Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recipe for Revolution


In the world we live in it's easy to feel powerless, like there's so much in this world we'd like to change that we simply can't do anything about. After all, the system we live in is incredibly resistant to major change, and the odds are definitely stacked against us - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, after all, and many things that seem impossible are often merely improbable.
Just think about all the positive social progress we've made as a society in just the past one hundred and fifty years. We've abolished slavery, we've secured the rights of all citizens to be able to vote, we've outlawed segregation and racial discrimination, and we even created the "weekend". [Imagine if you were to go back in time to a cotton plantation and tell a slave that one day we'd have an African American president - they probably would think you're insane.] If there's one thing the example of history can teach us it's that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things when they commit themselves to an ideal. Each of these successes came about because people just like you and I banded together in solidarity and stood up for what they believed in and together they left an indelible impact on our society. [So the next time someone tries to tell you that you're being too idealistic, politely remind them that just because something is unthinkable doesn't mean it's impossible.]

Where does change come from, and how does it start?
It starts with you. Gandhi once said that we should "be the change we want to see in the world," because every good deed, regardless of size, makes a difference. To a large extent, he was right. Think of it like drops in a huge bucket: if enough drops fall in the bucket, eventually one of those drops is going to be the one that makes the whole thing overflow.
But is making a difference in your daily life really enough? I mean, for many of us working for non-profits in our local communities, there are times when we question whether we're making a lasting impact at all - like we're stuck with constantly treating the symptoms of a disease because we simply can't afford the cure. Don't get me wrong, small things can and do make a huge difference in people's lives. The problem is that unless those small things are brought together and given a common direction, they won't do much to change the system. So if change starts with individual actions, how can they become something more?
I'd like you to consider the eloquent words of Robert F. Kennedy:

"Each time a man [or woman] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he [or she] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

This is the foundation of coalition building - the idea that when even the smallest actions of individuals or groups are brought together and focused on an objective, the aggregate effect is a current, a movement, that's a force to be reckoned with. Simply put, a coalition is a diverse network of individuals, communities, and organizations that come together in the pursuit of common goals. Coalitions have the potential to be powerful tools for remaking our world, and it’s important to recognize that this is because much of their strength comes from three key elements: diversity, flexibility, and solidarity.
Diversity is important because a successful coalition draws on the strengths, abilities, insights, and resources of its members to create an empowered community. [A network is strongest when it is membership is diverse, because it provides the whole with resources and opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. Diversity also helps ensure that the coalition proceeds in a direction that is sensitive to the needs of all its stakeholders] Flexibility is also important because, like any organism, a coalition must be able to adapt to its environment in order to thrive. [On a deeper level, members must be willing to be flexible and willing to roll with the punches - keep in mind that it's not about you, but about the movement.] Solidarity is absolutely essential because unless the members of a coalition make a meaningful commitment to help one another succeed, why even bother?
It is because of these characteristics – diversity, flexibility, and solidarity – that coalition building is effective strategy for change in almost any context. By standing in solidarity with their fellow human beings and tenaciously pursuing the necessary steps towards realizing a common vision, coalition members aren't just advocates - they're revolutionaries. Individually we can make a difference, but together we can change the world. So ask yourself:

"Do I want to spend my life putting band-aids on problems, or do I want to help start a revolution?”


If you want an example of a successful coalition, look no further than the Children's Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition (CHPCC). CHPCC began with two ladies armed with a vision and a mission. In 2001 Lori Butterworth and Devon Dabbs - alongside a handful of tenacious, committed people - decided that the children facing life-threatening conditions and their families in California needed help transforming the way they received health care. From this need emerged a shared vision of a healthcare system that's more natural, healing, and family-centered. Since then, CHPCC has grown into a diverse network of individuals, families, community members, local organizations, clinicians, policy makers, and representatives across the nation that collaborates with other national organizations to pursue a common mission: challenging the existing healthcare system for children with life-threatening conditions and insisting that public funding for healthcare services for these children be in line with their unique needs. Eight years later, CHPCC has grown to nearly 2000 members across the country. What has CHPCC accomplished, so far?

