What prompted me to write this communications manifesto is a leading I have, a felt need to address unreconciled tensions within the Left community between the edges and the center, and also persistent tensions between the Left and Right, and between the haves and the have nots of class society. As a society, we are at a maladaptive place.
My simple concern in this essay is how right speech and civil discourse, and cultivating relationships in our small valley is important in trying to reach and open minds of business as usual economic actors. Why? To go to the core of where systemic changes are most needed.
Decorous communication is one sub-strategy, a tactic towards a larger goal for all to be more just and sustainable.
What is sustainability?
The most apt and adaptive public policy frame available now is full cost accounting, triple bottom line sustainability. This is sustainability with a capital S.
What does Sustainable mean? It means we steward the planet and relations among ourselves as a whole system, to ensure the long-term viability of life on earth and our human place in it.
A comprehensive, mutually agreed upon sustainability program (Sustainable Sonoma) may soon be available to Sonoma Valley residents, but in order to achieve it, the way different actors view and value the world has to be opened up and put on the table. If we are going to effectively pull forward, in the same direction somehow, we need to all get in front of the same cart. That cart is, by all reasonable measures, the sustainability framework. By tying together current disparate, maladaptive, and judgmental threads into a common fabric, necessary joint actions might be able to be taken. Why? To head off possibly fatal and/or crippling human system costs on our collective environment. These negative costs are objectively borne out by data, data that makes up the indicators for the triple bottom line.
Triple bottom line sustainability is a policy stool with three legs. Each leg, society, economy and environment is integral and needs to be included in all planning. The relations between each of the three legs needs to be bearable, equitable, and viable. For example, a world society that has resources maldistributed between haves and have nots, at extreme levels, is not reasonable nor sustainable. The bottom two billion’s effects will tear down the house for the top tiers who have sequestered all the power and resources. The top tier’s own unbalanced consumptive effects are not viable, bearable or equitable either. A fractal of this same socio-economic-environmental imbalance is present in Sonoma Valley, and is pointed out clearly by the Sonoma Valley Fund’s Hidden in Plain Sight study, and as such, the valley is our lab to work out our piece of the world sustainability puzzle.
Social justice and equity are moral issues
From the standpoint of concerned citizens who advocate for social justice and civil rights, the main community issues are working class representation and empowerment. Justice and rights are moral issues, and baseline quality of life issues. These issues are noted by, and frequently spring from faith community and union organizing sources.
A question of representation
Who represents the working class, or disadvantaged communities (DACs), i.e. those that make 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) or less? This representation question is a class empowerment issue, concerning the working class of voters, citizens, and now also “residents”, which includes the undocumented workforce.
Stasis Condition A
Do AMI and DAC people have a level of self-determination or are they oppressed by a system where power and choice are reserved for a few? What has been the case in human history? Underclasses, women, people of color, unions, all have had to fight, stand up, and demand rights and privileges that have been unfairly withheld by the powers that be. We still have a long way to go. Standing up, organizing, and demanding equity is on the have nots; this is what we must do because….
Few and far between have been the cases where those who have accumulated power and control have voluntarily relinquished it in the name of more equity and social justice. Call this Stasis Condition A.
Hope in reason versus revolution and collapse
It is doubtful that Stasis Condition A will be addressed reasonably, and fixed rationally; it’s a good hope, but given all of human history, the signs don’t point that way. I could be advocating for revolution here, for tearing down the unjust, maladaptive house, for fighting the power and demanding change in the harshest of terms and actions. But since this essay is about how to possibly communicate about and hope for a rational outcome, I’ll stick with that, with the proviso that decorum can’t become an end unto itself, especially if unjust and maladaptive conditions persist.
Level the playing field
The civil rights movement was about self-determination and empowerment. Today, in an age of 1% control and power concentration, of which Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County are a clear part of, members of AMI and DAC communities aspire to more self determination. We of the have-nots want equal rights and opportunity, to pursue life, liberty and happiness. This means the making of a level playing field system that can provide, at a minimum, a living wage tied to inflation, rents that are 30% of annual income, and access to affordable and/or state-sponsored health care. This is a minimum quality of life all deserve.
There is already enough wealth to distribute fairly to meet the goal of a level playing field, resources just need to be shared properly and not taken disproportionally up front by the 1%. For a sustainable world resource use-wise, the bottom needs to be brought up and the top taken down. This is not bland, fully equal socialism, it is a call for a reasonable distribution of wealth. Ensuring there is enough to get by is how families and communities take care of each other. To be sustainable we need to be one and not divided, at least when it comes to accepting baseline data and shared view of what is at stake.
Is Sonoma sustainable if the working class here cannot afford to buy anything in the valley?
Tensions among those seeking to represent
The Area Median Income and disadvantaged community (DAC) cohort exists as individuals and also as a group. In one sense, we are seen as Census block populations that governments use for allocating funds and that non-profits use for procuring grants to help such populations. Tensions come out as various entities and individuals step up and seek to identify problems and to represent those of us that need help and equal opportunity.
To date, this cohort has not stood up unified and demanded equity, and into that void of need and lack of advocacy step various groups, organizations, government entities and philanthropic donors. All concerned actors here see the social justice needs. I believe all have good will and seek to solve things in a good way; it’s just that we are divided by hierarchical society, the static tendencies of government, and accidents of Fate and Fortune that have made us into the haves and have nots. How we are going to effectively address the inequity is the question.
Integration/ separation of Latinos
Sonoma Valley DACs are mainly Latino, but there are others as well, including seniors. DACs are people who for various reasons are poor and disadvantaged. DAC Latinos and Anglos are for the most part not self-advocating, and the representative entities are separated from each other by ideology and other types of silos. There are cultural, religious, educational, economic, class, and immigration status differences here that contribute to this silo-ification and lack of effective advocacy and self-advocacy. The aggregate effect is to inhibit integration of have-not Latinos and AMI/ DAC people into the larger general Anglo, haves community. The DAC/ AMI working class is kept down then, by a host of factors, but at the end of the day, it is people who make the conditions of society, and this can be a conscious choice if we can mobilize ourselves to make such choices.
Anglos and Latinos, how to create a just society
Into this representative void, and socio-economic disconnect, step various mostly Anglo, but also Latino non-profit and government actors, and a host of volunteers, activists and boards of directors from the Anglo population, to help out and try to fix the problems. La Luz is one vehicle here for both Latino and Anglo helpers. Alejandra Cervantes of Nuestra Voz has been working on Latino empowerment for many years. The First Congregational Church has community concerns around the above-mentioned sustainability issues and has hired Mario Castillo, long-time valley activist, to do inter-community outreach. Faith community people, and idealistic non-profits are at the core of many local groups seeking to make life better, or, to be sustainable.
There are different levels of motivations, values and service going on here. All see a great need to meet, to serve, and to advocate about. These concerned helpers, who are all activists, have misunderstandings among each other. Latino actors have tensions among themselves. There is no “Latino community” any more than there is a monolithic “white community.” All are in silos that guard their own visions and vistas and suspect those of others. There is muddy water among those who serve, help, and advocate, and this gets back to who are the legitimate representatives of the DACs? Who is framing the aspirations and practical programs for the end game of creating a just society? What is a just and sustainable society? What and whose premises and assumptions do we take to base our action upon? Could we work together?
The county and state of California have many good agencies and programs that make a strong show of institutional addressing of social justice and aggregate sustainability issues that we can be proud of, yet there still remain serious issues to tackle. Our county government at least has agencies wherein the door is opened for some structural actions to possibly be taken. Health Action is one such program.
