Monday, November 30, 2009

Philadelphia Food Hunt

Some time last December I wrote a long paper on the implementation by the University of Maryland of sustainable food ways. Meaning, I wanted to know where the University bought its food and how it reached the University's diners. As a UMD student I was curious to know what role my school was playing in the progressive food industry and what next steps needed to be made in order to reach a sustainable model of food consumption and production. Well I did that part and needless to say my conclusion was shocking. While the University was consuming huge amounts of food, it was also working to recycle a great deal of it. Of course, UMD could have been doing more but really I thought the progress already made was a good first measure. What we needed in the future was a plan for future progressive steps.

I am now living in Philadelphia where food is as huge an issue as it is anywhere and I intend to do some of the same research here as I did there in Maryland. My first job will be to determine exactly what my standards for sustainability are before conducting research so that I can remain as unbiased as possible. After conceptualizing a target for food progress, I will decide on a food provider to survey and judge. Collecting as much data as I can I will then put the picture together to construct a profile of the organization that is relevant to my locale. Such a critical look at local food ways is necessary for the upkeep of progressive values and logical health choices.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A New Powerful Myth: the era of men

A vision came to me once tracing my existence back to the beginning. Fortunately the beginning time was the same as the present time. The vision was reassuring, really. I expect the trend will continue into the future.

Until not too long ago popular culture dominated what I thought of my world. Good and Bad was determined by others and passed down unto me where I fumbled with the instructions only to end up more miserable than before. Such a process of personal behavior management--relying upon illegitimate authorities-- is the antithesis of a healthy society. While reliance upon a parent or guardian may be appropriate in the instances where they remain legitimate, too often authority is mishandled and manipulated. Thus, in many ways a style of acculturation dependent on unreliable icons reflects the corporate mentality of insincere community and authority. As such, participation is lessened and communal goals reflect that of the elites rather than the entirety of the population. This process of production and reproduction of customs and ideology is unsustainable and corrupting as many members finish feeling depressed and marginalized because after all it is not the individual determining their customary behavior. Such a perpetuating style of alienating life leaves all of us feeling more depressed than the previous day. In other words, the original structure of authoritarian leadership seen in popular culture perpetrated by all of the trend-setters and their tools of mass deception and politics by our elected leaders creates a system of frustrated community-less people led by a familiar television personality.

Recognizing this trend, we all need a new popular myth. An empowering vision of the future granting all the confidence in the world to demand more form our formal leadership. Played on all the TV screens and computer monitors, this new language of love will only be spoken through the body; the means of self-expression will be granted through no centralized bureau, but wielded for and by each of us. This language of love will not be fixed and stagnant like past icons of popular culture asking for world peace, but must be fought for by all on the streets of the mainstream. Jammed and unforgettable the new popular myth would go defunct directly after being viewed. The new myth empowers all to the means to freedom of thought, speech, and dress; a confidence to think and act for ourselves. The methodology of liberation lies both with the individual and the community to commit to always remember and recognize the need and needlessness of consumption. The new myth cannot be commercialized and sold. In the end, the new myth is the manifestation of the modern good: everything in moderation.

For me then, my new myth is the miraculous transformation of the human character. In the face of the worst kind of tragedy, we see the fragility of evil and thereby manifest the union of bad and good. Such a transformation would accurately portray the complexities of modern life.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Leadership Development and Anti-Authoritarian Organizing

Continued reflection upon an interaction with my supervisor at CCTC (Children's Crisis Treatment Center) continues to teach me a great deal about powerful leadership and the equal and opposite force of imposition upon the followers. A difficult dance to master, the downfall of most leaders is a perceived misuse of power and a lack of popular recourse. A few days into my CCTC training I encountered just such an incident. What has become obvious to me since then is inevitably some of the followership will be offended and frustrated with a superior and without recourse there is no accountability, and without accountability there is no solution to the problem of misused authority.

