JFK’s Advice for this Hour of Change and Challenge

As I travel around the world speaking at venues that range from corporate summits to rock festivals and from consumer groups to universities, I hear deep dissatisfaction with the current global political/economic system. This is reflected in Brexit, and in movements sweeping Iceland, Italy, Greece, and so many other countries. And it was reflected, perhaps most strongly, in the US elections.

People everywhere understand that although the system that’s been in place for roughly a century has created amazing science, technology, medicine, and arts, it has run its course. It is not serving We the People. Not on any continent. It is broken. And it can’t be fixed with old tools.

Perhaps more than any other message to take away from the 2016 US presidential election – as well as movements around the globe – is that people are discouraged and are demanding something different. Those on the right look for a conservative, authoritarian government while those on the left favor a progressive, socialistic one. Bernie’s popularity and Trump’s victory symbolize these two opposite ends of the spectrum. Hillary stood in the middle and symbolized the status quo.

When I finish giving speeches, during the question-and-answer period, people often ask if I don’t think things have to fall apart before we can move into a new phase. I believe we would be wise to accept the recent events as symbols that things have fallen apart. People are waking up to the fact that our space station is headed for disaster and we must change course.

Those who feel discouraged by the results of the recent election and those who are euphoric share a motivation to change our space station’s navigational system. This new administration and Congress will have impacts. The Supreme Court, health care, regulations governing Wall Street, energy, transportation, education, and the environment, as well as international relations: all of these will change. But let us understand that these are symptoms. The illness is much bigger. It is a systemic disease. And we must heal it.

We must ask: how do we pull back from the brink of disaster? How do we maneuver human societies in ways that will direct us away from systems that are obviously failing, to ones that are themselves renewable resources? Since the illness is the political/economic system itself, we must change it. Regardless of policies implemented by national governments, we all need to dedicate ourselves to converting a Death Economy, based on militarism and excessive consumption, into a Life Economy, based on cleaning up pollution, regenerating environments, and developing sustainable non-extractive technologies.

When the US felt threatened by the Soviet domination of space, President John Kennedy in September 1962 said, “We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance.” He then announced his intention to beat the Soviets by being the first nation to send men to the moon. “And,” he added with an optimistic statement that seemed almost beyond possibility, “it will be done before the end of this decade.” Although he did not live to see it, the President’s promise was fulfilled; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in July 1969.

We are at such a time now. This hour of change and challenge, hope and fear, knowledge and ignorance, demands our involvement. It is imperative for each of us to be creative, to take actions, to understand that democracy truly is based on all of us participating in the great adventure that is the next ten years. John Kennedy’s promise is a promise for each of us to make now: It will be done before the end of the decade.

About John Perkins

John is a founder and board member of Dream Change & The Pachamama Alliance, non-profit organizations devoted to establishing a world future generations will want to inherit & the author of the NY Times bestseller, Confessions Of An Economic Hitman.

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