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By Ayomide Fatunde

Ayomide Fatunde is an MIT-trained chemical engineer who was born in Lagos, Nigeria and grew up in Miami, Florida. She is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany where she’s been working for Daimler AG since November 2019 as part of their rotational leadership development program. Her projects centre on the company’s CO2 strategy and leverage the knowledge of power and energy systems that she picked up while working as an Engineering and Business Development Associate for PowerGen Renewable Energy (a leading microgrid developer) in Kenya. Ayo is also an amateur playwright, choreographer, poet, actress, and blogger. Most notably, her play ANTS, a one-act science fiction allegory of the modern-day Libyan slave crisis, was featured in a staged reading festival held in Boston in 2018. She also runs the blog toxicallyfeminine.com, where she does her best to remind woman that they are allowed to take up space while offering well researched perspectives on some of the most pressing issues of our society

WEAll is grateful to Ayo for sharing her personal perspective on current events in the US and beyond in this powerful piece.

America is tearing itself apart. It’s been doing so for decades. But it feels like 2020 will be the year it finally succeeds. Watching the news over the past few weeks has been an exercise in trauma for so many of us. I applaud those who are still actively engaging with all this, still protesting, still educating themselves, and still forcing this moment to be more than a hashtag. However, today I’d like to address the people who are doing all those things while still sharing memes like this:

 

This meme, as well as the fact that our President threatened civilians with military force, upsets me deeply. Many, including Minnesota governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Bill Barr, have said that the violence during protests was largely caused by radical leftist group ANTIFA and other professional instigators. Walz and some other Minnesota mayors recently walked back their statements as they realized that the rage they were witnessing in their state was very much homegrown. As this theory of violence fell through, many people began pointing out the inflammatory tactics of police departments who have planted undercover cops as instigators, left piles of bricks lying around to taunt demonstrators, driven through crowds of protesters, and pepper sprayed / tear gassed a number of state legislators for no apparent reason.

However, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint the source of violence in a protest, to rewind and pause at minute 42 and say: “see right there that was what started it all.” One common theory is that there is a two-way dependency of expectations. As in, when police arrive in riot gear expecting a fight, they generally get one. That or they end up looking like overzealous, trigger-happy cowards. Looking at some of the videos in this article by Slate magazine I’ve just linked, it’s easy to see how that could be the case. It’s also easy to see a reality in which the Boston Police Department would tell people to disperse and then shut down the 3 main train lines that people would have taken to get home. Purposefully fueling chaos so that they would be able to say: “See, we told you we needed to come with rubber bullets and tear gas. These people are dangerous. We didn’t overreact.”

All these things are very real, and we must all accept that they all took place. Yet, we must also contend with the fact that in many of the 140 cities in which protests erupted this past week, the violence was born out of pure black anger. A frustration born from the simple fact that racism is still alive and well, and in ways that are so much less in our face than police brutality. It’s always so amusing to me when young white liberals look at me in shock when I say that. But the fact of the matter is that many American cities and schools are now more segregated than they were in the 1960s. Mass incarceration means that one in thirteen African Americans were disenfranchised during the 2016 elections. And the racial wealth gap has literally been consistently gigantic for the past 50 years. (If you get stopped by the Washington Post paywall in that last link, you can also check out this episode, free on Youtube, of the Netflix show Explained.)

And once we’re all on the same page about this very righteous anger, we must then also contend with the fact that violence is a tool.

It is naive to buy into the narrative that the American Civil Rights Movement was successful because it was nonviolent. This manufactured view is the product of the way our textbooks and museums portray black rioting and militancy as counterproductive to the movement, when in fact it can be argued that there was a certain level of codependence between violence and nonviolence during the 1960s.

