A few things to help get through these times

Sam Smith

Build communities – As America has become more urbanized, we have become increasingly culturally isolated from others near us. Having moved a decade ago from a near lifetime in Washington DC to a Maine town of 7,900 population, I’m conscious of some of the differences, such as when neighbors offer to pick up groceries for you during the pandemic, an emphasis on ethical behavior as a standard with which to judge others and so forth. But cities can have this too, as I learned living on Capitol Hill in DC. The important thing is to make it matter.

Follow facts, not politicians – Politics these days is based on the manipulation of information by those using it. Trump is an extreme example, but as a rule politicians are an exceedingly poor place to get the facts. If your challenge is to deal with a real problem, you want real information. Science and good journalism do a better job at this.

Don’t rely on the gradocracy to solve your problems – We now have more than 28 times as many students getting MBA degrees annually as back in the 1960s and Washington has over 80,000 lawyers. As I wrote a few years ago:

||| It was a given until recent times, that from a political point of view, understanding law or economics or business was a valuable asset but one that fell far behind social intelligence upon which successful politics relied. As my father, a lawyer who worked in the New Deal, would tell my buddies, “Go to law school, then do something else.” Roosevelt wasn’t as gracious towards the academic elites: “”I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong.”….

. A cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product has become wasted energy. And not just the physical sort. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. We have created an economy based not on actually doing anything, but on facilitating, supervising, planning, managing, analyzing, tax advising, marketing, consulting or defending in court what might be done if we had time to do it. The few remaining truly productive companies become immediate targets for another entropic activity, the leveraged buyout and the rise of the killer hedge fund. |||

As an alternative, work on a farm or a boat – I did both as a young guy and among the things I learned that are useful in today’s environment:

· Multitasking: If you are on a farm or out on a boat, there are no end of skills that need to be blended depending on the particular day or place. You may need to be a weatherman, an accountant, a veterinarian, a navigator, a hospital corpsman or an engineer,

·

A

Have your opinion but work with those who have different ones. The historian David Hackett Fischer calls it “reciprocal liberty,” a philosophy that tolerates differences of viewpoint to encourage closer and more effective relationships.

Organize by issues as well as identity: One of the big differences between the 1960s decade of effective organizing and today is that activists are much more inclined to organize by identity rather than by issue. I learned the difference getting involved in the largely successful anti-freeway movement in DC. It was started by black and white middle class homeowners, the least likely constituencies to produce any big change. And I knew we were going to win when I went to a rally that had two speakers: Reginald Booker, a black activist who ran a group called Niggers Incorporated and a white Georgetown architect dressed in a pin striped suit whose name was Grosvenor Chapman.

It’s not a matter of either or; it’s just that cross cultural issue-oriented organizing is way down these days, perhaps encouraged by the tendency of the Internet to drive one to your own niche. But consider, for example, that among those in poverty, 21.4 million are women, 8.4 million are black, 10.5 million are Latino and 15.7 million are white. That’s 34 million Americans who have something in common.

Regard multi-cultualism as an asset for America, not just a big problem to be solved: We have too much real work ahead of us not to treat everyone decently, whatever their ethnicity or sexual category. This has been easy for me because I wasn’t all that happy with the way I was raised and early looked to other cultures for alternatives. I majored in anthropology and had four sisters and a Puerto Rican sister-in-law with four children. In high school I became a jazz musician with a plethora of black inspirations. For over two and a half decades, my office was in DC’s leading gay neighborhood. For five decades, I was part of Washington’s white minority. Thus I Iearned early and repeatedly that others weren’t all like me and that this made life more interesting. I remain stunned by how seldom and how little we celebrate cultural diversity. Yes, we have to keep fighting the unfairness, but we need to talk louder and more often about diversity is a gift and not just a problem to be solved.

Learn from cooperatives instead of corporations – In this sort of crisis, the game is not competition but cooperation. Cooperatives are the greatly underrated lessons in this. Here’s a piece on how cooperatives are dealing with this crisis.

Let’s have some songs and symbols of a new approach – As we deal with the crisis, logic and data are not enough. We need to feel like we’re building something new and better. The fact that my teenage granddaughter has a 1960s peace symbol on her bedroom door is a reminder of symbolism can thrive for decades. And we also need music that we can sing as we work our way into something better.

Even if you’re a farmer or boat captain, you can’t do it all by yourself. You learn not just to rely on others but to get along with those working for the same purpose.

Have your opinion but work with those who have different ones. The historian David Hackett Fischer calls it “reciprocal liberty,” a philosophy that tolerates differences of viewpoint to encourage closer and more effective relationships.

Organize by issues as well as identity: One of the big differences between the 1960s decade of effective organizing and today is that activists are much more inclined to organize by identity rather than by issue. I learned the difference getting involved in the largely successful anti-freeway movement in DC. It was started by black and white middle class homeowners, the least likely constituencies to produce any big change. And I knew we were going to win when I went to a rally that had two speakers: Reginald Booker, a black activist who ran a group called Niggers Incorporated and a white Georgetown architect dressed in a pin striped suit whose name was Grosvenor Chapman.

It’s not a matter of either or; it’s just that cross cultural issue-oriented organizing is way down these days, perhaps encouraged by the tendency of the Internet to drive one to your own niche. But consider, for example, that among those in poverty, 21.4 million are women, 8.4 million are black, 10.5 million are Latino and 15.7 million are white. That’s 34 million Americans who have something in common.

Regard multi-cultualism as an asset for America, not just a big problem to be solved: We have too much real work ahead of us not to treat everyone decently, whatever their ethnicity or sexual category. This has been easy for me because I wasn’t all that happy with the way I was raised and early looked to other cultures for alternatives. I majored in anthropology and had four sisters and a Puerto Rican sister-in-law with four children. In high school I became a jazz musician with a plethora of black inspirations. For over two and a half decades, my office was in DC’s leading gay neighborhood. For five decades, I was part of Washington’s white minority. Thus I Iearned early and repeatedly that others weren’t all like me and that this made life more interesting. I remain stunned by how seldom and how little we celebrate cultural diversity. Yes, we have to keep fighting the unfairness, but we need to talk louder and more often about diversity is a gift and not just a problem to be solved.

Learn from cooperatives instead of corporations – In this sort of crisis, the game is not competition but cooperation. Cooperatives are the greatly underrated lessons in this. Here’s a piece on how cooperatives are dealing with this crisis.

Let’s have some songs and symbols of a new approach – As we deal with the crisis, logic and data are not enough. We need to feel like we’re building something new and better. The fact that my teenage granddaughter has a 1960s peace symbol on her bedroom door is a reminder of symbolism can thrive for decades. And we also need music that we can sing as we work our way into something better.

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