Saturday, November 24, 2007

Time to Check Your Least

This past week I was approached by several people wanting my involvement in different election integrity projects. I agreed to do a conference call discussing a campaign calling for the recall of electronic voting machines. I endured a seemingly endless e-mail thread about pooling resources specific to each machine vendor. More locally, a writer who once did a story on me wrote to ask how she should proceed with a community member who wants to tell of election irregularities.

With Paul Lehto's eternal encouragement, I submit it is a necessary challenge for each of us to recur to principles. I have cultivated many phrases and unique arguments throughout hundreds of essays in the past five years or so. These would be my principles to which I shall now recur.

I have often written of "the least you can do." From Blueprint For Peaceful Revolution:

This motivational meme is great for identifying next steps.
  • To help people overcome apathy or complacency, encourage them to identify the least they can do to have a tangible impact, and then to commit to doing at least that much.

  • When an intermediate or long-range goal cannot be achieved in a single step, the least you can do reveals the lowest hanging fruit on the most practical path.

  • When recruiting assistance, the least you can do is the lowest pressure pitch (you can’t ask for less).
There is sometimes solace in this notion. Life, the unstoppable passage of time, the responsibilities of reality, all these things contribute to my less frequent blog posts. Lament, sometimes, for not writing more could easily be the sort of thing I might beat myself up about. But not so anymore. This "least" idea is so ingrained in my world view that I quickly think of the VCC report that came out earlier this year, all the media work that followed, the creation and distribution of the hand-count calculator tool - and the responses it generated from people who adapted it and put it to work in their communities.

I remember five years ago working with the premise that traditional American activist techniques were futile and we should be reinventing activism. Back then I had published nothing and never even spoken on the record at a public event. But I had an e-mail list, because sending important news articles to friends was the least I could do. Then some readers suggested, and helped me build and launch, the GuvWurld News Archive, a permanent public repository of information the government would probably prefer history not record. It too had become the least I could do.

As I began blogging and organizing, my least repeatedly increased. I recognized this as part of the phenomenon itself - it is inherent, that successive small incremental achievements will necessarily increase or enhance what then becomes the least you can do.

So as I review my activities of this year, I realize I have achieved far beyond what once may have been my least. I conclude that I have at least done my least this year, if not more. Given that, the writing I wish was getting done doesn't hang over my head. It sometimes seems so basic that it ought to fit under the umbrella of least, but in reality much more is required of me to keep up my previous blogging pace than is needed to do the other things I've done this year.

Now back to these projects that stream through my inbox. I don't have the time or resources to do justice to the ones from this week, and this is pretty common. Now, it occurs to me that the Project-Based Format, an experimental talk radio show format that I have previously described, would be ideal for maximizing support of each of these projects and others.

The idea of the show is that the host acts like a project coordinator hooking up with citizen organizations and individuals to advance the work being done for change. It is the same advocacy journalism concept that has driven WDNC and the GuvWurld Blog before it. The success of the radio show will not be determined by ratings or money or audience size, but instead it will be judged solely on its ability to facilitate change. To be in the position, as the host of the show, would elevate one's least to an awesome level.

Since I first wrote about the Project-Based Format, I have always put it out there hoping any radio host already on the air would try out the approach. So far no takers. It may just be that I have to make it work for me to be the host if the format is ever going to be tested. But for all these years now it has been far beyond my least, a goal I haven't really fancied to pursue, though I've had a few encouraging conversations about it with people in radio.

This has been a year of great personal change for me, which I know will continue and hopefully accelerate in the new year. If all goes according to plan, by spring I will dramatically reorient my relationship with time, money, and freedom. Of course my head is full of lots of big ideas, not just the radio show. These are beacons in the distance, glowing signs showing the way the baby steps of least should take me.

I write about the Project-Based Format today because these recent projects genuinely reminded me of an idea I'd only temporarily set aside. But I also write because I so often have the urge to write, and this is just a fortunate moment when I let it happen. Most importantly, though, I write because it is a powerfully positive thing to assert intentions, goals to be manifested. Even this simple thing may be your least. I encourage to you check and find out. Discover the least you can do, and commit to doing at least that much.


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Posted by Dave Berman - 4:35 PM | Permalink
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What a wonderful concept, "the least you can do". A gentleman representing a homeless shelter was in front of the grocery store the other day and he said something like "even a little bit is a help", thus encouraging store patrons to, in essense, do the least they can do. The cool thing is, like you pointed out, not too many people will be offended if you ask them to define the least they can do, and then to do just that.

I didn't realize you were such a prolific writer. I must say, we think an awful lot alike. More on that another time.

Tom Courbat
Riverside County

Posted by Blogger Tom @ Nov 24, 2007, 10:18:00 PM
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Thanks for your comment Tom, and all your great work for the people of Riverside.

I cross-posted this essay at Democratic Underground here:

Down the thread a bit I added a comment that I'd like to attach here as well:

Throughout the many times I have written about "the least you can do" I have qualified some parameters that should help identify appropriate choices to be the least.

First, an idea should address the question, "what would be better?" This is another of the principles to which I frequently recur.

Next, the idea should target a tangible or concrete change or shift. This can be as small as the e-mail list I once had, or as I mention at the end of the OP, it could even be a statement of intentions if it is followed by incremental actions that lead toward that bigger goal.

Finally, the most meaningful actions will address the relationship of power between the People and the government. This relationship under ideal circumstances would simply be governed by elections and the least for each of us could be just voting. But we don't have such ideal circumstances these days. Addressing this relationship can require great bravery. But it can also take many forms from small to large.

Some examples to illustrate the range: turn off your television and refuse the official brainwashing; cancel your newspaper subscription and withdraw the financial support needed to continue publishing; get your City Council to pass a resolution or ordinance stating local authorities shall not enforce the Patriot Act; refuse to pay taxes; go AWOL from the military.

Depending on your situation, any of these may be the "least," and each would target the relationship of power between the People and the government. Further recurring to principles, I submit that the very definition of revolution is met by changing this relationship of power. So you see, even the tiniest of actions, the very least you can do, sometimes is revolutionary.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

Posted by Blogger Dave Berman @ Nov 24, 2007, 10:39:00 PM
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