Wade's Journal - 2009
As we enter the New Year, I am waiting, as Ferlinghetti put it, “for a rebirth of wonder.” We elected Barack President, but electing a President, even if he proves to be a great one, is only a small step.
To save the planet from ruin, prevent the needless death of tens of thousands human beings daily, and provide everyone with a decent opportunity to realize their potential within high-quality communities, we must mobilize a popular force that is more massive, unified, and sustained than ever before seen.
All of our major problems are inter-related and mutually reinforcing. Solutions, therefore, must be addressed to all of these problems simultaneously. As James Gustave Speth wrote in his excellent new book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World, “They are all one cause and they will rise or fall together.” We must promote the common good, empower communities, support self-development, protect our environment, and create a free, just, and peaceful society by reforming our institutions, our culture, and ourselves to better serve that purpose. Fortunately, countless individuals and organizations have developed wise solutions along this line.
Their effectiveness is limited, however, because they largely work in isolation on their single issues. This fragmentation undermines our ability to mount the pressure that is needed.
If all of the disparate forces pushing for social and environmental justice were to come together briefly on occasion to support one another, they could achieve much more united than they ever can alone. If such coalitions in countries throughout the world were to unite, we could transform the world.
But division prevails. One reason is ego and the lust for power, both on the part of individuals and organizations. We become zealous about having an impact. We don’t take time to really listen to one another. We don’t pause to honestly evaluate our efforts. We just plow ahead and become workaholics. We fail to nurture fun-loving, affectionate communities, which could help sustain a lasting movement.
Given the depth of Obama’s worldview and his occasional affirmation of comprehensive transformation, I was hoping, during my seven months in San Francisco working on the campaign, to make some strong connections with fellow Obama activists who share this holistic perspective. But I was unable to do so, perhaps because of mistakes I made.
I was also hoping to help build a solid Obama-inspired grassroots organization that would persist after the election to promote the goals of the campaign. As I discussed in Reflections on the Obama Movement, various statements by Obama and his campaign encouraged me in this direction. But during the election, most Obama activists in San Francisco weren’t interested in laying the foundation for an ongoing organization. And though 55 individuals attended the Post-Election Workshop that Roma Guy and I organized, no ongoing projects emerged.
Working on that project, however, did lead to the development of the proposal for a National House Meetings Network, which Marla Turner and Nations for Change adopted. This effort may grow into a solid project similar to the Network of Home-Based Communities that we proposed to the Post-Election Workshop.
And I’ve been offering input into the planning for the post-campaign Obama organization, for which some of the key participants have expressed personal appreciation that seemed genuine. I remain hopeful that they will put together a solid, independent, ongoing organization, but I have my doubts. I figure the chances are 50-50 at best.
In the meantime, my interest in comprehensive/holistic/systemic transformation remains keen. But very few others seem to share my interest.
So I return to Mexico to take stock, improve my health, read, reflect, write, and network, primarily via the Internet. Perhaps I’ll circulate a draft, one-page Resolution for Global Transformation as a way to connect with like-minded people and hopefully improve the way I talk about systemic change.
I do so in considerable isolation, partly because the individuals I know here are no better listeners than are gringos in the States. Most people, it seems, prefer to gossip, tell stories about themselves, or give lectures.
My new house, which I rent for $450 per month, is in a very quiet location, surrounded by trees and flowers. As soon as I left the Mexico City airport, got on the bus to Cuernavaca, and entered the mountains in early November, I realized that the main reason I return is the climate and the natural beauty. Each day when I wake the temperature is 62 degrees, plus or minus one degree. The sun has shone every day that I’ve been here. I have a living room, kitchen, bedroom, dining room, and an office. The latter two are large enough to serve as guest rooms (so you are welcome to visit!). The house is large enough for me to get my aerobic exercise jogging and sprinting on a smooth surface inside. I’ve lost about 20 pounds and lowered my blood pressure and blood sugar to near-normal levels. Late night, I replenish my soul by watching a movie and/or reading a novel, staring at the stars for a while, and listening to some music by candlelight. I go into town on Wednesdays to buy food and eat out. On Sundays I go to the mall in Cuernavaca to get my big-screen cinema fix, watch football, bet on some horse races, and enjoy a good meal. I’m beginning to get into a good routine for my reading, writing, and processing email.
I would prefer to have more social interactions and not sleep alone. But more and more, if interactions aren’t really rewarding, if the exchange is not equal, mutual, and open to heartfelt communication, I prefer to be alone with my trees and my computer. I want to speak from the heart, but few people are inclined to listen to me share my thoughts and feelings. I suspect they have good reason, even if they don’t know what it is. So I avoid forcing myself on others and try to practice being as good of a listener as I can be, while being available for a richer dialog if and when the other is interested, as sometimes happens. With gratitude, I have occasional soulful conversations on the phone with two or three old friends.
And I wait. I wait for the chance to engage in real, mutual dialog. I wait for the chance to get involved in an organization dedicated to holistic transformation. I wait for the world to open up to truth, justice, and beauty.
From this perspective, my New Year’s Resolution is: 'Be patient and enjoy Life.'
NOTE: I’m sending this email to old friends with whom I’ve had a soulful connection in the past and with whom I would like to have more such connections in the future. If you want to continue to receive emails like this one, reply to this email with at least one word, like “Thanks” or “Yes.” Happy New Year! It looks like it’s going to be a good one.
My plan for these “Wade’s Journal” entries is to write reports of less than 800 words twice a month.
I appreciate the responses to “My New Year’s Resolution.” In my relative seclusion here in Tepoztlan, it’s good to be connected with old friends. (BTW, any time any of you want to meet at the Hotel Villa Nirvana in Pie de la Cuesta just north of Acapulco, let me know. It’s a beautiful, affordable spot right on the beach.)
The relentless force of modernbuilds momentum geometrically. The resulting dehumanization and fragmentation undermines positive progress. Increasingly, human beings are reduced to instruments. We use each other until we use each other up and become more and more isolated, forced into nuclear families to find love and comfort. Hyper-specialization, hyper-individualism, hyper-productivity, hyper-competition, multi-tasking, goal-oriented obsessions, selfishness, and the suppression of emotion and spirituality are the norm.
These patterns are widely reproduced among progressives. One indication is the deep-seated attachment to ideology, which is the single-minded, absolutist, utopian, fundamentalist commitment to a set of abstractions that is driven by anger, the lust for power, and the determination to impose one’s own convictions on one’s “enemies.” This rigid, lifeless, goal-obsessed intellectualism spreads lifelessness like a plague. By and large, only poets like Bob Dylan and Octavio Paz and their devotees seem to see it.
Barack Obama is a rare exception and many of his newly inspired followers share his Pragmatism that is rooted in progressive principles. Embracing many-sided awareness and trying to see reality for what it is, they’re willing to appreciate the value of other points of view and craft compromises that can be widely supported rather than imposed. One commentator called it “communitarian populism.” Main Street needs Wall Street and Wall Street needs Main Street.
I see little evidence, however, that Obama has had much impact on old-line progressives who don’t seem to understand or accept that there is a difference between ideology and worldview. They remain more concerned with symbolism, the Culture Wars, and what is politically correct than with what it will take to build a majoritarian movement that can really deal with the most pressing concrete problems that we face. Ideologues promote their single issues in ways that help the system divide and conquer.
Given these deeply ingrained patterns, building a united popular force that can sustain itself over time and implement meaningful change will be extremely difficult. All we can do is to do our best and try to steadily become the change we seek. Though some may find these conclusions depressing, I believe that facing reality is depressing only if we allow it to be. I prefer to avoid either pessimism or optimism and simply keep moving forward.
Though I felt that the odds were no better than 50-50, while working on the campaign I hoped that Obama after the election would transform his campaign operation into a real, democratic, grassroots activist organization and tried to help build the infrastructure for such ongoing organizing among fellow campaigners in San Francisco.
