Friday, February 23, 2007

Vision = Movement = Change

This is the summary of the presentation and discussion of the Movement Vision Project of the Center for Community Change with Sally Kohn, director of the Movement Vision Project. It was organized by the Progressive Strategy Studies Project and took place in Boston on February 21, 2007. The summary is based on Sally's handout and the notes that I took during the presentation and discussion.

The progressive movement is clear what it's against - but is it clear what the movement is for? Two years ago, the Movement Vision Project began interviewing social change leaders across the United States about their positive, big picture, long-term vision for the future. How should the economy be structured? What would a just foreign policy look like? Is it possible to end racism and what would it look like if we did? The project interviewed over 165 leaders, including national leaders as well as state and local leaders, from all different backgrounds, working on a range of issues. Informed and shaped by these conversations, the Movement Vision Project has developed a provocative proposal for the progressive community about our vision for the future and how we get from here to there.

We at the Progressive Strategy Studies Project believe that vision and values are central aspects of the 'objectives' component of a progressive strategy. They are a necessary starting place for strategic thought and planning. We are very pleased to host the presentation and findings of the Movement Vision Project in Boston. For more on the components of progressive strategy see our report, Finding Strategy, published November 2006.

Summary of the Presentation


Sally started out by noting that pessimism and pragmatism had seeped so deeply into progressives that they typically adopt centrist positions and don't even dare anymore to articulate a vision, a set of bold ideas for the future, which should be a priority. Too many progressives, after fighting primarily defensive battles for so long, have become so used to what they are against, that they have difficulties articulating what they are for.

The results of the 165 interviews with progressive leaders and activists in Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, and on the national level, do not represent a consensus, but naturally include gaps and contradictions.

A. The Progressive Vision for the Future

I. Active Democracy

Guiding principle: Replacing exclusive hierarchy with inclusive participation

The goal is to transform social hierarchies based on privilege and power into pluralistic, participatory structures by addressing issues such as structural racism, structural sexism, etc.

1. Political equality
Create a level playing field for political participation

2. Quality public education
We already know that it works well, if it's well funded. Teach all children to cooperate rather than to compete, to become learners rather than earners.

3. Democratic media
Must become much more diverse in ownership and content. Gave the example of the website Oh My News in South Korea.

II. Inclusive Economy

Guiding principle: Replacing the worship of wealth with the value of community

Wealth continues to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and progressives are complicit in this. On the other side, a large majority of Americans want more community in their lives. The progressive approach should be to not only raise the floor for the poor, but also to lower the ceiling for the rich. In addition, we should be able to work less so as to have more time to cultivate relationships and community.

1. New ownership structures
Progressives should move towards a stakeholder society. Land trusts are just one example.

2. Sustainability
Environmental considerations have to become an integral part of economic decision-making. Progressives should try to keep economies as local as possible.

3. Redistribution

III. International Justice

Guiding principle: Replacing nationalism and imperialism with equality worldwide

According to Kohn, nationalism and imperialism best describe US foreign policy. It is a policy of unilateral domination and exploitation. It needs to be replaced by multilateral cooperation.

1. Global citizenship
Progressives need to develop more comprehensive forms of citizenship. Citizenship in the European Union (EU) is a new form of regional citizenship. Already one third of Europeans between the age of 21 and 35 think of themselves first as Europeans, and only secondly as members of a national community. The UN has the potential to further global democracy, but would need to be significantly reformed for this, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

2. Economic balance
Progressives need to work for greater economic balance between countries. Global Exchange, co-founded by Medea Benjamin is one example; the World Social Forum is another.

3. Peace
Progressives need to replace unilateral domination with multilateral cooperation.

B. Strategies to get us from Here to There

Kohn proposes a three-step approach:
1. Analysis of the problem
2. Vision of the solution
3. Strategy to get from here to there

I. Discuss it

Progressives need to talk more about their bold and even radical vision and ideas for the future, in order to refine and better articulate it.

II. Frame it

Progressives need to articulate and understand their vision in terms of shared values of community and interdependence across every issue. Progressives need to emphasize shared values over selfish values. You can also build a movement if it is rooted in common values.

Our values influence how we process information, which in turn shapes our attitudes and behavior.

Progressives need to move from hyperindividualism, emphasizing individual rights and competition in a "dog-eat-dog" world to greater cooperation on the basis of equality and community rights. Education should foster cooperation, not competition.

To put this into practice, the formation of trans-issue coalitions is key.

III. Spread it

Progressives need to move from hypocrisy to authenticity and actuality. Progressives need to bring their vision to life, through authenticity in their organizations, and actuality on the ground.

Kohn concluded her presentation by giving a number of examples to demonstrate that these are not just lofty ideas, but that progressives actually have made progress in realizing them. Progress is possible only if progressives believe in themselves and believe in what is possible.

Summary of the Discussion

In the discussion of the progressive vision, participants emphasized the following:

1. There was genuine excitement about hearing such a radical vision; something that happens all too rarely these days.

2. There was unanimous agreement on the need to have more time to cultivate relationships and community in order to enhance the quality of life, instead of accumulating an ever greater quantity of things.

3. Several participants wanted to hear more about the conflicts involved. People will have to continue to struggle, all the more since their will be massive resistance against the implementation of such a progressive agenda.

In the discussion of progressive strategy, participants emphasized the following:

1. Several people wondered how people from different backgrounds would relate differently to these progressive proposals, and wanted to explore this further.

2. Some people emphasized the need to engage people if progressives want to persuade them of their vision; and they did not feel engaged by the presentation. People have to be able to identify with a vision and to know what they can do about it.

3. Some participants pointed out that the presentation did not sufficiently address how to address the power and resources necessary to realize this vision. Moreover, the presentation did not adequately reflect how fragmented the progressive community is.

Since many participants expressed their interest in continuing the conversation, we thought that posting a summary on our blog and inviting people to comment on it would be a good idea.

If you have a longer comment, it might be preferable to send that to me at so that I can post it as a separate post on the blog, to keep a better overview of contributions.

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