Living in this World

Monday, August 05, 2013

Ownership and Repair

Ownership and repair
I have been puzzled over the years by how tenacious I get in mending torn and broken possessions.  Sometimes it seems ridiculous.  Why not, for goodness sake, just throw them out and get something that will work?
It has occurred to me that the issue is one of relationship and service.  When I buy something new, it serves me.  I am in the relationship of master or mistress to that possession.  I have it at will.  I have placed some value on the service it can provide me, and expect it to serve me well.  If it ceases to play the role I expect of it, however, there is no reason not to discard it and replace it with something that does.
Once I start repairing, however, there is a relational shift.  Now that my time and skill have gone into making that thing whole again, the relationship is more one of peers.  It serves me, and I serve it to the best of my repairing ability.  Sometimes it doesn’t do as well as I would wish, and sometimes my repairs are wholly inadequate—and I am the one found wanting.
While I have many stories of this dynamic that are longer and more complex, the brown sweater provides a simple example.  Relatively new (to me) it has been a serviceable, if undistinguished, addition to my wardrobe.  When I noticed a seam that was coming undone, I took a few minutes to make a neat repair, glad for the skill that made the task so easy. Later it was more seams, a small hole in the back, and a missing button.  This repair took a little more time, and more ingenuity.  As I studied it for anything I might have missed, I felt a new sense of connection.  This sweater had a new lease on life because of my care, and I cared for it more as a result. 
As I mend more, I care more. The challenge then becomes when to acknowledge that something I have cared about has come to the end of its useful life, to find a way to dispose of it fittingly, and to mourn its loss.  The acquisition of a replacement is bittersweet, and brings with it all the weight of a new relationship.
But I have no regrets.  I would rather have all the responsibilities of a give and take relationship, where I sometimes do well and sometimes fall short, than be in the role of master, surrounded by servant/slave possessions that exist at my pleasure, to be discarded at the first sign of frailty or imperfection.  Sometimes, I have to admit, it can feel a bit like running a nursing home, and letting one of them go can bring some relief.  There are certainly advantages to having something new that works to perfection.  But I’m still glad to have the skills to prolong so many good and useful lives, and I would never want to give up that sense of connection, and all that opportunity to care.

Love poem lapse
The trolley is stopped
stuck behind a trash truck, likely—
I don’t mind.
I’m gazing out the window
composing a love poem
to the sycamore outside.
I love these great trees that line our streets,
know the texture of their bark
the shape their branches take
just how their fingers meet the sky
the seed balls scattered, nature’s quiet jewels,
throughout their crown.
I love these trees in winter, and I
know how they will greet the spring
with tiny folded leaves of April green.
and shade our summer days.
I give myself a mental shake.
This trolley’s really stuck—
no one’s going anywhere.
I should be working,
making use of this delay.
I pull out the article I need to read,
settle into productivity--
then give myself another shake.
What could be a better use of time
this busy city day
than soaking in the beauty of our world,
noticing my love for that great sycamore
etching it deep into my heart?

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Economic cooperatives
The Mondragón Cooperative, in the Basque Country in northern Spain, is one of the oldest and most successful examples of economic cooperatives.  Begun in 1956, the Mondragón co-ops have transformed a depressed area into one of the most productive in Europe with a high standard of living and an egalitarian way of life. What started with a handful of workers making simple paraffin cookers and heaters, now consists of over 82,000 people in an integrated group of some 258 cooperatively-owned businesses, subsidiaries, and affiliated organisations, with total sales in 2011 of 14 € billion. These co-ops produce computer chips, high tech industrial machinery, household appliances, and many other products. They are owned and managed by their workers. Seeing the achievements of the Mondragón helps to overcome the idea—widespread in North America—that worker run cooperatives can exist only on the economic fringe.        Shift Change, a documentary film by veteran award-winning filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin, tells the little known stories of employee-owned businesses, including the Mondragón Cooperative, that compete successfully in today’s economy while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces:

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

An Israeli man who posted a photo of himself and his daughter on Facebook with the message, "Iranians... we love you", starting an avalanche of love letters between "enemy" nations.  Israel Loves Iran: The Facebook Campaign Launches Love Avalanche
All the hundreds of peacemakers on the ground who helped keep the Kenyan elections from spiraling into the violence that everyone feared.

The 59,440 people who have pledged to resist the Keystone XL pipeline that would encourage the extraction of incredibly polluting and climate-warming Alberta tar sands oil, and carry it across the American plains.  (

Ron Finley, who plants vegetable gardens in South Central Los Angeles--in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs--to offer some alternative in a community where "the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys" (from his Ted Talk on "gangster gardeners":
More resources:

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years: (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

#118 Serenity?

Dear all,
    It's that magical time of the year (at least in my part of the world) where spring is teasing us.  The weather has been very cold and sleety, but the buds are beginning to swell, and I feel a tantalizing mixture of impatience and confidence in the outcome.
    This month I reflect on serenity, resignation and courage, suggest the possibility of negative interest, and once again offer several things that give me hope.  Happy reading!


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve always liked this advice, but recently I’ve found myself wondering about the overlap between serenity and resignation.  Some things are clearly and simply unchangeable.  The sky can be gray.  Winter follows fall.  Loss is painful—and deep loss is deeply painful.  We all age.  Accidents happen.  We can’t change these things, yet some may require courage to face, and our greatest peace will come from facing the hard parts square on.

Desmond Tutu has spoken powerfully about the past as unchangeable: “There can be no peace without reconciliation, no reconciliation without forgiveness, no forgiveness without giving up all hope for a better past.”  How can we accept the past serenely, without projecting it into the present and the future? There are historic realities that needs to be acknowledged, possibly with serenity. People who have been hurt themselves, for example, often hurt others. The tendrils of the past do indeed entangle us.  But there is courage involved in imagining the possibility that the chain can be broken.  Although there are good reasons why I resigned myself early to a life of lonely self-sufficiency, that resignation does not serve me well in the present, and I have to believe I can change.

Other things seem unchangeable because they are so big.  Racism has dug its roots deep into society, pervading and degrading everyone’s life.  Our economic system, based on greed, no longer serves the wellbeing of our communities.  Big-power foreign policy distorts the priorities of smaller countries all over the world.  Climate change disproportionately impacts the poor.  Our culture is debased by a relentless focus on sex, violence, novelty and consumption.

