Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rage Against the... Ecosystem?

I was a bit young for Rage Against the Machine. When the revolutionary rap/metal group released their 1992 debut, I'm pretty sure the only thing I was raging against was nap time. But I figured they could be a window into social movements past, so I torrented the album (they'd be cool with that, right?), popped in my headphones and started listening. Two thoughts came up:

1. Dear God. These guys have the emotional range of a slide whistle. Did people actually listen to this shit?

2. What if it's not really a 'machine' we're raging against? Our metaphors are the lenses through which we view the world: they shade our perception of possibilities. So they're worth getting right.
Sorry guys, the revolution will not be grunted.
When it comes to the economy, there's at least two common metaphors for how to understand its 'system-ness'. (1)

The machine is definitely a powerfully one. "The Canadian economy moved ahead full-steam this quarter." "Workers are the engine of the economy." If the economy is a machine, then everything economic is a part. The banks, the factories, the stores - everything has a function. The families, the government, the schools - maybe they are parts as well. Everything kind of fits together, and it's all working to keep the machine running. If an activity doesn't seem to fit (say, canning tomatoes from the community garden) it's seen to be outside the machine, and thus marginal. Maybe it's still economic, but it's not "driving" the economy. 
(Organism/body and house/structure metaphors works much the same way. E.g "finance is the heart of the economy" or "strong families are the foundation of a strong economy".)

If the economy is a machine, and you've got as much rage as the dude screaming into my earbuds, then there are only two options: take control, or smash it. The machine metaphor conjures images of a control room with switches and dials: raise taxes, lower interest rates, set the minimum wage at a living wage. You won't change the essential operation of the machine, but you can shift its outcomes.

And if you agree with RATM (and me) that those dials don't turn halfway to justice? Then "you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels... upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop!"

An ecosystem metaphor allows us to think a bit differently. Everything is still connected, of course, but you don't need to assume that everything has a function in the way that parts of a machine do. There are capitalist species, but there are also co-operative species, household species, government species, etc. Their relationships can be competitive, but also symbiotic, parasitic or any number of configurations.

Talking about the economy as an ecosystem opens up other strategies for change. Maybe a symbiosis between social movements and the co-op sector could help cooperative species out-compete capitalist ones? Or what if a Basic Income Guarantee acted as a unlimited strike fund, helping organized labour convert corporate profits into worker compensation? Or could divestment movements choke corporations for capital while feeding the growth of a more human economy?

When the economy is an ecosystem, we also think a bit differently about the "system-ness" of capitalism. Rather than being the economic system, capitalism instead becomes a set of relationships within it. Maybe that sounds like it downplays the injustice of our economy, but I don't see it that way. Think of the corporations as invasive species. They'll try to expand rapaciously, choking off life for everything else. Shell is zebra mussel. Walmart is a cane toad. Nor should it downplay the conflict of economic transformation. Just like a cheesy nature documentary, this is a life and death struggle.
By Eli Greenbaum -
Anyways, before this post runs on longer than de la Rocha's chants, I should wrap it up. How else can we talk about the economy to open up possibilities for change, while not losing sight of the rage that drives that helps drive that change in the first place?

1. Much of this post was extrapolated from Erik Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias (Verso, 2010) 232, note 10.3.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Flexing My Creative Muscles

A few months ago, my partner at the time and I were spending a Friday night in and wanted to watch a movie. Neither of us keeps up much with pop culture, and we struggled to pick a film. She suggested Ratatouille, a childhood favourite. I had no other ideas, so a decision was made.

We settled into the couch and watched as Reny, an anthropomorphic rat, escapes the filthy existence of his species to become an elite Parisian chef. I made it about halfway before falling asleep.

The next morning, my partner asked me what I thought of the film. Having a bit of fun, I set about ruining it for her by exposing how one of her favourite childhood films perpetuates everything that's wrong with the world. Reny's upward mobility really only justifies the continued exploitation of all the other rats. They just aren't as talented as he is, and in any case don't appreciate the finer things in life. The rodent protagonist deserves his new life cooking Paris's finest food, and they deserve theirs picking through the city's trash. And the strong-willed feminist character? Well, she chills the fuck out as soon as the writers put a man in her life.

