In 2012, I resolve to be a better activist. Despite the fact that “The Protester” was recently named the 2011 Person of the Year, I hope we’re just getting started. I hope we’re awaking from the long, dark, inward-looking, me-focused sleep that began at the end of the 1960s as the Vietnam War came to a close. We thought we were awake. Occasionally involved. Making a bit of a difference here and there. But, as we shake off the stupor of four decades of hibernation, rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we begin to see what we’ve not wanted to admit, that things are deeply, or so very deeply, dangerously in peril.
We know the list all to well: Global climate change, social inequity, pay-for-play politics, fresh water scarcity, and financial markets more rigged than a game of roulette. But somehow, so far, we’ve grown numb to the ever-growing litany of risks to the fate of humanity.
There are green shoots of hope sprouting almost everywhere we look: the rapidly falling cost of solar energy, the resurgence of cooperative business, vibrant local communities and a new generation of social entrepreneurs. The buds of new possibility are embodied in the membership of the American Sustainable Business Council, whose membership grew from zero to more than 110,000 businesses in 24 months; the success of new worker cooperatives from Namaste Solar to the New Belgium Brewery; and the way in which University Hospital in Cleveland is leveraging billions of dollars of purchasing to create a healthier, more just and vibrant local economy.
But, for those green shoots to grow into hearty trees that overshadow the already pervasive darkness, we must kick our muted passion and unrealized potential into much higher gear.
There is no challenge we face that can’t be overcome. We are not lacking for science or technology, for resources or talent. We lack only for will – the will to summon our own inner commitment, the will to collaborate rather than pioneer, to cooperate rather than compete. It doesn’t diminish our individuality. And, it won’t lessen the importance of our own point of view. But, 2012 must be about “we” not “me.” About what we have in common, rather than what divides us. About what we all can agree on, not our subtle differences.
It’s not whether Fair Trade is more important than organic, or whether we need to save the whales before we save the owls. It’s not a competition between EDF and NRDC, or whether a carbon tax is better than a market for selling the right to pollute.
It’s about only one thing.
United we stand, divided we fall.
In 2012, I resolve to be a better activist. An activist who not only shows up more often, gives more generously, tries a little harder and digs a little deeper, but an activist who unites rather than divides, focuses rather than fractures.
Jeffrey Hollender is the 2012 Distinguished Citi Fellow in Leadership and Ethics at New York University’s Stern School of Business School. He is the founder of Jeffrey Hollender Partners, a business strategy consulting firm and the co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, which he built into a leading brand known for its authenticity, transparency, and progressive business practices. For more than 25 years, he has helped millions of Americans make green and ethical product choices, beginning with his bestselling book, How to Make the World a Better Place, a Beginner’s Guide. He went on to author five additional books, including The Responsibility Revolution and Planet Home. He is the Board Chair of the Greenpeace Fund US and a board member of Verite as well as the co-founder and Board Chair of the American Sustainable Business Council. Please visit www.jeffreyhollender.com to learn more and to visit Jeffrey’s blog.