Do we accept these realities with serenity?  Acceptance might seem easier to live with than a sense of failure, frustration or outrage, and constantly railing against things that are too big to change certainly does not make for a life of grace. 

Yet they are not right, and I just can’t see accepting them serenely.  Rather than tucking them away out of sight, as unfortunate but unchangeable, somehow we need to hold them clearly in front of us.  Our attention may not be on them all the time, but if they are in our sight, if we have decided that we care, if we have a vision of how we wish things to be different, then opportunities will present themselves.  We will make a different choice about a conversation, or a friend, or a purchase, or the use of an evening, or even the thoughts inside our head.  We will turn our lives in the direction of what we long for in this world—and things will change.

Ultimately I do believe that we need the wisdom to know the difference.  Let’s reach for serenity in the face of the truly unchangeable.  But let’s also assume that much of what we face in the present, both inside of us and in the world all around, is full of the seeds of change, just calling for more imagination and courage than we know we have.

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Negative Interest

In a negative interest system, or “demurrage”, the value of money depreciates in value--or decays--as it ages. 

The best-known example was instituted in the town of Worgl, Austria, in 1932. To remain valid, each piece of this locally-issued currency required a monthly stamp costing 1% of its face value. Instead of generating interest and growing, accumulation of wealth became a burden—much like possessions are a burden to the nomadic hunter-gatherer. People therefore spent their income quickly, generating intense economic activity in the town. The unemployment rate plummeted even as the rest of the country slipped into a deepening depression; public works were completed, and prosperity continued until the Worgl currency was outlawed in 1933 at the behest of a threatened central bank.

With demurrage, money as a medium of exchange is decoupled from money as a store of value. No longer is money an exception to the universal tendency in nature toward rust, mold, rot and decay—that is, toward the recycling of resources. No longer does money perpetuate a human realm separate from nature.

From:  Charles Eisenstein,

Some things (and people) that have made me hopeful recently:

Our new Pope, Francis I, and his commitment to the poor of this earth.

Pennsylvania becoming the 12th state in the country to authorize the creation of a new type of corporation, the benefit corporation, providing a choice for businesses to pursue a triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

An event that a friend of mine organized in our neighborhood, Honoring Our Elders, where eight older men and women from the community were honored in a heartwarming celebration of diversity, tenacity and wisdom.

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who now runs a foundation on climate justice, and whose competent, steadfast and open-hearted commitment to women and the poor is a beacon of hope.

More resources:

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:
Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

#117 Little Faith and Big Change

Why should an announcement about a peace agreement in the Philippines make my heart beat a little faster?

I remember sitting at our kitchen table years ago with an old friend, David Hartsough, who was sharing another one of his visionary ideas:  create a global nonviolent peacekeeping force of unarmed civilians.  I was blown away by his breathtaking boldness.  How does anybody get the idea that they can make ideas of such magnitude a reality?  But I did what I could to be supportive and gather resource around, playing a bit part on the fringes of the project, wholeheartedly wishing the Nonviolent Peaceforce well.

I cheered the first small signs of support for NP in the EU and the UN, wondered about the choice of Sri Lanka as the first site, hoped for big successes there, played a small role in the development of a peacekeepers training manual, worried about the amount of money that was needed to make the project viable, followed the discussion of where to expand, fretted about the challenges in the Philippines with a seemingly-intractable civil war on the island of Mindanao , rejoiced over small successes in South Sudan—always wondering if NP could ever be more than just another well-intentioned little project, a small voice of reason lost amid the raging storms of war.

It was heartening to read of rival tribal leaders in South Sudan all demanding that NP continue its presence there (actually threatening harm if they pulled out!) because of their role in dramatically reducing intertribal violence.  Here was yet more confirmation that nonviolent peacemaking works.  Yet I had caught on to what might be possible, and longed for more.  I discovered that I had become deeply invested in that original vision—global nonviolent peacemaking as a force to be reckoned with.

When I read an item in the newspaper about the peace agreement in the Philippines, its significance didn’t quite register.  But then I got the back-story from a longer article forwarded by the Nonviolent Peaceforce.  It was a revelation.  Not only had a peace agreement been signed—making an immediate difference for everybody on the island of Mindanao who had suffered years of civil war—but NP had been invited to be an official part of the monitoring process.  Their years of patient peacemaking work on the ground, building trust with parties on both sides of the conflict, holding out an expectation that civilians would be treated well, had paid off.  Not only did their work help create the conditions for talks, but it dramatically increased the likelihood that the peace would last.

This time, for the very first time in modern history, the powers-that-be didn’t call in soldiers to secure the peace.  They didn’t call in a neutral nation’s military or a UN armed force.  They called in nonviolent unarmed civilian peacekeepers.

I think of David Hartsough’s vision.  I think of my lack of faith that the seed of such a big idea could actually grow into its fullness.  I think of all the years when its promise was still unrealized.  I think of the tenacity and sheer will-power that kept it alive in the face of extreme adversity.  I am humbled and deeply grateful for everybody who has been part of the long hard work of planting, tending and watering, and I hope that many many people get to taste this sweet new fruit.  

Dare to Imagine:  A new economy is possible!
A trillion dollar platinum coin?

Last month, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman urged the White House to mint a platinum coin worth $1 trillion.  He thought it was less silly—and less dangerous—than playing with the debt ceiling. The White House responded by saying the trillion dollar coin is off the table, because the Federal Reserve declared that it “wouldn’t view the coin as viable.”

Just a joke?  Here's another take:  "Today, the Federal Reserve creates trillions of dollars on its books and lends them at near-zero interest to private banks, which then lend them back to the government and the people at market rates. We have been brainwashed into thinking that it makes more sense to do this than for the government to simply create the money itself, debt- and interest-free.  Some of our greatest leaders, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln… realized that the freedom to print money offers a way to break the shackles of debt and free the nation to realize its full potential… Our ignorance on these issues has played into the hands of the 1 percent, who are dependent on the current system for their wealth and power… We have the power to choose prosperity over austerity. But to do it, we must first restore the power to create money to the people."

Ellen Brown, YES Magazine

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

President Obama's second term agenda.

The indigenous youth-and-women-led Idle No More movement of Canada to protect natural resources and respect indigenous land rights, that has been gathering momentum across the country since November.

More than 140 governments, including the U.S., China and India, agreeing to a global, legally-binding treaty to address the mining, emission, release, export, import and storage of mercury, a heavy metal with significant health and environmental effects.