Later that day, I started thinking about how easily that critique came to me. I could deconstruct that movie for sport before my morning coffee. But could I create a different story, one more true to my values? That's a lot harder.

                 Superman needs to hit the squat rack.
Like many progressives, I think my creative capacities are underdeveloped compared to my critical ones. Sometimes I feel like that dude at the gym with the massive upper body and the stick-thin legs. If I want to help build up an economy that reflects my values, I'm going to need a more balanced physique.

For me, that has meant pushing myself toward greater openness. When I encounter a new initiative, I've been trying to ask "what can this contribute?" before I ask "what can go wrong?" I've been picking up books on solidarity economics, fair trade and social enterprise rather than reading yet another attack on capitalism.

But here's what I'm not saying: that the lack of a positive vision ever invalidates critique. Too often, people will say "that critic should offer solutions" when "their critique makes me uncomfortable" would really be more honest. I have no desire pull any punches, and I certainly don't want to pervert the argument above to shelter myself from other people's feedback.

And providing an alternative is not always the criticizer's responsibility. Don't ask migrant labourers to re-write Canadian immigration policy before listening when they say, for example, that the Canadian state has created "modern day slavery." Don't ask the Unist'ot'en for a blueprint of a clean-energy economy before respecting the "no" they've given to pipelines crossing their territory.  

And I'm definitely not saying that critique isn't important. It's just right now, I'm more interested in flexing my creative muscles. Leanne Simpson writes 'we have debated whether Audre Lourde's "the master's tools can dismantle the master's house." I am interested in a different question. I am not so concerned with how we dismantle the master's house... But I am very concerned with how we (re)build our own house, our own homes.'(1) Our contexts are quite different, but it really resonates.

That's why I'll be joining up with Groundswell Grassroots Economic Alternatives this fall, a training network for young people starting alternatives-to-business. I'm hoping to meet some folks interested in collaborating on an enterprise that's working towards economic transformation. What sort of enterprise, you ask? Well I've got ideas, but I'm not settling on anything yet.

That's not me, but it could be.
While I'm at it, I'll be working part-time with Shift Urban Cargo Delivery, an inspiring worker-coop that does last-mile goods delivery on cargo trikes. Yep, I'm getting paid to ride a tricycle (and de-carbonize our transportation system, and further the collective ownership of workplaces). 

Of course, it might not work out. My enterprise might fail, I might not meet the right people, I might run out of money, I might discover how horribly misguided this whole plan was to begin with, etc. These are risks I'll have to take, but this work is too important to delay. Bring it on.

1. Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle's Back, 32

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The "Alternative" Economy of UBC's Outdoor Club

Teaching navigation. Photo: Caroline Jung
I started playing in the mountains four years ago. At the time, I was re-discovering fun after totally immersing myself in the campus climate movement. I joined UBC's Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) as vehicle for outdoor escapism. I thought my involvement in the club was nothing more than a weekend release from the climate burden I had placed on my shoulders. The work of social change, whatever that was, had nothing to do with the VOC. That, I thought, was a different part of my life.

In retrospect, it's almost embarrassing that I was completely blind to how profound this scrappy student club really was. Here was a self-sustaining, collaborative community that was opening up the backcountry to people who might not have the money to get there. Here was a wildly successful example of cooperation over profit. And I was looking the other way.

I've been thinking more about the potential of illuminating the "alternative" economic practices people already have. What if economic transformation was communicated in a way as familiar as borrowing books from the library, cooking for a sick neighbour or attending a church meeting? 

I wrote the following piece for the Varsity Outdoor Club Journal with that in mind. There's a few esoteric references, but it should be basically comprehensible for those of you outside this strange and wonderful world.
The VOC's Brew Hut. Photo: Frederick Lin

The VOC in a Different Light
To be included in VOCJ 56

I’ve taken enough economics to know that the VOC shouldn’t actually work. Somehow, an entirely unpaid group of students, turning over ever four or five years, have kept this club thriving for nearly a century.

We’ve figured out how to share tens of thousands of dollars of gear, including what may be North America’s largest telemark and beacon fleet. It’s lent out freely to anyone who’s willing to give back to the club with their time. Our gear is opening up the backcountry for people how might not otherwise have the resources to get there.

