Cardboard Castles and Other Amenities...

I am really interested in using different forms of cultural action to help build better communities. Communities are a vital social model, allowing us to tackle problems beyond the ability of individuals with the focus of a defined (usually relatively small) group of people. How do the arts and cultural work in general help communities grow more sustainable futures? If you have a cool website or project or your own ideas on these subjects please let me know.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Van Jones: a New Way to Organize the Future

I just heard a speech by Van Jones on the Rabble Podcast Network, on the problems with current models for non-profit organizing. Van Jones “is the founder and National Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. ...Ella Baker Center is a national organization that challenges human rights abuses in the U.S. criminal justice system.”
In the speech Jones talked about the way the current non-profit funding structure forces organizations to lie. In order to get funded organizations have to make the preposterous claim that they have the solution to X problem and that they are the best candidates to implement that solution. He pointed out that to look at non-profit news letters we must be living in a socialist utopia bouncing from one success to another. The problem with this is that organizations do not know what each other are doing. There is not an honest conversation about what people are trying. Instead, Jones talks about a shift in how we talk to funders. Instead of claiming to have the solution, we should instead be talking about having a good idea, which is not guaranteed to work, but has a good chance. Then when doing our evaluations, providing an honest assessment about what worked and what did not.
Jones also challenged the current mythology surrounding non-profit work. The David VS Goliath story we are currently telling is problematic. Although it there are times when the courage the narrative inspires, it demands that there is something we are fighting against. This forces our movements to be issue based movements that are fighting problems, not providing solutions. Instead, Jones offered tale of Mr. and Mrs. Noah and their arc. That tale provides two fundamental themes. The first is that it is a legend about solving a problem. The second is the necessity of dealing with what Jones called “the unimaginable diversity.” “Will the green wave,” asked Jones, “raise all boats, or will there be eco-apartheid.” Will the environmental wave focus only on putting solar panels in the Hampton’s, or will sustainability be brought to South Bronx (it is).


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