Personal Update

Today I spend the night in San Luis Obispo, so I can commune with the Big Sur Coast extensively before returning home to sleep in my bed tonight.

Sometimes the best way to find an answer is to stop thinking about the question. While watching the Jersey Boys, a key shift concerning the Reform the System project hit me. Then, last night, while watching the college football playoffs, a solution to my taxi medallion dilemma popped into mind. It is probably no coincidence that for the first time ever that I can remember, I woke up with a dream that involved me laughing uproariously.

More than once Mike had suggested starting small, rather than trying to do a national conference right away. But, true to my tendency to try to do too much too quickly, I resisted. Then during the musical, it struck me: start with a “workshop,” like we did with the Solutions to Poverty Workshop, leading toward first a regional conference, similar to what we did with the San Francisco Antipoverty Congress, and then a national conference. It’s like Mike planted a seed that suddenly bloomed.

In discussing whether to sell my medallion with a cab driver, he said, “You can always pay gates [rental fee] and drive taxi after you sell.” I totally ruled the idea out at that moment. Recently, however, I mentioned that option to Mary as one way that I could make up my anticipated shortfall, but the idea did not stick. Then during the game, that idea emerged and I quickly calculated that, even after paying the gates (rental fee), I could fill the projected gap by driving 2-3 two days a month. I could handle that! A viable fall back plan. Quite a relief. My lingering ambivalence about whether to sell evaporated. If no one hires me to do what my heart wants to do or if no other source of income emerges, I can drive taxi 2-3 days a month! I will sell.

If I were a better meditator, perhaps those solutions would have emerged meditating. But musicals and football are another way to stop thinking. This time, that worked for me.

I still feel good about my inclination to help the Residents’ Council do what members want to do “with and for each other” – separate from management. The silver lining is that when residents have complaints about management, we could just say: talk with them one-on-one, as they prefer. That could clear up our agenda for positive activities.  I may still suggest that we agree that we prefer that management engage in public dialog. But at least for a while, I’m fine with placing that issue on the back burner.

When I asked Mike, he said he prefers “Reform the System” to “Changing the System,” as do I. Fortunately, that URL was available, so I bought it. I was surprised. Either we are on the cutting edge, ahead of our times, or we are out in left field. Regardless, we have a tough nut to crack.

The following comment from one support group member helped clarify my thinking on one matter:

Implementation of a new way to handle issues, in my opinion, has to be incremental.  This brings me to the workshop idea of “Systems Change.” Why not think about identifying a particular system which needs change – think of the powers behind the systems. Think of those systems/institutions.  My suggestion would be to identify a system  – e.g., criminal, education, how we work with homeless, hunger, etc.  I am sure you get my flow and know of many yourself.  Make it an institution of care within the system. For organizing purposes there are people who are working on these issue who would benefit from your idea.  And, if you think that is too small, then invite the community leaders of these causes to participate in the organizing of a larger “System of Change.”  I cannot stress enough that small is good.  It is how movements can be built when the anger we feel as a Nation needs tending.

That astute comment led me to the idea that at the first in a series of workshop sessions we could have a panel of individuals, each of whom works primarily on a single issue. Subsequent workshops could maybe have one guest that would participate in a discussion of their specific issue. And all sessions would address how the various single issues are interconnected and the various elements of “the system” reinforce one another. Therefore, our best hope for systemic reform is to have various forces reforming each and every element simultaneously, and occasionally supporting one another in a timely manner. I’ve modified the Proposal and the Declaration to incorporate those thoughts and will do so with the Arguments For essay later.

With regard to the title of the draft declaration, which affirms “love and power,” and Dr. King’s quote: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic,” a support group member commented, “I don’t agree with Dr. King’s words without a richer understanding as to what he meant and in what context he wrote them. Real love is never weak or anemic or sentimental – it has the power of healing. It has to be received.”

I responded:

Webster’s defines sentimental as:

a :  marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism
b :  resulting from feeling rather than reason or thought <a sentimental attachment> <a sentimental favorite>
:  having an excess of sentiment

One-on-one and in small groups love can be healing, to a limited degree. So long as our dominant social structures inflict so much suffering, love without power will be very limited in what it can accomplish. As such, it is weak, relatively speaking. To believe otherwise is idealistic and reflects an excess of sentiment. His point is that we need both.

