Transform the System: A Work in Progress

4: A Transformed Society

 How would a transformed society be organized?
What would it look like?

The social change proposed in this draft declaration is systemic transformation. To transform means “to change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, or to change in character or condition.” Transforming America into a compassionate and fair society will require new social structures that facilitate democracy, enhance equality, promote dignity for all, and help everyone be all they can be.

One such structural reform is to transform the job market as a step toward economic security for all. The United States has more than enough money to assure that every worker can find a good living-wage job.  When that goal is achieved, unemployment offices could refer workers to one of those jobs, whether private or public.

The need for more public-service jobs is compelling. The lack of quality services to meet human needs is enormous. Underfunded programs include: child care; preschool centers; nursing homes; in-home caregiving; park and recreation programs; teacher’s aides; substance-abuse programs; neighborhood centers; cultural centers, and; after-school programs. There’s also a pressing need to clean up and protect the environment.

A caring economy would assure essential services from the cradle to the grave. Theoretically, a truly compassionate society could meet those needs informally, in families and communities. But in the modern world, public funding for paid human services is essential. The private sector will never meet the need. Clients often don’t have enough income to generate profits for providers.

Twenty million working-age Americans not in college are unemployed. With access to on-the-job training, many of those Americans could address unmet needs.

We’re not talking about guaranteed jobs or a guaranteed income. We’re talking about a living-wage job opportunity. Able working-age adults would be required to work to get public funding, and disabled workers would work according to their ability. Taxpayers don’t want their money going to people who refuse to work, and indefinite handouts are morally questionable. But a plurality of Americans supports a federal job guarantee. It’s not a radical idea.

A new federal bureaucracy would not be necessary. A national jobs trust fund could distribute money to local governments for public-service jobs. Wealthy individuals could make tax-deductible donations to that fund and the federal government could contribute to it with revenue sharing as needed to assure living-wage job opportunities. Local governments would either hire workers themselves or distribute funds to nonprofit organizations. The federal government would raise the needed funds from various sources.

The richest one percent currently pays only thirty-three percent of their income in federal taxes. If they paid forty-five percent instead, that higher rate would generate about $300 billion a year in new federal revenue, which could pay for nine million $15 per hour jobs — and those taxpayers would still have an average of at least one million dollars in annual after-tax income.[1]

Money can be raised in other ways as well. To cite just two examples: putting more people to work would boost the economy, which would generate additional tax revenue, and; large sums could be freed up by finding waste in the $600 billion military budget (legislators often give the military more money than they request to help themselves get re-elected by creating local jobs).

Other methods could also help ensure economic security:

● provide paid vacations and steadily reduce the workweek, which would boost employment by spreading the workload over a larger workforce;

● rebuild family farms, which would revive rural economies;

● increasing the number of worker-owned businesses, which would reduce the number of businesses moving to other countries;

● enable anyone to buy into Medicare health insurance;

● greatly increase funding for non-profit affordable housing.

The bottom line is that a truly compassionate society would provide everyone with a decent opportunity to meet their basic needs — with publicly funded services when needed. Some people would still fail to take advantage of those opportunities. But they would be few in number and could receive support privately from friends, relatives, and non-profit organizations.

As James Suzman noted, “The kind of egalitarianism practiced by hunter-gatherers was ... the outcome of people acting in their own self-interest…. Everyone got their fair share.”[2] The same sentiment applies to contemporary America. Ensuring a foundation of economic security for everyone is not only a moral imperative. It would benefit the entire society.

Economic security would nurture non-material values. If people trusted that they would always be able to make ends meet, they could more easily enjoy their leisure time, be with their families, become more fully human, engage in self-improvement and ongoing education, help create a more compassionate society, and participate in communal life, including political action.

People could still climb a social ladder if they wanted to, but they wouldn’t have to in order to live decently. The upward-mobility template would lose some of its power. Dog-eat-dog hyper-competition would become less prevalent. As more people liberated their inner hunter-gatherer, the positive effects would ripple throughout society.

So long as people remain focused on protecting their status or trying to hit a jackpot in the casino economy, they won’t be free — and there will be little hope for social transformation. Universal economic security would help make society more democratic and egalitarian.

So long as some children live in poverty, they’re not equal. Our society doesn’t allow all, or most, poor children to “make it” by means of hard work and merit because the number of people needing work exceeds the number of living-wage jobs. And the human costs inflicted by poverty can last a lifetime. No child should have to grow up in poverty because their parents can’t find a living-wage job.

