re/ Ch 4: Community empowerment


Richard Moore

Bcc: contributors
Madeline Bruce wrote:
I appreciate the inclusive, interactive nature of your communication more and more Richard.  I read along, and my heart lifts at the idea of small community planning, and then it sinks, as I recall the male domination that happens in even tiny community groups.  I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but the beginning of a new world (I hope) is not the time to stifle my intuition and instincts, which is exactly what huge corporations annihilate and manipulate. 
Something that local has over corporate is that it is personal.  Anonymity has been prized in cities – not knowing who your neighbor is, and not caring – but we have come to the final limit of that mind set, and of depending on big brother, or, the system, which we now realize is not there for us, but for the top of that hierarchy.  When we ask the question, “How can we get people to participate?” I think we are missing something.  We can only do it one person at a time.  We are already thinking in terms of “How can we get them to……” before we have even touched base with them.  I think that in order to make a new world we are going to have to have community. The first step in community is to get to know each other, one person at a time.  Too busy for this?  That is exactly what is wrong with the world the way it is today. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it is time well spent.  An introduction, a brief description of who you are, some interested questions from other community members, some interaction – that’s all it takes. 
  Sincerely, and respectfully, Madeline Bruce, Nanaimo, B. C. Canada.  

Hi Madeline,
I share your concerns about male-dominated meetings, and I’m concerned about dysfunctional meetings in general. If we want to do something about this, we need to think in terms of fixing the process of our meetings. We can complain about people’s behavior, and with some justice, but people aren’t going to change their behavior as long as they’re in the same dysfunctional conext. 
Our standard meeting format is inherently competitive… competing for attention and for getting your ideas accepted. It is more or less inevitable that egotistical and pushy people will tend to exercise dominance in that environment.
When a good process is used, everyone is able to be heard, and you get the good ideas of the pushy ones, without their domination. In the right environment, everyone is an asset to the meeting, whatever their personality type.
For myself, I’ve adopted a policy that I don’t want to get involved in any meeting or conference unless it is going to be based on a sound process. It is such a waste to get people together, and not achieve the potential synergy that is present in the room. 
You might try looking for people who are willing to use a circle process. Perhaps start with just women, and invite some men in when you’re comfortable with the process. Women do typically seem to be better natural listeners. If you have a shared issue already, that’s fine, but you don’t really need to start with any central theme. Exploring what’s on people’s minds, and where they’re coming from, should really be the first order of business in a new group.
You say:
The first step in community is to get to know each other, one person at a time.  Too busy for this?  That is exactly what is wrong with the world the way it is today.
We both agree that people being ‘too busy’ is a central problem. You want people to take the time to interact with their neighbors. In the context of my chapter, you are coming into the community with an agenda: Interact with your neighbors
That’s a good agenda, just as Buy local food, is a good agenda. Unfortunately, none of these agendas, including yours, is taking fire in any communities. 
Above, you complained about male dominance, and here you are complaining about people’s apathy. And again I have the same answer: we can’t expect people to change their behavior, if they continue to be in the same context. In the case of meetings, it is process that can shift the context. In the case of people’s apathy, it is incentives that can shift the context.
What would give someone an incentive to interact with their neighbors? I suggest that an incentive would arise if the person is involved in an exciting community project, of one kind or another. Maybe they’ve got a great food co-op going, and there would be an incentive to tell neighbors about it, and make it more successful. Thus the interaction begins, and can expand to other things.
So there’s a synergy between your agenda, and the other agendas. People involved in other agendas have a motivation to expand their projects, and interacting with their neighbors is a good way to do that.
thanks for your ongoing contributions,

Sharon Stevens wrote:
Dear Richard,
Thanks for your tireless work. You have clearly done your research, and your message is an important one. I love your use of positive examples.
I am even more glad to see you focus on creating a positive motivation to counteract despair. You seem to recognise what environmental communicators have been saying for some time: We know the problems already. We care. What we need is something that makes us believe in our own ability to do something positive, something that makes us believe even the smallest step is worthwhile. So I’m glad to see that, even in your caption “Always darkest before dawn,” you are giving your readers hope.
How about doing the same move with your title? An example might be: “Community empowerment: seeds for a growing movement”. That way your negativity won’t be discounting the faith of those of us on the ground who see ourselves as part of something big. What I’m saying is that I’m able to act already because I know I’m not alone.
On this note, perhaps you are already aware of how Goffman discussed framing when he introduced this as a novel idea in media studies (working in the spirit of community activist/rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke’s work). In case this is news to you, I’ll summarise briefly: Goffman shows how the same example looks different depending on what you think of first. An event that is approached through one interpretive lens looks like one thing, and through another interpretive lens, the exact same event looks different. Goffman’s argument is that it is important to control what we see first, because that will shape everything else.
In this vein, the typical “problem-solution” organisation typical of environmental jeremiad is a de-motivator. (Jeremiad/prophet Jermiah: “We are all evil therefore repent because the world is about to end”). I notice that you use a problem-solution organisation, and your problems look pretty darn overwhelming.
You might find the work of permaculturist Graham Bell (from the UK) quite interesting. He manages to do the “maybe the world will end” talk, but he buries it in the middle of discussions that start and end on a positive note. One way he does this is by starting with a story of doing something good, before he goes into the more abstract discussion. He’s a great motivational writer, and I think you have the capacity to decide what aspects of his style will enhance your own positive message.
I love the last few paragraphs you have shared with us so far. I can see this building to a real crescendo of hope.
Best wishes,

