Friday, July 29, 2016

The Convention: What Was Missing

One key element was not included in the remarkably successful 2016 Democratic Convention: the Democratic Party.

The convention fully engaged the important cultural war between “Individualism or Communitarianism?” Many of the speeches and presentations were remarkably powerful. I lost track of how many times I cried. At the end, I was relieved and reassured that Clinton will win in November.

But none of the speakers called for rebuilding the Party into a unified, activist organization that fights year-round for its platform, In fact, both the Party and the platform were barely mentioned. Following are the number of times the major speakers mentioned “Democratic Party” or “platform.”

Democratic Party
Hillary Clinton
Tim Kaine
Barack Obama
Joe Biden
Bill Clinton
Bernie Sanders

Hillary’s reference to the platform was included in her appeal to Bernie’s supporters: “That's the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America.  We wrote it together – now let's go out there and make it happen together.”

But she said little about how to do that.

Sanders fought successfully to make the platform more progressive and he concluded his remarks by talking about that effort. And he declared, “We have begun a political revolution to transform America, and that revolution, our revolution, continues!”

But the only thing he said about how to achieve that goal was, “Our job now is to see that strong Democratic platform implemented by a Democratic-controlled Senate, a Democratic House, and a Hillary Clinton presidency!”

He did not, for example, in order to transform the Party into an activist organization that fights for its platform throughout the year, urge his supporters to elect like-minded people to local Democratic Party county committees and other bodies that elect the state committees that elect the National Committee.

Instead, as Jane Sanders told Rolling Stone Wednesday, she and Bernie plan to:

“Hold their feet to the fire.” ...If the Democratic Party starts backing away from the platform, ever, we will fight like crazy to support the work that all of these millions of people did….

Starting yesterday, we have two new organizations: the Sanders Institute, which will convey the lessons we've learned as we've traveled this country and met with so many people. [And Our Revolution, which will help craft policies and elect new leadership.]

So Bernie is not urging his supporters to transform the Democratic Party. He is not giving the Democratic Party his lists of donors and volunteers, which reinforces the underlying fragmentation. Presumably he will decide when to mobilize his supporters. His plan does not envision helping to build a powerful, democratic, inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent, national coalition that can quickly mobilize massive popular pressure on Washington in a timely manner.

I still believe the Democratic Party could become that kind of coalition. But that scenario will not be realized and fragmentation will prevail so long as people like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders focus so heavily on elections and decline to use their office as organizing tools to transform the Democratic Party into a real organization.

The Party will continue to be an empty shell of an organization that is superseded by the campaign organizations of candidates who win primary campaigns. Weeks ago, a highly accomplished offered to volunteer in a highly disorganized Democratic Party county office in a swing state. Elsewhere, another experienced activist in a blue state asked the local Democratic Party office for a list of voters in his precinct so he could recruit Democrats to engage voters in swing states. Neither offer so far has been accepted. Another Democratic Party activist who’s been registering voters in public locations was told that the Clinton campaign and the local Party would be dividing up public outreach and phone banking. Those instances of disarray and fragmentation are par for the course.

Ideally, some day the Democratic Party will reverse the decline of political parties, as was described so well in “How American Politics Went Insane.” If not, perhaps existing organizations will eventually overcome their ego trips and unify. Or maybe somehow a new national coalition will emerge.

Otherwise, we’ll have to continue to rely on haphazard spontaneity. And we see how far that has got us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Birthday Reflections: 2016

On my 72nd birthday, my path forward is unclear. I know what I want but I don’t know how to get there.

I want to participate in a holistic, powerful, democratic, inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent, national organization that:

  • Is dedicated to steadily transforming this nation and its social system into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of the Earth Community.
  • Builds momentum with evolutionary revolution by backing progressive positions that already have the support of a majority of Americans.
  • Grows a network of small groups of individuals who share that commitment and explicitly support one another in their efforts to become better, more effective human beings.
  • Encourages members to engage in active listening, appreciative inquiry, and respectful, non-dogmatic, non-ideological dialog.