But partly because everyone was so focused on the election, there seemed to be little interest. And we’re still waiting for a report from the national office concerning their plans for how to use the resources they gathered. My reading of the tea leaves, however, is not encouraging.
So I step back and reevaluate. Prompted by some suggestions from Kate Forrest with the Commonweal Institute, I’m going to suspend my opinions, adopt a neutral stance, and seek to gather some base-line information about what community organizations are doing and how participants feel about it. After circulating a Questionnaire for Progressive Activists and conducting follow-up phone conversations with willing respondents, I’ll follow the data wherever it leads me, send a summary of the responses to all respondents who ask for one, and invite participants to discuss the issues that emerge.
In this time of crisis, my hope is that progressive activists will use the information I gather to strengthen their efforts to promote the common good and protect our environment. And maybe I’ll develop some new ideas myself about how best to proceed.
SECOND NOTICE: I’m sending this email to old friends with whom I’ve had a soulful connection in the past and with whom I would like to have more such connections in the future and who did not reply to my previous Wade's Journal, which was titled "My New Year's Resolution." If you want to continue to receive emails like this one, reply to this email with at least one word, like “Thanks” or “Yes.” Happy New Year! It looks like it’s going to be a good one.
NOTE: I'm a day late, but here's what I have, which I may extend later.
My Obama Story
by Wade Hudson
My connection with Barack Obama began with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, which blew me away. At the time, I was leading the Reaching Beyond the Choir Project, looking for ways that activists could communicate more effectively with non-activists. And suddenly here was a perfect example.
He spoke with humility and restrained passion, sharing some of himself and articulating basic values rather than policy prescriptions. Self-realization. Human equality. The limits of government. Personal responsibility. The key role of government in assuring equal, adequate opportunity. The importance of compassion. Social responsibility. Out of many, one. Faith and hope. All expressed with great eloquence.
Once, prior to going to a workshop with George Lakoff on politics, language, and value, an associate suggested that I ask him, “How can we prompt people into being less selfish?” I did and felt that his answer was inadequate, for he spoke too much from the head. Obama, however, was showing us how to talk from the heart.
So I submitted excerpts from Obama’s speech to the participants in the Reaching Beyond the Choir Project, without identifying him as the author. When we voted on which statement that had been submitted best articulated the purpose of the progressive movement, his statement won.
The next year, I started spending winters in Mexico, began writing Global Transformation: Strategy for Action, read The Audacity of Hope, and kept my eye on Obama. In November 2006, convinced that we would run and win, I placed a 90-1 bet that he would be our next President and asked my sister to fax him “An Open Letter to Barack Obama,” which began:
I urge you to run for President and use the campaign as an organizing tool to help build the Democratic Party into a progressive, activist organization dedicated to self-improvement, supportive communities, enjoying life, community service, and political action.
We should ask not only what the government can do for us, but also what we can do for each other.
By adding more soul to its regular activities, the Democratic Party could unite the progressive movement and attract mainstream people who are currently inactive because they are discouraged. We could build momentum by winning victories that improve living conditions, renew the nation, and expand the horizon of what seems possible….
As you discuss eloquently in your book, Americans believe that individuals can constantly remake themselves and steadily become better human beings. Most people agree with you that a good person honors the values of self-reliance, self-improvement, risk-taking, thrift, personal responsibility, equal opportunity, nondiscrimination, honesty, fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy, compassion, and communal solidarity.
Unfortunately, however, as modernization accelerates, people are becoming dehumanized, trained functionaries. One symptom is that we rarely take the time to really listen to each other with a sympathetic ear.
By and large, progressive organizations mirror these larger social trends. Consequently, they fail to attract people who want more meaning and joy in their lives….
In my journal at the time, I wrote, “Admittedly, it’s a long shot, but I figure it’s one worth taking and worked a lot on rewriting it. I figure that he’s forming his campaign strategy now and that time is of the essence.” My skepticism was prompted by my analysis that, though he had touched on the importance of universal personal growth in The Audacity of Hope, and certainly was talking about personal responsibility, his affirmation of the need for ongoing self-improvement was not as strong as I would have preferred.
Nevertheless, I sensed that he could help inspire a moral renewal in the United States that would lead to the kind of transformation that I feel is so essential.
His announcement speech in February 2007 reinforced my hope when he declared:
Each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility — for instilling an ethic of achievement in our children, for adapting to a more competitive economy, for strengthening our communities, and sharing some measure of sacrifice. So let us begin. Let us begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation.
…That's why this campaign can't only be about me. It must be about us — it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams. It will take your time, your energy, and your advice — to push us forward when we're doing right, and to let us know when we're not. This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.
…That is why I'm in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.
I want to win that next battle — for justice and opportunity. I want to win that next battle — for better schools, and better jobs, and better health care for all. I want us to take up the unfinished business of perfecting our union, and building a better America.
And if you will join with me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I am ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with you. Today, together, we can finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth. Thank you very much everybody — let's get to work.
In April 2007 I self-published Global Transformation, basically as a rough draft for limited distribution in order to gather feedback. I wanted associates to critique it so I could correct any mistakes that they might point out. Chapter One begins with a vision from the future:
Entering the year 2030, the United States of America has the look and feel of a new society. We’re a moral community grounded in a global community committed to the equal value of all people, promoting the general welfare, and taking care of the environment. We're not perfect, but we’re making major, steady progress, while cooperating closely with people in other countries who are moving in the same general direction.
The turning point was Barack Obama’s landslide election for President in 2008. With his ability to speak from the heart and provide a new moral vision, he inspired the American people to overcome selfishness and come together to solve our collective problems. With this mandate and strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the grassroots movement sparked by Obama concentrated on improvements supported by a majority of the American people and began winning one victory after another in a positive upward spiral.
Elsewhere in the book, I cited Obama as an example of a new direction for the progressive movement, one that is non-ideological, majoritarian, rooted in love rather than anger, and willing to compromise without violating basic principles.
As reflected in the fact that most progressive activists supported John Edwards in the early primaries, this new worldview has been slow to spread. Since so many activists are so wrapped up in intellectual fine points concerning who is more “left” than another, they found some minor differences in the policy positions advocated by Edwards and backed him. Also of significance is that he adopted an angrier, more confrontational stance that echoed traditional leftist politics.
I could understand those decisions, but what puzzled me is that during the early stages of the campaign, so many progressives were mystified by why and how so many people were moved emotionally by Obama’s speeches. Now, most everyone accepts that he’s a great orator. But back then, many people didn’t understand. I can only deduce that it is because they were so wrapped in the world of ideas, policies, and political correctness.
After conducting a workshop based on my book, in July, I joined Obama’s social networking site, mybarackobama.com (MyBO), and signed up to register voters in front of the Ferry Building on my way to work. I was heartened by the often-enthusiastic response.
That fall, I returned to Mexico, followed the campaign via the Internet, and networked with people as best I could. In early 2008, I googled “Obama organizing,” discovered a number of fascinating articles about the campaign’s strategy, and created the “Obama’s Movement” section on the Progressive Resource Catalog.
Of particular interest to me was a piece that the campaign posted on their space on the Eons social networking site titled, “Obama: The Organizer and the Moment.” This piece begins with a quote from Obama’s first campaign, “What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer?” and opens with:
As many of you know, Barack Obama started his political journey far away from the confines of the Beltway. As a community organizer on the streets of Chicago's South Side, he mobilized people… That's what Barack Obama has done throughout his life, and that's what this whole campaign has been about. Barack has always been an organizer, and he still is an organizer…
I then discovered that the campaign had hired Marshall Ganz and other experienced community organizers to conduct Camp Obama training sessions to teach young people organizing skills. I also learned that, in California anyway, they were organizing by Congressional District (CD), which encouraged me immensely, for I have long thought that CD-based organizing will be essential in order to impact national policy.