Moving the outhouse at the VOC's Brian Waddington Hut
Photo: Roland Burton
We’ve built at least ten huts, and currently maintain four. We pour literally thousands of volunteer hours into putting them up and keeping them standing, then leave them unlocked for anyone who can get there on two feet. And that’s not even mentioning our three trails.

We’ve managed to pass on skiing, rock climbing and other backcountry skills without money ever changing hands. For a few generations, students have showed up for their first trips before they knew how to put on skis, some never having seen snow. Experienced skiers who have never met them will sweep, and sometimes carry their packs, all the while knowing they could have arrived at the hut six hours ago. And after those beginners start to know what they’re doing, after they no longer need the club, they sacrifice all that sweet pow to become the people who led them on their first Brew debacle. 

Sometimes I try to imagine if students had started the Varsity Outdoor Company instead. They’d sell outdoor experiences to other students, perhaps making decent money from it. Gear rentals would cost way more than free, and maybe the skis would be nicer. Maybe certified guides would teach at Long Hike, and we’d buy drink tickets for $6.50 at the after-party. I’m pretty sure there’d be no naked dancing. The huts would almost certainly be locked, and maybe they’d have full-sized barbeques. 

Teaching crevasse rescue at Glacier School
Photo: Olek Splawinkski
I’m not saying the Varsity Outdoor Company would be all bad, and I’m not trying to knock our local guiding companies. Some people would make a living off of the business, and there’d be jobs for students. But the sweet Type 2 fun of descending the Phelix switchbacks would be limited to those who could choke up the cash. And there’s something special about sipping mulled wine under a tarp sheltering you from that brutal Glacier School rain, something the Varsity Outdoor Company could never recreate.

We’re often told our economy is all about profit, and there’s no alternative. Yet there is the Varsity Outdoor Club, for nearly a hundred years, fulfilling our longing for adventure through cooperation, sharing and reciprocity. As we graduate and go on with our lives, let’s remember what the VOC was capable of. What if more of our economy ran like the VOC?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Aligning Resistance and Creation: The GetUp!-Sungevity Deal

Day of action at BC legislature.  Photo: Zack Embree
This past October, I biked out to Victoria to attend PowerShift BC. I was there with over a thousand young people committed to resisting an economy that is destroying our future. It was fantastic.

Between workshops, I ran into an acquaintance from my days in the youth climate movement who had been busy starting a sustainable worker co-operative called Shift: Urban Cargo Delivery. The co-op handles regular deliveries in downtown Vancouver on cargo trikes, and it's displacing fossil-fuel powered, privately-owned competition while providing employment for young people like my friend. We chatted quickly, and they told me how they were feeling a bit outside of the movement that had previously been their life. There didn't seem to a place for their current work on grassroots economic transformation in the youth climate agenda.

At the time, I thought that was a shame, but took me a while to reflect on what it meant. Did it represent a larger disconnect between the twin projects of resisting the shitty economy and building a better one?

A mid-sized solar installation in Mello, California.
Photo: Bernd/Flickr/Creative Commons License
Months later, I came across the news that GetUp!, a Australian non-profit advocacy organization that helped inspire, had partnered with Californian roof-top solar company Sungevity. GetUp! would email their list (over 2% of the country's population) about Sungevity's offer to put solar panels on their roofs. Sungevity would cut them a $150 cheque for each person they sign up. Apparently the Sierra Club has had a similar deal going in California for years now. 

This is pretty interesting. After years of campaigning against fossil fuels, GetUp! can go beyond just talking about alternatives; it's asking members to put alternatives on their roofs. The deal forms a symbiotic relationship that expands the new economy while fueling the activism that resists the shitty one.

It's not unambiguous though. Sungevity's rooftop solar is decentralizing our electricity system, moving control away from large power corporations. But when homeowners lease the solar panels, Sungevity is essentially moving money out of household budgets and into financial markets. How?  Well homeowners can choose to have the solar panels installed for no money down. If they don't wish to buy, they can sign a contract committing them to purchase the solar power for the next twenty years or so (terms lengths vary) and they won't have to worry about maintaining the system. Often the leases include escalating fees, but the pitch is that those fees will still be cheaper than buying power from the grid.

