Jim Kent:

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

Posts Tagged ‘Community’

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

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Deep Democracy: A Movement Towards Heart and Soul Governance

Posted by Jim on September 1, 2009

This op.ed. piece was written right after President Obama won the 2008 election for President.  It is about the informal systems in our world society that maintain deep democracy and how formal systems of government can come into alignment with this phenomena for a new era of governance as illustrated by President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic discussed below.

Deep Democracy:  Reflections on a National Movement toward Heart and Soul Governance–by Jim Kent

Inspired by a heartfelt message of hope, Americans have set a new national precedent for the core principles by which we govern ourselves. In our recent presidential race, Barack Obama campaigned on a heart and soul vision of personal responsibility, participation, compassion, shared sacrifice, social justice, democratic economic systems and change that benefits everyone. In doing so, the unlikely candidate of hope became the 44th United States President Elect, as well as an inspiration to millions of people around the world. During his breathtaking road to victory, the philosophy on which he ran propelled attributes of heart and the soul to the forefront of public consciousness. Citizens in astounding numbers rose up to act on his powerful slogan, “Yes we can,” and so began reversal of the appalling social and governmental trends that had been devouring our nation.

The world has witnessed other examples of rapid social and political change that were driven by deeply held core principles of a society. In a similarly historic election, presidential candidate V’aclav Havel galvanized the people of Czechoslovakia for a precedent that also swept the nation.  In 1989 a movement known as the “Velvet Revolution,” saw the relinquishment of political power by the communists and set the first free elections since 1946. Through this peaceful revolution, Czechoslovakia moved from a dark and closed centralized society to a vibrant, free, enterprise-centered civic order with astonishing rapidity. By l992, only three short years after Havel came onto the scene, individual business vendors in Prague lined the Charles Bridge, churches were well on their way to complete historic restoration, and private enterprise flourished throughout the city and countryside—an amazing phenomena given the long oppression.

One can point to two underlying factors for democracy’s fast recovery that bear on our recent electoral experience.  The first factor is whatever culture is in place when autocrats or elected officials with self-serving interests gain power is the culture by-and-large that will emerge when the oppression is overcome. Prior to the communist takeover, Czechoslovakia had a high degree of civic order and culture that quickly returned after the peaceful overthrow of the regime. The second factor concerns the cultural mechanisms that continue functioning when a government pursues an agenda based on rewarding the few and oppressing the many. These cultural mechanisms are the informal communication and caretaker networks invisible to the oppressors that grow stronger under top-down pressure in order for the people to survive and maintain their culture. They operate within natural gathering places and preserve the heart and soul of their civic order. Coffee shops, barbershops, beauty parlors, bars, restaurants, schools, soccer fields, open air markets, town squares and parks, as well as the newer public arenas of blogs and email, give people the chance to interact with each other, daily and intimately.

Informal caretaker and communication networks are strongly linked to our gathering places, because here personal exchanges freely flow and bonds of trust are maintained. It is in these informal networks that the beliefs, traditions, stories, and values are preserved, usually out of sight of formal systems such as government. Informal networks and gathering places are the horizontal elements that bind together society’s heart and soul, while top down, hierarchical and vertical administrative orders tend to breed internal cultures of their own that often fall out of sync with the communities and societies that they supposedly serve.  The power of these societal elements occurring within the gathering places and informal networks held the pre-1989 Czech culture together and thus offered a foundation for survival during the many years of occupation and oppression. Informal networks and gathering places are the horizontal structures that hold a society’s heart and soul together. Top down, vertical administrative structures, do not hold a society’s heart and soul.

In his New Year’s Address to the Nation given in Prague on January 1, 1990, President Havel offered profound insights on his country’s political experience that have meaning to us. The powerful factors of gathering places and informal networks held the pre-1989 Czech culture together so that it survived years of occupation and oppression. The inter-generational heart and soul of the country actually thrived through these word-of-mouth informal networks – the  underground so to speak, in the gathering places.

Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all. If we realize this, then all the horrors that the new Czechoslovak democracy inherited will cease to appear so terrible. If we realize this, hope will return to our hearts.

