Posted by: MC | May 24, 2010

Be the Change

“We need to ‘be the change,’ – Gandhi – ‘we want to see in the world.’ 
I think we’re ready.”
Tara Loyd

Remember Tara and Brett from last week?  You already know they are good at listening to one another even though they often don’t agree – especially on matters political.  A thing they did agree on was the necessity for being active parts of the public changes they want to see.  Many of the 100 voices of EX:Change emphasized listening across difference to address what Tommy in Texas called “the majors” (EX:C blog, “Listening Across Difference:  Pt 1,” 05-11-2010).  Alongside that emphasis was the consistent expression of willingness to be active in the change itself.  It was beyond willingness, though.  It was a deep sense of duty – perhaps an American trait revealed with these interviews.  A sense of responsibility and confidence with a twist of gratitude – sort of an, “Of course we’d help make this real.”  Duty with its roots in sincere devotion to the wellbeing of the country.

You can see why I truly wish everyone could take a journey like the EX:Change road trip.  Hearing these convictions voiced so consistently by everyday Americans is solid reason for belief in our capacity for change and for confidence in the dignity and generosity of the citizenry.

Sitting in the bare room above the body shop where they both work, Tara, 22 and Brett, 30, started with another theme recurrent across the EX:Change voices:  Change takes time.

Tara:  “Well hopefully we’ll see change in the next four years.  That was the whole promise.  I don’t expect huge change “boom” right in the next couple of months.  Give him [President Obama] a year or so to feel things out.”

Brett:  “That’s where I think he maybe set himself up for failure.  The idea is such a powerful thing.  Everything is already in change and will always be changing.  But what are you supposed to look for, ‘And, February 5th it changed?’”

T:  “It seems like some people are waiting for him to do all the changing.  But see, we need to be the change.  At the same time, we can’t expect everybody to plunge in since we’re still living our same daily lives.”

B:  “We are.”

T:  “We all are.  But we should do whatever we can, too.  You can’t just hope this one person is going to change America.  We all need to do our part.”

B:  “Everybody is waiting.  He put people in place in his Administration to work for that change.  That’s what he claimed he could do, so let’s see if he can do it. That’s why we elected him.”

T:  “We need to ‘be the change,’ – Gandhi – ‘we want to see in the world.’  I think we’re ready.  I think most Americans are ready to do it.  We may want Barack to tell us something, but we’ve got to stop relying on government to fix everything.  For example, there are a lot of houses that groups of people are getting together to build.  Those are getting done faster than government building.  Even if he doesn’t tell us what to do, we should identify things that we can do.  We shouldn’t always wait for somebody else to tell us.  Even day to day things like always recycling or using one car.”

B:  “It’s a sense of community – helping each other out.

A few days earlier in a Starbucks in Portland, I met Nick Minnis.  Nick is a working class black man, active in his church and somewhere in the middle of his lifetime.  He works hard, and he watches the way social circumstances affect his life and community. 

“This change, it’s going to take a while, a lot of talking.  Speaking from the black – I don’t want to speak for blacks, but from my perspective being a black man. What I have observed in my lifetime has led me to feel as though I’m going to be shortchanged because of the history behind us.  I will feel that until I see some definite improvement. 

“If they tell you that you can be equal, but you never make any gains, you’re going to say, ‘Nothing has changed.’  How do you go about getting people to see the improvement they will make if they apply themselves when everything you’ve seen before has made no difference?  It’s really a catch 22 on that. 

“We think we’ve accomplished something with a black President.  It’s still going to be a long process breaking down racial barriers.  Nothing is going to happen over night.  We have a lot of work ahead of us. 

“What I would like to see happen is this.  Obama wants everybody to assist him in making these changes, but there’s nothing out there saying what we need to do.  If his team of people knows what he has in mind, put it out to the public.  What changes – not on the grand scale – what can we do down in the communities to actually start building change as opposed to just throwing the word change out there.  I’m ready, but I don’t have any guidelines. 

“Somebody’s got to be communicating out here other than him.  He can’t be in every community meeting.  They got to put out there what exactly they want from the American people.  They’ve got to not just work with the big dollar people, the high dollar people, but all of the American people.  If you want this change to happen, it’s going to take everybody.  So, tell us what you want from us and let’s go!”

A month after I talked with Nick I was in Jackson MS at yet another Starbucks* where I talked with Russell a white man who is a carpenter and dad of young twins.  He wore a brimmed hat sitting outside in the warm February air of Jackson.  Russell was one of the easiest possible strangers to approach on the EX:Change journey.  His ready smile was like an open invitation and turned out to be entirely consistent with the words he had to say about change.   

“People want to put all their faith into a leader.  Everything.  We’re all wanting to let him do it.  But I think people can act on their own.  I think it actually really starts with individuals taking responsibility.  Obama talks about that, too.  He made a statement one day where he said, ‘We are going to do this.’  Not, ‘I am going to do it,’ but ‘We’re going to do this together.’   I think that’s a key element.  I hope people can see that.

“For me that’s an open door right now.  I can’t help but come back to the importance of people having confidence in themselves.  The evidence of positive change comes from myself and not from anything I see.   I have to put it out there and live as though it’s there.  For me, that’s putting down the fear.  If other people start doing that, too, we’ll start seeing real change.

“With that, petty negative feelings get put aside and you come from a heart that’s overflowing.  That’s starting to sound a little gushy, but I think that’s the way it is.  So many people go to church and talk about this, that and the other; but I don’t think they really live it.  It’s like they go to church and expect that to be one day a week they put onto that and then it’s back to the rush and craziness of things.  I think you have to live it every day.”

“I’m not trying to be a religion beater or anything.  I just think it’s important to incorporate spirituality into your life.  That’s the way I see it.  If we’re really going to bring change, it starts with the individual projecting hope.  That’s where it starts.”

Russell and I talked about what Tommy had said.  We talked about Nick saying change has to be visible and about how Brett and Tara felt involved in their country for the first time in their lives.  Then Russell looked at the EX:Change button I’d given him. 

“This is part of it, too.  You go through a situation like this where you talk to people and you see where people are in agreement and it’s kind of nice.  It goes both ways, because you learn something and so do they.  It’s an exchange.”

*About the Starbucks thing.  In order to have wifi access throughout the trip, I purchased and registered a Starbucks card.  That gave me internet access for a couple hours in any Starbucks store.  Given the ubiquity of the brand and its storefronts, I figured such a card was likely the best bet for being able to do the cyber-management of EX:Change from almost anywhere in the country.  I’d stop from time to time to arrange for next places to stay, post blog entries, communicate w/ the team back at home, and thank the people who had spoken with and/or housed me.  I’d also strike up conversations and those often led to interviews adding ever more range and richness to the EX:Change voices.  All of that…and coffee, too. 

I went low-tech-classic-road-trip for about everything else – maps instead of GPS, for example.  But the change that cyber-tech is bringing to the way we know and do reality was present and very helpful for making the EX:Change real.

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