Tuesday, September 2, 2014

YOU are the Agent of Change

It was the end of the day and we were approaching the line for the tram at Disney after the fireworks.   It was many people deep and even with Disney’s infamous efficiency, we were going to be there a little while.  Our parking lot was not that far away and Noah and I were inclined to walk it instead.  The rest of our crew preferred waiting.  I hate lines. 
At the other end of the spectrum - when I was out in LA for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network leadership training a couple of weeks ago, I was surrounded by folks that don’t want to wait.  If it ain’t happening, these are the kinds of folks that will make it happen.  It was awesome!
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is representative of concerned people-power pushing against the way things are to bring about the reality that they long to see.  Pan Can’s goal is to raise awareness of and maximize funding for research to double the 5-year survival rate (from its’ current measly 6%) by 2020. 
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network represents one of three legs that support the stool upon which most change happens in this country.  Besides charities and non-governmental organizations, I see the government and faith communities as the other most significant agents of change in our society.
The direct actions of dedicated people working through NGOs and charity organizations to achieve change are similar to the responsibility placed on each of us in this democracy.  Sadly, this is a trait that we have readily relinquished in America.  We set up a system that provided a mechanism (albeit imperfect) for groups of individuals to be the change that they long for.   Very sadly, we have lazily and irresponsibly relinquished that vast potential for good by vilifying the very means to accomplish all things for ourselves – mainly owning (our role as) the government.  We have accepted the ruse of railing against the government.  We have been bamboozled into forgetting that we have been given a government of, by, and for the people.  We are conveniently forgetting that we are the government - the ones responsible for the way things are and the way things could be.
I see direct parallels between the challenges of tackling this most difficult and deadly cancer and the undermining of our American democracy.  In each case, a beautiful and lofty idea is stymied by a current of other competing intentions.
Coming under a few basic themes, here’s how I see the competing intentions of the pancreatic cancer fight and our democracy challenge:
  1. 1.     The complexity of the cancer itself (the location of the organ, the pathology of the disease, etc.), and the inherently complex problems we face as a nation - , seemingly resistant to the very best that we are able to throw at them. 
  2. 2.     Our personal and democratic health are market based.  The relatively low (but rising) incidence rate (~40,000 Americans/year) discourages for-profit Pharma from making a targeted effort to solve this most challenging cancer problem.  Similarly, the concerns of the average American are being ignored because the money spent under the guise of corporate free speech calls the shots. 
  3. 3.     Finally, the politics in this country put ideology ahead of the very real (sometimes deadly) realities of people’s lives.  Even cancer doesn’t make the cut for funding these days.  In the same way, our politics prioritize maintaining current power bases rather than addressing the very real suffering that many Americans face every day.

The passion I saw at the PanCan leadership training taught me that every competing interest can be overcome by people-power.  No problem is too complex.  Free markets need not be the only solution to our problems.  Ideology need not trump reality.  Everything is possible and we are just the folks to do it.
Although maybe a subset of the charity and NGO category, faith communities function in a similar way – by rallying people behind an idea or set of beliefs.  I set them apart because it is a particularly unique and beautiful thing when faith is seen as a verb, an action, not passive.  People of faith are responsible for many of the non-governmental hospitals, schools, social service and disaster relief agencies in our world.   On a large scale, it is groups of individuals that band together to address society’s ills and bring just relief to the neediest among us.  Catholic churches and organizations have been doing it for a long time.  Protestant denominations, Jewish synagogue groups and   Muslim organizations all do amazing good in our society.
The hunger for better exists but charities and faith-based organizations don’t appeal to everyone. In that sense, the tendency to vilify the government and so distance ourselves from the widespread and necessary good that we are called to do is so disturbing to me.  It takes out of play one of the three biggest agents of change in our society.  For some our shared nation-hood is the tie that binds.  I hate to lose even one outlet in the struggle to change this world.
Lord knows that there are many issues in this broken world for us to make progress on.  There’s no need to make excuses for the line.  Don’t wait on it either.  If you don’t see what you want, find like-minded someones and start walking.