A promising new movement!


Richard Moore


In February, as I posted at the time, I visited several groups
of activists and writers on the West Coast. I met Jim Rough,
inventor of Dynamic Facilitation, Tom Atlee of the
Co-Intelligence Institute, and had the privilege of dialoging
with them and the people they work with. It was a very
encouraging and informative tour.

One of the most interesting of my visits was in Ashland
Oregon, where I got to meet David Wick, Joseph McCormick, and
Pat Spino. Joseph was beginning to plan for a national
conference aimed at bringing people together from all parts of
the political spectrum. My own view is that this kind of
dialog--aimed at overcoming divisiveness and factionalism--is
the only way true democracy (and radical transformation) can
be accomplished. I was very pleased to see what Joseph was up
to, but I didn't know if he and those he was working with would
be able to succeed in their endeavor.

The report below gives us the good news that Joseph & the
others are very much on course!



Radical Middle Newsletter
May / June 2004 -- Mark Satin, Editor

At last, a movement that would have us listen to and learn
from each other

When I boarded my flight from Washington D.C. to Kalamazoo
Mich. on the afternoon of June 11, I was not the most
enthusiastic traveler in America.

True, I'd been invited to a weekend conference on "Democracy
in America" at the gorgeous Fetzer Institute in western
Michigan (an entity well known for trying to bring mind, body,
and spirit together); and, true, the organizers had agreed to
pay my way. And it was a relief to escape Washington D.C.'s
appalling heat and humidity.

But like many activists my age, I felt I'd been through this
movie once too many times before.

The picture

You know the movie I'm talking about.

Well-meaning organizers bring thinkers and activists together
to start what everyone hopes will be a pathbreaking political

The participants are too alienated from mainstream America to
accomplish their goals (Students for a Democratic Society,
1960s), are too much in thrall to the traditional left to
articulate imaginative goals (Democratic Socialists of
America, 1970s), lack the discipline to accomplish their goals
(New World Alliance, 1970s-80s), are too ambivalent about
leadership and money to be more than a diversion (Greens,
1980s-2000s), or are too much like attack dogs to identify --
let alone address -- our real hopes and needs (MoveOn.org,

But along the way, a mildly entertaining time is had by all.

On the airplane, I forced myself to finally set aside my
hard-eyed book about how life really works, psychologist
Robert Karen's Top Dog / Bottom Dog, and pull out my folder
full of materials about the conference.

What was it, I wondered, that had tempted me to take part in
this movie again, this charade? I had literally forgotten and
felt some obligation to my hosts to refresh my memory.

The purpose

I pulled out the statement of purpose for the conference. As
soon as I started reading, I began to relax. Yeah, it was only
words, but I'm not sure I could have concocted in my wildest
dreams a better declaration of the political aspirations of
this newsletter (or my book):

"The purpose of this gathering is to [initiate] a new kind of
public conversation that moves us beyond polarization so we
[can] effectively address the issues we care most about. . . .

"We all share the same 'boat' called the United States of
America. It is more essential now than ever [that we] begin to
learn how to row with, rather than against, each other. . . .

"Unlike [those at the upcoming] two major party conventions,
we want to explore our differences, thoughtfully and
respectfully, and learn from each other.

"We believe all concerned Americans have a piece of the
answer, and that listening [to] and learning from each other
-- even if difficult -- will make our country stronger and

"Our country needs that strength and wisdom now."

Amen, I thought. I looked out the airplane window and saw,
through the clouds, the shimmering green-and-yellow landscape
of the upper Midwest, where I'd grown up so full of hopeful
longings, and turned to the rest of the materials.

The promise

I finally read closely enough to discern that the conference
had two co-sponsors, and they made a politically balanced

Let's Talk America is dedicated to inspiring multi-partisan
conversations in cafes, bookstores, and living rooms across
America. It's a product of the Utne Institute, non-profit
spinoff of the vaguely leftist Utne Magazine, and other

The Democracy in America Project is dedicated to helping
Americans discover the "unifying principles" we all share.
It's the brainchild of Joseph McCormick, graduate of Virginia
Military Institute and Yale, former U.S. Army officer, and
former Republican Congressional candidate from Georgia.

