Hope in the dark

The election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence is horrifying in so many ways, and it will take days, weeks, years to process and understand the implications for our country, and for my own life and community. I have renewed fear for the health and safety of the many people who Trump has attacked, denigrated and vilified in his life and campaign, especially women. I am deeply concerned about the damage that could be done in the years ahead.

But we also know that this outcome is not an accident. It is the very predictable result of living in a world where consideration of the facts and what is true has become inessential to public life. It is the expected product of a political system that exists to feed the beast of insecurity, consumption, fear and disempowerment. It is what happens when we fight our way through crucial conversations instead of listening to each other, when we focus on what we are against instead of what we are for. It is a natural -- if significant and very unwelcome -- stop-over on a path that we have been on for a very long time.

Where do we go from here? Where do I go from here?

  • Grieve.
  • Locally, work to protect the people and communities who are at risk of further harm from a Trump presidency.
  • Regionally and nationally, work to minimize the damage that can be done.
  • Replace "clicktivism" with real movements and real strategies.
  • Get clear on where our personal tipping points are for taking real action.

As someone who has long held the belief that words of truth have the power to facilitate the changing of minds in significant ways, I personally also need to wrestle more with what this election outcome means for the relevance of language in shaping national events.

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For/Against

The people who I see making the most progress in community building (at any level) are the ones who can effectively articulate the things that they are working toward, what they're for, and then get other people excited about different ways to make that happen.

The people who I see doing the most damage to community building efforts are the ones who only seem able to talk about the things they are against.

Maybe you recognize these different profiles?

For...

  • Is usually dreaming about ways to make something better
  • Celebrates existing strengths and accomplishments as a foundation to build on
  • Understands possibilities for the future, describes them well
  • Lets their ideas evolve as they get feedback
  • Connects with stakeholders and figures out how to help
  • Engages through questions, observation and collaboration

Against...

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Post Fact

What do you do if you find yourself living in a world where facts no longer matter to most people?

From the New York Times coverage of the historic British vote to leave the European Union:

The British campaign featured assertions and allegations tossed around with little regard to the facts. Both sides played to emotion, and the most common emotion played upon was fear.

Sound familiar?

Sure, it could describe the current U.S. Presidential campaign, but it could also describe myriad other campaigns about the environment and climate change, energy, food and health, poverty, war, immigration, politics, economics, laws and justice...the list goes on.

If there's an issue being debated, there's probably someone out there making an argument that is not based in fact and that plays upon our fears. Unfortunately, those are probably also the most well-funded, successful players in the campaign. Anyone asking for a reasoned, logical, fact-based approach are probably drowned out quickly if they're ever even heard at all.

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The Trump we asked for

As an Indiana resident and voter, it's tempting to be embarrassed at the headlines of "Trump wins Indiana" blanketing the national news today. Indeed, I find almost everything about his candidacy, personality and public statements to be deeply problematic on numerous levels. But Mr. Trump's success in the primary and his win here in Indiana are just more symptoms of a brokenness in U.S. politics that goes far beyond this state or this election year.

When I was growing up, a career in politics mostly seemed like something boring, unglamorous and yet perhaps ultimately noble that certain kinds of people would necessarily take on in service of their town, state or country. Many kids wanted "to be President some day," but most would redirect their attention to other more practical and personally rewarding pursuits when they realized the amount of mundane policy details they'd have to immerse themselves in, or the long road of statespersonship that only just began with a law degree or military service. In this way the bar was set somewhat high for entering a life in politics, and while somewhat contrary to the promise that anyone with a good idea can make a difference in a government of the people, maybe in some ways it was a good thing.

As the lapel pin-wearing political class has emerged, the idea of just anyone being able to make a difference in politics seems more myth than anything. In a country of hundreds of millions of people, the same small circles of people are held up as the only realistic candidates. If you're not willing to amass gobs of money (or friends with gobs they can share), compromise your values and public persona to fit with the room you're in, make promises you can't keep and bow to the primacy of the so-called military-industrial complex, it's unlikely that you can succeed as a politician. Those of us who have in the past held out hope for a candidateperson who can transcend those constraints to restore a principled, dignified approach to government leadership have now mostly learned to know better.

So if we can't relate to or become a part of the political class, we at least expect them to entertain us. Between the 24-hour cable network rehashing of Every Little Unimportant Detail, tell-all insider memoirs, the salacious political affairs and scandals of the last two decades and the fear-mongering around U.S. national security, our appetite for political theater that distracts us from any substantive discussion of issues or outcomes has grown each year. Congressional gridlock, court decisions around corporations as people and money as free speech, and a media generally unwilling or unable to do anything other than chase the story of the day means the founding structures of U.S. government that once required a boring but otherwise accountable and productive national conversation have been all but undone.

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Richmond's next Mayor

Pemaquid Point LighthouseWe're still some time away from the next Mayoral election here in Richmond, Indiana, but whoever is going to run and win to keep or take office in 2016 will have to begin their initial preparations this year.

(A number of people have kindly suggested that I would be a good candidate for the job. I appreciate this and I'm honored by it. But to be clear: I'm not running for Mayor in the upcoming election.)

Before the candidates announce themselves and the conversation becomes about those individuals and their qualifications, I want to share my own hopes for what Richmond will see in its next Mayor.

The legal requirements for running are pretty basic: "A candidate for the office of mayor...must have resided in the city for at least one year before the election." Hopefully we'll set the bar a little higher than that.

The below list is not meant to be a critique of our current Mayor or of any past person who has held the title, but rather a forward-looking inventory of what I think the city needs most right now:

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Why Activism is Failing

millennium-curse-coverI suspect that reading Tony Saghbiny's book The Millennium Curse: Why Activism is Failing might be a disturbing experience for you. It was for me.

If you consider yourself an activist in any form, there's a good chance that the book will challenge some aspect of the way you think about what kinds of activism are useful and effective. If you're proud of the successful Facebook or Twitter campaigns you've orchestrated to raise awareness about a certain issue, you'll probably be made uncomfortable. If you have invested heavily in becoming the change you wish to see in the world, you might feel insulted or deflated. If you think of yourself as a pacifist, you might feel like hitting something. And if you're pretty content with the status quo, or if you're not someone who appreciates activism in any form, it might be upsetting to think about the very existence of such a book, let alone some of its implications.

The Millennium Curse tackles head on the question of why much of modern activism is proving itself to be largely ineffective.

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On the healthcare.gov rollout failures

Low DangerThere's already been much armchair quarterbacking of the botched rollout of healthcare.gov, so I doubt I have much new to add to the mix.  But as someone who's led or programmed the creation of web tools for much of my professional life, I can't help but share a few observations:

First, I must give thanks that whatever times in my work I thought I've had a client who was difficult to work with or a painful "design by committee" situation that was getting out of hand, at least I've never been hauled before a Congressional Oversight Committee to answer questions from bureaucrats about the intricate details of website development. NIGHTMARE. However badly they may have messed up, I still feel a little bit sorry for the people who now have to go through that grilling.

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