Below is a list of existing task forces. Minutes from the workshops at the March 21 conference in NYC, along with objectives and agendas for each task force, are being entered as they are received. If you would like to start your own task force, please contact the National Office.
Don Schmall: 212 620 5090 (days), or Rick Ulfik: 212 704 0888, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We invite you to join a group of individuals that want to take back our health care system and empower ourselves and others to be healthier and live longer - without bankrupting ourselves or our country, or denying care to those who need it. The Health Care Task Force seeks to make the integration of holistic and traditional medicines within a system where individual and societal health comes before profits a realizable goal for the health/medical policy community.
Genie Skypek: 813 254 3936, email@example.com.
Bruce Novak: 773 288 2145, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rick Ulfik: 212 704 0888, email@example.com.
Law and Meaning Task Force
Nanette Schorr: 516 829 2819, NHSchorr@aol.com.
The Law and Meaning Task Force of the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning was founded at the leadership training retreat in California in the summer of 1996. The concept of a task force emerged in response to the enthusiasm of participants at the the National Summit for Ethics and Meaning earlier that year to presentation of a "law plank". The law plank called for a declaration that the fostering of mutual recognition and respect is a core objective of law and legal processes. The plank proposed ways to infuse legal practice and the courts with this spirit, and called for recognition by organized legal institutions, and by society at large, that lawyers have a responsibility for the welfare of a broader community beyond their individual clients.
Since that time, a core organizing committee has developed a network of contacts and relationships within the legal community, and has broadened its awareness of legal processes that exist, such as those developed by people in the restorative justice movement, to address law and meaning issues. Members have participated and spoken at many conferences, organized an event in conjunction with the AALS conference of law teachers in San Francisco, have published a newsletter, and organized panels on law and meaning at summits organized by the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning. They have also written a "Declaration of Legal Renewal," which can be obtained by contacting Nanette Schorr. At this moment, the task force has a significant mailing list of interested people, and hopes to begin a "list-serve" discussion group, as well as organize a significant event at the year 2000 Summit of the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning.
What follows is the "Declaration of Legal Renewal" recently developed by the Law and Meaning Task Force:
Declaration of Legal Renewal
Critique: the need for change: We join together to address the need to reform the American legal system. Many of us find ourselves profoundly dissatisfied by our experience with this system, whether we work within it as practitioners or as law teachers, find it necessary to call upon it, or in some way are confronted by it. The troublingly negative effects we experience in the legal arena emanate both from the outcomes of the system and from the processses and methods through which those results are reached.
Currently the predominant approach presupposes that individual and social conflicts are to be resolved through adjudication of defined rights. An elaborate adversarial processs is in place, pitting disputants against each other in a protracted contest to vindicate the rights of one at the expense of the other. The processs fosters mutual antagonism and often deems moral and spiritual dimensions of human relations to be irrelevant. There is a strong tendency to neglect, and often not even to recognize, opportunities to heal distortions in human relationships that emerge from situations of conflict and the need to reach agreement in the face of competing interests.
The focus on vindicating rights based in individual self-interest itself is self-limiting because it diminishes our perception of, and inclination to act upon, the reality of our essential interconnectedness as human beings and our basic need for mutual recognition, regard, and respect. While we affirm that the movement to define and expand individual rights has advanced the cause of social justice for oppressed persons and groups and strengthened the moral character of society as a whole, the expanding assertion of rights also can be accompanied by the danger of encouraging greater separation of individuals and groups from one another while offering little to help connect people across their differences.
A call to action
We call upon the legal profession to develop and strengthen its role as a helping profession, to act in ways that earn the respect of those it serves, to act as trusted advisors and serve as a moral presence to clients. We urge lawyers to take affirmative steps to dispel perceptions that they act as technocrats who manipulate rules for the benefit of the highest bidder. This is accompanied by the equally disconcerting perception that lawyers act in ways that strive to maximize their own and/or their clients' selfishly, or even vengefully, motivated interests, financial or otherwise, regardless of the impact on others and on society as a whole.