As I see it, major changes in national policy are essential to relieve the suffering and injustice that are so widespread. In particular, the federal government should generate and share revenue with local governments to provide more human services and protect the environment. That public-service program could guarantee that anyone who is able and willing to work could find a living-wage job.

Instead, the federal government is more concerned about protecting the creditor class against even a small degree of unexpected inflation, which erodes capital. So Congress refuses to engage in short-term deficit spending to fund a real jobs program. And when we approach full employment, the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

The result is that the federal government intentionally creates widespread poverty and unemployment. Under those circumstances, local efforts to solve homelessness, for example, are doomed to failure. But compassion-grounded advocates who merely help individuals or address local policies neglect national policy.

Since I first became an activist fifty years ago, my associates and I have hoped that some day a powerful, national, ongoing, progressive coalition would come together. On a number of occasions, I’ve joined such efforts, including the Rainbow Coalition, Labor Party, Alliance for Democracy, Progressive Challenge, and the 2008 Obama campaign (which promised the hope of a post-election grassroots organization). None of those efforts persisted.

About 20 years ago, I concluded that certain weaknesses in how progressive activists operate undermine our efforts. So I participated in a stone circles workshop on spiritual activism with Claudia Horwitz and then initiated a series of workshops to explore how the progressive movement might be more effective: several Strategy Workshops, two Compassionate Politics Workshops, and a Holistic Three-Fold Path Workshop. And I participated in a number of similar workshops convened by local faith-based organizations. All of those activities were fruitful.

But I still have not found an organization of the sort that I described above (in the second paragraph) that I can join. And the issues that prompted me to initiate those workshops -- such as fragmentation, ego trips, head trips, power trips, lack of listening, unwillingness to engage in respectful dialog, and just plain meanness --  have come to the fore even more during this year’s Presidential campaign.

Bernie’s campaign prompted me to hope that his movement would take over the bottom-up Democratic Party and transform it into an activist organization that organizes precinct-based clubs composed of neighbors who gather regularly, grow face-to-face community, and fight for the Party’s platform year-round.

I posted numerous essays on that idea online and discussed it with my taxi passengers. After receiving considerable positive feedback, I proposed to the San Francisco Democratic Party that they develop a model based on that concept that could help encourage the Democratic Party nationwide to adopt that approach. Some Party leaders and my District Five Democratic Club expressed support, but so far they have not followed through. So that proposal is on the back burner.

It seems that Democratic Party leaders (and Bernie himself) are almost entirely focused on elections. They don’t seem interested in building a real grassroots organization. So the Party is an empty shell that springs to life for elections and then goes back to sleep.

So I’m once again pausing from trying to initiate anything. Since Uber wiped out my retirement plan, I have to drive taxi and save as much money as I can, perhaps for as long as I am physically able (which will require a stronger commitment to my self-care).

For fifty years, I was lucky. I was able to survive on “movement wages,” which freed me to do my community work (and at times be rather self-indulgent). I never had to be a wage slave or develop a career. Then, when I got my medallion, it seemed my old age was secure.

But maybe the yuppies were right. Maybe I should’ve focused on my upward mobility.

Now if I take a weekly “day of rest” and do some reading, I’m lucky to squeeze out an hour a day to write, which I feel compelled to do. Writing helps me sort out my thoughts and sharing my comments seems valuable to some readers. Few people ever share what I post, so obviously what I communicate rarely seems as important to others as it does to me (lol). But I get just enough feedback to keep writing and circulate it.

So I’ll try to occasionally post at least a little something to Facebook, Wade’s Wire and Wade’s Weekly. Mike Larsen  has invited me to join some friends of his to a Saturday morning “tea and conversation,” to which I’ll invite a few friends. Paul Kinburn and I invited several fellow Western Park residents to a Sunday night “tea and conversation” last Sunday, which went well and may continue. I want to catch up on some loose email threads with friends and place higher priority on such dialogs in the future. I may invite some old friends to experiment with a format for a more intentional, “soulful” conversation that others might find useful. I’ll continue to dialog with my passengers and conduct occasional public-opinion surveys. I’ll try to remain open and available for “I-Thou” mutuality when the opportunity emerges. And maybe I’ll write a new manifesto or a brief memoir about my community organizing.

