Welcome to the Movement Vision Lab: What Is An Idea?

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Sally Kohn Writer, progressive activist, Fox News contributor

Someone recently told me that powerful ideas make us uncomfortable enough to re-think what we thought. In the political sphere, an idea isn't the same as a critique. Pointing out the income gap is not an idea. Arguing that the income gap is due to structural racism and the solution is affirmative action -- that's an idea. Caps on carbon emissions, Social Security, a path to legalization, civil unions, universal health care -- these are all ideas that at one point or another have rubbed up against the status quo, made our nation uncomfortable and provoked change.

It makes me think of new clothes. The world has changed and the old threads of the New Deal or the Civil Rights Movement just don't fit the same anymore. Or in many cases, cozy though they might be, our old ideas are worn and tattered in the face of new economic and social realities. On the other hand, we can't keep accepting the straight jacket of Right-wing, savage-market ideology. It's time for change.

Unfortunately, in the wardrobe of new ideas, progressive advocates are pretty much naked. That's not to say we have no ideas whatsoever or that we can't come up with more -- but very plainly that we don't have a comprehensive and coherent, shared vision for the future to offer a nation desperate for change.

Too often as progressives, we're clear about what we're against but not what we're for. And when we do focus on positive change, it's often in small, incremental steps. Where do we talk about our long-term, ultimate vision for the future we want? HERE!

The Movement Vision Lab aims to shake us out of our lazy comfort with the unchallenged orthodoxy of existing ideas and help us struggle together in search of bold and dynamic new ideas. There are plenty of websites and blogs focused on what's wrong with politics and society today. The Movement Vision Lab is where we all come to talk about solutions -- to trade and try on different ideas and develop our shared, alternative vision for the future.

Do you remember the story of the emperor who had no clothes? It wasn't other elite members of the royal court who pointed it out, was it? Political chatter today is dominated by the same elites who got us into this situation by following polls rather than leading with ideas. And blogs and online media are often dangerously divorced from the real communities who are clamoring for change. There's a sense that, if we just get some really smart people in the room, they can figure this vision thing out -- even if they've never experienced any of the problems their trying to solve or implemented a single idea in their lifetimes. Maybe if we're looking for new ideas, we should start looking in new places.

The Movement Vision Lab amplifies the voices of grassroots leaders and organizers working in real communities across the United States. These leaders not only have first-hand experience with the problems facing our society but also practical and innovative solutions that are grounded in the everyday realities of the communities where they live and work. While these leaders -- and in particular leaders of color -- are often the most excluded from political discourse, their ideas and vision are what we need most.

Each week on the Movement Vision Lab blog, we will ask community organizers and leaders to reflect on provocative questions about the future and offer their visionary ideas in response. This week, we're asking: What is our vision for corporations, unions and the future of business? We have four essays from Saru Jayaraman (Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York), Donald Cohen (Center on Policy Initiatives), Sarita Gupta (Jobs with Justice) and Omar Freilla (Green Worker Cooperatives). We also have podcasts with Denise Perry (Power U Center for Social Change), Andy Stern (SEIU) and Burt Lauderdale (Kentuckians for the Commonwealth). We urge you to comment and join in the discussion.

Also check out the Idea Lab where you can search hundreds of concrete solutions for the future -- and add your ideas and resources, too. Each week, we'll be adding new ideas and new features to the site so check back often.

Through the Movement Vision Lab Blog, Idea Lab and more, we promise to make you uncomfortable -- and to inspire, engage and energize you as well!