Discover more from The Simple Heart
Big changes are coming. I hope you'll be a part of them.
I’m launching a new project focused on creating new models of organizing that can overcome the disconnection and distrust that are plaguing social movements — and the human condition. These models are built on deep, long-form communications; scalable community-organizing structures; and grassroots leadership development. And if they succeed, they will transform the way we relate to one another — and prioritize the things that matter most to all living beings on earth. I’m also moving to San Francisco, and hoping to get more of you involved in this work! If you’re interested, sign up here.
It’s been a couple years since we launched the Green Pill podcast, and about half a year since I launched The Simple Heart blog. And we’ve gotten some great feedback. From retired grandmothers, to law students, to accomplished journalists, so many of you have reached out to share that you’ve been inspired by the stories of change.
Yet it sometimes still feels that change is out of reach. I’ve been particularly concerned about the level of distrust forming in our nation and across the globe; trust is the foundation upon which change is built. The podcast and blog were, for me, an effort to push back against the decline in trust, by diving more deeply and authentically into stories than can be done in a 1-minute video or 280-character tweet.
But there is still something missing. While the connections I’ve formed with the podcast guests, and the insights I’ve gleaned by diving deep into subjects like mental illness, the economics of food, or the FBI’s hunt for two baby pigs, have been interesting and authentic and so-often inspiring, my connection with the audience still seems remote.
I want to change that. And, in my next project (which is unnamed, but is tentatively being called “The Connected Initiative”), I have two strategies for doing that.
The first is finding ways for you to participate in the content we create. I want to get not just likes and comments but real contributions from you on the issues you’re most passionate about. For example, I want to ask you for topics (or even recorded audio questions) before I chat with someone on the podcast.
I want to integrate your comments on this blog, so it’s a conversation and not a publication.
And I want to do hangouts, in person (and via Zoom where necessary), about the issues we’re discussing, so we can collectively find solutions to the world’s biggest problems – and to our personal challenges, too.
I want, in short, to find ways for all of us, and not just celebrities like Moby, to be directly involved in the stories we tell.
Here’s a start. I’m about to speak to a renowned sociologist at Stanford about the latest research on social change. He is known, in particular, for doing research on what drove people to fight for civil rights in the 1960s; it turns out social connection was key. What questions do you have for him? Send me a question, or even better, an audio clip of you asking it, and I’ll try to integrate it into the conversation I have with him tomorrow. The more personal the question, the better!
This is just one example, though, of a model of participatory communications that I think is crucial to the future of human society. Unlike most “influencers,” I’m not aiming to create a “hub and spoke” model of interaction, where one person is at the center and everyone else is connected only to them. I want our model of communications to be one where we have conversations in a true “web” model — where our community isn’t just an audience but rather co-creators of knowledge and meaning. The blog will spark conversations, but it will be the connections between all of us — as listeners, commentators, and even content creators — that will make the stories we tell truly great.
There’s evidence that this is the sort of network that is most fulfilling to the human condition; we all want want to be participants in, and not just observers of, the stories unfolding around us. It’s also the sort of network that creates change. But how do we build that sort of network?
That leads me to the second strategy: developing leaders. I’ve written about the unseen pandemic – the loneliness that is literally killing people, and fueling historic levels of distrust. One of the primary causes of this is that we no longer believe in traditional models of influence; the “hub and spoke” is becoming as outdated as traditional religion. But we haven’t created alternative models of influence that function, even at small scale. I’ve come to the conclusion that the lack of effective leadership, including, perhaps most importantly, the ability of leaders to work together at scale (i.e., in large numbers, with diverse viewpoints) and manage disagreements, is one of the fundamental obstacles to creating social change. The web model of influence depends on leadership of this sort.
My new project therefore aims to identify and develop community leaders (and community participants, too) with the skill and judgment to work together at scale and give a community, including non-activists, a real and sustainable social foundation. Like the Black church of the 1960s, this foundation will also be an anchor for positive change.
That’s a lot of abstract jargon. But if you’re interested, here’s a preliminary memorandum about the broader project. Look out for an initial organizing meeting on this project soon, too.
If the project succeeds, it won’t just fuel activist efforts like DxE. It will help us solve some of the most fundamental threats facing human existence — disconnection and distrust — and realign our social organization towards the things that matter most: connection and kindness. Our current forms of social organization, including market-based representative democracy, focus on a narrow conception of self-interest; and they are destroying life as we know it. New models of social organization have to be invented that can transform the way we relate to one another, and to the other living beings of this earth. Nothing short of the survival of our planet is at stake.
And that leads me to a last bit of news: I’m moving to San Francisco to work on this project! There are a number of reasons for this: the political influence of the city; its growing Asian (and, specifically, Chinese) population and my desire to reconnect with those ethnic roots; and the need for more organizing on the other side of the Bay, after nearly 10 years in the East Bay. But the physical move will be accompanied by a shift in roles: I’m stepping down from all roles within DxE, and will remain (like many of you) an outside observer and supporter of their campaigns.
There are long and somewhat complicated reasons for this. DxE is like a metaphorical child that has grown in ways that are both surprising and inspiring (and, occasionally, a source of confusion and anxiety). And like any child, there are times when its parents need to just let go. While I took the first step in doing this, in passing on leadership to Almira Tanner in 2019, it’s now time for me to finish that process. I’m moving on to an advisory role, focused mostly on my involvement in key criminal trials that remain some of the most important in the animal rights movement’s history. I’m leaving the team, including the campaigning around those trials, in good hands.
This new project will be more than enough to keep me busy for the next few years, and perhaps, the rest of my life.
Anyhow, that’s all for now. And in true “geek” fashion, let me end with a flowchart. Let me know what you think! And don’t forget to sign up if you’re interested in getting more involved.