So I returned to San Francisco in April eager to plug into this exciting movement. I assumed that the team based in my CD would be working away steadily, preparing for the November election with neighborhood teams going door-to-door, registering voters, recruiting volunteers, and convening social and educational events. I also assumed that many of these activists would share Obama’s passion about growing a movement that would stay together after the election to transform the nation.
But I was shocked to learn that nothing of this sort was happening in San Francisco. In fact, nothing at all was happening. I couldn’t even find a contact person for my CD, and neither could a colleague in Marin County. And once a CD team did re-form to identify new leadership at a meeting to which I was invited, I made a plea for a commitment to an ongoing movement, but my plea was ignored. Instead, the leaders said they wanted to wait for direction from Chicago. They ended up mostly recruiting individuals to go to Nevada and phone banking. I said precinct workers could recruit people to go to Nevada face-to-face. I offered to help organize neighborhood teams that would, in part, do door-to-door work, with which I have had experience. But no real precinct organizing ever happened. I wondered if this was the case in San Francisco, the situation must be the same in most other CDs in California.
In retrospect, I should have realized at that moment that the campaign was not serious about organizing a real movement. If they had been, they would have:
- Asked the coordinating committees in each CD to continue meeting and working after the Feb. 5 primary, though likely at a slower pace.
- Had on their website an official contact person for each CD in California and that contact person would have belonged to a team that coordinated work in that CD, thereby enabling representatives from these coordinating teams to communicate horizontally with one another to share ideas and support. (Instead, one could only find a multiplicity of self-organized groups with vague boundaries.)
- Convened house meetings and asked the participants in those meetings to meet at least monthly in one of their homes, deciding together how to work on the campaign and forging friendships that would help motivate to sustain their activism over the long haul.
But they did none of this.
If I had accepted the reality of the situation, I might have resigned myself to merely being a foot soldier. Instead, I tried to spark interest in practicing what Obama preached, hoping that he himself would soon promote and support real organizing eventually.
NOTE: I still hope that they will eventually undertake real organizing and continue to try to encourage that development.
Lucky to be Alive
I may have used up my nine lives. Let me count the possibilities.
- 1: Little Rock, falling off the porch
When I was seven, we moved from my grandfather’s small farm outside Little Rock to a small house in town on the side of a hill. On the down side, the back porch was about six feet high. One day, as I was holding the screen door open for someone, a gust of wind knocked me off the porch. My forehead hit an arrow-shaped rock that bordered the flowerbed. I was rushed to the hospital. The doctor pronounced me ok, but said that if the rock had protruded a fraction of an inch more I would have died.
- 2: Dallas, cutting my arm
By the fifth grade, we had moved to Dallas, where I became a Little League super-star. Once, while playing on live television, I made an excellent play and the commentator declared, “That kid’s going to the Big Leagues,” a fact I had believed for many years. Because my grandfather’s relentless training developed my leg muscles at an early age, I was the second fastest runner in my class (John Elliot was slightly faster.) So during the summer, when my school was closed and our team was practicing on its baseball field, after practice, several players ran to the gym to get some refrigerated water and I was the first to arrive. Our normal entrance, a window, was closed, so I reached through the broken pane to unlock it. Doing so, I cut my arm severely. I looked down and saw a white canyon that was quickly filled with blood. I jogged back to the parking lot and was taken to a doctor, who stitched up my wound, which was one-half inch from what appears to be an artery. I assume that if I had cut the artery, my life would have been in severe danger.
- 3: California, the alcoholic driver
In the mid-60s, while returning to Berkeley from Dallas, I got off the Greyhound bus in New Mexico to hitchhike, looking for a new experience. After spending the night freezing in Needles, I ended up in the Valley on the interstate. As we approached an exit, the driver, apparently desperate for a drink, started to leave the freeway but changed his mind and headed back for the freeway. Then he vacillated and turned toward the exit. After a few more seconds of indecision, he settled on a mid-course straight for the barrier separating the exit from the freeway. At what seemed to me the last possible second, I lunged for the wheel and steered the car back to the freeway. The driver was furious and told me that if I didn’t trust him, I could get out of the car. At the first good opportunity, I did.
- 4: The American river
As a young adult, I went with a small group of friends to the Sierra foothills for a picnic at the American River. We decided to swim out to a sandy promontory some 100 yards away. Since I barely swim and can’t tread water, I held on to a log to get there. Others helped me move the log along. On the way back, however, my assistants swam away into the river, enjoying themselves while leaving me alone. Impatient with my progress, I pushed the log a few yards and began swimming to it. Normally, I could have swam those few yeards. But my paddling forced the log farther away. As I started sinking, I screamed for help. At first, no one believed me. But my second blood-curdling scream convinced them and they started swimming for me. They were all rather far away, however, and most of them weren’t great swimmers. The first one to get to me was in fact the one who was farthest away. He carried me to shore, where I was more shell-shocked than scared.
- 5: LAPD
In December 1969, I decided not to go to the (ill-fated) Rolling Stones concert at Altamont and instead went to Los Angeles to participate in an Urban Plunge, a 48-hour marathon conducted by the New Adult Community, which was a project initiated by Jim Donaldson, a Methodist minister. Sunday night, following the conclusion of the Plunge, I crashed at the house of one of the volunteer staff. In the early morning, after going to bed, we were awakened by a phone call informing us that the Los Angeles Police Department was raiding the headquarters of the Black Panther Party and were calling for people to come to the scene as a moral witness and an expression of support. Though a non-violent person myself, I had long felt that the Panthers were reacting to horrible police abuse in their neighborhoods and that the best way to defuse the situation was for local governments to make a strong commitment to eliminating police abuse. So I joined my colleagues and went toward the Party headquarters.
A police barricade stopped us a few blocks away, so we joined the one or two hundred protestors at the barricade. Apparently, when the police had occupied the Party office and arrested the Panthers there, they decided to clear the street where we were located. In formation, they started moving toward us and a few protestors threw rocks. As they approached us, I thrust my arm in the air in a Nazi salute and walked away off to the side. My gesture drew attention, however, so as my colleague and I doubled back to go to our car, a few officers broke rank and ran toward us. Instinctively, as I had done many times in the Bay Area in similar situations, I ran. But in South Central L.A. with only a relative handful of demonstrators, I was more conspicuous than I had been in Berkeley among thousands. So the police quickly cornered me in a fenced-in back yard, beating me with their nightsticks and assuring me that they were going to kill me. I believed them, though as it turned out, I only had one serious cut, on the top of my head, that required several stitches. In the car on the way to jail, they continued to threaten my life and I had visions of being taken to some remote location to be murdered.
- 6: Nuclear War
At the onset of my months-long bad LSD trip in 1971, while confined in the psychiatric ward at St. Francis Hospital, convinced that my roommate was J. Edgar Hoover himself, I was believed that the plane overhead was a Soviet bomber dropping nuclear weapons. Preparing to die, I held the hand of a Japanese man, a fellow inmate, believing that he could best understand.
- 7: The Vespa
In the early 70s, Leonard Frank and I were headed to Strawberry Fields, where I lived on the coast of Mendocino, on my Vespa motor scooter when the piston froze, instantly causing the back wheel to completely stop, throwing us off the scooter. If we had been thrown to the left instead of to the right, we could easily have been run over by an oncoming vehicle.
- 8: Land’s End
Having heard that one could walk along the coast from the Cliff House to the Golden Gate Bridge, Leonard, Jonika, Jim, and I headed out with that intent. When we reached the cliffs at the Sea Cliff neighborhood, I led the way up, planning to go over them and back down toward the water. Jonika’s dog took a different path, however, and the others followed the dog, only to find themselves stuck. I looked down and saw Leonard slip about six inches before gaining a foothold that saved him from a fatal plunge. I managed to get to the top and called for help. An irate owner and told us to remain stationary until aid arrived. The Fire Department rescue squad lowered baskets and pulled the others up. When we went onto the street, TV cameras were there, but we escaped.
