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Issue No. 114 (January 2008) -- Mark Satin, Editor

 Participants agonize over (and draw lessons from) the death and life of the first transpartisan political organization

By Former Governing Council Members of the New World Alliance

"The actual formation of a broad-based movement does not come easily."
-- Arthur Stein, "The New World Alliance," in Stein, Seeds of the Seventies (University Press of New England, 1985)

Before the U.S. Green Party, before Reuniting America, before the New America Foundation and the Breakthrough Institute, was the New World Alliance (1979-83, RIP). Our review of the first Breakthrough Institute book prompted an exchange among 15 (!) former Alliance leaders that today's visionary activists might enjoy . . . and benefit from. - M.S.

We Had It Down 30 Years Ago


I appreciated your discussion of Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger’s Break Through book and organization. But it brought an ironic smile. Virtually every view of theirs that you praise was my own view back in 1979 when we started the New World Alliance.

Some of that was reflected in my efforts to draft our brochure [see brochure HERE - ed.]. I didn’t describe nature as “separate and pure” with humans hurting nature, which is just as wrong as thinking we’re outside or above nature and therefore it’s ours to exploit. Instead I characterized us as “one part of a seamless web of life,” a manifestation of nature.

I was very much into the view that high tech can be good, calling for “A POLITICS OF TECHNOLOGICAL CREATIVITY that develops the fullest potential of contemporary science by putting it in service to constructive activity, and guiding it by humanistic and ecological -- rather than technocratic – values.”

The whole approach was to put forward an aspirational mindset, a “politics of possibility” rather than a gloom and doom approach; thus the focus on a “politics of hope,” a “politics of healing,” a “politics of human growth,” etc.

Where I may differ from Nordhaus & Shellenberger (I’m not sure, I haven’t read the book) is on “limits to growth.” This is tricky, because so much of the world still lives in poverty and there has to be growth to bring everyone up to a decent living standard.

But limits are real: Global food production is for the first time hitting the wall due to drought, water scarcity, increased meat eating worldwide, urban sprawl, desertification, overfishing, the growth of biofuels, etc.

The key is in redefining growth, or shifting the concept from quantitative growth to qualitative development (as Nordhaus & Shellenberger appear to suggest for the already-developed nations).

Geez, I didn’t mean to go on this rant. But it’s interesting to see how ahead of our time we were, even though all kinds of differences lurked behind such general statements of principle, and we never could agree on “what we were” or on our central strategy for affecting change.

Best, -- Bob

Robert L. Olson
Senior Fellow, Institute for Alternative Futures
Former Chair, Governing Council, New World Alliance


We Blew It

Dear Bob,

Thank you for your eloquent and moving reminder of / defense of / memorial to what you and others (me too!) were trying to convey through the New World Alliance.

OF COURSE the huge overlap between Nordhaus & Shellenberger's perspective and ours is why I resonated so strongly to their book and organization. And did you catch that they are almost exactly the same ages that you and I were when we launched the Alliance?

Any response I have -- besides “RIGHT ON!" -- would take us instantly back to the arguments we were all having in 1979-82. My position at that time was that it is not enough to be "ahead of our time," as you put it then & now. Thousands of people are always ahead of their time. And anyway, we were not that much ahead of our time -- millions of Americans were ready for your (our) transpartisan message back in 1979. Arguably more then than now!

It was incumbent on us to manifest the fund-raising and organizational skills that would have allowed us to develop a competent political vehicle that could have carried our message into the mainstream and turned it into a political force. The older I get, the more I suspect that God Himself / Herself was pleading with us to do this.

We were unwilling to do it, and I, for one, will never live that down -- especially since my own lack of leadership skills was partly what did us in!

Sincerely, -- Mark

Mark Satin
Editor, Radical Middle Online Newsletter
Former Governing Council member and full-time staff member, New World Alliance


We Lacked the Skills, But Love Prevailed


You’ve put it exactly right: we had a lot of idea people in the Alliance, but we didn’t have the “fund-raising and organizational skills that would have allowed us to develop a competent political vehicle that could have carried that message into the mainstream and turned it into a political force.”

And we didn’t have agreement on what the character of that vehicle should be -- or even full agreement on taking our work “into the mainstream.” As [Governing Council member and Future Survey editor] Michael Marien kept saying, we were too much “in the sandbox.”

