Posts Tagged Sundance Resort
Imagine what would happen if progressives suddenly began talking, confidently, about The Pioneer Option in which America takes the lead on technological innovation, clean, renewable energy, and economic growth and development, in which we meet the future confidently, secure in our “Pioneer” values. Suddenly, progressives everywhere, when giving speeches or writing letters to the editor, are using evocative, powerful phrases that capture the sense of connecting America’s best intentions from our past to our future. Imagine what would happen if progressives shared not only a common vision but a common language for articulating that vision. With Howard Dean’s 50 State Strategy we got a glimpse of the impact it could have.
Compared to the challenges South Africans faced as Apartheid collapsed, our problems are less critical, though no less crucial. Adam Kahane was one of the leaders of the Mont Fleur process, which he describes in his book Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities. Kahane’s model boils down to crafting plausible and possible scenarious for the future then elimiating those which are either unworkable, untenable, or unpopular, to at last arrive at scenarios which feel realistic, sustainable and supportable. In the Mont Fleur process, out of a host of options, participants finally agreed on the “Flight of the Flamingos” – an image which became part of the language of South Africans as they discussed the enormity of the changes they were facing. This option was evocative because it conjured up the image of an entire flock of birds, lifting off a body water into flight – not all at once, but as a collective, every individual joining in the overall trajectory; as Kahane summarized it a scenario “”in which the government’s policies are sustainable and the country takes a path of inclusive growth and democracy.” The metaphor of the flight became part of the national discussion.
The scenario described was largely strategic rather than tactical – a general trend toward a specific type of policy and social relationships in the wake of Apartheid. Again, as Kahane describes it:
The Mont Fleur process, in contrast, only discussed the domain that all of the participants had in common: the future of South Africa. The team then summarized this shared understanding in the scenarios. The aim of such non-negotiating processes is, as Marvin Weisbord, an organizational consultant, has stated, to “find and enlarge the common ground.”
Mont Fleur identified four realistically possible scenarios and their probable outcomes, and shared them with the nation (Ostrich, Icarus, Lame Duck and Flight of the Flamingos). These scenarios each contained risks and drawbacks, but they also represented possible and realistic avenues the people of South Africa might choose. The names of the scenarios serve as short hand for the actual content of the scenario.
Kahane’s approach makes explicit that which is often assumed – it invites participants to state explicitly many of their assumptions; because it is rooted in what is actually happening right now, it also empowers participants to honestly assess the state of things.
Democratic politicians have been effective at resisting many of the demands of the Democratic base because they rightly perceive it as a collection of interest groups rather than a united movement with different areas of focus. Creating a shared scenario for progressive interest groups would counteract that but it would also make explicit the shared values and concerns of progressives making it easier for them to act and to pressure Democratic politicians. Making those values and concerns explicit would go a long way toward building a stronger and more effective coalition.
I go back to the analogy of a church. The choir, the sunday school teachers, the preacher, the janitor, the trustess, the volunteers who mow the lawn and the hospitality team are not competing special interests. They are all members of the church with different areas of focus, all of which serve to advance the overall goal of the church. If the choir has hundred year old hymnals and the pastor is preaching a contemporary, liberal theology you’ve got a problem. If the sunday school follows the common lectionary in planning lessons but the preacher picks and chooses passages according to her mood, you’ve got a mismatch. Getting everybody on the same page has power. And it doesn’t just happen because we want it to.
So, if you think about the various aspects of the progressive movement in those terms – sometimes you’ve got to get the whole church together, have a sit down and sort out what you stand for. Obviously, Democratic politics are far more complex than a single congregation. You have a large, messy coalition with views spanning a large part of the political spectrum. The Democratic coalition includes center right politicians like Nebraska Senator Nelson, but also reliably progressive politicians like John Kerry. It includes pro-life as well as pro-choice individuals, strong supporter of gay rights as well as many individuals who would prefer the whole gay rights issue just went away. But, something must unite them as Democrats – seriously even Ben Nelson is a Democrat for a reason.
Imagine what it would look like if Dems could gather and unite behind a single, compelling vision.