Archive - February, 2006

Organize, organize, organize

Jo Guldi blogs on Sollicitudo Rei Solialis
that the road to social justice is by way of organizing the voices that are
calling for change today.

Social justice will be achieved through organizing individual efforts, passions and strategies, says Jo Guldi, Communications Director for CrossLeft, a strategy clearing-house for grassroots activism among Progressive Christians. She offers this viewpoint in the post The Hungry Multitude in the Age of Mass Culture on Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, a blog that describes itself as joyfully proclaiming “moderate, left of center and nonpartisan social and political principles from the perspective of Roman Cahholic social thought.”

Guldi’s thoughts are intriguing. Organizing activists is equivalent to herding cats. But Guldi says if individuals really want to create healthy change, collaborating with others is necessary today.

Martial Law in the Philippines

The declaration of martial law in the
Philippines doesn’t inspire confidence in the government, or in the democratic
process as it is being carried out in the Philippines.

The news from the Philippines isn’t good. It’s not only bad, it could get worse before it gets better. The declaration of martial law to prevent a coup doesn’t speak well for the democratic process as it’s being conducted in the Philippines.

Human rights were taking a beating even before this. Legitimate political opposition was labeled terrorism and human rights advocates, clergy and others were at risk of death. Many have been killed in the past four years.

Now under martial law political dissent can be suppressed even more easily. It’s a dangerous time for Filipino society.

The democratic experiment in the Philippines has been faltering since Ferdinand Marcos was forced from power. Power has passed from one faction of the ruling elite to another with little meaningful reform to benefit the average person. Poverty has not been reduced and the gap between the rich and poor has increased.

The old aristocracy contend for power and control under the dressing of democracy but they suspend the rules when the threat of real change gets too close to them.

This analytical piece in the Washington Post by Alan Sipress gives an overview of the process during the past 20 years, and points out that little progress toward meaningful democracy has occurred during that time. Sipress quotes Marcos’s daughter who says democracy has not worked the way it was meant because kinship ties and blood relations among the elite stymie real democracy.
A TIME reporter in Manila gives a first-hand account of a meeting of Filipino leaders who planned to “withdraw support” from the government of President Gloria Macagapal Arroyo.

The Right to Information

The right to information is as important in
an information society, as the right to health care.

Access to information is as important as access to education or health care. In an information society, globally connected through the Internet, access to information to level the playing field, to some degree, must be recognized as a human right.

Peace in Aceh

The peace agreement in Aceh has brought hope
to the region devastated by the tsunami.

The peace agreement between the Free Aceh Movement and the government of Indonesia has brought a ray of hope to the Aceh region.

Despite the horrible death and suffering brought by the tsunami, the Indonesians have also managed to create a hope-filled opportunity. The signing of the peace accord in Aceh has brought an end to thirty years of warfare and provides the most hopeful moment for peaceful development the region has known in all that time.

This video from the Washington Post provides a good look into the current situation.

Raging on the Internet

David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post
that Connectedness today results in the ability of angry people to coalesce on
the Internet and stoke the anger that lies in wider society. He asks if we can
understand connectedness as a “rage enabler” in order to take steps to
re-stabilize a disorderly world.

When I came to my present position I was surprised at the angry e-mail I received from people who don’t know me or have a clue about my beliefs or leadership. At first I was unsure how to recieve these sharp notes and I attempted to respond in a caring and moderated manner. I found that for some this resulted in constructive conversation, for others it merely stoked the fires of their anger. A few wrote to tell me I wasn’t fooling them by appearing to be open to their concerns. They assured me they have heard this line before and it’s one they don’t accept, so I could take my e-mail and, well, you know.

Writing in the Washington Post, David Ignatius addresses the paradox of connectedness and destabilizing anger in a global environment. Connectedness was supposed to bring us together, wasn’t it? We are supposed to see that our common interests lie in working together. But it hasn’t worked out that way, he says.

Ignatius interviewed two analysts who offer explanations about this. I’ll leave it to you to check out their comments. But I do think one underlying issue remains un-addressed in Ignatius’s very cogent column.

While the Internet is a tool that allows angry dissenters more access to others, and to spew anger immediately while passions are hot, the conditions that contribute to anger existed long before the Internet became so readily available. Poverty and injustice fuel popular resentments against elites that, as Ignatius points out quite accurately, I think, result in civic instability.