• CHPCC has successfully developed an award winning model of community-based coordinated palliative care that is being replicated across California.
• CHPCC has also helped create a comprehensive palliative care benefit that uses state plan services and a federal hospice eligibility waiver that is now in the process of being rolled out in counties across the state.
• CHPCC has also created a Family Advisory Council, made up of parents who are currently caring for (or have lost) a child with a life-threatening condition, to educate clinicians about pediatric palliative care.
• CHPCC's "Partnership for Parents" is the first (and only) multilingual web resource for parents caring for a seriously ill child.

The best part about all of this is that YOU CAN DO IT TOO!

Concrete Steps and Tenets of Coalition Building.
How did CHPCC achieve such success?

The first step is to identify a major need that is being neglected and formulate your movement's vision. Think of the vision as your long term goal, a sort of idealistic carrot-on-a-stick propelling your movement forward. For CHPCC that need was improving the way care was provided to seriously ill children and their families, and the vision was a health care system that is more natural, healing, and family centered. A well thought out vision is important because it is the inspiration not only for your movement, but for others to join your movement as well. It's your revolution's rallying cry.
One of the keys to coming up with a compelling vision is to make sure that the voices of those you want to represent are right beside you from the very beginning. So get out there and start a conversation! When Lori and Devon started CHPCC, neither of them had lost a child to a life-threatening illness. So what did they do? They brought parents and kids into the process, listened to them, and made sure CHPCC's vision was their vision.
As you are developing your vision, you should also begin coming up with a mission statement. Your mission should be the pragmatic embodiment of your vision, focusing on practical, obtainable objectives. If your vision is where you want to be, your mission statement is your plan for how to get there. A strong and well thought out mission statement is an essential component of a successful coalition and should be at the forefront of everything you do. Like a game plan or a road map, it can help guide your decisions and focus your efforts - strengthening your movement and maximizing its impact in the process. When things get tough or out of control, you can always fall back on your mission statement to get your priorities back in line and get the ball rolling again. It's also important to remember that while you should stay focused on your mission, you must never lose sight of your vision. Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the horizon.
Both your vision and your mission should be viewed as works in progress because the next step is to reach out to potential stakeholders who you feel share your passion and begin the long process of building a collaborative network. Bring them to the table and identify ways you can help each other while allowing diverse perspectives to enrich your understanding of your cause. Keep in mind that a stakeholder is any person or organization that has a vested interest in your cause, so the more receptive to new perspectives and inclusive your organization is, the more innovative it will become and stronger it will be. As you reach out to other organizations, be sure to identify key opportunities, form alliances, and most importantly make friends. Friendships are a crucial asset to a coalition, because you never know when that "friend of a friend of a friend" is going to have precisely the information or resources you need in a pinch.
The process of building your organizational network can be long and difficult, but there are some things you can keep in mind that will make it easier. One good strategy is to do your best to keep personal politics out of the mix. People can't be expected to always agree on everything, but sensitive political issues can be especially divisive. It’s essential that you keep an open mind, and try to encourage diversity. CHPCC recognized early on that politicizing things distracts and detracts from the organization’s ability to pursue their mission, as well as alienates potential allies from the cause. Do your best to leave these at the door, and focus on the task at hand.
Resource allocation is another key aspect, because the way you distribute shared resources across a network is critical to its total effectiveness. One good strategy is to develop an efficient division of labor: form task forces to solve immediate goals that advance your cause, and get the right people and resources involved. Form local and regional committees, undertake projects that attract and include motivated people, and develop strategies to connect people to existing local and regional organizations.
Keep in mind that resource sharing includes information sharing, because information is a valuable resource to both your coalition and the people it’s striving to help. There are numerous ways you can keep people in touch, coordinated, and up-to-date. Social networking sites, teleconferences, electronic newsletters, print magazines, fliers, events – all of these are at your finger tips, so use them! Keeping people informed about what’s going on is vital to both sustaining your movement’s momentum and attracting new supporters to your cause, so be creative. Sponsor an event, host a consortium, and even hire a lobbyist if you can afford it. Get the word out, explore opportunities to make new connections, keep people posted, and you might be surprised at the results.
The last phase of the coalition building process is, quite frankly, keeping it going in the right direction. Effective communication is a great place to start, but figuring out how you can turn it into an ongoing conversation is really what it’s all about. Mutual respect and flexibility is absolutely critical, because you’ll find that the more willing you are to listen to and respect others the more willing they will be to help you. This is where the value of solidarity shines through. With diversity comes challenges, to be sure, but with respect for one another and a mutual willingness to set aside trivial differences you can make progress.
It’s also a great idea to bring people from different world views together and get them collaborating on a shared praxis, a practical habitual practice, that is mutually beneficial and advances your cause. When people help each other out over and over again, members of even drastically different communities can forge lasting social bonds that makes your movement that much stronger.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” - Henry Ford
Revolution is about committed individuals armed with a mission relentlessly pursuing a vision of justice in the face of adversity alongside an empowered community of friends and allies. If you're serious about changing the world get out there and build a movement. Reach out to those who you want to help, to the countless others who share their dreams, and to those with the resources to make it happen. Remember that it's not about "us" and "them," but what WE can do to make sure that the world our great grandchildren will inherit is not only something we can be proud of, but something we can be proud that we helped create. With patience, respect, and dedication you can use coalition building as a model for starting a revolution founded on diversity, flexibility, and solidarity that can remake our world. The path will likely be difficult, but never, ever give up.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Turning Point(s).