The earnest young men we met in Northern Uganda who were deeply concerned about the environment.

New:  posts on other people's blogs:

More resources:
Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:   

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

#116 Treasures from East Africa

Treasures from East Africa

We are back from three weeks in Africa, and I could write about so many things—the amazing sights and sounds of a part of the world so different from mine; all the painful signs of poverty, colonialism and war; vignettes of travel in crowded vans and motorcycle taxis, in crowded city markets and big open countryside; the experience of leading our two counseling workshops—in the Masai area of Kenya and at a serene Catholic retreat center in the north of Uganda; the incredible centrality of a rigid and expensive education system in the life of every student in Uganda; the joys of discovering and sharing craft possibilities using the materials at hand—banana, palm and papyrus; the challenges and strengths of tribal traditions among the Acholi people of the north where we spent most of our time.

There’s way too much to share, and the impulse is strong to focus on what was exotic and shocking.  But that would encourage separation rather than connection, nor would it begin to capture the richness of our experience.  Then it occurred to me that I could simply introduce you to some of some of the people I’ve met, who are at the heart of that richness.  So here are a few:

Esther, who cooked delicious meals for us before and after our Kenya workshop.  She spent years getting an education in India, where many people spoke of her as a monkey, recently lost her insurance job, but gets by raising chickens in her backyard.  She is grieving the loss of a beloved father, and has taken in a severely mentally and physically disabled sister to give some relief to her mother.  She is raising two girls—a quiet ten year old and a rambunctious pre-schooler.  She has a wide smile and exudes warmth and serenity. 
Esther and her girls--Kenya

Nicolas, who crowded into the pick-up truck that took us to the family workshop along with his wife and nine-month old daughter, after an eight hour bus ride from rural western Kenya.  He got polio when he was two and has no use of his legs, but manages with crutches and enormous arm muscles.  He is a school teacher, a devoted husband and father, and teaches peer counseling wherever he goes.  He has an open face, and speaks with quiet confidence.
Nicolas and family, with Wanjiku--Kenya

Eunice, who also crowded into that pick-up truck with three teen and pre-teen children whom I learned later were not hers.  She works at a children’s home, and left her own family behind to give an opportunity to these three.  Shy around strangers, she is strong, ready to play, and quick to laugh.  I found it easy to rest my head on her shoulder, and was privileged to hear her tell, for the first time, of harsh treatment in her rural home as a child—eager to heal and help others do the same.

Naime, four years old, the only Muslim at our family workshop.  She came with a young auntie and made herself at home right away.  She practiced her English with no self-consciousness, drew pictures with elaborate story lines, including one about a “good mosque”, happily ordered adults around during her special time, and gave me no choice but to fall in love.
Naime and auntie--Kenya

Mary, who was rescued as a child from unspeakable conditions, the details of which I never learned.  Now as a teenager, it was touching to watch her attend to little Naime as she drew and told her little stories, with a face full of patient loving kindness.

Otim Felix, whom we first got to know sharing a long ride in a crowded van in Uganda in 2008, then spent time with in 2011, including a visit with his wife and three small children in their home.  Laid off from a good job at an Italian NGO three years ago, when they closed up shop to do good work somewhere else, he has faced enormous financial challenge ever since.  He now does delivery work of agricultural supplies, which takes him all over the country and away from home for weeks at a time during the busy season, and is trying to start his own sales business, hopeful that financial stability is on the horizon for his family.  Last year he lost his close younger brother when he was shot by the police at a road block.  Felix has an air of confidence, a beautiful voice, a warm hug and a ready laugh.  During the Gulu workshop he took on the challenge of giving up a three-year smoking habit, and left with confidence in succeeding.
Otim Felix--with Abitimo and Naume

Achen Agnes, who left Gulu a few years ago to take a job with the regional religious leaders peace organization in a town that’s not far away, but requires a journey of two hours because of the terrible condition of the roads.  They are focusing on land issues—a major point of conflict as people move out of internal displacement camps after 20 years of civil war.  She leads a group of women there, and is passionate about gender equality.  She also takes great pride in her strength and skill as a farmer.  She is very quiet, radiating a mature calm composure—until you probe a little and touch her passion, which is deep.
Achen Agnes

Sheik Abdul, one of two Muslims at our Gulu workshop, and an elder of great stature and warmth.  He was quick with appreciation for the opportunity, and eager to go home and share counseling skills with his small but growing religious community.  He tolerated many unaware assumptions that we were all Christian, and interrupted others with firm kindness.  He has been through decades of war, lost family members and all of his cattle and property, knows grief, but has not lost hope in humankind.  He has loving eyes, a big smiling mouth, neatly mended shoes, and an enormous capacity to welcome and appreciate.  We discovered that he is just three days older than me, and I am thrilled to have him as an elder brother/twin.
Sheikh Abdul

Aparo Jenny, a tiny twenty-five year old, who is a bundle of energy.  Orphaned during the civil war, she was lucky enough to be found by two European women who put her through high school and university.  She now works as a teacher of religion and geography at a nearby high school and college, and is active in a local Pentacostal church.  She is fiery in her pride as a woman, and is up for any challenge.
Aparo Jennifer
Adong Nancy, who works in procurement at a local hospital, and found the site for our workshop.  She is an elegant dresser with a quick smile, and handled all the issues that came with the site with grace, efficiency and good humor.  Deeply disappointed by the care she received from relatives as a child, she has an open place in her heart for orphans, and has taken responsibility for four young people, though she is single and not yet out of her twenties.
Adong Nancy

Otim Denish, who lost his parents then his older brother and was abducted as a child soldier during the civil war.  Trauma shows in his face; he rarely makes eye contact and speaks in a barely audible voice.  Yet more is there than meets the eye.  He is training to be a teacher, doing farm work to pay tuition, and watching him extend himself with great generosity and compassion to Sheik Abdul as he told his own stories of loss was a revelation.

Otim Denish
Komakech Geoffrey, a young Primary 7 teacher who understands intuitively that for children to learn, they need to be understood, and struggles to implement that knowledge in classes of up to 100.  He is sensitive, earnest and compassionate, a lover of order and propriety, wrestling with his own insecurities as he reaches out to offer solace and confidence to others.

