localism

Activist Road Trip

Pattern ID: 
611
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
134
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

It is surprising how little people really experience and learn when they travel. They often seem to be in a hurry to get to a certain place where their friends or relatives live or where the media or other "expert" has told them they should go. Many people would like to see and learn about how people live and the challenges they face, but it’s often difficult to do. Since there is apparently scant profit in trips that would help bridge cultures and encourage understanding, there is little support for it. Also, for most people in the world, travel is costly, is sometimes perceived as dangerous, and there are lots of borders that can block our progress.

Context: 

In an era of globalization, problems are no longer confined to local areas. Also, in an era of heightened fear-mongering, paranoia and suspicions about others, the importance of building bridges individually and in groups can't be stressed enough. One of the best antidotes to propaganda is first-hand knowledge and personal ties to people in different regions.

Discussion: 

Travel offers immeasurable insights if people are receptive to them and have meaningful experiences while on the road. The trouble is, of course, that "it's possible to travel all around the world and not get anywhere at all." The Activist Road Trip pattern is designed to prevent that from happening.

Lori Blewett and I just returned from a trip to Venezuela with twenty-five students. Our ultimate destination was Caracas, Venezuela, one of the three locations of the "polycentric" World Social Forum in 2006, but we visited Barquisemeto and the small hillside village of Sanare. Our tour was conducted by Global Exchange, a non-profit organization located in California, that leads "Reality Tours" to nearly 30 countries including Afghanistan, China, Ireland, Mexico, India, Iran, the Mexican-US border, and Cuba. We visited a number of community centers, health clinics, educational missions, agricultural cooperatives, and housing developments set up by the Chávez government. Also, during the bus drive from Barquisemeto to Caracas our guide briefed us about recent Venezuelan history from the point of view of Chávez supporters as well as detractors. Global Exchangeset up numerous presentations including one from an economics professor (with opposition leanings) who explained some of the particularities of the Venezuelan economy. We also had ample opportunities to converse with people at the forum.

Activist road trips can provide more meaning than standard, non-activist, road trips. But how is the pattern employed? At a basic level, people can simply go on an activist road trip. This means pursuing activist activities — especially learning — while "on the road." The preferred mode of transportation is by foot, bicycle, or car; possibly by bus or train; and probably not by airplane where unscheduled stops and flexible timetables aren't allowed. This is not to suggest that the trip should be haphazard or random — just that serendipity is likely to come into play (and chance favors the prepared mind). Thinking about the trip ahead of time, planning for it, arranging to meet with various people and organizations in advance is very useful — just don't over schedule or otherwise become slave to your plan. A simple way to "ground" the trip is to attend events at the destination and at points along the way. Events could include anything from a mass rally to a simple breakfast with friends of friends. And don't forget to record your impressions during the trip and debrief and discuss upon your return.

People can always elect to go on an Activist Road Trip but the concept itself must be institutionalized to make it easier for people in general to go on these trips and, ideally, to build active networks of people who are interested in similar issues. As with other patterns we concentrate on how to promote this incrementally, with little pieces that organically build towards larger networks or assemblies, rather than through a grand, top-down, plan. Therefore we must build upon the basic components: physical locations, activists (hosts, guest, and guides), information and means of getting from one place to the next. Many “pieces” of this pattern now exist. When, for example, punk rock aficionados, travel they often share information with each other — who’s cool in the next town, whose couch is available, etc. This works—at least to some degree for the punk community, but what if a non-punk (like me?) wants to meet with some punks or if a punk wants to find out more about a non-punk group?

The chore is to help promote processes and ideas to build a thriving alternative to existing approaches to travel that are disconnected and disengaged. Ideally each visit helps to build the network while advancing positive social change. How can the network promote people from different communities getting together? Some of the pieces that we can envision include integrated calendar of events and atlases specifically designed for this type of trip. These atlases would necessarily be dynamic — events as well as the non-profits, infoshops and other host organizations — are often short-lived.

Of course the above discussion suggests that the point of the road trip is to visit activist sites along the way. Another approach is going on a road trip as activists. The Bee Hive Collective that travels throughout Latin American and develops intricate and beautiful murals that illustrate indigenous issues and struggles, and the Miss Rockaway Armada that traveled down the Mississippi River in the summer of 2006 to share art, music, environmentalism and an anarchist perspective with everyone they met, are great examples of this. In both of those cases, the groups essentially brought their activism with them. The ultimate activist road trip in the U.S. would have to be the Freedom Rides in the spring of 1961 where activists traveling on buses from Washington, DC to various towns and cities in the deep South to publicize their fight for civil rights were met with racist violence that was only quelled after federal intervention.

A person implementing this pattern should expect a number of challenges. For example, people working in one activist destination could be overwhelmed by large numbers of people “passing through.” It is incumbent on the traveler to make sure that the host is not taken advantage of. Visitors must be sensitive to their host's situation and aware of their responsibilities as guests. Encounters between visitor and host, important as they are, have several potential complications. Who knows that the “field trip” to, say, a worker's collective is not to a "Potemkin village" that has been carefully "staged" in order to convey certain impressions to the guests, perhaps in a bid for funding. And how do we ensure that the visitors to a favella in Rio De Janeiro, a township in Capetown, or to the South Bronx, are not simply treating what they're witnessing as a spectacle.

The possibility exists that when any destination is made public, in an “atlas,” for example, hostile townspeople might choose to harass the travelers or the host. There could also be other types of vexing side-effects. If, for example, people in the hosting situation were serving food to visitors, the local health department could decide to pay a call on an “illegal dining establishment.” Also, the network is built on social relationships and the ones encountered in an Activist Road Trip are more likely to be dynamic than more established venues.

There are dozens of possible places to visit on an Activist Road Trip: activist organizations, collectives, shelters, migrant camps, small businesses, reservations, encampments, sanctuaries, labor halls, organic farms, conferences, concerts, environmental disasters, prisons, community media centers, barrios, refugee camps, etc. Ideally the travelers could stop at "World Citizen Travel Bureaus" along the way or at "People's Embassies" or, even a "Museum of Civil Society" — if people create them!

And People can add an Activist Road Trip to another trip. Rather than fly in to their destination, dropping in out of the sky as it were, people could explore the region en route to, or returning from, the event to observe first hand the realities that the forum examines. This can even be done within the city itself. One doesn't have to travel very far — physically — to find unexplored regions. The Activist Road Trip can be done in your own region or city.

Note: The photo above is from The Miss Rockaway Armada activist road trip.

Solution: 

References: Bridging the Global Gap; Global Exchange web sites & other literature

Categories: 
orientation
Categories: 
engagement
Themes: 
Digital Divide
Themes: 
Research for Action
Themes: 
Education
Themes: 
Community Action
Themes: 
Social Movement
Themes: 
Case Studies
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Travel offers immeasurable insights if people are receptive to them. The trouble is, of course, that it's possible to travel all around the world and not get anywhere at all. The Activist Road Trip pattern is used whenever activism is combined with travel. Activist Road Trips can be long or short; meditative or obstreperous. One doesn't have to physically travel very far to find unexplored regions sometimes in one's own region or city.

Pattern status: 
Released

Environmental Impact Remediation

Pattern ID: 
603
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
124
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Jim Gerner
Free Geek Olympia
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Although information and communication are often conceived as abstract, intangible and immaterial, the systems that maintain them are, of necessity, constructed with solid things such as paper, lead, concrete, rubber, glass, mercury, cadmium and silicon which are fabricated into the delivery trucks, wires, library buildings, computers, chips and CDs. The manufacture (and ultimate retirement) of all of these things is often accompanied with environmental damage, as the 23 "Superfund" sites in Silicon Valley will attest, In 2005, 63 million computers in the U.S. were replaced with newer models. Up to 80% of the waste is then sent to developing countries where it often contributes to environmental and health hazards. Additionally, energy is consumed — often in immense quantities — throughout every stage in the life-cycle of a product. As devices are made with shorter and shorter life-spans and the uses of ICS increases worldwide, this problem will become more critical unless something is done.

Context: 

Vast numbers of people are affected by the increasing "informatization" of the world. This includes people who are fortunate enough to capitalize on the new technology and those who are unfortunate enough to live with the refuse. This pattern can be used by people who have some control over the situation, including those who are in a position to develop laws and policies, producers who can lessen the effects of their products entering the waste-stream, and local communities who can develop policies and programs for responsible treatment of discarded technology. Community activists, health professionals, local governments, and neighborhood organizations will need to organize and work together in this effort. Other possible participants include computer geeks, social activists, environmental activists and those wanting to learn more about computers and new technology.

Discussion: 

The use of information and communication systems is expanding enormously in countries like the US as well as in countries like China and India. This is causing immense demands on their infrastructure and on the environment. Computer technology has grown increasingly more sophisticated in a very short period of time. During that same time, the costs have dropped in relative and absolute terms, thus resulting in a massive number of obsolete computers and other technology much of which has been dumped somewhere where toxins like lead, cadmium and mercury can leach into the soil and water.

In addition to the new intellectual and social spaces that the new technology helps provide, we need to think about the impact that information and communication systems are having on the environment. Although we associate physical spaces like libraries and auditoriums with energy and resource use, the creation, storage, and distribution of information requires energy and resource use as well. Some of this use doesn't square with conventional wisdom. Computer use, for example was supposed to lower the consumption of paper because everybody would simply read the computer screen. The amount of travel was also going to decline because business could be conducted electronically, thus substituting communication for transportation. The electronics industry was also celebrated as an environmentally friendly industry yet there are 19 "superfund" sites associated with high-tech industries slated for environmental remediation in Santa Clara county, home to more of these sites that any other county in the U.S. IBM and Fairchild Electronics were disposing their waste products in underground tanks which subsequently leaked trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, Freon and other solvents into the drinking water of 65,000 people. There also seems to be an unhealthy link between the waste producers and the people who must deal with it, specifically prison inmates who work with inadequate protection and no health insurance working in for profit prisons.

Why pick on information and communication systems? After all, other sectors use energy and cause pollution. One reason is that "electronic waste is the fastest growing part of the waster system," according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Another reason is that it's important for people to realize that information and communication technology is not a utopian, magical answer to all problems. Obviously we need to consider the entire life-cycle of all products — including those related to information and communication. (While this task is not trivial, thinking about the "second order" effects while extremely important, is even more difficult to do meaningfully. The effects of the automobile on all aspects of life, including attitudes on sex, as well as the effects of the size of the weapons industry in the U.S. on foreign policy are both intriguing examples of unforeseen side-effects.) Understanding the entire "cradle-to-grave" (and beyond! as in the case of toxins that can reach out from the grave to poison air and water) is critical, but what should be done with the information? It may be easiest to require that every manufactured or imported product is covered under an ecologically-sound "Take-it-Back" (SVTC, 2005) policy that requires the manufacturer or importer to pay for recovery or safe sequestering of hazardous materials.

Free Geek was started in Portland, Oregon in 2000 by members of the open source software community to bring resources to bear on the problems of e-waste and the digital divide by helping "the needy get nerdy." The Free Geek approach combines participatory education and environmentalism. Free Geek addresses the problem of discarded computers and other electronic e-waste can be diminished by reusing and recycling. Free Geek uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology. Volunteers are eligible to receive a computer after finishing a tour of service which educates the volunteer about computers and about the environmental impacts of ICT. The city government in Portland, as part of their effort to reduce e-waste helps support the project. A broad range of people are working together to cross the economic and social divides by working towards a common goal. The Free Geek concept has quickly spread to other areas including Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The Free Geek approach is not the only way to address the problem of lacking a community recycling program. There are many similar projects throughout the country that may or may not use open source software. But Free Geek is worth mentioning here for many reasons. First, Free Geek was developed by civil society; second, Free Geek is a partnership between several sectors and thus helps bring all sectors of the local community into a common struggle; and, third, Free Geek is an innovative approach that deftly addresses a multitude of issues within a common set of principles, assumptions and actions.

Starting and running a Free Geek or similar program requires a variety of skills and activities. The pattern can only be implemented by a group of people. To start that group one would post meeting announcements and invite members from local Linux users groups, college students and others. Since the overall environment for this approach will vary from community to community it's important to find out what's happening in your community and who's involved. The success of the project is likely to depend on how well you understand your community and can work with people in the community. Beyond that, there are many "nuts and bolts" issues including finding space and funding and developing programs. Associating with Free Geek is probably a good idea because of its network of dedicated people, useful documents and software for running an community recycling project.

The environmental problems associated with information and communication technology are severe and no mutually agreed-upon long-term, sustainable solution has been identified. People are developing a variety of creative and thoughtful responses to the problems of ICT-related pollution but more are needed. Information and communication technology can probably be part of the solution — but part of this involves stopping be part of the problem.

Solution: 

As a necessary part of stewardship and responsibility, it's essential to come to terms with the environmental impact of information and communication systems and devise suitable strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. Some combination of policy, consumer education, habits of consumption, social and technological innovation and recycling will probably be necessary for this take place effectively.

Introductory graphic located at http://freegeek.org/volunteer.php

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although information and communication may seem abstract and immaterial, the systems that support them are built with solid things whose manufacture and disposal is often accompanied with environmental damage. We must acknowledge the environmental impact of these systems and devise strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. One group, Free Geek, uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology by reusing and recycling.

Pattern status: 
Released

Emergency Communication Systems

Pattern ID: 
618
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
121
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Natural or manmade disasters reveal the fragile nature of our social infrastructures, including our most advanced technologies, and require us to draw upon our own essential resourcefulness. Given the destruction or significant compromising of basic civic infrastructures—electrical power, water and sewage, natural gas, roadways and communications systems—individual and local capacities as well as external supports at every level must be prepared and effectively implemented to ensure personal and collective survival and wellbeing.

Context: 

Disasters require the attention of every level of society, from individuals, families, and neighborhoods to city, state, and national agencies as well as international organizations. The content and flow of information is critical at every stage, from policy development to preparation, search and rescue, recovery and the reconstruction of vital infrastructures. Therefore, to some extent, everyone may be called upon to participate in various the aspects of this pattern, not only in the area of immediate impact but in the formal development of policies, procedures and systems as well as informal, voluntary emergency responses that help to extend the safety net for those directly affected.

Discussion: 

In the space of one year, 2005, the world witnessed three major natural disasters: —the Southeast Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in the Southeast United States, and the Pakistani earthquake—, and all were reminders as to how quickly even the most basic and essential structures can literally be swept away in a matter for moments. A spotlight was also cast on pre-existing environmental conditions, policy decisions, inadequate preparation, and either dysfunctional or non-existing communication systems that either led to or intensified the extent of damage and loss of life.

This pattern encompasses three different periods that focus upon emergency situations: (1) the pre-existing conditions and preparations prior to the occurrence of any disaster, (2) the actual disaster and immediate response, and (3) the longer term recovery and reconstruction of physical and social infrastructures. While all levels of society are involved, the particular focus of this pattern is on the initiative and actions of civil society.

