All posts by Mark Holmgren

About Mark Holmgren

Mark Holmgren is the Director of Vibrant Communities with Tamarack Institute

Invitation to help me write a major paper on Collaborative Leadership

I am writing to ask you to do a bit of collaboration with me regarding a paper I am writing on Collaborative Leadership and the Future of Cities.

I thought since the paper is about collaboration and leadership I would reach out to you and others to request that you invest 15 or 20 minutes in this survey.

I know. Another survey.

If you can’t do it, no worries.

If there are others you know that may wish to participate, please share this post or email them the survey link.

But before you excuse yourself from participating, be advised it’s a pretty cool survey, replete with big pictures, and quotes from smart people for you to ponder. You don’t want to miss out, do you? ūüėä

And if you do participate and give me your name and email, you will get a copy emailed to you (around the end of September) and you can be included in the paper’s credits (if you grant me permission), and of course you will have my gratitude.

If you wish to remain anonymous, that’s fine, too.

I am hoping for responses to be in by August 18th. Oh by the way, there are no required fields, so if you want to click the link below and page through the survey to see what’s up, please do.

Here’s the link:
https://fs16.formsite.com/tamarack/Collaborative-Leadership/index.html

Tonight

I am a tree reaching up
toward the moon while
the skies are storming
not all that far away.

My arms are branches,
shivering, my fingertips
10,000 leaves touching
a galaxy of stars.

My veins are roots,
my blood the earth. I reach deep
into the earth so I may stand,
resolutely yet willing to bend.

My skin is strong, but I have
my share of scars.
Nature can be unkind.
Still, I love it so.

Within me, the sapling that
persevered — hunger and drought
among the countless reasons
I can kiss the sky.

I am home to creatures that kill
so that all of them can thrive.
Together, we are community.
We do nothing on our own.

If allowed a favorite,
mine is Gray, the Owl. I love to
watch her scan the umbra,
patiently, for possibility.

It’s been a while since someone
rested against me or climbed
as high as I allow. Perhaps
tomorrow will be different.

I once held five children.
Their energy made me creak.
I worried one might fall
if I could not keep still.

Last week my leaves endured,
assaulted  by hail, all of us
terrified of lightening,
shuddering in thunder..

So many storms yet here I am.
If I compare this one to all
I battled, it’d be nothing
but an inconvenient distraction.

Tomorrow might change it all.
I’ve seen so many friends chopped down,
so many lost to consumption. Still,
I will welcome the morning.

But tonight, I am a tree waving
at the universe. I am singing
a song of longing  to the stars. I am
swaying to the music of the storm.

Everything runs its course.
Our best hope is to turn reality
into our way of being real, doing
our best to make it better than before.

Tonight I am
a tree. Tonight
I am a tree. Come.
Stand tall with me.

LIFT YOUR FACE UPWARD

Lift your face upward.
Feel the sunlight.
Let yourself just be there.
Breathe in endless possibility.

Stop worrying about cancer or going blind.
Stop worrying about all the bills
or all the work you’ll never finish.
Just stand there, on your own.

Dance a slow dance on the lawn.
Move your body like a tree.
Push your feet into the ground.
Wiggle your toes in the cool grass.

Face the heavens like sunflowers do.
Let yourself out through your pours.
Let yourself drip down your brow
and sting your tightened eyes.

What good is doing good
if you can’t stand tall beneath the sun
and look it straight in the eye?
What is good about not feeling whole?

Be still. Feel the breeze.
Scratch the dog’s ears
and smile at magpies
no matter what they do.

Taste the scent of clouds.
Hear carrots dig deeper.
For once in your life, don’t
wave madly at angry hornets.

When you are gone, most will
forget you, in time. Make sure
those who love you cannot.
Make sure you don’t want them to.

Lift your face upward.
Feel the sunlight
Let yourself just be there
in the shine, unworried.

Democracy is dying. Time to get to work.

I came across an article by George Monbiot (www.monbiot.com) that appeared in the Guardian this July. In this article, Monbiot writes about James McGill Buchanan, an economist influenced by neoliberalism and deeply funded by billionaire Charles Koch, the 7th wealthiest person in the world.

According to Monbiot, Buchanan was an advocate for what he called the public choice theory. The general gist is that “society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes are forms of ‚Äúdifferential or discriminatory legislation‚ÄĚ against the owners of capital.

“Any clash between what he called ‘freedom’ (allowing the rich to do as they wished) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that ‚Äúdespotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.‚ÄĚ Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was what he called a ‚Äúconstitutional revolution: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he develop both a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like and a strategy for implementing it” (Source).

Buchanan’s influence extends beyond the United States. In 1980, he assisted the Pinochet dictatorship to write a new constitution. “Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend its programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982” (Source).

