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Some notes on the group FIRST-Ideals

Some notes on why the FIRST-Ideals network was started (10/29/03)

When we looked around the country, we realized that there are a LOT of new issues coming up which none of us have could imagined a few years ago, back when we were all meeting at FIRST conventions back in the nineties. The deficit, the economy, and the conflict in Iraq are just a few of the major issues which are now facing us, and which have raised some big unanswered questions.

So we thought, why not try to have a group which would allow just some of the interaction and exchange of resources which occurred during FIRST's activities?

I have always considered FIRST an extremely beneficial experience. So when I look at the many issues now arising, it seemed like it might be worthwhile to try to benefit from the ideas created before, and to once again try to give people the ability to exchange ideas and resources.

Especially considering the geographic and political diversity which FIRST seemed able to achieve. It seemed worthwhile to utilize the lists of contacts which I and others have. With all the issues now arising, it seems good to create ways for people to make contact with those in other regions.

So in part, that was the goal which Melinda, Chris and I had in mind when we started this email group. Just to find out what people have been up to, what's been on your mind, and what's been going on in your part of the country. Just to share info and ideas on recent happenings, and also to answer some basic questions. Such as, what's been going on? What do you think have been the important issues? How did we get here, and how do we get out, and move ahead?

But as we thought of this, we also started to think, maybe there is still a way that a third group could still make a difference. The approach of the two main parties seems so lackadaisical, that maybe there is a way for a new group to have an impact.

So we thought about different possibilities. One thing we thought of is to maybe create a group which would be able to pose certain important questions, as a unit, to the candidates. But within that process, we would also be able to present the reasons that those issues are so important, and why the answers up to now all seem so vague. That would enable us to actually take a stand on those issues, and to push them more to the front.

And also to indicate why we feel the problems are a certain way, and why we feel certain things about how useful or non-useful the politicians' responses have been until now. In that way, we could help actually draw importance to certain issues, or to make them a priority and push them to the forefront.

This is just one idea. There might be many others. Or there might be some which might just be pursued locally, in just a few neighborhoods within a single region. Whichever it is, we thought we might as well at least give those ideas a chance to emerge.

There might also be some new issues emerging as the presidential elections get closer. Some might be specific to a single regional area, and having a network like this might encourage awareness about issues which might not otherwise be so well-known in other places. So we can always add members from other groups or backgrounds, depending on who might also be interested.

Anyway, whatever your interest or opinion, we hope you find this group helpful. We realize that this message thread sort of sprang up at you out of the blue, so we hope that as time goes on, you will be able to find a way to interact here and to utilize this in a way which can be most beneficial to you, in whatever way you find most helpful.

We are already in touch with a few of you, and we hope you will feel free to post as you have time to look over these issues. But whatever approach you may decide on, we hope you each find the resources you need, in your own efforts, to make a difference. Thanks!

Some thoughts on the work of FIRST (12-29-03)

It has been a few years since FIRST's most recent convention. In that time, much has changed. There have been two wars, and an ongoing conflict. There has been a new economic recession. There have been new record-breaking deficits, after the budget had been balanced in response to previous long-running deficits. And of course, there were the tragic attacks on 9-11, which were the most profound and the biggest changes of all, and one of the most significant events of our time. In all this, there are many new issues which are facing us.

And this group is an effort to see whether we can revisit some of the discussion and resources which FIRST had provided during its various events, to address many issues in a real and diverse way.

The idea of forming this group is based on many different things. It is based partly on the reappearance of the deficit, after all the effort and discussion in the nineties aimed at balancing the budget. It is based partly on the new problems with our economy, which affects all of us, and in which all groups can have a positive role. It is also based partly on the new conflicts in which we find ourselves. And it is also based on the apparent shortcomings in the ability of both parties to truly address the problems which face us, which was another of the main reasons that FIRST was founded in the first place.

Although we in this group are from many different backgrounds, I think that we would all agree that there are some common underlying ideals which drew us all to FIRST originally, and which allowed us to work together (and which caused us to get involved in public affairs in the first place). These core ideals included taking real responsibility for our economic future, and for going beyond ideological boundaries, to find and discuss real solutions to problems.

There are some issues now where it might be hard to say exactly how those underlying core ideals would lead us to respond, such as regarding the conflicts overseas. There are other issues where it might be extremely easy to say how those core ideals would lead us to respond; these are issues such as the deficit.

In regard to the deficit, FIRST, and other groups, always clearly said that this was a real issue to be addressed, one which affects our economic health and society, and that we must find real, effective ways to address it in order to strengthen our future.

There are many possible ways in which this email group can help us. We can use it to trade ideas on how to affect the ongoing debate, and to have an impact. We can use it to discuss how to work together, or discuss how each of us, working individually in our own areas, can each take steps to make sure these ideas are advanced. Or we can use it simply to trade ideas and insights on how these issues are affecting us, and how they are changing around us as time goes on.

Whichever the use which may prove to be helpful, we know that there is a lot which can be done when diverse viewpoints are brought together. There are still many openings for new ways out there to bring together different views to address the issues. I know that everyone is capable of making that happen in some way, and I hope that this list is able to somehow serve as a resource for that. Thanks very much, and I hope you find this useful. Thanks.