In the period prior to any disaster, the focus is on advocacy for effective policies, including the remediation of social and environmental conditions that might prevent or at least moderate the damage of a disaster and the establishment of evacuation, response preparations, and the storage of food and medical supplies as well as the setting up of emergency communications networks and facilities. For example, Seattle Disaster Aid & Response Teams (SDART) calls for neighborhoods to be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days by organizing teams that draw upon local resources and skills. The program trains neighborhood teams and sponsors functional drills to rehearse roles and responsibilities.. In terms of advocating for improved communications systems and facilities, the World Dialogue on Regulation for Network Economies has compiled a special dossier on the role of regulators and policymakers in ensuring that adequate emergency communications are available.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the delivery of food, shelter and medical care can be hours, days, even weeks away. Tasks that must be handled by the stricken residents, as outlined and assigned to teams under the SDART model, include damage assessment, first aid, safety & security, light search & rescue, and providing sheltering & special needs. Communications responsibilities include monitoring emergency radio broadcasts, keeping neighbors informed of relevant information, relaying information about damage via amateur radio operators, satellite radio, cell phones, signs, or whatever means are available. In the longer period of reconstruction following a disaster, when additional external resources can be brought into play, it is vitally important to ensure close coordination.

The very young and very old, as well as the poor face the greatest risk, in the short and long-term aftermath of catastrophe, often related to the worsening of already existing conditions of poor health and nutrition and inadequate housing. UNICEF studies of groups hit by warfare and famine show it is critical to provide the correct mix and balance of relief services and providing not only food but public health assistance to prevent massive outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Civil society is capable of organizing large-scale efforts in the wake of disasters as demonstrated by the Katrina PeopleFinder Project and the Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog SEA-EAT blog associated with the East Asian tsunami. Other projects to assist in the reestablishment of communications systems include the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s (CNT) Wireless Community Network project and supportive efforts by the Champaigne-Urbana Community Wireless Networks for both developed and developing nations.

One of the most common approaches for alleviating at least part of the challenge of communications around emergency situations is the idea of open, non-proprietary protocols, the "secret ingredient" behind the Internet's phenomenal success. The Common Alerting Protocol is one such data interchange protocol and the Partnership for Public Warming (2006) is working on a wide variety of efforts to resolve national standards, protocols and priorities.

Even areas far distant from the disaster must also be prepared to handle a mass displacement of populations, possibly for extended periods of time.

Solution: 

Therefore, individuals, public agencies, environmental advocates, and international relief organizations needs to continually reassess their level of preparedness and coordination in response to humanitarian emergencies. This means thinking and planning for the short-, medium- and long-term as well as continuing to address persistent issues of poverty and debilitating economic conditions. Information and communication technologies can play important roles in this area — but in order for the technologies to be useful, the people in areas where emergencies do or might occur and people outside of those areas must both assume leadership for genuine progress to be made.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Disasters require the attention of every level of society, including individuals, families, and neighborhoods as well as city, state, national, and international agencies and organizations. The content of Emergency Communication Systems and the dynamic and flexible flow of information through them are critical at every stage, including policy development, preparation, search and rescue, recovery, and reconstruction of vital infrastructures.

Pattern status: 
Released

Labor Visions

Pattern ID: 
771
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
112
Nancy Brigham
independent web designer and activist
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Fifty years ago, there was little doubt that unions had dramatically raised living standards for workers. But while more than one in three American workers belonged to a union in the early 1950s, today scarcely one in ten workers do. As companies move jobs away from unionized workplaces, it’s no coincidence that fewer workers have health insurance and that pay has stagnated. Non-union workers are only one-fifth as likely to have reliable defined-benefit pensions. In their heyday, American unions became somewhat complacent, confident that they were an accepted part of American life and secure in their ability to bargain middle-class living standards for millions of workers. Many neglected the need to vigorously organize new members or reach out to the public.

Context: 

New technology has helped businesses consolidate into huge multinationals that swiftly move jobs around the world to where labor costs are the lowest. This has vastly strengthened the power of employers to keep workers from unionizing and getting a fair shake. American workers watch their jobs transfered to Mexico, where workers can be controlled by management-run unions. When Mexican workers organize real unions, they encounter government hostility and threats to move work to China. In this global

Discussion: 

Recent surveys show that U.S. workers want to join unions. But employers often prevent this from happening by illegally threatening or firing union activists. More than 23,000 U.S. workers are dismissed or punished each year for exercising their legal rights to form or join a union.

Trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT further weaken worker power. While they strongly protect corporate intellectual property and investment, they open up nations to unfettered competition in terms of jobs and living standards. Even workers in high-tech fields like programming see their wages and job security battered by international outsourcing.

Unions have historically helped workers overcome this competition by uniting them to win across-the-board justice for the majority. In the 1900s they won equal pay and benefits across whole industries like automobiles and steel. The challenge today is to overcome international competition and join hands to win good wages and conditions worldwide.

The challenge is daunting to say the least. The AFL-CIO split in 2005 when several big unions formed a new federation that pledged to organize more vigorously. This division, however, may also dilute the clout of labor to act in concert. Nonetheless, steps being taken today suggest ways we can move toward the vision of global worker justice and unionism, aided by fast, global Internet communications. These steps include: •

  • Build broad support for workers and communities, regardless of location or whether there is a union contract, and apply pressure to encourage government support for workers.

    People can join AFL-CIO campaigns to support better laws and worker rights at workingamerica.org. The Jobs for Justice coalition also rallies public support for worker-justice battles. The campaign against Wal-Mart, one of the most powerful economic forces on earth, is proof that the movement can reach beyond its members. Wal-Mart paved the way for retailers to aggressively demand lower costs from producers around the world. The union movement is using the Internet to tap into a broad reservoir of resentment to these tactics, including small businesses and towns devastated by Wal-Mart super-stores, states fed up with covering health costs Wal-Mart should have paid for its own workers, and young people upset with the Wal-Mart-ization of culture and opportunities. Laws are being passed in Chicago and elsewhere to demand that major retailers pay good wages and benefits. •

  • Connect with immigrants and workers across national borders to build permanent support networks and apply global pressure on companies and governments to respect workers.

    Given the vast distances and differences in living standards, culture and language, as well as interference from repressive governments, reaching across borders is not easy. To succeed, unions must connect with other social movements and take maximum advantage of technology to communicate quickly and cheaply around the world. •

  • Organize globally against corporate threats to play workers against each other.

    The New York-based National Labor Committee exposes the appalling conditions in foreign sweatshops through creative media events that attract support from churches and the public. The Campaign for Labor Rights in the U.S., Britain’s LabourStart and the U.S.-based UE electrical workers union (which publishes a virtual newsletter on Mexican labor and is allied with a democratic Mexican union) also organize powerful email campaigns to support union struggles around the world, while groups like the Comité Fronterizo de Obreros organize on the ground across borders.

  • Challenge the commercialization of culture and inspire an ethical framework in which people are called upon to make sacrifices – such as not buying products made in sweatshops – to press for gains that benefit all.

    Students are organizing to support labor rights locally and globally. The first group of Mexican workers to organize at a maquila clothing factory (i.e., a factory producing products for export under conditions favoring multinationals) was at the Korean-owned Mexmode factory in Puebla. A courageous strike by young women workers won a new union in 2001 through key support from the U.S.-based United Students against Sweatshops, which in turn is allied with labor and global anti-sweatshop groups. They quickly mobilized using the Internet. •

  • Share technical ideas, information and organizing experiences with activists and labor supporters worldwide.

