This situation was dire in 1995. But the darkness of the shadow hanging over public life, the blackness of its intent, is now truly threatening the legitimacy of our political system, to say nothing about our earthly environment.

Those camping out on Wall Street are engaged in what the document Gathering Hope called “spontaneous politics”. It’s the hope that lies just beyond the fading hopes of my generation.

It will, of course, take more than spontaneous politics to move forces that have captured our political and economic systems. The next steps are critical. From protests and confronting power in the street, to dialog among ourselves, to coalescing around simple but profound demands for new kinds of political organization and power.

It’s all so profound, and yet politics and the media are making a full court press to discredit any and all who question the systems that are hurtling us all into a future without hope for most people or for a sustaining environment.

Let’s hope for the best, do our best, and keep faith in the ability of American “democracy” to redeem itself. If this be revolutionary, so be it.  Stan Euston

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SkeletonThis commentary is part of Blog Action Day 2009. For more information please visit www.blogactionday.org

Thousands of top scientists from around the world have warned us. They have been out front, these researchers, these value neutral scientists. Any sane person can read about the dire scenarios of climate change. Maybe one half of all species will go extinct. The western United States is not immune. Forests are dying, fires are burning, water is drying.

Even more saddening for our species, millions of people—especially poor people—will suffer, even die, as a direct result of heat and drought and floods and diseases. This suffering will compound itself, as global political instability spreads in a nightmare scenario that so darkly clouds the human prospect.

My conclusion is that in one big area of the brain we are not sane at all. No, I’m not talking of hopeless nonentities like those senators who claim climate change is one big conspiracy. I’m talking of supposedly reasonable folks like you and me, of reasonable, liberal politicians who cannot vote for even a modest climate bill like the one passed by the House. I’m talking of an enlightened administration who cannot act with urgency to bring a sweeping plan to the Copenhagen world climate summit this December. I’m talking about villainous but smart industries who take out full page ads to fight even tiny actions on climate change.

A sane human and certainly a dumb animal can sense danger. After all, that’s how we have evolved. We are told that the human sense of forward planning was one mental capability that allowed survival in pretty dangerous environments. And we are told that human socialization abilities, our sometimes death resulting sacrifices for the good of the group or clan, further advanced our survival and the development of our large brains, our ability to reason and to plan. After all this evolutionary struggle preparing our species for survival, can we be so dumb as to let a runaway climate catastrophe ruin the very environment we have prospered in over 100,000 years, to let human activity literally bring down whole elements of the life-world?

In a very literal sense, let’s hope sanity will return, even in this late phase of planetary crisis. Let’s hope that we finally listen to the better angels of our evolutionary inheritance.

So far the news is bad, and the day is very late. A kind of civilizational insanity, a denial that things are really headed for a future of potentially nightmare proportions has embedded itself our country’s and other country’s mentality.

And we talk about Homeland Security.

Stanley Euston

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