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The WTO: Getting beyond the policies into the process




Dear friends,

Of the many articles I've seen lately describing the problem with the WTO, I find the one from Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly certainly the clearest. 

But I must admit I am no longer satisfied with descriptions of this problem -- or of any other problem, for that matter.  Nor am I satisfied with ideas for solutions tossed into the field from the bleachers.  I am growing increasingly hungry for the kind of empowered, effective dialogue where all the clarity and creativity (and confusion and struggle) that exists among us can mature together, rapidly deepening everyone's understanding into a rich clarity about what is best for all involved, and for the whole (system, community, society, world).  The fact that so few of us have ever experienced such dialogue does not mean it does not exist and happen.  Such dialogue is, thankfully, becoming more common every day, although it is still rare.  The fact that so few people know about it just makes it harder to get the public to agree on its possibility, power and usefulness.

Some of us are trying to change that.

One thing I learned doing Jim Rough's facilitation workshop is that the objections we have to each others' ideas can be framed as concerns -- to be acknowledged, understood, and placed in public view for all to consider.  We can each learn to do this on our own, and I'm personally trying to do it more, myself.  (e.g., "I am concerned that the WTO makes it harder for societies and communities to care for their own well-being and the well-being of their world.")  We CAN monitor our own communication in this way.  But, even more importantly, facilitators can help groups translate group conflicts into concerns.  In Jim's workshop I experienced a novice facilitator instantly plucking up my objection at the first signs of argument, saying "So what is your concern here?  Give it to ME.  Let's get it written up here....  Good.  So, tell me what you think should be done, instead.  Let's get that written up here, too....  So, now, who else has an idea for a solution to this...."  With Jim's "dynamic facilitation," the facilitator keeps the group moving ahead with their creative imaginings of how they might approach (or even reframe) the situation they're working on -- until the most remarkable solutions begin to crop up and everyone in the group starts exclaiming, "Wow!  Look at what we're coming up with!!!"  I mean, that's what I watched happening in our group in Port Townsend while the protesters were busy shutting down the WTO in Seattle.  It was truly surreal.

I see Jim's wisdom council idea as one form of what I call "Citizen consensus councils" -- any council of diverse citizens selected from a population and facilitated to a consensus about the concerns, needs and dreams of that population.  For example, imagine, if you will, a series of citizens' consensus councils in a couple of dozen diverse countries who review all the pros and cons about various approaches to global economics, to recommend forms of globalization that would be beneficial for the overwhelming number of people involved.  If there wasn't consensus among the diverse councils, imagine them each sending a representative to a global consensus council to create an even more fundamental agreement.  Instead of having the power to implement their recommendations, they would have access to the public through the media, so that their thoughts entered the public dialogue.  Imagine how the public, confronted _at last_ with recognizably common-sense wisdom, would act powerfully to get those ideas implemented.

That's the ideal, anyway.  What would it take to make it happen?  What would it take to make it happen a lot -- even regularly?

During Jim's seminar I got the idea that every candidate or ballot measure should have a "none of the above" on it (this idea is not mine; I first heard it from Ralph Nader).  If "none of the above" won, then a citizens consensus council would be automatically convened to come up with two or three other alternatives that people could then vote on.  Then we could break out of the Coke or Pepsi (or, more often, cyanide or arsenic) choices we seem to face most of the time.

The point is, that councils of DIVERSE CITIZENS FACILITATED TO A CONSENSUS is a powerful political pattern that could be applied at ALL levels of our society, in thousands of circumstances, just the way we apply the VOTING AND MAJORITY RULE pattern. 

I just finished writing "Citizen consensus councils" and will be writing more about this, trying to weave it all together.  But, given the lateness of the hour, I think it is important to just get the ideas out, and to show how they can be applied to virtually all of the problems we face, and that they would provide far better solutions than what we've got now.

We don't have to keep making a mess of our collective lives.