- 9: Cascade Falls
While working at the Marin County Crisis Clinic, I did some house sitting at a friend’s house in Mill Valley above the canyon that holds a small waterfall called Cascade Falls. One morning, before sunrise, I decided to take a shortcut down the side of the canyon to the bus stop in the dark. It proved to be treacherous, with me slipping and sliding quite a bit. The next time I was there during daylight, I could see that I could easily have fallen to my death.
- 10: Mount Goddard
In the mid-80s, 40 years old and out of shape, I resolved to finally climb Mt. Goddard, which is due east of Fresno in a fairly remote section of the High Sierra with which I had become familiar because I could take the Greyhound to Fresno and the city bus to the edge of town, and hitchhike to a trail head. This trip I made sure I had enough time and provisions to climb the 13,500-foot peak. After spending the night by Martha Lake, I headed out early in the morning with only a light pack. Near the top, I encountered a large glacier, which slowed my ascent as I had to crawl over the glacier on my hands and knees. Reaching the top was worth it, for the view was incredible and someone had left an airtight container into which previous hikers had left words of inspiration. I read them, wept, and headed back quickly, for I knew it was getting late and was afraid that I would freeze to death if I failed to make it back to my sleeping bag. About halfway back, the sun set behind the mountain to the west, but fortunately two hours or so of light was left because of the height of the mountain, so it didn’t get dark until I was close to the lake and managed to find my way to my camp site without a flashlight.
- 11: Interstate 5
About ten years ago, driving back from another successful attack on the blackjack tables in Vegas, I fell sound asleep at the wheel headed north on I-5. Not even the noise and vibrations of the serrated section of the shoulder woke me up. I was all the way off onto the dirt and gravel when I woke up to see an overpass pillar not far away straight ahead in front of me.
- 12: Iraq
Before leaving for Baghdad to protest the invasion of Iraq, the Iraq Peace Team asked us to prepare ourselves and our loved ones for our demise. That approach seemed a bit dramatic to me at the time and during the Shock-and-Awe bombing campaign, with bombs falling so close it felt like 15 or 20 San Francisco earthquakes every day, I was fairly confident that they would avoid our hotel, which housed journalists and other foreigners. A few days later, however, while sitting on my balcony, I became concerned when an approaching tank about a mile away shot a round that hit the hotel across the street and killed a Spanish journalist who was carrying nothing more dangerous than a camera. And when the Marines first approached us with one of their tanks and fired a shot in our direction (perhaps at someone in the reeds next to the nearby river), a jolt of fear coursed through my body. But my only sustained fear came during the looting and early signs of the sectarian strife that my well-informed associates predicted would ensue, violence that could well strike at Americans like myself. So I resolved to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible, though the drive to Jordan held perils of its own.
- 13: Car wreck.
Shortly after my return to the States, I went to the East Bay on July 4th weekend to have a delightful lunch with an old friend and her husband, who wanted to express their gratitude for my service with the Iraq Peace Team. Afterwards, I returned to San Francisco, got my taxi, and headed down the Embarcadero toward Pier 39, my normal route for starting my shift on a lazy weekend afternoon. I was relaxed and in a very good mood. But after going through a curve, I suddenly saw that traffic was at a standstill due to the holiday weekend. Cab drivers hate getting stuck in traffic, especially with a fare and the meter running. So I instantly made an illegal left turn. But I was unable to see in my side view mirror a streetcar going in the same direction because of the distance between my lane and the streetcar track. The streetcar driver couldn’t even slow down and crashed into me. Fortunately, I was driving an industrial model Ford LTD and only suffered broken ribs. A week later, the San Francisco Chronicle published the photo of a BMW, a sturdy car itself, whose driver pulled the same maneuver and died.
So have I used up my nine lives? I’m not sure. Some of these threats were more existential than actual. But I’m not taking any chances. From now on, I plan to be careful.
*After I send this email to you individually, please let me know if you receive it when I send it with “undisclosed recipients” in the To: field. It seems that when one sends just one message to only a few people using the Bcc: field, some ISPs may divert that email to the spam folder. So, please let me know if you receive the next version of this journal entry. I want to determine the degree to which this issue is a problem.
- The following is the latest draft of the preface to an autobiography that I may write. In order to write this book, I may stop trying to “make things happen” by initiating new projects Johnny-Appleseed-style, as has been my pattern. I’d appreciate your feedback on whether I should proceed with the autobiography, as well as any other reactions. The opening is similar to my last journal entry, but somewhat shorter.
I better tell my story before it’s too late, for my nine lives may be exhausted. Let me count the possibilities.
- 1: Little Rock, falling off the porch
When I was seven, we moved from my grandfather’s small farm outside Little Rock to a small house in town on the side of a hill. On the down side, the back porch was about six feet high. One day, as I was holding the screen door open for someone, a gust of wind knocked me off the porch. My forehead hit an arrow-shaped rock that bordered the flowerbed. I was rushed to the hospital. The doctor pronounced me ok, but said that if the rock had protruded a fraction of an inch more I would have died.
- 2: Dallas, cutting my arm
By the fifth grade, we had moved to Dallas, where I became a Little League super-star. Because my grandfather’s relentless training developed my leg muscles at an early age, I was the second fastest runner in my class (John Elliot was slightly faster; I remember his name well, as well as his bespectacled face.) During the summer, when my school was closed and our team was practicing on its baseball field, after practice several players ran a great distance to the gym to get some refrigerated water and I was the first to arrive. Our normal entrance, a window, was closed, so I reached through the broken pane to unlock it. Doing so, I cut my arm severely. I looked down and saw a white canyon that was quickly filled with blood. I jogged back to the parking lot and was taken to a doctor, who stitched up my wound, which was one-half inch from what appears to be an artery. I assume that if I had cut the artery, my life would have been in severe danger.
- 3: California, the alcoholic driver
In the mid-60s, while returning to Berkeley from Dallas, I got off the Greyhound bus in New Mexico to hitchhike, looking for a new experience. After spending the night freezing in Needles, I ended up in the Valley on the interstate. As we approached an exit, the driver, apparently desperate for a drink, started to leave the freeway but changed his mind and headed back for the freeway. Then he vacillated and turned toward the exit. After a few more seconds of indecision, he settled on a mid-course straight for the barrier separating the exit from the freeway. At what seemed to me to be the last possible second, I lunged for the wheel and steered the car back to the freeway. The driver was furious and told me that if I didn’t trust him, I could get out of the car. At the first good chance, I did.
- 4: The American river
As a young adult, I went with a small group of friends to the Sierra foothills for a picnic at the American River. We decided to swim out to a sandy promontory some 100 yards away. Since I barely swim and can’t tread water, I held on to a log to get there. Others helped me move the log along. On the way back, however, my assistants swam away into the river, enjoying themselves while leaving me alone. Impatient with my progress, I pushed the log a few yards and began swimming to it. Normally, I could have swum those few yards. but my splashing forced the log farther away. As I started sinking, I screamed for help. At first, no one believed me. But my second blood-curdling scream convinced them and they started swimming for me. They were all rather far away, however, and most of them weren’t great swimmers. The first one to get to me was in fact the one who was farthest away. He carried me to shore, where I was more shell-shocked than scared.