Systemic change is needed
For government actors, for workers, grassroots activists, philanthropists, non-profits, intellectuals, for faith groups, and academics, and just plain compassionate people of all stripes, it is easy enough to see the system as a whole is unjust and stacked in favor of the wealthy and their agents. What needs change is the system itself, to not keep the working class in a stasis of poverty and under-representation. To not abuse the environment to the point where we pull the long-term rug out from under ourselves in the name of short term gains for a few. The playing field needs to be leveled, benefits need to be spread more equally up front, and we need to look at the commons and realize we are not on an endless frontier of resources that we can continue to take from with no consequence.
In an ideal world, and from a backdrop of serious, existential climate change, the needed changes can’t just be tweaks to a business-as-usual system. Fundamental systemic changes are needed, and we’ll never get there with a divided society of haves and have nots trying to finesse and argue about an already unsustainable arrangement. Rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic will not do much good.
It seems that primarily economic actors just don’t get all of this. There is a disconnect here. The big fight for activists is to educate, and corral the government, and the few and the wealthy who control the economy, to change their tune and work to put in place more just and sustainable structural conditions up front. This will require overcoming Condition A. To simply “let the market take care of it” only leads to continued injustice that we can all see. Economic analysts have come to the county for years and have said how great everything was, when a view from the street showed such assertions to be laughably untrue.
Frankly, now with the new Republican tax bill, and a federal government that is taking aim to destroy all progressive California values, us local actors are more and more on our own to make a just and sustainable society for ourselves. Remaking a better world, if that is a common goal, is now more than ever clearly on us.
Action items: protect and serve the little guy
What structural changes might decision makers and influential economic power players start to make? Two things to start: retroactive rent stabilization (rent control), and living wage laws tied to the cost of living and inflation. These things address placing limits and standards on economic actors, to think of protecting and serving the working class. This is the legitimate role of government, to make a level playing field. Government can make this possible by putting in place economic supports and incentives to help businesses be more just and sustainable. The post-fire landscape of increased government and general good will is a perfect opportunity to hit a reset button and actualize the type of world we want to live in.
Barbara Tuchman said that people don’t change until the sewage is coming in the front door. Well folks, if now is not sewage time for social inequity and environmental degradation, how bad do things have to get? We just had a disaster, now is the moment to seize a reimagining of the world and our place in it. Now is a moment to reframe long-term California trends of stilted inequity and short-term speculation on common-pool resources.
Change from the inside or out?
If these few action item things cannot be done, and the system has such inertia that we must sustain an unjust pattern, because no one can find workable incentives to do the right thing (sustainability), or to stand up and forcefully push for the right thing, or shake the needed money loose from where it is all sequestered, then the working class may have but two choices: be condemned to receive crumbs from philanthropy and non-profits, or make a non-cooperative, non-violent revolt to force needed systemic changes. If not from within, then from without, a populist mass revision of the nature of society is called for.
Can we do this re-visioning rationally? Can all actors of good will see there are troubles, and try to get together and make needed changes to solve them? Or will vested interests hang onto power and force the end-game hand, so that only from total ashes will anything new and adaptive emerge?
The post-fire process may yet see the type of re-visioning necessary, as decision makers start to see larger patterns and more adaptive, sustainable baselines become real goals. The suspicion of many is that business as usual is so powerful, not even a serious disaster can shake loose needed systemic changes.
Leaders of status, who are respected by all, will have to step up and twist some arms and say some hard truths. Where are you? Who can step into the breach and provide real visionary leadership that will shake things up where they need shaking?
Create a just society via the Sustainable Sonoma program?
The Sonoma Valley Fund, and the Sonoma Ecology Center, with their associated Hidden in Plain Sight study, see the fundamental systemic unsustainability I speak of here. Hidden in Plain Sight calls this unsustainability a disconnect, and focuses the understanding of that disconnect on philanthropy and non-profits, and proposes to address it through the Sustainable Sonoma program. At this point, Sustainable Sonoma is the only valley organizational effort that attempts to include all community actors, and to actively address triple bottom line systemic questions as a whole.