The ending of the Alliance was a blow to me too. I had been elected chair of the Governing Council without seeking it, probably because I wasn’t seeking it, didn’t have a strong personal agenda, and really believed in what we were trying to do. But leaving my job at OTA [Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress], sitting in that same office you sat in, working for virtually nothing for several months, resulted in my sense of worth getting very much entangled with the Alliance.

I’ll never forget the night I gave up on it.

It was at the next to last Governing Council meeting -- the one held at the Esalen Institute [which you refused to attend. Governing Council member and Stanford Research Institute author / philosopher] Jay Ogilvy had taken the lead in organizing the meeting, and the whole feeling of the event was of a fairly high level philosophical / political seminar or conference with no sense at all of political organizing.

Some of us were staying in [Esalen co-founder] Michael Murphy’s house, which had a large stone patio outside overlooking the Pacific. I stood out there in the evening as a storm came on -- and on and on. Thunder rumbled across the ocean and huge waves beat on the cliffs below.

It turned out to be a once-in-a-decade storm. Some of the Esalen baths filled with mud, and mud slides closed the road south to Los Angeles.

I couldn’t turn away from it. But through it, I faced the reality that the Alliance couldn’t be the vehicle I hoped it could be. I faced the confusion in my life about how I could contribute. For the first time, really, I felt a strong sense of my own mortality. I imagined myself standing on the edge of the world, looking out into the future where -- whatever would eventually come to pass -- terrible storms would have to be passed through.

I somehow got into this inner drama of not letting the storm defeat me, and I refused to turn away, standing there in the downpour all night until the storm trailed off and ended with the first light of dawn.

And then, suddenly, totally unexpectedly, I had a sensation like a trap door opening beneath me and I plummeted into Love. It was a peak experience that seemed almost an antidote to the storm.

If I think back over my life, there’s no doubt that this is one of two or three most powerful and memorable experiences I’ve ever had.

It didn’t give me any specific insights about what to do, or banish any of my flaws. But it left me with an attitude of never giving up hope no matter how fierce the storm. And it was a strange and wonderful ending to my psychological attachment to the Alliance.

Without that last gift of grace, I’m sure I would have been much more psychologically battered by the folding of the Alliance.

I didn’t attend the last Governing Council meeting, where the decision to end was made. But like you, I was not surprised, and had already begun to move on. But it still hurt.

-- Bob

Robert L. Olson
Co-editor, Environmentalism and the Technologies of Tomorrow: Shaping the Next Industrial Revolution (2004)
Former Chair, Governing Council, New World Alliance


We Had the Skills, But Lacked the Will

Dear Bob,

Actually, you subtly distorted what I said in my email (just as you used to distort that same sentiment when I expressed it at our meetings!).

I did NOT say that we lacked fund-raising and organizational skills. I said we failed or refused to manifest those vitally necessary skills in the context of the Alliance . . . and that that failure or refusal is what did us in.

We may have been voracious “idea people,” as you put it, and we were mostly in our 20s or 30s. But we had fund-raising and organizational skills up the wazoo! Just look at what these Governing Council members did soon after leaving the Alliance:

  • Gordon Davidson became executive director of the Social Investment Forum;
  • Miller Hudson became chair of the Denver Democratic Party;
  • Neal Hurwitz joined the national executive staff of the United Jewish Appeal (as its “Major Cities New Gifts Director,” no less);
  • Sarah James re-invented herself as a city planner, started Sarah James & Associates, and turned it into one of the most influential ecologically-oriented planning firms in the U.S.;
  • Richard B. Perl launched Pacific Partners International Investments, which specialized in facilitating multi-million-dollar Japanese investments in U.S. real estate (oh, those views from PP’s windows overlooking Central Park!);
  • Marc Sarkady became a senior-management consultant to General Motors;
  • Eric Utne launched one of the publishing phenomena of the 1980s, the Utne Reader;
  • Malon Wilkus became vice president of a $2 billion investment management company (and in 1986 founded American Capital Strategies, which even Forbes magazine recently swooned over).

So don’t tell me about our lack of fund-raising or organization-building skill sets! And any expertise we lacked could have quickly (and probably freely) been obtained from sympathetic others. For example, after I started New Options Newsletter in 1983, Roger Craver -- a progressive version of Moral Majority’s direct-mail king Richard Viguerie -- swooped in to help me turn it into the second-largest independent political newsletter in the U.S.

