How do we get things done? If our vaunted systems are in various stages of failure and even collapse, then it’s time we found a new way or perhaps, considered some of the old ways that are tested and true, but somehow, we’ve forgotten them—mainly because they aren’t sexy and don’t require a Ph.D. to implement. Sometimes I call it looking “back to the future.”
If we’ve reached the outer limits of growth—and I believe that we have—then what is our way forward? Economic development and a growth at all costs mentality will only take you so far. Look around at the great unwinding of the past 40 years and know that we haven’t been able to grow our way out of our troubles.
The solution isn’t politics either, even if that so-called solution comes lettered with an “R” or a “D”.
The concept of community organizing has been maligned by conservatives and others critical of President Obama. There’s plenty to criticize our current president for, but to denigrate empowering local people through grassroots efforts to score political points is yet another conservative canard.
As power has become more centralized in government, mainly to further the goals of corporate interests, local people have been the losers. The biggest issues facing the rank and file relate to how power has been concentrated in America, especially over the past 30 to 40 years.
Our current bureaucratic excesses came about in response to the last great period of wealth and power concentration during the Gilded Age. At the time, Americans demanded that the government regulate business and industry. This led to the formation of regulatory agencies. The first of these agencies were the Interstate Commerce Commission, set up in 1887 to monitor abuses in the railroad industry. Reform movements of the early 20th century looked to government to regulate child labor, food processing and packaging, and working and living conditions for the laboring classes. Our bureaucracy has continued mushrooming no matter if the emperor president claimed to be a conservative or a liberal. Centralized government and bureaucratic overkill has been a colossal failure.
As systems continue metastasizing, workable solutions are harder to find, especially now that we’ve come to rely on magic as our default setting. Delegating everything to the so-called experts who keep delivering Ponzi schemes and calling them development won’t change a thing. And good lord—please don’t give us yet another conflict halfway across the globe—I am sick of your wars!! It’s time we fixed some things here at home.
I believe in local. Investment needs to be centered on Main Street, not Wall Street. I actually believe in people, even though they fail and disappoint me. I believe in grassroots organizing’s ability to deliver results. If you don’t know what grassroots work entails, the style I prefer is what is sometimes called “developmental” or “transformational” organization. Those are fancy terms for work that involves having a strategy, patiently working at building a core of support in local communities, personal engagement, democratic participation, an awareness of the local culture, and efforts directed towards tapping into the existing local leadership capabilities. Coalition-building is also part of it.
It’s less about the cult of personality trap that we’re currently locked into, and more about empowering a core group to do the work that needs to be done. This kind of solution also requires a reality-based assessment, as well as a decision to stop buying what the snake-oil salesmen are selling.