From "My Way" to Our Way: The Women's March on Washington

What a fitting song Donald Trump chose for his first dance as President of the United States at Friday night’s Inaugural Ball – “My Way.”  Poor Melania didn’t look as if she was having fun.  I expect she might have liked to escape, don a pink pussy hat the next day and join the Women’s March on Washington, where she could be herself – free of heavy-handed fear mongering, lying and attempts to control, divide and conquer.

Traveling by bus to Washington with a group of friends from Philadelphia, I was among the millions marching across the country and around the world last Saturday. Over my 70 years, I have marched for many causes, but this march was different. First of all, where did all those hundreds of thousands of pink knit pussy hats come from?  Women all over the country shared a pattern and knitted those hats. Women who could not march in Washington, sent them to those who could. That's how I got mine. I heard that stores around the country had run out of pink yarn. 

Though the Electoral College handed Trump a victory over the candidate who won the popular vote and should have been our first woman president, Saturday’s march demonstrated that the women of this country have not been, and will never be defeated. The crowd of pink hats representing many generations of women, along with some children and supportive men, was so immense that we filled the entire parade route from the Capital to the White House.  There was no room left to march.

Most media called the crowd at 500,000, but those who counted the crowds in the side streets, who could not get onto the parade route, claimed one million. It certainly seemed that large to us. After hours of making our way through the crowds, joining in chants like, “Welcome to your first day, we will not go away,” and seeing homemade signs like, “Girls just want to have FUNdamental rights,” our group finally caught a glimpse of the giant monitors and heard inspiring speeches by women who represented a rainbow of colors and ethnicities, including Native American, Latina, Muslim, Black and White, and more. Chants broke out: “This is what democracy looks like.”

Despite the pressing crowds, there was no incidence of violence. I never saw pushing nor heard an unkind word. We looked out for each other, sharing food and water and were buoyed by the surging positive energy to keep walking for hours. We laughed at signs like “We shall over comb” and chants like “Cant build the wall, hands too small.” There was a collective joy in the enormity of what we were taking part in and a feeling of empowerment in our solidarity for the fights that lie ahead.

Our army in pink pussy hats sent a message to the grabber-in-chief: we will not be demeaned, exploited or assaulted. We refuse to give up control over our own bodies to your policies or your sexual aggressions. We honor our bodies no matter what shape, size or color. We refuse to loose our health care. We refuse to stand by while greed destroys our planet and robs our grandchildren of their future. We refuse a gun culture that allows our children to be slaughtered in their classrooms. We refuse to see immigrant families torn apart by deportation. We refuse to make enemies of our neighbors.

Our way -- loving one another, caring for each other, sharing with one another –- will build a compassionate America that respects and cares for all people and for our Mother Earth. We reject the narcissistic “me first” tone of “America first.”  Shouldn’t Earth come first?  Should we not care first for our home planet on which all our lives depend? And put Earth’s children first? The children of every country and of every species in the vibrant web of life?

The Women’s March was not for just a day.  We are marching on, joined by the men who love and respect us, who have the healthy balance of feminine and masculine energies that we seek in our children, our culture, our economy and our government.  We, the majority - men and women of all races and faiths together - are organizing for this week, for next week, for 2018 and beyond.  We are building an America that will overcome the historic injustices of white supremacy and misogyny to achieve the true destiny of our beloved country – an America truly by and for the people.

Now is the time to show that our way is the American way - an America that respects indigenous rights, minority rights, gender rights, religious rights, the rights of the disabled, women’s rights, human rights and non-human rights in all of nature. 

The America of the future is about partnership, not domination; sharing, not hoarding; bridges, not walls; respect, not ridicule; peace, not war; love, not fear. It will take time, but we will not be stopped. Patriarchy, the end is near.  We are doing it our way.

Standing Rock: Where Love Prevails

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Standing Rock: Where Love Prevails


A thousand-year-old Lakota prophecy tells of a Black Snake that would one day rise from the deep and move across the land bringing destruction and great sorrow. The Sioux believe that the Black Snake has arrived in the form of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the most powerful economic and political force in the world - the fossil fuel industry.
 
Not long after our group of travelers arrived at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota for a weeklong stay at the native-owned casino hotel, we began to meet Water Protectors, who were suffering from a police attack a few days before our arrival. 

From home I had watched the horrifying scene on live stream. Blocked from escape, hundreds of unarmed Water Protectors on the bridge across the Cannonball River were blasted with water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. I could see clouds of tear gas and hear people screaming and calling for a medic as the cameraman expressed disbelief that this was happening to unarmed civilians.  Later we got the full report that exploding percussion grenades had severely damaged a native woman’s eye and blown off most of the arm of a 21-year-old woman from New York. Several hundred were hospitalized for hyperthermia and injuries.  In earlier confrontations, non-violent Water Protectors defending sacred sites from bulldozers were beaten with batons, bitten by vicious dogs, arrested, stripped searched and locked up for days in jail cells or held in dehumanizing dog kennels.
 
Now we were meeting victims first hand. The native-led Water Protectors, as they call themselves, rather than protestors, are living in nearby encampments to defend the land, water and sacred sites of the Sioux. There is no running water in the camps, so as other hotel guests were doing, we offered our rooms for hot showers. A young native man still covered with tear gas residue sprayed on him three days earlier, was suffering from a deep cough.  Another had a broken hand. A native woman who worked on camp security fell asleep from exhaustion on one of our beds. Before taking his shower, a non-native ally who served as a medic showed us a blue colored rubber bullet about the size of a golf ball, one of many that had lacerated heads, broken bones and knocked people unconscious, including an elder. The medic had been thrown backward when he was hit squarely in the chest.  He thought that surely, the large red cross he wore on the front of his jacket had been used as a target.
 
When I first caught sight of the law enforcement officers a few days later, I felt a chill.  Dozens of helmeted policeman stood in a row along the high ridge of Turtle Island, a place of ancient burial sites sacred to the Sioux.  Dark figures silhouetted against the sky loomed menacingly above the peaceful protestors gathered at the base of the hill holding a large banner reading Indigenous Sovereignty Protects Water. Behind them along the banks of the Cannonball River sprawled an encampment of teepees, tents, yurts, trailers, horse corrals and old school buses. Guarding the bridge where the recent attack had taken place, another row of police officers in riot gear wearing black helmets with face guards held bully sticks across their bullet proof vests as they stood behind shining coils of razor wire and concrete barriers flanked by armored vehicles.
 