    Academics have been sharing information globally on labor organizing, as evidenced at the Global Unions conference sponsored by Cornell in 2006. And union supporters from several nations meet biannually at LaborTech conferences to showcase creative uses of modern communications. •

  • Push for trade agreements that protect not just corporate investment but workers’ rights, with trade penalties for mistreating workers. Insist on democratic input into international trade rules.

    Several Latin American governments have rejected the neo-liberal basis of modern trade agreements and the anti-worker conditions imposed by lending institutions. In 2006, a popular French revolt against watering down job protections for young workers won a surprise victory. Recent rounds of trade talks have failed, and Mexican voters turned out en masse for Lopez Obrador, who wants to renegotiate NAFTA.

The labor movement cannot and will not die. Workers are struggling for union rights around the globe -- even against the greatest of odds. And the public is increasingly supportive.

Solution: 

After decades of losing ground, unions and advocates of worker justice are striving to overcome the competition for jobs that pits worker against worker in a global “race to the bottom.” A vision of global progress, based on humane values, solidarity and local community, can motivate a union movement that transcends borders and involves all workers and allies. The Wal-Mart campaign, the anti-sweatshop movement and international networking are evidence that unions, the public, foreign workers and academics are reaching out in new ways to form support networks to raise standards for all workers. And they are pressuring governments to reject the neo-liberal trade policies that disadvantage workers, and insist on trade rules that require justice for workers.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

As companies move jobs away from unionized workplaces, fewer workers have health insurance and pay has stagnated. New technology has helped businesses create huge multinationals that move jobs to where labor costs are the lowest. Labor Visions, based on humane values, solidarity and local community, can motivate a union movement that transcends borders and involves all workers and their allies.

Pattern status: 
Released

Arts of Resistance

Pattern ID: 
437
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
111
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Repression and other forms of injustice and other social ills are often overlooked, dismissed in a cursory way, or deemed to be inevitable and immutable. Even when these problems are acknowledged, resistance to them is shallow, erratic, uncoordinated and ineffectual. Although art can be used to deliver a message of inspiration and information for the disempowered, it is often irrelevant; it can be a tool of the powerful and a diversion of the wealthy. In many cases, a distracting and ubiquitous corporate media has replaced the tradition of people and communities telling their own stories.

Context: 

People and societies around the world have over the years developed their own versions of hell on earth that some subset of its inhabitants is obliged to endure. These regions exist within all societies, but vary in size and in magnitude of abuse ranging from neglect to active repression.

Discussion: 

Artists occupy a unique role in society. Through a diversity of approaches, they explore new terrains that words alone are incapable of describing. Art can address issues, help solve problems and even serve as a "public psychiatrist" that surfaces social anxieties. Art speaks to places that other languages can't and affects consciousness on a level that we don't understand and can't map. Some, but not all, artists work for social and environmental justice. Notably artists can explore ideas of personal or societal importance or they can operate within a world circumscribed by religious authorities, corporations or the art-buying public, a decidedly privileged class economically.

The "world" that "resistance" strives to understand and confront provides an exhaustible fount of inspiration for artists – professionals and non-professionals alike. The media through which messages and stories can be conveyed includes T-shirts (indeed, wearing the wrong t-shirt is an invitation to harassment, fines, and imprisonment in my regions and countries around the world) and comics and zines, opera, ballet, graffiti, murals, sculpture, film, film or many other approaches. Art can be immersive and engaging; it can help build community and involve the "audience" in rituals or processions. Art can be an invidual or collective effort, big or small, public or anonymous, clandestine and furtive, In can be created by children or by people or emotionally disturbed. The art of homeless people, refugees, or incarcerated people is likely to present a view of the world that the rest of us may not see.

Resistance art brings hidden knowledge out of the shadows. The historic roots of contemporary experience, a common theme of Chicano murals, such as those created by Los Cybrids collective, in Los Angeles and other southwestern cities in the US explore themes of identity and hybridity. Another approach is to present the reality of a situation in a documentary style, such as Walker Evans' sparse, unadorned depression era photographs of the rural poor. Another approach is exemplified by George Grosz's grotesque and piercing caricatures of militarists and war-profiteers, or Hitler garbed in a bearskin.

In the 1980s, Artists of the World Against Apartheid based in France issued a broad appeal to artists around the world to contribute anti-apartheid works of art. Ernest Pignon-Ernest of France and Antonio Saura of Spain worked unselfishly for two years to make it happen. A major exhibition was mounted in late 1983 at the Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques in Paris. Since the organizers had stipulated in advance that the art would be held in trust and given to the people of South Africa on the occasion of "the first free and democratic government by universal suffrage" as the basis of an anti-apartheid museum, the collection was moved to South Africa at the request of president Nelson Mandela.

A similar event took place in the U.S. two decades later. With the invasion of Iraq looming, first lady Laura Bush, picked an inopportune time to invite poet Sam Hamill to a special White House event, "Poetry and the American Voice," which was to celebrate the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes. Instead of being seduced by to the allure of power and prestige, Hamill refused Bush's invitation. Instead he emailed several friends asking them for poems on the theme of war which would be bound and presented to Bush. This ignited a poetic firestorm that claimed no national border. Inspired by Hamill's defiance, a web site (http://www.poetsagainstthewar.org) was established that provided a platform for poets around the world to express their feelings related to the impending war. The site proved immediately and enormously popular – at its peak it was averaging several new poems a minute. Now the site has over 20,000 poems online – including works by Adrienne Rich, W.S. Merwin. and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and spotlights several poems per week. The project ultimately published two volumes of poetry and an excellent documentary film, "Poets in Wartime," was inspired by the effort. Moreover, the work engendered a non-profit organization, "Poets Against War", was formed with the simple yet direct mission statement: "Poets Against War continues the tradition of socially engaged poetry by creating venues for poetry as a voice against war, tyranny and oppression."

This episode (Poets Against War) raises the general question of the role of occupational groups and whether there is an implicit or explicit obligation to help deter aggression and war. A short list of such candidates would include teachers, religious leaders, engineers, journalists, farmers, and doctors and nurses and other caregivers. A longer list would include almost everybody – for very few people in the world actually want to be within war's lethal compass, as either participant or as innocent bystander.

Another fascinating example, is the beehive design collective, an amazing anarchic and itinerant design collective that, although home-based in Vermont, travels around the world to create region-specific murals. Members often work with indigenous or other people to develop murals that capture the unique circumstances of the people who live there. The murals they develop grow organically; containing a variety of elements sinuously weaving indigenous plans and animals, historic referents, and symbols of corporate and colonial domination, with images of fanciful and realistic resistance.

Resistance art has many audiences. In the anti-apartheid movement, for example, the audience would obviously include the victims of apartheid and the supporters of their struggle. It would also include the people who believe themselves neutral of hadn't thought about apartheid from a moral standpoint and people who were actively promulgating it: politicians, policemen, the media, and business spokespeople who benefited from the cheap labor provided by the marginalized victims. Beyond that, the audience extended to the rest of the world. Many people outside of South Africa worked on anti-apartheid campaigns. Gill Scott-Heron's anti-apartheid anthem, "Johannesburg," was played on the radio in US cities, where its uncomfortable references to big segregated cities in the US like New York and Philadelphia showed that South Africa was not the only country in the world where prejudice and racism flourished.