Many liberals want to clean up the System by eliminating unfair discrimination and providing compensatory education and social support to poor youth. They talk about strengthening the middle class with upward mobility. But even if black and brown poor people had an equal opportunity with whites to climb out of poverty, children growing up poor would still suffer.

Helping some Americans move up the economic ladder is no great victory if most Americans barely hold on and many are stuck in extreme poverty or homelessness. But politicians prefer to talk about mobility rather than creating jobs.

Universal economic security would also help erode the deep-seated racism that’s aggravated by widespread resentment about unfair living conditions. As the top one percent takes more of the nation’s income for itself, growing inequality and economic hard times inflame racism and lead many white Americans to direct their anger at people of color. Study after study show that racism is still a serious problem in the United States. Personal reports reinforce those findings. But it’s often not easy for whites to face their racism. Gut reactions and unconscious bias are hard to acknowledge.[3] If all Americans trusted they’d always be able to make ends meet in a transformed society, they could more easily admit mistakes, learn from them, and move beyond racism.

In the political arena, structural reforms that could give people more voice in shaping their daily life include:

  • Get rid of Big Money in politics and strengthen “one person, one vote” by overturning Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that authorized unlimited spending by wealthy individuals to influence political campaigns and legislation.[4] Free speech can legitimately be restricted when it interferes with the rights of others, and allowing the super-rich to spend millions on political speech weakens democracy by undermining the power of those who are not wealthy.
  • Build more democratic activist organizations. When members select their leaders and have a voice in shaping policy, they’re more likely to sense ownership and support it actively. Smaller groups can try to reach unanimous consensus on decisions and use a super-majority, such as 80%, if necessary. When large minorities object to a proposal they usually have a point and ignoring them often leads to splintering, but always requiring unanimous consensus can be unwieldy. Large organizations can also use a super-majority.
  • Form a grassroots “Purple Alliance” that pushes for positive changes in national policy that are supported by a majority of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. That alliance could focus on one such “crossover” priority at a time and stick with it until it is resolved. Local teams could engage in nonviolent direct action when needed to build support for that measure. A deliberate nationwide planning process, similar to those that have been convened by Adam Kahane and his Reos Partners, could be used to develop the structure for that alliance.
  • Persuade or require Congresspersons and Senators to hold orderly monthly forums streamed live — at the same time each month —to enable randomly selected constituents to engage in dialog with those officials or their chiefs of staff. Those community dialogues would be carefully structured with a neutral moderator to assure that the officials do not dominate. Constituents could use their time to ask questions or make comments. Community organizations could distribute literature at these lively civic gatherings.
  • Transform one of the current political parties into a bottom-up activist organization that engages in face-to-face precinct-based community building and fights for its national platform year-round — or create a new one that does. That party could commit itself to focusing on proposed changes in national policy that are supported by majorities of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats — and help form a Purple Alliance with the same commitment. If and when one of its representatives repeatedly failed to adequately support the party’s national campaign, it could support a challenger in the next primary.
  • Federal funding for a non-profit corporation to conduct regular community dialogs with randomly selected Americans, using “deliberative polling,” to formulate advice to Washington on key issues.[5] These events, televised on C-SPAN, could be a way to increase public awareness and help form solutions. A random, representative sample of the public would be recruited to participate. Prior to the event, a panel of experts would provide participants balanced briefing materials on the issue. Participants would then be randomly assigned to small groups with trained moderators to discuss the issue and develop questions to present to a panel of experts and policymakers. The event would conclude with participants completing a questionnaire about their opinions on the issue. The results would be circulated to the public, Congress, and the President.
  • In school, rely less on preparing for tests and the one-way transmission of information by teachers and instead create more opportunities for self-directed and peer learning based on real partnerships between students, parents and administrators.
  • Encourage and support public-benefit corporations that serve the public interest as well as earn a profit.
  • Provide tax breaks, low-interest loans, and technical assistance for worker-owned businesses.
  • Stop the federal government from helping businesses bust unions, but rather support unionization so workers can benefit more when businesses prosper.
  • Expand restorative justice programs, which bring victims, offenders and community members together to repair the harm caused by crime.[6]
  • Assure that jails and prisons honor the humanity of those who are restrained and support their self-development.
  • Revive rural communities by supporting green businesses and backing family farms.

In foreign policy, facing no threat of being conquered, America could help put a stop to the cycle of domination, resistance, retaliation, and revenge that began with the early city-states in the Middle East several thousand years ago. Such a course could lead to greater acceptance of the fact that win-win solutions are the only viable path forward. True patriots, in honor of America’s fight for independence, should reject efforts to dominate other countries.