 Lately I've been spending a lot of time thinking "What the F*%@ am I going to do with my life?"
 One of those perennial, inevitable, and existential crises that face most soon-to-be graduates who have some degree of peter pan syndrome.

 Granted, had I been thinking about this in high school (at that time there was no question - i was going to be an actor!) my options would be much greater.

 So I've been focusing on what my life has taught me, what my education has shown me, and where these things can propel me.

 Theater. Psychology. Sociology. Politics. These are the things that interest me. What is, logically, a profession in which the confluence of these interests provides the greatest economic benefit for myself in light of an economy that is increasingly outsourced, sub-contracted, and downsized ...  where the lines between economic and political power are illusory and wealth is increasingly being shifted from the lower strata of society to the upper echelons of elite bureaucratic and financial culture?

 I would be happy being an educator at a university of some kind. That would provide me the opportunity to never quite grow up and spend my life pontificating about the world and attempting to inspire others who are young (and still idealistic/optimistic) to save the planet and our civilization. But then I would face the plight of most educators now - unreasonably low wages, furloughs, job insecurity, and pressure to focus on issues of economic benefit for a university's corporate partners. For a long time this has kind of been my general plan, though not much actual thought was put into it. I've recently decided that perhaps this wouldn't be the most effective/efficient use of my time.

Perhaps i could attempt to spend a lifetime building a career as an international aid worker. I've thought long and hard about this, and only 4 months ago I was convinced that this was precisely what I wanted to do. Join the Peace Corps. Build a resume. Learn other languages and cultures. Get shot and maybe killed trying to bring anti-retroviral drugs to AIDS sufferers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Teach people in Bangladesh how to use the internet to start a business. Certainly I'd make a difference, but what are the costs? I certainly couldn't start a family (although I'm beginning to wonder if that's even an option that will ever be presented to me in my lifetime), and if I tried to I'd be gone all the time - not the kind of father I'd like to be. Eventually I might get a nice kushy bureaucratic desk job at an NGO and quickly become disillusioned, desensitized, etc. I'm not sure I'd enjoy that.