Securitization: it looks complicated because it is.
Credit: Wikipedia
Sungevity then works with banks and financial markets to come up with the cash to install the panels. Sometimes, the company bundles the contracts together and sells the future payments to investors, a process known as "securitization". If selling to homeowners for no money down, bundling a hundred of those loans together and trading them on financial markets sounds familiar, that's because it has been tried out before. I don't want to pronounce Sungevity guilty by association, but last time, it didn't work out so well. I think it raises similar questions.

Sungevity itself is organized as a B-corp, also known as a benefit corporation. As far as I can tell, this means that while control of the company is still totally in the hands of its shareholders, they can't sue a B-corp for failing to maximize their returns. Shareholders also have some legal means to hold the company to its stated social mission, and the company reports out on the benefits it provides society along with the typical financial statements. But there's nothing is to stop Sungenvity from putting as much of the profits as it wishes into the pockets of its shareholders.

All that makes me wonder whether GetUp! could have found a better partner than Sungevity. Couldn't solar panels be installed by worker co-operatives who work with credit unions to finance the upfront costs? The profits from installation would be shared among the people doing the installing, and the homeowners' lease payments would be reinvested in their communities through democratically controlled institutions.

In any case, it's still a really interesting example of roughly the sort of symbiosis I'd like to see more of. How else could work building a better economy and work resisting the shitty economy support each other? How else could we align resistance and creation?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Stop Making Everything About Capitalism

Stop using "capitalism" and "the economy" interchangeably. Stop talking about capitalism as the all-powerful hero of history, propelled forward by its own momentum. Stop placing everything "within" capitalism, as though it's a container with no escape.

Stop making everything about capitalism. It's not helping, and its actually damaging our imagination of alternatives. This, as I understand it, is the central argument of The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy by J. K. Gibson-Graham (1996).

Gibson-Graham begins by reminding us that understanding capitalism has always been a project of people who don't like it. If you used the word "capitalism" today, there's a 90% chance you want to reform or replace it. But our words shape our imaginations, and what if the way people have used the word "capitalism" has held them back from effective action?

Gibson-Graham argues that opponents of capitalism typically picture it as united, singular, and total.

Capitalism, as it's often presented, isn't just a related set of practices and institutions. It's a unified system, so Greece's IMF bailout, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, and the Christmas music playing in Walmart are all working together make Mr. Burns even richer. Or something like that. That makes it futile to change just one of those things, because the rest of the system will inevitably undermine any reform we do make. If we accept this view, we must transform capitalism entirely or not at all.

Capitalism is also singular. It has no peers. It's the only economic system that reproduces itself, expanding by its own logic. Over the course of our lives, we'll spend more time doing unpaid than paid labour, yet people don't talk about a household economic system co-existing with a capitalist one. Capitalism alone gets to be the economic system.

Finally, people talk about capitalism as total. Capitalism is the economy. It's like a container, and everything economic is happening within it. Fair Trade, for example, may be subverting the profit motive, but people still talk about it taking place within capitalism.

What if we visualize the economy like this?
And while we're at at it, what the hell is "the economy" anyways? I mean, really. Think about it. Why is a maid service part of the economy but housework (usually women's) isn't? It matters because what we define as "economic" determines where we find our inspiration and our starting points for action.

All of that produces a knowledge of capitalism that discourages doing anything about it.

Is this co-op "within" capitalism?
Let's make this more practical. Take a day in my life, circa a couple months ago. I get up in the morning, head to my work in local government, stop by the food co-op for some groceries after work, then cook dinner with my partner. If you want, you can tell this story as "A Day in the Life of Capitalism". Our governments defend business interests first; co-ops compete in market of primarily capitalist businesses; unpaid domestic labour is a core strategy of the patriarchy that upholds capitalism; etc. But Gibson-Graham asks us to question if that's really the story we want to tell. What if that story is just discouraging us from taking our economies into our own hands?

The End's understanding of class is particularly fascinating. The author suggests talking about class as a process, not just a set of categories, by telling the story of Sue and Bill.

Bill works as a wage labourer in a coal mine, making about as much as a university prof. He's a union member who votes conservative, and with his considerable savings, he's invested in a block of rental units. Around the house, Bill takes out the garbage, cleans out the yard, and his wife does the rest.

Sue is a trained nurse who gave up her job to move to the mining town with Bill. She's dependent on him for income and housing, and tends to work longer hours than Bill does providing for him and their children. Sue's Filipina, and although she's from a more privileged social group, she identifies with the other Filipina women.