Prior to the spring/summer of 1963, JFK was mostly silent on the issue of civil rights. He didn’t have the political capital to alienate Southern Congressmen and still push through his New Frontier domestic policies. MLK literally sent him letters expressing how disappointed he was in the Kennedy administration. Then, Birmingham happened, and the world watched as dogs and firehoses mutilated schoolchildren. The headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were bombed. A 14-year old boy in Chicago was shot by the police. A sit-in in North Carolina was overrun by a thousand angry white people. And black people got aaangggryyy. “All of sudden”, almost every major American city was engulfed in riots. Maryland was under martial law. The peaceful protests that had been going on since the Brown v. Board ruling in 1954 became decidedly not peaceful.

It was then, and only then, that John F. Kennedy delivered his Report to the American People on Civil Rights. This speech became the foundation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the cornerstone of Kennedy’s legacy as a key force in the movement. It was the first time white America heard one of their leaders admonish racism as morally wrong. And it happened BECAUSE, not in spite, of the rising tide of violence in the nation. His administration did not want America to be seen internationally as the country that would let itself burn to the ground before granting rights to people who had been begging for it for generations.

I say all this because it seems that we, as a collective society, have forgotten. We’ve forgotten that protests transact in the currency of attention. Forgotten that civil rights leaders chose to focus on Birmingham because they viewed Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor as one of the most violent police chiefs in the nation. In an interview with the New Yorker, Omar Wasow, a professor of politics at Princeton, discusses this strategy of gaining sympathetic press by positioning nonviolence against the backdrop of state-sanctioned hyperviolence.

A similar narrative played out in South Africa during the Soweto uprising of 1976. The world watched as hundreds of school children were slaughtered by police simply for wanting to use their indigenous languages in schools, as opposed to Afrikaans (the language of their oppressors). The following year the UN Resolution that passed in 1963 and asked all states to cease the sale and shipment of all ammunition and military vehicles to South Africa was finally made mandatory. Yes, it took 14 years. But the spectacle of peaceful black bodies being mutilated by militarized white forces finally made the international community care.

The goal of any protest is to garner media attention on a mass scale because protests that do not gain attention, generally, do not achieve anything. Thus, we have to ask ourselves: would this moment in America be receiving all the attention it is receiving if the past week had seen only peaceful demonstrations?

I don’t really have an answer to that question. But I do think it’s important to firmly distinguish between types of violence. The instances in Birmingham and Soweto largely collected sympathy from the majority because protestors were the object of violence. When protesters are the perpetrators of violence, they are using the currency of fear for attention. And, well, if unarmed dead black boys have taught us anything at all, it is that white fear is powerful.

I see a lot of people saying: “hey, look, if we’re violent we’re going to alienate the people who are sympathetic to our cause.” But please ask yourself, what has their sympathy brought us? And if this is all it took to alienate them, were they ever truly allied with our cause? On a recent episode of the NYTimes podcast The Daily, my queen Nikole Hannah-Jones added this really poignant statement to the conversation:

“Black people have protested peacefully and black people have burned it down. And in the end the cycle of police violence remains largely unchanged”

So please, please, get off your high horse if you are someone judging others for wanting to transact in fear instead of sympathy.

Every once in a while, I google “Hong Kong protests” just to see if they are still going on. They are… but they are very much no longer a part of our regular news cycle. I think often about the militancy and urgency of this movement. The protective gear and riot training each protester receives. Most importantly, I think about their principle of 不割席 (“do not split”). This expression represents their commitment to never obstruct the tactics of fellow protestors, even if they disagree with these tactics. This obviously comes most into play with the question of violence. While “moderate” protesters have boycotted pro-Beijing shops, more “radical” activists have vandalized and/or burned down these shops. There are hunger strikes as well as petrol bombs. I put moderate and radical in quotes here because I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this distinction is silly.

The idea that there are good protesters and bad protesters is a false moral equivalency that leans heavily on respectability politics and says, “if you would only ask nicely, then…” Protesting is an act of civil disobedience, and we have long defined disobedience as something that is bad. That badness is the point. Trevor Noah echoes this sentiment in a recent video he posted on facebook. Protesting is meant to signal that citizens no longer feel obliged to obey the civil contract because the civil society has failed them.