The two groups were apparently savvy enough to have succeeded
in attracting 24 "opinion leaders" (their term) to the
conference from wildly differing points of view. Some

-- Gary Aldridge, FBI agent for over three decades and author
of the notorious #1 bestseller, Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent
Inside the Clinton White House (1996);

-- Carl Fillichio, lead spokesperson for the U.S. Department
of Labor in the Clinton Administration;

-- Bill Thomson, National Field Director of the Christian

-- Vicki Robin, well-known defender of countercultural
extended families and co-author of the international
bestseller Your Money or Your Life (1992);

-- David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union;

-- Virginia Sloan, President of the Constitution Project (an
increasingly influential left-leaning legal issues

-- Bob Barr, board member of the National Rifle Association
and former Republican Congressman from Georgia;

-- Shirley Wilcher, president of a
diversity-and-affirmative-action consulting firm and founding
member of the National Congress of Black Women.

Just dwelling on these folks and their (apparent) contrasts
was enough to make my head spin!

The sponsors of the conference had already anticipated that
"problem." They'd rounded up not one but four facilitators --
another positive sign, I thought.

The lead facilitator would be Mark Gerzon of Boulder, Colo.,
who's best known now for having facilitated the first two
bipartisan Congressional retreats (in 1997 and 1999), and
whose book A House Divided: Six Belief Systems Struggling for
America's Soul (1996) anticipated by eight years the
synthesizing-and-transcending aspirations of the conference.

I'd first heard of Mark when his first article about New Age
politics appeared in the New Age Journal in 1977 . . . one
month before my first article on the subject appeared there.

By the time the plane landed, I was ac- tually looking forward
to the conference.

The process

Although participants insisted that their individual sayings
and doings not be reported, I can report to you this much:

The conference worked.

And it wasn't just because of the exquisite accommodations and
wonderful food.

On Friday night, we broke into three groups (of eight
participants and one facilitator each) to discuss such
questions as, What did you understand about being an American
when you were 12 years old? How have you experienced political
differences and how did that affect you personally?

It was impossible to participate in that exercise without
coming to see (and feel and know) that every participant,
whatever their politics, was a complex and caring human being.

On Saturday morning we pondered what was missing in
conventional political discourse. Then, many of us shared what
we were already doing to create a better discourse, and the
examples were extraordinary -- from an ambitious and
politically sophisticated project to educate girls and women
in developing nations ("Educate Girls Globally"), to an
ambitious and politically sophisticated effort to facilitate
deliberative meetings for 500 to 5,000 participants ("America
Speaks"), to an ambitious and media-savvy effort to get
interviews with hundreds of cutting-edge innovators onto radio
stations and the Internet ("New Dimensions Radio").

We broke up into two groups -- one to think about innovative
decision-making processes, another to think about innovative
approaches to a public policy issue (education) -- and we came
back together again psyched, ready to rumble.

The problem -- resolved

But then, very suddenly, all "progress" stopped and our mood
took a turn for the worse.

Someone tried to classify participants' approaches as "left"
or "right." Someone on the right took umbrage with that,
feeling that the qualities cited as "right" were insulting
stereotypes; and that pressed many people's buttons; and round
and round and round we went, and the afternoon shadows grew

But the end result of that conversation is we all realized --
I mean, we all really "got" -- how misleading and even
infantilizing the old political spectrum had become.

And after dinner that night the facilitators got us back on
track. Numbers ending in "0," from "0" to "10" to "20" and on
through "100," were taped in a long row to the floor at the
front of the conferenceroom; and we were told that the numbers
would stand for our ages; and we were urged to volunteer to
walk down the numbers and share the key decisions we'd made in
our political lives . . . in the present tense: as if we were
making those decisions out loud and in front of everyone.

