The inability of politics to address poverty, climate change, and other basic challenges has fueled extraordinary experimentation in American communities. Welcome to a new conversation on how we make change happen.
Editor's note: This video and statement are part of the Next System Project, a multi-year initiative to spark deep conversations on how to deal with systemic change in the coming decades.
It’s time for everyone who cares about our troubled country to face the depth of the systemic crisis we now confront as a nation. We must step back from the daily fray and ask: How do we actually get on a path to the kind of society—and world—we’d like now and for future generations? We must begin a real conversation—locally, nationally, and at all levels in between—on how to respond to the profound challenge of our time in history.
“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending,” Lincoln said, “we could better judge what to do.” Today’s answer to Lincoln’s charge is grim. If one looks at “where we are” among advanced democracies across more than a score of key indicators of national well-being—including relative poverty, inequality, education, social mobility, health, environment, militarization, democracy, and more—we find ourselves exactly where we don’t want to be: at or near the bottom.
We face a systemic crisis
The challenging realities of growing inequality, political stalemate, and climate disruption prompt an important insight. When big problems emerge across the entire spectrum of national life, it cannot be due to small reasons. When the old ways no longer produce the outcomes we are looking for, something deeper is occurring. We have fundamental problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system. The crisis now unfolding in so many ways across our country amounts to a systemic crisis.
Today’s political economic system is not programmed to secure the wellbeing of people, place and planet. Instead, its priorities are corporate profits, the growth of GDP, and the projection of national power. If we are to address the manifold challenges we face in a serious way, we need to think through and then build a new political economy that takes us beyond the current system that is failing all around us. However difficult the task, however long it may take, systemic problems require systemic solutions.
We need systemic solutions
The social pain arising from the economic crisis, the steady unfolding of the climate calamity, and many other deeply troubling developments have made it possible to pose the question of large-scale system change in a serious fashion in the United States. Yet, despite this new space for a debate about fundamental change, challenges to the system have until recently been constrained by a continuing lack of imagination concerning social, economic and political alternatives. It is said that the existing system is the only possibility, one we must accept and work with—that, as Margaret Thatcher famously insisted, “There is no alternative.” But she had it wrong.
There are real alternatives
The good news is that the inability of traditional politics and policies to address fundamental challenges has fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation in communities across the United States—and around the world. It has also generated an increasing number of sophisticated and thoughtful proposals for transformative change. Together these developments suggest that it is possible to build a new and better America beyond the failed systems of the past and present.
Indeed, new terms have begun to gain currency among diverse social movements and activist communities—an indication that the domination of traditional thinking has already started to weaken. Thus we encounter the sharing economy, the caring economy, the solidarity economy, the restorative economy, the regenerative economy, the sustaining economy, the resilient economy, and, of course, the new economy. There is talk of the need for a great transition. Several of these approaches already have significant networks and thoughtful research efforts underway. New thinking by creative scholars and members of the labor movement and community-oriented advocates is also contributing to the ferment.
Time for a national debate
It is time for Americans to think boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic difficulties facing the United States. It is time to explore genuine alternatives and new models—"the next system.” It is time to debate what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.
Those of us signing this statement are committed to working towards these ends.
Sign on at http://thenextsystem.org.
Gar Alperovitz—The Next System Project
James Gustave Speth—The Next System Project
Annie Leonard—Greenpeace USA
Robert B. Reich—University of California at Berkeley
Oliver Stone—Academy Award-winning Filmmaker
Sarita Gupta—Jobs With Justice
Noam Chomsky—Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Daniel Ellsberg—Author, Whistleblower
Ralph Nader—Consumer Advocate, Author, Former Presidential Candidate
Ai-jen Poo—National Domestic Workers Alliance
Danny Glover—Actor, Social Activist, YES! Magazine board member
Kali Akuno—Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Saru Jayaraman—Food Labor Research Center University of California, Berkeley
David Korten—Living Economies Forum, YES! Magazine co-founder and board member
Stacy Mitchell—Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Raj Patel—University of Texas, Austin
Sarah van Gelder—Editor in Chief at YES! Magazine
Plus hundreds more—view them here!