At the most basic level, we believe that in order to progress toward a more integrative and less alienating legal culture, members of the profession need to take steps to end such common practices as characterizing the motives and actions of opposing counsel and their clients in distorted and demeaning ways. Other objectionable, wasteful, and destructive behaviors include a readiness to take positions and make legal claims known to be unjustified or misleading simply because there may be a semblance of plausible evidence or legal theory that can be deployed and manipulated to support them. We believe the adversary system and the duty of zealous representation often serve to justify such objectionable behaviors and help to create and reinforce the very cynicism, selfishness, and social mistrust that legal culture instead should attempt to overcome.
A vision of what needs to be done
We envision a legal culture that promotes the healing of human relationships in ways that foster empathy, mutual recognition, trust, and respect. To achieve this, evolving principles of substantive law, as well as legal processses for resolving disputes, should reflect a commitment to promote a more humane, just, and caring society in ways that respect the dignity of each of its members. The effort to mediate civil disputes with a transformative outlook and the movement for restorative justice in criminal matters are examples of approaches to resolving conflict in ways that facilitate healing and reduce the perpetuation of destructive behavior.
We aspire to a fundamental transformation of our legal culture, even while we acknowledge that at present it appears necessary to retain the adversary system in certain cases, such as in criminal trials where the defendant claims innocence. This aspiration calls for us to deepen the ethical content of legal education, to redefine the ethics of the profession to link the lawyer's personal and professional ethical identity with the effort to create a better world, and to humanize both the content of law and the conduct of legal proceedings so as to promote truth-telling, compassion, reconciliation, and responsibility for the well-being of the other as well as the self.
The aim is to address the meaninglessness currently experienced by those encountering the legal system, to transform the legal culture to gain the meaning that comes from understanding law as a healing agent and from regarding work in law as a spiritual and ethical calling. At the same time, we must attend to the social and political institutions and realities within which the legal culture operates and with which it interacts. Fundamentally, this entails the need to recognize and respond to the fact that legal justice cannot be achieved in isolation from social and economic justice.
Invitation: what you can do
If you share the concerns and vision set out here, we invite you -- as members of the legal profession, law students, and concerned citizens -- to join in the effort to transform the public dialogue about the legal system from one of cynicism and despair to one of hope that reflects the commitments and values addressed above. For more information, please contact Nanette Schoor at the number and email above.
Media Task Force
Rick Ulfik: 212 704 0888, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Media Task Force seeks to engage journalists and media producers in an exploration of the possibilities for going beyond the cynical, sensational, and profit-driven attitudes that dominate the media, and lead people to turn away from politics and collective concern. Specifically, our activities stem from an understanding that the media, whether entertainment or the news, plays today a disproportionate role in the establishment of cultural norms, some of which feed public attitudes and policies that cause much suffering in the world. These norms include:
- an uncritical consumerist vision of what constitutes happiness and the "American Dream;"
- a passive acceptance of the numbing barrage of virtual violence and sex in entertainment (music, movies and TV) and advertising, which not only desensitizes people to the real experience of each, but becomes a substitute for genuine artistry and creative innovation;
- the inevitability and desirability of the "inexorable logic of globalization;" particularly of corporations expanding global markets regardless of the economic and cultural costs to indigenous communities; - a belief that there are only two sides to every issue--Democrat/liberal or Republican/conservative--and the marginalization of alternative voices;
- a belief that people do not participate in collective action for the benefit of all society (only for particular special interest groups)
There were two media workshops. One was a media analysis and presentation training led by progressive media analylist and commentator T.J. Walker. Information about specialized training for members of the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning can be obtained by contacting T.J. Walker at email@example.com, or by visiting his website www.tjwalker.com.
Several important issues were raised in the second workshop, led by plenarists Mark Kingwell and Sharon Green, who were joined by WBAI/Pacifica Radio producer Kathy Davis and Media Watch Task Force coordinator Rick Ulfik. Kathy Davis explained her decision to work in community radio as stemming from the realization that the profit-driven bottom line of mainstream media makes it all but impossible to effect real change in the way the news is gathered and presented. Disagreement arose among the several media professionals present over the possibility of changing media from within, or from concerted grass roots action. Mark Kingwell argued for the primacy of the "story" in news reports; one participant explained that by challenging the narrative structure of news "stories," and constantly searching for innovative ways to present alternative points of view, media professionals can in fact effect change from within. Moreover, while some participants raised the issue of how bring a sense of "outrage" back into the reporting of seemingly inevitable and unstoppable events, one of the media professionals argued that her task was to provoke not outrage (which in any case was always fleeting), but rather to "provoke thought"--i.e., to present a story in such a way that it creates a sense of commonality between the audience and the people or issues portrayed in it. This, she explained, was the way to effect real change, and a primary task of the Media Watch Task Force will certainly be to devise ways of engaging media professionals and provide them with the tools and knowledge to develop critical yet compelling "stories."
