Tom Hayden died in October 2016 at the age of 76. He was a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It was a half-century ago, June 1962, when Hayden and some twenty-somethings of the SDS got together to examine their values. In just a few days, they wrote down ideas and criticisms that remain solid common sense today, yet we still struggle to make them real as the number of thieves that “rule” continues to grow.
The week they met, John F. Kennedy was at Yale giving a commencement address. The invention of the first communication satellite that year included building missiles to chase the moon and no one at that time could even imagine having phones in their pockets more powerful than the computers used to guide those rockets. They could not have dreamed of the capacity to connect everyone to everyone else on an issue. What they did was prepare a very useful vision of a democratic society. The SDS gathered to write the Port Heron Manifesto for their generation. It is a statement about the values and principles of participatory democracy.
The eight principles (below) led Hayden and the group above to Chicago and the Democratic National Convention in September 1968. Their ability to mobilize resulted in their arrest by the federal government for conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to anti-Vietnam protests. Their principles have been rewritten and re-interpreted below using the future perfect tense. Doing so adds accountability to sustaining their vision because the main lesson of having control is the ability to create recurrence. A restatement of their platform would, therefore, read, by the year 2020, we will have:
- established a political order that defines problems with facts to set goals
- discovered the means to share the social and economic consequences of public decisions equally
- enabled people to come out of isolation and participate
- accepted the privacy of social relations among all people
- added new ways for people to find meaning in public leadership
- provided outlets for the expression of grievances and aspirations
- illuminated a broad range of choices that facilitate goal attainment
- acknowledged questions that help to reformulate well-defined issues.
If these principles recur in our experience, they become instructions for participation in a democracy that filters oppression out of the social context. Not surprisingly, fulfilling these principles by 2020 remains unlikely; therefore, each occurrence in our experience and in your organizational experience needs extensive identification and authentication.
Political leaders can be helpful as individuals or as local delegations when principles attach to data measured in days, months, years, decades, or generations. Connecting these principles to an issue such as the “health of the nation, or my city” leads to useful evaluation. An implementation of this method would say, we will have “x” by the end of “y.” In this example, health problems and goals to resolve them will have measures of improvement or decline as an assessment of the existing political order to create a useful and helpful system change.
The writers of these principles also knew that the measures of economic change whether caused by fresh capital or human sweat, also require a statement of values. In the future tense, as follows:
All aspects of (our) work at the end of each day will be:
- worthier than incentives, money or survival
- educative, creative, self-directed and collaborative
- a source of independence, human dignity, and respect for others
- subject to democratic and social regulation
- responsive to ethical standards and guidance
- a decisive personal experience that instills self-determination
- an influential economic understanding that strengthens every community
- a means of production open to democratic participation
The ideas developed in Port Heron offers insight into our current, highly polarized political condition. They sensed the danger of replacing goal-oriented and idealistic thinking with a kind of general chaos even though a year later (1963) they would hear “I Have A Dream” by Martin Luther King in 1963 and learn of plans to put men on the moon. Leadership was pushing us to be better and to be the best.
Another aspect of the papers was the criticism of appeals to American “posterity” as insults justifying “present mutilations” of that time. They observed how searching for answers could slip far too easily into the ratification of the conventional. They sensed a critical detachment from the catastrophes facing humanity. They observed that the central purpose of privately held power in a democracy is to assure an organized political stalemate. Today we still watch millions desperately feeling the anarchy of war and drought. Only the consensus for war remains. Human environmental impacts are now global. The flow of wealth accelerates toward the few as if it was a means to escape and tragedies are used to amplify war instead of peace.
“Two fundamental changes have occurred, somewhat ironically in the economic sphere since June 15, 1962, when the Port Heron Conference concluded that it might advance the quality of political change in the democracy we have today. First, ending the separation of people from power, relevant knowledge, and effective decision-making is more than a possibility today. It is probable. The wealth held by anyone at any time, however, can disappear with the ease of a few billion keystrokes. Second, to become one of the bright, thoughtful members of a generation, one no longer needs to be born in comfort or from a university adorning privileges.”Rex L. Curry
The separation of people from power, relevant knowledge, and effective decision-making are more than a possibility today. It is probable. On the other hand, the wealth held by anyone at any time can disappear with the ease of a few million keystrokes. This contrast in power is because any one person can become one of the bright, thoughtful members of a generation and no longer need to be “born in modest comfort” or from a university “adorning privileges”.