In the meantime, with Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

I am perpetually awaiting

a rebirth of wonder

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Individualism or Communitarianism?

By revealing his ego, Donald Trump has exposed American individualism for what it is: a deadly lie.

Hopefully next week the Democrats will contrast that display with a different American tradition: communitarianism -- friends and neighbors working together to help others with activities like quilting bees, barn raisings, food banks, and responses to natural disasters.

Tensions between the interests of the individual, family, business, community, nation, all humanity, and the environment are difficult to reconcile. Brian Swimme does so by promoting the “Earth Community.” Buddhists affirm “neither selfishness nor self-sacrifice.” Christians preach, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All religious traditions have some form of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Karen Armstrong and other global religious leaders digested that principle into the Charter for Compassion, which calls us to:

work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

In that spirit, communitarianism insists that individuals who are well-integrated into communities are better able to reason and act in responsible ways -- if the social pressure to conform does not become excessive and thereby undermine self-determination. Strong individuals grow strong communities, and strong communities grow strong individuals.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed , “No one is free until we are all free.” So long as others are oppressed by injustice, I feel morally obligated to do what I can to help relieve that injustice. I cannot escape my conscience. Faced with injustice, I am not free.

The line between self-care and self-indulgence is ambiguous. No doubt I’ve crossed it many times, which I regret. Going forward, I can only try to be honest, take care of myself, and do what I can to serve others.
On the other hand, individualism, which America has developed more fully than any other country, asserts that the needs of each person are more important than the needs of the whole society. WIIFM -  what's in it for me? -  is the American mantra.  Trump is the ultimate personification of that individualism.

Based on their testimony, Trump’s main message to his children was "get ahead.” Three values he apparently did not teach them are the Golden Rule, humility, and service to the less fortunate. It seems his parenting primarily consisted of giving his children feedback on their report cards and inviting them to his workplace. His children are "high achievers," but that does not mean they are "great," as the network pundits claim. His children are “successful,” competent worker bees in the Trump Cult. But their ambition to “make it” at the expense of others does not impress me.

That individualistic drive to climb the social ladder fuels “the system.” The “American Dream” is deeply embedded and widely embraced. Parents routinely tell their children, “You can be whatever you want.” A good example is Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech that Melania Trump plagiarized. In that speech, Michelle and Melania said, “Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

That belief is clearly an illusion. Limits on our ability to achieve our dreams are inherent in the human condition.

Seeking a solid sense of self through upward mobility is like a dog chasing its tail. When a whole society does it, the result is a downward spiral. That syndrome has hit America with a plague of increasing selfishness as individuals become evermore isolated.

Aggravated by the explosion of electronic devices, Americans are becoming more self-centered. With spoken communication, it’s natural to listen as much as you talk. But with electronic communication, more time is devoted to typing than to reading. That imbalance seems to be replicated face-to-face. Active listening and compassionate inquiry are becoming a lost art.

One result is that more people have fewer close friends with whom they discuss personal issues. So when they get a chance to talk about themselves, they don’t take the time to listen, which leaves the other feeling a greater need to connect with someone who will listen to them talk. Another downward spiral prompted by individualism.

As described in “How American Politics Went Insane,” the increased use of direct democracy, with individuals voting in primaries and on referenda, has weakened both Congress and political parties. Congress is less able to negotiate compromises collectively and parties are less able to collaborate. The result is more gridlock and an outsider taking over the Republican Party.

American individualism produces downward spirals throughout society. The problem is systemic. Absent countervailing, corrective pressures, “the system” contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Hopefully Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party will help us reverse course so we can be “stronger together." In her 1969 commencement address to her graduating class, she spoke eloquently about the “responsibility we should have both for our lives as individuals and for our lives as members of a collective group.” Later she wrote the book, It Takes a Village. Early in the Clinton Administration, she embraced Rabbi Michael Lerner and his “politics of meaning.” Now in “Hillary Clinton Wants to Talk with You About Love and Kindness,” Buzzfeed reports:

In the early days of her husband’s administration, Hillary Clinton tried to start a national conversation about basic human decency, only to be mocked. In the midst of the most mean-spirited presidential campaign in memory, she talks with BuzzFeed News about the unchanged way she sees herself — and if she’ll ever be able to communicate it.

