The Super Committee "fails." Occupiers are evicted. Cool weather comes to Miami. How do these relate if at all? I try to see the large canvas. I imagine the pieces as on a chessboard, trumping and trumped. Kinged and queened. So what is the temperature this Miami Winter? Warmer for sure, but still delightful enough to turn off the AC and open the windows wide to the remaining birdsong, garden aroma and water splash.
The failure of a bi-partisan committee to find common ground on the role of government and needs of our nation does not surprise me. The fact that cities are growing weary of direct democracy and the price tag for peaceful dissent does not surprise me. But the fact that two small towns in Miami-Dade have voted to petition Congress for a constitutional amendment to end the recognition of corporations as people does. The fact that a young college graduate created the momentum to reduce banking fees does. And the tremendous appeal of being part of the 99% mostly surprises and delights me because it was so deceptively simple. Why did we not think of this angle before?
In my Miami lifetime (now more than half of my 56 years) I have focused on building the kind of community that reflects compassion across numerous divides: race, ethnicity, income, education, ability. I have discovered ways to advocate "appreciatively," leaving room for redemption of all parties. I have promoted connecting through the heart and then applying fact and reason to divisive and perplexing complex community concerns. I have sought common ground by going to higher ground (a favorite Rev. Jim Wallis quote).
Yet the lack of public concern about inequities in our community has confounded me. I appreciated that we were a resilient and entrepreneurial place; people come to Miami or stay here largely because they have hope for a brighter future. Miamians also reflect in so many ways the rugged individualism for which Americans are famous, although over half of them are not U.S. born. What is this anomaly all about and can we tweak public attitude, trick our collective psyche, into seeing ourselves as part of a vibrant, multi-colored quilt? Can we create a "communitarian" spirit in this maximally diverse culture that recognizes our mutual interdependence? Can we coin a new-world dynamic definition of "thrive," in which investment in all our people will make us the epicenter of the multicultural world?
The appeal of the 99% opens the door if we can walk through it. The message resonates as people no longer see their struggles as unique or their failure to achieve the American dream as personal failure. Rugged individualism has not disappeared, for personal responsibility is deeply engrained in the American landscape. Yet it is being tempered with a new appreciation for context, for systemic and structural challenges that limit upward mobility and perpetuate class divides that are finally coming into collective view. The new poor, our struggling middle class, are now understanding that the rules have not been made for their benefit, and that those who have concentrated power have increasingly concentrated their wealth as well, creating rules that perpetuate their advantage.
Where will this new consciousness take us? As the encampments are closed down, can we occupy our collective consciousness? While the Super Committee found no consensus and Congress has achieved stalemate for too long, can our local policymakers get to higher ground? Can we bring a heightened sense of history and politics and power dynamics to the 99%? Can we restore a confidence in the resilience of our democratic structures in time to motivate people to vote in the 2012 elections?
I will be designing a program this Miami Winter to bring context, stimulate hope, and restore a sense of possibilities for our system of government. And it will take hold by the time the heat returns for our Democracy Summer. Stay tuned.