This post is part of a series written by a group of Masters in City Planning Students who sat in on Opening up the System Question: A Strategy Workshop convened by the Democracy Collaborative’s Next System Project and MIT CoLab. The workshop brought together a group of engaged scholars and activists to discuss the question of how we open up a much-needed national conversation on systemic change in the United States.
I left the Next Systems Conference with several pressing questions, some about how the Next Systems project will evolve and others about the larger economic and social systems at issue. Below are three of my questions:
1.) How do the limitations of contemporary academia constrain the conversation about Next Systems / how do we overcome these limitations?
It was clear from the challenges of theorizing systems change that were articulated during the conference (and also many that remained unarticulated) that disciplinary silos must be overcome. The conversation was a powerful reminder of the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration and for educational institutions to foster breadth of knowledge as much as depth of knowledge.
A much bigger issue in relation to the question of Next System is the need for academic co-creation with the world beyond the ivory tower–iterative praxis growing out of relationships between academics, organizers, economists, politicians. As was mentioned at the conference, the Next Systems project itself should be engaged in this process. For more on education reform, see Grant Williams’ piece in this series, The Next Systems Project and the Role of the Academic.
2.) How are activists and organizers on the front-lines of New Economy and anti-oppression movements talking about the next system?
The weekend after the conference, I listened to a very different group of people discuss similar questions. Organized by the Catalyst Project, the event “Black Liberation and White Anti-Racism in the Time of Ferguson” included leaders in the movement from Black Lives Matter, Causa Justa/Just Cause and Critical Resistance. The need for systems change is implicit in these organizers’ daily work and explicit in their statements at the event.
Equally important to the content of the event was what it represented–the coming together of different movements with visions for systems change. The event was hosted by the Omni Commons in Oakland, one of the most radical and compelling models of economic democracy in the US today. The event is one of many highlighting the shared mission of those committed to anti-capitalist organizing and anti-racist organizing in Oakland. Click here for transcript and footage of the event.
3.) How do we talk about system change without a shared vision of what is most critically wrong with the current system? Where is its corruption rooted? Can we name the crises we are facing and how they are interrelated? Where do forms of oppression intersect, and where do they not?
At the end of the conference, there was a call to self-education about capitalism, climate change, and racial oppression. A few participants recommended further reading. In my search for answers to this last question, here’s my personal reading list for this winter break: