THE BLOG
01/06/2017 10:56 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2018

Reinventing 2017

John Coonrod

As Bette Davis once famously said "Fasten your seatbelt, it's going to be a bumpy night." The political disruptions around the world of 2016 could cause those of us working to end global hunger and poverty to want to crawl back into bed. But - as an officially older citizen who came of age during the Nixon years - here is my perspective on how to make a difference this year.

  1. Reassess the landscape. It would be a mistake to simply pursue the same opportunities we saw a year ago. We need to seriously re-examine where the highest leverage actions can be taken - pick our top 3 or 10 - articulate them powerfully (first to ourselves!) and develop the strategy to achieve them. (A few such opportunities appear below).
  2. Keep your Eye on the Prize. We need to remember - and remind others - that, overall, things are getting better. Poverty, hunger and war have all been steadily declining, and global incomes are steadily rising. There ARE things that are proven to work that we need to promote, and things that hurt which we need to oppose.
  3. Champion Local Successes. As Tip O'Neill famously said, "All Politics is Local." Most of the issues that directly affect people's lives are local, and local successes can become national when they reach critical mass. Around the world, we've found that when central government becomes dysfunctional, focus energy at local levels. A lesson of 2016 is that we need stronger citizen engagement from the bottom up.
  4. Embrace Confrontation. I grew up wrongly assuming that confrontation always causes polarization - and yet, time and again during the 1970s anti-war movement, I saw that the "targets" of confrontation often change their minds. The key seems to be to attack the injustice, not the person.
  5. Push Out. When life becomes overwhelming, the best strategy is to "push out" - to generate inspiring and mobilizing communications to as many people as possible: emails, conference calls, blog posts, tweets. We all can help turn the tide of history when it seems bent on crushing our spirit.
  6. Stand up for Truth. Mahatma Gandhi said "Truth is God." If so, God is under serious assault. Something everyone of us can do is stop the propagation of fake news - both the kind we happen to like and the kind we loathe. When we see something, say something. It's easy to pause and go to fact-check sites like Snopes.com, and then convince your friends to take posts down. A viral campaign against fake news is possible. Tip: Anything that starts with "MUST READ" or "Why isn't the media all over this?" is probably fake..
  7. Reward Good Behavior. Even politicians we usually disagree with will sometimes do things we approve of, and we should endorse - rather than cynically undermine - those actions. Research shows that there must be both positive and negative feedback to effect change.
  8. Invest in Long-term Change Processes. As Dr. King often quoted, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We need to invest in the work of bending that arc by increasing citizen engagement and government transparency and responsiveness. There are effective methodologies for this, yet few people with the vision to fund it. Those of us who share this vision must fund its realization.
  9. Renew Our Spirit. President Obama kept a saying in the Oval Office: "Hard Things Are Hard." This year is likely to be hard. We need to be sensitive to our own spiritual needs, and know what to do to re-energize them.
  10. Pass it on. Take more time than usual to acknowledge people. Make it a spiritual discipline to give a lift to everyone you encounter. As a socially-concerned individual, you may underestimate how much people look up to you, and how valuable your words of encourage are to them.