Thursday, July 15, 2010

Towards a Deep Democracy Los Alamos Open Forum

Original post: 15 July 2010
Updated: 17 October 2010

Los Alamos moniker looking east

Earlier this year (2010) I read two books that sparked the idea of a Deep Democracy Los Alamos Open Forum. They were Arnold Mindell's The Deep Democracy of Open Forums, published in 2002 and Garry Wills' Bomb Power, published in March 2010.

Physicist/psychologist Mindell, an old friend from the 1960s and 70s, with whom I had been out of touch until last summer, is a highly published author and celebrated founder of a new psychology called Process Work. He is based in Portland, Oregon. When I read his Open Forums I realized it was an approach to social and cultural growth that I had been searching decades for.

Then, becoming aware of Historian Wills' Bomb Power via a Charlie Rose interview in February 2010 presented an ideal application for Mindell's "World Work" process. Bomb Power is a rigorous history of the Manhattan Project and its continuing effect on this community, country and the world.

Nuclear Waste Management Group
Having come to Los Alamos in 1993 at the invitation of the nuclear waste management group, which had learned of my background as nuclear materials research scientist, Soviet-American trade specialist and aerospace engineering manager, I envisioned grand ideas of good things possible. Of particular interest to the waste management people was my anti-nuclear attitude, since at that time they were trying to dialog with local anti-nuclear activists who were trying to shut down the Los Alamos National Laboratory. They thought I could function as an intermediary in helping create an effective exchange. "I don't want to be your salesman," I insisted. "That is not what we are asking" they said. "We think you can help us better understand their views and help them better understand ours." And so, we struck a deal.

Alas, it did not last. Before I knew it my anti-nuclear activist contacts felt I had been co-opted and became suspicious, while anonymous others within the Lab began a series of dirty tricks to paint me as a "spy" in their midst. My effectiveness as an intermediary soon tanked and I found my contract transferred from waste management to the Stakeholder Involvement Office (SIO) in the deputy director's office. Someone higher up wanted to keep an eye on me and my position became compromised. I was soon out of a job.

LANL -- Tomsk Seminar
Fortunately, another LANL group learned of my background and engaged me in 1994-5 to coordinate and manage a problem solving seminar between Russian and American nuclear scientists concerning a nuclear accident in 1993 in Tomsk, Siberia, where a Plutonium reprocessing plant blew up. It was a challenging, satisfying assignment.

LANL--Tomsk Seminar (1995) Coordinator Eugene Kovalenko is second from right

Although my contract with LANL ended in 1995, my wife and I decided to stay in the Los Alamos area for reasons other than working for the Lab. This has allowed us to become aware of new opportunities as well as old and festering problems. With this awareness the afore mentioned concepts in the books Deep Democracy of Open Forums and Bomb Power came together to reveal a new opportunity. We call it potential creative energy.

Core Group
When the idea of a Deep Democracy Los Alamos Open Forum was conceived, I wrote to Arnold Mindell to discuss its feasibility and would he be interested to facilitate such a forum. Being both physicist and psychologist he saw the international implications at once and encouraged me to lay the groundwork, saying he or his people would be available after spring 2011. That seemed enough time to plan strategy and I contacted my old friend and colleague Jim Bradbury, with whom I worked in LANL's SIO office in 1993-4. From that initial conversation we contacted David and Lisa, a newly arrived couple to Santa Fe from Portland who were intimately familiar with Mindell's deep democracy open forum and world work concepts and applications. With my wife Birgitta, we formed a core group of five.

Steering Committee
It seemed important to the core group to gather a larger, inter-disciplinary group to advise us how to approach the community and which issues to focus on. A group of 10 to 15 members seemed appropriate and I began contacting those whom I knew in the area to assess their interest and suggestions. Several were former Los Alamos County Councilmen. Others were current members of the County Council. Still others were from outside the community of Los Alamos, but well familiar with its issues. These included a former policeman from Albuquerque who made us aware of the high suicide rate among young adults in the area as well as the influence of gangs. Another couple, both retired from the Lab, made us aware of an increasing morale problem at LANL because of recent fundamental management changes and increasingly tighter governmental regulation. 

It soon became clear that, although all those approached seemed generally interested and supportive of the idea, virtually every potential steering committee candidate of more than 20 people was stretched to their limit with other responsibilities and commitments. It became unrealistic to pursue trying to bring them together even once.

Potential Creative Energy
In the process of discussing the idea on a one-to-one basis with these interested citizens, one councilman nearing retirement asked what was missing in his published vision statement that we could address and put into a few positive words. I could not answer his question at the time, but as I drove away from our meeting the words "potential creative energy" came to mind. That was it! When I sent him a follow-up email he replied, "Those words are heading in the right direction!" He further advised me to find an already established group that would find our project of interest. Yes!

Taking for example the legacy of the Manhattan Project, in 1942 there was a huge source of potential energy fueled by fear and frustration that created what became the most destructive weapon in history. That legacy maintains power to this day such that in 2010 we are now faced with a similar dilemma as fear of terrorism mounts in our country and the world.  Here in Los Alamos, there is a lot of energy that remains untapped, which manifests in terms of depression, anger, frustration, dissatisfaction, suicide, etc. Many citizens feel marginalized, dismissed, ignored and otherwise out of productive community life. That is a potential that must be recognized and utilized.

Los Alamos has an historic opportunity to find creative ways of harnessing this energy, but this time for positive applications and by the community of citizens at large.

The Deep Democracy approach is particularly designed to evoke and harness such energy in this place that boasts "Where Discoveries Are Made!"