- 5: LAPD
In December 1969, I decided not to go to the (ill-fated) Rolling Stones concert at Altamont and instead went to Los Angeles to participate in an Urban Plunge, a 48-hour marathon conducted by the New Adult Community, which was a project initiated by Jim Donaldson, a Methodist minister. Sunday night, following the conclusion of the Plunge, I crashed at the house of one of the volunteer staff. In the early morning, after going to bed, we were awakened by a phone call informing us that the Los Angeles Police Department was raiding the headquarters of the Black Panther Party. The caller asked us to come to the scene as a moral witness and an expression of support. Though a non-violent person myself, I knew that the Panthers were reacting to horrible police abuse in their neighborhoods and had long felt that the best way to defuse the situation was for local governments to make a strong commitment to eliminating that abuse. So I joined my colleagues and went toward the Party headquarters. When they finished with the Panthers, the police turned their attention to us, beat me with their nightsticks, and assured me that they were going to kill me. I believed them.
- 6: Nuclear War
At the onset of my months-long bad LSD trip in 1971, while confined in the psychiatric ward at St. Francis Hospital, convinced that my roommate was J. Edgar Hoover himself, I believed that a plane overhead was a Soviet bomber dropping nuclear weapons. Preparing to die as the heat intensified, I held the hand of a Japanese man, a fellow inmate, believing that he could best understand.
- 7: The Vespa
In the early 70s, Leonard Frank and I headed to Strawberry Fields, where I lived on the coast of Mendocino, on my Vespa motor scooter. When the piston froze, instantly causing the back wheel to stop completely, we were thrown off the scooter. If we had gone to the left instead of the right, we could easily have been run over by an oncoming vehicle.
- 8: Land’s End
Having heard that one could walk along the coast from the Cliff House to the Golden Gate Bridge, three friends and I headed out with that intent. When we reached a cliff that blocked our way, I led the way up, planning to go over it and back down toward the water. Our dog took a different path, however, and the others followed the dog, only to find themselves stuck. I looked down and saw one friend slip about six inches before gaining a foothold that saved him from a fatal plunge. I managed to get to the top and called for help. An irate owner and told us to remain stationary until aid arrived. The Fire Department rescue squad lowered baskets and pulled the others up. When we went onto the street, TV cameras were looming, but we escaped.
- 9: Cascade Falls
While working at the Marin County Crisis Clinic, I did some house sitting at a friend’s house in Mill Valley above the canyon that holds a small waterfall called Cascade Falls. One morning, before sunrise, I decided to take a shortcut down the side of the canyon to the bus stop in the dark. It proved to be treacherous and I slipped and slid most of the way down. The next time I was there during daylight, I could see that I could easily have fallen to my death.
- 10: Mount Goddard
In the mid-80s, 40 years old and out of shape, I resolved to finally climb Mt. Goddard, which is due east of Fresno in a fairly remote section of the High Sierra, and made sure that I had enough time and provisions to climb the 13,500-foot peak. After spending the night by Martha Lake, I headed out early in the morning with only a light pack. Near the top, I encountered a large glacier, which slowed me down, as I had to crawl over the glacier on my hands and knees. Reaching the top was worth it, however, for the view was incredible and someone had left an airtight container into which previous hikers had left words of inspiration. I read them, wept, and headed back quickly, for I knew it was getting late and was afraid that I would freeze to death if I failed to make it back to my sleeping bag. About halfway back, the sun set behind the mountain to the west, but fortunately two hours of light were left because of the height of the mountain. So it didn’t get dark until I was close to the lake and managed to find my way to camp without a flashlight.
- 11: Interstate 5
About ten years ago, driving back from another successful attack on the blackjack tables in Vegas, I fell sound asleep at the wheel headed north on I-5. Not even the noise and vibrations of the serrated section of the shoulder woke me up. I was all the way off onto the dirt and gravel when I woke up to see an overpass pillar not far away straight in front of me.
- 12: Iraq
Before leaving for Baghdad to protest the invasion of Iraq, the Iraq Peace Team asked us to prepare ourselves and our loved ones for our demise. That approach seemed a bit dramatic to me at the time. But when the Marines first approached us with one of their tanks and fired a shot in our direction (perhaps at someone in the reeds next to the nearby river), a jolt of fear coursed through my body. A few days later, while sitting on my balcony, a tank a mile away shot a round that hit the hotel across the street and killed a Spanish journalist who was carrying nothing more dangerous than a long-lens camera. But my only sustained fear came during the looting and early signs of the sectarian strife that my well-informed associates predicted would ensue. Concerned that violence that could well strike at Americans like myself, I resolved to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible, though the drive to Jordan held perils of its own.
- 13: Car wreck.
Shortly after my return to the States, I went to the East Bay on July 4th weekend to have a delightful lunch with an old friend and her husband, who wanted to express their gratitude for my service with the Iraq Peace Team. Afterwards, I returned to San Francisco, got my taxi, and headed down the Embarcadero toward Pier 39, my normal route for starting my shift on a lazy weekend afternoon. I was relaxed and in a very good mood. But after going through a curve, I suddenly saw that traffic was at a standstill due to the holiday weekend. Cab drivers hate getting stuck in traffic, especially without a passenger and the meter running. So I instantly made an illegal left turn. But because of the distance between my lane and the streetcar track, I was unable to see in my side-view mirror a streetcar going in the same direction. The streetcar driver couldn’t even slow down and crashed into me. Fortunately, I was driving an industrial model Crown Victoria and only suffered broken ribs. A week later, the San Francisco Chronicle published the photo of a BMW, a sturdy car itself, whose driver pulled the same maneuver and died.
Though some of these threats were more existential than actual, I figure I’m lucky to be alive. So I’m taking it easy and writing my autobiography in case anyone can learn something from it.
When I turned 60, I felt that I had finally grown up. Yet, as I reach 65, I once again feel like a new man. This process of shedding skins may continue until I die. Some people feel no need to change. They feel settled in and comfortable with their lives. Others have given up. Maybe I should follow their lead, totally accept who I am, and forget about self-improvement.
But if others are fully mature, enlightened, or saved, they must’ve either grown up in incredibly healthy families or been extremely lucky. Myself, I figure I’m fortunate to have come as far as I have and hope I have much further to go. Bob Dylan was right. If I’m not busy being born, I’m busy dying.
As a child, I absorbed a strong interest in Truth from my mother. When I was thirteen, a friend took me to the public library and I’ve been fascinated by the world of ideas ever since.
As a teenager, I discovered Beauty through music, listening to Johnny Mathis, Frankie Laine, Johnny Cash, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Joan Baez. Engaging Nature, especially backpacking in the High Sierra, deepened my appreciation of Beauty.
My first real political act was joining the civil rights movement at nineteen. That experience crystallized a commitment to Justice and turned me into a lifelong political activist.
My first full encounter with Love outside the family was when I started working as an orderly in a psychiatric hospital when I was twenty. Discovering that I could help others in great need simply by listening opened up my heart to a whole new world.
Ever since, my life has been dedicated to the pursuit of Truth, Beauty, Justice, and Love, with a focus on helping to organize communities rooted in mutual support and the pursuit of social justice.
For twenty years, I hustled money from small foundations to finance my work, while living in voluntary poverty. Then I decided to drive taxi in San Francisco twenty hours a week, which has enabled me to earn enough to live on while continuing my community work as a volunteer without having to prove anything to anyone.
I never committed to any one school of community organizing, affiliated with any one institution for any length of time, or got any credential other than my bachelor’s degree. I preferred to work with others as equals and push the envelope by trying innovative projects that were difficult for established organizations to sanction. Seeing unfulfilled needs, I repeatedly tried to do what others had not yet done.
My associates and I have had only limited success. I have not been hailed as a “great man,” as my mother repeatedly told me I would be. But I am satisfied that I have done my best, given the fact that I grew up with little self-discipline and other emotional roadblocks.
In addition to the intangible impact that I’ve had on the lives of many (based on what some have told me) and victorious campaigns in which I was only a foot soldier, the following concrete accomplishments come to mind concerning projects that I initiated or co-initiated:
- Following protests launched by the New Seminary Movement, the trustees of Pacific School of Religion forced the old, ossified President to resign and replaced him with a much younger person who helped transform the school.