There are many other options that might make me happy, but most certainly would guarantee poverty and are thus likely to prove quixotic at best. I could try to be a professional leather craftsman, or a jeweler. I could try to return to the theater. I could attempt to be a professional fire dancer. A musician. A recording engineer. A live show sound professional. An animator. A writer. A journalist. All these are potentialities that could be explored, but all entail a large amount of risk. I don't want to put myself in a position where I'm 30 years old and am still working entry-level jobs.

What, therefore, is perhaps the best career path for someone with my abilities, interests, and sensibilities? What is possible given my academic record and personal story? What will enable me to make a difference, should I choose to, or make grips of money if I decide to sell out? What would provide me with the most options?

Lately I can only think of one answer to all these questions.

Law school.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

a peculiar conundrum

Lately I have been struggling with diametrically opposed aspects of myself. In simplified terms, I am referring primarily to the conflict between positive and negative vectors of thought and emotion. Cynicism disguised as realism versus optimism in the guise of pragmatism. Even though much of my internal monologue in recent weeks has been dedicated to the process of cognitively restructuring my life so that it is much more in tune with the latter, when I actually delve into type of conversation that has to do with my outlook on life, the words and opinions that come out of my mouth turn out to be bitter, cynical, destructive, violent, and spiteful… Perhaps I am at a point in my life where a paradigm shift is in the making - the dialectic of the ownership afforded by existentialism versus the comfortable state of victimization proffered by adopting an absurdist perspective is greatly descriptive of my conflicting confluence of personal conviction and opinion. I live in a state of constant contradiction - and comfortable contradiction at that.

But why am I so comfortable talking out my ass? Why am I completely content to ramble on and on, debating points in which I do not truly believe? Why do I get so excited when provided with an opportunity for dissent, of any kind? Am I just being disagreeable merely for the sake of being obstinate?

Maybe I am.

But even in halfheartedly admitting that, I find that it is - for whatever reason - difficult to give a shit about the impact of this governing attitude on others. Perhaps the virtue of selfishness is derived from the benefits created by the comfort of willful ignorance combined with a genuine lack of caring on my part?

Lots of crazy thoughts rattle around in my skull - and I am trying to believe in myself and others.

For me, based upon my life experiences, this is no easy task. I will never forget what its like to be on the inside of an insane asylum, nor the humiliation of being stripped naked and beaten by "people" who are sworn to "serve and protect". These things, although they could have been avoided with a small amount of personal effort/diligence, I blame on external factors. I portray myself as a victim, so that it is easier to ignore the fact that I am my own destroyer.

I am trying, with all the strength I can muster, to ameliorate this inconsistency in my own life and thoughts. Unfortunately, I don't want to wallow in a cynical and bitter existence - but I also despise what I consider to be the naiveté of unbridled optimism.

Sometimes I just wish people recognized that being positive isn't everything.

Sometimes I just wish I didn't think so goddamn much.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I don't know how I feel about the world right now.

Today I kicked it in a friend's car for three hours. Stopped. In the middle of nowhere. Waiting.

A "WRECK AHEAD " sign baking in the heat of an uncharacteristically hot Oregonian summer day.

Impatience. Going crazy. Dancing by myself on top of the car. Impersonating Neil Young. Trying to instigate a revolt

"STORM THE BARRICADES!!" Uncomfortable families. "OR I WILL KICK A BABY IN THE FACE!" Nervous glances from alarmed fathers, the inquisitive gazes of small children.

A fatal wreck. A person reduced to a big crimson stain on dark, hot asphalt littered with smoldering upholstery.

I return home, finally. Yesterday, I was told I had till the 15th of august in this wonderful place.
Today, they told us we have to be gone by the first. T-minus 10 days and counting.

My dear friend fractured his skull. I totaled my car. My dream house gets yanked right out form under me after a mere three weeks. No jobs. Nightmares. The echoing silence at dawn's first light. I feel myself slipping. Do I just let it go?