(Recently Craver co-founded Unity08. Just consider how eagerly he might have responded to an appeal from the Alliance in 1979-82 to help it become the post-socialist, post-liberal, post-conservative version of Moral Majority!)

No, the reason the Alliance failed to take off had nothing to do with our lack of skills or lack of access to needed expertise.

It had to do with a failure of will on our part -- a failure or refusal to apply our skills -- and I’ve spent literally half my life now trying to figure out what was behind that. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

-- My own inadequate leadership qualities (why didn’t anyone take me aside and try to explain, or even slip me a Peter Drucker book?);

-- A subterranean feeling that we didn’t DESERVE to have the Alliance play the major role that a hard-driving, centralized, Moral Majority-like transpartisan organization likely would have played in the 1980s, coupled (inextricably) with a lack of DESIRE on the part of many of us (you too, Bob -- how quickly one forgets) to have the Alliance play that role. Many of us felt that a networking model was more appropriate then, just as many do now -- see my Paul Hawken critique HERE. (Why is a networking model always suggested for the change agents, but never for the Reaganauts, the New Democrats, and the neocons -- the political forces that actually managed to run this country for the last three decades?);

-- A failure to strike an appropriate balance between being efficient and being kind. One minute we’d be speaking coldly or superficially to one another at Alliance meetings, the next minute we’d be giving a weepy Governing Council member 45 minutes of meeting time to help her “process” the death of her father. Somehow, a kind but task-oriented maturity always eluded us -- and spiritual rhetoric was always there to take its place. The Alliance may have soured me on spiritual rhetoric forever!;

-- A failure to come to grips with the ego games that take place in all human organizations, and were especially pronounced in the Alliance. Competition and ego soiled our fundraising efforts, our attempts to launch projects, our use of staff, and more. (I can still vividly recall one distinguished Governing Council member denouncing another distinguished GC member for being in league with the devil!)  I suspect that ego / jealousy / competition was especially pronounced in the Alliance because as “spiritually aware” people we weren’t supposed to be motivated by any of that. So we all conspired to pretend that it didn't exist.

For a brief period of time, the political future of the U.S. was in our hands, and we let it slip away. Billions of lives were diminished as a result.

Bob, I am happy for you that you were able to have a transcendent spiritual experience when the Alliance collapsed. All I felt was that I'd failed to meet the terms of my contract with God. (Perhaps I have a different God.) All I felt was a paralyzing sorrow, and a desire to make it up to the world somehow. Three decades on, I still feel that same way.

Sincerely, -- Mark

Mark Satin
Author, Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now (2004)
Former Governing Council member and full-time staff member, New World Alliance


We Experience More Creative Tensions Now

By Gordon Feller
CEO, Urban Age Institute
Former Governing Council member, New World Alliance

Reading Mark and Bob's email exchange sure brings me back to a lot of our tense internal discussions!

But those tensions of ours are no longer the same ones I see expressing themselves -- at least inside the transpartisan efforts I'm now associated with.

Today's tensions are mostly positive and generate lots of creative energy.

For example, we used to debate -- endlessly & often bitterly -- whether the Alliance’s organizational form adequately reflected the values and principles intrinsic to America's transformation (so we could “be the change we seek”). Now there is a fluidity and flexibility about designing group projects and empowering new initiatives. There’s a confidence -- if that’s the right word -- that just wasn’t so available to us back then.

I suspect we all experienced a big burst of “growing up” in the Alliance, and that has got to count for something. Maybe even something pretty big.


We Needed to Concentrate on Implementation

By Jeff Cox
Webmaster, The Organic Food Guy
Former Governing Council member and Bill of Responsibilities Committee Chair, New World Alliance

I still cringe when I remember Mark Satin letting us all know that we were feckless wimps in the New World Alliance. But of course, we were feckless wimps when it came to organizing and prosecuting a genuine political movement.

I have since come to see that politics is hardball (Karl Rove sure proved that!), and none of us in those days had a taste for hardball.

In the Alliance, I argued that the U.S. Bill of Rights needed a Bill of Responsibilities, and I elaborated on the idea that our chief responsibilities are for truth to ourselves, for goodness to others, and to protect the beauty of the earth. I thought those concepts might form a kernel around which a politics might crystallize.