For climate sustainability, Transition Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Valley Democrats, the First Congregational Church Earth Care Committee and others have united in a group effort, the Sonoma Valley Climate Coalition. The grassroots here are growing strong with good ideas.
I think it is worthwhile to pursue the Sustainable Sonoma effort, and for grassroots activists to participate. Why? This is a wide-tent, inclusive platform being created for grassroots, and all voices to be heard. Many times it seems grassroots voices are not heard, or in various ways put off. Sustainable Sonoma proposes to include representation of grassroots groups, hopefully not as adjuncts, but as core players. The grass roots are the have-not people, with the ideals, urgency, and passions.
It is incumbent on the Sustainable Sonoma program to corral all players to a place where they make the necessary compromises and changes to create a just and sustainable society. To start on doing this, a certain level of effective and respectful communication has to be undertaken by all parties, even while there may be baseline tensions, distrust and judgment among different stakeholders concerning their values. Along the way, some disrespectful speech may be hard, as it is hard to wait so long for justice. All actors here, if they decide to play Sustainable Sonoma, should make an effort to tolerate the hard speech and scorn of others, and see through to the values and ideals that are trying to be expressed. With good will and an open heart, hard differences can be understood and past animosities and enemies maybe redeemed.
At the very least, grass roots actors should give Sustainable Sonoma a chance to see if their voices really will be included, a year and half, two years, to see.
Redemption is possible, but hard
There are two sets of general voices here, one set that seeks to work a change from inside the system, and trusts in local relationships, local government, and the good will of all local actors, to work from our joint context now. This is where conciliatory speech and discourse will hopefully work.
Another set of voices sees current conditions as fundamentally untenable and in need of essential rearrangement. Essential rearrangement means grappling with Stasis Condition A. Speech-wise, this grappling can devolve into scorn and condemnation of status quo actors, which practically speaking, causes them to dig in deeper on the very areas where change is sought, and leaves outsiders few options but total war.
Both of these ways, insider and outsider, are valid and necessary, and the tensions therein have to be dealt with gracefully, because there is truth to both ways. Being willing to walk a mile in another’s shoes helps to be able to see other’s motivations and their perceived constraints and urgencies.
What it looks like from the bottom
In the spirit of articulating how the current system looks from the vantage of grassroots, activist community stakeholders, or outsiders, or people who have no power, we are suspicious that an insider, non-profit industrial complex solution will simply forward a continuation of an unjust society, because it keeps resources and power away from minorities and the working class, that it may sanction a continued high consumption economic model that is ruining the planet, and it appears to dole out crumbs vs. advocate systemic change. True or not, this opinion is shared by many grassroots people. This observation grows out of the intractableness of Stasis Condition A, born out of 1000s of years of class society oppression of workers and minorities.
If this is a wrong-headed take, an explanation of why by local non-profit actors would help. In one respect for example, Sonoma does not have a non-profit industrial complex but it is more a collection of individual philanthropists and non-profit dependents. The aggregate effect is to keep the status quo, but not out of some grand, calculated strategy. The non-profit/ philanthropy ecosystem here is one that is locally evolved, by good will actors, and simply has certain advantages and limitations. It’s existence does not preclude conversation about it, and what better strategies might be.
What is reasonable to expect from what actors here? Philanthropy and government cannot be expected to dole out the answers. The have-nots have to stand up and demand what is right, and put that wind in the sails of the power holders and decision makers. If we were to have a rational, inside out type of change process, then it is incumbent on power players to listen and act on the demands. These demands have been made forever, we know what to do: start to make a just system that protects and values all, and that doesn’t destroy our baseline environmental commons in the process.
For systemic inside-out change, a reasonable start would be for a few big players to tip towards advocating major structural changes, for example: a really big donor, a top non-profit, and a top government official all weigh in for a living wage tied to the cost of living. They make the case in reasonable language: it’s not morally right that workers only get crumbs for working hard while the top gets wealthier. It’s not right that for our economy to work, it has to destroy the environment and cause fatal climate change. Therefore we need a new model…
Education on how to frame is as important as specific programs
If we want diverse interests and people to pull the same cart forward, convincing them to do so is a framing issue, in terms of how to speak about it, and how to understand and know the situation Sonoma Valley is in. There is an objective baseline structural context that is measurably unjust, as shown by the Hidden in Plain Sight study, and by triple bottom line sustainability indicators. This is the starting point.