These armed forces were protecting what lay out of view behind them - the construction of the oil pipeline headed toward the nearby Missouri River. The original route of the pipeline had run to the north near the city of Bismarck, a largely white community that had insisted the pipeline be rerouted down stream to cross the river next to the Sioux reservation. If successful the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) would bore under the river, threatening the source of drinking water for the reservation and millions downstream in its mission to carry 20 million gallons a day of crude oil fracked from the Bakken oil fields.  With the frequency of oil spills increasing, including two major recent spills in North Dakota, the danger is real. If the pipeline does succeed in bringing the oil to market, it will produce the carbons equivalent to 30 coal power plants every year for 20 years or more. 
 
Mni Wiconi -- Water is Life -- is the call from Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), the largest of several camps at Standing Rock, named for the seven tribes of the Sioux nation, which include the Lakota.  Located next to the reservation and preserved for indigenous use under the 1851 Treaty of Laramie, this land was never ceded by the Sioux.  Oceti Sakowin and the first camp called Sacred Stone were started in the spring of 2016, and joined by several other encampments, all run by volunteers. Non-violent and spiritually centered, the Standing Rock movement honors the sacredness of the natural world. Throughout the campsDefend the Sacred is printed on banners and on t-shirts proudly worn by native teenagers. All seven tribes of the great Sioux Nation, some former enemies, have joined together at Oceti Sakowin for the first time since Little Big Horn.  Along the camp’s main road wave the colorful flags of some 300 tribes who have journeyed across the Americas, from Argentina to Alaska, bringing traditional dress, ceremonial pipes and drums to join the Sioux in the largest gathering of Native Americans in recorded history.
 
In support of this native-led movement tens of thousands of non-native allies have joined the camps swelling them at one point to as many as 10,000.  Many more have visited to bring supplies and resources to support Standing Rock. Our group of 35 traveled to North Dakota to cook and serve 2000 dinners on Thanksgiving to express our gratitude to Native Americans for protecting Mother Earth, as they have throughout history. The Wopila (thank you) Brigade, as we called ourselves, spent two days at the Standing Rock Community High School kitchen, preparing the dinner, which we served in the school gymnasium, as well as distributed in the camps. Our brigade worked hand-in-hand with the school staff, who brushed away tears when they thanked us for coming, explaining that for so long the native community had felt unseen and forgotten. 
 
Our dinner began with a prayer by elder Jesse Taken Alive who had given a Lakota name to the event that translates Because We Believe Them, We Are Feeding Them. In continuous loops from the camps, the Water Protectors arrived in school buses and were offered hot showers in the locker rooms before heading to the buffet.  Jane Fonda appeared and asked me how she could help.  “How about dishing out the mashed potatoes,” I suggested, which she happily did.  With their plates heaping with turkey, potatoes and gravy, and an array of vegetable dishes, our guests made their way to the gymnasium to take seats at long banquet tables we had covered in the Sioux colors of the four directions - red, yellow, black and white. Displayed on the tables and along one wall were colorful thank you cards made by Philadelphia area school children drawn in crayon with messages such as, “thank you First Nation People for helping the air and water and earth. Ethan, third grader.”
 
During the dinner, an open mike attracted a variety of speakers, singers and performers, including some from our delegation, such as Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir from NYC, who also bussed tables as new groups arrived for dinner. After a native drum circle performance, the leader asked those who had prepared the feast to come forward. As we knelt at the edge of the stage, a seemingly endless line of Water Protectors filed past us shaking hands, giving hugs and thanking us for the feast, creating an emotional ending to an evening that had united people from across the country in support of a cause that no single one of us could fully comprehend in its enormity, yet each had come to serve in our own modest way.
 
Following Thanksgiving, our group spent several days at Oceti Sakowin, beginning with an orientation for new arrivals. Sitting on straw bales in a tent, we were schooled by seasoned non-natives about Lakota values and made to understand that this indigenous-led movement is a continuation of 500 years of resistance to colonization. As guests at this ceremonial prayer camp, we were expected to give more than we take, be of use in the maintenance of the camp, and unlearn our unconscious acts of white privilege, including our desire to control and push forward our own ideas. We were instructed to listen and learn, show compassion for all, including ourselves when we made mistakes, honor wisdom and truth, and act respectfully and with humility.
 
At Oceti Sakowin, where weapons, drugs and alcohol are banned, we observed native people and their allies living in a welcoming, inclusive community that exemplified these values. When someone needed something, it was given freely, as we found when we waited in line for a cup of coffee or tea or came into a tent set up as a store that offered hundreds of items from lanterns to toothpaste at no charge. Both native and non-native volunteers had traveled far, leaving jobs and families to join the cause – cooking, cleaning, chopping wood, organizing supplies, helping to build tiny houses and install solar panels.  Many had been serving at Standing Rock for over six months. In kitchens set up in large military tents throughout the camps, volunteers cooked three meals a day for thousands of hungry Water Protectors, using donated supplies that continually streamed into the camps. There was a sense of abundance, an almost magical flow of energy that I can only imagine as the power of love, and an indomitable feeling of hope in the collective resolve of this native-led, multi-cultural, intergenerational movement.
 
Around the Sacred Fire, always kept burning in the center of camp, drums beat and elders share wisdom for those who come to learn. Native youth from many tribes play a central role in leadership in the Standing Rock movement, speaking for the community at press conferences, organizing actions and patrolling the borders of the camps on horseback. Each morning before dawn during our visit, Water Protectors gathered around the Sacred Fire and an elder led a procession down to the river for a water ceremony just as the sun rose above the distant hills. As we engaged in these ceremonies, Standing Rock called us to feel our own spiritual connection to Mother Earth and be guided by her intelligence. 
 
Despite the history of abuse and betrayal against them, the native people of Standing Rock offer love to all, even the oppressors.  They are defending not only the future of their own children, they explain, but the children of the policemen and pipe layers as well. The native elders offer kind words to the police officers whenever there is contact. After the most vicious attacks, an elder formed a forgiveness procession to the sheriff’s office carrying a banner and a prayer bundle with blessings for the police officers and their families.  When the sheriff posted a notice in the newspaper requesting donations for items the officers needed, a group of indigenous youth delivered all the supplies listed, including milk, energy bars, batteries and hand warmers.
 
For over 500 years, Native Americans have repeated the same story – we must care for Mother Earth, so that she can care for us. Finally, the descendants of white settlers are beginning to listen.  Millions of supporters have joined this native-led movement by donating money and supplies, making calls and sending letters to government officials, holding supportive rallies under the banners of No DAPL and Water is Life, offering prayers, pulling money from banks who have invested in the pipeline company -- the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, and staging protests at bank offices.

