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Storytelling as Organizing: How to Rescue the Left from its Crisis of Imagination

Adam Kader, In These Times
… Kevin O’Donnell wrote, “When it comes to messaging, Republicans believe in science. Democrats don’t.” To their detriment, “Democrats cling to the idea, disproved by science and electoral experience, that if you present the facts, people will reason their way to the right conclusion.” Republicans, on the other hand, know to use “simple words, short sentences and a heavy dose of repetition.”

… Fortunately, for those looking for a more generous understanding of public discourse, there’s Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World (PM Press, 2010), by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning.

Reinsborough and Canning provide another way of looking at “the battle of the narrative.” Like O’Donnell, any experienced activist knows that framing the issue matters to any campaign’s success. But rather than “dumbing down” progressive campaign messaging, Reinsborough and Canning argue for a story-based strategy that deconstructs dominant narratives and constructs new ones that challenge assumptions and move citizens to action.

The authors encourage readers to re-imagine both how change can happen and what can be changed. They introduce a series of concepts “to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world” based on Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, which posits that powerful interests exert control through dominant culture so that the status-quo becomes “common sense.” If campaigns are to change the status-quo, the authors argue, they must be communicated in ways that fall outside the narrative categories created by the status quo.
(14 January 2011)

Words Matter: How Media Can Build Civility or Destroy It

Sarah van Gelder and Brooke Jarvis, YES! Magazine
The media can, as we know, promote fear, hatred, and extremism. Can it also lead us to greater civility and more productive debate?

“Just as media outlets have been used to create a pervasive sense of fear, they have also been used to convince people that conflict is inevitable. This leaves media consumers resigned to the notion that conflict will happen.”

Those words could have been used to describe an increasingly hostile and provocative media in the United States. In fact, they were written to describe the use of the media to incite Hutus to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors in Rwanda, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
After Jared Loughner opened fire at a political event for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, Arizona, attention quickly focused on the role that divisive and aggressive media may have played in his actions. Pima Country Sheriff Clarence Dupnik lamented “the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government.”

… The media can choose to provoke the least stable, most trigger-happy sectors of the population. Or it can choose to strengthen democracy, civility, and the rule of law. When the former Yugoslavia was erupting in ethnic cleansing and massacres, Macedonia’s ethnically diverse population remained at peace. South Africa made the transition from Apartheid to majority rule largely without violence. In these and other places, media that highlighted the humanity of all involved played a role, according to the U.S.-based Search for Common Ground.

Instead of simply repeating the anger and allegations of each side-which may have the effect of deepening the conflict or inciting violence-journalists are in a unique position to uncover the causes of conflict and discover opportunities for finding common ground. The Conflict Resolution Network advises journalists to:

  • Focus on the root causes of problems, not just positions or back-and-forth arguments.

  • Ask questions that get people thinking about solutions and common ground: “What would be possible if this problem were fixed?” “What would it take to solve this problem?” “What is it that you do want?” “What would satisfy you?”
  • Avoid simplistic divisions between good and bad. Don’t encourage or sensationalize personal attacks.
  • Report areas of agreement as well as disagreement.
  • Think of emotions as symptoms that point to where the real problems are. What clashes of values, needs, or scarce resources are causing an emotional response?

(13 January 2011)

Healthy Village Model Improves Community Health and Builds Local Green Economy

Rosa González, Green for All
How do people in low-income communities ravished by joblessness and public health crises become the drivers of their own green economic development? Green For All Fellow Selim Sandoval migrated from the rainforest farm life of Guatemala to the inner city streets of South Central Los Angeles, and is now a social entrepreneur, educator, and community builder who recognizes the power of cooperation and team action.

Through the Green the Rez campaign and the Write Choice Network, he and partner Monica Niess are seeding a healthy village model of community development by connecting impoverished communities to the funds and resources needed to play a leadership role in revitalizing economic, ecological and personal health.

Inspired by Green The Block, a collaboration between Green For All and the Hip Hop Caucus, Selim spearheaded the Green The Rez campaign as a way to put tribal knowledge and leadership at the forefront of green development. These efforts quickly gave way to a focus on community health as the centerpiece of development.

… But these community health centers go beyond the conventional model of simply providing treatment to the sick. They are becoming the economic drivers in their communities, acting as organizing hubs for building a green economy and helping to spur green collar job creation. These centers are working to establish community gardens and improve access to locally grown, fresh foods – a key element to improving the health of a person with diabetes and other chronic illnesses, and a cornerstone of localizing the food system.

