Juanita Brown (The World Café - www.theworldcafe.org)

No Boundary


A boundary line, as any military expert will tell you, is also a potential battle line.... Here is the human predicament: the firmer ones’ boundaries, the more entrenched are ones’ battles....As an individual draws up the boundaries of his soul, he establishes, at the same time, the battles of his soul.

- Ken Wilber


I come from a long line of activists. My adopted grandmother was a resistance fighter in World War II; my parents helped to found the American Civil Liberties union in Florida, amidst cross-burnings on our lawn by the Ku Klux Klan for hosting blacks at our home during the early civil rights period; and I was an organizer for Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement, coordinating the international grape boycott against the agribusiness industry in California. I was active in anti-war protests, marched on Washington, and picketed the San Francisco stock exchange. As a child of the sixties it was clear who the “enemy” was. Activism meant fighting against injustice, mobilizing against the military industrial complex, stopping abuses by the government against the constitutional rights of citizens in a “free” country.


Against was a big word in my vocabulary and in my soul….in fact, I would say it was the defining energy of my life. The Spanish phrase “hasta alli y no mas” (to that point and no further) guided my thinking and action. My adopted grandmother, who I revered, always told me in her thick European accent: “ I want to die fighting the bastards!”


There was a tremendous sense of solidarity in knowing who the enemy was — a feeling of “noble certainty” that infused my life and spirit. I knew who was on “our side” and there was a sense of safety and security in being with people who shared my values around democracy, justice and civil rights. While I was always willing to come to the bargaining table — it was from having somehow forced the opponent with non-violent, but dramatic and effective means, (mass marches, boycotts) to unwillingly yield power to the people. And, I was convinced that the only way that the power structure would yield its wealth or influence was to force that to happen with an equally powerful force — albeit nonviolent, since we were trained in disciplined non-violent tactics by Saul Alinksy and other great American organizers of that period.


Now, 40 years later, I am living more in the “both/and.” While I see that it is important, as a citizen, to bear witness and stand with and stand for, and stand up, I am also discovering that it is critical to stand in — to stand in the questions themselves, to stand in the center of my own deeper knowing that there is no “them”, there — there’s only “us”— and that the us is everyone. I’m trying not to see enemies but rather people whose life histories and stories have led them to different conclusions, capable of exploration and mutual transformation into something new that we can’t yet imagine. And, from having worked with the “enemy” close up in corporate life, I recognize that the complex institutional interrelationships that create systemic inequity and injustice will not be resolved by picketing my local stock exchange. The doorways lie elsewhere.


My sense of the relationship between the local and the global, the micro and the macro has also shifted into a “both/and”. In my earlier years as an activist, I used to think that only “large-scale change” mattered and that my job was to do massive organizing to help that happen (sometimes single handedly, I might add!). Now my own theories of change have changed, and I see the large scale spread of small local grassroots experiments as being critical to the changes that at least I want to see in the world, while still supporting larger-scale global efforts where it seems appropriate.


So, I guess I would say that for me the Now Activism has a different face and spirit than the one I grew up with and the legacy of my adopted grandmother — the Woman Warrior, Gertrude Blom. It is a compassionate activism — an activism who’s ideals focus on co-creating what I am for rather than solely fighting against those who I perceive as enemies of the people’s legitimate rights. It is an evolutionary activism in contrast to revolutionary activism. It sees human beings as one living face of a much larger evolutionary process on this earth. The Now Activism for me today is embodied as “process activism” — advocating for processes that enable the collective intelligence and wisdom of the whole — across traditional boundaries to be discovered. It is grounded in spirituality — a faith in a larger intelligence than mine, that provides some measure of perspective when I fall into despair at the state of the world and of our prospects for survival as a species.


For me, the Now Activism is grounded in the willingness to reach cross the traditional boundaries of age, race, gender, nationality, and political persuasion. At some level, it is more pragmatic, less doctrinaire — looking for, as Gandhi said, the “part of the adversary who knows what is right and fair.”


It is grounded in the belief that we can never know what will turn the tide, since systems are so complex and interdependent. And it is grounded in the belief that when the conversation changes, the world can change — with conversation as a core process that deserves reverence and love since it’s all we’ve got as a human community to find new meanings together and new paths forward.


Therefore, I believe I can only live the future I believe in today, with those who surround me and with whom my life is interwoven (both near and far). It means my standing up and bearing witness, when needed (I still attend marches and demonstrations to make visible my voice as a citizen of an only partially democratic nation) — but I place more of my organizing attention on stewardship of the small place on earth that we call “home,” and on nurturing the global community of the World Café and allied approaches to accessing collective intelligence as my act of large scale “process activism” for the 21st century.


·    What will enable us to access the collective wisdom that can move our organizations, communities and societies toward more life affirming futures?


·     In an interdependent world, where no single stakeholder can “win” alone on any truly challenging issue, how can we work together across traditional boundaries to transcend  “us/them” thinking as we search for co-intelligent paths forward? What  tough personal dilemmas and paradoxes lie on that path?


·     What will allow each of us to act with personal authenticity and integrity, especially when confronted with those we might normally consider “the other”? What can leaders across generations and sectors with quite different life experiences in this regard learn from one another’s personal stories and discoveries?


·     How can we access and generate new forms of creative power beyond our traditional political and economic interpretations? What does it mean to reconnect the personal and the political? The spiritual and the societal?


·     What are our ‘theories in use’ of how constructive change occurs – within systems, within communities and within ourselves?


·     What is your own heartfelt call to courageous action in relation to at least one key life or work challenge—inspiring you in ways that embody your own deepest values, express your authentic leadership, and fulfill your desire to make a difference?


·     Where do you see possibilities for our discoveries together to take root and spread?


·     What are your own deepest questions and dilemmas which, if explored, could make the most difference to our mutual inquiry?