Global Research Assembly, Chicago, July 2 15, 1978
PROFOUND IMPACT OF THE TOWN MEETING CAMPAIGN
If you look at your sheet in the packet this morning, it looked like
I was going to talk about India. I am not going to talk about India
I am going to talk about Gram Sabha which is part of what is going on in
India. Gram Sabha is Global Community Forum and Global Community Forum
is the basis of this talk. The focus of this talk, however, will be profound
impact in the United States. I am going to read some things to begin with.
These are representative responses to an inquiry sent to towns in the state
of Oklahoma about a year after they held their Town Meetings. The inquiry
sheets asked several questions but basically asked, "What's happened
in your town since your Town Meeting?" Here are some of the responses:
I want you to know that our Town Meeting last spring was successful
and we are continuing to work on several projects. Since the Town Meeting
we have, first of all, established a senior citizens center which is now
very active. This group staged a musical program in November to raise funds
and one of their numbers was Sing to Erick, which was the song written
at our TM. Second, the north end of Main Street has been partially cleared
of old buildings. Three pieces of property remain to be cleared or renovated.
Two of these, however, have been sold and plans are underway to take care
of them. Third, a museum committee has been formed to establish a museum.
Incorporation has been completed and the process of acquiring a highly
desirable building is nearly complete. Fourth, plans and funds are almost
ready for construction of new tennis courts. Fifth, revenues from sales
taxes have increased at a rate equal to or greater than inflation. Sixth,
plans for a retirement housing project have progressed to the point that
it appears to be a reality.
Here's the response from the little town of Red Oak:
Senior citizens invited high school seniors and outstanding students
for a special getacquainted lunch. The program director arranged speakers,
music and entertainment and a printed program as a first for the area.
This was a direct result of the Town Meeting. Second, Thanksgiving dinner
number 82 at the senior citizens luncheon. A retired school principal from
an adjoining community attended the Town Meeting. She was responsible for
the song being written to the tune of the Wabash Cannonball. During the
Thanksgiving meal she spoke on the significance of the song to her.
Here's another town. This is Kaw City, Oklahoma:
First, a Chamber of Commerce was formed with Tom Trueblood as President.
A biweekly newspaper was started with Charles Herzog as editor. The
55 Club for senior citizens is now selfsupporting. There is an active
Helping Hand Club-Ruth Frenk can give you the details on this. Clean up
days were held and the city furnished a pickup truck. Charles McFarron,
the mayor, got new streets installed. A new Girl Scout troop was started
with Clyda Gerber and Kaye Hamburger in charge. A children's corner in
the library was established by J. A. Walker. A community census was done
through the Chamber of Commerce. You can see Mr. McFerron and Lois Fessedon,
who tallied results of the census."
Down at the bottom of this sheet, this lady says, "This town is
now more open, more cooperative and has a more doittogether atmosphere
instead of staying alone." From Lawton comes this comment: "I
feel that the greatest impact has been a general awakening of average citizen
participation in practically every aspect of the community's life."
And from the city of Lipton: "People are working together and trying
to help, instead of pulling apart.
These are the kinds of responses you would receive from 3,500 towns
across the United States because Town Meetings have been held in every
county of this nation. This was the victory year for the Town Meeting campaign.
I want to point out two major advantages that allowed this year to be one
of victory for this phase of the TM campaign.
First, something new was going on in the last year in this country.
Town Meeting was in the air. People were talking about Town Meeting. What
they were really talking about was a move towards local responsibility.
We will mark this year as the time in which communities across this nation
decided that they would chase no more false hopes. The programs that had
been promising relief, a new future for their towns, could not be trusted;
they would not wait for them. A new interest in local responsibility and
local initiative began to emerge. This year, we were in the right place
at the right time with the right program. That was a major advantage for
victory this year.
The second major advantage was that late in the last program year in
the spring of 1977, we discovered the small towns of America. We will look
back and point to Oklahoma as the place we discovered that the small town
was the soft underbelly in relation to renewal of American society. There
is an acknowledged crisis in the small towns of America. People know their
future is uncertain. An erosion of autonomy has occurred along with the
disappearance of the primary services and functions that towns from time
immemorial have provided. So many of the functions of communities have
been assumed by counties or large metropolitan areas nearby that small
towns have suffered a tremendous collapse of identity and symbols. One
sign that the symbols are gone is that mayors these days, more often than
not, do not understand themselves as having any powerful symbolic role
in their community. They are apologetic for their role in many many cases.
Small towns are in crisis and Town Meeting comes most powerfully into a
community where there is already an acknowledged crisis. In this nation,
it has been the small town. This was a major advantage.
This year is the concluding year of a four year campaign. On June 8,1974
the first 39 Town Meetings, called Local Community Convocations, were held
in cities across this land and, symbolically, on June 8,1978, the last
county was done. No one has yet determined which was the last county but
it was probably in Alabama. This was a four year campaign and it has been
a tremendous journey for us. We went through a phase, primarily during
the Bicentennial when most of the Town Meetings were urban neighborhood
gatherings, and they were a different kind of event. They were all day
affairs with a different kind of impact on people. Then there was a stage
of great struggle about how many Town Meetings we were going to do in this
country. Some people said we ought to do 10,000; others said we ought to
do 5,000; and we vacillated. Finally, 5000 it became. But we were so concerned
about doing 5,000 that we forgot some very important things. We tried to
imagine this huge number of Town Meetings and it felt like we were going
to be doing Town Meetings forever. We went out and frantically started
doing Town Meetings anywhere we could. There were lessons learned from
that. We would not be celebrating this victory today if we had not gone
through the struggle with urban Town Meetings or learned from trying frantically
to do the 5,000.
What happened at last year's Global Research Assembly was the key to
the victory year we are now celebrating. We decided to take the revolutionary
principle of geographic coverage seriously. We started the Town Meeting
campaign with a plan to do Town Meetings according to the Movement's grid.
First, one per region; one per metro; then one per polls, and then one
per micro. There are about 5100 micros in the USA! In the process, we forgot
the one per micro decision, and remembered only the 5,0()0. It was a painful
lesson. But last year, we played a little trick on ourselves and on society
at the same time. We decided that society already had a grid and that it
would be very smart to use that grid-that of 3,100 counties. In the course
of the next 12 months, we decided we would be sure that at least one Town
Meeting was held in every county. I say that was a trick we played on ourselves
and on society, but it was a serious trick. A county is a sheer fabrication.
A state is also a sheer fabrication and so is a nation. The only real thing
is the local communities. But, in order to push ourselves toward geographic
coverage, we said one per county and we succeeded. It was really quite
an experience. Any company that made yellow marker pens experienced a fine
year. Everywhere maps blossomed with counties colored yellow as the campaign
swept across this country. That was motivity. Some people called it "turning
the nation gold." Someone talked about the guilding of America, and
that isn't bad when you look at the word "guild" from several
different angles. That's what has happened this year.
There is a new and interesting Town Meeting map. It has the movement's
grid on it but right now I am particularly interested in all of those little
dots. Earlier this year, someone suggested that we were going to see all
the yellow shrink into 4,000 dots and there would be all that white area
in between. Well, we kept the yellow and we put the dots on. If you look
at those dots you see them coming alive because they are alive. Every one
of those dots is a pulsating dot. Sometimes it calms down and it is just
a microscopic little dot in a microscopic little town. Other times it pulsates
and reaches out, beginning to touch other towns that held Town Meetings
and influencing the untouched areas in between the towns. This is our situation
at the end of this year of victory. The pulsating dots on the map indicate
the future, when the dots begin to interlink and every last human being,
every last community, every crossroads and every human settlement in this
country has had the experience of a Town Meeting.
What is sweeping across this country as a result of these events? One
of the traditions of American society, especially in the 19th Century,
is that of the revival that starts and spreads like wildfire. In those
days of religious revivals, you could hardly be a town if you hadn't had
a religious revival! There were traveling bands of revivalists who went
from town to town, set up their tent and held a revival. It got into the
air and swept across the country. A similar kind of revival is happening
today only these days it is a secular revival. It is a revival of the human
spirit-of human vitality and human initiative; it is a revival of primal
community, and it is sweeping this country.
This year we made a corporate vocational resolve that transformed the
lives of more people than you could ever imagine. The corporate vocational
resolve had to do with experiencing transparent audacity. That is a fancy
term to stand for the death of timidity. Transparent audacity is the other
side of that coin. We've been timid in the past, going to towns and gently
pleading with them to hold Town Meetings. This year that stopped. We decided
we were going to do Town Meetings.
In the midst of that, there was born a passion for awakening local man.
It was a consuming passion! Look into the eyes of our circuiters and you
will see a consuming passion. They are not timid anymore. They are audacious.
They did Town Meetings according to our plan and timeline. You can do a
Town Meeting, we decided, in any community, in any county, even the county
in the Southwest corner of Texas that has only one town of 200 people.
That's audacity. We can go anywhere and do a Town Meeting because there
is within our being a passion for awakening local man. It's a nonprogrammatic
posture. You're not going there to sell a program. You're going to touch
the lives of local people. In the midst of that, we are beginning to see
the third campaign. That campaign is all about a band of people across
this world who have decided to be a global servant force, and you do not
decide to be a global servant force until you put aside your timidity,
your reservations, your selfhood and your sense of importance, and become
transparently audacious about awakening local man. That happened on this
continent this year.
Several things came out of that corporate resolve. For one, we finally
dealt with the authorization problem. For years, ever since Town Meeting
started, we worried about authorization. Can we get letters from important
people who say that we are really fine people? Can we get the blessings
of this council or that body? In Texas, we had a running battle for a long
period of time with the Texas Bicentennial Commission. We thought we could
not do Town Meetings in Texas if we did not receive the official blessing
of the Bicentennial Commission. We never did receive their official blessing.
This year, we decided that authorization was not a problem. In any situation,
you could do a sort of authorization flim flam. All we needed to do was
to trick the world into saying, "Okay, go ahead and do your thing."
We discovered that you could go into any state and get a letter of affirmation
from the governor. I have personally written seven governor's letters over
the last couple of years, and the best one was the one that George Wallace
signed. We also learned how to put together a committee for the back of
the brochure. Some of these committee people had been to a Town Meeting,
some hadn't; some knew who we were, some didn't; but they all lent us their
names, and we put together the nicest brochures you could imagine. Now
that's authorization flim flam. We put the authorization issue behind us
and that allowed us to move.
Another thing that let us move was the style that emerged out of the
Town Meeting maneuvers across the country. A maneuver is a group of people,
with some thoughtthrough ways of moving, relying on corporate power
to create corporate courage to go ahead and complete the task. Getting
ten or twelve people together to do a state was not the best demonstration
of who we are. A team of two from one region, going from town to town arid
doing the job is the best demonstration of who we are. I think we could
do that now. A few months ago we couldn't do that, so we created maneuvers.
We'd assign ten or twelve people together. They would create songs and
rituals, put up charts on the wall, inkind McDonald's breakfasts,
and they'd have a grand time; but it would get them out on the road, and
moving, and that allowed the campaign to succeed in the last year. The
important thing, however, in the maneuver style is what happens when a
team of two people does go into a town. It was Dr. Lao this year. Do you
know those little towns are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside?
When Dr. Lao went into a town to hold this circus, he didn't take "no"
for an answer. He held his circus. That happened this year. It was a tremendous
experience. The circuiters would tack up posters on the telephone poles
and in the store windows, they would assemble ten or twelve people or 100
people, and hold a Town Meeting. That was the style that emerged out of
this year. It was the style of transparent care, and that allowed us to
win. People began to operate so that when they rode into town, the townspeople
didn't see them; they saw transparent care, and they responded. They said,
"yes", and Town Meetings were held.
Another happening of this year was a miracle. We learned to live off
the land. That may not seem very important to you, but if you are going
to be a Dr. Lao, if you are going to be a secular evangelist, you also
have to learn to be a beggar, and to live off the land. This year, we came
close to being able to inkind everything. The only thing we didn't
inkind was gasoline. That was attempted, and I still think there is
a way of doing it, but we didn't quite win. We lived off the land, and
we found that the only reliable resource to support Town Meeting is local
man. Corporations had a hard time with Town Meeting, and frankly, not very
many of them gave money. Foundations couldn't see it. They wanted to see
bricks and mortar going up in the middle of the town. Town Meeting doesn't
do that. A few wealthy people saw the vision, but nor very many. The primary
support for the Town Meeting campaign in this country came from local man,
penny by penny by penny, passing the hat at the end of a Town Meeting.
That was a miracle, and a victory and in the future we know that you can
do Town Meetings anywhere and that they can be selfsupporting.
Now, what is the profundity of this campaign? Perhaps the key question
is what is a Town Meeting. Let me suggest a definition: A Town Meeting
is an awakenment event focused on care for the whole community. That means
that a Town Meeting is an event where the people of a community get together
for a workshop, focusing on the whole town, every soul in the town and
the life of that community. That's what makes it a Town Meeting. That was
a difficult insight because the very term, "Town Meeting", as
it is traditionally used in this country, means something like the whole
town gathering in a quasipolitical meeting in order to make decisions.
That is not what we mean by Town Meeting and until we killed that image
in our own minds, Town Meeting didn't really move. We discovered that you
could have a Town Meeting anywhere with any group of people as long as
the meeting focused on care for that community. You could have a real Town
Meeting in a school classroom because the kids were wrestling with what
it meant to care for their entire community. Or. as some people did, you
could walk into a grocery store, and say to the proprietor, "Hey,
do you suppose you could' get a few people together, and we could stand
around here and talk a little bit about your town?" He would say,
"Sure", and call ten or twelve people to gather around the cash
register. The circuiter would get out his notebook, start asking questions
and taking notes, and it became a group of people struggling with the question
of what it meant to care for their own town, and it was a Town Meeting,
an awakenment event that focused on comprehensive community care.
It's important to say that because this awakenment event is different
from the traditional Town Meeting and different from the Global Women's
Forum, the Community Youth Forum or LENS. This difference makes Town Meeting
the key to the impact and awakenment campaign. It is rooted in geography.
It is rooted in care for the local community. If you allow Those Who Care
from a particular geographic area to experience a workshop together, you've
got a Town Meeting. It doesn't make any difference how many people are
there, where they are, or when they do it.
Town Meeting does some very simple things. First of all, It exposes
the bondage that people are living under. They discover that there are
external powers to whom they surrendered their decisionmaking powers.
They experience that bondage. They also see that there are certain internal
tyrannies in their communities that they have submitted to. Secondly, Town
Meeting, on the other side of that bondage, illuminates the human freedom
that nobody can take away. They see that they have entire cosmic permission
to do anything in their community regardless of anyone else, and they experience
utter human freedom. Permission is granted. They are reminded of the permission
that they have always had to act in their community. Thirdly, since it
is always a representative group in a Town Meeting, they discover once
again the permission to act on behalf of their community. Because Town
Meeting does these three very simple things, it is a universal tool that
works anywhere in any kind of culture, and in any kind of community, and
always will. It is based on a human that is absolutely universal. Town
Meeting has to do with profound humanness. I was thinking it would be very
interesting to pull our experience with Town Meeting through the Profound
Humanness Chart. It has to do with birthing, allowing, catalyzing the experience
of Profound Humanness.
Town Meeting is a very impractical event. That is another little trick
we play on society. We say that it is going to be a very practical event,
dealing with all the community issues. But finally, it is a very impractical
event. Have you noticed that most of the proposals written at a Town Meeting
are really a little silly? I don't know how many of them are implemented.
I don't care! It's not intended to be a community planning event; it is
intended to be an awakenment event, and it is an impractical kind of happening.
Because of that, the key to a Town Meeting is the story, song and symbol.
If nothing but the symbol, song and story workshop happens, you have a
Town Meeting that's got power behind it. It is a "spiritual"
kind of event, and it has to do with awakenment. Town Meeting comes pretty
close to being pure awakenment. The only purer awakenment I can think of
is somebody who walks down Main Street and says, "Wake up! Wake up!
You can live! Take care of your town!" And then leaves town. That
would be a pure awakenment event. But our version is pretty close to being
Town Meeting is about the Other World. They are very mundane meetings.
They are rooted in the particular geography, the particular place, but
they are a dramatic experience of the Other World in the midst of this
world. If you sat down with people after a Town Meeting and talked about
the Land of Mystery, the River of Consciousness, the Mountain of Care and
the Sea of Tranquillity, I believe they would understand. That is an indication
that the box in our summer task force plan called Retreat Construct is
exactly right. A retreat in which people work through Profound Humanness
and the Other World is exactly right and anyone who has been to a Town
Meeting would understand that.