That is why I find the denouncement of the looters in this week’s protests rather interesting. Like, yes, there are people taking advantage. There are people using this as an opportunity to redecorate their homes and people operating purely from greed. There are people callously attacking small businesses with minimal insurance schemes and those people make me very sad. And there was a moment earlier in June when it did seem like these people represented the majority of looters. However, looting, in and of itself, is a magnificent form of protest. In 2014, when we were all in the middle of the Ferguson protests and riots, Vicky Osterweil penned this brilliant piece called In Defense of Looting where she explains how looting reveals that “the idea of private property is just that: an idea”. She also adds that while looters simply reduce some profit margins, the shareholders of companies like Target “steal forty hours every week from thousands of employees who in return get the privilege of not dying for another seven days.”

Now, I don’t have the time or energy to turn this post into a giant critique of capitalism, but if you’re interested in diving further Jacobin Magazine would be a great place to start. The main gist is our system currently values property over human life.

But aside from capitalism just being kind of gross, there is also just the new rallying cry of: to be black in America is to be constantly looted. I can’t attribute this to a specific source because I don’t know who said it first but it’s worth repeating. It’s also worth repeating Osterweil’s quote that “the specter of slaves freeing themselves could be seen as American history’s first image of black looters.” Like, can we all just sit with that for a second? I really need everyone to internalize the fact that for so long the black identity was not one of personhood, but rather one of property. So when the president comes to the defense of property and law-and-order much quicker than he ever came to the defense of our lives, when we watch tanks roll through our streets while healthcare workers wear trash bags as DIY personal protective equipment, it feels like a slap in the face — an insult of the highest order.

To be black in America is to be constantly looted

The last time I posted on social media about police brutality, it was 2014. It was my first semester of university, we’d lost Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford… and my little brother had just turned 5 years old. I wondered then which birthday would mark his rite of passage into a bonafide black American threat.

And so this year, when cries of “I can’t breathe” started ringing again, I was brought right back to this trauma. I cried non-judiciously at various points during the last week. All the studies and histories and academic vitriol that I’ve filled this essay with only serve to help me impersonalize something that is so viscerally personal.

That same something filled me with a deep sense of joy when I saw the video of the Minneapolis Police Department burning to the ground last week. I sat there and thought, “Yes. Finally. Burn it ALL down.” And I’m not ashamed of that. And listen, I am not saying that I have a hit-for-hire ad out for all cops. I’m not saying that your father, who is a police officer, is a bad person. There is a very important distinction to be made between anger at a system and anger at the individuals that comprise that system.

When people say “F**K THE POLICE” or “Defund the police”, what they are really saying is “I have never felt protected by the police, only persecuted”. They are trying to remind America that there was once a time when Northern police officers would join white mobs to attack black families trying to move into white neighborhoods. Remind us that there was once a time in the South when Ku Klux Klan members were indistinguishable from law enforcement. And that this history has created a system whereby police patrol predominantly black neighborhoods waiting for a crime to happen, while “serving” white communities. I urge you to watch John Oliver’s most recent episode of Last Week Tonight where he explains how police forces were created as a way to keep firm control over post-abolition black lives (seriously, if you’re in a rush for time and can only look into one of the many links in this essay, I heavily recommend starting with this John Oliver video since he also directly explains what defunding the police would look like in our cities). We got here “on purpose” and this story by Nikole Hannah-Jones is a great example of what it looks like for even the most law-abiding of black citizens to be socialized to not trust the police. But also, (if they are willing and able to relive their trauma) you should speak to your black and brown friends about the personal discrimination they have faced at the hands of the police.

When people say “F**K THE POLICE” or “Defund the Police”, what they are really saying is “I have never felt protected by the police, only persecuted”.

In my mind, the police burned our communities down long before we ever even touched their station with a match. And when I say burned, I mean that literally. I mean Tulsa and the destruction in 1921 of Black Wall Street and the massacre of 300 black people who were minding their business and literally just trying to achieve the American dream. This story, though often swept under the rug by American historians, is imprinted on my brain. So, I’m not ashamed of my glee. But I am scared about what this says about the depth of hopelessness that I feel.