Whether it’s the government’s reversal in Niger to use oil revenues to combat poverty or the uprising in the oil fields of Nigeria where the armed resistance says oil revenues aren’t trickling down, the underlying issue of exploitation and neglect of the population is at the heart of the anger in such conflicts.

The elites are out of touch with everyday folks. But resistance comes from skilled tacticians who read the mood of the people and capitalize upon their discontents to create instability. Who’s responsible? The elites who are out of touch, or the agitators who are manipulating popular discontent?

It’s as old a question as Saul Alinky’s model of community organization. Community organizers, he said, pour salt on the wounds. But the salt wouldn’t burn if there were no wounds.

So, while I agree that the connectedness we enjoy is also a challenge, I don’t think it’s the ultimate cause. It’s a convenient tool to help pour salt. But it didn’t create the wounds. The wounds are created by the daily humiliation and struggle of poverty. That they erupt with such explosive violence isn’t a wonder to me. In fact, I’ve always wondered why those who struggle for survival everyday don’t blow off frustration more often.

But that takes energy, and when you’ve barely enough to eat or when you’re grubbing for enough money to get through the day, you don’t have time to make social statements.

As for anger in the developed world, there’s another set of issues to be explored. I think it’s about our feelings of being disconnected, voiceless and unable to control conditions that affect our lives. We’re not in the same basic survival struggle that I’ve written about above. But we’re not in control either. And we’re being frustrated, victimized and diminished on a daily basis by big corporations, big government, big education and big health. It’s little wonder that some think church bureaucrats are part of the same mix.

I think you do your best to engage in dialogue. You do your best to serve real needs. And you try to bring about constructive, meaningful change. This is about making connection, after all.

Building Communications Capacity

Microsoft is giving grants to a variety of
non-governmental organizations to assist them to build the capacity to
communicate in emergencies. This is good news.

Microsoft is giving grants to a variety of non-governmental organizations around the world to assist them to build capacity to communicate in emergencies. This is good news!

The ability to communicate, something we in the developed world take for granted, is not universal. And it’s a matter of life-or-death in emergencies.

In the next few posts I plan to write about this important concern and explore how I see the value of communications capacity as a form of community building and providing information for people to live by.

Converging Life and Work

Virginia Heffernan writes that television
watching, a part of daily life that marks when we disengage from work, is
becoming more work-like on the Internet.

Television watching is a marker in daily life that signifies disengagement from the workday routine, writes Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times. But this disengagement has taken place at home on the sofa. That’s changing.

Now, she says, with content that’s work-like but also entertaining, we can watch television at work and justify it.

Heffernan points to aol’s coaching series. You can learn how to brand yourself for more successful work, lose pounds, have better sex, live healthier and spend wisely with these short coaching videos streamed on broadband.

The segments fit the self-improvement stream of content that is another marker of our cultural era. All the research I’ve seen lately says we want content that is relevant to our daily lives, supports our desire for self-development and is easily accessible. By these standards the aol coaching series is probably on-target.

The package–on the Internet with printable take-away notes–fits the demand. And, of course, each coach is also an author so you can buy a book or DVD to go deeper into the content. The series converges technology, content and method.

The delivery system is the Internet and the content supports the quest for a more purposeful life. The method is distance learning, making it available to you at home or work. The convergence of work and leisure wrapped in self-improvement is an interesting marker itself.

Media for Games, Media for Life

When I heard a story on NPR this morning
about video games on cellphones, I was reminded of the story of an African woman
who didn’t know her husband had died while traveling because she was too far
from a telephone.

When I heard a story on NPR this morning about video games for cellphones, I was reminded of another story, this one of an African woman who didn’t know her husband had died while traveling because she was too far from a telephone.

There’s been a torrent of copy and comment about cellphone content. It’s the next big thing, according to some technology writers. I believe there is some truth in this, at least for those who are early adopters and who are information addicts and want to access information wherever and whenever they can get it.

But the story on NPR caused a pang of incredulity. While some are creating games to allow cellphone users to while away time, others on this earth don’t have access to the most basic and important information they need to live and sustain relationships. This lack of access to information is a quality of life issue, even a justice issue.

The story I referred to above was about a man from Burundi who traveled to South Africa to attend a church meeting. While there he became ill and died. The sponsors of the meeting tried in vain to contact his family, who live in a remote part of rural Burundi. They were unscuccessful.

