THE POWER OF COLLECTIVE ACTION: : A MISSING ELEMENT IN THE GREEN MOVEMENT
These Amish farmers, working in Lancaster, Pa, are following a centuries old tradition of collective action going back to Western European roots. The good news is this picture was taken last year. The bad news is that 99% of the action of barn raising or home construction or any kind of neighborhood construction is done by “paid experts.” The individual owner of the building lacks emotional and spiritual ownership because he is excluded from the task. The larger problem is that we have turned over our health care, nutrition, child care and financial independence and our marriages to “the paid experts. The paradox here is that while cherishing our individuality, we have dis-empowered our selves by turning to experts to handle many domains of our personal existence.
Richard Niebuhr and his brother Reinhold Niebuhr, two of the most prominent Protestant theologians of the 20th century, wrote extensively about the problem of “individualist overemphasis.” They considered it in “the big four sins of Western culture—along with racism, militarism and economic imperialism. My experience as a writer on enviironmental causes for thirty years and two years in the Transition Movement is that “the greens” by and large are tone deaf and visually impaired when it comes to seeing the absolute for collective team action. More recently the books of Scott Peck, especially People of the Lie, address this issue in contemporary culture.
There is a huge briar patch out there which is thorny and hard to navigate. Four primary parts making up this briar patch of difficulty s are the following:
FIRST, the breakdown of inter-generational bonds within each gender line making cooperation between older and young males more difficult. The same is true to a lesser extent for women.
SECOND, is the tension and distrust between men and women which makes corporate team action by men and women working together on a team more difficult. This is the residual shadow of feminism and a still partially unresolved patriarchal culture.
THIRD, is racial distrust and vast cultural differences. Denver, for example has a vast Native American population. I am told there are 30,000 Navajo in the Denver metro and many Lakota people and other tribal groups. The engagement of these populations within the green movement is almost non-existent.
FOURTH is the fear driven quest for maintaining middle class life styles which cuts the nerve of volunteerism and financial giving to non profit causes.
Notwithstanding all of these briar patch issues, there is no way into the future without corporate action. I say this in light of the darkening clouds of our future rooted in depletion of oil and gas, climate change and accelerating economic instability.
What I mean by corporate action is a team of men and women showing up on the ground at a specific day and time. They are on the same page. They see the need and they do the deed. They share the same core values and they are friends in the best sense of the word. In past essays I have addressed the issue of movement building. See transitioncolaroado.ning.com/members/forrest craver for numerous blog essays on Building the Movement.
Not only the transition movement but many nonprofit and voluntary groups do the first stage of movement building –Awakenment –fairly well. New people come to an event and see a new paradigm image for sustainable community and they get excited.
But then the local green group fails to step into stage two of movement building –formation. FORMATION is about forming people into task forces, committees, pods and work teams formed through personal affinity – that is the people self select their specific mission for future engagement. People work together mainly because they enjoy and like the people they are working with. In the awakenment process, the standard wisdom is that “openings close.”
In other words, if awakened individuals are not followed up with, they turn away and find something else to engage their time. In the Gospels, Jesus alludes to this issue by saying if he casts out all the demons, and the person, previously possessed, does not step into the New, and embody the New Paradigm of transformed living – he then ends up worse off than before.
I often tell the story of Lifespring, a training group across the USA which did in depth consciousness trainings. Lifespring had 800, 000 grads of weekend, six month and other trainings. And two years ago they filed for bankruptcy. My wife, son and I did the entire Lifespring process. And my wife, Susan was on the national board of trustees of the Lifespring Foundation.
What happened with Lifespring is illuminating for the Green Movement and for the trainings on heart and soul the transition movement is now doing. The breakdown in Lifespring which led to its extinction, is that everything was always about Lifespring. Unlike Rotary International which turns outward and takes on eradicating polio and smallpox worldwide, Lifespring always made their mission about recruiting more people to take their trainings. They never got to the third stage of movement building – DEMONSTRATION.
Demonstration is about putting an inclusive model on the ground in a specific neighborhood where people can come and see the New. The majority of middle class folk in our country will not go “dark green” unless they can see the new model of human settlement, the new and better way of living, the new and healthier way of growing local and buying local. Your neighbors have to see your retrofitted house, your hoop greenhouse where you grow thousands of seedlings to plant with your neighbors.
They need to get a personal witness from you that you are saving money on your fuel bills, that you are eating better and healthier with your backyard organic garden, that your children are engaged with you and the entire family in planting and harvesting wonderful veggies, fruits and herbs. Nothing can ever replace the power of direct personal experience. This is the key learning from the field of accelerated learning, open space technology and leadership groups from the field of organizational development.
So then what can we do about reclaiming corporate action in our time. I believe from forty years as a volunteer, participant and consultant to many social movement groups that the answer is already present is we are willing to heed the wisdom of the past. The four keys to building corporate action come from great social movements and from the fields of group social work, marketing and fundraising.
THE FIRST KEY IS RECENCY. This principle means that your activity and productivity on a team is a function of how recently you have been involved. People who are creating a community garden are most motivated if they are currently engaged in the work. As the weeks go by without their engagement they become much less motivated. I was part of a national men’s organization which studied attrition and fall off in hundreds of our groups. We found that groups meeting weekly had the very highest retention rates. The rates dropped for groups that met twice a month. And most groups that met only monthly went out of being within three years.
THE SECOND KEY IS FREQUENCY. This principle is highly correlated with recency. It means that the more frequent your engagement in a local green group, the more likely it is that you will deepen your engagement in on the ground action, in participation on task forces and in giving money to your local group.
THE THIRD KEY IS SEASONALITY. Earth Day USA got this right by picking April 22nd for its thousands of local earth day celebrations. People give the most money to causes between Thanksgiving and mid January due to Easter and other religious and cultural celebrations. People give the least money from June 15th to Labor Day when most of us kick back, put our nonprofit mailings aside and go on vacation. In the green movement with its focus on being outside growing food, retrofitting houses, the spring, summer and early fall are the very best times to advance the movement.
THE FOURTH KEY IS SEGMENTATION. Did you know when a new book arrives at Borders bookstore; there are two and sometimes three or four different and distinct book jackets. The publisher is using segmentation and testing of the marketplace to see which book jacket attracts the larges number of buyers. Within the green movement, segmentation could be used to build task forces based on affinity – for example middle school children and their teachers and parents creating a school garden. Or another example would be creating a task force of women on Preserving and Canning fruits and vegetables. Segmentation relies on affinity “birds of a feather flock together”. A good example of this is African American worship. Although racism has been significantly reduced in religious denominations, the reality is that even in highly integrated neighborhoods, most African Americans prefer to worship in black churches led by black pastors. Style and culture often seem to us to be invisible – but they are as hard as steel.
In conclusion, how is your local green group showing up in terms of attendance at meetings? formation of task forces? and sustained engagement? How are your team members doing in terms of enjoying working together? Are you retaining loyalty of volunteers and financial donors to your cause? Your comments and feedback are welcome. Send them to email@example.com. And good luck as you move forward in building the movement for a better world.