In that interview, Clinton said:

I want this campaign, and eventually my administration to be more about inspiring young people, and older ones as well, to find that niche where kindness matters, whether it’s to a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, a fellow student—whether it’s in the classroom, or a doctor’s office, or in a business—we need to do more to help each other. That’s what my campaign is about. I want more kindness.

We can only hope America’s downward spiral of evermore selfishness has hit bottom. If we’re lucky, the ugly spectacle of the Republican Convention will wake up the American people and lead us to join the human family. As flawed as they are, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party may help us counter American individualism and strengthen our communitarianism.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Engage Swing States with Precinct-Based Clubs

We the people need a national organization that can quickly mobilize massive pressure on Congress to implement improvements in national policy that are backed by a majority of the American people.

Over the years, I’ve joined in efforts to help create a strong national coalition, including the Rainbow Coalition, the Alliance for Democracy, the Campaign to Abolish Poverty, the Progressive Challenge, and the Obama campaign organization.

Those efforts did not flourish, but Obama paved a path for Bernie Sanders. Now the Democratic Party is taking its platform seriously. The New Republic reported that this year’s platform may be “foundational” rather than an “afterthought.” The Party may not forget about its platform after the convention.

Those developments led me to propose to the San Francisco Democratic Party that they engage in year-round precinct organizing as a model for how to rebuild the Democratic Party into an activist organization that fights for its platform throughout the year.
Several Party leaders in the San Francisco Democratic Party have voiced support for those ideas. When I discuss the concept with my taxi passengers, the response has been enthusiastic. Recently I started reaching out to fellow residents in my apartment complex and interest has surfaced.

Yesterday Mary Jung, the outgoing chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, told me that, prior to the Party’s July 20 meeting, she will email to the Central Committee members my proposal.

Following is the latest draft and “cover letter” that I asked Mary to send. Your feedback and suggested changes are welcome. The latest draft will always be at:


Dear SF County Central Committee Members:

I'd very much appreciate your feedback and suggested changes concerning the following. In particular, do you support this proposal?

Might you be able to place it on the July 20 agenda for action?

If not, should I encourage year-round precinct organizing during Public Comment?

Wade Hudson


Engage Swing States with Precinct-Based Clubs (7/10/16 Draft)
To: The San Francisco Democratic Party

Here’s a suggestion for your consideration.

Organize precinct-based clubs to:
  • Engage in online conversations with undecided voters in other regions.
  • Help elect Clinton in November.
  • Influence national policy after the election.
  • Create a model the Party could use throughout the country.
  • Help the Party become an activist organization that fights for its platform year-round.

The Democratic Party already has a bottom-up structure. By uniting to implement a precinct organizing project, like-minded Democrats could rebuild the Party into a powerful, national, inclusive, democratic, multi-issue, activist coalition. That approach could help address the problems associated with weak political parties as described in Jonathan Rauch’s excellent Atlantic cover story, “How American Politics Went Insane.”

Five or more Democrats who live in the same precinct could form self-organizing clubs and engage in some of the following activities (and others not listed here):
  1. Meet in a member’s home, a nearby community center, or a coffee house.
  2. Share food and drink and socialize informally.
  3. Study and discuss the national platform.
  4. Engage in online conversations with undecided voters in other regions.
  5. Participate in phone banks when the Party organizes them.
  6. Discuss the results and how to most effectively talk with others.
  7. Share information about other opportunities for engagement, such as online petitions.
  8. Meet with Democrats from other precinct-based clubs and compare notes.
  9. Use NextDoor and Meetup to connect with neighbors.
  10. Go together to volunteer at a soup kitchen or otherwise serve unmet local needs.
A city-wide kick-off meeting could launch this project. Local leaders, including elected officials, could set an example by meeting monthly with their neighbors.

Precinct-based clubs could nurture a meaningful sense of community, thereby helping to fill a void felt by many Americans. Developing stronger personal bonds would enable neighbors to learn from one another and help sustain ongoing political activism.

