Framing the Future at Imagine 2030

 

This year at our annual conference, WDN Connect, our members imagined WDN 15 years in the future, in 2030. Members thought over a host of questions. What will our membership look like? What kind of role will WDN have in the world? What kind of change will we have accomplished? What will we be working to achieve?

Heather McGhee of Demos

Some of the brightest leaders of the day joined us to help us frame that discussion and think about future trends that will be coming into play over the next 15 years. Heather McGhee, the new President of Demos, a public policy organization that works on equality issues, Shayda Edwards Naficy, Director of the International Water Campaign at Corporate Accountability International, Ian Inaba, Executive Director at Citizens Engagement Lab, an organization that leverages technology to fuel social change, and Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Co-Director of the Caring Across Generations campaign set up the discussion for us.

Heather McGhee started the conversation by outlining the severe inequality our country is facing.

“Right now, the richest 10 percent of Americans have 15 times more political power than the general public,” said McGhee.

This political inequality, she said, is inextricably linked with the stark economic and racial inequality that exists throughout the country today. McGhee emphasized the need for publicly financed elections to help lessen the outsized political power of a small group of wealthy donors and, in researching Americans’ attitudes, Demos found that 80 percent of every ideological and partisan subgroup agreed. Demos called the report Citizens Actually United.

Shayda Edwards Naficy of Corporate Accountability International.

Shayda Edwards Naficy went on to talk about the need for corporate accountability as we see corporations continue to grow and take over traditionally public roles. Naficy illustrated the importance of this struggle by discussing Lagos, Nigeria, where a transnational corporation was marketing a private water model to the local government. The plan would lead to water shutoffs and most importantly, the price would prohibit many Nigerians from accessing water, a recognized human right.

“Power doesn’t concede anything without a struggle,” Naficy said about their organizing efforts.

Ian Inaba of Citizen Engagement Laboratory.

Ian Inaba continued by discussing the power that messaging has to shape the way we see the world.

“We constantly hear about the need to act in our own self-interest,” Inaba said. “H&R Block built an entire campaign around it– ‘America get your billions back.’”

In light of the growing corporate power we see in our country and around the world, Inaba highlighted the need to make corporations our allies.

“We can’t just constantly fight them,” he said. So, Inaba said, we need to look at the structural problems perpetuating the gulf between corporate interests and society’s interests.

“Ninety-two percent of of corporations are owned by external shareholders,” Inaba said. Working to support and increase worker-owned businesses, he said, will create better jobs and shift the country away from the “profits-at-all-costs” way of doing business.

Ai-jen Poo of National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Ai-jen Poo closed the conversation with a focus on the aging American citizenry– what some have called the “silver tsunami.” Poo emphasized the need to improve domestic working conditions now, before there is a massive shift in the workforce to take care of the country’s elder population. A workforce, Poo said, is predominantly women:

“Two-thirds of all low wage jobs in this country are held by women.”

In her work with the Domestic Workers Alliance, Poo was able to successfully negotiate with Care.com, the nation’s largest domestic work employment portal, to double the minimum wage offered sitewide. These are the kind of proactive changes, she said, activists can and should be prompting corporations to make.

Ellen Sprenger, the strategic visioning consultant who helped facilitate this year’s conference, began the morning with what she called her “six-word memoir.” After a morning of discussing some of the most pressing problems of our time, the urgency of her message had a special resonance:

“Status quo is not an option.”

By Rachael Vasquez

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