When he didn’t return as expected, his wife set out to search for him. Eventually she made her way to South Africa and the organization that sponsored the meeting. She learned her husband had died and was buried in South Africa.

Her exerience turns the old adage about bad news upside down. Sometimes no news is bad news.

In a knowledge-based world, access to communication technologies and information isn’t something to be left to the market place alone. When the digital divide results in discrepancies as wide as this, those of us who are concerned about media and its influence must be concerned about equity and fairness.

Access to information is a basic human right, essential to human dignity and to a just and democratic society, according to teaching found in the Proper Use of Information Communication Technologies in the Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church. It’s more relevant today than ever.

BBC Climate Change Study

The BBC is using a distributed computer
modeling project to measure climate change. Here’s the link for this
interesting project.

The BBC is calling for volunteers to participate in a distributed computing project to monitor global climate change. Identical in principle to the SETI distributed computer model, the experiment has been created for the BBC by, using BOINC software courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley.

These projects create a virtual super-computer by using the background processing power of hundreds, if not thousands, of personal computers. It’s a passive way of lending computer power to scientists who are modeling global temperature changes to predict how they affect the climate and global warming. Interesting. However, it’s designed only for PCs. Mac users need not apply.

Generous Giving

The latest report on giving by United
Methodists reveals generosity beyond expectations. It also reveals the power of
the internet and changes in giving that will require serious analysis and

United Methodists were unusually generous in their giving to the church in 2005 according to figures released this week by the General Council on Finance and Administration through the church’s treasurer, Sandra Lackore. She told United Methodist media in a webcast that giving was up 50% over the previous year with a significant part of the increase directed to humanitarian relief in response to the tsunami and hurricane disasters.

Ms. Lackore’s remarks should be encouraging to all who see the glass half full rather than half empty. Beleaguered United Methodists have a tendency to see the latter and not the former.

I think it’s way too early to draw conclusions but I also think this report points to several trends that church leaders should consider. First, the response to the hurricane and tsunami was media driven. The messages went around traditional communication channels and gatekeepers and directly to the audience. The media delivered compelling stories to the broader audience which includes members of local churches and they responded. There’s a message here about the way people get information today and how they will respond if they are provided with accessible ways to give.

The second learning is that people give to other people. It’s an old saw in fundraising but we seem to need constant reminders. When the emotional trauma of the flooding in New Orleans and the destruction in Mississippi and Alabama was made clear, people responded out of an urgent desire to help.

The third interesting learning from Ms. Lackore’s remarks is her mention that giving online increased by 30%. That’s a quantum increase for a mode of giving that has never been a part of the giving history of the denomination. And, as she said, this giving did not flow through traditional channels such as the local church offering plate nor denominational funds. Yet, it’s not clear that local church giving was helped or hurt by this additional channel.
She’s correct to say that this will require more analysis and evaluation because we’re in new territory here.

And finally, I am mindful of the social context in which people gave. 2005 saw the continuation of plant closings in basic industries in the United States, stagnant wages, increases in health care and fuel costs and the lowest savings rate (in fact, a negative savings rate) since the Great Depression. Despite this, people gave.

I know that as we drill deeper into the 2005 giving statistics there will be additional learnings and I suspect they will tell us some things we don’t really want to hear. However, I can’t help but think that overall this is quite a remarkable report. And I think reviewing these statistics along with other research into attitudes and beliefs will give us a view of the changing landscape today.

Until someone can convince me I should think otherwise, I’m going to find hope in these figures.

I choose to see this giving response as a sign of compassion and concern. When we saw people drowning we wanted to throw them a lifeline, and we did what we could under the circumstances. We reached for our wallets, we sat down at our computers and responded as quickly as possible.

I’ve heard plenty of critique about this. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It doesn’t involve deeper commitment. It’s a quick fix for guilt. It’s superficial. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Maybe so.

But maybe we saw that we’re in this mess together and if we share just a bit we’ll all be better off. Maybe we looked inward and found a touch of compassion that hasn’t been squeezed out of us in a cynical and grasping materialistic society. And maybe we rediscovered our humanity as we saw others in distress and we remembered that life, every life, is fragile and any one of us could be consumed by the swirling waters. Maybe some common understanding broke through our defenses and for a brief moment we remembered that we are connected in ways that are easily forgotten in the busyness of everyday life.

So that’s how I’m going to read these statistics until someone can give me a compelling and convincing case that I should believe otherwise.

And all I’m going to say to those who gave is,Thank You!

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