From Goya and Picasso to Johannesburg's T-shirt artists of and anonymous graffiti artists around the world, resistance artists, generally acting on their own – have portrayed the horrors of war or other abominations. Activists in Seattle, hoping to help cultivate a supportive community network for resistance artists have convened an Arts of Resistance conference for the past two years. Through workshops, presentations, videos, and, most importantly, through face-to-face dialogue and debate, the idea that art can be socially transformative became more widely recognized and more thoughtfully practiced.

People ultimately also need to be reminded of two things – that they are not impotent and disconnected spectators but active and engaged participants in the ongoing vibrant fabric of life. Art, therefore, can tell the story of the ongoing struggle while suggesting ways for people to take part. It can also sketch out, in possibly indistinct and uncertain terms, a future that may exist, after successful struggles, where children, and their children, and their children's children do not experience the daily injury of living in an unjust and unhealthy world.

Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, a longtime foe of apartheid, notes that when resistance art is successful, "People come to the forceful realization that they are not entirely the impotent playthings of powerful forces." According to Tutu, resistance art, whether it's a play, song or T-shirt represents, "a proud defiance of the hostile forces that would demean and dehumanize."

Solution: 

Art can convey beauty, love and joy. It can also convey justice, fairness, dignity and resistance. Engaging in art can hone creativity by encouraging exploration within a plastic medium. The future itself is a plastic medium and we will never know how malleable it is if we don't explore it. Resistance art can be a seed that helps people understand their situation and how they might work to improve it.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Repression and other forms of injustice and other social ills are often overlooked, or seen as inevitable. Art can be used to deliver a message of inspiration and information for the disempowered. Art can convey beauty, love and joy. It can also convey justice, fairness, dignity and resistance. The future itself is a plastic medium, a canvas that we all help paint. Arts of Resistance can be seeds that helps people understand their situation and how they might work to improve it.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Rebel Chicano Art Front

Control of Self Representation

Pattern ID: 
483
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
109
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

How people are represented — in speech, story, or image — will influence to some degree how they are perceived — by themselves and others — and, hence, are treated. Africa, for example, is typically presented to the rest of the world — and to Africans as well — by CNN and other western media — not by Africans or African media. This problem, of couse, is not confined to Africa. Poor people everywhere are portrayed — if they're portrayed at all — as nameless and voiceless, rarely as people with ideas, aspirations, creativity, culture or values.

Context: 

This pattern is applicable in any setting where information about one group of people is being developed and distributed by another group of people.

Discussion: 

"More recently, in later modernity the theme of the everyday has been considerably more prominent. But this does not mean that questions about who is representing for whom and why and how have been resolved. Issues about legitimacy of representation remain crucial, and indeed I shall argue that how to articulate and represent the everyday is the main issue in the politics of culture." - David Chaney (2002)

Non-whites, convicts, the poor, sick, starving people, flood victims, uneducated, aged, rural as well as intellectuals, dissidents, gender, ethnic and other marginalized groups are often the victim of mis-representation. Their presentations are often paper-thin, stereotypical at best. (While mention of other people are simply omitted; they don't exist.) The net result is a compelling, free-floating image of "normalcy" that serves as a model to be emulated.

This pattern represents a concept that gets very little notice. After all, there is really no way to fully control your representation or what people do with it. Ultimately it’s an expression of power: Who is creating the representations, under what conditions, and how can they be maintained, changed, or challenged? When somebody else is determining how you will be represented you have been robbed of your right to defend yourself, to make your own case for who you are. On some level, it's a type of identity theft. Who you are has been determined elsewhere and stamped on you.

Why bother with representations? Is there really anything to worry about? Are there any negative implications? Yes. For one thing, there seems to be substantial evidence that people start believeing their own representations — and act according to them. Representations, unfortunately, can have exceedingly long life spans since culture tends to replicate itself. Also people individually see little reason to change the way they view the world unless there is a compelling reason to rethink themselves.

This pattern on the one hand depicts the need for people everywhere to grab hold of their own representation and challenge the mechanisms (generally of media production) that perpetuates the stereotypes. At this level of analysis the pattern recommends a more accurate and bi-directional approach to "representation" — often of entire countries, ethnic and other marginalized populations. At a deeper level this pattern seeks to remedy a problem much more insidious -- that of a steady colonization from "within."

The importance of this pattern is obvious. It's why people may be suspicious when others are talking about them. It's why big corporations and political parties spend enormous sums on public relations and "spinning" news and other information to their advantage. Corporations and government agencies have elaborate and professional strategies for ensuring that their public portrait is painted according to their specifications. Movies stars, writers, etc. have their own publicists whose job it is to bring (or push) certain information to certain people. On the other hand, powerful people and institutions also go to great lengths to keep some information submerged and hidden forever.

There are several tools for addressing these problems. People in the group who may be perpetrating the stereotypes — white males (like me) for example — have the responsibility to acknowledge these transgressions and strive to overcome them. Media literacy and media critique are two skills worth developing and media monitoring is a worthwhile way to develop a fact base that can be used to confront the mis-representers. Much of this work should be done at a community level: the analyses should be shared, for example, with the community because it's often the community that is being mis-represented. Also, as was alluded to earlier, it may even be possible that members of the mis-represented community may be unconsciously living down to the stereotypes of their community.

Media is essentially a one-way street, a mute, wall-to-wall hallucinatory enclosure. (Although people do interpret according to their own rules that the media doesn't necessarily control.) The "message" of this medium is rarely acknowledged — it is truly the fabled 800-pound gorilla. Like a voice in your head, its message is compelling and persistent. It won't go away! It sows indecision while removing individual autonomy and opportunities for authentic social learning. Yet media producers aren't necessarily evil. Often laziness, lack of imagination (cloning the popular movie), and financial decisions factor in.

Solution: 

The first step to addressing this problem is to acknowledge that it exists. Since the media (and cultural representations generally) are so ubiquitous that it's hard to believe that there is a bias, however implicit. The second obstacle is thinking that nothing can be done about this. As you dig deeper in this you may simultaneously be amazed at the extent of the problem and your desire to help overcome it.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Whether through speech, story, or image how people are represented influences how they're perceived and treated. Non-whites, incarcerated, sick or starving people, disaster victims, uneducated, aged, and rural people as well as many others marginalized by gender or ethnicity are misrepresented. One cannot fully control self-representation but it can be addressed. The first step is increasing awareness of the problem; the second is analysis; the third is action.

Pattern status: 
Released

Online Anti-Poverty Community

Pattern ID: 
743
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
103
Penny Goldsmith
PovNet
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Anti-poverty advocates and activists are isolated in their own communities. They often do not have the communications and education and training resources they need to do their work. Poor people do not have the information they need to exercise control over their lives and get the resources to which they are entitled or to advocate effectively for themselves.

Lack of access to communication severely limits opportunities for building communities where poor people can help themselves access the resources they need and for advocates and activists in the anti-poverty community to be involved in organizing for social change locally, nationally and internationally.

Context: 

The players in this online movement include poor people and advocates involved with community advocacy groups, settlement workers, multicultural groups, seniors organizations, disability groups, legal aid, test case interveners, labor organizations, public libraries, women

Discussion: 

Poverty is a debilitating worldwide problem that affects poor people directly as well as society at large. Although access to information and resources is critical to overcoming poverty and alleviating the problems of people living in poverty, poor people and anti-poverty advocates traditionally have less access to the Internet and other communications technologies.

Although poverty and computers do not make for an obvious alliance, it is clear the two worlds must connect unless we want to have a society where access to information and resources is only for those who can afford it.

