It’s an historic day for Egypt and for the world. But…when Egypt’s President Mubarak ‘stepped down’…we have to wonder who will be ‘stepping up.’ Of course, we’re hoping to see all segments of the Egyptian population to ‘step up’ equally, but this is not likely. It’s not likely, because many will not have equal choice to ‘step up’…and it’s not likely, because many will not see it’s their responsibility to ‘step up.’ There is a great uncertainty today, even in the midst of jubilant celebrations. In Egypt…as in our own troubled political environment…it’s uncertain if more everyday citizens will ‘step up’ as active participants to make our political culture more responsive, more inclusive and more resilient…so, in the end, it is also sustainable. Today…we can all celebrate in these fresh opportunities for the Egyptian people. Tomorrow…it’ll be time to ‘step up’ as participatory government moves from being a dream to being a reality.
These next remarks emerge from the confluence of thoughts about the events of the day, and my two previous blog entries. When a leader ‘steps down’…when a government topples…when government services are ended…a vacuum is created. Others must then continue to ‘step up’ until that vacuum is filled to the point of at least a temporary equilibrium. History is made up of many inter-connected stories of vacuums and equilibriums in power and politics. Unfortunately, most of these stories are dominated by those who already have great power…so a bad situation is replaced by another bad situation. But…in some of these stories, a few unsuspecting people emerge with new ideas that inspire many others…and a momentum of choice leads to a new equilibrium with some completely new structures. When change is afoot…and the best possible outcome is desired…it’s time to have open minds in many conversations at many different levels of society.
Concerning American influence in the future political decisions in Egypt…I’m thinking the American people should be actively engaged in conversations…weighing the options in our influence, so American policies might include long-term goals and benefits along with our short-term interests. Deliberative conversations have addressed America’s role in the world in general terms…but this is an opportunity to look at a specific situation. In a very short time, a variety of deliberative formats could be created for public engagement…then the priorities discovered in these decentralized efforts could be blended and shared with the President, Cabinet and Congress. I don’t particularly trust our super-partisan political culture or the 24/7 news media to understand the deep desires of the American people that our government gets this one right. But, hey…this is a place where people can ‘step up.’
Concerning our national debt and massive cuts in government budgets at all levels…I’m also thinking the American people should be actively engaged in conversations…looking at all the options to meet the short-term and long-term needs of people and communities, so government services and assistance can be provided by the level of government that makes them most efficient, or these services and assistance can be provided by non-governmental organizations. Deliberative conversations can address the benefits and consequences of budget cuts…can identify the most critical trade-offs…and can lead citizens in personal decisions of what they are willing to do. It’s irresponsible to talk about budget cuts at all levels of government without a thorough deliberative conversation about how communities will be able to absorb the huge burden of human needs that will fall into their laps if just a few governmental agencies are closed. But, hey…this is another place where people can ‘step up.’
What a contrast! We’re witnessing what might become an exhilarating explosion of participatory governance in Egypt and perhaps other nations…and we’re witnessing what might become a painful implosion of government institutions that provide services and assistance to our most vulnerable neighbors in the United States of America. There is a common factor here… both of these dramatically different kinds of change require courage, vision and stamina…not just by a person, but by a people. The ideas and the leaders who will make the greatest impact…for good or ill…are unknown to us now…but they are watching and waiting and learning and praying and deliberating with friends, neighbors and colleagues. Who knows? One of those ideas…one of those leaders…might get the critical spark in a dialogue or deliberative conversation we moderate. It’s an exciting time to be involved in dialogue and deliberation!