On our last evening, three of us from our group participated in a silent procession of 1,000 women to the bridge that was the sight of the attack one week earlier.  As requested, we had first attended a training session in non-violent direct action and had registered at the legal tent, where we were given a phone number to write in marker on our arm in case we were arrested.  As instructed, I had prepared for tear gas with a pair of goggles that I had received at the free store and a wet bandana in a plastic bag stuffed in my jacket pocket.  Behind me, the procession stretched as far as I could see, dotted with colorful banners readingProtect the Sacred. As our intergenerational, multi-cultural group of women bundled in winter coats and hats, walked arm in arm toward the barricades on the bridge, we heard orders for us to stop.  As we continued moving forward, I felt a sense of dread. In the end, the military allowed the elders at the front of the march to proceed down to the river for a water ritual as the rest of us knelt on the bridge. It was the closest I came to confronting the monster.
 
During my week at Standing Rock, I witnessed a surreal, epic drama of two contrasting worldviews, one of horror and one of hope, that will determine the fate of life on Earth. The Black Snake, driven by greed, uses violence and fear to dominate people and nature, and measures success by short-term profits and the accumulation of material wealth. This extractive economy is fed by rampant consumerism and our own addiction to oil and gas. It is a world where corporations violate Mother Earth every day by drilling, fracking, mountaintop removal, poisoning of water, soil and air, and the destruction of forests, marshes and the habitats of wildlife.
 
In contrast, the encampment at Standing Rock offers us a world we can choose to build together, one that is nonviolent, cooperative and loving, that honors women, the old and the young, and respects all species in the web of life. It is a world building a restorative economy that will produce the basic needs of all people, while protecting and restoring natural systems. It is a world of awe, wonder and joy that honors our one Mother Earth.
 
Standing Rock calls us to join the struggle to defeat the Black Snake, inspiring us to act with courage to protect our own communities and the future of the children we love. Around the globe indigenous people are standing on the front lines in defense of their places. As the prophecy further warns, if the Earth’s people do not unite to defeat the Black Snake, the world will end. As we near catastrophic climate change, this could be our last chance, individually and as a nation, to choose life over money, love over fear and join as one people.  The story of the Black Snake is not over yet, but the conclusion is near. What role will each of us play in the outcome?
 
 
 
Epilogue:
The first major snowstorm arrived the morning we left.  As the bitter Dakota winter descended, the tribal council, concerned for their safety, asked the Water Keepers to move from the camps, leaving a contingent of 1000 or so to hold the space.  In the spring, Oceti Sakowin, which grew organically on a flood plain, will move to higher ground. With both the immediate need and the future in mind, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has planned an all-weather eco-village on 50 acres of the reservation.  The Mni Wiconi Sustained Community will model a locally based restorative economy of sustainably produced food, energy and building materials.  It will be a sacred gathering place for generations to come, and a place to remember and honor the history being made at Standing Rock, while celebrating an economy and way of living that is dramatically less dependent on fossil fuels. During our preparation for the trip, our Wopila Brigade helped raise over $70,000 for the first building in the eco-village called Makigi Oti, the Brown Earth Lodge, and a larger fundraising campaign is now underway.
 
As we left Standing Rock over 2500 US veterans of foreign wars began arriving to act as unarmed human shields in defense of the Water Protectors. Later we heard the story of a gathering when hundreds of veterans asked for forgiveness from native elders, as they acknowledged the history of genocide and theft of the land. An elder expressed forgiveness and added, We do not own the land, the land owns us. Could Standing Rock signal a new era in American history when we address the historic injustice on which our country was founded, defend the sovereign rights of the first people and protect the land and water they have held sacred for tens of thousands of years?
 
After our return home, I watched a jubilant scene at Standing Rock on live stream as the tribal chair announced the exciting news - the Army Corp of Engineers had denied the permit needed to bore under the river and called for a full environmental impact statement for rerouting the pipeline. A well-earned victory for the Sioux and their allies, but by no means the end of the struggle.  A climate-denying president-elect with strong financial and political ties to the fossil fuel industry and personal investments in the pipeline, will soon take office. Following the announcement of the permit denial by the Obama administration, the pipeline company immediately issued a defiant statement vowing to complete the project under the river without rerouting.  
 
 
The three photos were taken by the author at the women’s silent peace march on November 27, 2016.  For additional photos and a more detailed story of the Wopila Brigade, click here:
 
www.judywicks.com/standingrockphotoalbum
 
 
Resources:
 
To contribute to building the Mni Wiconi Sustained Community, go to:
www.BuildWithStandingRock.today
 
To find out if your bank is among those financing the Dakota Pipeline, go to:
www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/how-to-contact-the-17-banks-funding-the-dakota-access-pipeline-20160929)
 
To find a local struggle to defeat the Black Snake or add your group, go to:
www.stopthepipelines.org/
 
To support the winter camp at Oceti Sakowin:
www.ocetisakowincamp.org/donate

All three photos taken by Judy at the women's silent march on November 27

Why I'm Going to Standing Rock for Thanksgiving

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This Thanksgiving, I’m going to Standing Rock with a delegation of over 50 people from across the US to cook and serve dinner for 500 of the Water Protectors as a small way to give back to Native Americans on our national day of thanks.

Looking back on history, Native Americans saved the lives of newly arrived Europeans in what is now Massachusetts by sharing their harvest in the winter of 1620. The Wampanoag, who had lived in the region for some 12,000 years, taught the settlers to grow native crops. The Wampanoag were not the only tribe to be generous. In the earliest days, many tribes throughout the Americas helped new settlers survive.  

The foods the natives shared with settlers were not just growing wild. They were cultivated over many generations by native people who had a deep connection to the land. Today, many vegetables and fruits in our diet were first cultivated by Native Americans, including foods found on the Thanksgiving table - potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, and cranberry. The turkey many enjoy on Thanksgiving Day was first domesticated by Native Americans.

The idyllic traditional story of the first Thanksgiving in which the settlers shared with the native people in 1621 is largely a myth. Tragically and shamefully, what followed the European arrival was five hundred years of genocide and betrayal of Native Americans.  To this day, treaties are being broken for the benefit of white expansionism.  In North Dakota, survivors of the genocide are taking a stand against the construction of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, planned to carry highly flammable crude oil under the Missouri River, endangering the drinking water for millions downstream and threatening sacred burial grounds. If successful in eventually reaching refineries on the Gulf and East Coasts, the project will become the source of carbon emissions equivalent to nearly 30 coal plants every year for the next 20-30 years.

The Standing Rock Sioux, joined by native people belonging to some 300 tribes from across the Americas, are camped along the Missouri river to protect their water, land and way of life. Rather than protestors, the natives call themselves Protectors and are risking their own safety and comfort to non-violently stand up to corporate control and the militarism of armed police in riot gear. The Protectors say they are working for a healthy future for all of our children and grandchildren, including those of the pipeline workers and police officers.  