These health centers also play a role in working with other tribal departments to provide an overall healthier environment in their communities through improved air and water quality and implementing green building techniques and renewable energy.

The village model of community health is about more than just treating illness; it is a holistic approach encompassing all aspects of wellness from improving diet and nutrition to addressing environmental health concerns while alleviating stress caused by joblessness and poverty.
(8 January 2011)

It’s Time to Return to a Robust Urbanism

Neal Peirce, Seattle Times
It’s time to return to robust urbanism, the relatively compact, more energy-efficient growth we once practiced in our cities and towns, but lost in our rush to build far-flung, auto-centric subdivisions and strip malls after World War II.

WASHINGTON – “Urbanism” isn’t a word that races many people’s motors. But think again. It might just be the key – not only to enrich community life but to achieve a safer energy future as well as efficient and livable metro regions, and to ensure our place in the larger world.

That’s the case that famed New Urbanist architect Peter Calthorpe lays out in his book “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change,” just published by Island Press.

Fighting to reduce our oil and coal burning, and combat global warming, much of the buzz surrounds such new “green” technologies as solar and wind power, industrial efficiency and fuel-efficient cars. But add up all the potential carbon savings they promise, argues Calthorpe, and we’ll still fall far short of reducing the United States’ grossly disproportionate use of fossil fuels and contribution to globe-imperiling climate change.

The only answer, he argues, is to start correcting the spread-out, energy-profligate patterns in how we use our land. In other words, a return to true urbanism, the historical patterns of relatively compact, more energy-efficient growth we once practiced in our cities and towns, but lost in the decades following World War II.
(2 January 2011)

Why does health care in Cuba cost 96% less than in the US?

Don Fitz, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
When Americans spend $100 on health care, is it possible that only $4 goes to keeping them well and $96 goes somewhere else? Single payer health care [government-funded universal health insurance] advocates compare US health care to that in Western Europe or Canada and come up with figures of 20–30% waste in the US.

But there is one country with very low level of economic activity yet with a level of health care equal to the West: Cuba.

Life expectancy of about 78 years of age in Cuba is equivalent to the US. Yet, in 2005, Cuba was spending US$193 per person on health care, only 4% of the $4540 being spent in the US. Where could the other 96% of US health care dollars be going?

1. A fragmented system …
2. Over treatment …
3. Expansion of illness …

4. Sickness looping

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), each year 2 million Americans get infectious diseases in hospitals. The massive over treatment endemic to health care in the United States increases costs in two ways: (1) the cost of the unnecessary treatment itself; and, (2) the cost of treating the sickness which results from the original treatment. We could say that “sickness looping” is when treatment loops back on itself and requires yet more treatment.

This is a major medical expense, responsible for about a third of all medical care …

5. Insurance looping

In addition to the 47 million uninsured Americans, there are over 60 million who are underinsured. We could say that “insurance looping” occurs when failure to provide treatment loops back into medical costs, making them higher rather than lower.

A Health Affairs article confirmed that the uninsured are more likely to be untreated, resulting in illnesses progressing and their treatments being more expensive. According to lead author Dr Andrew Wilper, “they’re not getting care that would prevent strokes, heart attacks, amputations and kidney failure.”

Those without adequate treatment also receive more hurried care when they do get it. They often have no alternative but use the emergency room, making the ER more crowded for everyone.

6. Doctors’ fees …

7. What needs to be researched?

Over half of the world’s spending on medical research is in the US. This has resulted in some amazing new techniques; but the increase in life expectancy gets smaller each decade. Focusing on increasingly rare disorders is likely to benefit the wealthiest half of families who spend 92% of US health care dollars.

The $3 billion Human Genome Project would supposedly revolutionise the treatment of most human diseases. But Stephen Hall writes in Scientific American that it is failing to produce medical miracles, largely because of its emphasis on genetic rather than environmental causes of disease. Many more people would be benefited by research on how to get already-known treatments to those who are not currently receiving them. …
(5 January 2011)

A commenter at the original site adds: “Other reasons why the health cost in Cuba is much less than in the US:
– More healthy food (more organic, less GM food, less processed food),
– a much healthier lifestyle (fewer cars, more walking),
– less stress.”