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Some working ideas for our group

Some notes on how a group like this can work (11/3/03)

Hi guys. It's good to be discussing these issues with you. As one thinks about these issues, it's interesting to see how many of our core beliefs can be summed up by just a few simple statements.

Some of these statements spring out of FIRST?s work itself; others seem to suggest themselves, based on what we have done in the past, and what we have aimed for. "Aim for solutions, not accusations" is one such statement. "Involve anyone with positive resources," is another. Some others, I feel, are, "It?s possible to bring any opposing groups together, as long as they all really want to solve the problem;" "Let your identity define the issues; don?t let the issues define your identity". Hopefully, we will have a chance to discuss a few of these at some point.

Right now, there is one I'm interested in: "Most people define their lives and actions by a single choice, which will then impact even the smallest aspect of their behavior." This was said by a very great philosopher many years ago.

I feel that it applies to us, because one can see how the two parties have made a fundamental choice about how our system would work, a choice which now filters down to their approach to every issue.

Their choice, basically, is that they would define their agenda based mainly on how it lets them carve out an image which is separate from, or opposed to, the other party, (as opposed to how it lets them find real solutions). This is revealed by much of their behavior, and helps to explain a lot of their actions.

For instance, here?s an example; in abortion, they continually wrangle over each detail of the boundaries of what is and is not permitted. This allows them to continually prolong a cultural conflict and debate regarding this. (Yes, I realize this is not in the headlines at this minute, but this is what keeps it coming back as an issue.)

I don't mean any disrespect to any of those who take seriously this very important issue, but let me ask you something; why do they not reach the same level of detail on important issues like international aid? World hunger? International labor rights? Or (just to give conservatives their due) values in the media? The strength of American business?

In other words, why do we recurringly see so much painstaking detail given to a single issue, which (though very important) is mainly legislative in scope? And why do we not then see that same broad detail given to issues which are genuine problems to be solved, and which actually do require broad societal attention, and a broad effort to address?

The answer, I feel, is because the two parties care more about magnifying those issues which get their people to the polls, and less about issues which actually solve problems. In other words, they want to magnify our divisions. This explains much of their behavior. It explains why Democrats talk less about helping those less fortunate, or about government investment in economic sectors, and more about attacking details of Republicans? actions, or aspects of their statements. It explains why Republicans talk less about issues they claim to care about, such as family values, or upholding traditional or societal unity, and more about heaping scorn on liberals.

This is all of course, just my opinion; my own subjective interpretation of certain facts. I don?t claim to be stating facts which are absolutely empirical, or absolutely certain. But I do hope you find these somewhat true, at least to the extent of identifying certain patterns in the parties? behavior, and also certain explanations and accounts of their motives.

Which brings us to another issue; of what it means to actually make a difference, to lead change. If we can identify the issues which are actually at the heart of the situation, and identify ways to bring new resources and groups to the solution, then we just might be able to define an entirely new approach to the problems. Not by becoming linked to just one ideological agenda, or by merely defining ourselves as for or against some issue, but rather by defining ourselves as in favor of an effort; in favor of actually pinpointing the broad problems affecting us, and defining the resources for a real solution. Possibly, solutions which don?t fit into any ideological category, but which are simply the correct and productive approach or method.

And this, in some sense, is the task facing us. How to get our communities to think about those underlying problems; the state of world resources, or the state of economic opportunity, or of political rights. Or at home, to think about broad societal issues; who is being educated, who is being fed. And how to share resources to address these problems.

And the next part of our task would be, how do we get people to care about this? How do we get them to decide that it applies to them? And how do we get them to decide to work in their region or area, to spread awareness, to call for action?

(By the way, I'm not trying to throw every issue into the mix here. Some problems are obvious to all as being fundamentally important, and the clear task is to find a real solution. These are problems such as the deficit. The recession. Or the conflict in Iraq. Or global warming.)

(There are others which are less obvious, but which are as much a fundamental priority. Such as, educational resources in America, or job opportunities. Or the state of our values. Or the state of world living and working conditions. The point is, this approach can define its own subject matter.)

So there are many issues. But in each, the task is, (and here I?m working from the existing ideals of FIRST, as shown in the past): how do we get a broad array of groups involved, and caring about the issue? How do we get them to decide that the issue matters? How do we get them to believe that the solution should be real, and far-reaching? And that it doesn?t matter which group or agenda we involve, as long as they all bring positive resources to the table?

These are some of the questions which we need to address. As you can see, they all really just relate to some very basic questions; who are we as a group; how will we make our voice heard; how will we get people on board with these ideas; and how to get them to work towards them. These are all questions which are still yet to be answered, in a very real way.

There are a few ways to tackle these questions. But one way which I would like to try is by starting with existing ideas. So, if I could, I would like to turn to the group member whose email mentioned US aid to Haiti, and ask for some of her views in relation to some of these. I agree with much of what you said. It would seem, according to FIRST?s work, that public spending does have a valid role to play, and it is a real part of the solution, which includes foreign aid, such as you mentioned. And also, that we have to take responsilbity for the effects of our actions, such as the effects of American companies on Haiti, and other countries where we have an industrial presence.

So these are all real issues. But, as I mentioned above, there are still many aspects for us to resolve on these subjects; such as, how we can best act, and how to work most effectively, and how to have a real impact.

Anyway, please feel free to look at all of these with different ideas. Don?t worry about how practical they are; let?s just look at different ways to see this. As you know, brainstorming is another old FIRST tradition. Thanks.

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