Native leader Dallas Goldtooth explains, "The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for. We advocate for localized, small-scale renewable energy production. The same with food production, localized and sustainable.” I’m going to Standing Rock because I share this vision for our future. A localized economy will not only decrease the power of large corporations and cut down on the carbons of long distance shipping, but will also make our communities more resilience and self-reliant. At the same time, decentralizing our economy spreads business ownership and wealth more broadly and creates meaningful local jobs, building a more just and sustainable economy.

I’m going to Standing Rock in hopes that this stand begins a new era in American history when the rights and sovereignty of indigenous people are defended, as well as the rights of nature. As our country reels in the aftermath of a divisive election, now is the time for all people to stand together and become the America that we are meant to be.

I’m going to Standing Rock because the native people are spiritually evolved with a deep reverence for nature.  In observing their leadership, I recognize the values needed to move our country forward - respect for Mother Earth and all species, cooperation, generosity, non-violence, humility and love.

I’m going to Standing Rock to give back to Native Americans for first cultivating many foods that nourish me and for helping the early settlers survive, including my own ancestors who were aided by the Wampanoag in Massachusetts and the Lenape in Pennsylvania.  

I’m going to Standing Rock because I want to tell the story of the Protectors’ courage and love of the land to inspire other communities to defend our watersheds - to stop fracking, drilling, pipelines, refineries and all fossil fuel infrastructure that is leading toward the end of life on Earth as we know it. Standing Rock is a call to all of us to protect what we love.

I’m going to Standing Rock because our civilization, addicted to oil and the wasteful life-style it supports, is racing blindly toward our own extinction by climate chaos and toxicity. Yet again, Native Americans are leading us toward our survival.

A Lakota prophecy speaks of a Black Snake crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation.  The Black Snake is now inching toward the Missouri River.  The Black Snake is a monster driven by greed, destroying all of life in its path and even devouring the children of tomorrow.

I'm going to Standing Rock because I hear a voice saying, “Follow the Indians. They know the way.”

                                  - Judy Wicks, November 17, 2016

If you would like to help build an all-weather straw bale community center for tribal meetings at Standing Rock, please go to:  https://honorearth.nationbuilder.com/makagioti

 

Funds for the Water Protectors Community Appreciation Dinner are being collected at www.gofundme.com/ThanksgivingAtStandingRock

The Beauty - and Power - of Small Business

Like many entrepreneurs, I started my business for the freedom it gave me to do things my own way. I was more individualistic than cooperative, and had a lone ranger mentality.  But I wanted to do the right thing and be a sustainable business. At first my goal was to have the best possible practices – recycling, composting, solar hot water, renewable electricity, buying fair trade, paying a living wage – within my company. What could be better?

In the 1980s when my restaurant began buying from local farmers, my intention was to develop a network of farmers to supply my restaurant with pasture-raised meat and poultry, and organic fruits and vegetables. As the only restaurant offering an abundance of humane and sustainably grown local farm products, this would be our market niche, our competitive advantage. But in a transformational moment, I realized that there is no such thing as one sustainable business, no matter how hard we might try. We can only be part of a sustainable system.

Envisioning a whole regional food system that incorporated the values I upheld, I began helping other restaurants, even my competitors, to buy from an expanding network of local farmers. Rather than focusing only on the short-term interests of my own business, I turned my attention to the long-term economic sustainability of my region by working to build a local economy that benefited everyone – family farmers, farm animals, local businesses, rural and urban citizens, and the quality of our soil, air, and water. And, of course, it benefited the long-term interests of my business, too. Transitioning to a just and sustainable economic system, I discovered, requires cooperation and sharing.

By 2001, when I co-founded BALLE, I realized that the freedom I so valued when I began my business was being threatened by an overpowering force. It was not the communist threat I had been taught to fear as a child in the 50s, but rather American capitalism gone amok.  It was clear that multi-national corporations were largely controlling the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the fuel we burn, the news we hear and even the government we depend upon to protect the common good.  

Centralized production has made communities around the world dependent on long distance supply chains to deliver basic needs like food, clothing, and energy from faraway corporations. This industrialized economic system has destroyed local economies, drained wealth from our communities, and left people jobless. It has also made us less happy.  Local businesses – the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker – once provided the personal relationships that formed the foundation for community life.

Though it’s called “economic development,” those on the production side of the supply chains in developing countries, indigenous communities and low-income populations are often forced into bleak, soulless jobs in sweatshops and factories, factory farms and plantations, drilling and mining sites and billowing refineries that are destroying the local culture and natural environment.  No happiness here.

A decentralized economy not only creates more business ownership and job opportunities in our own communities, but also increases food and energy security. The role of small business owners is crucial in producing, distributing, and retailing basic needs locally.  By working together, small businesses, local governments and citizens can create an alternative to corporate-controlled globalization and the destruction and inequality it brings – an alternative that builds long-term community wealth, protects our local eco-system, creates meaningful jobs, and brings greater happiness. 

In these challenging times of climate change there is urgency. Not only is local production reducing the carbon of long distance shipping, we are preparing our communities for the inevitable consequences of climate change by decreasing our dependence on global supply chains easily disrupted by erratic weather, social upheaval, rising transportation costs, and the fluctuations of prices in the global marketplace.

Across the continent, networks of local businesses are cooperating to build local supply chains, replacing imports and building local self-reliance in an interdependent local economy of human-scale businesses. Not only are local farms providing fresh produce in farmers markets and grocery stores, but local food enterprises are stocking the middle aisles of our grocery stores year round with a wide array of products from canned and jarred goods to pasta and locally-milled heritage grains.  We can now put our local cheese on a locally made cracker and wash it down with local beer, wine, or even a martini made with locally-distilled gin.

Fibersheds are producing and processing local wool, cotton, and increasingly hemp into textiles and clothing in a dirt-to-shirt movement. Local designers, sewers, makers, and retailers are bringing unique character and identity to towns and cities. Local green builders and architects, weatherization companies, renewable energy suppliers, and rooftop solar installers are transforming the industry to meet the challenge of climate change.

But this new economy is not only local.  It’s about building a global network of local economies that produce basic needs locally, export the surplus, import (through fair trade practices) goods not available locally, and develop products unique to the region for exchange in the global marketplace – be it a fashion design, fine wine or cheese, artwork, or entrepreneurial innovation.

Since freedom has always been important to me, I now work collaboratively in my local business network to defend our democratic rights as many other business leaders are doing across the country. Using the collective voice of small business, we are challenging public policies that favors corporate control and demanding legislation that supports the emergence of an economy that works for all, while protecting the natural environment for future generations.

