By Richard Stone
On Aug. 21, a meeting was co-hosted by the Fresno Partnership and Fresno Metro Ministry to explore possibilities of wider collaboration. An expansive array of groups was represented: service organizations, labor unions, religious-based groups, nonprofits. The recitation of good work being done from various perspectives was impressive. How to put it all together and create better synergy is another story. A few common-sense commonalities, like voter registration, were identified, but how next to proceed was undetermined.
There is a reason for that. While I feel safe in believing that all in attendance are of goodwill and want a better Fresno, I don’t think that means we are all “on the same page”—or at least that the people we advocate for are. Although we may find some valuable strategic alliance on particular issues (like last year’s Measure G), I think a prior task is to move our constituencies into less adversarial, more communicative, understanding of how we live together.
For me, doing that has come to mean practicing, modeling and speaking for the basic principles of nonviolence. Our Fresno Center for Nonviolence has a Peace Agenda that spells this out in some detail (see our Web site), but the four basic principles are 1) simplicity in living, 2) inclusiveness in concern, 3) social justice and 4) using means consistent with the goals of nonviolence.
These are broad principles that are subject to varying interpretation and emphasis. My hope is not for widespread adoption of a specific action plan, but the embrace of these principles as worth working toward with consistency and persistence. Second, I hope that members of our community will engage each other with our particular understanding of how this might be done better. (I think in large part that is what happened at the meeting.) Yet not even this can be done without the understanding that there are some internal contradictions that will need to be worked on carefully and respectfully.
For instance, I was glad to hear from the labor representatives that their current definition of “union work” is “standing with all workers” (not just union members)—this is “a great leap forward,” to coin a phrase. But if that still mostly means “getting a larger share of corporate profits” rather than working toward an economic model that does not depend on exploitation, and which still defines economic success as maximized profits, we are not getting far.
Or, while Christian principles have led to an enormous amount of good work and constructive thinking—as evident at the meeting—some self-styled Christians are still at the forefront of divisive movements (e.g., anti-GLBT and anti-women’s equality), and self-described Christians are in positions of local political power that have been used abusively (anti-homeless, anti-immigrant, anti-ecological actions). So what does it mean to ally with Christians?
Or, if “the American way of life” is the model students are taught to aspire to, and that means mostly enhanced consumption, we are not moving forward to resolving serious problems. Besides leading toward profound ecological disaster, that goal leads us to the inevitable wars and international interventions that use up more than half our national budget while the human needs of citizens go unattended to.
For me, one really desirable outcome of the meeting would be for individuals embroiled in such contradictions to seek out others they’ve now met for dialogue and support. I would also recommend a video that the Fresno Center for Nonviolence has called Who’s Counting. This is a beautifully filmed and irrefutable demonstration of why our economic system is wrong-headed and dangerous. It also shows how a larger set of values (that most of us already share) can be used to rethink how we go about our living. I would recommend this video to anyone who wants a non-ideological understanding of an egregious flaw in our national enterprise. It may help promote a more unified understanding of what needs to be done.
Richard Stone is on the boards of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Community Alliance and author of the book Hidden in Plain Sight. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.