USA and the World at the Dawn of 2017
Report of a OPUS Listening Post® held in Chicago on 23rd January 2017
PART 1: THE SHARING OF PREOCCUPATIONS & EXPERIENCES
In this part, the Listening Post participants were invited to identify, contribute, and explore their experiences in their various social roles, be they: in work, unemployed or retired; as members of religious, political, neighbourhood, voluntary or leisure organisations; or as members of families and communities. This part was largely concerned with what might be called, ‘the stuff of people’s everyday lives’: the ‘socio’ or ‘external’ world of participants.
PART 2: IDENTIFICATION OF MAJOR THEMES
In Part 2, the aim collectively was to identify the major themes emerging from Part 1.
Theme 1: Fragmentation /Country divided/ Two Americas
“I recall the morning that I woke up to our New President’s America” I felt scared , nauseated and didn’t know where to go” It was all hate, lies and bigots, racists, homophobes and I felt like I didn’t belong here anymore.
“Who could have voted for this guy? What kind of people are his voters? Are they all ignorant bigots? That can’t be, but I truly do not understand how anyone could think he will improve things in this country.”
“New President’s election is music to our ears – “With a Republican, there won’t be any coercion in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – Israel is safe, our economy is safe”
“You can either be angry and filled with resentment or wake up as we need to make this county great again – we have a lot of work to do”
This theme emerged immediately and continued when dividing into groups into themes. This was a rare opportunity for the group that supported one candidate to be face to face immediately after the inauguration with an attendee that voted for the other candidate. Emphasis was placed with developing themes that impacted all Americans but there was an obvious tension in the group.
Theme 2: Fear/ Helplessness/ Trust
“I am fearful of being in my country and my home. Black and brown don’t fit in here anymore.”
“We live in violence and entrenched poverty in this city, with murders every week, with a mayor that has closed down over 50 schools on Chicago’s south side and no mental health services! Now this issue national level this tips the scale for me and the future of my children- we must fight back”
“This election has just amplified the fear and that we have all had for years. This is a country that has two worlds, the rich and the poor. The rich are exploiting the poor and New President capitalized on that fear and now we are worse off than ever”
“I am finding myself conscious of any energy I use. I fear the impact if climate change if we don’t take it seriously.”
“Our system was broken and it has been for years. This happened for a reason and we need to wake up – we have gotten too complacent. Now we need to look in the mirror at what we have created. This was not an accident “
“These are dangerous times and the fear of the unknown is creating massive anxiety.”
The group who did not support New President expressed great fears, anxiety, fears of war, and fears of alienating our global community. There were strong feelings of vulnerability; helplessness and questions of whom in political leadership can be trusted. The focus on fake news has made it difficult to trust what one were reading and the media. This group took up the cumulative themes of prior listening post with lack of trust in our leaders, vulnerability, helplessness and strong feelings to fight or take flight and leave the country or continue the protests and unite on their desire to take back their country and make sure their legislators represent their needs.
The New President supporters, on the other hand, were in a dependency state and felt that they trusted their leader and were waiting for him to fulfil his campaign promises and bring back jobs, rid our country of undocumented immigrants and restrict Muslim access. They also agreed that the media was not to be trusted. They felt in good hands of their new President and that it would just take a while to adjust.
Theme 3: Connectedness/ Unity /Resistance/ Hope
”I just got through the day so I could rest up and protest during the night. It made me feel alive, and connected” “Most of the protesters are sore losers, its embarrassing! Yes, half of America wanted a woman democratic president and so they were disappointed. But protests around the country- come on! Face it – we elect a new president every 4 to 8 years”
“I find myself thinking a lot about how I can be effective to help us change. I want to make our legislators take more responsibility and represent us”
“The women’s march gave a trace of hope. A large organized march led by women was a great example for us to say ‘let’s not be passive, let’s rise to the occasion and fight for the America we want!’ It felt chilling to see the support that was felt in marches across the country and around the world”
“Rioting because your candidate lost in un-American’.
The desire for political and societal change is quite strong and while some members in the group are content that their newly elected leader will bring to them the changes promised, the majority of the group feels less trusting of this change and that they need to take a more active role in ensuring that their voices are heard. After the weekend Women’s March last weekend they are beginning to see the power in numbers uniting for a cause. While the country is much divided, there seems to be more connectedness within the divided groups.
PART 3: ANALYSIS AND HYPOTHESIS FORMATION
In Part 3, the participants were working with the information resulting from Parts 1 & 2, with a view to collectively identifying the underlying dynamics both conscious and unconscious that may be predominant at the time; and developing hypotheses as to why they might be occurring at that moment. Here, participants were working more with what might be called their ‘psycho’ or ‘internal’ world: their collective ideas and ways of thinking that both determine how they perceive the external realities and shape their actions towards them.
The world seems to be also reacting with the massive changes in leadership and new policies in our country. The entitled new President doesn’t take into account how his acts affect others. This leads to splitting and bringing out the maternal care (women’s march) to counter the triggered paternal aggression that simultaneously exists in all of us. This aggression appears to trigger for us, loss of safety and security and fears of annihilation.