Making a living by doing something we love is a way to express our deepest values, live up to our full potential, and find purpose and meaning. I witness this on the shining faces of a local boutique owner when she shows me a dress she designed, and the farmer coming in the back door of a restaurant with a flat of organic strawberries, or a young man who has been trained in a green jobs program to install solar panels on my roof. Business is beautiful when we put our energy, creativity, and care into producing a product or service that our community needs.  Shine on beautiful businesses, shine on!

Can also be read on www.alternet.org

 

I Admire Hillary, but I'm Voting for Bernie

Bernie has not given up on his dreams. He believes that young people should be given a college education to reach their full potential without the burden of excessive debt. He believes that peace is the way, and not won by violent means. He believes that all people should be treated with dignity, compassion and fairness, whether they are immigrants, the incarcerated, or Palestinians.

Hillary is strong and capable, but she has forgotten what is possible even in her own wild imagination.  She has forgotten the promise of America.  Hillary has survived, even thrived, in a world where dreams are sacrificed for what is achievable within a corrupt system - one run by and for the oil and gas men, big ag, big pharm, big arms, big banks.  The rest of us are handed just enough to keep us complacent.  

But no longer.  A growing number of we the people are no longer accepting the destruction of our democracy and the shattering of our collective dreams for equality and justice, and freedom from oppression by the most powerful. Today, we citizens are called upon to continue the struggle to bring these dreams into being – to live out our destiny as the country America is meant to be.

Bernie has launched a revolution to free our country from corporate rule and keep our dreams alive.  They are not fantasies, as some suggest. They are the same hopes and dreams that have built this country.

The revolution begins with Bernie’s refusal to take corporate money in a campaign funded on an unprecedented scale by ordinary people. It is a political revolution that plans not only to take the White House, but the Senate, too, and eventually the House, in order to overthrow the oligarchy and restore democratic rule.

Bernie is leading a clean energy revolution that will bring green power to the people and outlaw fracking, not just some fracking as Hillary advocates, but all fracking.  Bernie understands that climate change is an urgent issue - no time for half measures.

Bernie is leading an economic revolution that stops job-exporting trade deals and builds an economy that protects our environment, while providing living wage green jobs – an economy with local manufacturing and regional food systems comprised of family farms, not corporate factory farms.

Bernie is leading a peace revolution that does not support coups or the invasion of other countries to topple their leaders as Hillary and her advisor Henry Kissinger have done.

Ultimately, Bernie is leading what Dr. King called a “Revolution of Values,” attacking the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” that he warned are incapable of being conquered as long as “profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people.”

Like millions of others, I’ve joined Bernie’s revolution. I am sad not to vote for Hillary. As a woman of her generation, I have been waiting for this moment most of my life.  But she is not the leader that is called for now. If Hillary wins the primary, surely I will work hard for her. The alternative is unthinkable. But my dream is not just to have a woman in the White House, but to elect a president with strong feminine energy in balance with the masculine - one who leads with love.  Just as Bernie does.

 

 



 

Building a Peace Economy

When attending meetings with peace and justice activists, I often find myself the only business person in the room. Inevitably, someone makes a comment about the evils of business, or greedy capitalists, or some other negative comment that implies business people are the enemy.

I couldn’t agree more about the harm done by profit-driven multinational corporations, but what about businesspeople like me who are working to build a new economy, one that is more just and sustainable?

Because they view all business in a negative light, many activists don’t seem to think it matters where they spend their money. This experience showed me the wide gap that exists between the peace and justice movement and the local economy movement. Just think how much more powerful we would be in changing the world for the better if we worked together to build a peace economy.

Our Economic Choices Have Consequences

Most economic transactions we make in our daily lives ultimately contribute toward building a peace economy or a war economy, a world of compassion and well being, or a world of indifference and violence. Have you ever imagined that we consumers have such power? Likely not.

Materialism teaches us simply to spend without thinking. But there are consequences to our everyday economic decisions that cumulatively build an economic system that has tremendous impact on other people, and our entire planet.

Materialism and militarism are closely related. Along with racism they form the giant triple evils that Dr. King called upon us to defeat. Each of the three leads us toward cruelty and war, and each depends on a complacent citizenry. By becoming informed about the impact of our decisions and learning to use our economic power mindfully we have the ability to co-create an economy that works for all and bring into being the world we want to live in—one that is healthy, just and peaceful.  

Protecting Corporate Interests

Since the rise of colonialism, the global economy has been built on exploitation of indigenous populations and their natural resources, and continues today under the guise of economic development. Profit-driven transnational corporations with a grow-or-die mandate have an ever-expanding need for more and more natural resources, cheap labor and new markets in which to sell their products. As nation-states have done throughout history, the U.S. government deploys our military, or its surrogates, to ensure access for U.S. corporations, whether it's oil in the Middle East, cheap labor in Central America or new markets in Asia.

“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” quipped Thomas Friedman. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15."

Not only do they use the fist of the military to protect their interests, these powerful corporations also wield alarming control over most important aspects of our daily lives: the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the news we hear, and even the government we rely on to protect the interests of its citizens.

Where does corporate power come from? We consumers hand it over when we purchase their products, deposit our money in their banks and invest in them through the stock market. It would be one thing if these corporations had our best interests in mind, but they too often make decisions to increase short-term profits, with little regard for the long-term impact on people and planet.

Numbed by pervasive advertising that equates happiness with consumption, citizens are often oblivious to the harm being done by our corporate-controlled global economic system. Meanwhile, we are losing our freedom to corporate control, creating the conditions for continuous war and the destruction of the natural systems that support life on Earth.  

Another Economy Is Possible

There is an alternative to corporate domination and the violence and ruin it brings. By building a new global economy in which every community has food and water security and locally produced renewable energy, we can create the foundation for world peace. The British economist and author of Small Is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher, puts it simply: “People who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.”

Don’t be overwhelmed by the enormity of rebuilding our global economy. Begin at home in your own community. Working together, local entrepreneurs, conscientious consumers and local governments can build regional economies that produce food, clothing, building materials, renewable energy and other supplies locally, using fair and sustainable practices.

Decreasing our dependency on corporations increases opportunities for local ownership and meaningful job creation. Locally owned businesses hire local workers and purchase their supplies and services from other local businesses to produce the products needed by their communities.

Excess production can be exported to other communities and products not available locally can be imported through fair trade relationships that provide a living wage in the communities where the products originated. 

We can develop products unique to our region for exchange in the global marketplace, be it a fashion design, fine wine or cheese, works of art and music, or an entrepreneurial innovation. In this way, we can connect to other local economies through win-win economic exchange, and gradually build a new global economy; one that is a network of sustainable and just local economies.

The Localism Movement

Over the past 15 years, the modern-day local economy movement has grown and strengthened. It is supported by nationwide organizations, but primarily catalyzed by countless local efforts dedicated to building regional food systems and supporting local manufacturers and retailers.  

