Ch 5 / take 2: “Escaping marginalism”


Richard Moore

Bcc: FYI


As you saw in a previous posting, I tried to begin this chapter with the section, What is community empowerment? I got stuck in developing that theme, and realized a prequel is necessary. Here it is.

Ch 5: The emergence of community empowerment


Richard K. Moore
Last update: 24 July 2010

Table of Contents: 2012: Crossroads for Humanity

Escaping marginalism
In the previous chapter I offered the following observation regarding the program-based initiatives:

Localization activists are motivated by a vision of transformation, and their initiatives do have transformational potential. However none of these initiatives, apart from a few notable exceptions, has found a way to escape from marginalism and really begin to have a significant effect on any community’s economy, or to move any community significantly closer to sustainability.

The basic problem is that there is very little sense of community left in our societies. Typically there are the activists who promote the programs, the early adopters who join in, and the ‘silent majority’, who seem to be motivated only by immediate benefits.

With Wisdom Councils, however, we saw that randomly-selected citizens — a microcosm of the silent majority — can indeed become energized around community involvement, even when no immediate benefits are involved. The ‘latent energy of democracy’ can be awakened, when people are listened to, and when they feel their voice can make a difference. 

Nonetheless, the process-based initiatives have also failed to escape from marginalism. The energy of the grassroots can be awakened, in a small group and for a brief time, but there is no place to go with that energy, no container that can sustain the energy.

This situation suggests a potential synergy. Perhaps the pursuit of programs can provide the container, the use of process can awaken grassroots energy around this pursuit, and the two together can propel localization beyond the marginal. 

For this purpose a Citizen Insight Council might be very helpful. Such a council could begin with presentations from local activists, describing the various localization programs. The council can then take that as a starting point, in talking about what they’d like to see happen in the community. 

The public meeting following such a council could be a very exciting event. Not only would there be the infusion of energy from the council reports, but there is also the energy of the activists, whose volunteer efforts are the driving force behind making programs actually happen. 

Following the reports, there could be breakout sessions, with activists and council participants distributed among the various tables. Then there could be report-backs from the tables, and some general discussion. Hopefully from such an event, a focus would emerge around programs that are energizing to both activists and the community generally. 

I’m not trying to provide a recipe here, just an example of how process and programs might be combined to awaken community energy, and to bring that energy and activist energy into harmony. Once such a harmonization process was started, it would make sense to have ongoing events, by which the community as a whole would increasingly be taking ownership of the programs.

There are other processes, such as Open Space Technology, which enable a large number of people to participate creatively together. And there are lightweight processes, such as a Listening Circle, which can enable neighborhood groups to find common ground, and to develop their own unique contribution to the ongoing community ‘conversation’. 

Currently, it is reasonably fair to say that program-oriented activists see themselves as leaders in the community, and as the ‘ones who know what needs to be done’. If the community is brought into the planning and envisioning process, as outlined above, then the role of the activists shifts. 

Rather than ‘those who know what needs to be done’, the activists become ‘folks who have good suggestions to offer’. And rather than leaders, the activist are more in the role of volunteers, who are willing to take on the task of moving community projects forward. 

In seeking to find ways for localization to escape from marginalism, we have been exploring the potential synergy between processes on the one hand, and programs on the other. This is a very important synergy, as it can help bring the community together, and enable the community as a whole to become an active agent in its own transformation.

In this chapter we will be exploring other synergies as well, among the various programs themselves. Awakening grassroots energy is part of the answer, and making the programs more effective is also part of the answer, in our quest to escape from marginalism, and begin the transformation of our communities and our societies.

Coming next: What is community empowerment?