However, the Bill of Responsibilities was met with a resounding indifference by the Governing Council, and by attempts to change and manipulate it. (Okay--fine. Who says I've got the right kernel? Well, other than myself?) And shortly after that, Mark delivered the lash and the Alliance evaporated.

It all goes to show that good ideas are a dime a dozen. What is rare is good implementation.

On a personal note, I moved to California in 1985 and continued to beat the organic drum. And now look -- most American towns of any size have Whole Foods markets chock full of organic food. It's hard for people to realize how gratifying that is for someone like myself who helped stand the organic food concept on its feet [e.g., as managing editor of Rodale Press’s million-circulation Organic Gardening magazine for many years - ed.].


We Are Nodes of a Life-Giving Net Now

By Bethe Hagens
Doctoral faculty, School of Public Policy and Administration, Walden University
Former Governing Council member, New World Alliance

I have to admit that I'm not agonizing over the New World Alliance’s demise. I feel as if we former Alliance members are nodes of a net that stretched and stretched and stretched, and we stayed very flexibly and tangentially aware of each others' existence over the years.

I've found that to be a real help. For example, the younger people I work and strategize with are often familiar with the projects (and offshoots of projects) of former Alliance members. That provides a link in the confidence chain between us.

I'm still in Maine, and am now working at Goddard College, the tiniest progressive liberal arts college in the country, AND at Walden University [where Bethe has just won a 2007 “Extraordinary Faculty Award” - ed.]. Walden’s parent corporation, Laureate Education, Inc., may be the largest, most ethnically diverse population of working adult student professionals in the world -- 325,000 and counting.

I felt it was important in building toward a transpartisan future to straddle two disparate university communities -- and to drop my 1980s stereotypes of justice -- and to get hammered by this extraordinary new generation of military and government can-doers and Gen-??? cosmonauts of the sacred.

And it's nice to have the Alliance net twang back.


We Never Found a Leader

By John McClaughry
President, Ethan Allen Institute
Former Governing Council member and Platform Committee Co-Chair, New World Alliance

For a relatively hard nosed left brain libertarian type like me, the New World Alliance was a strange experience: Too many tormented, insecure, deeply introspective souls struggling to fulfill their destiny, merge with the Great Tao, or just find the handle to reality.

But I must say that the Alliance’s political platform, assembled by the gentle and self-effacing Rarihokwats, was a remarkable document, still worth reading today. Example: it contained the first-ever published proposal for what we know now as a Health Savings Account.

It is too bad that the Alliance viewpoint -- often confused, sometimes contradictory, but prophetic and occasionally brilliant -- never connected with a politically viable protagonist. Today, 28 years later, I can't even think of a likely candidate to lead this would-be movement, here or abroad.

I continue to hope that there's one somewhere, coming up from below the radar, to lead us all toward that New World that we tried so hard to imagine.


We Weren’t Willing to Play the Right Game

By Miller Hudson
Executive Director, Colorado Association of Public Employees
Former Governing Council member and Consultations [with Elected Officials] Project advisor, New World Alliance

So far as the New World Alliance goes, recriminations -- either of the collective or the self-flagellant variety -- rather miss the point.

As one of only two or three members of the Governing Council who had actually stood for election, served in public office, and engaged in the elbow-throwing reality that is American political life, it was immediately evident that we had assembled the finest possible badminton team to play ice hockey. Furthermore, 28 years ago there was no anticipation of the smashmouth political partisanship headed our way.

Political change requires majority (from those bothering to vote) approval, and, until the Breakthrough Institute or some other New World Alliance-type group learns to speak in a language that reaches the ordinary Americans Joe Bageant introduces us to in his Deer Hunting with Jesus blog and book, visionary insights will deliver little more than onanistic thrills.

Following the Alliance, I tried the Green Party movement only to walk away shaking my head in dismay when our local committee adopted a policy of rotating the chairmanship for each new meeting in order to avoid the threat of hierarchical oppression.

There could be no better methodology for undermining expertise, discounting the power of local knowledge, and obstructing the creation through debate of a winning political strategy (and, yes, I am fully aware of that word's roots in military theory and find it irrelevant).

Radical middle / transpartisan politics will only become a force when its prescriptions are not only admirable, but grounded & pragmatic enough to be worth fighting for.