Maybe there is an effort underway in your own community that you could help support. “Think Local First” campaigns encourage citizens to buy first from local businesses, which keeps money circulating within local economies rather than be siphoned off  by a corporation, which is what happens when you shop at chain stores. Shopping local is even more impactful when local retailers sell products that are grown or manufactured locally.

Consumers can become producers by leaving corporate jobs and starting businesses needed by our communities and by making products to sell or use at home in the growing do-it-yourself and makers movements. Decentralizing business ownership moves economic power from distant boardrooms to our own communities, increasing community wealth and strengthening our democracy.

Climate change adds urgency to the need for a local economy movement. Environmentally sustainable local production of our basic needs reduces the amount of carbon from shipping that is contributing to climate change. It also prepares our communities for the consequences of climate disruption, so that we are not reliant on supply chains that can be affected by extreme weather, social instability, rising fuel costs, and fluctuating prices in the global marketplace.

The localism movement is not only a peace movement, it is also a pro-democracy movement.  Though U.S. citizens fear centralized state control, we often neglect to see that centralized corporate power is the other side of the same coin. Today, the collusion of corporate and state power threatens our democracy. Lobbying and unbridled campaign finance by corporations and the very wealthy has resulted in policies that support corporate control. Getting money out of politics is crucial to saving our democracy.  

Ultimately, the localist movement seeks to build a global system of human-scale, interconnected local economies that support just and democratic societies and meet the basic needs of all the world’s people while protecting and restoring the local ecosystems on which our lives depend.

The Role of Fair Trade

When goods are not available locally, such as coffee, tea, spices, sugar, or bananas, fair trade importers offer local retailers the opportunity to stock their shelves with products that are certified fair trade to insure that workers make a living wage in the communities where products originate. Some of the most egregious violations of workers' rights, including modern-day slavery and child labor, take place in developing countries where U.S. corporations seek low-cost production of food and textiles. The chocolate industry, for instance, is notorious for using slaves to grow cocoa beans in Africa.  

Local Energy Security

Oil is the life-blood of corporate globalization. It is important for both environmental reasons and equality to wean ourselves off using fossil fuels to power our homes and vehicles, and to build energy security based on locally produced renewables such as solar and wind. Reputable scientists now all agree that burning fossil fuels, mainly coal, oil and natural gas, is the root cause of climate change.  

Sources for oil and gas are no longer easily accessible. More drastic and dangerous methods of extraction are being used such as deep-sea oil drilling and fracking for natural gas. Increasing numbers of oil spills are devastating coastal populations from the tropics to the arctic, killing untold numbers of birds, fish and other sea life and disrupting natural systems.

Fracking for natural gas has poisoned local aquifers in mostly poor, rural communities and disrupted life with loud equipment and heavy trucks on country roads. To protect the most vulnerable and to keep the planet viable for future generations, we must all work to break our addiction to oil and gas and move to a low-carbon lifestyle. In most states, there is the option to switch electric providers to buy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass, rather than coal, gas, oil and nuclear. No matter how the electricity is generated, the electrons are mixed together in the grid and delivered through the wires of the local electric utility company, so no rewiring is needed.

Another option is rooftop solar installations. These supply renewable electricity directly to a household rather than through the grid. There are programs available in many communities to partially or fully fund the installation of solar panels through grants or loans. Solar installations pay for themselves over time. After paying off loans for the installation, households can actually make money by selling excess solar-produced electricity to the grid to be used elsewhere.  

Phasing out natural gas and oil and relying totally on sustainably produced electricity to heat, cool and run our households and vehicles is the path to a planet-saving lifestyle. Additionally, when we stop buying oil, gas and coal, we are shifting economic power from concentrated wealth to broadly distributed wealth and power. “Green power to the people” has two meanings!

The first step toward energy savings is to make sure our homes are well insulated and that doors and windows are not drafty. Having an energy audit is a good first step. In many communities, there are services for low-income communities to provide assistance in weatherizing homes and increasing energy efficiency.

Slowing down and changing our means of transportation is another important way to gain energy security and address climate change. Using public transportation, biking, walking or driving an electric car run on renewably generated electricity, as well as limiting or ending air travel, are important ways to eliminate carbons. 

As Pope Francis points out, climate change is most harmful to the world’s poor and disproportionately to people of color. Many populations which rely directly on farming and fishing are seeing their livelihoods be disrupted by droughts, storms and new climate-induced infestations of destructive insects and disease. 

The disaster in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a good example. Without the resources to move from areas of rising sea levels and flooding rivers and rebuild after increasingly extreme and destructive weather patterns, the world’s poor are bearing the brunt of catastrophic climate change.  

Local Food Security

Across the globe, farmland is being confiscated from indigenous farmers by corporations who impose an industrial system of monocrops, chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and hideously cruel animal factories that destroy rural communities, degrade the soil, and pollute the air and water. Food bred for long shelf life on these industrial farms is less flavorful and nutritious than locally and sustainably raised fruits and vegetables grown for immediate consumption. Meat and poultry from animal factories contain unhealthy drugs and hormones and come from animals who endure unspeakable deprivation and pain. 

Developing a sustainable regional food system is vital to taking economic control of our daily lives. The local food movement is gaining strength in the effort to decentralize our food system so that  small, diversified farmers, who are proper stewards of the land and farm animals, feed their local communities. A growing number of communities now have access to local farm markets and stores that offer fruits, vegetables, and humanely produced meat, dairy and eggs from local farms.

The consumer’s role is crucial in this effort to build regional food security. Rather than buying food from chain stores and restaurants, it is important to spend our dollars at farmers’ markets and locally owned stores and restaurants supplied by local farms whenever possible so that the local farms and food enterprises can increase their capacity.

In many communities, CSAs—Community Supported Agriculture—are available. These are programs where households invest in farms in the springtime and receive a box of fruit and vegetable every week during the growing season. Food cooperatives owned by consumers provide lower-cost groceries and usually include local produce and fair trade products.  

Consumers are also becoming food producers. In urban areas, food is grown in containers and raised beds, on rooftops and in community gardens where land is shared among multiple households. In the suburbs, lawns are being transformed into gardens.

Economically viable urban farms use raised-beds and hydroponics on once vacant land—often brownfields contaminated by former industry—to feed a neighborhood and supply local restaurants and stores. This also provides job opportunities to inner city residents. Consumers are becoming entrepreneurs, starting small food enterprises that turn local produce into pickles, sauces, soups, jams and jellies, canned fruits and vegetables, energy bars, and many other products that can be consumed year-round. Milk from local grassfed cows, sheep and goats is being used to make cheese, yogurt and ice cream. 