Some thoughts on what groups like this can do (12/31/03)

I would like to share some thoughts with you about some recent political developments.

The Bush Administration seems to indicate that a tax cut is the solution to all of our problems, regardless of the actual effects which it may have in practical terms.

While the Democrats main message seems to be to focus mainly on finding the flaws in President Bush's actions in Iraq and elsewhere, and on the flaws in his explanation for his actions there. They seem to have little focus on finding or presenting a comprehensive plan of their own to rebuild Iraqi society itself; their main statements seem to discuss few ideas or goals, other than to disentangle ourselves as quickly as possible.

(Please note, I'm not trying to take sides here, but rather to reflect broad patterns. Pres. Bush's tax cuts may or may not be a valid solution to our problems. And the Democrats may be right about Iraq. It's just that what comes across most strongly, is their criticisms of the fact that we're involved there, and not any actual creative plan for rebuilding Iraqi society.)

What is the connection between these two facts? What pattern ties them together?

To me, it is the lack of any basic belief that our problems can actually be solved, or that we can apply our energy and talent to improve things.

The Bush Administration seems to feel that the best thing government can do is to be hands-off (and to cut its own revenue). No government action can have any positive effect, so there are no options other than a tax cut, and no alternate ideas to try when that does not turn out as planned.

While the Democrats seem (judging from their main statements) to have little interest in actually making the world more democratic, or in promoting human rights. They say that they oppose Pres. Bush's actions as being too forceful, or excessive. Yet they do little to marshal public support for an alternate vision, or for an effort to improve the world through more peaceful means, or to improve world conditions over the long-term.

Their strongest-held belief seems to be about how wrong Pres. Bush is, rather than about how right any alternate idea is. (This is what comes across strongest to most voters, regardless of other beliefs which Democrats may have expressed in other settings.)

Two parties, one of which believes that no domestic policy can succeed, except to show how wrong governmental actions are for the economy. And the other, which does not appear to uphold any real foreign policy idea, except to say how wrong the current Administration's ideas are.

What is the tie between these two? It is, I feel, their lack of a belief in solutions which can succeed in such areas. It is their lack of a belief that we can take action realistically, and improve the world around us through our own efforts. It is, in a word, their lack of idealism.

And this is why I feel a group such as ours or such as FIRST is appealing, and has something real which it can offer. The belief that our actions and our ideas can lead to real change and solutions. The belief that different groups and ideas, interacting together, can lead to new ideas, not just endless gridlock.

This is the reason that I think groups like FIRST have potential. And this is why I feel that those type of beliefs which drew us to get involved, are worth pursuing in any format, even if simply through discussion in various forums.

I feel that these common beliefs are, quite simply, that we can choose which problems affect us most deeply, and try to identify the causes and resources to solve it, and bring in different groups to try to address it. And also, that politics doesn't have to be just the process of waving one's ideological flag, just to insure that one's own party gets into power, or 'recaptures the center,' or other mythical political goals.

As I said in an earlier email, a good example of this is the issue of abortion. As important as this issue is, it's interesting that it recurs in so many elections, as a major issue, or sometimes as the defining issue, while bigger issues get only a fraction of the same attention. This issue often takes this central role, possibly because many politicans want only to identify which side they're on of a cultural divide, rather than to actually present new or creative ideas.

This is only one (possibly only semi-relevant) example. But my main point is that, specifically over the last few years, politics has become more and more a process of choosing the side which one is on, and the group which one is in, and less and less a process of actually being aware of the world, and of finding actual solutions.

Why? There are many possible reasons. Part of it may be that it allows politics to go on without actually changing anything. Part of it may be that it makes it much easier to deliver various messages to mass audiences.

I'm not saying that this is a conscious, intentional, or organized process. It might simply be just the easiest reaction to a more-complicated world. But I am saying that there seems to be less effort towards finding new ideas, or to learn about the world, and more effort towards insulating ourselves, and towards simplifying things.

And this is why I have found FIRST worthwhile. The belief that the process of finding out about issues, or hearing from different groups, is in itself valuable. And the belief that each of us can make a difference just by getting informed, and by taking our own actions. I feel this is a belief which is worth pursuing.

And by the way, I believe that this process of simplification explains many other things. It explains why the media and popular culture seem to become more extreme and more explicit each year. It explains things like the reality shows. It explains why some performers today seem to lean more towards emphasizing the physical, and less towards the content of their work.

I know that some will say that this has always been going on, but the truth is that it hasn't. There have also been some periods where popular culture, and performers, aimed towards having more clarity and more meaning, and not less. Saying that it has always been going on is just a way of avoiding debate, instead of actually looking at what may or may not be going on.

I am not saying that this is necessarily the main issue. I am saying that it is one thing to try to be aware of, and to try to be aware of the effect which it is having.

I only want to suggest that maybe these two things are somewhat related; that, possibly, the strength of our attention to ideals in the arena of politics, is somehow related to our overall image of society, and the attitudes which we get, in the arena of popular culture. You may disagree, but it seems like something to think about.

One thing which we can agree on is that it is important to know where we are going as a society, and to know the effects which we are having on the world, based on the actions which we take, and the resources which we use. And that by working with others, each of us has the power and the ability to make things better. That seems like something worth working on, in the coming year. Thanks.

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