The recent period—and in particular the last six weeks of our peaceful revolution—has shown the enormous human, moral and spiritual potential, and the civic culture that slumbered in our society under the enforced mask of apathy. And let us ask:

Where did the young people who never knew another system get their desire for truth, their love of free thought, their political ideas, their civic courage and civic prudence?

How did it happen that their parents—the very generation that had been lost—joined them?

How is it that so many people immediately knew what to do and none needed any advice or instruction?

Havel’s answer to these questions also can be relevant to us.

I think there are two main reasons…First of all, people are never just a product of the external world; they are also able to relate themselves to something superior, however systematically the external world tries to kill that ability in them. Secondly, the humanistic and democratic traditions, about which there had been so much idle talk, did after all slumber in the unconsciousness of our nations and ethnic minorities, and were inconspicuously passed from one generation to another, so that each of us could discover them at the right time and transform them into deeds.”

When deeply held core principles and values re-surfaced, Havel’s government was able immediately to adopt related tenets and visions for a successful realignment of the people with the administrative order bringing together the informal and formal systems.

The U.S. election of 2008 and the Czech election in 1989 show us that the more closed the formal system, the stronger and more effective the informal caretaking and communication networks become. We have seen this at work in our own society over the last eight years.  In 2000 America also was a democratic and prosperous nation whose citizens were filled with excitement, individual opportunity, creative enterprise, hope for the future, and a surplus in our Treasury. By 2008 we suffered economic collapse and a lose of hope.

Barack Obama responded to this lose of hope by campaigning relentlessly in informal networks and gathering places. In these networks he found our will, our sense of purpose and our best intentions.  Even his acceptance speech illustrates this – delivered to hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans in Grant Park – a vast public gathering place, he said, “This is your victory. Yes we can, Yes, we did it.”

Barack Obama accessed and awakened the slumbering desire for participation that is deeply held and imbedded in our people. We were ready to be awakened.  He clearly understands that when the beliefs, traditions, spirit of change, and hopes of our people are aligned in our formal administrative bodies, we can whole-heartedly look forward to a new era of successful citizen-energized governance that will bring about a rapid recovery in the same manner that the Czech Republic experienced.  Understanding this cultural process that harbored our heart and soul in the informal networks, and keeping the cultural process successfully engaged in our governance will accelerate the changes we are about to experience and in which we will participate.

Realizing that our new government is based on the pursuit of freedom, liberty, justice, and democratic principles of life we will once again have a government that is “of and by” the people.

Jim Kent is a community organizer and social ecologist. He carries out his work through the Center for Social Ecology and Public Policy and James Kent Associates. He can be reached at jkent@jkagroup.com or www.jkagroup.com

©JKA Group 2009

Jim Kent is known internationally as a community organizer, a social ecologist, social activist, and an entrepreneur. He has successfully built three businesses that foster a crisis prevention social and cultural model for action.

His first company, the JKA Group, trains and consults locally, regionally, nationally and internationally with private and public organizations. The non-profit organization, The Center for Social Ecology and Public Policy teaches policy formation through the lens of social ecological principles. Natural Borders, LLC is a human geographic mapping company using the overlay of human and cultural boundaries for mapping social landscapes within which people live and work and play. He developed a social, economic and ecological model for action, known as The Discovery Process. This process applies specific tools used to assist governments, businesses and individuals, to use their culture to gain participation, predictability and control of their lives.  He lectures and teaches widely on the importance of the use of these informal systems.

Jim Kent’s work within the informal cultural systems of South China assisted in opening telecommunication opportunities for several American businesses in the late 1980’s.  He developed the hallmark Social Responsive Management system within the United States Forest Service, and was awarded the 75th Anniversary Gifford Pinchot Award. Mr. Kent assisted with the development and implementation of the Great Society Programs that included:  Head Start, Neighborhood Health Centers, and Administration of Justice and Teacher Corps. He has worked 12 years with the Bureau of Land Management in assisting
Field Offices to work with community based stewardship and adaptive management principles.  The BLM has adopted his Human Geographic Mapping system.

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