Local Water Security

Struggles over control of clean water are increasing across the globe. Because of pollution and misuse, as well as increasing droughts, clean water is becoming scarce in many places and is expected to someday be more valuable than oil. In many communities there are battles over who controls the water: a corporation or the public. Of course, when corporations gain control, the cost of water to citizens goes up to increase corporate profits rather than sustain a public utility.

In some communities, aquifers that supply local drinking water are being drained by bottled water and soda companies or by corporations to irrigate mega-farms or cool nuclear reactors. In the U.S., tap water is regulated and inspected by local government, while bottled water is not. Studies have found tap water to contain fewer contaminants than bottled water.

Citizens can help by joining local fights to preserve public ownership of water. But on a daily basis we can all make a difference by using tap water in reusable bottles rather than buying bottled water or sodas. Bottled water and soda not only increase the waste of plastic and aluminum containers and burn carbons by shipping liquids long distances, but they also increase corporate control of water.

The soda industry is immensely profitable to corporations while providing an unhealthy and in some cases addictive product to consumers, adding to the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Sustainable Clothing

The fashion industry is one of the world’s worst polluters due to the use of toxic dyes and fabrics produced with extensive use of pesticides. The industry is also known for sweatshops and egregious labor practices. Shopping at locally owned boutiques that carry locally made and sustainable clothing is ideal. For communities that don’t have such boutiques there are some responsible manufacturers who sell fair trade, sustainably produced fashion nationwide.  

Clothing swaps and shopping at thrift stores for pre-owned clothing is not only less expensive but better for the environment. Wearing homemade and thrift shop clothing is a fashion statement admired among localists and environmentalists. Americans recycle only 15% of our used clothing and toss 10.5 million tons into the landfill, yet we continue to buy more and more clothing. Let’s start by buying less and save our money to buy locally and sustainably made.

Banking and Investing

When we invest in local businesses, we get not only a financial return, but also a living return: the benefit of living in a more sustainable and healthy community. When we invest in the stock market, we are perpetuating a system driven by profit that is increasing inequality and environmental destruction.

Publicly traded mega banks have enormous power, draining capital from local communities that could be invested locally. Banking through local banks and credit unions strengthens  local borrowing power and keeps banking profits local. Some communities have community reinvestment funds that provide a vehicle for local investment in small businesses, affordable housing, wind turbines and other community needs.

In recent years, crowdsourcing through online vehicles such as Kiva Zip have allowed for investments as small as $5 to support small local businesses. A growing number of local investment clubs have provided a vehicle for community members to invest collectively in local businesses through loans or capital investments with risk shared by the group.

Reduce, Reuse, recycle

Consumerism encourages us to buy things we don’t need. One of the first steps in living sustainably is to buy less. Think twice before making a purchase to determine if it is necessary.

The next most important step is to reuse products multiple times. For instance, wood harvested from demolition sites can be reused in new construction and renovations. Similarly, textiles can be reused to make new clothing, slipcovers or curtains.

When we must throw something away, it’s important to recycle as much as possible. Most communities have programs to recycle paper, aluminum, plastic, and even electronics. It’s important to sort these materials carefully and put them out for pick up.  

Composting fruit and vegetable food waste is an important part of the food cycle, which returns nutrients to the soil. Putting food waste into plastic trash bags destined for the landfill is a waste of this valuable resource. Many communities have compost pickup and it is also possible to do one’s own composting for use in home gardens.

A Revolution of Values

In 1967, when Dr. King expressed concern about the triple evils of materialism, militarism and racism, he suggested that we need a “revolution of values” to defeat them.

In our society, we continue to measure success in both business and in our individual careers largely by money and accumulation of material possessions. To build a peace economy, we must change our measurement of success to value life above money. Localists measure success not by continual material growth, but by the growth of healthy communities and ecosystems. 

When we make economic decisions, rather than focusing on getting the cheapest price when we buy, the highest price when we sell, or the largest return on our investments, we must ask ourselves how those decisions will ultimately effect what we care about most—our communities, our natural world, our democracy, our children’s future.

In the business world, measuring success not simply by profits, but by the impact a business has on the lives of people and nature is often referred to as the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Rather than maximizing profits, triple-bottom-line businesses maximize relationships with all the stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, community members and the natural world.  

Localism is moving our economy from a competitive mindset to a cooperative one, from measuring success by how much we have to how much we share, and from a feeling of loneliness and despair to the joy of community. Ultimately, we are moving from “me to we” by embracing a worldview of interconnection and love rather than one of separation and fear.

Co-ops

An important vehicle for cooperation and sharing are cooperatively owned businesses, which include worker cooperatives that are often manufacturing businesses, consumer cooperatives typical of food co-ops, and producer cooperatives such as farmer or artisan cooperatives.

Land ownership is a crucial issue in building a new economy and cooperatively owned land or community land trusts provide a means for people to own farms or housing when they cannot afford the cost of land. Some cities are forming land banks to provide land for small businesses and affordable housing. Also rural and suburban areas are offering land preserved for open space to young farmers who cannot afford the high cost of buying farmland.

Natural resources such as clean air and water are part of the commons that we must protect by enforcing existing environmental laws too often disregarded by powerful corporations. The cultural commons includes publicly owned art and cultural sights that are part of our common heritage and must also be protected from profiteering.

Adopting Gandhi’s Strategy

The strategy Gandhi used in his nonviolent revolution to overthrow British tyranny is a good one for overthrowing corporate tyranny in today’s world. The conditions are similar. When India was colonized by the British, all the fields were planted with cash crops for export. As a result, the Indian people lost their food security and millions starved to death.

Gandhi told the people of India to plant community gardens so that villages could feed themselves. He also suggested they spin their own textiles. Rather than ship the Indian-grown flax and cotton off to London to be made into clothing and then shipped back for the Indian people to buy, they could make their own clothing within their local economy.

While the British believed in centralized, industrialized and mechanized modes of production. Gandhi envisioned a decentralized, homegrown, handcrafted mode of production. In his words, “Not mass production, but production by the masses.” He said mass production is only concerned with the product, whereas production by the masses is concerned with the product, the producers and the process.

Gandhi’s vision for a decentralized, small-scale economic structure in India comprised of interconnected self-reliant villages governed by participatory democracy is one we can work toward today. In this sense, Gandhi is the grandfather of the modern-day localist movement.

Gandhi knew that with the globalization of the economy, countries would go to war to protect their economic interests—military war as well as economic war. He said we cannot have real peace in the world if we look at each other's countries as sources for raw materials or as markets for finished industrial goods. "There is enough for everybody's need, but not enough for anybody's greed," said Gandhi.

Where do we begin?