Komakech Geoffrey
Atunu Naume, not yet twenty, yet moving with assurance as the registrar of the workshop, handling innumerable small details with composure.  She brought seven young men from the nearby town of Lira, part of a larger group with whom she has been sharing her understanding of counseling over the past two years, and quietly supported them all week.  She has grown from a teenager to a young woman since last we were here, with some core of confident self-knowledge settled deep within.  In my mind’s eye, I see it strong and steadily growing, enough to keep her balanced and sure as she faces all the challenges of adulthood.
Atunu Naume
Aguma Ronald, who leans forward with interest as he listens and speaks, and has a ready smile.  His mind is quick, and he is eager to engage with others about economics and politics, showing a surprising maturity of understanding in one so young.
Aguma Ronald
Okello Richard, quiet, humble and kind, one of the two who first took my heart in 2008.  He spent seventeen years of his childhood in internal displacement camps, is glad to now claim a home with his adoptive parents in a small farming village, and is lucky enough to have found a sponsor to help him with university tuition.  He may always struggle, and may never shine, but there is a tenacity and goodness about him that is enduring, and those who have gathered around him, in his village or elsewhere, have a resource to be treasured.
Okello Richard Amunike

Omona Richard, the other who took first took my heart, is so different—compact, powerful and light all at the same time, moving with assurance through his world, easily at the center of any group.  His uncle is a tribal chief, and his home village is one big compound including several hundred family members.  Valuing both his clan and tribal customs, and the best of western thinking and technology, he brings his skills in engineering and counseling and a natural bent for leadership to nearby South Sudan.
Omona Richard
Anyayo Jennifer, who was horribly disfigured when her family’s thatch-roofed house was burned during the war, was brought to the US for a year as a teenager for a series of surgeries, and was able to leave all that luxury and find a place for herself back home.  Those who see her face are always reminded of what she went through, but then we start to see her heart.  Her attention is on being a good student and a good friend, caring for her young siblings, worrying about her mentally unstable mother, trying to bring more light into the world around her.
Anyayo Jennifer
Acen Shillah, large and loud, ready to find fun in anything, always in the center, assigning considerable loss and hardship firmly to the past.  She is a gifted translator, a provocative dresser, an accomplished cook, a generous and thoughtful family member, and, as she pushes the norms of Acholi cultural, an all-round wild woman.
Acen Shillah

Sheikh Ahmed, young, tall and handsome, he has a wicked sense of humor and can get a whole group laughing with a few words.  He is candid about his prejudices, and equally candid about his regret at the relationships he has damaged through his wild ways.  It was touching to watch him listen and nod (serious for once) as a way forward to heal those relationships was opened for him.
Sheikh Ahmed
Obwona Charles, who is raising six children and struggling financially, particularly since the school where he teachers preschoolers is behind on pay.  In his spare time, he is a dedicated Scout leader and now works with a group of women trying to heal from their experience of abduction and rape in the civil war.  He relishes playing the bad boy in a group setting, is full of jokes, loves to hug, and has a big infectious laugh.
Obwona Charles
Labalpiny Alfred, a villager who became a bank guard and has risen to become chief of security at a big bank in Gulu.  His attention and understanding of counseling have been recognized there, as he is sent to other branches to help with conflicts and personnel issues.  A caring husband and father, who brought his young adult daughter to the workshop and is diligent in teaching counseling, there is an innocent optimism about him that is endearing.
Labalpiny Alfred

Abitimo Odongkara, our friend who brought us to Northern Uganda, who came to Philadelphia with her family in the 1970’s, fleeing from Idi Amin, then returned in the mid 80’s to contribute to healing her country.  Starting with six orphans under a tree, her school now serves1400, and she also leads the area’s growing peer counseling community.  She is a clan elder, and manages an extended family of grandchildren and other young people in need that she just can’t turn away.  She is passionate about the strengths of her culture, and the need for people to take action to improve their lives and communities, using whatever resources they can gather.  She has a ready laugh and a common touch, and is looked to by many for her strength and wisdom.


All of these people have enriched my life.  I hope that, even in this second-hand way, you can get some of those riches as well.

Dare to Imagine--
A new economy is possible!

Robin Hood Tax gains momentum

In mid-December, a landslide vote in the European Parliament for developing a “Robin Hood Tax” brings the hope to raise billions of Euros through a tiny tax on financial speculation one step closer to becoming reality.  A financial transaction tax on stocks, bonds, and derivatives would discourage the senseless high frequency trading that dominates financial markets, and raise massive revenues for urgent needs, such as combating unemployment, global poverty, and climate change.  Eleven European countries have committed to participate in pioneering the tax, working off a proposal for a tax of 0.1 percent on stock and bond trades and 0.01 percent on derivatives.

The Parliament’s overwhelming favorable vote, despite a wide European political spectrum ranging from Green and left parties to hard-core conservatives, is a reminder that such divisions could be overcome in the US as well, where a broad range of union, consumer, global health, and environmental groups are pushing for a similar “Robin Hood Tax”.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

All of the above.

People who have little, sharing so much with those who have less.

Minneapolis, which recently became the first city in the nation to adopt a resolution promoting racial equity in employment, declaring that institutional racism "is a primary reason for unemployment disparities" and requiring the city to take action to make sure that people of color have a fair shot at government jobs, promotions, and contracts.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification, as a result of which 98 percent  of the responsible chemicals have been phased out over the last 25 years, and atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting substances are going down.

New:  posts on other people's blogs:

More resources:
Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:   

Sunday, December 09, 2012

#115 Assimilation

Dear all,
I am in the midst of preparing for three weeks in Kenya and Northern Uganda with Chuck, sharing our listening and counseling skills as deeply and widely as we know how.  It feels strange to be giving up all our beloved and traditional holiday activities, but I am confident that we will be both stretched and blessed.
I wish you a bounty of stretches and blessings as well.


We arrived at the Sikh temple (or gurdwara, as it is called) just as the vigil was scheduled to begin.  “It will be in the parking lot, closer to Main Street” said the instructions.  There were a scattering of Sikh families coming out of the gurdwara, but we saw nobody we knew, no obvious gathering.  We had come in response to the violence against Sikhs in Wisconsin, more specifically in response to a request from the mayor of this tiny borough, squeezed between the edge of Philadelphia and the next town.  He felt the weight of the need for religious tolerance on his shoulders and hoped that the Quakers might help.