There’s this interview with Nina Simone where she’s asked what freedom means to her. It was 1968, MLK had just died, and Nina was touring the country singing I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, one of many songs she wrote for the civil rights movement. She takes a while to answer but eventually she says it means to be without fear.

And I keep asking myself, what do we have to do to create a world in which black people finally live without fear? We had this very same conversation in 2015, and again in 1992 with the Rodney King riots, and in 1965, and in 1943… I’m feeling powerless and a part of me just wants to watch the world burn. And I think that’s how a lot of people are feeling. Because a lot of people just want to live, for once, without fear. But they can’t. So now, they’ve become agents of fear. I’m not going to condemn them for that. And I don’t think you should either.

So, I hope the protests go on for weeks. And also stay in the international spotlight for weeks. But more importantly, I hope that non-black America takes a hard look at itself and figures out what to do about this disease called hate. I hope they fear our anger while also sympathizing with our cause. I hope people stay in the streets until Chauvin’s charge is changed to first degree instead of second degree murder. I’m glad to see that the other three officers have been charged but I’m still waiting for the arrest of Breonna Taylor’s murderer. It was cute when some cops took a knee with protesters but I want to see police units nationwide march with us in solidarity and not just for the photo op.

I want to see citizen arrest and stop-and-frisk policies revoked. I want all police departments to be demilitarized. I want all police union contracts renegotiated for increased accountability. And I want education investment to increase in our neighborhoods that have been labeled “high crime”. It’s amazing to see the Minneapolis City Council already make great strides in this direction. They have committed to dismantling the city’s police department and working towards community-led public safety. But frankly, it’s not enough.

I want America to spend weeks thinking about its centuries of looting the black body. Because the thing is, any system that perpetuates fear is violence and black American life is drenched in violence. Generational poverty is violence. Living paycheck to paycheck is violence. Stop and frisk is violence. Respectability politics are violence. The prison industrial complex is violence. Under-insurance is violence. Racial profiling is violence. Housing discrimination is violence.

We need legislative change AND a national moral reckoning. So, I’ll close with this quote from Toni Morrison (may she rest in peace).

“If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. It is my feeling that white people have a very very serious problem and they should start thinking about what they can do about it.”

—–

If you’re looking for ways to help and places to donate, this google sheet is a great resource. And this one has some great introductory material on racial discourse. And this article by Variety magazine lists some social media accounts with fantastic anti-racist content.

“Wellbeing Starts with We”

A California City Creates Community at its Inaugural Wellbeing Summit

By Juliana Essen

 

On November 16, 2019, the small coastal city of Santa Monica, California held its inaugural Wellbeing Summit – a free and interactive community event that brought together nearly 900 residents, city leaders, local organizations, and members of the global wellbeing movement.

The Summit was designed to engage a broad cross-section of stakeholders to both understand and implement the findings from Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Index – the first in the US, which was made possible by a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Julie Rusk, Santa Monica’s Chief Wellbeing Officer, summed up the day this way: “This is an opportunity for everyone to come together to connect, to learn from each other, and to share their best ideas for how we really become the sustainable city of wellbeing for all.”

I had the pleasure of attending Santa Monica’s summit as an invited presenter (representing the Wellbeing Economy Alliance – WEAll) and a participant. A month later, I find my-anthropologist-self reflecting: what lessons might be gleaned for those of us seeking to advance a Good Life for All? As a key event in the wellbeing movement landscape, what core message can Santa Monica’s Summit impart?

A flash of insight came in the form of a T-shirt – the ones silk-screened on demand at the Summit itself, with the slogan “Wellbeing starts with We.” Above all else, this event underscored the necessity of shifting wellbeing work from me to we, and it highlighted several characteristics vital to making a thriving community. Here are 6 of them, and just for fun, they all start with “C”:

1.     Celebrate the positive

2.     Connect with people

3.     Consider new ideas

4.     Co-create solution

5.     Care for others

6.     Commit to move forward together

For explanations and examples of how these community-making characteristics played out at Santa Monica’s inaugural Wellbeing Summit, read on.