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for a very insightful review! 

Your recommendation, to set a frame of hope before problems are introduced, makes a lot of sense. Not only for that chapter, but for the whole book. Currently Chapter 1 starts it off, Prognosis 2012, which is one of the most dire future forecasts one can find. Perhaps what I need there is a Preface, or Introduction, which states that the message of the book is one of hope, says something about where that hope lies, and then suggests that we need to understand the nature and scope of the problem before delving into the solutions. Or perhaps even a more radical re-ordering of chapters. 

In the context of the chapter, I like your title, and I can begin with a more positive positive framing. 

And then there’s the question of audience. For the book, I’m aiming at a broad audience, everyone with an interest in world affairs, the human condition, history, future envisioning, etc. etc. It’s my ‘magnum opus’, my overall analysis  / synthesis growing out of 15 years of work, ‘with a little help from my friends’.

But my central message is really for a particular audience: everyone who is doing some kind of community-oriented activism. That message is about shifting attention from specific agendas to the community and its circumstances, and to think in terms of a dialog with the community rather than a lecture to the community. For these people I don’t need to say much about ‘the problem’, nor do I need to talk about how a decentralized global society is likely to evolve out of their work. That which will unfold will unfold. What is most important now is to focus attention on the critical factors that need more attention. 

Perhaps I should make a pause in the book project, and distill out an article / pamphlet that presents my message to that audience. I can then easily adapt that back into the book. 

many thanks,

Gayle Hudgens wrote [excerpted]:
The following is a significant paragraph. Consider putting it in italics or somehow emphasizing it:
There is one thing we can be sure of. If the efforts of the activists are successful, if their initiatives mobilize a significant level of participation, and if the community’s economic life is changed in significant ways, then we can be sure people will begin to take an interest in the overall change process. When people experience that they have the power to improve their local situation, then we can be sure more and more of them will want to have their voices heard, and exert some influence over the community’’s direction.

Hi Gayle,
Thanks. Your suggestion fits in with Sharon’s, about reframing toward the positive. Very helpful feedback.

Harvey Jones wrote:
Hi Richard
A great combination of thoughts and set out in a way to be sent on to others who may be involved in particular segments of your discussion.  It will be interesting to see if it is picked up by the Transition Towns movement, which is operating pretty much as you suggest.
I have shared your email with some others, including those in the union movement (who have many of the organising skills required).  The right wing government in New Zealand is currently in the process of dismantling social equality here in favour of user pays, lower taxes for the rich and reductions in the public service.  The response is beginning to emerge in the community as they reflect on the sense of community which is almost lost.  Caring for, or even considering others, is a foreign thought to many of the gen X and Y generation as they trample on each other to get what the want.  The volunteer section is beginning to grey out and be lost to our ‘civilised’ (?) society.
A reaction is emerging as we realise what is being lost.  Financial and other major disasters are revealing  that the ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’ are maybe NOT the ones who know best.
I hope that our combined efforts will be able to recover lost ground before too much more damage is done.

Hi Harvey
Thanks for forwarding the material to appropriate groups. As noted above, I’ll be creating a version more suited for distribution to community-oriented activists.
You mention Gen X and Y, and that brings up an important issue I’ll need to talk about in the chapter. We need to think about the different segments of the community, and there are two main points. First, when we’re thinking about incentives, different incentives may apply to different segments. Second, as more people do participate and collaborate with one another, there’s going to be a natural ‘coming together’ of the different segments, people who considered one another to be ‘the other’. This will be a critical tipping point in community awakening. 

excerpted from a longer dialog… Bill Ellis wrote :
I carefully separate “Government” from “goverance.” Government is first a set of laws set by people, usually other people. “Governance” is those rules you set for yourself. And something you expect to do things for us. Govermance is local, government is distant. We rely too much on government and too little one ourselves and one another in community. 
I’m not sure what you mean by “place centered.” It seems to be the same thing I mean by “decentralized autonomous communities.” The word “glocal” expressed the increasing governance through local communities. The Internet is only part of the growing local interest in global problems. What is missing is a semi-organized global network of activist communities. It does happen spontaneously on occasion — oil spills, Gaza, global warming, etc. — but we need a continuous discussion of communities around the world.
Bill Ellis

