Totally unscientific 2011 predictions

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice,” Theodore Parker, 1853.

No, I don’t have a crystal ball.

If only.

I’ve spent some time over the past few weeks reading various bloggers’ predictions, checking out Yahoo! Answers’ predictions submitted by users all over the world, and even entertained myself looking through psychics’ posted predictions (despite not understanding the reference for a single one of the popular culture predictions–sigh).

The truth, of course, is that part of what makes this endeavor towards “the world as it should be” so frustrating, and yet so real and so satisfying at the same time, is that we know very little about what the future holds, because, of course

WE HAVE TO MAKE IT.

So what I share here is not a definitive checklist of what will happen in 2011, but, instead, some insights, admittedly imperfect, into the trends and forces that may converge, with some thoughts on what we have to do in order to shape the future that we desire.

What are your prognostications for the new year? What are your hopes? What are your greatest fears? And what are you willing to do so that your hopes are realized and your fears squelched?

  • Hotly-contested local races, for school boards especially, with aggressive conservative campaigns and (I hope!) renewed progressive understanding of the importance of these contests. Here in Kansas, there have already been some previously-unheard of candidates entering the fray, and prominent conservatives have announced plans to stake out these races as preliminary battlegrounds for 2012.
  • Heightened budget crises at the state level, with (again, I hope!) a resulting awareness in the general population of the need for genuinely new strategies, including a real reexamination of our tax base. If we thought budgets were bad last year, we’re going to be devastated this year, without the stimulus funds that closed the worst of the gaps. Kansas is already at risk of defaulting on its Medicaid payments, and that’s before newly-elected conservatives have a go at repealing the tax increase passed last year. And we’re not even one of the states that are the very worst off. It’s going to get very, very bad, and, if we’re lucky (and work very, very hard), that will be what we need to center on the common good and fiscal policies that would sustain it.
  • Some, albeit reluctant, moves towards nonprofit consolidation. Last week, I talked with a minister whose church is consolidating with 3 others, selling all of the buildings and moving into a new space, in a bid to reinvigorate their congregations and stem their cash flow problems. There was some talk of similar moves among some nonprofit organizations at a recent conference I attended, too, and smart CEOs are looking to ways that, through collaborations and even full consolidation, they can survive where other operations are folding. I think we’re more reluctant to do this than we even should be, but necessity breeds invention, and sometimes courage, too.
  • “New” technologies and social media will become so embedded in the way we organize that we won’t even think about them much anymore. For the past couple of years, mobile communications and social media platforms have been all the buzz in community organizing and grassroots circles. In my consulting and advising work on campaigns today, there’s not even much discussion anymore–everyone is pretty comfortable with the tools, cognizant of their inherent limitations (because, of course, there’s no way to “click” yourself some activists!), and convinced that, used appropriately, they can play a vital role in an organizing effort. I’m sure that there will be some new platforms to emerge in the coming year, but I see them more as extensions or modifications of the concept of social connecting online, rather than completely novel forms, and so I see the conversation moving back more to the tried-and-true “how do we build relationships around issues?” rather than fixating on the shininess of a particular application.
  • A whole lot of frustration in Congress, on all sides. I’ve never understood people who say that they vote for the Party opposed to the President so that there will be “balance”. Since when does it ever look like “balance”? Wouldn’t it be better to get something done, even if you don’t totally agree with it, and then try to steer the ship in the direction you prefer the next time around? I mean, seriously, it’s really hard to imagine the 2011 Congress doing much at all, given the inability to reach agreement on even some basic procedural issues, like operating under a functional debt ceiling. The only forward motion I can magine at this point would involve considerable give by Obama and the Democratic Senate, which is certainly conceivable, but I would think (hope!) that they’d be more resistant to this as we approach the 2012 elections. Ultimately, it seems that consensus suggests that the biggest challenges: long-term fiscal sustainability, entitlement reform, climate change, health care reform implementation, will be elusive this year, with maybe some legislative “tinkering” around the edges. That’s why it’s our job to build momentum, connect for people in our communities the issues they face in their lives and the inaction in Congress, and highlight the importance of who sits in those seats. Because what we need is progress, not “balance.”
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