We are an Internet experience. The capacity for knowledge, consensus, and collaboration is enormous. Along with a few core competencies, all that is required is the injection of some serious, task-oriented curiosity and some chops in organizational development experience to look ever more efficiently at the world you want to inherit.
As the contradictions of this new wealth begin to sink in, there are opportunities to deal with assessments of the “takings threat” that make stealing a futile, even laughable practice. If these changes hold, the streets will not be where the battle is won’t. There are other places to win this one.
Whether your organization has a whole earth viewpoint, a human and civil rights strategy, a distinctive liberation theology, or an agenda of everyday politics, it is important to focus on the content of liberation movements to identify common ground. The important work for all of them is to recognize the complexity of the patriarchy, the exploitation built into capitalism, and the detritus of militarism. These are oppressive forces but claim to be so in the name of our well-being, freedom or liberation.
A society’s patriarchal system (male-dominated) gets attached to dominance. When masculinity includes this emotional appendage, it is a drug with the side effect of unfairness. The movement for liberation from this situation begins when people assemble and learn to fight for structural change best envisioned in democracies. Small groups easily produce revolutions of thought and action. As these groups tend to be isolated at the start, the attempt to find ways to make combinations of them big enough is motivated by creating a pulse positive outcomes. The backlash experienced in the push for these changes leads to disruptions but it includes many opportunities to raise consciousness about the continuing need for change.
Movements for race and gender equality collect the experience of unfairness toward power. It is uncomfortable but encouraging lateral rather than vertical relationships is the best way to uproot old hierarchical systems and untie knots. This work leads to projects such as taking back state legislatures through vote-education that stops normalizing hierarchy.
The motivation of a liberation movement is to define the damage done to individuals and the well-being of entire cultures. Embedded within the analysis of emancipation, especially in recent decades, is the critique of multinational, multi-trillion-dollar corporations building bold, unapologetic forms of unchecked Darwinist philosophies of supremacy, as part of the white, mostly male, western European and American establishment. It is as if these institutions are paying attention to global challenges to their vision of authority and power, yet find it impossible to create positive change. Perhaps they fail because they continue to fail ordinary people at an accelerated rate for the lack of belief in democracy and where hope can be capitalized.
The general framework for compromising a rising level of dissent in the name of transparency or borders is to establish divisions between the known and unknown. Accepting the contradictions of the news/fake news, or the truth and lies experience reveals a hidden demand for change. Develop a super keen sensitivity to the nature of vague oppression of any group of people and work to understand them with the intensity of social companionship. If small groups of people are to initiate political mobilizations with any success at all, know that the goal of organizing new institutions to replace the old is a vast enterprise requiring generations of intelligent observations and the facts to back them up.
Threats to personal safety and the general welfare of a community are familiar. Maintaining command over solutions to common problems requires a localized capacity to respond to new threats. In the past, oppressive forces made it dangerous for large groups of people to breathe the air, eat safe foods, or drink clean water across significant stretches of the American landscape and the world. Reversing the environmental damage caused by these problems became law by consensus, not because solutions were easy but for one fact. Air, food, and water quality are inseparable.
Today, the rise of the localized threats to safety and welfare are far more subtle, and it has little to do with what you might expect such as, seemingly newsworthy acts of random violence or senseless brutality. A more telling example is available. Recall the time Bernie Sanders said to the liberation movement protesters of Black Lives Matter (BLM) that, “all lives matter!” Blurting such a truism at that moment was dismissive and only proved that he did not get it at that moment. He knows the fight for the protection of one is a struggle in defense of all, but he was not aware of the moment he spoke to, and it is safe to say now he does. It tells us that understanding the call by Sanders for an American political revolution is far less complicated than building the ground upon which it will move forward. In this example, the ease with which liberation movements split apart internally exposes external forces that feed on these divisions.
The first question is, how do you build trust in an instantaneous communications regime? The diversity of the Nation (or the world) contributes to the cultural cohesion of groups but sustains values that find forced separation intolerable. Poor interpersonal and group-to-group communication is more likely in a diverse society, but free expression is a simultaneous opportunity for continuous improvements. The first step in this direction is to discover shared values clearly including arrangements to disagree.Continue reading