The Commonplace #8

This continues to be a year of crisis, of challenge, and of change.   How do our crises suggest new avenues for possibility for our world, and our communities?   One thought:  Our Overton Window may be widening.   

The idea behind the Overton window is that on any given issue only a portion of the available spectrum of policy alternatives are within the realm of the politically possible at any time.   This may be due to perceptions or realities of public sentiment, legislator support, electability concerns, or feasibility questions.  We are now seeing increased public support for worthwhile ideas that were considered fringe or controversial not so very long ago.  

  • No better example may be the seemingly sudden, certainly overdue, support for the Black Lives Matter movement.  In June 2020, over half of registered voters now voice their support for the movement according to polls by Civiqs.  Entities like the NFL, NASCAR, and Facebook are making quick shifts and pivots towards greater support for racial equality and less tolerance for racially divisive symbols and inflammatory voices.  Over ¾ of Americans now believe that racial discrimination is a “big problem.”

“If we are truly at the precipice of a transformative moment, the most tragic of outcomes would be that the demand be too timid and the resolution too small. If we are indeed serious about creating a more just society, we must go much further than that. We must get to the root of it.”

  • In her article, Nikole Hannah-Jones reminds us as well that this continued disparity and longstanding structural inequity does not fit our standard American narrative.  Many of us, most of us who are white, like to think of our great progress as a country on social and racial issues, and so many of us consider most discrimination as in the past.  Instead, we still live in a nation where the, “average black family with children holds just one cent of wealth for every dollar that the average white family with children holds.”

  • And there is no simple policy fix, since the causes here are not due to individual actions or lack of actions.  Indeed,

“…none of the actions we are told black people must take if they want to “lift themselves” out of poverty and gain financial stability — not marrying, not getting educated, not saving more, not owning a home — can mitigate 400 years of racialized plundering. Wealth begets wealth, and white Americans have had centuries of government assistance to accumulate wealth, while the government has for the vast history of this country worked against black Americans doing the same.”

  • Writing for YES!, David Korten describes the possibilities that may be coming into clearer view through the shifting window of greater opportunity.  For instance, he wonders if we might see a “growing recognition of the distinctive social benefits of shopping in locally owned stores, operated by neighbors who pay local taxes and are in business to make a decent, but modest, living serving their neighbors”. He also reminds us of ongoing threats that include climate change, writing that, “This current emergency provides the possibility for a new emergence—the birthing of a truly civil civilization dedicated to the well-being of all people and the living Earth.”


  • Writing for MIT Press, Kari Marie Norgaard previews her new book, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life.  She suggests we are in an “age of numbing” with so much to compel our attention.   We learn when and how and to what extent to pay attention to a given idea or event in a given moment. She calls for a heightened examination of that process of attention.   How do we better attend to the essential and critical, in an environment of distraction and denial?