On further thought, it struck me that some adjectives could help clarify the different forms of love and power. So I added the following to the Declaration: “Informal, interpersonal love is not enough. If it is not backed up by political power, it is severely limited in what it can accomplish. This Declaration outlines how we, the signers, aim to root political power in love.”

Here is my current scenario for developing the Workshop(s):

1) Circulate to my 200 blog and listserv subscribers the following:

Dear Subscribers:

I’d very much appreciate your feedback on the following:
A Proposal for a Reform the System Workshop
Changing the System with Love and Power: A Declaration for Action
Arguments for a Reform the System Workshop

Might you like to participate in a workshop of the sort proposed? If not, do you believe that the proposed workshop is potentially valuable?

After incorporating feedback on these drafts, I may seek an organization to plan and conduct the workshop, which could lead later to a regional three-day conference on the same theme. That conference, in turn, could lead to a national conference, which could lead to one or more new ongoing projects to implement the resolutions that emerge.

If I decide to seek a sponsor for the workshop, to strengthen my case, I may  ask you to endorse the final draft and authorize me to quote your comments.

The latest draft of this proposal will always be at


2) Circulate the next drafts of those materials to those subscribers plus some 150 people on my Bay Area List and more than 1,000 other individuals in my Address Book, and post them elsewhere, and ask people for endorsements and blurbs (supportive quotes) for those materials.

3) If the response is sufficiently supportive, distribute those materials and words of support to potential sponsors one at a time, in this order — Fellowship Church, Movement Strategy Center, Center for Spirituality and Social Transformation, California Institute for Integral Studies —  and ask them to sponsor the workshop

4) Ask any potential sponsors that decline to provide feedback and suggestions, including potential sponsors.

5) If no sponsor is recruited  and there are no viable options on the horizon, evaluate the feedback to date at that point and consider whether to incorporate as a nonprofit (I own that URL) and/or find a fiscal sponsor and do the workshop ourselves.

The full materials are at


The System: Collapse, Overthrow, or Reform?

Another Smithsonian Winner, some upcoming appearances, and a new photo of Rockefeller center
Stuck in Customs / / CC BY-NC-SA

I do not support capitalism as-we-know-it, or crony capitalism. Nor do I support free-market fundamentalism.

I affirm the restructuring of our social system to make it more compassionate and more democratic, so that it better enables everyone to be true to who they really are and to become who they really want to become.

This fundamental reform would involve insisting that our society live up to its ideals. We must “promote the general welfare,” as stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, especially by assuring that everyone has a living-wage job opportunity. We must maximize democracy throughout society so that everyone has a real voice in affairs that affect them. And we must enrich our culture, cultivate caring communities, and engage in ongoing self-development in order to promote those values.

At the same time, I support the right of individuals and workers to start their own businesses and establish their own prices – if they do so in a way that does not damage the common good. So I support some forms of capitalism. Talking about “overthrowing capitalism” and identifying oneself as “anti-capitalist” therefore strikes me as imprecise and counter-productive.

Those who want conditions to worsen so “the system” will collapse might do well to read “Is the Safety Net Just Masking Tape?” in the December 17 New York Times. As the author, Thomas B. Edsall points out, worsening conditions can lead societies to or toward fascism. On the other hand, steadily improving economic conditions can lead to a “revolution of rising expectations.”

Edsall also points out that liberals have neglected the need for structural reforms that empower workers and increase economic opportunity, such as higher taxes on the wealthy to fund public investment and full employment. Breaking up the big banks is another needed structural reform. Instead, liberals have promoted means-tested “pity-charity” liberalism. Due to an excessive reliance on those programs, Edsall argues, “The state has become the resource of last resort, consigning just the people progressives would like to turn into a powerful force for reform to a condition of subjugation — living out their lives on government subsidies like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit and now Obamacare.”

How to build a popular movement for empowerment through economic-security measures already supported by a strong majority of the American people is no easy question to answer. But surely not talking about the issue is no way to begin.