We Had No Transition Plan

By Rarihokwats
Advisory Board, Paa Pii Wak, and consultant for Four Arrows
Former Governing Council member and Platform Project facilitator, New World Alliance

Good morning, Mark. I agree with you -- "We had the skills, but lacked the will." But the will to do what? To realize the potential of the New World Alliance? To reduce our energies in the pursuits that garnered the invitation to join the Alliance, and apply them instead to the Alliance itself? When put to the test, did the Alliance just lose the competition?

All an illusion! Here we are, three decades later, still finding enough mutual attraction to be freely sharing our thoughts about what it is that we really should be doing, maybe without realizing that we have actually been doing "it.”

Certainly you did "it,” Mark. You had a plan, you wanted to bring transpartisan activists together, and you did. We joined you, we're still here, "it" is still happening in the lives of all of us.

So what's wrong? Maybe nothing. "We" prospered even as the Alliance remained virtual, illusory, a concept-(still)-waiting-to-happen-maybe. And personally, I am still grateful to you for your initiative and your non-leadership style of leadership. No need for self-flagellation.

Maybe we just got trapped in our inability to operate from the “radical middle.” But maybe that's all right too? Maybe that radical middle is a theoretical reference point which we can all see and appreciate from our respective vantage points, but a place where nobody really lives.

I like your phrase "task-oriented maturity.” That notion should have -- if I can moralize -- replaced rhetoric of all kinds (not just spiritual) in the Alliance. Instead, we allowed rhetoric to take the place of maturity. Could it be that the New World Alliance itself, although a manifestation of our best intentions, did not have the maturity to keep our youth in check without dampening it? Where was the sergeant-at-arms when we needed her?

Yes, and our failure to come to grips with ego games. I agree with you there too. But isn't that because we did not want to give the Alliance "the grips" on us? Having been bruised by grips at every turn, we were all hoping that in that safe place we would create, grips would not be necessary.

That is where we erred in judgment, I believe. Confusing where we wanted to get to with the belief we were already there. Not planning for the trip. Not taking the journey. Not having the equivalent of years wandering in the desert to cleanse ourselves of what we wanted to leave behind.

We had no transition plan. We lacked the equivalent of Rousseau's benevolent dictatorship to protect our developing democracy while it was still fragile and vulnerable.

And as a result, we did what always seems to happen in transitions to a “New World.” Some of us brought along what we were told we had to leave behind -- and we ended up fouling our own nest. Again. Sad, but hardly unique to us.

So let's be gentle in our self-criticism. And very humble, detaching ourselves from the thought that somehow our failure to materialize a dream -- valid as it was, valid as it is! -- caused billions of lives to be diminished. Detach ourselves from the illusion that at any time we -- all 39 of us Governing Council members! -- held the political future of the world in our hands.

Of course, that remains our challenge today. After the Alliance, in our own lives and spaces, to change the future of the world.


We Had an Unprofessional Attitude, Especially About Money

By Neal H. Hurwitz
Executive Director, The Campaign for Stuyvesant [High School] Endowment Fund, Inc.
Former Governing Council member and Fund Raising Committee Chair, New World Alliance

I learned a lot with, and through, the New World Alliance. David Hunter, a major funder in the 1980s, did want to help and gave some money, but there was a very unprofessional air about our efforts, and that hurt us deeply. . . .

I know that [one Governing Council member] thought I was mad, and he may have been right -- the lack of wanting to fund raise properly did make me a little crazy.   I actually cried after our meeting that first night knowing we were not looking at how to move ahead in that area with the right attitude. . . .

But Jim Turner, Betsy Lehrfeld, Clem Bezold, Jim Benson, Bob Olson, and many others were real pros, so it might have worked if given the chance / if we’d given ourselves the chance. . . .

I am still friends with Robert Buxbaum.  I miss Steve Woolpert and his warm family. . . Bob Dunsmore gave me the most painful and important foot massage ever, and I loved and befriended Gerry Goldfarb [head of our Legal Affairs Committee] who was later murdered by a client! . . . Alanna Hartzok -- neat, where and what for her now? . . . One Governing Council member borrowed $300 from me 28 years ago -- never paid it back -- recently called and said he'd pay it back with interest. We'll see. . . . It feels like all of us were friends (and sometime lovers!) on a dysfunctional kibbutz, or some such. . . .