Hi Bill,
I’m in complete agreement about the distinction between government and governance. I’d go further about the distinction: governance is a process, not a set of rules. Democratic governance is more about agreed understandings than about legislation.
There’s a right-wing fellow in Alaska with some very interesting ideas about people’s juries, based on common law tradition. It’s more case-oriented than law-oriented, and it’s restitution-oriented rather than punishment-oriented. It gives us a reasonable justice component for a self-governance system. 
re/ “place-centered”:  If we have democratic governance, then we can assume that on average each citizen devotes X hours per month of their attention to governance issues, dialog, decision-making, etc. My thesis is that 80% of X will be devoted to local issues. Of the remainder, 80% will be to issues within 100 miles. 80% of the remainder to issues within 1,000 miles, etc. 
Currently, we don’t participate in governance at all, and we spend time talking about big global issues that we have no control over whatsoever. If people everywhere were governing themselves, they’d all be busy taking care of their own patch, and they’d be getting together occasionally, at various levels, to keep things in synch on larger scales. Think and act locally with wisdom, and the global will take care of itself.

Dave Patterson wrote [excerpted]:
I think, as usual, you have put together a very insightful analysis of the situation – I have only one medium-size quibble –
  – in terms of why people are not coming on board, I think your reasons are accurate as far as they go, but I also think you do not go quite far enough, you are not spelling out what I would consider to be the main reason people are not coming on board that underlies the others – which is that most people are indoctrinated to believe their governments and media, and part of that indoctrination is trusting your gov to take care of things … [and] the fringe people are, if anything, doing harm because they divert energy from those who are really trying to make a perfect world, your current “democratic” governments are really doing the best we can, and working for you and you must trust us, bla bla bla bla.
 I think we need to specifically consider ways to directly attack this indoctrination – and that is not easy, because pretty much nobody is going to admit they are ‘indoctrinated’ like some zombie…     
There is a ‘resistance ceiling’ that must be overcome, and I would suggest that we not only have to entice the horse with inducement carrots, we also have to untie the rope that is holding him to the hitching post.

Hi Dave,
For you, and for me, the path to radicalism came through analyzing the political situation, and understanding that governments are ‘the enemy’. This motivates us to radical thinking. But that same motivation isn’t going to work for most people. 
We had a series of postings last October on the topic of beliefs, and the defenses that protect beliefs from new information. We looked at some relevant psychology articles, and it turns out that it is simply not possible to dislodge strongly held beliefs with logic and information. The direct approach to ‘untying the rope’ cannot succeed. The main point of Ch 4 is that an indirect approach is more effective, and is already beginning to happen. 
It starts with the localization activists, like the Transition Towns movement. Those folks believe they can make a difference at the local level, towards sustainability, but they don’t have a radical political perspective. Most of them are still tied to the hitching post (that we need government) but it is not holding them back from useful action. 
If the activists can put together projects that create jobs and commerce in the community, for example, then people will join in for the benefits, and their beliefs remain unchallenged. The hitching post is irrelevant. Community empowerment is its own reward, in terms of the economic and quality-of-life benefits. It is only necessary for the activists to discover a path to that reward that provides incremental benefits along the way. 
Radical consciousness will evolve naturally out of this process, as the empowerment process unfolds. The rope will simply disappear. 
As more and more people get involved, in what amounts to a collaborative community project, the different segments of the community will find themselves working side-by-side, so to speak. A spirit of practical comradeship, as fellow citizens, will emerge. Divisions like liberal vs. conservative will fade into irrelevance, as people focus more on what-they-can-do, rather than who-they-can-elect. 
Finally, when we get to the point where the whole community is involved, and a process of democratic self-governance has been developed, then the sense behind decentralized governance will be obvious to all in the community.


M.A. Omas Schaefer wrote:
Two people come to mind: Ellen Brown  and Catherine Austin Fitts Ellen is on top of the state banking movement, of which the current model is North Dakota. She also says that local communities could start banks using their CAFR funds for capitalization. Catherine has quite a background and is a tireless promoter of what I would call spiritually-based localism. She thinks wealth does not have to be based on destructive economic systems such as what we have now. She also has an incredible understanding of the mechanics of the NWO.

Hi Omas,

Thanks for the reminders. I’ve corresponded with both Ellen and Catherine in the past. Their ideas will need to be mentioned as I review the existing threads, and they are also good networking people re/community empowerment.