It feels like the universe is trying to tell me something.

Either that or my brain is weaving patterns from senseless chaos in a pathetic attempt to make sense of it all - as though any sense was there to be made or understood.

I don't believe anything happens for a reason. I believe things happen the only way they can - and that's usually in a completely idiotic fashion.

Irony is a neurotic lover.

I am faced with a dilemma .

Before me are three options

1. Stay in Portland, tough it out. Wait till the burn, get a job. Quit in 3 months to return to UCSC

2. Travel home to Glendora. Stay there for a while until I get a car. Bum off my parents

3. Go back to Santa Cruz, live on the street and try to scrape enough money together for a deposit.

None of them really seem all that promising.I'm beginning to wonder if I have enough caring left. I'm kind of over this pretty little hollow heart i've got.

Too tired to even deal with this.

I think tomorrow I'll shave my head.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Social Security.


Did you know that the active ingredients in Prozac cost $0.11 per pill?

A bottle of one hundred pills costs $247.47.

That's a markup of 224,973%.

When we offshore industrial manufacturing, that's Free Trade.

When we outsource computer tech support to India, it's Free Trade.

When we build factories in Mexico... Free trade.

But god forbid we buy our prescriptions wholesale from Canada.

Its crazy how reckless this industry is. Its impressive how powerful its lobby is.

Welcome to America, land of the free, home of the permanently medicated.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Expository Excogitation

Its a peculiar thing how questioning everything has a propensity to lead a person to a place where they trust nothing.

It might be an overly cynical worldview, this impulse to distrust the actions and motives of others... but maybe its based on what I perceive to be a general tendency for people to not say what they really mean and avoid openly dealing with things they stubbornly find meaningful where others do not.

Perhaps one of the greatest fears I've noticed of late is the fear of awkwardness. That uncertainty of how things will unfold in a given situation provided certain details of past encounters and unspoken knowledge. I must admit, perhaps this fear is only in myself and I'm merely projecting. Still, observations must be made.

It seems to me the essential anxiety of humanity is uncertainty. This condition, of not knowing, of not understanding, this sense of being lost - its symptoms are constantly exacerbated by the confluence of pressures placed upon the modern mind. It takes that which should be embraced and relegates it to a signifier of ineptitude. A disease for which there is no excuse; whose etiology rests solely in the failings of personal wit or will. There is no excuse for ignorance in the age of Google and Wikipedia, just as there is no excuse for idleness in the age of Capitalism.

Yet the terrifying fact that many of us do not know where or who we are in this carousel of distractions continues to compel us to "find ourselves"

Some turn to drugs. Others turn to school. Some seek meaningful employment. A new house, a car, friendship, a comfortable lifestyle, an acetic existence, spirituality - all seeking some sort of reference point, an action or perspective or sequences of both that will cast light upon our actions, give our lives color. Some seek it through sex, clutching desperately to the physical manifestations of affection, as if they could reveal the ways to love. Others seek purely emotional connection, as if love is something that transcends physicality, something purely mental, the only portcullis to self-affirmation. All emphases misplaced, it seems. I do not wish to discount the attempts of those who are trying the best they can under the circumstances. Merely pointing out that tactics are not strategies.

So what's to be done? I do not claim to know answers. I am in the unfortunate position of being beset by convergent anxieties myself, uncertainty and distrust predominate. Clarity, perhaps, is the only remedy - its difficult to see the forest from the trees when you've gone into the woods and lost your way; one keeps scanning the trunks, searching for distinguishable signs of familiar territory. As the fear sets in, the mind begins to conjure up these signs, projecting them onto the things which they are not. Before long, rather than trusting one's internal sense of place in relation to the woods itself, one becomes unsettlingly lost in the pursuit of a way out. Perhaps the only answer is to settle in, and take things in stride. I'm reminded of a Rainer Maria Rilke quote:

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."