We live in a strange world now.   I am on to the "Israel problem" -- been there 30 times since 1985, and Iraq, Iran, Syria. . . . I have three wondrous children now, and my stepson is with Homeland Security (!). . . . I co-own a profitable construction company. . . . I am on Facebook. . . . All is well.


We Chose the Comfort of the Armchair

By Alanna Hartzok
Co-Director, Earth Rights Institute
Former Governing Council member, New World Alliance

My most satisfying and I think important contribution to the New World Alliance was my work on the Land and Natural Resources section of our “Transformation Platform” [96 pp., 1981]. In this section of the platform, libertarians and radical greens managed to craft components of a true "third way" approach to economic transformation. It is still in advance of anything out there.

Unfortunately, although I greatly valued our platform and its clarity of goals and vision, the public policies we suggested in it were -- overall -- a mish-mash of left and right rather than a genuine synthesis. Some sections took a decentralist, libertarian tack while others featured typical liberal big-government approaches. Maybe this lack of genuine synthesis is one reason our white eagle [symbol of the Alliance - ed.] never flew.

My last Governing Council meeting was the one at Coolfont Conference Center in West Virginia in the winter of 1981. With much devotion to "the cause" I loaded my infant son onto the airplane with me from California to Baltimore, rented a car, and drove to Coolfont. I can still remember the discomfort of a couple of nights in a freezing-cold sleeping room there.

I had wanted so much to be at Coolfont.  I had expected that with the “Transformation Platform” finally published, we would be speeding full steam ahead to build movements and chapters for policy implementation. I had expected we would be going from second to third gear at that meeting. Instead I remember endless mental grinding -- on and on -- about fine points of one thing or another.

After that meeting, whenever people asked me what had happened to the Alliance I would say, "The intellectuals killed it." I meant that the Governing Council was not able to move into the next phase of activism and movement building. We stayed in the comfort of the armchair rather than risk the jolts of the playing field.

The platform may not have been perfect, but I thought it was "good enough" to carry us forward for a while. The Governing Council just did not have what was needed to get out of the mental mode and into the "move it out into the world" phase.

Another problem I had at Coolfont was that I felt most people (and most of the Governing Council members were men) were very uncomfortable with my being there with a nursing baby. My overt mothering role seemed to have led to my being dismissed as a thinker to be taken seriously. I experienced a real coolness at Coolfont. The only people who expressed any warmth or love to me and my baby were [spiritual-political activists] Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson.

My personal experiences aside, perhaps another reason our eagle did not fly was because we were charting new territory both intellectually and interpersonally. We were seeking a way not only beyond the old left and old right, but beyond the old masculine and old feminine. We had not yet found, integrated, and balanced our "fierce female" and our "gentle male" aspects. The eagle had not yet united with the condor.

I am delighted to see that many of us are now flying steady and strong. I am too. After my son and then daughter were born, I left California and moved "back home" to rural south-central Pennsylvania and created an eco-homestead on three acres of land.

In 2001 I ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate and was included in the televised debates. I stood there under the bright lights of live TV with the Greens’ sunflower-petal halo around my head, a donkey on my left and an elephant on my right. (Does that make me transpartisan?) Currently I am working to complete a contract with the United Nations Habitat Global Land Tool Network to "upscale" land value tax policy as a major approach to worldwide poverty eradication. My book The Earth Belongs to Everyone will be available soon.


We May Have Been Too Personally / Psychologically Diverse

By Mel Gurtov
Professor of Political Science and International Studies, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University
Former Governing Council member, New World Alliance

It's hard to believe so much time has passed since those heady days when we thought we could make (and in fact really did make) a difference. Just a few thoughts:

1. Our failure, if such it can be called, was not one of leadership, least of all yours.

2. We were unable to translate highminded rhetoric and good ideas into a concrete notion of how to get from here to there. That translation is never easy.

3. We were perhaps too diverse. What was wonderful at the inception -- the coming together of such different people -- became less wonderful when it came time to do something.

4. Miller Hudson [see his communication above - ed.] is right: We needed to be more pragmatic and grounded in reality.

5. The fact that so many of us went on to do good works is testimony to the inspirational value of our meetings. What we didn't accomplish as an organization, we accomplished in our personal lives.