So here the two of us were, in a strange place, wondering what to do next.  We followed the drift of people, looking for the local Quaker who had invited us, feeling pretty out of place.  Everyone was offered a candle and cup, and we joined the line that was starting to form along the sidewalk. A scattering of non-Sikhs began to arrive, and then our friend with her family.

The vigil started with a long untranslated prayer, then a series of messages in English about religious toleration and peace—from the mayor, the state Representative, an interfaith peace group, our friend.  At the conclusion we were all invite back to the gurdwara for a meal. One older woman thanked us for being there as we moved back across the parking lot—our first interaction with a member of the congregation.  Since I had spent the afternoon at a block party, eating was not high on my agenda, but perhaps this would be a good opportunity for fellowship.

Inside the gurdwara there was first a room lined with cubbyholes where everybody took off their shoes, then a hallway with sink for handwashing, and a shelf full of bright yellow and orange scarves for anybody—male or female—who had neglected to bring a headcovering.  (I had thought to dress modestly on that hot summer day, but had no scarf.)  The dining room was large, with an industrial kitchen off in one corner, and rows of narrow brightly colored rugs on the rest of the floor.  Most of the congregation was already seated, but we found a spot and sat down.  Men and boys moved around with baskets of flat bread and big stainless steel buckets of food, ladling rice, cabbage, potatoes and yoghurt onto each person’s Styrofoam plate.

We visited with the woman next to us; her Sikh boyfriend enabled her to bridge both worlds.  Families ate and drifted away.  The men cleaned up.  Our new friend asked someone to show us the room where the services were held.  Then we returned the scarves, reclaimed our shoes, found the car, and drove the ten minutes that took us from deep in far-away India back home.

The story of that evening could be told in many ways.  Most obviously, it could be a travel adventure, a trip to an unexpected foreign country right in one’s own backyard.  It could also join the collection of heartwarming stories of ordinary people in small towns across the country standing up against intolerance and violence.  Or it could be a more personal story of a young mayor of a tiny now-majority-Asian borough, stepping up and reaching out to keep his new constituents out of harm’s way.  But the story that stays with me is the one about assimilation and the American melting pot.

There were signs of assimilation.  While some of the men had turbans, beards and traditional attire, others wore slacks or even jeans, and some did not even have turbans, but covered their heads with an orange cloth.  Most of the women wore traditional dress, yet some of the younger ones were in tight pants and t-shirts.  A mother and daughter pair, arm in arm, so differently dressed, clearly had a story to tell that we outsiders could only guess at.

Yet this community has not melted in.  It felt like we stepped into their world through some kind of portal and then stepped out, leaving it as whole, self-contained and separate as before.  The included us on their terms—quite generously—but showed no interest in our lives—accepted our solidarity, perhaps with gratitude, fed us and let us go.

I wouldn’t have missed that evening for the world, but I came home feeling somehow unsettled.  I finally understood that it was the separation that troubled me, the feeling that our visit had left no trace.  Greater homogeneity is not my goal.  I would wish that all of us could hold on to the richness of our cultural traditions, and have a place where we feel understood and deeply at home.  The idea of a dominant culture penetrating a more vulnerable one with its norms and values seems a lot like rape.  Yet I think we do need access to each other, if only to learn from that richness, and access was eluding me here.

It took days to see the possibility of access.  I drafted a note that our group sent to the gurdwara, affirming our support for religious freedom, thanking them for their hospitality, and looking forward to future contact.  This felt like just a thread cast across the miles and the vast cultural chasm.  But throwing threads is part of the work of weaving the web that must ultimately connect us all.

Baby power

End of the working day
headed home in the growing dark
to disappointment and struggle.

A bright-eyed baby on the trolley
catches my eye
and hold me in his clear-eyed gaze.

As we look into each others eyes
slowly, slowly, I can feel corners of my mouth
being drawn up— I have no choice
and we smile.

DARE TO THINK--A New Economy is Possible! 

Lessons from Iceland’s 2008 economic collapse.

Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver. (Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman)

According to high ranking officials at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iceland holds some key lessons for nations trying to survive bailouts; their approach—ensuring that the restructuring of the banks would not require Icelandic taxpayers to shoulder excessive private sector losses—led to a “surprisingly” strong recovery. Iceland’s commitment to push losses on to bondholders instead of taxpayers and the safeguarding of a welfare system that shielded the unemployed from penury helped propel the nation from collapse toward recovery.

Evangelical Pat Robertson is one of many would like to see us follow Iceland’s response to bank fraud: They are putting people in jail.  Prime ministers are being indicted. They are going after banks. Suddenly, Iceland is turning around and they look like a big success story! … We could start putting all of those [US] bankers in jail.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

King County, Washington, home to 1.9 million people, which passed an ordinance two years ago, to embed the principles of "fair and just" in all aspects of its work, that is transforming every department and agency in the county, from measuring economic outlook, to public transit decisions, to treatment of felony convictions.
Unity College in Maine, becoming the first university to pledge to divest its financial holdings from fossil-fuel companies (see Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” campaign).

Residents in over 150 cities and towns who had the opportunity to vote in November's election on measures calling for an end to the doctrines of corporate constitutional rights and money as free speech, passing every measure offered, often by an overwhelming margin (see

The law recently passed in Peru, banning all genetically modified ingredients, despite concerted lobbying efforts by numerous multinational agribusiness corporations.

New:  posts on other people's blogs:

More resources:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:   

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On the elections and being right

Though I didn’t vote for them,  I feel a sense of affinity with the ideologically-based Republicans.  They were right—in their lights—and they couldn’t prevail.  The only course open to them now is to broaden their appeal, which would involve compromise on, or dilution of, what they stand for, both unacceptable.

As a Quaker, I know what it means to believe that I have an important piece of the truth, and that others—the majority often—are on a wrong and dangerous course.  It’s no use telling me that I just need to compromise in order to attract others to my side.  Principles are not for compromising—and after all, there’s more to life than being popular…

I guess that’s where these leaders in the Republican Party and I diverge, and where I look on them with even more compassion.  Unlike them, I never expected to be popular, but then I never expected to win elections either.  It’s also harder for them because they’ve had the experience of being popular.  They’re used to having others fall in line around them (though I would argue that some bullying by the big guys has played a role here).  But now they’re left with those passionately-held principles, not enough votes to enact them,  and no palatable pathway forward.