The Internet enables engagement with voters in other regions. How to connect with those voters could be a learning process. Asking questions, for example, can be more effective than lecturing.

Google Groups could enable precinct club members to discuss what works. Google Docs could enable clubs to post reports. City-wide gatherings could serve to motivate participation and exchange information.

In those and other ways, San Francisco could pave new ground for how to reach beyond the choir and rebuild the Democratic Party.  

Wade Hudson

Fact Finding

How can we determine what is true?

In Dogmatism, I asked: How can we guard against dogmatism, the expression of strong opinions as if they were facts?

In response, Don MacLaren commented:

In a democracy a free and vigilant press should be the tool that keeps the government/politicians in check/prevents them from relying on dogma to further their agenda(s). On a personal level, in a debate enter with an open mind and realize you may learn something from someone who disagrees with you, but insist on documented evidence whenever your counterpart makes an assertion you have an issue with (and ensure that your own assertions are backed up with solid evidence).

Tom Ferguson replied:

As for my own dogmatism, that might arise when the ego slips into a state of wanting to be right, getting uptight when out argued, when some clever person out thinks me, catches me in careless or sloppy thinking, when ego resists owning up to this.

Another respondent also recommended keeping an open mind in trying to distinguish between what we know and do not know, and pointed out that some “facts” are more reliable than others.

Those responses led me to wonder: How we can determine what is a “fact.”

Google sometimes reports facts at the top of their results on health-related searches and is trying to develop a way to rank more search results by their factual accuracy.

In the meantime, we must rely on other methods.

In “What the Fact-Checkers Get Wrong,” the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) warns against relying uncritically on “fact-checking” websites, such as Politifact, the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s, the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” blog, and The Associated Press. The CJR analysis concluded:

Fact-checking, as practiced, is in part an effort to shape the public political discourse; the fact-checkers have set their sights on identifying not only which statements are true, but which are legitimate. The argument about the legitimacy of that language is ultimately political, not journalistic, in nature. By insisting otherwise, and acting as if journalistic methods can resolve the argument, the fact-checkers weaken the morally freighted language that’s designed to give their work power—language that all journalists who are able to report their way to authority on a particular subject need to employ when it is justified…. In fact, many “fact-checking” pieces actually contain counterarguments—many of which are solid, some shoddy or tendentious, but few of which really fit in a “fact-check” frame.

The CJR piece evaluates many specific examples, but perhaps the clearest example of a questionable conclusion was the rejection of Sarah Palin’s claim in her memoir that she was beckoned by purpose, rather than driven by ambition. Who can read her mind?

So it seems that we must be careful when we use the fact checkers.

Lifehacker offers some useful guidance in “How to Determine If A Controversial Statement Is Scientifically True.

To discover the truth of any statement, they recommend:
  • Develop a healthy dose of skepticism.
  • Learn to avoid “confirmation bias,” which involves finding an answer you already believe. Employ  critical thinking to evaluate without bias. Be aware that confirmation bias exists, shake yourself of your natural tendency to draw a conclusion before you’ve researched a topic, and be open to information that falls on either side of a statement. Don’t just demand someone else present studies that support their assertion—go looking for them yourself. Keep an open mind, seek evidence to the contrary for every opinion (especially ones you believe), and don’t treat your research like a crusade.
  • Search Google, Snopes, Wikipedia, and other popular web sites. Try some Google-fu that includes the word “skeptic” or “hoax” or “bogus” or “rumor” or “urban legend” with your search term.
  • Search public journals and contact advocates
  • Visit your local library and consult librarians and reference materials.
  • Approach the question honestly and openly. Read up on opinions for and against. Watch out for anecdotal evidence.

All facts are not a matter of opinion. Some information is true.

One way to test the veracity of your beliefs is to engage in dialog with others who disagree, really try to understand them, summarize your understanding of their position, and then ask, “Am I correct?” Then really reflect on that other perspective and explore whether the difference of opinion is rooted in a different moral judgment.

What do you think? Do you have other suggestions for how to distinguish facts from opinions?