On the one hand, the campaign for the election was long and brutally negative. The enormities of the problems that our society was facing have been magnified by the election. As part of this underlying thread, issues about feeling angry, helpless and anxious were discussed, particularly how we are disowning the feelings of helplessness and projecting them unto the leaders who were now seen as impotent and deserving of our anger. This process of disowning and projecting was done for each candidate on both sides of a much divided America. This might point towards a deep feeling of helplessness, bewilderment, isolation and anger and toward us for not being able to do anything about it. Turning to others and sharing these concerns can change vulnerability to are contributing to the development of collective actions in protests and marches and a greater sense of participation resulting in a need for a movement of unity and the ultimately the formation of the resistance.
On the other hand, we have a strong sense that the tools of the past do no not serve us anymore, coupled with a cynicism regarding our ability to effect any meaningful change on a large scale. However, when we turn our focus to our immediate environment (our community) for nourishment and security and wish for simpler times, we were faced with the fact that we live amongst one of the most violent cities in the country. We also live in the state with the highest debt. We have been stripped of resources that most cities enjoy the benefit of and have extreme poverty, few mental health clinics for the poor and a city where corruption and poor leadership have existed for years.
Chicago has been a predominantly democratic city deep into the Obama and the female Democratic presidential candidate he endorsed, as a continuation of the administration as many other blue major cities endorsed. There was a surprising election result that we all should have seen coming. The rage and anger and betrayal of the silent voters for the New Republican President shocked supporters in Chicago and feelings of paranoia persisted for several days. There was the suggestion that one wear a safety pin to prove that they were safe. That didn’t get picked up so it resulted in paranoia about which the secret New President supporters were akin to the hunt for communism in this country in the 60’s. The isolation and everyone-for-him/herself dynamic has permeating even this micro level of our existence which paves the way for masses of citizens feeling extreme fear and annihilation anxiety. These extreme feelings of helplessness created a strong need to go to the streets and connect with Americans in protest.
There is a need to create a strong community who can provide a security for the group that is not experiencing competence from the New President and his authorities. The experience of hearing each other voices, opinions, concerns, fears in the midst of the changing of the guard and the woman’s protest was the perfect setting. Obama supporters in the grouped mourned his loss, and the loss of the hope of a female presidential replacement that won the popular vote and lost the election.
The New President supporters were in contrast more comfortable and confident in the leadership they had chosen and comfortable in their idealisation and dependency needs. But during the listening post process and exchange of ideas and deep feelings that there was a shift by the end of the meeting and focus more on the issues. Change can occur by the experience of listening to each other and developing themes and hypotheses.
The work we did here today, while at times tense and difficult, and contributed to a hope and realization that we have been existing in a bubble. The experience of talking to members who voted for and believe in the new President was at first anxiety evoking as we began and able to discuss issues realized that on some levels there were common themes in our goals. We want to make America great again. We want to bring back the disappearing middle class, we wants changes in legislation that will bring back the jobs to the US and propose tax incentives or penalties for doing so. We want to increase taxes for the rich. We want to protect the integrity of our borders and form coalitions against ISIS. We want to rebuild our infrastructure and invest in America.
We share many common dreams but differ in the way to get there. We want to be inclusive of our global community and we are all interconnected. There is deep appreciation for the support we have received from our global community. It was an American characteristic to think we have the power to affect things and the election results have been humbling and a reality check for its citizens. The popular candidate lost and we now are feeling less empowered than ever before, feelings like these haven‘t been experienced in the masses since the civil rights movement. But like the civil rights movement, we are finding connection, purpose, conviction, connection and purpose as we unite again to protect our values, principles and resist the changes and safeguard our constitution. We share a dream of bringing our country back to the country that we know it can be and to protect our future generations.
A number of hypotheses were formed. These hypotheses are tentative in nature, as the group didn’t have enough time to refine and develop each of them into more formal hypotheses.
Hypothesis 1: Due to the rapidity of change and outsourcing, many of our rural communities were stripped of their industries and were struggling to survive, resulting in anger at the immigrants taking the jobs and becoming increasingly vulnerable, depressed and fragmented and vulnerable to charismatic leader who was elected the New President appealed to their emotions.
Hypothesis 2: Because of anger and disillusionment, our society had fallen into a dependency culture, which results in blame-shifting and lacked taking responsibility to the degree that we have taken to the streets and formed a resistance to unify the nation.
Hypothesis 3: Because of a denial of climate change the need for strict regulations we have not developed the alternative sources of energy in our country and rely on more primitive means of importing or developing pipelines of oil on Indian territory resulting in an increasingly chaotic situation in which competition for and conflict over scarce resources put pressure divides our nation even further.
Hypothesis 4: Because of individual lack of responsibility, complacency and fear, members of society had blamed those in leadership for societal problems resulting in a Republican candidate who was able to win the emotional trust of enough Americans to win the election, thus creating a sense of powerlessness, anger and injustice in the other half of America.
Hypothesis 5: Because of the loss of our late President who we experienced as a guaranteeing other, on issues like health care, environmental protection, desire for world peace, immigration. The replacement of our predictable government with a new President who is authoritarian, unresponsive, and unaccountable in our democratized state questioning democracy itself. This results in feelings of loss of the guaranteeing other and experiences of anxiety, betrayal, and vulnerability.
Hypothesis 6: The overwhelming availability of information and upstart of fake news sites along with the rapid rate of change contribute to an increasingly complex world where members of society experience a lack of clarity and trust. This leads to a general feeling of being overwhelmed and in turn resorting to strategies of polarization in order to retain some sense of coherence and control.
Convenor: Janet Chandler