In preparation for my upcoming month long trip to India to meet with civil society groups I have been spending countless hours and hundreds of pages learning about Indian history and culture.  And strange as it might seem given my profession  I never really looked closely at Ghandi's  "Ahimsa" movement or analyzed the strategies he employed as an organizer.  I still feel like I have a lot to learn but did draw a few preliminary conclusions about Ghandi the organizer and leader. 

My general impression is that as an organizer Ghandi made many mistakes and misjudgements.  I think the work he did early in his career in South Africa to gain equal status for Indians was a huge dissapointment to him.  He repeatedly called upon his followers to undertake tactics that few of them could endure as well as he could.  By asking people to foresake their finanical considerations and submit to prison in an effort to shame the Boer led authorities and the British Crown, Ghandi broke a cardinal rule in organizing, we often fail if we ask people to do things that are too far outside of their experience.  That's always the challenge, to engage in a tactic burdensome to and outside the experience of authority figures but not transcend the limits of the leaders and activists who you are trying to help achieve real victories.  Poor Ghandi, this happened to him again and again in South Africa, and later in India too and it frustrated him enormously.  Many times he was able to secure some compromise and declare a level of victory but to little satisfaction to him or his followers.  So while Ghandi won very few individual battles, his very act of battling and personal sacrifice won him the admiration of millions of Indians, Britains, and Americans..which ultimately proved transformational.   Why did Americans matter?  Because FDR wasn't having any of Churchill's ambitions to maintain the British Empire in the context of World War II.  He felt the days of colonialism should be over, as did much of the British public and repeatedly took allied strategies put forward by Churchill to protect the empire for the sake of empire off the table.  My two cents at the moment.

I'm excited about going to India and learning more and will keep folks up to date during my trip on this blog.
Life passes in slow motion in DC in August when you happen not to be on vacation so I was very happy to host two very interesting visitors back to back yesterday.

The first visitor was Martin Wolf Andersen, a Dane who works with the CONGO (Conference of Non-governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations).  He was here to talk to US nonprofits and learn more about how we operate.  I was very interested to talk with him as I had been a part of the CONGO process in 2005 in Geneva.  I had gone because I wanted to see if there was an international connection to the work I was doing in the United States in creating a national coalition dedicated to media reform.  Media companies are multi-national so to me it made some sense to go when I heard about the World Summit on Information Society.  I told him that I thought the groups I met there were very dedicated to their work but I didn't see a natural connection to the work I was doing, and that it wasn't clear to me how the civil society groups were going to leverage the work they did at the UN  to affect change in their respective countries.  Martin shared that the CONGO is currently evaluating how they can enhance the role of civil society groups in the UN process and be more deliberate about expected outcomes.  Martin is a smart enthusiastic guy and it sounded to me like his team is asking the right questions.  He was headed off to Jackson, Mississippi next and I shared with him that former Common Causer Scott Albert Johnson (an advocate turned Blues Man) was doing a concert tonight.  Hope he makes it to what Scott describes as a "hutananee".....sounds like fun.

The next visitor, Miguel Hilario Manenima, is a member of the Shipibo-Konibo nation from the Amazonia of Peru. He studied politics and economics at Oxford University, and holds two MAs and Ph.D from Stanford University in Anthropology and Latin American Studies.  Some more interesting facts about Miguel, he was born in a canoe, he didn't learn Spanish until he was 11, he launched his impressive academic credentials by convincing some tourists to sponsor him at a community college in the US, and now he is running for President of Peru.  Miguel is a very charismatic guy...and what an interesting life story.  If he wins, he would be the first indegenous person to hold the office.  While I wish him well, given my role at Common Cause I can't endorse his candidacy but I am very intersted in working with him and others in Peru who are focused on developing the nonprofit advocacy sector and enhancing government accountability measures. Regardless if Manenima wins this round I think he is someone we will be hearing a lot more about.
As someone who has been in the organizing profession for a couple decades I am watching the health care debate this month very closley.  And it really does make my head hurt for a number of reasons.

I am very disturbed by the lack of quality information regarding the deficits of the current health care system and the implications of the legislation Congress is considering.  The organizing match between corporate funded opponents of health care reform and traditional advocates of the uninsured and underinsured would be less painful if the quality of the debate weren't so low.  I keep thinking, where is the light?

The media is covering the horse race as ususual with few exceptions, shirking their responsibility to provide quality information.  If I ran a news organization I would run a week long documentary on health care in America to help people understand.  I read the three bills sitting in Congress and I am still confused as I don't have enough information to know what their impact will be and how we are going to pay for the changes we need.  PBS' Frontline did a short piece last year and I learned a lot from it...more please.

Another thing that needs to be said....and I hate to say it, is that so called Astroturf groups ginned up by money from the ultra conservative Koch Foundation and other corporate interests have, in my view, succeeded in transitioning from cheesy transparent Astroturf to spawning a true blue, poorly informed, paranoid, misguided grassroots foment.  While they might be using corporate money to pull this off they have legitimately tapped into real fears of some on the right about socialism, taxes, and anti-Obama anxiety that does in fact exist out there.  And from this organizers view, they have done an impressive if professionally irresponsible job.  Dag.

My guess is that President Obama and others on his side of the issue will catch up quickly as this debate moves into the fall, more details about the legislation become clear and organizers and activists on the reform side adjust their strategies and tactics.  But round one goes to the corporate organizers, who have effectively played on people's fears and ignorance to aid them in guarding their bottom lines. I also think the corporate folks will over play their hand and that most Americans will look upon their current tactics as uncivil.  And given all the random reasons that have little to do with the health debate that the protesters are putting forward (abortion, immigration, fear of communism) they will undoubtedly lose credibility with the thoughtful public.

On July 25th I joined activitists in cities around the globe who rallied in support of human rights and transparency in the election process in Iran. My colleague Babak Talebi was one of the primary strategists with   in organizing the rally here in DC.  If you want to read more about how the protests went around the world visit here.  It takes a lot to coordinate a global day of protest and I interviewed Babak to learn more about what it took to put these events together.  You can read my interview with Babak by visiting here.

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