Try to push Sue and Bill into some static class category (e.g. "working class") and you'll inevitably run into contradictions.  You have to play up some parts of their lives and ignore others. Will you make Bill's union membership more important than his status as a landlord? Will you make Sue's relationship with Bill more important than the class status she was born with?

But if we talk about class as a process of exploitation, class as something that happens, we don't have to do that. We can see that though the mining company is skimming off some of Bill's work and calling it profit, Bill is mooching off of Sue's domestic labour. And both Sue and Bill are being sent cheques from renters in another state. People can struggle to change all of those exploitative relationships.

Talking about class like that isn't going to get everyone chanting "we are the 99%", but it also opens up way more possibilities for action. It's probably more honest too.

In the years after the original edition was published, the authors (J. K. Gibson-Graham is actually a pen name for two academics) would often get the question "why do these things always fail?". Why do all attempts at economic change end in failure? In retrospect, they wondered if they should have asked such questioners to examine themselves. Are they, in fact, committed to failure?

If you want to take a closer look, someone has uploaded the whole book here. If you live in Vancouver and want it in your hands, head over to Spartacus Books, a non-profit, volunteer-run bookstore (and then ponder its political significance). 

There was basically no original thought in this post, but hey, I made it through 265 pages of academese. I'm just going to translate it to plain English and call it a day. Do I agree with Gibson-Graham? I still don't know, but The End has got me asking some pretty good questions.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Limits of Listening

In his fantastic book Humanizing the Economy, John Restakis recounts the story of Fanny and Al Albo. The spouses, both in their 90s, were being treated in the same Kootenay hospital, and Fanny was gravely ill. Despite strong objections from her family, hospital staff transferred Fanny to a nursing home 100 miles away. She died two days later, and Al 13 days after. They had been married for 70 years.

The story may be tragic, but the scenario is typical: powerful organizations making decisions about us, without us. In some ways, Fanny and Al's story is not so different from a community plan formed without the community, or a mining project forced upon a First Nation.
Fanny and Al
CP Photo/Trail Daily Times, accessed from CBC
(In other ways though, it's totally different. There's way more going on when a mining company is dealing with a First Nation. Like sovereignty, but I won't get into that here).

In response, many have called for organizations - governments, corporations and large NGOs - to listen. Some have even created a profession to help organizations improve their listening.  Maybe Fanny and Al's situation could have been avoided if the hospital and health authority had effectively engaged with the community, as the post-incident report suggests. They could have created more community advisory committees, conducted more surveys, run more workshops. Had they done these things, or a least done them better, the health providers would have known how terrible spousal separation was to the people they were supposed serve. They would have found a way to keep Fanny and Al together, like the palliative care bed that was open at the time.

And ya, the hospital damn well should have been listening to the Albos and their family. Just like planners should listen to the needs of the communities they shape and mining companies should listen to the First Nations whose lands they exploit. 

Sometimes though, getting organizations to listen is like sewing ears on a bicycle. It's kind of ridiculous, and no matter what people say, the bike's not going to change direction. You need to give people the handle bars. Maybe you can get input to flow from health care patients to health care providers, but power flows the other way. The hospital staff who moved Fanny are accountable to their bosses, not their patients. These organizations were built to respond to the people higher on the chain of command, not the people affected by the decisions.

That's why we we can't just focus on getting organizations to listen. We also need to get power into the hands of the people who need to be heard.

Restakis gives a fascinating example of how to do that. He examines an Italian foundation that previously gave grants to service organizations for providing care to seniors. That funding arrangement, of course, made those service organizations accountable to the foundation, and seniors and their families struggled to have influence. Then the foundation began experimenting with providing funding directly to seniors. Competition arose on the basis of quality, and the power of seniors to affect decisions over their care grew. The foundation gave the seniors the purse strings, and it's possible that this one change in funding did more to democratize elder care than workshops and surveys and advisory committees alone ever could have.

Another consultation by the foundation. Something about a park?
Placing market power in the hands of citizens is often seen as right wing policy, but Restakis argues voucher systems can be potentially progressive. Humanizing the Economy makes a more complex argument about rethinking government delivery of (but not responsibility for) things like health care, but I'm not going repeat the book here. Check it out though.