  1. Celebrate the positive

Santa Monica’s Summit builds on 4 years of work to measure residents’ wellbeing through the city’s Wellbeing Index. The index tracks indicators of progress in 6 areas: community, place and planet, learning, health, economic opportunity, and overall outlook, using data from resident surveys, social media, and various other sources available to the city. In short, this data is used to understand how residents are doing so that the city can invest in areas that will have the greatest impact. So first and foremost, the summit was a celebration of progress made to date.

The positive approach can be surprisingly controversial. An older Caucasian gentleman who came to protest at the entrance held a cardboard sign hand printed in red marker that read, “Wellbeing? What about Being Real?” A valid question, to be sure. His opinion (shared by others) was that the city should focus on “real” problems like homelessness and crime.

City Manager Rick Cole offered this response in his post-Summit reflection: “Pursuing a positive approach to our problems is not a naïve denial of them. All the challenging issues of our time were addressed on Saturday – but in a spirit of “what can we do to make things better?”

 

  1. Connect with people

One of the main goals of the Wellbeing Summit was clearly to bring the community together in a fun and festive atmosphere. From the up-beat kick-off by the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra’s Mariachi Band to the closing circle dance with Bhutanese dancers, summit goers were treated to countless opportunities to interact in the California sunshine.

We lingered over creative stations like the “What’s Wellbeing” wall, where participants could write in their ideas for heath or economic opportunity; the “Family Photo” studio, where passers-by posed with strangers for family-style portraits (and became acquainted in the process); and the Santa Monica Tourism board’s “Staycation” location, where kids played ball on Astroturf and adults lounged in pastel Adirondack chairs and dug their toes in sandboxes.

Perhaps it’s a “California thing” but we also chatted with each other as we waited in line. There were lines to sample free food from local vendors – like acai bowls, jackfruit sliders, street corn, and aguas frescas – and a significant wait to get a silk-screened T-shirt printed to order. In fact, my favorite memory from the day was dancing to Prince in the T-shirt line with an elderly African American woman I had just met. With the right conditions, that intercultural and intergenerational connection we try so hard to fabricate just happens naturally.

The summit planners indeed succeeded in this goal: early event surveying showed that 40 percent of participants met 5 or more people for the first time. As for the value, the head of Familias Latinas Unidas! (purveyor of aguas frescas) summed it up best as he twirled a volunteer during clean up: “It’s about ‘to connect’ because once we connect, we get along better.”

  1. Consider new ideas

Running concurrently with the outdoor festival were dozens of panel discussions and workshops that aimed to build participants’ understanding of the factors that affect wellbeing for people and the planet. The variety of session topics meant that was something for everyone – for different learning styles, knowledge about wellbeing, and interests.

The first panel of the day laid it out in a somewhat wonky but still accessible way: “Wellbeing: What it Is, What it Isn’t & Why it Matters,” with Anita Chandra (RAND), Carol Graham (Brookings Institution), and Neal Halfon (UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families & Communities).

I also moderated a panel that leaned toward serious: “Global Wellbeing from the United Kingdom to Bhutan to Latin America,” with Dr. Alejandro Adler (Earth Institute, Columbia University), Benilda Batzin (Health Citizenry Tutor, Guatemala) and Kinga Tshering (Institute of Happiness, Bhutan).

But there were also sessions that engaged local activists, like “Building Resilience in Communities of Color: Lessons from Virginia Avenue Park’s Parent Groups,” led by Santa Monica resident Irma Carranza, and an edgy workshop titled, “Creative Resistance through Printmaking,” in which participants learned about the role printmaking has had in California supporting movements such as the United Farm Workers while creating their own custom-stenciled posters.

The quality of these diverse sessions raised the wellbeing quotient of the summit beyond positive emotion and social interaction to incorporate learning, one of the dimensions of Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Index itself. As one Santa Monica resident remarked, the Summit was a “great way for the community to come out and … learn about things that we don’t normally learn about in our own insular world.”