Public access sites are rarely adequate to satisfy public need; users need people to help them do online research and free printers to print out forms and information. Hosts of public access sites need funding to keep equipment up-to-date and tech support to keep computers and Internet connections running smoothly. Lack of access to communication makes it difficult to connect communities in the anti-poverty world outside their local regions.

PovNet is a non-profit society created in British Columbia, Canada in 1997. It is an online resource for anti-poverty advocates and poor people, created to assist poor people and advocates involved in the communities identified above through an integration of offline and online technology and resources.

PovNet works with advocates and activists across Canada involved in direct case work and social action and justice. Some of these groups include:

* The National Anti-Poverty Organization (http://www.napo-onap.ca/), a national voice for poor people, working to eliminate poverty in Canada

* The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/), a left-wing think tank doing research for change in social policy

* Canadian Social Research Links (http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/), an all-inclusive resource for social policy information about poverty in Canada

* DisAbled Women's Network of Ontario (http://dawn.thot.net/), an online inclusive community fostering virtual activism and individual empowerment locally and globally

* The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) (http://www.fafia-afai.org/home.php), a coalition of over 50 Canadian women’s equality-seeking and related organizations organized to further women’s equality in Canada through domestic implementation of its international human rights commitments.

* The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) (http://www.tdrc.net/), a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti-poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community who provide advocacy on housing and homelessness issues and lobby the Canadian government to end homelessness by implementing a fully funded National Housing Program.

PovNet has become an online home for advocates in BC and across Canada. Its Web site provides regularly updated information about issues and policy changes.

Using PovNet resources is an interactive process. Advocates learn the tools because they find them useful in order to do the social justice and case work that they care about; poor and otherwise marginalized people find the Web site when they need information that is relevant to their lives.

For example, PovNet email lists have grown over the years into invaluable resources for specific campaigns (for example the Raise the Rates campaigns in both Ontario and British Columbia to raise welfare rates). They also provide an online support network for advocates working in sometimes quite isolated areas in British Columbia or in other parts of Canada.

As one advocate put it: "I love the PovNet list - on the lighter side there's the kibitzing going on amongst the subscribers which often brings me to laughter - always a good thing in this job. On the serious side - the exchange of ideas and generous sharing of experience is a huge boon to those of us who often don't have time to pick up the phone to seek advice from our colleagues."

Another subscriber says: "The lists that I am a subscriber provide me with first-hand current information on what issues are affecting BC residents and/or newcomers. I am able to provide useful information and referrals to some of the requests coming through PovNet lists. They are an invaluable and efficient resource for community advocates, settlement and family workers, especially those issues that are time-sensitive and need an immediate response."

Other PovNet tools include a Web site which is updated once a month with new information, online education and training courses (PovNet U) for poor people (for example the course, "Be Your Own Advocate") and for advocates ("Introduction to Advocacy," "Disability Appeals" and "Tenants' Rights"), as well as an online space for anti-poverty community groups to have their own Web spaces, calendars, and discussion boards.

PovNet is a flexible in that it can adapt to needs as specific campaigns emerge. For example, we set up an email list for a new campaign to raise welfare rates, and created an online hub for papers and press releases when a group of anti-poverty activists traveled to the United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of the social and economic rights of poor people in Canada.

Building a successful online movement in anti-poverty communities includes, first and foremost, the people. Start by finding local community workers who want to broaden their connections, getting together key people (without computers) to talk about what is needed and identify the technological limitations, communicate with advocates and activists in diverse anti-poverty communities, both urban and rural, First Nations, aboriginal, different cultural communities, disability groups, women, youth, seniors, workers, human rights and anti-poverty workers, and international anti-poverty workers.

Then identify the barriers, which could include access to the technology (education, money, literacy, language), how to share information, resources and skills between "have" and "have-not" advocacy communities (e.g. community advocates and advocates in funded agencies, etc.), researching how to provide online resources in languages other than English and how to provide an online space for poor people to communicate and access information via public access sites and interactive Web-based resources.

Barriers for advocates and activists using PovNet tools have changed over the years. Initially, fear of technology was a big factor. But as advocates observed its use as a communications tool, they taught and continue to teach each other. Money for computers and printers is an ongoing problem; as the technology demands higher-end equipment. For example, advocates in rural communities with dialup access get frustrated with attachments that take up all their dialup time. The anti-poverty work becomes harder as governments slash social services; the advocates have fewer resources to do their work. Technology cannot address such needs.

Despite the difficulties, the network continues to grow, establish links with other organizations both in Canada and internationally, and exchange ideas and strategies for advancing social change.

Solution: 

The most effective online anti-poverty communities are constructed from the bottom up rather than the top down. Their resources are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address the need for online anti-poverty activism as it arises. Electronic resources can provide additional tools, but they are activated and made useful by the underlying human and locally based networks where the work of advocacy is actually being done.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Because anti-poverty advocates and activists often don't have the education and training resources or communications they need, their opportunities for building communities are limited. At the same time, poor and marginalized people don't have the information they need to exercise control over their lives or get the resources they need. The most effective online anti-poverty communities are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address needs as they arise.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
PovNet

Informal Learning Groups

Pattern ID: 
757
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
98
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Overemphasis upon formal education can lead to an oversight of alternative learning methods that could be more appropriate within certain contexts. Particularly, for adult populations looking to increase their understanding on relevant subjects, the option of pursuing formal training is not conducive due to the investment in time and extra resources it takes. As a result, people find it difficult to acquire the skills necessary for them to address a radically changing global economy, and thus many capable people continue to remain behind.

Context: 

In cities, in villages, in the work place, or an internet cafe, even in a coffee shop amongst friends, learning can and does take place. Individuals and groups of people can come together to share their knowledge in structured or non structured ways to actively engage one another to mutually build each others understandings. When other methods of learning are not available, and yet the skills necessary to gain better employment, or the building of awareness on specific issues facing a community are needed for achieving greater livelihoods; informal learning processes can serve as an effective alternate route to meet the needs of communites and individuals.

Discussion: 

In a variety of settings from the workplace to village level development initiatives, informal learning through group interactions and individual self-teaching can be an effective tool for developing new skill sets, alternative ideas and even new approaches to advancing livelihoods.

What is informal learning? There is a hot debate among many educators as to what it really is, especially since its practice has become more common place within developed countries as businesses and employees attempt to stay abreast with the latest developments in technologies, and management practices so that they can collectively and individually remain competitive in a market driven environment.

Definition:

  • Informal work-related adult education activities that take place without an instructor. Examples of such activities include on-the-job demonstrations by a supervisor or coworker; on-the-job mentoring or supervised training; self-paced study using books, videos, or computer-based software; attendance at brown-bag or informal presentations; and attendance at conferences, trade shows, or conventions related to one’s work or career (nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/glossary/i.asp).
  • Occurs in everyday life and may not even be recognized as learning by the individual. For example, using a television guide may not be equated by an individual as having learned how to use a table. Related concepts/terms include: incidental learning (www.nald.ca/adultlearningcourse/glossary.htm).

To better illustrate, here is a visual aid used to describe informal learning processes based upon information need.


It has been cited that, "Many times we can find the answer in the world around us, through either people, or formal courses, or bits of information. When it's not found (whether it doesn't exist or a search is incomplete), we go into a problem-solving mode. Then we need data, and analytical frameworks. If we do it in conjunction with others, we need collaboration and/or communication tools. Finally, if we solve it, we (should) close the loop by either adapting the materials to account for this problem in the future, or to create new material (Quinn, 2002)".

