Jim Kent:

"Human change initiatives must work at social, economic, and ecological levels if they are to succeed."

Moving Towards Citizen-Based Stewardship

Posted by Jim on September 14, 2009


This blog received a comment concerning my post-election essay comparing President Obama’s Election to the velvet revolution (discussed elsewhere on this blog).  The question was: I am wondering how you see it now. Is the President by instinct and training a top-down practitioner. Following is my reaponse:
 
No the President is not top down by instinct and training.  He inherited a complete goverment system built over the last 8 years of autocratic top down bureaucracy that exploited America and Americans for the enrichment of the few.  He also inherited a recession that needed a top down approach in order to prevent a depression through rapid stabalization of the country.  However, as a community organizer myself, I know that you cannot be a community organizer on the south side of Chicago and not be tough and a bottoms up practitioner.  He is moving towards citizen-based stewardship reorganizing the civil service bureaucracy that is so “top down”.  And as his speech to Congress showed he began to show his toughness.  

You can see his community organizer background come through in his recent speech that shifted the playing field, brought in the independents and the moderates, and let people know he is not going to mess with ideas that do not contribute to a productive health care program for the American people.  Underneath the action and the rhetoric of the groups opposing health care for instance are a handful of idealogists that cannot stand to have a black President or a black family in the White House. That weakens them and they will lose-we are a country focused on issues right now and that is where the action is.

I am very excited about where we are headed as a country because of the grass roots trend toward people taking charge of their geographic space.  We have called it for lack of a simpler language: Citizen-based Ecological Stewardship. 

The trend is there, it is learning how to optimize this trend that will change the power equation.  Obama is moving towards a grass-roots governance, and the institutions that are so indoctrinated in top down control will give way to a new heart and soul governance.
 
I think we are in the throws of re-discovering deep democracy – the type of democracy that will be able to better address this troubling and potentially dangerous period of transitions we are in.  Health care, immigration, war, economic equity, incarceration, social justice and the need for global collaboration are but a few issues we must face as we go forward.

Whenever there is a paradigm shift there is great chaos, confusion, anger, angst, fear but there is no other way of moving to a new age. I believe firmly that this is the direction in which we are headed.  This community-based stewardship trend appears to have greater implications than previously recognized. 

It appears to be forecasting a shift from the industrial age of consumption to a new ecological age oriented toward sustaining the human endeavor in harmony with nature.  Indeed, it could be the beginnings of a movement away from hierarchical systems of control to one in which people become more empowered, and the traditions, beliefs and very heart and soul of community are enhanced and restored, forming a new foundation for government to interact with and support its citizens.
 
 
Following is a differnt way of saying what I talked about in the blog.

An autocratic top down approach to issues surrounding use of our public lands is exactly the wrong approach in this era of post millennium materialism.  There is a growing citizen movement oriented to a bottoms up approach to ecological decision making referred to by Gary McVicker, Rich Whitley, Gary Severson and Jim Kent as “community-based ecological stewardship”.  Such a movement will satisfy the diversity that we find among communities in their relationship to the surrounding public lands.  However  such a recognition remains a threat to the so called top down efficiency that looks good on first blush, but robs the communities from working out their own solutions.  During my “Social Responsive Management” days with the US Forest Service we got to the point where the District Ranger would set out “criteria” of what they wanted within the many land use categories.  Once the criteria was set the individuals, communities, users and vested interest groups would propose to the USFS how they would satisfy that criteria.  Thus began citizen-based ecological stewardship and public partnerships and collaborative action. (see www.jkagroup.com, Publications, “Mack and the Boys as Consultants” for the story of how Minturn, Colorado became the first in the nation to come into a public partnership with the USFS after the passage of NEPA in 1969.) Use of criteria on issues indeed created Socially Responsive Management since the government was operating in a facilitative/ responsive mode rather than an autocratic/regulatory mode.  It changed the entire landscape upon which USFS decisions were made for the next 15 years (1976 to 1990s) since the process was built into the Forest Plans. (A Bio-social Ecosystem Map, or Human Geographic Map of the Western U.S. grew of this  early work.  These are the social/cultural/physical/ biological decision making boundaries that people use in their everyday lives.  These are natural (related to place) not artificial (administrative) boundaries.)
 
As Gary McVicker states in his new paper: The Trend Toward Ecological Stewardship,  “The system that we currently use for managing the public lands was not designed to support citizen stewardship, it is basically antithetical to it.  Stewardship must arise out of the social and cultural systems  associated with the public lands. These function through word of mouth, social norms and caretaking. Conversely, government works through law, policy, and jurisdiction.  Social/cultural networks are horizontal in structure; government is vertical. Neither system is right or wrong; they are simply different. The proper conduct of each is essential to democracy–or what we refer to as advancing the heart and soul of community.”
 
Citizens are still victims of centralized, vested interest decision making.   For the idea of community-based stewardship to work, these two systems, the informal and the formal,  must come together in a manner that not only benefits the local interest, but the national interest as well.  To date the agencies charged with managing the public lands have sought to do that through citizen input into issues selected by the agency prior to their making major decisions. This kind of public participation is not designed to promote stewardship, but merely rubber stamp what the agency wanted to do all along.   Once made, these decisions are implemented primarily by the agencies and not the citizens. The pursuit of stewardship must be a distinctly different process. It must empower people to become well-informed, responsible environmental stewards themselves and carry the burden of ecological land management that insures their and the lands sustainable future.
 
The trend toward community-based stewardship may very well signal the beginning of a new era in public land management, one that could help resolve many concerns over the human interface with nature, and ultimately lead to more efficient and less divisive forms of governance and citizen interaction—an outcome that might well serve many other areas of national discourse.

Jim Kent
JKA Group
P.O. Box 1267
Basalt, Colorado 81621
970-927-4424
www.jkagroup.com

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One Response to “Moving Towards Citizen-Based Stewardship”

  1. Just to share what I’ve read….

    The Guam Base Buildup is a joint venture of the American, Japanese, and Guam governments and will accommodate the influx of nearly 35,000 military and civilian personnel.

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