I think of the Quaker legislators of early Pennsylvania, so clear about what was right—in their lights—yet facing a steady diminution of their ability to govern on that basis.  Their bittersweet solution was to leave government altogether and pursue their principles in the private sphere. 

Perhaps the moral is that holding to principle and governing are two separate, though not exclusive, activities.  I think of a friend who was running for the state legislature.  He made no campaign promises.  He simple told people what he held to be most important, and said that if elected, he would do his best.  For those whose appetite includes governance—and perhaps there should be more of us—this may be the way forward:  be clear about your principles, and know that compromise is inevitable.  Then the rest of us who are less willing to bend, me and many Republicans included, should uphold our principles and pursue our passions in other realms, knowing that we’re in a minority but that, perhaps, our values can still have an impact on the world we love.

Monday, November 12, 2012

#114 Green and Gold

Dear all,
Having a garden makes it that much easier to be thankful in the harvest season.  (And having been through a storm helps me remember to be thankful for electricity, water and heat. )  So here's my harvest offering, plus the usual extras.


Africans in the garden plot that’s next to mine
are picking greens.
The leaves remind me of the vines that
now are running riot in my sweet potato plot.

I ask. 
They are indeed the same.
You eat them?  I’m incredulous.
We cook them up with onions
for our stews, they say.
Sweet potatoes can be bought
for cheap in any store.
A bunch of these will cost five dollars though,
shipped in from miles away.
We grow them for the leaves.

I have to say
I’m growing mine for all that rich and orange meat
still hidden underground,
but let me try those leaves--
so dark they must be full of iron and vitamins.

Sauteed with leeks and chives
parsley, celery, all homegrown,
stewed with fresh tomatoes
they make a tasty sauce.
Who knew?

I want to tell the world—eat sweet potato leaves!
That’s why we all need Africans
to garden with.


Mid-October and the sweet potato leaves
have lost their dark green shine
It’s time to dig.

I reach through leaves to where the stem
meets earth, push back the soil,
find gold.

Push back some more
and still do not uncover it.
This sweet potato’s huge!
I dig it out, greater than the size of both my fists
And there’s another, and a smaller one
all from one slim cutting with a few new roots
planted in the spring.

And there are more, but I’m filled up
with wonder at the magic of it all.
A tiny seed or slip of life
soaks up the elixir
of water, sun and soil
and is transformed to richness
more valuable than gold.
The very building blocks of life
are being made
right here before my eyes.

Green and gold

Cook carrots leeks and greens
bake one big sweet potato
(add a little rice)
feed four.

Breath in the blessing
breathe out thanks
for sun and rain and soil.

DARE TO THINK--A New Economy is Possible! 

Is debt necessary?

Occupy's new Strike Debt campaign has this to say:  As individuals, families, and communities, most of us are drowning in debt to Wall Street for the basic things things we need to live, like housing, education, and health care. Even those of us who do not have personal debt are affected by predatory lending. Our essential public services are cut because our cities and towns are held hostage by the same big banks that have been bailed out by our government in recent years.  Debt keeps us isolated, ashamed, and afraid.  What if we could have an economy where our debts are to our friends, families, and communities — and not to the 1%?

The Guardian offers some interesting perspective:  The problem of unpayable debts bedevils every corner of our financial system – public, corporate, and personal. So far, the response of the monetary and fiscal authorities to nearly every financial crisis has been to bail out the creditors but not the debtors. The underwater homeowner, the indebted university graduate, the laid-off worker juggling credit cards ... they get no relief at all.  Occupy’s Rolling Jubilee—using money from donations to buy distressed consumer debt from lenders at a marked down price, then canceling the debt—brings a different kind of solution into the public consciousness. The next time a systemic crisis breaks, central banks can rescue the banking system by once again buying the delinquent loans – and then cancel them or reduce the amount borrowers owe. The result would be a release of pent-up consumer purchasing power that had been stuck in debt service. Rising demand would fuel employment, wages, and a broad-based economic expansion.

Read more:

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The kindness and generosity of strangers after a storm.

5 Democrats and 5 Republicans in Congress who regularly gather to break bread together and get to know one another.

The structure an traditions of democracy in this country that are available to be renewed and strengthened.

A new peace agreement in the Philippines that is being monitored and maintained by a non-violent civilian peace-keeping force--a first in the world.

Friday, September 28, 2012

#113 On being a conservative

Dear all,
In the midst of election season shrillness and polarity, I long for genuine conversation--so here's my contribution.  And in the midst of much that is not right, I am thankful for more things than I can count (like the beautiful string of fall days we've been having).

On being a conservative
Liberals value fairness, protection of the weak, and liberty.  Conservatives go for all three of those values, if defined differently, but add loyalty, authority and sanctity—none of which resonate with liberals, to say the least.  Thus, we can’t understand each other because our positions have roots in such different soil.  This is a thesis that has been gathering attention in recent months.

Although I define politically as a liberal and am surrounded by liberal values, in many ways I am conservative to the bone.  And since I care deeply about values and bridge building, my mind moves immediately to teasing out those “conservative” values, challenging liberals to get more comfortable in the language of the “other” and maybe even rethink some of our own values in the process.

Liberals tend to associate the first one on the list, loyalty, with knee-jerk patriotism and unthinking support of flawed institutions. Yet perhaps loyalty offers a needed antidote to the extreme individualism that runs rampant in our society.  Loyalty to people means that we won’t abandon those who are ours, even in adversity, even if greener pastures beckon.  Loyalty to things that have served us well and continue to work helps buffer us from the onslaughts of the profit-seeking advertising machine, out to convince us that we need the newest gadget or style.  Loyalty to values gives our lives meaning even when things are hard, and when cutting corners might seem expedient.  Loyalty to place, to community, keeps us working for the common good even though the immediate individual benefit may be unclear.

If we can embrace loyalty as a positive virtue, we’ll be in a stronger position to talk about nationalism.  It’s helpful to me to remember the second half of Union Army General Carl Shurz’ famous quote, “My country right or wrong:  If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."  Perhaps then we can also probe for the potential of greater loyalty—to our larger communities, to our ecosystems, to our species.

Liberals seem to have a love-hate relationship with authority.  On the one hand, we want the government, as the ultimate authority of the land, to step up and make things right.  On the other hand, we are deeply unwilling to subject ourselves to authority, ready to defend to the death our right to think and act independently.  Yet I believe there’s value in acknowledging and submitting to authority.  Take the authority, for example, of natural law:  hurricanes tend to hit the east coast, earthquakes happen along fault-lines, some regions have higher rainfall than others, good soil is needed to grow food, impermeable surfaces don’t absorb water, bacteria mutate, living organisms die, trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, it takes energy to transform matter.