The players involved in this educational scenario are the supervisor, my peers (total of 5 people), and myself. Essentially, the supervisor who had been training the six of us for the past day and half felt comfortable saying explicitly to me and another peer in front of the entire cohort that the two of us looked 'scared'. I assume she made this determination after telling us of 'horror' stories of past CCTC clients. I also assume she was basing her assumption on my facial expression and body language. The problems with this scenario are numerous. Firstly, she was the authority in the room, which means she had more credibility and power than anyone else so her analysis supercedes any other. Second, she confronted the two of us publicly, no follower interested in being respected desires public ridicule. Thirdly, she made no attempt to further discuss or come to understand why I might have been looking the way I did. Fourth, she made no concessions regarding the power and damage she did. For instance, she could have said something like, "I don't know you from Adam, but this is how you look," such a remark would have entitled me to my past and possibly opened dialogue. I suggest such a skilled remark because truthfully she doesn't know me and for that reason has no context from which to judge me. All in all, the supervisor made a poor leadership maneuver and gave me no recourse to challenge her imposition.

Such an exchange has proven to me that the leadership-followership relationship is a fragile one if communication is not open. Without open dialogue the followership can not engage in the process of mentorship, which after all should be the goal of any sustainable organization. Certainly this process is difficult and requires skilled leaders, but the alternative is exactly the predicament I found myself in: feeling marginalized and internally questioning the legitimacy of the authority. Such a circumstance is not sustainable and will lead to hostility and a non-productive leader-follower relationship.

The myth of leadership figures a lone authority dictating a strategy to the followership; this is the myth of the 'historic moment'. MLK standing at the podium with the entire Washington Mall full of faithful followers working toward a common goal of equality. Now, of course, the ends of equality is justified and inspiring, but the means are delusional and counter-productive. After the climax of the dictation and the crowd calms, MLK remains the authority and the power of hierarchy remains in his hands alone. In other words, his speech did nothing to empower others to act based upon their diagnosis of the problem. This powerful myth of leadership is contrasted by the real power of the anti-authoritarian Shared governance model of leadership where authority is shared equally amongst all members and the duration of leadership is temporary. This model is based off of day-to-day leadership management instead of the 'historic moment'. What must be realized is that while consolidated authority (occuring when group confidence is concentrated with one leader) can produce some desired political/financial ends, in the process the group has also produced a social ends. In the process of giving consistent leadership consistent means to control the agenda of the group, a culture of 'spectator activism' reigns. This sort of activism promotes authoritarian control through the absence of dialogue. Undeniably, every organization has leadership, it is to the detriment of the group not to have a conversation about the sustainability of the organization and it's leadership.

It remains true to me that leadership is so critical because organization (management) and community (leadership) are the keystones of every successful, sustainable, venture.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Integration and Attraction: our way forward

The ambiguity of our leadership and their rhetoric leaves the majority of followers confused and without recourse. In order for common people to exert their power as a whole, the leadership must be involved in the organizing of a dynamic democratic discourse. This discourse would then be the jumping off point for concerted planned action in the name of democracy for the people. I believe within this framework of participatory management and freedom lies the fault of reactionary conservatives who followed the lead of their biased informers and leaders. Democracy requires consistent dialogue and reflection on behalf of the group and individual and therefore reasoned argument and discussion.

There are few organizations which perform this duty because in order to sustain a grassroots effort the organization must be ingrained in the culture of the community. The community must manifest the values of the organization. Thus, the community must trust, value, and lead the work of the organization. But, above all else, the people's organization must invest heavily in the empowerment of the community in order to galvanize and create a transformative environment for community members. In order to empower, the community organizers must make clear that the capacity to change and rearrange community's priorities and assets is dependent upon motivated community members. In other words, if they want to see something done they must be at the forefront doing it. This process requires a great deal of facilitation skill because you have to engage interested participants in group work where together you conceptualize the hierarchy of importance of the subject matter and then make certain you have an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the hierarchy: is it good or bad? Once this has been done and the work plan has been settled upon, the organization must mobilize to see the work through. At this point the role of the leadership is simply to support the next line of leaders to rise to the occasion.

Having done this a number of times I can say with certainty that a consistent presence and a measure of care ensures other participants feel comfortable investing their lives in the venture. From that point on it is the responsibility of the leadership to educate the next line of leaders into those positions of leadership until every feels confident to take part in the process of democratic dialogue and action.

What must be made as clear as possible is that without these measures and rituals of leadership of passing along the song of empowerment we will not attract people into the communities of democracy. As individualism and selfishness manifest themselves through the current popular economic philosophies of our day, all of us will see the degradation of our social lives.