Environment Task Force
Alan Schogel, 212 775 1887, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our mision is to bring awareness that the economic pressures of globalization and the consumer-driven world trade system are leading too many countries, especially outside the "West," to the brink of environmental disasters. Current global political and econonomic policies exacerbate these problems when they should be focused on helping to address them. Our goal is to identify means of motivating the community to recognize that both its self interest and its moral obligation is to preserve our global environment through cultural, economic and political transformation on the personal, community, state, and international levels.
Our mission is the following: "To identify, recognize, encourage, reward and publicize acts of caring by individuals, companies, communities and nations that help bring about an ecologically sensitive society and a sustainable world environment."
With that mission statement in mind, the immediate goals are 1) IDENTIFY: Identify who? Identify those who may be worthy of our recognition. What is needed in this connection is to take note of noteworthy acts of caring towards the environment and to accumulate and catalog those notes based on categories such as global warming, water pollution, etc. 2) RECOGNIZE. Recognize who? We would have to select some of those we have identified who we would like to recognize. The recognition could be in the form of a letter of appreciation or commendation or be in the form of an award. 3) ENCOURAGE. Simply sending a letter recognizing someone's efforts tends to provide encouragement. Beyond words of encouragement we may be able to provide help and encouragement in the form of ideas, volunteer work or monetary contribution. 4) REWARD. An award or even a letter of recognition can be considered a reward. But perhaps we can enroll some foundations to provide a meaningful monetary award as well. If we can arrange the establishment of an annual monetary award or group of awards, we will certainly be encouraging acts of caring towards the environment. 5) PUBLICIZE. Publicizing acts of caring is a key to making a significant impact. This is a large topic - maybe we ought to devote ourselves to discussion in the above areas before we get to publicizing. 6) ACTS OF CARING. What distinguishes our direction from the many other environmental groups is that we are focusing on the motivation behind the acts that benefit the environment. We want to encourage people caring about other people, and by extention, caring for the environment that supports all people. We therefore don't give as much credit to a corporation that acts from a need for good public relations as we do to a group that acts from love and caring. This may be a challenge for us - to discern the motivation behind the action.
The Environment Task Force is working on plenary and workshop sessions for the conference that would highlight these six working points.
Jan Roberts: 1 888 538 7227, email@example.com.
Rev. Ron Winley: 718 287 1189, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark LeVine: 607 266 8386, email@example.com.
The Religion/Spirituality task force will bring together clergy and interested lay people from the many religious and spiritual communities that make up New York (and around the country). Our goal is to share the many insightful critiques of the political, economic, and cultural status quo offered by these traditions, with the goal of developing a common discourse and strategy for transforming the bottom line of our society from one whose defining values are overconsumption, wealth, and celebrity, to one that seeks to create the most caring, just, and ecologically sustainable society possible.
At the March 21 conference we used the recent police shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York as a case study for the examining racial, ethnic, and class relations in New York, the capital of new global economic and cultural order. Rev. Ron Winley summed it up best by explaining that our "postmodern" culture's deconstruction of traditional values, however positive it is in many respects, has left too many people without any "meaning and purpose" in their lives, paving the way for the "colonization" of our life-worlds by a hyper-consumerist culture that breeds cynicism, political apathy, and a lack of recognition of the intrinsic value of our fellow citizens.
In this context, the 41 bullets shot at Diallo symbolize the absurd degree to which the disrespect for all life has reached in our culture. Yet the "magic" of Diallo's bloods (as Rev. James Forbes described it in his talk at the reception on March 20) and the cross-communal solidarity it has bequeathed, was understood as a "teachable moment," one that has opened up the space for understanding and addressing these problems from within an inclusive and truly "radical" framework--one that stems from the liberational spark common to most theologies. Thus during the next year we hope to help create an inter-religious theology for the next millennium, one that learns from the activist example of organizations such as Jews Against Genocide (represented by panelist Meryl Zgarick) and of Sojourner's/Call to Renewal (represented by panelist Rev. Emory Searcy ).