  1. Co-create solutions

Rather than simply imparting knowledge, many sessions at the Summit aimed to inspire more collaborative, solution-oriented learning. In the “Mobility Matters” workshop, participants considered how reimagining the way we use our streets can impact wellbeing, looked at models from Los Angeles County, and worked elbow-to-elbow to design kid-friendly streets for their own neighborhoods. And in “Wellbeing Imaginarium,” summit-goers participated in an interactive visioning experience to create their own city of wellbeing.

At the summit, the City of Santa Monica also demonstrated its tangible support for resident-led co-created solutions in the form of Wellbeing Microgrants, a new approach to empower residents to make positive change. Each year, the city plans to distribute several grants up to $500 for small-scale, local actions to improve community wellbeing, with annual themes varying according to the Wellbeing Index findings.

To see the microgrant program in action, Summit-goers could visit a booth in the outdoor marketplace to meet past grant recipients, see displays of their work, talk to them about their experience, and even buy goods produced with the grant, like traditional Oaxacan shawls. Also on hand were applications for the next grant cycle and city staff to help explain the process.

Residents also had an opportunity to start co-creating their own projects at a design charrette I led. A design charrette is a fast-moving, interactive, creative process in which participants write quick ideas on Post It Notes (in this case representing improvements they’d like to see in their communities within the framework of the six dimensions of wellbeing), organize those ideas into categories, and then form small groups to discuss and decide. Besides a better understanding of wellbeing and knowledge/skills for project design, at least a few participants left with plans shaping up to apply for a microgrant together.

  1. Care for others

Perhaps the most vital characteristic for a thriving community is care for others. Santa Monica Mayor Gleam Davis made this assertion quite clearly in her blog post reflecting on the Summit:

Finally, we will know that we are a sustainable city of wellbeing when, in considering local policies, we stop asking what’s in it for me and start asking what’s in it for everyone.  This community spirit needs to permeate all our decisions, even those that involve asphalt and lane markers. Only when people in the community feel responsible for the wellbeing of others in the community—people they know and people they don’t know, can we truly reach our goal of being a sustainable city of wellbeing.

Unfortunately, care for others doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes we just see the problems in our community rather than the people who are struggling. “Homelessness” is one such issue in Santa Monica (as well as my own coastal town to the south), in which discourse is typically framed in terms of public detriments such as visual blight and crime, not human suffering. The Summit’s solution? An interactive station with virtual reality headsets that allowed users to literally walk in another person’s shoes in a journey from homeless to housed. The station underscored the reality that it’s much easier to care for others when we can imagine their experiences as our own. Leave it to “Silicon Beach” to use technological innovation to do just that.

  1. Commit to move forward together

Overall, Santa Monica’s Summit represents the government’s commitment to placing the people and the planet at the forefront of their decision-making. City Mayor Gleam Davis sees this as her charge: “One of the sacred duties of all governments – federal, state, regional, and local – is to improve the wellbeing of their constituents.”

Anuj Gupta, Santa Monica’s Deputy City Manager explains, “We in the city government, we’re not really succeeding at our jobs unless our people are thriving and that’s really what this [summit] is all about: making sure our community is healthy, connected, engaged.”

At the same time, the Summit made it clear that wellbeing is a collective endeavor. In the final session of the day, a community conversation on “What’s Next for Wellbeing” with Mayor Gleam Davis and City Manager Rick Cole, the mayor shared this sentiment:

We truly are a Sustainable City of Wellbeing, but this is not something that the city government can bestow on you or can do alone. If we are truly going to live up to that title, then each and every one of us needs to invest in this community. I know we heard today that there are things we need to work on. But let’s do the hard and satisfying work of working on them together….

Santa Monica City Councilmember Ana Maria Jara offered a more inspiring reflection as the day came to an end:

This is only the beginning. A summit seems to me like it’s more of a closing. It is not. We’ve just started to climb. So let us continue together so we can all learn, so that we can all … act upon doing better for everyone.