Everyone stared, some of us open-mouthed, as various
"left"-wingers and "right-" wingers, former Weather
Underground supporters and former speakers at white racist
gatherings, shared the incidents that shaped their lives.

And revealed without even trying that every caring person is a
brother or sister under the skin.

And that our values are at some deep level fundamentally the

The program

Sunday morning was in some sense an anticlimax (how could it
be anything but?), but it was uniquely task-oriented, and
after two days of psychological preparation quite a bit got

It was decided that we'd all join the advisory boards of the
two co-sponsoring organizations (Let's Talk America and
Democracy in America). Immediately those boards became the
most politically diverse boards in America.

It was decided that the two organizations would convene a
follow-up conference for hundreds of participants some time
this fall (with funding to come from three left-wing groups,
three right-wing groups, and a "bridging" grant from Fetzer).

It was decided that many of us would initiate political
conversations in our professional or geographic communities,
and invite participants to the follow-up conference.

It was decided that many other good people would be invited to
the conference, ranging from Washington, D.C.-based opinion
leaders to busy professionals to grassroots organizers.

It was strongly suggested that an attempt should be made to
attract approx. 1/3 right of center participants, 1/3 left of
center, and 1/3 moderates and independents -- with due
"consideration for regional, gender, and racial balance."

It was strongly suggested that a "consensus statement of
American goals and priorities" be prepared during or after the
conference, by functional area -- "governance and law,"
"learning and education," etc. (None dared call it a political

It was even suggested that the statement be used to ignite a
"thirdside voice" inside the political arena.

The pledge

Before leaving, we all signed our names to a document titled
"We the People." Many of us signed with flourishes, as if we
were signing something akin to the Declaration of
Independence. Here are the key passages:

"We respect our differences and recognize America needs every
one of our viewpoints, ideas, and passions -- even those we
don't agree with -- to keep our democracy vital and alive;

"We recognize that meeting here and across our land for
dialogues across differences builds trust, understanding,
respect, and empowerment -- the conditions necessary for
freedom and democracy to live in us and around us;

"And, therefore, each still grounded in our own considered
views (conscience and convictions), we commit ourselves and
our communities of interest to foster dialogue across the many
divides in America, in large and small groups, to build trust,
insight, and inspired action toward the more perfect union we
all desire".

The postmortem

None of us knew how far our momentum would carry us over the
next few months. To a large extent it depended on the
competence (and fundraising prowess) of the two sponsoring

And there were many pressing questions left unanswered. Some
were relatively trivial: should the follow-up conference be
held in Springfield, Illinois (where Lincoln allegedly walks
at midnight), or in some larger and more accessible place?
Should the conference be held in early fall or late fall?

Other questions were anything but trivial. The main one was,
is, and always will be, Is it reasonable to expect that
significant representatives of the left, right, and center can
join together, synthesize their best wisdom, and create new
processes and public policies that speak to our needs in the
21st century?

I've spent the last six years fashioning process and policy
suggestions along those lines. So have many other authors.

But in the end, publications are only a catalyst and
supplement. They are no substitute for people coming together,
organizing a movement, and electing principled candidates to

Will the efforts of Let's Talk America and Democracy in
America Project bear fruit? I do not know.

But for the first time in many years, I feel enthusiastic
enough about an incipient political movement to want to put my
shoulder to the wheel.

(Which is not to say I didn't continue reading Robert Karen's
Top Dog / Bottom Dog on the flight back to D.C.)

For more information: Democracy in America Project
(http://www.democracycampaign.org); Let's Talk America (c/o
Utne Institute, 1624 Harmon Place, Minneapolis MN 55403,
612-338-5040, http://www.letstalkamerica.org).



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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
     "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
       suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
       Reichstag fire." 
       - Srdja Trifkovic

     There is not a problem with the system.
     The system is the problem.

     Faith in ourselves - not gods, ideologies, leaders, or programs.
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