As an example of cooperation, participants signed on to an open letter to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani about the Diallo shooting (text of letter) and discussed how we could invite other religious leaders into a grass roots dialog about the deep rifts exposed by this tragedy.
Jim Fary: 703 603 8899, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Y2K is not an isolated issue. No one knows the scale or extent of the potential disruptions with any degree of certainty. It is an early warning, like the canary in the coal mine, and should serve as a wake up call to warn us of the fragility, unsustainability, and lack of resilience in our technology systems. The Y2K Task Force believes that Y2K can be an awaking to the need to recreate a balance that market driven technology has taken from us, a short-term thinking that "materializes" all of our relationships. We will call forth the ideas of the Politics of Meaning to the public discourse as Y2K disruptions open new areas of opportunity. Our goal is to use the Y2K process to reawaken and reassert the connection between our spiritual and material existence.
March 21 workshop minutes coming soon.
Work Issues/Labor/Corporate Responsibility
Gayle Irvin: 212 923 4303, Gilindy@aol.com.
The Task Force has recently completed its mission statement and preliminary planning for the May 2000 conference and beyond. It's basic analysis is that most adults spend a large portion of their waking hours at work. For too many of us, work has become a soul-deadening activity, devoid of meaning...a place that emphasizes profit at any cost...a place that fails to recognize our inherent value as individuals, and our interconnectedness...a place with little regard for how its activities effect workers, the community, or the planet. The vision being developed by the Work Issues Task Force is one in which the world can be
-a place that values not only profitability, but also a spirit of caring and compassion for employees, the community,and the planet
-an activity that enables individuals to utilize their unique skills and creativity
-a means for all people to earn a living wage
-an enterprise that contributes positively to the creation of a more just, compassionate and sustainable world
To move toward this vision, the TF will pursue activities such as:
-sponsoring public forums to raise awareness of the ways in which today's workplace issues negatively effect our society
-identifying and supporting organizations that are making progress in transforming their workplaces in positive ways
-becoming agents of change within our own workplaces, living and promoting the values of caring and mutual recognition
-developing a measurement standard--the Ethical Impact Report--to evaluate the degree to which organizations are operating in ethical ways
-working toward the passage of the SRA-the Social Responsibility Amendment-a constitutional amendment requiring corporations to meet established standards of ethical behavior.
Arts Task Force
B. Hunter: 212 580 0580, email@example.com.
We seek to raise the awareness of those who produce, distribute and/or appreciate the arts about the impact the arts have on society at large. For example, life-affirming artistic creations might influence people positively. We believe that people are yearning for meaningful connection to others, which seems impaired by our prevailing cultural emphasis on materialism. We therefore seek to (1)increase the role of the arts as transmitters of cultural values that encourage a spirit of caring and a process of mutual recognition; and (2)challenge the dominance of pure entertainment, which effectively marginalizes this important cultural role of the arts.
Mark LeVine: 607 266 8386, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last November's protests in Seattle, and the uproar over the announced AOL-Time Warner merger have demonstrated the growing awareness among Americans from a variety of political, cultural and economic perspectives of the need to develop alternative, holistic and cross-cultural paradigms to a corporate-led, consumer-driven globalization. The goals of our task force are four-fold:
a. EDUCATE ourselves/each other through developing a bibliography of a dozen or so key books/articles/journals that we will read and discuss together over the next year so as to be as educated as possible on the critiques and alternatives to the neo-liberal globalization discourse;
b. OUTREACH-Contact all the various organizations/ngos dealing with globalization-related issues to inform them about 2000 and get them to become cosponsors;
c. SPEAKERS FOR 2000-By the fall, put together a plenary(ies) and several workshops for the conference that inlcude the most innovative thinkers and activists from around the world who are dealing with issues related to economic, cultural, political and technological aspects of globalization;
d. LIASON with other relevant task forces, including the Environment, NGO, and Media. A member of our task force will be appointed as the liaison to each of these task forces.
Contact Mark for March 21 workshop minutes.
Community Support Circles (Skills/Services Exchange)
Rhea Geberer: 212 675 6913, email@example.com.