It's Time to Become Dynamic
So often when reading or hearing about possible answers to the question, “Can anything be done to address polarization in this country?” the ideas typically range from increased civility to outright revolution. It’s natural when humans are faced with what seem like unknown or unbelievable situations to rush to extremes or even settle into inaction – in other words fight or flight. Our country currently faces a fracturing that it hasn’t seen since the 1960s and I offer this present manifestation might be even more daunting, because of the balance that once existed between liberals who hated war and loved protest and the conservatives who loved war and hated disorder. Today, regardless of what political label they identify with, the current holders of the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government are simply put, the monstrous combination of the worst parts of liberalism and conservatism.
Since the Trump Administration first began, the nation has been in a relative state of unrest and protest from the grassroots all the way up to members of Congress and federal employees. We’ve seen legends of civil disobedience like Congressman John Lewis and former Black Panther leader Angela Davis return to the forefront as well as individuals like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jamilah Lemieux, Jelani Cobb, Shaun King, Deray McKesson, and those who put together the Women’s March creating a world wide day of protest with participants (yours truly included) totaling in the millions. Members of Congress are running and hiding from angry constituents and the calls to congressional offices are coming at such a number and pace that there are reports of systems being overloaded.
This all seems great and it’s definitely exciting, BUT, much, much more is required of us if we truly want to bring about systematic change. To change the system in which we exist in, we must first change the way we exist in the system. Leo Tolstoy said it best with this quote,
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
To believe that we can be the same people we were when we created the problem and still somehow effectively address that problem is both foolish and insane. We are a country born out of revolution, a revolution of thought and action. We often focus on the action, but too often fail to consider the thought and planning needed to create a revolution that created a nation. It is this kind of revolution, one birthed from foundation and activation, that our nation needs. I call this Dynamic Community.
Activation is like a fire made of dry kindling and brush, almost reaching out for the nearest spark to set it ablaze. However a fire made of kindling and brush may burn hot and brightly, but it will also burn out quickly. Foundation is a fire made only of large pieces of wood. This kind fire takes a lot of energy and effort to get started and by the time it becomes a fire (if it ever does), people have either moved on or environmental factors have likely suppressed it.
Activation is immediate, reactionary, and flexible like the Women’s March or March on Washington. It also looks like movements like Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party Movement of 2010, and Bernie Sanders' Presidential run in 2016. These actions spread very quickly, get a lot of people involved, make important statements, and ultimately fail to lead to any substantial change. By those who oppose them, these actions are seen as proof of the superiority of the status quo and for those who supported them, these actions are seen as personal watershed moments at best and fodder for apathy at worst.
Foundation is large, slow, and systematic like Rotary International, Religion, and bureaucracy. These actions go forward at an slow pace, are so subtle that they’re often ignored, and can be so large as to be intimidating or pointless to anyone not already engaged and/or familiar with them. Overtime, these actions can create significant growth and lead to change, but often long after the issue they were created to address has become a new issue. These actions can become so concerned about identity and process that any consideration of new thought or change within the event is suffocated and consumed like a boa constrictor does its prey.
The fractures, socially, democratically, and even spiritually which currently exist in this country were created by a country that cares more about being comfortable than it does about being better and it is a shift in this paradigm that is the first step towards the future we seek. We must embrace both the foundation and activation together, because much like hydrogen and oxygen, separated, they are basic building blocks, but when combined, they become a life giving and sustaining element.
Dynamic Community is cultivated conflict. Cultivated conflict is how creation is possible. Through Dynamic Community, civically strong and diverse communities can be created.
Dynamic Community begins with building community, intentionally made up of people with very diverse perspectives and experiences, and develops bonds within that community through intra-community and inter-community practice and events. Through this process, community members are encouraged to maintain their unique perspective and qualities while engaging with other members with the purpose of increasing understanding and creating new perspectives and ideas.
Next, the built community seeks its spark or activation. In many cases, the spark will find the built community on its own, but in cases where this doesn’t happen, the community will canvass its environment and connect with a point of activation. If the community has been well built, people within the community will embrace various roles during activation, the roles being where each person’s unique gifts and talents most meet the forward movement of the community, roles changing as the movement changes. Dynamic Community requires a way of being that allows space for the individual, can support (not be afraid of) the strength that comes from the group's diversity, and can adapt to ever shifting realities of life and development.
We have most recently seen Dynamic Community at play during the Obama Campaign of 2008. Obama For America was able to tap into already built communities, build its own communities, and bring those communities together with an activation point, the election, creating a powerful (if not short-lived) dynamic community. This dynamic community brought millions more into the electoral process than in the last three decades and made history by electing the first African-American President in our nation’s history. Now, this dynamic community eventually died off due to the time-sensitive activation point and the lack of interest by those who initiated the dynamic community in doing what’s necessary to fully manifest that community because their purpose of formation had been served with Obama’s election.
We have seen this most fully manifested through the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Rights Movement. While so many know about events like the Birmingham Bus Boycott, Freedom Riders, Selma, and the March on Washington, many forget or simply don’t realize how long groups like SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), the Southern Leadership Conference, and other organizers had been laying groundwork in communities all over the south in preparation for the events that served as activation and eventually became a dynamic community, which broke down barriers which had been built over millennia.
Years before President Ronald Reagan and his administration officially recognized AIDS, organizers and activists born out of the NYC Stonewall Riot of 1969 were building community in large urban areas like San Francisco and New York City. Once the AIDS epidemic arrived in the 1980s, those communities were activated and led to medical research of the disease and eventually Same Sex Marriage in all 50 states.
We have a way, now all we need are able bodies, willing spirits, and open minds. We face very uncertain times and uncertain times call for the strong bonds of foundation and the energetic movement of action. Together we can create the future we want. Together we can become dynamic community.
Are you ready to be dynamic?
Cornell Woolridge is the founder and President of CivicSolve, LLC. He's been an active proponent of increasing access and lowering the barrier to civic engagement for even longer with his increasing involvement in numerous political campaigns, as well as down right boots on the ground protesting. He currently resides in Austin, Texas with his Wife Candace and their dog Jack; where he is continuing to expand CivicSolve's future projects and provide his own personal insight along the way.