Maelstrom on Steroids

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, November 28, 2016

I know I am not the only recipient of countless takes on the U.S. election. Everywhere I turn there is a new attempt to either assess how it happened or that predicts what will follow. I’m pretty convinced that no one understands either very completely. Yet that doesn’t mean that we should not glimpse at them and in so doing add additional perspective to our own emergent understanding of the cause and effect.

At some point we each have to make sense of it and act with some measure of congruence with that understanding. Those choices we make and act upon do matter. Even the choices where we do nothing different, as if it is ‘much ado about nothing’. Life goes on, right! Besides, there is nothing any one can do against the huge forces of the systems – economic, social, environmental, political, etc. This is the malaise of dis-empowering our young through an education system that largely confines thinking to True/False or three or four multiple choices. We teach civics as something out there, that government does, not a lifelong calling of citizenship to build community.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule – Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, Ralph Nader, Wangari Maathai – that break free of the constraints of formal education to find their voice and to link it to a lifetime of action for community betterment. This is the crossroads we find ourselves facing. I believe that our thinking is generally too narrowly construed and thus we lose potential allies necessary to build more forceful presence both against darker forces and for progressive possibilities that we have yet to achieve.

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With all the swirling possibilities of what we might be facing, especially with the recent US election [for a more challenging view check out George Monbiot’s particularly gloomy 13 Impossible Crises That Humanity Now Faces posted Friday], no one really knows what might unfurl. They are simply hunches. Trump himself, now a main actor on the stage, is himself unpredictable, contradicting himself, changing his tune, as if sometimes on a whim. As he announces his cabinet nominees we will get a better picture perhaps. In my opinion his first few nominees do not support optimism for a more progressive, just, or peaceful future. So like others I have been pondering how to proceed. I am certainly not inclined to retreat entirely to the sanctity and quiet of my domicile or to silence my thoughts or concerns or suggestions for alternatives. But where is my energy most effectively harnessed?

Image result for wangari maathai

Here are some of my hunches, honed on trial an error, expansive reading, and reflection.

1)  We need a horizontal approach that connects many issues and citizens involved in them. We should make the connections visible, palpable. For example, peace is not simply the absence of war. It is tied to issues related to domination, to winning and losing, and to a respect for human life, not just at birth.

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2)  We need to address wicked problems that know no national borders. If we get hung up on seeking advantage for our community, or our state, or our country we will be building walls that create insiders and outsiders, friends and enemies. We can’t solve the challenges facing us looking to win while others lose. Climate destabilization is clearly one of those wicked problems. But the recently globally agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals offer many wicked problems to face.

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3) As individuals there is no one activity that will bring about the changes we need to see if we are to survive and thrive as a human community on this finite planet. Individual actions do matter. How we vote, how we consume, how we support and challenge others, and how we come together or not all matter. Indeed policies need to change, and that is political work which requires involvement beyond the ballot box. Those with power, wealth, lobbyists will not give up their advantages without a struggle. As the power concentrates in fewer and fewer hands citizens work is even more critical.

4)  Our efforts need to be visible. There is a place for large public gatherings of protest or of affirmation. See for example the March for Women on Washington, scheduled for January 21, with parallel events in many state capitols. But protest is not enough. We need to be visible in letters to the editors, at public meetings, in the offices of government lobbying for policies we believe in.

5)  We don’t have to wait for government to move. We can come together with others to build organizations and community that we believe in. There is a great fertile field for social entrepreneurship, for community ownership, for building a commitment to a community without harming other communities .

Perhaps Barbara Kingsolver has it at least part right in her November 23 post “Trump Changed Everything, Now Everything Counts”.

          “We refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the               legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the           words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good                    trouble.” 

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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