In the developing country, informal learning has gained a reputation as a tool for meeting a number of goals that not only include skills training, but also civic and health related education that can be acquired through individual inquiry, as well as through group interactions. Similarly, adult literacy projects that utilize an informal education approach (predominately among women populations) have gained increasing prevalence. In fact, women participants of local self-help groups often support one another through imparting knowledge to one another, they can help to tutor each other in their homes for building up literacy and educating each other on personal finance.

When done in a group context an informal learning project can consist of a number of group led demonstrations that relate to managing one’s personal finances, to starting a business, as well as how to use a computer for e-mail and even how to access your political representatives. The learning spaces are as dynamic and varied as the topics and the people often involved in them. Sometimes these groups are started through simple conversations among neighbors, or the group is seeded with support by an outside agency that brings some structure to the initial group development but after time allows the groups to be autonomous and define its own interests and pursuits.

Similarly, online learning groups can assist its members in learning new software, or computer programming. Take for instance the number of user forums dedicated to asking and answer technology related questions. This exchange among participants constitutes an informal learning group in which information is shared that ultimately builds upon the skills of the participants. In this online dialogue, individuals bring to the group their own experiences and expertise to share with other members of the group to help support a mutual sharing of knowledge. Even those not openly communicating with the group can benefit from finding answers to their own questions. As new doors are opened through this process new levels of curiosity emerge that can aid in the further participation in the group.

While these types of learning communities are contingent upon access to information technology; in other contexts these groups can meet within their geographical proximity. Community animator can act as a facilitator by asking participants questions that help them ask new questions or find answers to question that they may have not known how to answer before.

Regardless of how a group is organized the informal learning group serves two basic functions to provide access to information and knowledge creation as well as evoking a deeper level of individual curiosity among participants and to prompt them towards greater levels of self-enrichment, whether that be for financial gains or merely inner personal gains.

Though informal learning has gained greater focus over the years within development related education and beyond, technologies and access to information resources can make this pattern difficult to effectively utilize. While usage of these groups in development initiatives is high its difficult to ascertain whether or not they have had the level of benefit being represented through the increased effectiveness among employees with the corporations of more highly developed countries. While, this does not mean that informal learning groups are inadequate but it perhaps highlights the acceleration of learning possessed by those who have greater access to information on a larger scale. For this reason this pattern could be made more effective within a development related context through the linking with other patterns that emphasize technology infrastructure an alternative access to information for groups.

Solution: 

As an approach to improving the capacities of peoples involved in any number of development schemes designed to address local livelihoods, informal learning groups can provide an alternative avenue for supporting life-long learning spurring individual curiosities and the acquisition of new skills.

Community leaders, self-help groups, development agencies and local employers can all act as initiators in the upstart of informal learning groups and encourage and overall culture of participatory learning geared to meet the interests and needs of the community. All of these can be done through communities meetings, general or directed interactions during tea/coffee breaks, these opportunities can be pursued and developed at the local internet cafe or even time can be set aside by employers who realize the benefits of supporting a more educated and curious workforce.

Overall, the pattern tends to be mutually reinforcing as knowledge is created curiosity tends to be ignited furthering greater levels of self and group directed investigations. It's up to individuals, groups, communities and businesses to promote these endeavors, and thereby increase the intellectual capabilities of its local residents.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Overemphasis on formal education can overshadow more appropriate learning methods. This is especially true for adults with time and money constraints. Informal Learning Groups can support life-long learning, skill-building, and curiosity. Community leaders, self-help groups, development agencies, and local employers can help launch educational projects that encourage a culture of participatory learning to meet community needs.

Pattern status: 
Released

Citizenship Schools

Pattern ID: 
788
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
96
Lewis A. Friedland
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Carmen J. Sirianni
Brandeis University, Dept. of Sociology
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Some of the the skills of citizenship, like basic communication and cooperation, grow from skills we learn in daily life. Others, like deliberating with others, defining problems, collaboration on common projects, and organizing are not so basic: they, often, need to be learned. Not long ago, associations and intermediary institutions–social and professional clubs, religious congregations, neighborhood schools–rooted in local communities were the main places where these skills were learned. Today, there are fewer contexts in everyday life to learn them. People are less connected in and to local communities and often learn about what's important in the media. Increasingly, general discussion about political and civic issues is occuring on and through the Internet. But it is easier to find information on the Net than to learn reflexively with others. The Net only partly lends itself to learning collaborative citizenship skills. Further, many lower-income people, in the U.S. and around the world, still lack access to the Net. Therefore citizenship schools are needed to build civic skills in both local communities and on the Net.

Context: 

In order to act effectively, people need to learn and apply the skills of citizenship. Everyone who wants to find a democratic and lasting solution to deep and complex problems needs these skills and they are open to anyone to learn and teach. But there are also experts-civic practitioners, government officials and civil servants, teachers and scholars, civic and community organizers

Discussion: 

Citizenship Schools originated in South Carolina in 1959, and quickly spread throughout the South through the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. In the late 1950s many Southern states had literacy tests, that required people to be able to read and write, and sometimes answer "citizenship" questions (generally designed to exclude blacks from voting). Teaching large numbers of African-Americans in the South to read, write, and learn about citizenship was critical in the larger struggle for civil rights, including the right to vote. According to Andrew Young and Ella Baker, movement leaders, the Citizenship education program was the "foundation on which the entire movement was built." (1) But communities with Citizenship Schools had few ways to make connections with other communities that lasted over time. Eventually, as the early fights for civil rights were won, the schools faded.

The spirit of the schools lived on through the decades that followed in hundreds of civic training programs conducted by organizations and local communities. Faith-based community organizations like the Industrial Areas Foundation train local clergy and lay organizers who learn to conduct campaigns and forums to build consensus on issue agendas like housing, school reform or job training. Environmental watershed, forestry, eco-system restoration and justice movements and others, teach citizens and youth to collect data and monitor environmental quality while building skills of civic trust and cooperation. And new civic movements to build a new model of the public and civic university are growing, like the Council on Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota .

Citizenship Schools have also beeen tried online. In 1994, the American Civic Forum met to try to address a widely perceived crisis in political life and civic culture in the U.S. The Citizenship Schools were an imoprtant model and a Civic Practices Network (CPN) was built, to use the newly emerging technology of the Internet to build skills of citizenship. CPN, launched that year, sought to facilitate broad and multimedia sharing of best cases, civic stories, mutual evaluations, and mentoring opportunities. Other independent civic networks also emerged around this time, including LibertyNet in Philadelphia, and Civic Net. Despite the growth of the Internet, however, no broad network connected and nurtured these activities.

As the web matured beginning around 2000 finding information on many topics of civic interest-public deliberation, the environment, youth, education, health care, communication-became relatively easier for individuals. But the new problem was how to link these groups together to not only provide information in their own specialized subfields, but to create an active environment for teaching, learning, and collaboration while also building a larger sense of solidarity in citizenship. National civic portals to aggregate the growing number of civic sites and discussions on the Net were one proposed answer. But by 2003 or so with the emergence of the blogosphere, the topology of the web itself suggested that distributed links among widely dispersed civic sites might lead to new kinds of collaboration in which a great deal of the work of gathering and connecting is done by sites in the mid-range. This is the level most appropriate for new citizenship schools on the web.

Therefore to build Citizenship Schools in local communities and institutions it is necessary to build a framework that can support many local organizing efforts with curricula and training routines that are distributed, shared, inexpensive, flexible, and sustainable. These can be done in local communities, through institutions like schools and universities, and on the web.