When you accept the limits of listening, you start to think a bit differently about building a democratic society. You start to be more skeptical about employee engagement surveys and open meetings with the CEO, and more interested in worker co-ops and unions. You start to place less emphasis in improving government budget consultations, and more in participatory budgeting. It's not always enough to create democratic processes and graft them onto democratically-challenged organizations. We need to look at the power relations underneath. We need to align power with process.

Even if organizations aren't reformed to put power where it should be, people can claim that power for themselves. That's what's happening when a First Nation blockades a mining project, or when a neighbourhood organizes to gain power in a community planning process. We don't always have to wait for organizations to transfer power to those they're supposed to listen to. This is why community organizing and even more forceful expressions of dissent can be part of deepening democracy. It's also why those who claim to care about democracy, but disapprove when people build their own power, need to give their heads a shake.

Folks in the DTES claiming their power
Murray Bush, Flux Photo
All that said, I don't want to downplay the need for democratic judgement. There is no set of institutions that will magically and unfailingly guide us to democratic outcomes. As I wrote previously, MEC is incorporated as a co-op, a business owned by its members. This structure that opens up far more democratic possibilities than the private sector it competes with. Yet instead of actively cultivating a democratic culture, MEC's leadership chose to seek the power to block candidates from board elections. There will always be opportunities for leaders to subvert democratic structures. Deepening democracy is something we need to practice, something we need to be committed to.

The breadth of democratic innovation is inspiring. Participedia, a crowd-sourced research project, has documented 396 distinct case studies of democratic participation and public engagement, and they're just scratching the surface. We already know a lot about how our organizations can listen. But too often, these methods are adopted only as far as existing decision-makers are comfortable. We can't sit back and let elites decide where on the spectrum of public participation each decision lies.

We need a bold democratic agenda that pushes for the sort of institutional reform that makes listening meaningful. We need to organize to hold organizations accountable to what we say. And we need to deeply restructure - or totally replace - organizations that were never built to listen anyways.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The blind men, the elephant and oppression

Advocates of dialogue, civic engagement and collaboration love to tell the parable of the blind men and the elephant. It goes like this:

Several blind men walking through the jungle come upon an elephant. Each approaches the elephant from a different angle and comes into contact with a different part of the elephant's anatomy. The blind man who contacts the elephant's leg declares, "Oh, an elephant is like a tree trunk." Another, who apprehends the elephant's tail, objects to the first's description, exclaiming, "Oh, no, the elephant is like a rope." A third, grasping the elephant's large, floppy ear, insists, "You are both wrong; the elephant is like a fan." (From Barbara Gray's Collaboration, 1989, pg. 12) (1)

Wikipedia says the tale originated on the Indian subcontinent and is part of the Jain, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi traditions. Like most stories that people have passed down for centuries, there's a lot of wisdom here. Our perspectives are limited. Share them with each other, and we can develop a richer understanding than we can alone. And from those shared understandings, we can find better ways of living together.

But often we're not just touching the elephant. Some people are riding it and other people are getting trampled.

Now, I'm not saying that every elephant is trampling people. Nor that trampling/riding is always easy to understand. And it doesn't mean that people who get trampled by one elephant can't ride another. None of that. What I am saying is that trampling/riding is a crucial dimension of the social issues that dialogue is supposed to address. It's also wrong.

Basically, the comments "I'd like a cushier seat" and "please stop trampling me" are not just different positions. You can't understand them in the same way. You can't look at DTES writer Robyn Livingstone and developer Olga Ilich and see merely two perspectives on gentrification. You can't take Haisla elder Ken Hall and former Enbridge CEO Pat Daniels and just ask them to meet in the middle on pipelines. Not if you care about justice.

Of course, you could say my talk of oppression and domination is just one perspective. I'm just touching one part of a larger elephant that is the context in which we have conversations together. Other people don't see the world this way, so who am I to suggest this view as a basis of dialogue theory? And that's probably right. But we need some way to ground dialogue in the pursuit of justice. 

Ideas of dialogue, civic engagement and collaboration contain seeds from which to grow a deeper democracy and a more just economy. But to realize this potential, we need to start with a commitment to end the trampling.

1 - This metaphor is pretty ableist on the literal level, if not ableist in its meaning. Blind people are not inherently less able to perceive reality than sighted people, but instead perceive reality differently.