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A Watershed Metaphor for These Times

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From Autumn River Scene
Autumn River Scene
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A Watershed Metaphor for These Times

By Susan C. Strong

Of course right now everyone on the left and among the Democrats is feeling shocked and down because of the horrid 2014 election. There's been a torrent of analysis and blaming on our side. Although many factors were in play, one stands out. That's the role of corrupt corporate money in fueling Right wing victories and hamstringing Democratic alternatives. But much more will be needed to repair our election funk than analysis and blame. More even than trying to force Democrats to move off their usual pale red 1% corporate agenda. I'm talking about something for us now, a vision that could serve us as a source of hope and wisdom for the long haul ahead. That something could be the watershed metaphor.

I first heard of the watershed metaphor applied to social change back in the 1990's. At that time, co-intelligence pioneer Tom Atlee drew my attention to a little book called Shifting: Nature's Way of Change, by Paul Krapfel. Here's a very abbreviated version of the watershed metaphor: high up on the mountainside of a watershed there are a lot of tiny little rivulets. When it rains, they fill with water, and then that water creates little streams, then bigger ones, and finally real rivers. At last, they all flow together into one huge river, the one that flows by a great city near the sea. As the water swells that big river more and more, it starts to flood the city. Then the people there say, "Where did that flood come from?" We never saw it coming!"

We all know in our bones that this process of grass roots revolution is really how change comes to America. The question for us is what is in that "water" that suddenly "floods the city," surprising everyone there. I say it needs to be a growing awareness that what's wrong with America is the way corrupt corporations rob and poison us all to feed their own bottom lines. Sure, we need campaign finance reform, we need the Democrats to straighten out and fly right, and Republicans to do the same. But none of that will ever happen until this country really understands that corrupt corporations are playing a "let's you and him fight" game with both parties and the public too. Our problem is a particular mob of corrupt corporations that keeps everyone busy fighting each other while they, the corporate titans, get away with murder behind the scenes. Literally.

How does this agenda fit with a watershed metaphor? How do we put a "corporate wake up" into the "water" Americans drink? Everywhere at once, friends. High up on the mountains in the "rivulets," in the "streams" of the foothills, in the "rivers" that run through the plains, and finally, into the big "river" that floods the city.

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We need our own Common Good Agenda for America, but we also need to clearly identify who is really trying to stop us from getting it. We the people will need to take a lot of actions everywhere to make that part highly visible. It will have to happen all over the country, in the grass roots, and at every level of our society. That means publically exposing who is getting what from every Congressional, state-level, and local decision or proposal. What corporate agenda is being served, at the expense of a healthy, prosperous America? Who is getting bought off? As the latest Quaker Action bulletin (Fall 2014) from the American Friends Service Committee puts it, we need to "put people before profits," and that means "holding corporations accountable," as well as the corporate flunkies in Congress who do their bidding.

Think it can't be done? Well right after the election Bill Moyers reported about the progressive slate in Richmond, CA, that finally beat the big money campaign by Chevron in what was previously their company town. The progressive message? "Richmond can't be bought." Well, that phrase needs to go even more national and then even more local again now, right back down to those little "rivulets" everywhere.

Why back down to the grass roots? Because an anti-American corporate agenda has rooted itself deep down in our own communities everywhere. Another good example of a successful campaign to back them off comes from Albany, CA, where the University of California, Berkeley has long had an experimental farming plot, the Gill Tract. Expert soil analysis shows that the land is best Class I farm land still undisturbed in the urban Bay Area. The university has long been in bed with big Ag, GMO producers, and pesticide-laden farming, to the detriment of sustainable, organic agriculture, as well as the new urban agriculture trend. Not long ago UC had decided to turn the Gill Tract over to developers to build a supermarket and condos for seniors. But a group of local activists calling themselves Occupy the Farm began a "farm-in" on the land; they were there day and night, planting vegetables, watering them by hand with containers passed over a cyclone fence when U.C. turned off the water supply. After a long struggle, Occupy the Farm won the right of local citizens to keep doing some urban farming at the Gill Tract, and U.C. set aside some of its development plans, for at least ten years. The whole story is well documented in a new film, Occupy the Farm, which is now in selected theaters nationwide. (For more examples of successes like these, check out YES! Magazine, where they focus on the good news.)

These are just a few examples of course, but they are good ones for the way political change really happens. We need to send our message to the corporate dupes of every type in all of our governments, Blue and Red, local and national. Let's show them they won't be able to get away with taking payoffs for abusing the American people anymore, because we are going to expose corrupt corporations everywhere we can. We need to show them all that they had better support a Common Good Agenda for America, and run like the wind away from the corrupt anti-American corporate agenda. Let's make that kind of "river" rise everywhere in America the Beautiful.

Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project,, and author of our new book, Move Our Message: How to Get America's Ear. The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997. Follow Susan on Twitter @SusanCStrong.

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Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Metaphor Project. She is also the author of our new book, MOVE OUR MESSAGE: HOW TO GET AMERICA'S EAR, available on our website. The mission of the Metaphor Project is helping (more...)

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