We have to live with that authority whether we like it or not.  Then there is the authority of common law, passed down through the centuries, which I wouldn’t want to throw out.  There are also some common understandings in the great religious traditions—love others, do good, don’t kill, steal, or lie—that have the weight of authority about them.  If we liberals could talk about subjecting ourselves to authority, and what makes us willing to follow, interesting conversations might open up.

The concept of sanctity makes many of us nervous, since it’s often a cover for narrow and hate-filled moralistic prohibitions.  Yet abandoning it as a value can leave us on a slippery moral slope where anything goes.  There’s something to be said for a consistent attitude on the sanctity of human life—from the child-to-be to the black-lung miner to the death-row prisoner to the enemy soldier.  What if lost life on any of those fronts could be equally grieved?  Then there are the poisons we take into our bodies and our lives—the poisons of greed and hatred, of carcinogenic products and industries, of sexual exploitation and porn, of alcohol and drug abuse.  Maybe we could talk together about the sanctity of human life and what degrades our experience of it, as individuals and as a community.

A fourth value, conservation, seems appropriate to consider as well.  The word conservative easily connotes a focus on the past, fear-based opposition to change, a desire to return to the 50’s and an America that seems safe and familiar.  On the other hand, conserving—not wasting or throwing away that which has value—seems wholly positive.  We could talk about what we want to conserve and what we don’t want to waste—and be challenged across the political spectrum.  A traditional conservative political position values those who invest and create wealth.  We could talk about what we invest in, and what creates wealth.  Conservatives (like me) value living within our means and not going into debt.  We could talk about the burdens of debt we don’t want to pass on to our children and grandchildren, including personal and national debt, and the ecological debt that comes from consuming and polluting faster than the biosphere can replenish.

I say, let’s talk about values—not only the easy ones of fairness, protection of the weak, and liberty, but the harder ones of loyalty, authority and sanctity.  Let’s consider the up and down sides of both liberal and conservative points of view.  My guess is that, if we take the process seriously, we’ll grow in humility, flexibility and insight.

DARING TO THINK-- A new economy is possible!

Who owns the sky?
A judge in Texas has recently ruled that the atmosphere—air—is a public trust. The “public trust” doctrine, a legal principle derived from English Common Law, and most commonly applied to water, requires the public trustee, usually the state, to act to maintain and enhance the trust’s resources for the benefit of future generations.  On behalf of the youth of America, Our Children’s Trust, Kids Versus Global Warming and others have begun filing suits around the country—in 13 states so far—arguing that the atmosphere is a public trust.  The Texas court has produced the most favorable ruling thus far, and one Houston law firm advised its clients that the decision may represent a “shot heard ‘round the world” as Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL) emerges as a promising, legally binding, global approach to address climate change.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently.

The sustained investment that China is putting into early childhood education.

The unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees of a California Community Colleges District, with an annual budget of $140 million, to move its assets into community banks and credit unions.

How Occupiers, Tea Partiers, landowners, and environmentalists are challenging construction of the Keystone XL pipeline’s Gulf Coast segment—together, in the heart of Oklahoma and Texas oil country.

The young mayor of a tiny heavily-immigrant borough outside of Philadelphia, who responded to the shootings at a Wisconsin Sikh temple by helping his Sikh neighbors organize a vigil for peace and religious tolerance, and inviting everyone he could think of to join in.

More resources:
Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to

Monday, August 13, 2012

#112 A cautionary tale

Dear all, Here's a mixture! A light poem, a mind-stretching new/old banking idea, and a cautionary tale about trying to do good with blinders on. I wish you open spaces in what is left of the summer, and the possibility of imagining a new thing. Love, Pamela Art work A commuter’s view of the art show on the square: Morning— artists at work erecting booths hauling cases rolling awnings attaching hooks balancing canvasses stooping, reaching, lifting stretching toward the day ahead. Evening— artists at rest sitting chatting reading resting watching for potential buyers of all that work. DARING TO THINK-- A new economy is possible! Save the post office, bring back public banking How could we save the post office, keep rural branches open, and make banking services available to poor folks who now rely on check cashing services and usurious pay-day lenders, all at the same time? The National Association of Letter Carriers has just adopted a resolution to investigate the establishment of a postal banking system. A wild idea? Not so much. The US had a postal banking service up until 1967, and many other countries have been starting up their own in the last ten years. Take New Zealand. Kiwibank was instituted in New Zealand as a postal banking system in 2002, not to save the post office, but to launch a state-owned bank that could compete with the Australian mega-banks. These banks had come to control some 80 percent of New Zealand's retail banking. taking profits abroad and closing less profitable branches. With the advent of Kiwibank, and branches in post offices across the country, suddenly New Zealanders had a choice. In an early version of the "move your money" campaign, 500,000 customers transferred their deposits to public postal banks in Kiwibank's first five years - this in a country of only four million people. Kiwibank had a return on equity of 11.7 percent in the second half of 2011, and consistently earns the nation's highest customer satisfaction ratings. For more information, go to Ellen Brown, “Saving the Post Office”, at Truthout. A cautionary tale He read a feature in the paper about the amazing work of an inspiring woman in a poor country. There was a local connection, and he made contact with the folks who knew this woman and were supporting her work, glad to have found a way to make a contribution. He and his wife started attending their potluck meetings, planning fundraising events, putting their shoulder to this effort to help a struggling little school in a war-torn country half a world away. Then, like a miracle, he discovered a teacher at his old high school who was eager to help in the same part of the same country. She was ready to mobilize students at her school and the schools around her, and before long a growing network of students were eagerly raising money to help war orphans go to school. He and his wife made a visit, and became even more deeply committed to the project. He got excited about raising money for a well, to provide a reliable supply of clean drinking water. An engineer himself, he took keen interest in the design and construction plans, and stayed on top of the progress of this project as well as he could from so far away. Many people were working together now, money was flowing in, enthusiasm was growing. Yet little issues were starting to arise. He chafed at the slowness of the well project, his well project as he had come to think of it. The story of slow bureaucratic process in that country did not seem adequate to explain the delays. Also, he and his high-school teacher friend were not satisfied with how the money they were raising, their money, was being accounted for. There was no question of fraud, but the procedures seemed so lax, the competence so low. Their students were working hard to raise this money—it was only right that the school staff exert themselves to see that good systems were in place so it could be used to the best possible advantage. There was enormous gratitude from the school, but also growing friction. The need of the donors to know and love the orphans they were supporting taxed an overstretched administration and threatened to create divisions within classrooms. The plan to raise money for mentors to further support the orphans, their orphans, became very complicated. The mentors were inclined to report to their sponsors back in the US, rather than to the school that hired them. The temporary space that they were offered, for which the school had other long-range plans, somehow became their space. The meetings back home became mired in conflict. He was increasingly frustrated. Was the goal to effectively raise money for this project and do what it took to make the school run well, or was it to sit back and, in the name of friendship, accept this incompetence? Finally he and his wife and the student network split off, to run their fundraising unhindered, expand their mentoring project, increase their toehold at the school, and build out from there to bring more order to the whole operation. The woman who started it all, however, was finally getting mad. She didn’t want them bringing in their people, taking over space, trying to run more and more parts of the school. Meeting with that original little group of friends, she aired her grievances and came to an unexpected, but liberating, realization. She didn’t need their money. If these were the costs of accepting it, they were too high. The school had managed without them before; it could manage again. How could so much good will have gone so deeply awry? Hopefully there are some lessons to be learned. If you say that you want to help others, watch out that your own needs don’t end up in the driver’s seat. If you start with a cultural power advantage, remember how easy it is to take over—and how disrespectful. Be careful not to try to possess things that aren’t yours. And consider that a very modest intention—to listen well and be a good friend—may end up making the biggest difference. Some things that have made me hopeful recently: The chair of the US Federal Reserve saying that we need an alternative to the GDP for measuring our country's well-being. All the people with minimal garden space who are experimenting with growing potatoes vertically, and generously sharing their experience with each other. A quiet and unassuming Polish educator who is bringing radical teaching ideas to very receptive teachers in neighboring Belarus, as her contribution to the democracy movement in that authoritarian and oppressive state. The dramatic drop in coal as a percentage of energy use in the US--due not only to low prices for natural gas and stricter EPA rules, but to a persistent locally-based citizens' movement that has blocked the construction of over 150 proposed coal-fired power plants, mostly in the conservative south and midwest. ( More resources: Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world. For earlier columns, go to My favorite magazine: YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:

Friday, June 29, 2012

#111 Collard Lessons

There were bugs in my collards, nasty little gray things that grew like mold, sucking the life out of those tender young leaves. I watched the leaves curl up and dry out—and I was devastated. I had grown those collards from seeds, marked the first little sprouts, already imagined the big juicy greens that we would be enjoying in not so many weeks—and they were dying right before my eyes. I felt powerless in the face of this nameless malignant force. It was hard to get motivated or find the time to act when I didn’t know where to start or what to do. I crushed some of the bugs, and picked off the worst infestations and threw them away, but I had no confidence that would be enough. If collards were the center of my life, or if they were the first sight to meet my eye every morning, I might have acted more quickly, more decisively. But I was busy, so the threat just hovered at the edges of my awareness. I felt diminished, like I was living under a cloud… Then I chanced upon a pre-school display of bug photos and got a name: aphids. I scolded myself, should have known. And I lived my busy life a little while longer with a threat that now had a name, till I was finally able to shove it far enough up my priority list to look up aphid control. Not willing to apply poison, or to rearrange my whole garden to provide a comprehensive organic solution, I was not hopeful. But one remedy that I found was simple—a detergent spray followed a few hours later by a cleaning spray. This I could do. Energized by the possibility, and with a clear step to take, it was easy to find the time to make a spray solution and do a careful job on each of those tender collard leaves. Then I went back a few days later and did it again. I was now feeling invigorated and powerful— not totally confident of success, but ready and willing to engage in the struggle. And so I think about our lives. We all know of nasty forces that are attacking us and those we love, sucking away at our energy, our confidence, our sense of well-being. But they feel too big, and we may not even know what they are. We don’t know what to do or how to start, so we do nothing. And doing nothing sucks a little more of the life and power out of us every day. The alternative that my collard experience offers seems pretty simple and totally worthwhile: put in the effort to give those forces a name, identify steps we have at our disposal to fight them, and then start taking those steps. Is a little soapy water enough to save my collard crop? I don’t know. Will the steps we figure out to take in our lives make a visible difference in the face of forces like materialism, greed, injustice, war or environmental destruction? I don’t know that either. Is the time spent in trying worth the effort? I believe it is—if only to let us claim us role as actors, rather than as passive witnesses to the destruction of what we love. Looking back, I wish I had been more assertive in facing that bug directly, searching out its name and deciding to do something about it. The passive endurance, tinged with despair, was the hardest part of all. DARING TO THINK-- A new economy is possible! 2012 has been named International Year of Cooperatives by the United Nations in recognition of the fact that more than 800 million people around the world belong to one of these economic networks. Coops flourish in all sectors of the economy proving that economic efficiency and equitability can co-exist. They represent a commons-based alternative to both the private market and state controlled enterprises. Four in ten Canadians are coop members (70 percent in the province of Quebec). In the U.S. 25 percent of the population belongs to at least one coop ranging from credit unions to food coops to major firms like REI and Land O’ Lakes dairy, according to the International Co-Operative Alliance In Belgium, coops account for 20 percent of pharmacies: in Brazil, 37 percent of all agricultural production is from coops; in Singapore, coops account for 55 percent of supermarket purchases: in Bolivia, one credit union handles 25 percent of all savings; in Korea and Japan, 90 percent of farmers belong to coops; in Kenya, coops account for 45 percent of the GDP; in Finland, 34 percent of forestry products, 74 percent of meat and 96 percent of dairy products come from coops. Around the world, coops provide 100 million jobs, 20 percent more than multinational companies. Some things that have made me hopeful recently: All the Occupy groups that have gone on to support folks whose houses are being foreclosed. A letter from Greece telling of all the ways people and communities there are pulling together and rediscovering core values in the midst of austerity. The two women in my community garden--and many others like them all over the country--who are tending vegetables to deliver to struggling neighborhood food pantries. Two growing movements around the financial system: a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions ( and a Move OUR Money campaign, with an emphasis on getting public money out of the big banks ( More resources: Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world. For earlier columns, go to