As for me, I recently remarried, and my three daughters are all doing wonderful things. I continue to write and teach from a global / human-interest perspective -- I am editor-in-chief of Asian Perspective, my most recent books are Global Politics in the Human Interest and Superpower on Crusade, and I take great pride in having had an impact on quite a number of students, undergraduate to doctoral, over the last 35 years.


Some of Us Weren’t Ready, and Neither Was the U.S.

By Sarah James
Principal, Sarah James & Associates
[winner of the 2007 "Dale Prize for Excellence in Urban & Regional Planning" - ed.]
Co-author, The Natural Step for Communities: How Cities and Towns Can Change to Sustainable Practices (2004)
Former Governing Council member and full-time staff member, New World Alliance

It is so interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts about why the New World Alliance did not go further than it did. I spent long hours thinking about this.

I agree that the ideas, principles, and platform that came out of our process were cutting-edge, and still are. Where we seemed to suffer the breakdown was in the discussions about where to go next, and how to implement those ideas. Try to influence the existing Democratic Party? Try to form a new party? And what kind of an organization should we be at all? These seemed to be the biggest stumbling blocks.

An interesting question to me was why we couldn't come to agreement about the implementation and organizational questions, since everyone had done such an amazing job of coming to agreement on ideas, principles, and platform positions -- which seemed to me to be ultimately much harder to accomplish than organizational questions.

I now look at the Alliance and what happened to it at two different levels.

On the more microcosmic level, I think that the failure did have to do with egos, as someone says [above]. I felt strongly at the time (and this was why I left the organization) that some of us were not practicing what we preached in terms of higher standards for human and political behavior, and with each other.

It has been my experience that individuals and organizations who do this ultimately fail. We have to model what it is we are preaching about. Perhaps we, or at least some of us, were not able to do that at that point in time.

On the more macrocosmic level, I don't think our (U.S.) society may have been ready for what we were talking about then. I have come to believe that transformational change in this country has to happen from the bottom up, meaning from the local level, from the grass roots, from the people of this country - rather than from the national level.

And I see this transformation already well underway! I see it in the climate change, renewable energy, green building, organic agriculture, sustainable development, and eco-municipality initiatives -- among others -- growing like wildfire across the country. It is a movement which doesn't yet know it is a movement (I hear Paul Hawken's latest book says this too). When all these separate local initiatives start to realize they are part of a larger whole, our political power will emerge and transformational change can then happen at the national government level.

Hopefully, when that time comes, there will be some organization or group of individuals who can give united voice to that movement, and -- perhaps -- dust off a copy of the 1981 Alliance platform to offer its still cutting-edge ideas.


Into the Future!

By Dr. Gail Whitty
Visiting Professor of Law and Ethics, Graduate Programs, University of San Francisco
Former Governing Council member, New World Alliance

[My husband] Mike and I are still activists and cultural creatives. How do we collaborate into the future with you and yours?  That is still the question.


The Larger Polity Was Not Ready

By Richard B. Perl
Attorney; entrepreneur; a founder of Threshold Foundation and Social Venture Network
Former Governing Council member and Political Awareness Seminars co-convener, New World Alliance

When we created the New World Alliance, we elected to the Governing Council a fascinating range of thinkers and activists who each seemed to have chosen a path in life that responded to deep inner callings and the urgencies of the times.

While we were not a good cross section of the country we intended to change, our experience, expertise, and interests were broad and deep enough to represent an emerging political awareness. Our collective message felt important, even electrifying; our effort to forge a coherent political platform from contemporary themes like appropriate technology, globalism, decentralism, natural foods, vegetarianism, libertarianism, futurism, etc., felt historic.

Despite my hopes for greater impact, and my disappointments when the Alliance didn't advance, I don't believe the larger polity was ready for our ideas.

Don’t forget, we came together at the beginning of the Reagan years, when clean energy initiatives from the Carter administration were being discarded and the "red / blue" polarity that defines U.S. politics today was flaring up big-time. The socially responsible business community had yet to come together, and even the notion of non-profit entrepreneurship was considered pioneering and edgy.

For many progressives in the early 1980s, “business” (both as a system of exchange and as individual corporate entities) was seen as the enemy, rather than as at least potentially a vehicle for implementing a sustainable and just society. Today there are some admirable business models, and trillions of dollars are being invested with social and environmental issues prioritized alongside financial imperatives.