Town Meeting is a surprise. I have not been to as many Town Meetings
as many of you but I confess that every Town Meeting I have been attended
until now I have gone to unwillingly. However, when I arrived, I got sucked
into it, and when it was done, I was surprised. At every single one of
them, the surprise was always there at the end. Why do people become excited?
Why does this Town Meeting do to people, what it does? I don't understand
it and I am always surprised. There is a deep waiting in society; and all
you have to do is say that the waiting is over and people get excited.
It is that kind of profound event. The followthrough is a surprise
also. We were really surprised when those responses came in from Oklahoma.
Some of you participated in Oklahoma 100. We had all kinds of Town Meetings
that day. Some of them were big, some were little, some were good, and
some were bad, but the responses affirmed all of them. People are doing
things in their communities, and that was a surprise too. As a matter of
fact, there is a growing legacy represented by the dots across this nation.
Doing the Town Meetings is the same as sowing the seed. All over this nation
and all over this world, the legacy is alive and growing and we are going
to build on that legacy.
One of the great events in Area Houston this year when Town Meeting
gained momentum was our realization that local man is also global man in
our day. He lives out of the whole globe, and he is looking for a way to
establish a connection with local man elsewhere. He does not want to go
up the ladder to a bureaucrat and over a bridge to another bureaucrat and
then down that ladder to another local man. He wants to go directly to
local man. One of the best illustrations of that was the response in states
like Alabama when Sushila Joshi was on a circuit team. Sushila is radically
global. When you see Sushila, you know the globe is there. She traveled
to some of the smallest, most remote towns in one of the least progressive
states in the United States, and they loved her. First of all, they had
to figure out where she was from. She'd say she was an Indian, and they
wondered which tribe. When they understood that she is from India they
would say, "Why are you here?" and she would reply, "I am
training to do Town Meetings in India." Then she would sing the Maliwada
song, and now Alabama knows about Maliwada. That's a clue to the future
regarding what these Town Meetings are going to be able to do.
In the communities, we discovered a set of yearnings which indicate
that the social demonstration campaign, shoulder to shoulder with the community
forum campaign, is right on target. People in these small towns want healthy,
vital community. They are experiencing a deep yearning for a new kind of
neighborliness. They want to see their particular location be a place in
which full human life can be lived out. They would say a strong "yes"
to seeing their towns selfsufficient, selfreliant, and selfconfident.
That is exactly what is happening in every single community. They would
strongly agree that "our town needs to have a whole new identity."
"We want to be proud of our town; we want to expend ourselves for
our town; we want to put our roots down in creation itself in this particular
spot." These are the yearnings in the towns of this country and across
the world. The map of the United States with the circles indicating the
twelve United States projects is right too. In the months and years to
come, the immediate working dynamic relationship that is going to be established
between the HDPs and hundreds and thousands of towns is going to be something
to see. Envisioning this dynamic, l see people in their cars going to the
Human Development Projects every weekend to participate in various kinds
of training, including working with a pick and shovel. I also see motion
going the other way, people from the Human Development Projects going out
to towns for hundreds of miles around to tell the story and to hold Town
Meetings. I see more circles than that. We haven't got enough. Sixteen
is not enough. I think something like two per region or 48 in the United
States is about right. The projects would be close enough for people to
travel there often. Those projects are all a direct response to exactly
the yearnings present in every single town. That is why you can set up
that kind of dynamic relationship.
One last thing - we discovered this year that the dispossessed, the
poor towns, are always the key. I frankly don't care whether we ever do
another Town Meeting in an affluent suburb. We'll do them, of course, because
our concern is for every human being, but they are not the key. The key
is the poor towns where the future has been smashed by the winds of the
new reality at hand, and they are open to the new possibility that only
our century has. Those people are the key. This promises a local man movement
of the future. It is going to be local man to local man, and people from
the small towns will get in their cars and go and become the evangelists.
That's what's going to happen. It's a local man reality There's a new wind
blowing, a new reality at hand, and Town Meeting is but one manifestation
of it. This new wind is the wind of the future. Whatever stands between
local man, a fulfilled human life, and a healthy vital community-this new
wind will blow through into the future.