Local citizenship schools would necessarily be the result of pooled efforts among many active local civic organizations across different areas. Many could benefit from local government support. In Seattle, for example, the Department of Neighborhoods provides leadership and skills training to many neighborhood, environmental, and other civic groups.

Citizenship Schools through university extension and outreach could train new expert practitioners rooted in local communities. For example at the University of Minnesota, the Council on Public Engagement reaches out to both scholars and academic staff to redefine the teaching and research mission of the publci university. Potentially, certificates and university credit through university extension services and community colleges could provide individuals valuable learning resources that also support and reinforce the extended investment of time, attention, and civic commitment.

New Citizenship Schools on the web could allow collective learning in a distributed, asynchronous environment; help frame a broad civic agenda collaboratively through distributed discussion; and form a mid-range network of portals to focus attention without the intial high costs of building national space. Schools on the web could support and integrate both local and statewide efforts. The CPN is one online model indicating that there is significant demand online for serious learning material about civic practice. Deliberative-Democracy.net demonstrates how key blogger-editors can be recruited for a civic site and distribute the labor of a serious, ongoing conversation. The Liberating Voices Project [check best name] is also a key example of a distributed learning collaborative.

For the pattern to be realized online, moderate-sized hubs with committed editors will need to be seeded and a few models created. Possibly, Citizenship Schools on the web could ally with university partners, particularly in civically oriented extension programs, to provide credentials and a modest flow of support. Their life-cycle is potentially renewable. If a network of citizenship schools succeeds, it could become self sustaining, using commons models with relatively little ongoing external support.

The biggest challenge in building Citizenship Schools on a commons model is sustaining energy and collaboration, and maintaining a high quality of information. As noted, a commons model requires moderate levels of commitment from a wide core. Many of the contributers will be citizens, academics, policy makers and administrators with other jobs and commitments. Rewards will be instrinsic. A second challenge is to get citizens to commit time to learning, not to just "graze" for information.

The main critics of the concept might say that Citizenship Schools are an anachronism and depend on communities of face-to-face solidarity that are less relevant by the year. Learning doesn't take place this way anymore, despite the fact that the Citizenship Schools would be on the web. Further, getting individuals to make long-term commitments at adequate levels will be nearly impossible.

Solution: 

There are five basic steps to promoting this pattern: (1) Build Citizenship Schools in local communities, institutions and online that can aid collaborative learning; (2) Develop a sites (local and virtual) that include active learning and civic curricula that can be widely shared. (3) Find citizens (lay leaders and experts both) who can serve as teachers and editors who can make minimal but real commitments; (4) Build templates to aid the spread of learning; and (5) Create new forms of civic credentials that provide value to both individuals and communities.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Finding lasting, democratic solutions to deep and complex problems requires citizenship skills. Some are learned in daily life. Others, like deliberating, defining problems, collaborating on projects, organizing, and understanding public institutions and processes are not basic. We need Citizenship Schools in local communities and on the Internet in which citizens can come together with each other and with skilled practitioners and learn from each other.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Septima Clark Public Charter School

Citizen Diplomacy

Pattern ID: 
476
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
93
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Problem: 

When countries are antagonistic to each and have ceased diplomatic relations or are otherwise cultivating other distrustful or threatening attitudes the countries may drift into war either by accident or by design. When this antagonism becomes institutionalized, through policy, public attitude, or propaganda, warfare or other violence becomes a natural consequence. The unique powers of individual people to help overcome these rifts by calming tempers, building ties, promoting reason and dialogue, or healing wounds is rarely acknowledged or promoted. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, the efforts of the rare person who strives to develop personal connections with "the enemy" is demonized by people on both "sides."

Context: 

This pattern can be applied whenever a country's stance towards another country is antithetical to the needs and values of civil society. This can happen before, during, or after a war or other period of hostility and mistrust.

Discussion: 

The use of the concept of "citizen diplomacy" was apparently first applied when US citizens journeyed to the former Soviet Union in the 1980s and met with activists, educators, scientists, health professionals and "ordinary" citizens. These citizens — and their Soviet counterparts — did not want to accept the "inevitability"of war, either hot or cold, and sought to find common ground on which to build a more peaceful future for everybody. Citizen diplomacy offers the promise of (world?) peace by building on actual, hopeful and optimistic face-to-face encounters by citizens of the designated enemy states.

The idea for this pattern, like others in the language, arose in a specific historical context, namely in the late 1980's during the protracted "cold war" between the Warsaw Pact nations (most notably the Soviet Union) and the NATO countries (most notably the USA). Although the information reported here is based on experiences from that time, it is expected that this pattern will be applicable in a great variety of situations in which two (or more) states or other large groups are enemies. Several antagonistic dyads come to mind — India and Pakistan; Israel and the Arab States; the US and Cuba or Venezuela — and each situation contains its own unique opportunities and risks.

People who engage in projects along these lines certainly fit Richard Falk's description of a "citizen pilgrim" who is willing to go on a quixotic journey for a seemingly improbable goal.

Interestingly, especially in a pre-Internet era, many of the collaborative efforts (described in Citizen Diplomacy: Progress Report 1989: USSR) were related to the use of information and communication. Some of the projects include Children’s Art Exhibit and Book, US-USSR State Bridge Citizen Diplomacy, Moscow-DC Live Broadcast: Soviet Citizen’s Summit, Peace Lines: Computer Supported Net-working, US Kids to Siberian Computer Camp, Electronic Peace Mail Project, Video Conference: Doing Business with USSR, and World Civilization and Education Centers.

The collaborative projects themselves are subject to enormous challenges. Simply meeting with people from "the other side" presents great obstacles (including financial costs, legal restrictions on travel to — and within — the other country, privacy of communications, and access to people). Furthermore, any collaborative project, unless it is done clandestinely, will exist "at the pleasure" of the powers-that-be. In fact, one of the ultimate risks inherent in a project like this is that individuals being used or manipulated by the powers-that-be (such as the media, state power, think-tanks, political parties, or religious institutions) in ways that simply overwhelm the hopes and energy of the citizen-diplomat.

Since the unraveling of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's, the global situation as noted above has changed considerably. The rough parity of power (exemplified to some degree by the size of their nuclear weapon stockpiles) between the Warsaw Pact countries and the NATO countries and the promise of "Mutually Assured Destruction" (or MAD) helped prevent direct confrontation and led to numerous "proxy conflicts" which were sponsored in part by the combatant's respective superpower allies. The military parity has now largely dissolved and the arms race between the US and the USSR has given way to a one-sided arms race where the US appears now to be competing with the rest of the world; its military expenditures (including several new nuclear weapons) now amounts to nearly half of the world's military expenditures.

Finally it must be said that it's not obvious that collaborative projects like these will yield any long-lasting benefits. An interesting example is that when the US media entered the Soviet Union after Glasnost, they followed the routes that the citizen diplomats has established. While it's true that relations were finally normalized between the two countries, the citizen-diplomat may be well-advised that setbacks may outnumber the gains.

Solution: 

Establish contacts and develop collaborative projects between individual citizens and groups in countries or regions where relations are severely strained or non-existent.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The unique powers of individuals to help overcome antagonism between nations by calming tempers, building ties, promoting reason and dialogue, or healing wounds is rarely acknowledged or promoted. Citizen Diplomacy offers the promise of peace by building on actual, hopeful and optimistic face-to-face encounters by citizens of the designated enemy states.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Code Pink, http://www.codepink.org/
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