The Alliance would have found its base among a group later identified as the Cultural Creatives [see quote under the bright red "‘Objective’ Afterword" headline at the end of this article - ed.]. Of course, the broad growth of that potentially transpartisan population took place after the Alliance discontinued.

I am hopeful that we may see a shift through Barack Obama. He is the first national candidate I've seen who could claim to be "not left, not right, but forward."

If Obama loses, I think we will continue to be in a period of polarized politics, making the kinds of political shifts the Alliance called for elusive. If he wins, though, I think we may have a shot at the healing and bridge building the Alliance contemplated -- not that Barack himself would articulate most of our vision.

Although America has strong potential and needs to come together, sometimes we just have to wait for the right moment and right leadership. I don’t think the timing was right for the Alliance in the early 1980s, but we probably could have taken our ideas and ideals further. After all, most of those ideas and ideals are equally relevant today.


We Need a Different Way to Learn and Come Together

By Michael Marien
Editor, Future Survey newsletter
Former Governing Council member and Platform Committee Co-Chair, New World Alliance

In reading over the various statements above, I couldn't help but think of "Words, Words, Words," the famous opening to Mark Satin's impassioned critique of the New World Alliance [and similar ventures] at the Association for Humanistic Psychology meeting at American University in 1983. My [somewhat similar] presentation on "The Sandbox Syndrome" followed, but was completely swamped by Mark's oratory . . . sorta like Obama's outstanding oratory vs. Hillary's relative wonkiness.

However, I do not "agonize" at all over "the death and life of the first transpartisan political organization," nor do I think that "transpartisan" is the best label for what we were about. Rather, we were trying for a different kind of coalition, but it was still [conventional] politics -- trying to get good ideas in high places.

And organizations, especially political organizations, come and go. Bob Olson [see his statements above] and I were involved in creating a new organization in 1990 -- Holis: The Society for a Sustainable Future -- which lasted about as long as the Alliance.

It was great to read about what many of the former Governing Council people have been doing. I still see Bob from time to time, I saw [Global Business Network’s] Jay Ogilvy briefly in San Francisco last December, I exchange an occasional note with [former Reagan policy advisor] John McClaughry, and [Institute for Alternative Future’s] Clem Bezold is an Advisor to my monthly Future Survey newsletter, published by the World Future Society since 1979.

Back to "Words, Words, Words." I'm still interested in what words we use, and especially the quantity. There are far too many words in the non-conservative center and left, amplified by the Internet, and I fear that we drown each other out. The right doesn't have this problem because its message is simple (indeed, often simplistic), and there are relatively few books by conservatives, especially thoughtful conservatives (the trash talkers are another problem, however).

Our diminished democracy is a hot topic, but will Words, Words, Words make any difference? We need a different way to listen, learn, and come together.


"Objective" Afterword

"Two decades later, we know that Satin's hopes for a new political platform did not materialize.  But [he and his colleagues] caught sight of and began to plan for the general movement for change that is taking form now."
-- Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (Harmony Books / Random House, 2000), p. 206



Like most popular initiatives that never reach critical mass, the New World Alliance lives largely in the hearts and minds of the thousands of people it touched. But it is discussed in

  • Annie Gottlieb, Do You Believe in Magic?: The Second Coming of the Sixties Generation (Times Books / Random House, 1987), p. 154;
  • Jessica Lipnack & Jeffrey Stamps, Networking: The First Report and Directory (Dolphin / Doubleday, 1982), p. 106;
  • Corinne McLaughlin & Gordon Davidson, Spiritual Politics: Changing the World from the Inside Out (Ballantine, 1994), pp. 70, 72, 109;
  • Sara Parkin, Green Parties: An International Guide (London: Heretic Books Ltd., 1989), p. 294; and
  • Arthur Stein, Seeds of the Seventies: Values, Work, and Commitment in Post-Vietnam America (University Press of New England, 1985), pp. 134-39.

Our online introduction to the Alliance is HERE. Members of the Alliance’s Governing Council are listed & briefly described at the end of that Web page.  The itinerary of my pre-Alliance organizing tour -- 24 cities or regions in 11 months, mostly by Greyhound -- is folded into HERE

Although I haven’t yet written about my Alliance experiences in any detail (still feels too raw!), I drew an extended comparison between the Alliance and the Reuniting America organization HERE. The Reuniting America leadership responded to my main points HERE.


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