- The Network Against Psychiatric Assault prompted:
- San Francisco to stop doing shock treatment.
- St. Mary’s Hospital to terminate “sleep therapy” and wrapping adolescents in sheets for days.
- The State of California to investigate drug-related deaths in state hospitals and impose limits on drugging.
- During construction of streetcar tracks that threatened the survival of Other Avenues Community Food Store, I managed, as the only paid staff person, to keep the store open. Today, it thrives as a worker-owned co-op.
- When the sons of the owner of the charming, affordable cottage where I lived wanted to tear it down and replace it with an ugly condo, we rallied neighbors and stopped the conversion. Today, it still stands.
- As manager of the South of Market Grocery, a neighborhood-controlled co-op, I led the campaign to defeat an effort on the part of one senior-citizen housing unit to take over the store. It stayed open for fifteen years or so, providing affordable food in an area with no large markets.
- As resident manager of the Aarti Cooperative, a low-income housing co-op, I led the negotiation of a management contract with the owners and during that contract, helped to keep the 40-unit building in the black.
- Though the tenant management faded after I left, a cultural center we opened in our storefront persisted and has expanded into the award-winning Luggage Store Gallery.
- The Campaign to Abolish Poverty persuaded Congressman Ron Dellums to introduce the Living Wage Jobs For All bill, which served as an organizing and educational tool for several years.
- I self-published the xxx-page Economic Security for All: How to End Poverty in the United States and posted it on the Web, where over the years a considerable number of activists and students found it and expressed their appreciation to me.
- I’ve convened a number of events with the Strategy Workshop to explore how the progressive movement might be more effective, had some articles published on Common Dreams and The Crisis Papers related to that work.
- I self-published the xxx-page Global Transformation: Strategy for Action as a first draft in order to get feedback on my conclusions to date. The feedback has largely been positive and encourages me to develop my thinking further.
As a result of my commitment to community work, my reluctance to “settle down,” and various other factors, I’ve never been married or had children, which I regret. Mostly, however, I figure that for every loss there is a gain and in this case, learning how to be alone has provided me with many blessings. And one of the children I helped raise for a while, Brandon Faloona, a life-long friend whom I call my “surrogate son,” named one of his children, Azure Wade Faloona, after me, which is very heartwarming.
So, though my achievements are modest, I look back on my life with some pride and considerable satisfaction, willing to take a break from trying to “save the world” to reflect and write my story, which I hope others will find interesting, amusing, and/or educational.
With mixed feelings, I prepare to leave Tepoztlan for six months. First I’ll spending a week at the beach and another week exploring some new areas of this wonderful country -- which is not a dangerous place, contrary to media sensationalism.
My routine here suits me very well. During the day, in addition to the basics, I exercise, write, read the news online, deal with my projects, and process email. In the evening, I read a book, practice blackjack, watch a TV show or a movie, stare at stars, and light a candle or two while meditating or listening to music. Once a week I go into town to shop and once a week I go in to Cuerna to see a movie, though recently I’ve been going in more to see a great, affordable dentist (if you must pay large dental bills, you could finance a trip to Mexico by seeing my dentist here). And on occasion, without ever bumping into anyone, I hike in the mountain right next to where I live [click here to see a photo.]
With this routine, in four months, I’ve lowered my blood pressure from 135/85 to 129/79, my blood sugar from 120 to 100, my pulse from 67 to 60, and my weight from 233 to 215.
I also am much less anxious about being “successful.” When I’ve undertaken projects recently, I’ve been largely able to simply accept whatever response I receive.
Still, my inclination, at least for a while, is to stop trying to “make things happen.” If others invite me to engage in a project, I’ll give it serious consideration, but otherwise I plan to read, write, and make enough money to build my house here (even if only for rental income in my old age). But I couldn’t resist organizing a going-away party here on the Saturday before I leave.
A number of responses to my last Wade’s Journal entry encourage me to write my autobiography. If I write it, I’ll do so mostly for my friends and myself.
Some suggested how to re-write the Preface and others reassure me that I can take some satisfaction from my life’s work. One person in particular said, “The list of accomplishments at the end of your autobiography’s preface is very moving and inspiring, and reflects your exceptional sense of integrity. You should be proud, Wade!”
I replied, “I appreciate your kind words about the Preface. And I forgot to include getting a half-million-dollar contract for the Tenderloin Self-Help Center and being invited to serve on Vanguard's first community board. I'll agree about the integrity, but I feel more like Don Quixote than Saul Alinsky. But at least I'm healthy, happy, and wiser.”
Then when a young activist recently contacted me for an informational interview and commented on my “prodigious” accomplishments, I thought maybe I should be a bit less self-effacing. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? At least I’ve tried and done more than my fair share.
Maybe I deserve to finally take a real break, if not retire from organizing, for I still see no organization that is engaged in “holistic” organizing and know no one who seems willing to engage with me in any such effort.
Humanity is riding an incredible wave. Whether we drown remains to be seen. If we do, my money is on the gibbon to take our place and do a better job after it evolves.
That joke reflects my new mantra that emerges from reading The Method of Zen: I don’t care. While also caring at the same time, one can appreciate how from various perspectives, our individual and collective concerns are insignificant. Maintaining both of these attitudes simultaneously can provide a balance that contrasts sharply with ordinary ego-centered concerns, such as fear.
Another paradox: one needs to engage in self-improvement in order to lose the self.
Regardless, I appreciate your interest in these musings of mine. Twenty-five of you whom I’ve known for some time have subscribed. Your concern is an important source of support.
Back in nirvana – Hotel Villa Nirvana in Pie de la Cuesta that is – I wonder why there are so few people here. My hotel is right on the beach. The weather is perfect. The surf is rough, but the swimming pool is spacious. The grounds are beautiful. Good restaurants are nearby. An international airport is 30 minutes away in Acapulco. My room only costs $25 per night. Yet yesterday, while waiting for my shrimp brochette during sunset, I could only count 20 people within eyesight on the beach. During the day, there’s only a handful. I’m here the week before Holy Week, so there aren’t many Mexicans. They come next week, when half of Mexico goes to the beach, or so it is said. Still, where are the gringos? I saw not one in the bus station in Cuernavaca. Maybe they are scared off by the misleading sensationalistic headlines in the mainstream media. Never mind. It leaves me with more space to breathe and lower prices.
The reaction to my last journal entry was informative. Two respondents suggested I’ve been “accident prone,” which has caused me to wonder why (no clear answers so far, other than a possible unconscious desire to get sympathy or a self-destructive tendency that comes from a lack of self-esteem).
And a few more people reassured me that my life has been productive. Those responses soothed me, but I remain unconvinced. While reading Organizing Urban America, an excellent book by Heidi Swarts that reports on two church-based projects, the PICO National Network and the Gamaliel Foundation, and ACORN, the poor-people’s movement, I realized more clearly why I’ve operated as a Lone Ranger. Long ago, I decided against affiliating with any organization that would place me on a pedestal. I did not want to be a “professional,” for I felt that those paternalistic roles are inherently disabling. Maybe I also didn’t want to be confined, to have my own autonomy undermined. I paid a price for my approach. Maybe it was a mistake. But I have no real regrets. I’ve done my best. Given my shortcomings, I’m satisfied.
Swarts, who got her start in the Tenderloin (I think I vaguely remember her there), offers an incisive analysis of her subjects. Reading the book is like looking into a mirror. ACORN adopts a persistent confrontational approach with a focus on incremental winnable objectives. PICO integrates the personal and the political with an emphasis on personal confrontations challenging people to be more active politically.