Like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Gandhi’s salt march, social change begins with non-cooperation with the existing system. Once you make the choice to stop cooperating with the system you find immoral, you can begin to build an alternative.

Everyone of us can start with something we care most about – refusing to eat meat produced in factory farms, refusing to buy clothes made in sweatshops, refusing to buy chocolate that uses slave labor, refusing to buy dirty energy. Once we make a commitment to stop cooperating with a system we oppose, we can begin to build a new one that expresses the values we care most about.  

When we decentralize our economy, beginning with our food and energy systems, we decentralize ownership, wealth and power. Decentralization creates more owners.  The more owners the more equality.

By working collaboratively, the peace and justice movement and the local business  movement can build a new economy that serves all of us, while protecting our natural environment. Cooperation, generosity, and compassion for one another, as well as for other species, will assure our survival in a world at peace.

Dear Citizens of the World in 2040

Dear citizens of the world in 2040,

If you are able to read this letter, I am relieved.  I have been worrying about you- you the children of our children’s children – because today’s humans, your ancestors, are endangering your future by destroying the natural systems your lives will depend upon.  When I watch how other species care for their young – from gorillas to penguins to whales – I see how willing they are to give their very lives to secure a safe future for the next generation. Yet we humans, at least affluent Americans, seem more concerned with having a lot of stuff in our big houses then making sure that you will have the basics for a healthy life - clean air and water, healthy forests, rich soil to grow food, abundant river and sea life, a hospitable climate.

My biggest concern for your well-being is climate change. Our weather is becoming more and more destructive and unpredictable. Droughts and wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and mudslides, melting glaciers and rising seawater are threatening communities around the globe. Thousands have already been killed or displaced.  You would think that humans would be learning our lessons and building a sustainable path toward the future. But I’m worried, because even with the signs so clear there is not yet a united effort to work urgently for change. Many of our political leaders even claim that climate change is a hoax.  That’s another crisis we face in 2015 - we are loosing our democracy to bribery and greed. These politicians no longer work for the people; they work for the gas and oilmen.

 

By 2040 you will know if those of us who care about you have made a difference in turning the tide. Have we been successful in building a new economy that provides for everyone while working in harmony with natural systems?  Some say they don’t know what to do.  But it’s pretty simple.  We have to stop burning fossil fuels. It’s beginning to happen. In the US, coal is finally on the way out, but again there are many misguided in thinking that natural gas is our friend.  It’s not.  Right here in Pennsylvania fracking is destroying rural communities and forcing toxic chemicals into the ground that is poisoning our water supplies. In our cities, refineries and factories spill toxins into our air and rivers.

I thought of you when I weatherized my home for greater energy efficiency, when I signed up for buying 100% renewable from the electric company, and when I installed solar panels on my roof.  I think of you now as I convert my home to all electric power, so that I can cut off my natural gas line for good.  And I think of you, too, as I go about choosing my first all-electric car, now that my hybrid is almost 13 years old, so that I never have to buy gasoline and oil again.

My hope is that you are reading this letter in a world where humans have learned to live at peace with each other and with nature, to cooperate and share with respect for all life. When I go into the woods and meadows, I look with awe at the beauty of this world.  It’s my love for nature, for animals, for my children that give me the will to change my life and work for a sustainable future. The work of planet-saving will likely not be finished by 2040, but I hope by then that you humans of the future will have found our place on this planet, not as exploiters, but as lovers of life.  And live with great joy in your hearts.

With hope,

Judy Wicks

A Barbershop in Havana

An entrepreneur uplifts an entire neighborhood
with creativity and joy.

 

As much as I enjoy Cuba’s great music and rum, on a recent trip to the island, I was surprised to find that my most memorable experience was visiting a barbershop! Not only has Papito the barber created a shop that is a feast for the eyes, but also his mission goes beyond giving great haircuts – he gives back to his community in creative ways that uplift the entire neighborhood.

Photo by Lawrence Wicks Schlosser

Photo by Lawrence Wicks Schlosser

In Papito’s shop, the traditional barber pole swirling in red, white and blue is almost lost amidst the vast collection of original works of art. Paintings, in many sizes and styles and all with a hairdressing theme, cover most every inch of the walls from the lovely mosaic tile floors to the high vaulted ceilings, where massive crystal chandeliers light each of the three rooms. The eight or nine barber chairs are unique antiques worthy of a museum, ranging from a narrow colonial chair in wood and cast iron to a wide-armed stuffed 1950’s model covered in red and white vinyl that I was tempted to try out.

While many of the buildings in Old Havana are in critical need of repair, in fact, nearly falling down, the narrow brick street where Papito lives and works has been brought back to life by his leadership in a restoration project financed through his profits and fundraising skill. In Cuba’s gradual evolution from a centralized state-owned economy to a limited experiment in free enterprise, the ownership of houses is passing from the government to the residents and most of the new businesses are operating out of private homes. On Papito’s street examples include a boutique in the home of the dress designer, an art gallery in the painter’s home, a restaurant and a computer store. On the freshly painted stucco walls along this lively street, occasional works of art are embedded in the plaster. My favorite is an oil painting of a large piece of bread topped with a tiny barber chair where a man is looking at himself in a hand mirror. The inscription reads, “Man cannot live by bread alone.”

Photo by Lawrence Wicks Schlosser

Photo by Lawrence Wicks Schlosser

Papito’s touch is evident throughout the community. Across the street is a barber school where he trains young people and instills a pride in the trade that was transformational for him as a youth. In a community center for seniors just down the street, Papito’s team painted the walls and hung artwork to brighten the rooms. Once a month the seniors get free haircuts.

At the end of the block is a playground that Papito built on an empty lot. With the help of students from the university, the playground equipment is designed to resemble the tools of the trade – the seesaws look like scissor blades and the slide, an open razor! Through these many projects, Papito has demonstrated that privately owned small businesses can use their creativity and financial resources to serve the needs of the young and old and build a caring community.

Photo by Lawrence Wicks Schlosser

Photo by Lawrence Wicks Schlosser

During my half dozen trips to Cuba, I have come to see that the country is well positioned to develop a new economy that combines the innovation and creativity of capitalism with the foundational principle of socialism - concern for the well-being of all. With new social entrepreneurs like Papito leading the way, Cuba could well provide the world with a new economic model so crucially needed – a caring economy where businesses can be profitable, while serving the needs of their community with originality and joy.

Judy last traveled to Cuba in January 2014. Through her former international sister restaurant project at White Dog Cafe, she traveled to Cuba four times during the nineties and an additional trip to speak at a conference in Havana on sustainability and social enterprise in 1998. She continues her interest in observing Cuba’s evolving economy and hopes for an end to the immoral US embargo that has crippled this tiny country for 54 years.