By Alli Chagi-Starr
Most of us are clear that no charismatic leader is coming on a white horse to save the day – preserve what’s left of our environment, turn climate change around, build economic opportunities for those left out, and create a vital future for our children’s children…
It really is up to us. Each one of us. Fortunately, there are a lot of us; we represent the vast majority of Americans who want better education, good jobs with benefits, decent health care for all, and an end to war and bank bailouts. That’s what’s great about grassroots movements, they actually work.
Paul Hawken described this movement of movements in his book Blessed Unrest, and on his website, it reads, “From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.causes, these groups collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in every city, town, and culture.
Major media continually remind us that we are living in a cesspool of political infighting, corporate corruption and a world headed for disaster – and while they’re not wrong, what they often miss are the many innovative models that aren’t waiting for the big guys, but are creating alternatives not later, but now.
A new organization in Oakland, popuphood, took a look at all the vacant buildings downtown and struck a deal with the City of Oakland. They piloted a project highlighting the historic architecture along the Broadway corridor. They said, let’s fill some of these vacant buildings with entrepreneurs for six months without charging rent, and see what we can do to lift up the district. Five of these shops (all women-owned) succeeded! They used the capital they saved to create revenue, and the doors are open today. They also attracted other projects to the area, including Art Murmur, a now multi-thousand person monthly art and food extravaganza in the once ghost town streets.
Local Bay Area environmental advocate, Doria Robinson, lives in the toxic shadow of the Chevron Refinery. She took a look at her blighted community in Richmond and said, “I can work with this.” She created Urban Tilth, a thriving nonprofit that works with more than 100 low-income youth, teaching urban gardening, healthy eating, and even yoga to create peace amidst the sometimes violent streets. She has created an oasis of hope, where before there was none.
We know the old model, or the empire as some call it, is failing. While it crumbles, we must take care of those that are being hurt first and worst – those who are living one paycheck – or one illness – away from losing their homes and those who have already lost everything.
People may be afraid, but they are beginning to reach beyond the well-being of themselves and their immediate families. The realization that we are all in this together and the creative uses of social media are causing people to reach out beyond traditional boundaries to see how we can lift each other up.
New models are appearing daily in the realm of alternative enterprise: green businesses committed to the well-being of our planet and our people, cooperatives, the emerging shareable economy, (think car share, community swaps, local gardens, neighborhood service trading and local currencies.)
Art and culture, as always, are playing a vital role in transforming consciousness and helping us tell a new story that captivates the masses. A story about cooperation, not competition; a story about giving, not just getting; a story about people power, not just corporate power.
As Van Jones reminds us, Obama got elected because a grassroots movement got fired up, and the artists, musicians and cultural workers were empowered to create iconic art and songs that moved the masses. They created a story of inspiration and hope that our president, despite his oratory prowess, could never have created on his own.
Jonah Sachs, co-founder of Free Range Media, author of the new book, Winning the Story Wars, says in his book, “So many stories that have really stuck, that have shaped our culture, are about one thing: people reaching for their highest potential and struggling to create a better world. If the test of time is our judge, stories with this formula have a near monopoly on greatness.”
The Green Festival in San Francisco November 10-11, 2012 will feature some of the Bay Area’s most innovative artists and cultural workers, including members of Earth Amplified, Youth Speaks,Roots, Beans and Greens, Destiny Arts and more, who will present on the emerging green Hip Hop movement and revitalizing inner cities with art.
As the late author, Toni Cade Bambara said, “The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible.”
Since it is not us that will inherit the earth, it is our wide-eyed, open-hearted children, I would suggest that we really look at ourselves, and ask if how we are showing up in our lives is both effective and compelling. (They often are the same thing.) While it is important to speak truth to power about the injustices being perpetrated in our communities and on our environment, we must also create a new world with the strength of our words and deeds. Are we complaining about our plight and adding to the story of fear and scarcity? Or are we helping to tell a new story – one that will inspire our children long after we’re gone?
Alli Chagi-Starr is the San Francisco Regional Director, Green Festival.
The 11th annual Green Festival, the nation’s premier sustainability event, features renowned authors, leaders, educators, eco-friendly businesses, workshops, social justice films and kids’ activities to celebrate sustainable topics and ideas at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center November 10-11. The 2nd annual Los Angeles Green Festival takes place in Los Angeles at the LA Convention Center November 17–18, 2012. A project of Global Exchange and Green America, Green Festival hosts over 300 local, regional and national green businesses who model their products, services and practices on an ethical responsibility of sustainability, minimal environmental impact, and Fair Trade. Green Festival also provides hundreds of speakers with a platform for education, debate and conversation featuring many presentations on living a healthier, more impactful and sustainable life, and making a difference in one’s community.