“Ideas shape the terrain upon which we move” Antonio Gramsci
For the past several months I have removed myself from the landscape or “terrain” of the Indianapolis change-making community; Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC) http://www.inrc.org/ programs and events, Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF)http://www.cicf.org/, directly and indirectly supported initiatives, Velocityhttp://www.indyvelocity.com/, Quality of Life Plans supported by the Local Support Initiatives Corporation (LISC) http://liscindianapolis.org/, it’s community partners and anything that has fallen under the purported improving Indianapolis, through “inclusiveness”, “transformation”, “attracting new professionals” , “sustainability” , “food deserts” and all the buzz words.
I removed myself from these efforts because of various reasons but some of the key ones were:
- My disillusionment about processes that seemed to come from a place of disfranchisement and in-authenticity,
- The varied responses to my questioning of the process,
- Quality of Life Planning in my local community and others developed from a “power over” perspective and,
- A narrative that was already shaped and decided with an illusion of community decision-making.
As an ardent supporter of “change” and “progress” working simultaneously, and a firm believer in social and economic justice, equality and equity leading to what call I “balanced development”. I became troubled with a reality that proved to have a blatant disregard in it’s planning efforts for communities on the margin, communities of color and communities where the challenges outweighed the available resources. Even when engaged in a “asset” based planning process there always tended to be a clear deflections and redirection of what those assets were, how they were defined and always in relation to a narrative that has/was already decided upon.
As I have and continue to digest my experiences moving through all three lenses (background, middle-ground and fore-round) it is clear to me that what I was witnessing, in part endorsing at one point and experiencing was a reality that truly was “outside in” and not “inside out”. For the most part the aforementioned change makers have the majority of residents, activist and social change makers (actors/extras) believe there is only one set of ideas, one narrative, their method is the correct approach and if you are not on board then consider yourself out. The request for our input as actors/extras comes with un-articulated conditions, which are something like this:
- Only have an idea if it supports the current narrative,
- Any creative idea must push forth the current agenda,
- Speak nothing of Race unless it’s reflects the myth of a “post-racial society ” that can strengthen the current narrative and,
- Be grateful you are allowed “a place at the table”.
Let me cap this off with the fact that some these change makers, organizational and individual intentions are well-intended but that’s where it starts and ends. They have become prisoners of their own narrative and dear not engage in any form of an alternate narrative or even an exercise to see what it can look and feel like, primarily because of a lack of courage and fear of the loss of the illusion of power they wield.
Truth be told the current process of change making in Indianapolis and other ctiys with like demographics is dominated by a comprehensive framework of corporate-conservative ideologies. The ideas which are purported are grounded in a worldview of, beliefs, norms, value systems, core themes, popular wisdom and traditions of a dominant culture and dominant narrative; which for the most part are unexamined assumptions, by the various actors/extras doing the ground work to get what is called “buy-in”. http://www.strategicpractice.org/system/files/worldview_contest_ideas.pdf
One need only look at the make up of leadership and it’s clear the initiatives for the most part reflect what is central its own/cultural worldview and how they walk through this community called Indianapolis. Intended change reflect what they would like too see under the guise of progress and a change which by default creates negative effects of gentrification and a reality of “separate but not equal”.
By no means has it been easy for me not to be involved in advancing the well-being of my community, working side-by-side with neighbors, friends and colleagues for a single goal of creating a better Indianapolis, community and society. Community is place for me where I find life, it adds meaning to my existence and deepens my relationship to humanity. However, it became a place that was not feeding me but rather using my energy, my image and my gifts to advance ideas and narratives that with every meeting was reflecting less of addressing the “world as it is” but rather creating a “world as it should be” reflective of the leaderships own dominant worldview/narrative.
It’s one thing when Enron, JP Morgan Chase, and Wall Street conspired to the near-collapse of the financial sector in the Fall of 2008. It’s even understood how they managed to label the perpetrators as the victims and condemn the poor, public service workers, retirees, my self and many other workers as having the audacity to complain about the gross concentration of wealth and power in our society. (Worldview and the Contest of Ideas, http://www.strategicpractice.org/system/files/worldview_contest_ideas.pdf. It’s almost expected. However, when you see and experience these same ideas/narratives permeate, drive and even dominate the change making process under the guise of social and economic justice, one (me) is left wondering how authentic are these initiatives, organizations and individuals. I’ve always been a believer in the fact that it is,“the most difficult question/issues that need to be pursued”. Yet, these issues, remain an after thought, marginalized within the landscape and terrain; not because it’s polarizing but of the lack of courage to address the structural inequities which maintain the status quo.
I hope at some point I find myself back in the process of Indianapolis challenges to become a great City that reflects an authentic narrative, based on ideas that truly shape the terrain upon which we move. I hope at some point I can see an honest reflection from the leadership accepting responsibility for poorly managed change processes and the courage to create space for a new narrative that adds to the landscape and truly shapes the terrain upon which we all can move. I still have hope for Indianapolis, it’s greatness can only be equaled by its courage.