By Roberto Vargas, AlterNet
Posted on November 11, 2008, Printed on November 20, 2008
There is a joy resonating throughout the country to be living during this historical moment when we have elected an African-American, an organizer, and a courageous man to be president. It also thrills me that young and old, laborers and professionals, realize that one man cannot advance all the improvements we want for our society, but that we must all move the change together.
In his August 2008 acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Obama made it clear, “ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems.” He went on to say “we must admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.” Mr. Obama’s appeal is that we all step up and assume our “individual and mutual responsibility” to improve life for our families and communities. To this I say, Yes! To me, family includes neighbors, friends, co-workers, and others within and outside of my community; and we can help each other become more caring people.
While Mr. Obama did not use the words “cultural” or “family activism,” I believe that is what he wants from all Americans, and especially from those of us who have supported his campaign. The activism of getting someone elected or advocating for government or corporate accountability is absolutely necessary. Yet, equally important is that we involve ourselves in nurturing among family, friends, and neighbors, a personal confidence and a caring commitment that engages all of us in helping and supporting each other. This is the cultural change necessary in our nation — that we each create life-styles of increased commitment to service and positive change. Family activism can do this by consciously fostering these practices of love, power, and mutual support beginning with all our relationships.
Many of our families struggle under the stress of multiple jobs, the rising cost of living, and insufficient time to support the positive development of our children or the well-being of our neighbors. While government needs to protect us and invest our resources wisely, we must all be each other’s keepers, recognizing that caring for and supporting each other’s success is equally as important as insuring that we can all live joyful lives and enjoy safe communities. Family activism involves making Family our cause, which includes being proud about taking care of ourselves, our loved ones, and others within our communities; and also developing the community power necessary to encourage all levels of government and corporate accountability.
The Obama Campaign enthused me and millions of people to step out of our comfort zones and talk to neighbors and strangers about the changes we want for our nation. These actions must continue. We can begin by considering the following ideas about family activism and its role in advancing the American promise.
1. Personal and Family Responsibility. Mr. Obama said we are our brother’s keeper and sister’s keeper. Even good government is limited in what it can do to ensure the education and welfare of our children or the safety of our streets. The positive changes we want require every one of us to ask, “How can I be a better person, more fair and respectful of others, more committed to personal development and the development of those around me?” As a family activist, I have been doing this for years and encourage others within my family, business, and community to do the same. We must all own our responsibility and power to care for each other and move the positive changes we want for our own family, friends, and neighbors.
2. Family and Future Mindfulness. Family must be our cause and we must think about families with the future in mind. Let’s be honest. The coming years will get harder because of the unavoidable effects of global warming, poisoned environments, overpopulation, and greedy corporations. We will see more expensive food, water, and energy; and fewer jobs. Considering this future, it’s important that our circles of family and friends develop mindfulness, creativity, and skills for survival and success. Many people I know have already begun. We communicate within our families and each other to support and inspire each other. We hold family or group meetings to develop our success plan and to share support. We seek to make our gatherings, including birthdays or holidays, experiences that foster happiness and love. For us, family activism is developing the knowledge, connections, and skills to better support each other and our communities.
3. Multicultural Respect. I am inspired by the way Mr. Obama has repeatedly modeled respect for all people. It reminds me that we are all part of the human family and share the responsibility to advance the well-being of our entire society. While many of us belong to communities that have sustained greater degrees of racism and exploitation than others, it is time to recognize that most of us are working class people doing our best to take care of ourselves and families. It’s time that we liberate our minds and hearts from the prejudices that divide us. The truth is that when we get beyond prejudice, we feel connected, enriched, and hopeful to be in relationship with diverse people. Many people enjoy this type of connection — so they will continue practicing it-yet, it is also important to recognize that multicultural respect is a political necessity. We will need to work together to force the insurance industry, big business, and the super wealthy to act responsibly for the good of all.
4. Sustainable Life Styles. Our society has become overly wasteful and the world can no longer sustain it. We cannot continue depleting our resources, poisoning our environment, producing throw-away stuff, and causing global warming. Increasingly, more people realize that the promise of a future for humankind requires that we change our life styles. We must be wise and less wasteful in what we buy, use and eat; conserve energy; and encourage choices that take better care of our environment and our finite resources. For years, our family and friends have sought to develop traditions that are about buying locally, recycling, conserving, and prioritizing the precious gift of sharing quality time over purchasing fancy toys. To us, this is family, or cultural, activism that cares about our Earth and human relations.
5. Community Involvement. Bad government and the push for consumer life styles have made us lazy about our civic and community involvement. Too many people have the attitude that government will take care of our unsafe neighborhoods, our children’s education, or protect us from exploitation. Again, government can only do its part. As individuals we can make our neighborhoods safer by reaching out and developing relationships with those around us. We can talk to neighbors and co-workers about what needs to change in our city, jobs, and society; and then determine what we can do as a community. Maybe the need is to start a neighborhood network to support each other, elect new leaders, or meet with business owners to urge them to do the right thing. For many of my friends, community involvement has included helping each other with child care, organizing block parties, launching a campaign to lift local wages, electing more responsible officials, and more. For many of us, family activism involves improving our communities as part of our responsibility to take care of our families.
Let’s give President Elect Obama our support by beginning conversations about the family or cultural activism required to be good parents, uncles, aunts, neighbors, and co-workers – people who strive to achieve the American promise of a good life for all. As a community organizer, I have been living this practice of change among my multiple circles of family and friends for many years. Now, in my recently published book titled Family Activism (2008, Berrett-Koehler) I offer communication, meeting, and ceremony tools for all readers who desire to develop healthier families, organizations and communities. Let us all be the change, we want to see!
Dr. Roberto Vargas is a leadership trainer and organization development consultant living in southern California. Contact him at RobertoVargas.com His new book, Family Activism, is available at Amazon.com.
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