PICO, whose local affiliate is the San Francisco Organizing Project, comes closer than any other organization to manifesting the strategy that I’ve been recommending. An interesting discovery. But I’m uneasy with some elements of their work. Their personal challenges remind me of the heavy-handed tactics we used with the Alternative Futures Community, which I find elitist, arrogant, and manipulative. (In fact, since they started in Oakland about the same time we did Alternative Futures, they may have been influenced by some of the same people who influenced me.) Also, their long-term vision is not explicit, but rather is hidden. Nevertheless, I plan to investigate their work more fully, especially when I return to San Francisco. Their founder, a Jesuit priest, has recently retired. I’d like to talk with him about his plans for the future. Maybe we could collaborate. And maybe PICO could use my house in Tepoz for retreats.
I don’t know why more people didn’t give me feedback on "What’s Wrong With Progressives." I thought it was a very good short summary of my thinking, which I backed up with quotes from two authorities, Ronald Heifetz and James McGregor Burns, with whom I’m in sync. Maybe the title put people off. Maybe it felt too harsh. Regardless, though I circulated it widely, only three people responded. Each of them was very positive, but sill I was hoping, somewhat, for more. I wasn’t very disappointed, however, for I’m doing a better job controlling my expectations with my new mantra: I don’t care.
One thing the process highlighted for me is how we, myself included, get locked into our perspective, convinced it is the only correct perspective, and fail to appreciate the value of other perspectives. I knew that, but I forget it easily and need to be reminded. Concrete instances help me appreciate the broad principle.
That piece sidetracked me from my autobiography, as did packing up my stuff so I could sub-let my house for six months. But I plan to get back to the autobiography here – unless some of these other ideas running through my head from time to time divert me. I still plan to avoid any kind of ongoing commitment. Returning to Mexico for several months each winter will help in that regard. But I do have some ideas for “democratic conversations,” both face-to-face and Internet-based. And I hope to return to updating the Progressive Resource Catalog and maybe adding a new feature: evaluating activist/advocacy organization’s websites, especially in terms of how transparent they are.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be distracted somewhat by my experimenting more with blackjack and horse racing. I know I can win at blackjack. And so do the two casinos that kicked me out. Now the question is whether I can boost my winnings without risking too much money, for what I’m willing to risk is limited ($1,000). My research on horses is incomplete, but the results so far are promising. I figure my chances of developing a winning strategy there are 50-50. But so long as I continue on the autobiography and have loose ends on my old projects to tie up, I limit myself to working on those investment strategies during the evening. So I trust I’m not going over the top with these investigations. At least until I get to Las Vegas on April 15 – when I figure the tables will be relatively empty, which is good for me. Regardless, playing with numbers is a form of meditation, for it takes me away from real thinking.
I’ve been following the Obama Administration carefully. I especially liked his proposal http://baselinescenario.com/2009/04/03/obama-wins-at-g20-europeans-lose-control-of-imf/ to restructure the IMF and the World Bank, though the media didn’t report on it. I’m uneasy about Afghanistan and his talk of “defeat,” but still hope that he is laying the groundwork for a withdrawal after the elections this summer. Declare victory and leave. I think he places too much emphasis on the alleged “credit crunch” as a reason to help the big banks, but at least he’s asking for new authority to take over non-bank financial institutions, another important structural change. I’m not convinced Summers and Geithner were right to say that the AIG bonuses had to be honored, but it’s true that those bonuses were established under the previous Administration and challenging them would have been a distracting controversy. The budget is definitely a step forward. And Barack is handling himself well. I just hope that he’s made it clear to Summers and Giethner who’s in charge and that if their current approach doesn’t work, they better be prepared to adjust. I think he probably has and is taking the time to get his head around their thinking. So overall, I am pleased.
When I return to SF, I hope to spend more time informally with friends, especially on Sundays and Tuesdays, my planned days off from driving taxi, as well as earn enough money, the economy permitting, to build my house in Mexico. So I have my plate full.
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A friend and I recently discussed, “What can we state with certainty?” After several minutes, we agreed on only two or three declarations. It seems that if one stops to think, matters are often more uncertain than at first assumed. Yet assertions, including absolute statements and predictions of the future, are routinely made with certainty.
Being unqualified is easier. Strong statements get more attention (which sells advertising). And stylistically, unqualified statements often read better.
But I suspect deeper issues are at play. Perhaps a fear or discomfort with uncertainty, which can provoke anxiety. Another possibility is cognitive dissonance: admitting uncertainty can conflict with one’s self-identity.
The other day I participated in a public question-and-answer session with my friend, Ajahn Amaro, co-abbot of the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery www.abhayagiri.org/, which is rooted in the Thai Forest Sangha tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho.
I asked, “What, if anything, would you say is distinctive about Zen Buddhism and how would you compare it to the Buddhism you practice?”
He reported that a Japanese Emperor in the 19th century outlawed monasteries, so Zen Buddhism shifted to training monks who would return to regular life after three years, much like most Christians do, rather than living in a community of monks like Ajahn Amaro does.
But in terms of the teachings, he believes that his Buddhism and Zen are basically the same, as is the case with the two major schools of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana. In fact, when he first went to his Theravada Buddhist monastery in Thailand and asked a monk for some recommended reading, the monk said, “Oh, the Theravada manuscripts are very boring,” and gave him a copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki.
Afterwards, we chatted and laughed one-on-one, I showed him The Method of Zen, which I’m reading, and we discussed the possibility of me arranging for him to visit Tepoztlan some winter while I’m there. He re-affirmed his strong interest in such a visit and surprised me when he told me that I would only need to raise money for his plane ticket. I had expected that one or two others would accompany him as assistants. So it seems I will be his primary assistant and chauffeur, which will be fun, if his community authorizes the visit.
I promised him that this time I’ll be sure to have plenty of gas in the car, for the last time I saw him, he reminded me of our first encounter, when I drove him to and back from Esalen Institute during his first visit to San Francisco. On the way back, at the top of Skyline Boulevard, I suddenly cursed and said we were out of gas. We were at the top of a hill, however, so we were coasting down toward a gas station. I expressed some uncertainty about whether to run a red light in order to make it to the station. But the light changed green so we had no problem. I then commented that this was not the first time I had coasted to a gas station out of gas, which made an impression on him.
The other night I got a ride home with an African-American cab driver with whom I’ve had a good rapport. We discussed the Gates-Crowley controversy and I asked him what he thought about my analysis. Contrary to most commentary that has focused on race and class questions, it strikes me that the main dynamic in this controversy is the fact that Gates challenged Authority. One of my passengers, an Obama supporter who objected to Obama’s criticism of Crowley, told me, “When I was growing up, I was taught that when the police say sit down and shut up, I sit down and shut up.”
It seems to me that many people are concerned that if individuals do not automatically submit to Authority, society will fall apart. I can see at least a kernel of truth in that, like when I see drivers create gridlock by entering intersections prematurely. So I’m willing to give Authority the benefit of the doubt and respect them until they violate my trust.
But unconditional submission and automatically taking the police officer’s side in a controversy are another matter. It seems clear that Crowley acted “stupidly.” Bob Herbert reported that the arrest was made less than six minutes after the 911 call was placed (why did most reports not mention that fact?). Allowing time for Crowley to arrive, how much “disorderly conduct” could happen in the few minutes before the arrest? What is “disorderly conduct” anyway and why is it a crime in one’s own house?
Herbert said the real crime was “being angry while black.” I think it may have been “disrespecting a police officer.” If Gates had been a white punk rocker, Crowley may well have arrested him just as quickly.
My cab driver friend responded by telling me about an appearance by Allen Ginsberg on the Dick Cavett show in the 1960s. Cavett asked, “What is a hippie?” Ginsberg responded, “A voluntary negro.”