From where I stand, I see people of good will from many spheres trying to address persistent social inequity problems and issues of possibly fatal climate change. This is all tied to triple bottom line sustainability. My intention here is not to impugn the good motives of economic actors, donors and non-profits, or to raise all grassroots activists as saints, but simply to articulate how things look from a non-monied, social equity and civil rights vantage point, how things look from and environmental sustainability view.
Full cost accounting is the adaptive frame
The have nots are supposed to come up with workable solutions? Solution number one: adopt and start talking about all issues from a full cost accounting, triple bottom line sustainability frame. Ditch the economic bottom line only frames that assume status quo economic assumptions are rigid truths and that our current wine-tourism economy is all benefits and no costs. The sustainability program has been around since the mid 1980s. It is a reasonable ask of decision makers to start speaking of issues in those terms. It is the most apt and adaptive planning and policy frame there is.
Solution number two, enact a real living wage tied to cost of living and inflation.
A bid for laying values cards on the table
There are tensions in society, and in order to make any productive changes, these tensions need to be addressed head on, hopefully with underlying with good will (otherwise it is war). Laying values cards on the table with an honest intent, from the grassroots values vantage point should be a good idea, as a bid for honesty to come likewise from other actors. As stakeholders looking for a hopefully sustainable future in Sonoma Valley, social justice and climate advocates would like to see a place where all can make a living wage, have housing, and can afford to live with a quality of life that enables free time for active community participation, the chance for self-determination, and the ability to reach higher levels of self-actualization.
Climate issues need addressing ASAP too
And equally challenging, this equity project has to be done with strong moves for climate protection built in. This means the very high consumption/ greenhouse gas impact of the wealthy has to be mitigated and dialed back, while at the same time, the working classes be honored and brought up to a baseline dignified material situation. The aggregate greenhouse gas footprint of society has to be lower and not growing.
A carrying capacity system needs to be envisioned, that conserves resources and at the same time meets people’s material needs. In order to get to sustainability, a fundamental reexamination of the assumptions behind continuous growth as necessary need to be undertaken. A faith in a new green revolution, or that somehow technology will save is not going to be born out. Why? One example, world fresh water resources are being overdrawn, and in 30 years, there is going to be dearth of fresh water period. Carrying capacity is the clear path, and it needs to be taken. How can we carry more people on less resources, use less fossil fuel energy, and still have people able to be happy and fulfilled?
More people need to get buy on less and have that be done in a way that does not continue a world of disparity between haves and have nots.
That’s the challenge, and if we can’t even talk about it productively, we’re screwed. It’s Barbara Tuchman sewage time now: post fire disaster: human caused climate changes ramping up; time to come to the table and work together and use our vaunted smarts to figure a way out of a mess we as society have created.
The technological, and reproductive success of our species has resulted in an unsustainable human climate and resource consumption footprint on the earth. The inequities of class society contribute greatly to our common unsustainable path. Specific actions need to be taken to reduce these existential issues, but first the reasons for action must be framed in such a way that action is made clear and based on agreed-upon assumptions, i.e. collectively get on the same team. The explicit writing is and has been on the wall for 30 plus years, it’s time to see it and get moving on real solutions.
Hoping for a reasonable common solution based on right speech and respect is possibly, and likely, a crazy pipe dream, especially given that in history, people have proven they are anything but reasonable and respectful. Yet, hope springs eternal!
By working together, here in the lab of Sonoma Valley, with right speech, to grapple with these large challenges, we may be stronger and more effective, and show our intelligence, to create adaptive conditions for our own survival. If we don’t rise to the challenge, who will?