For the Civic-Minded
It's the community. That's where activist and educator DeRay McKesson finds optimism. His answer required reflecting on a dangerous gap where we all risk losing our positive attitudes.
Talking to John Favreau on a recent podcast of "Offline." DeRay reflected on his experience with technology and today's politics and refused the show's usual themes. He was not there to condemn social media. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon to say the apps are the problem, he shared his concern for a problematic gap.
The gap starts with a fact we all know well. It's now easier than ever to know everything about every crisis in every place around the globe. Favreau pointed to the firehose of information we tap into with our social media feeds. It isn't nearly that easy to know what any one person can do about any of it. That's the gap.
The problems loom so large and come at us so fast that we never see the stories about effective activism. Favreau asked McKesson what he would say to a young person dealing with this, someone who might give up hope on affecting change. McKesson answered:
"Community is bigger than our biggest problem."
For marketing guru Seth Godin, this community might be a matter of "finding your people." That's part of what animates the work of Politicolor. This effort aims to connect the civic-minded, making it possible to think together and remember that we are in this together.
Community also requires having an idea of our collective identity. We have to understand who we are. McKesson talked about building a movement with space for everyone at the table and turned to a folksy and homespun idea of a potluck. He said he couldn't feed everyone himself, so he needed people to show up and bring what they could. Even if they are no good at making the mac 'n cheese today, they'll get better at it if they keep showing up. Aristotle used this same metaphor, a "feast of many," to describe the potential of political society:
"There is this to be said for the many: each of them by himself may not be of a good quality; but when they all come together it is possible that they may surpass—collectively and as a body, although not individually—the quality of the few best, in much the same way that feasts to which many contribute may excel those provided at one person's expense."
There's potential in this collective identity when we connect to it. We have to challenge ourselves to find these connections and make them part of our social feeds.
This focus on what a community makes possible also aligns with what bell hookswrote about as the "love ethic." In her essay, "Love as the practice of freedom," she cites Cornel West's observation that churches had countered forces of coldness and meanness that threatened the American spirit. Churches opposed these destructive forces by "promoting a sense of respect for others, a sense of solidarity, a sense of meaning and value which would usher in the strength to battle against evil." In response, hooks adds:
"Life-sustaining political communities can provide a similar space for the renewal of the spirit."
A love ethic requires awareness, service to others, and community. We have a model to follow:
"The civil rights movement had the power to transform society because the individuals who struggle alone and in community for freedom and justice wanted these gifts to be for all, not just for the suffering and the oppressed."
When we work together, we build our capacity to pursue freedom and justice for all of us. We're headed into 2022 with more uncertainty than any of us want. The challenge is to find our community, the people we can work with and learn from while pursuing justice and freedom for all in the new year.
I have grown tired of the notion of an ally. I prefer the language of an 'accomplice.' An ally loves you from a distance. An accomplice loves you up close.
—DeRay McKesson, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope
Let’s make it easier to start thinking together.
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For Your Reading List
We have also reached the time of year for announcing what's IN and what's OUT. The news outlets that once had all the details on the supply chain crisis are now talking about inflation. Sometimes they even allow it to sound like these are two separate stories. Inflation is IN, and the supply chain was already so last year.
I'm not interested in tracking all the ups and downs. Instead, I have just one question:
What do I need to know about what is causing inflation today, so I'm not caught by surprise in the months or year ahead?
Much of the available analysis re-heats the conventional wisdom on inflation and what to do about it. Economists and journalists practicing a more careful approach have not yet decided how much of what we once knew about inflation applies to the current situation. Three valuable explainers include:
"What is happening with inflation in the US, and how worried should you be?" by Lauren Aratani (The Guardian)
"Inflation isn’t just a US thing: Supply chains are screwing with prices for a lot of the world." by Jen Kirby (Vox)
"Why is inflation so high? Is it bad? An economist answers 3 questions about soaring consumer prices" by William Hauk (The Conversation)
Paul Krugman outlines the most critical factors shaping the problem and the consequences of proposed interventions. These two opinion pieces will help you see how his thinking has developed over the last few weeks:
"On the Trans-Atlantic Price Gap" (November 30, 2021; Lots of good data visualizations included)
"The Year of Inflation Infamy" (December 16, 2021)
And, there's no escaping that the supply chain crisis is a significant part of the story. If you would like a better understanding of the systemic problems behind that story, these are two highly recommended reads:
"No End In Sight For The COVID-Led Global Supply Chain Disruption" by Garth Friesen (Forbes)
"Inside America's Broken Supply Chain" by David J. Lynch (The Washington Post)
For Believing in Democracy
Jon Batiste celebrates "Freedom" with his community in New Orleans. A beautiful community with a strong sense of who they are made this particular music video possible. They also bear responsibility for the pure magic that is the artist himself.
Don't miss the part of the video where Batiste visits his ancestors. The lyrics are:
"'Cause when I look up to the stars
I know exactly who we are"
I'll be looking up at the stars and thinking about who we are in these last few weeks of 2021. I hope you have a great Christmas holiday.