GIFSec.comNevertheless, believe it or not, in 1986 Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics. This was the man who was against desegregating schools in the American South. He advocated for the privatization of just about everything: universities (at which all students would be required to pay full tuition). He was a proponent of privatized health care which is so costly what is spent in the United States by governments to mitigate its impact on those who can’t pay exceeds the costs of universal health care in Canada. He also thought it would be a good idea to privatize Social Security. Ask yourself when privatization materially improved the lives of everyday people.
According to Monbiot, Buchanan set out to “demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy” (Source).

While you may not have heard of Buchanan, his economic theories and political ideology appear to have served as the backbone for how things work in America.
One has to wonder if his form of “radical capitalism” influenced the financial crisis in 2007, when millions lost their homes due to banking and loaning practices that were driven by greed by those with money in pursuit of more. Remarkably, despite legal activity up the yin-yang, those who caused the disaster were bailed out, made sure they got big bonuses, and no one went to jail. Those who lost their homes received no help to speak of.

the_rich_fewAs income inequality prospers in the United States (and to a lessor extent in Canada), we see the Trump administration making decisions that benefit the super wealthy and punish those struggling to survive. His new health care act will kill people, harm those who are just surviving, and create more profits for mega-health providers. He is a savvy businessman if nothing else. He knows that a single payer system would work better and cost less. By the way, despite their advertisements to the contrary, these health care corporations hire people who can earn bonuses by denying claims (based on an interview I did with a claims officer at one of the largest health providers in the US.).

It all comes down to money. Not humanity. Not any smidgen of moral obligation to the marginalized. No one would vote to give up more of what little they have in order to increase profits for the wealthy – well, at least not knowingly. Oddly enough the poorest of the poor tend to vote Republican. This has been true for year and years, and yet they are no better off for their loyalty to the party.

There is a distasteful mythology that has been nurtured by those who are not poor about those who are. The poor are lazy, defective. They don’t have a work ethic. They prefer to lay about and live off of others. Given the obsession that successful people often have about their own success as a model for others, it makes sense, twisted sense I grant you, that one who purports the bootstrap theory of success would in turn rile against the unsuccessful as deserving of their failures. Blaming the poor by defining them as lesser beings than those who have money is a major reason why poverty continues to exist.

rich-vs-poor

Monbiot concludes his article this way: “In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called ‘economic freedom’ and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both” (Source).

President Franklin Roosevelt once warned Congress: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.”

Look at what is happening in the United States. Fascism is something we think is done over there, across the water, by despicable people. Now, it’s emerging at a rapid rate just south of our border. It’s frightening, isn’t it? A president who holds himself above the law, who threatens to fire people if they don’t toe the line, who utters outlandish diatribes at anyone who would hint at opposing him. He won’t be transparent about his taxes. He makes decisions that are rooted in his own passion for self-benefit. Although I have to doubt President Trump ever read a word of Buchanan’s, he appears to be an ardent advocate for the super-rich, while unable to hide his distaste for the poor.

capitalismquoteWe can see this thinking and the divisiveness it perpetuates elsewhere of course. Even here in Canada, where we see the emergence of a far right political party in Alberta. Its leader, Jason Kenney, a student of Ralph Klein, who believe some pretty scary stuff, such as (Source).

“We shouldn’t indoctrinate students into the most extreme view about [climate change], I don’t think we should be teaching in our schools that whatever David Suzuki says is gospel truth.”

“Carbon dioxide is no biggie because trees like CO2.”

“I think it’s the first generation [Millennials] to come through a schooling system where many of them have been hard-wired with collectivist ideas, with watching Michael Moore documentaries, with identity politics from their primary and secondary schools to universities. That’s kind of a cultural challenge for any conservative party, any party of the centre-right, and we’ve got to figure out how to break that nut.”

He is anti-choice, against gay marriage, does not support assisting the severely ill with ending their lives. And he believes that the supremacy of God trumps the authority of Parliament. I assume he means the right and true Christian God. All the others no doubt do not matter.

When Trump ran for president, I still had my head in the sand. I thought no way he will become president — and voila. I have urges to discount Kenney as a quack that no sane Albertan would vote for, but I know those urges are wrong. Acting like an ostrich will not protect ourselves from the dangers in the wild.

We are on a journey, have been for a long time, to a time when life is ruled by dark money by old, wealthy men in closed-door meetings.

I have often wondered if despicable people have a good side. Did Hitler open doors for elderly women? Did Pinochet ever say a kind word to a homeless person on the street? Did George Bush Sr. ever regret introducing HMOs into the US healthcare arena? Does Trump ever for a moment stop to truly think about how many people will die because of his ego and shabby, hurtful design of a new health care system?

I don’t really know the answer to such questions, though I have my suspicions. But I do know that it will take courageous political leaders to turn our journey into a better direction. I wonder who will do that, who will turn away from corporate donations that come with clear expectations, if not demands?

Who will rise up to claim democracy once again as the way we should and must live, where people are equal under the law, have human rights that are enforced, and where governments make decisions that benefit the majority, if not everyone.

If you think improving socio-economic conditions requires systems change, this is what we are facing: A Noble prize winner, funded by billionaires, who has set a course¬† for a place where the rights of the few trump the rights of the many. Ironic that the US president is named, “Trump.”