As I discussed at length in my book, Global Transformation http://progressiveresourcecatalog.org/index.php/Book1/Home, a real problem for the progressive movement is how “liberals” and “radicals” fail to work together as effectively as they could. Rather than collaborating, they often “trash” one another, as evidenced by the health insurance reform debate. In a recent post to The Nation’s website, http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/458046/why_single_payer_advocacy_matters_now_more_than_ever John Nichols proposed an alternative approach that makes sense to me.
He argued, “Better to get representatives and senators to commit to back single-payer bills. That does not prevent them from ultimately agreeing to compromise measures. But it gets them to begin on the side of real reform….”
On a related issue, it strikes me that our opponents wouldn’t charge progressive activists with engaging in “class warfare” if it were an effective strategy. They use that rhetoric because they know that most Americans don’t relate to broad scale attacks on “the rich,” the “ruling class,” or “Wall Street,” perhaps because they themselves want or expect to be rich some day.
In fact, the problem is “the system,” not any particular, vaguely defined group that is defined as the enemy with sloppy thinking.
So Obama’s “communitarian populism” – “Wall Street needs Main Street and Main Street needs Wall Street” – may be both more precise analytically and more effective politically. Careless attacks on “the rich,” like Mitterand’s “wealth tax” in France, can lead to capital flight that hurts everyone.
But once a particular element has clearly revealed itself for refusing to bargain in good faith in a particular campaign, as the health insurance industry has in the current reform effort, it can then be effective to target them as an opponent and propose limited tax increases specifically tied to a concrete improvement.
Whether it works in this instance and we achieve the public option remains to be seen. But I hope it does, for I believe the insurance companies wouldn’t be opposing the public option so strongly if that reform would not be a significant step forward.
I continue to feel good about the “What We Believe” statement. My hope is to use it to identify like-minded people who might work together in some manner. More than 50 individuals have tentatively endorsed it and more than 25 have suggested changes, most of which have been incorporated. I make no assumptions or have any expectations about the response, but I feel it is a righteous effort.
I’m driving taxi about 35 hours a week. Over the course of the next ten years (if I stay healthy), I want to make enough money to build a house in Mexico that will be large enough to generate enough rental income for me to manage financially by supplementing my small monthly Social Security check and income from some investments.
Brandon suggested a new website for me that would be like a business card and offered to create it for me. I liked the idea and we worked on it together. Then he discovered that he could program it so that new photos on Flickr and new “Notes” on Facebook would automatically be added to the site, which you can see at the link below.
December 15, 2009
Don Karp, who stayed in my guest room for six weeks, left December 1. At first, I felt a bit lonesome, but it was a good lonesome and soon I adjusted to my solitude, which enables me to be more introspective and to do what I want when I want. I could see living with a soul mate, but living with a casual friend is too distracting and confining.
I may have made a bit of a breakthrough with my work on the Charter for Compassion, which provides a broad, inclusive, non-ideological foundation for building community. Many people don’t agree with or understand my problems with “ideology,” and I can’t articulate it well, but I know it when I see it. I’ve been inviting Charter Fans on Facebook to be my Friend and sending them weekly reports on efforts to advance the Charter. About 30 responded to my last report, most with strong support. Just today, several apparently solid individuals accepted my invitation to join a “coordinating committee” for our Charter for Compassion Network. So we shall see.
I still don’t have really good friends here in Tepoz, but I keep trying, and there are three or four good prospects, with whom I’ve spent some soulful time lately. I continue to experiment with how to move conversations into a more satisfying direction, especially by asking good questions. One that worked well recently was: What is missing in your life?
Maria de los Angeles, from whom I bought my land and who lives next door, is building the foundation for my house, which will have straw bale walls. I hope to have enough money to finish it when I return next year.
Last weekend, I decided to sell or give away all of my furniture, dishes, and other personal belongings, other than clothes and books, when I leave this spring. That way I won’t have to pay rent on this house or hassle with a house sitter while I’m away, which could save me about $2,000 that I can use for the house. When I return, I may stay in a cheap hotel while my house is being built. Then yesterday a neighbor told me that the tenant rebellion is proceeding apace here in our little compound, where the owner has managed to infuriate everyone, including me. So he’s talking about selling all or most of his houses. So my decision was well-timed.
If you don’t subscribe to From Wade, my monthly report, please reply YES to this email and I’ll subscribe you, so I can reduce duplications. But in case you didn’t get it, I’ll close with my current thoughts on Obama, which were in my latest FromWade and are subject to change.
Some Quick Comments on Barack Obama
How one evaluates Barack Obama’s Presidency depends on the lens that one uses.
I respect radical populists who want to use their criticisms of Obama to help shift public opinion so that we can move forward with more significant reforms. Different people have different roles to play, and it is valuable for certain forces to keep the heat on. The tone and substance of their criticisms, however, often undermine their effectiveness.
Myself, however, at this time, I choose to focus on trying to help mobilize support behind positions already supported by a majority. I believe that winning such victories can build momentum and enable shifts in public opinion thereafter.
If one believes that there is no significant difference between the Republican and Democratic parties and that conditions must worsen severely so we can have a liberatory Revolution, these beliefs largely determine one’s conclusions about Obama. I disagree with that perspective. There never has been a liberatory Revolution and there likely never will be. To oppose reforms because they supposedly made Revolution less likely strikes me as morally reprehensible.
The prospect of the Republicans riding a wave of right-wing populist anger back to the White House scares me. And I consider that possibility a real threat.
And I am uncomfortable with the tunnel vision that many critics often demonstrate when they present only one side of a complicated issue. Granted, only so much can be said in one op-ed. But if one is conducting an overall evaluation, many factors need to be taken into account, at least in one’s own mind.
If one applies an ideal standard, the conclusion is preordained. I don’t like many of Obama’s actions and inactions, as I don’t like many aspects of the real world. In the best of all possible worlds, I would like matters to be different. But so long as, for example, the American people hold the opinions that they hold and Obama wants to be re-elected and keep a Democratic majority, he is limited in what he can do, regardless of what he might like to do. I don’t like it, but that’s reality, and I accept it, because I think we would be much worse off with a Republican in the White House.
One aspect that left-wing critics of Obama usually fail to consider is the political context. They make solid arguments for why a different course of action would be more rational or more moral, without ever giving any consideration to the political consequences, both immediate and long-term – such as what would happen if he totally alienated a major element of the Establishment who could sabotage his Presidency.
Those considerations are often not lear-cut. But so far, it seems to me that Obama has made solid political calculations in this regard and on occasion he shifts his position as the political winds shift. As FDR said, “I agree with you. Now make me do it.” I wish his critics would at least share their own political calculations, but they seldom do.
So I think we, the grassroots, are more of the problem than Obama is. We remain fragmented, unable to mobilize a unified, effective voice. So I continue to focus on why this is the case and how we might help correct this fragmentation.
But we live in a scapegoat society. People are always trying to find someone else to blame for their frustration, so they seethe in anger and resentment and hurl around self-righteous judgments. And the President is a handy target. I hope they feel better after they vent their anger, contempt, and hate. But I believe that this violence against the spirit is no way to promote nonviolence in the material world.
So, overall, though I have many specific criticisms of Obama and his Administration (he may be unaware of some of the actions of his representatives but he remains accountable for them), I believe overall that he is moving in the right direction, more or less as much as he can given the political constraints.
And I appreciate his tone, how he operates, and the values that he tries to reinforce with his bully pulpit. Given the venom that permeates our culture and the deep-seated drive to engage in combat and defeat one’s enemies, I’m glad to see Obama articulate a different, nobler approach by seeking win-win solutions. I’m glad to see him try to forge consensus, rather than aggravating divisions from the outset, while remaining willing to fight when necessary. And I like his cool demeanor, which stands in stark contrast to the ranting and raving that is so common in political discourse.
It’s still early to tell if his approach will be effective. But so far I still give him the benefit of the doubt. I still believe that his heart is in the right place and that he is remarkably honest for a politician. So, overall, I think he’s doing a very good job.
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