Strong nation states are essential to restrain powerful, global corporate and financial forces.  Because our world has become increasingly interdependent, nations need to cooperate to maintain their independence. No nation can seek its own ends unilaterally, and no global governing elite can run the whole world.

Every day, the need for a global commitment to serve the common good of the entire Earth community is ever more urgent. Its motto should be: “The more you thrive, the more we thrive!” The United States should help other countries prosper, stop trying to dominate the world, accept our limits, apologize for our mistakes, resolve not to repeat them, and form real partnerships with other countries. We should:

  • focus on alliances with countries that work to advance values we embrace, including human rights, equal treatment under the law, the rights of minorities, and democracy;
  • stop taking sides so quickly in conflicts between and within countries and help the United Nations mediate when feasible;
  • support national self-determination and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs or other nations;
  • stop selling weapons to authoritarian countries.

      In the social arena, structural reforms need to include:

  • include anti-bullying, nonviolent communication, active listening, and peer counseling education in our schools;
  • throughout society expand the use of conflict resolution methods to facilitate the peaceful ending of conflict;[7]
  • establish effective mechanisms for reporting, investigating, correcting, and if necessary punishing sexual harassment;
  • in social-service agencies, support structures that give clients a collective voice about how those agencies operate;
  • in small supportive groups, members regularly support one another in their self-development and set aside time to provide that support;
  • create model alternative institutions such as farmers’ markets and cultural centers;
  • build structures in non-profit organizations that more fully empower their members;
  • In private businesses, expand the use of holacracy, which is:

a self-management practice for running purpose-driven, responsive companies. By empowering people to make meaningful decisions and drive change, the Holacracy practice unleashes your organization’s untapped power to pursue its purpose in the world. [8]

  • promote non-profit social entrepreneurs who address social, cultural, and environmental issues.[9]

In addition to those structural reforms, we Americans need to improve how we relate to one another informally. While accepting that in some situations domination and submission is justified or necessary, we can avoid allowing those patterns to become habits that carry over into situations where relating to others as equals is called for.

Most people have prejudicial gut reactions, but they need not allow those reactions to shape their behavior. Factors that prompt such reactions include skin color, gender, sexual preference, age, disability, level of education, appearance, social status, accent, job, political and religious opinions, and place of residence. There seems to be an unlimited number of ways that humans forget that we are all created equal and are fundamentally invested with equal worth. But we can learn to set aside those prejudices, treat others with respect, and when the opportunity presents itself engage human-to-human.

All those efforts can advance our new mission. We can create a society that’s more equal, cooperative and peaceful than the one we have now — a society in which:

● individuals commit to self-development and support others in that effort;
● families raise healthy children;
● human- and social-service professionals nurture self- and community-empowerment;
● elected officials enact compassionate legislation;
● concerned individuals devote at least a few hours a month to political action.

This compassionate society would oppose racism, sexism, extreme economic inequality, political corruption, Big Money ruling politics, the prison-industrial complex, militarism, materialism, selfishness, and all other forms of injustice, oppression and dehumanization.

In assessing national well-being, the traditional focus is on the gross domestic product (GDP), which measures material production. But the GDP does not consider non-material factors. The United Nations’ World Happiness Report offers an alternative measure. In 2017 the United States ranked 14th overall in national happiness — but only because it ranked 9th in GDP per person. On every other measure, the U.S. was lower that 14th. And its overall score had declined since the previous report.[10]

America can do better than that. We can honor our highest ideals and set aside structures and habits that conflict with those ideals. Rather than being driven by fear, we can create a society that is grounded in respect and dignity for all.

NEXT: Evolutionary Revolution

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NOTES{

[1] "What Could Raising Taxes on the 1% Do? Surprising Amounts," The New York Times, Oct 16, 2015.

[2]  Suzman, 185.

[3] “10 ways white people are more racist than they realize,” Alternet, March 4, 2015.

[4] Wikipedia, "Citizens United v. FEC." Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC.

[5] Retrieved from https://participedia.net/en/methods/deliberative-polling.

[6] "Mission, Vision and Values," Centre for Justice and Reconciliation. Retrieved from http://restorativejustice.org/#sthash.rELDBcH0.dpbs.

[7] Wikipedia, "Conflict resolution," Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_resolution.

[8] See https://www.holacracy.org/.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_entrepreneurship

[10] Retrieved from http:// http://worldhappiness.report/

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