Who will lead a new journey? We know who won’t. But we can’t do it without leadership at all levels of government.

Thanks to Monbiot and others like him, we can see the twisted agenda of the super powerful and wealthy.

In the context of Collective Impact, which is a practice area for me, we do not just need to agree on what the problems are. We need to understand that the old maxim, “Know thy enemy” rings true here as well.

Time to get to work.

 

Further reading:

James M. Buchanan,The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy[1962]

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America By Nancy MacLean

Missing Link, George Monbiot

Working yet Homeless in Banff, Alberta

Banff, Alberta. Located in one of the most beautiful areas in Canada. People come from all over the world by the bus loads. There is money being made for sure. Nothing wrong with making money, right?

The hotel industry does alright. I perused hotels there via Expedia and most of the rooms available were $400 to $500 per night. Then there’s all the restaurants and bars, the tourist shops, art galleries, the rafting experiences, horseback riding, and on and on.

Life is good in Banff. Good for business people. Good for visitors who can afford to be there. But what about the workers at the clothing stores, or at the restaurants, or the ones who clean the rooms at the $500 per night hotel?

Josh, 22, homeless worker in Banff, Alberta. Photo credit: Falice Chin/CB

Josh Smith moved to Banff a month or so ago because of the abundance of work there. He moved all the way from the east coast. He landed a job right away as a clerk at a retail outlet, making $15.00 per hour.

Let’s make sure that sinks in. A young man wanted to go to work so badly he travelled across the country to land a low wage,¬†retail clerk’s position. Industrious. Committed. The kind of young man I would hire.

One problem, though: Josh is homeless.

Banff has a zero-per-cent vacancy rate. Josh has done some couch surfing but doesn’t stay long out of courtesy to his friends. He just can’t find a place he can afford. According a CBC report (sources below), he is willing to pay up to $800 per month, but there is nothing at that rate that is decent.

“Some people want $1,000 to share a room with. That’s going to be drinking all night, partying — because it is a party town. If I’m going to work 10,12 hours every day, I don’t want to come home to a roommate in the room who is just drinking.”

So, a young man willing to work long hours for what clearly is not a living wage in Banff, Alberta is left to camp out illegally or spend the night tippling coffee at the all night McDonald’s (when does he sleep?).

Josh is not alone. In July of 2016, officials with Banff National Park reported knowing of 230 illegal campsites in the area, more in those seven months than the entire year of 2015. It’s risky camping out like that because there are wild animals in the forests and hills. Park officials also noted the risk of having to pay up to $5,000 in fines for being homeless in the national park.

Josh has to use public washrooms to attend to his basic needs. According to him, it’s a common thing to see at public washrooms. “I bet money someone is washing their hair, guaranteed,” he says. “Every time I go, there’s a buddy brushing his teeth or washing his hair. Or he’s got the wet paper towel and he’s wiping down his body. It’s like, yeah, everyone is in the same boat as me.”

There is something wrong when workers, who are essential to the economy in Banff, can’t find affordable housing and in order to maintain their low paying jobs have to resort to what amounts to illegal behaviour.

Creating more affordable housing in Banff is a challenge beyond what most communities face. Because it is located in the National Park, all land is owned by the Federal Government. The municipality is subject to the National Parks Act. In other words, developers (whether for-profit or non-profit) can’t develop as easily as they might in other cities and towns where they can actually purchase land.

City council is trying to address this issue. They are dealing with illegal Airbnb listings, as it is illegal in Banff to rent out residential homes for commercial reasons, without a permit. I found that interesting. The potential of earning revenues through Airbnb likely surpasses what can be made renting out a room; so this just adds to the affordable housing crunch. People can make more money off of tourists than the workers who support their economy.

As well, town Counselor Grant Canning reported that 130 affordable housing units will be built in 2018. Given the number of illegal campsites and the unknown number of workers living in garages, at illegal camps, or couch surfing, who knows what kind of dent that development will make in the overall housing problem. Nevertheless, it’s progress.

This is an example of a social problem (homelessness) being a structural problem, not one to be blamed on Josh and others like him. It’s complicated for sure. It’s about how the economy is structured, people’s incessant drive to make more money, and the laws and regulations that have helped to create and exacerbate the homeless problem in Banff. It’s also likely another example of income inequality, where those making money are primed to make even more, while the Josh’s of the world make low wages and live illegally in one of the most beautiful places on the continent.

Is Josh discouraged? No doubt, he has his moments. Despite the unfairness of his situation, he remains committed to staying in Banff.

“I know with enough determination I can make it out here,” he says. “I want to be better off when I go back than I was when I came out.”

Going back east is not an option for him. That suggests life back home is even worse than in Banff for this hardworking, homeless young man. That’s likely another story and one I bet you is rooted in structural causes of poverty, unemployment, and lack of housing.

Sources

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/homeless-resort-town-banff-housing-crunch-workers-1.4216765

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/banff-illegal-camping-affordable-housing-2016-1.3700223