For me, Councilmember Jara is speaking not only to residents in Santa Monica, but to all of us engaged in the global wellbeing movement.

To get a better feel for Santa Monica’s inaugural Wellbeing Summit, watch this recap and hear the individuals quoted above speak in their own voice:

And to learn more about Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Project, visit the Office of Civic Wellbeing website: https://wellbeing.smgov.net

 

 

 

 

Reposted from Medium 

For 18 years, BALLE has worked alongside community leaders to advance bold ideas that are changing systems.

If you followed our series this fall, you read about the incredible leaders in our networkour theory of changeand our vision of an equitable economy.

Why are we bringing this up now?

BALLE — The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies — was formed to accelerate the emergence of local economies that are regenerative and sustainable. In our early days, we mainstreamed the concept of “buying local” by supporting 80+ local-first business networks across the U.S. and Canada. Today, the localism movement has reached far beyond the vision of our founders.

Working with this network reinforced our theory that community leaders are the key to thriving, local ecosystems.

Despite the focus on local economies, our actions have not matched the urgency of unprecedented wealth inequality and economic injustice that primarily affects communities of color.

While people of color will constitute the majority in the U.S. as early as 2043, it’s going to take all of us working together to resist those who are are extracting wealth, not only from marginalized communities, but from working people, the middle class, rural economies, mid-tier cities, gentrifying neighborhoods — all of us.

We seek to restore wealth, and build wealth anew, in these communities. This year, we are re-examining our work and shifting our attention in big ways: racial equity and economic justice now have a front seat in new initiatives we are launching to unite capital with marginalized communities.

We’ve already shifted $150M by working with foundations to rethink more equitable investment strategies.

What would it look like if we transformed $1B or more of untapped capital (endowments, DAFs, traditional Wall Street investments) into community wealth and connected thousands of wealth-holders and creators pursuing a shared vision?

It will look like our Common Future. BALLE is announcing our new name, brand, and identity — Common Future — to signal our commitment to economies that work for all of us.

What does this mean for our day-to-day work?

Common Future is embracing new roles in our ecosystem. We’re becoming a platform for leaders to incubate ideas, an aggregator of philanthropic and impact investment capital, a trusted advisor to funders, a collaborator working alongside our Network, and a mainstream influence for reimaging the economy.

But really, what does that mean?

Some BALLE programs will continue (our Foundation Circle), while others are being retooled to meet the current needs of our Network Leaders (our Fellowship). While we may not be actively recruiting for the Fellowship in 2020, we are in active conversation about how we best resource existing community leaders in our Network and continue to reach more people.

A number of initiatives are in pilot and incubation, such as our Social Entrepreneurs in Residence (SEIR) program. Our SEIRs (executive-level leaders across industries) will advance individual bodies of work within Common Future, connected by a commitment to community wealth.

For SEIR Sonia Sarkar — Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health LeaderNew America health policy Fellow, former chief policy and engagement officer at the Baltimore City public health department — this means shifting capital in healthcare institutions. SEIR Sean Campbell — previously a managing director at Macquarie group — is strengthening the pipeline of equitable investable opportunities by assisting organizations in our Network to raise inclusive impact capital.

Beyond the new initiatives, we are currently recruiting for our 2020 Foundation Circle, designing and leading convenings such as CoCap, and forging new advising and consulting relationships with national players.

One thing is true: we are entering uncharted territory. Now 18 months into this strategy, we are clear-minded about our goals and open to the means it may take to get there.

Our new website — commonfuture.co — will launch at the end of this year. In the meantime, you can keep up with us here, on Medium.

Love + power,

The Common Future team

Original Article here

First published by Front Porch Republic

Without question, the rollout of the so-called “Green New Deal” in early February was less than elegant. Not long before the actual resolution proposing the idea was submitted into Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), a set of policy “talking points” were released by a member of Ocasio-Cortez’ staff.  It contained references to “farting cows” (code for methane reductions in agriculture), the elimination of air travel, and a guaranteed income for those unable or “unwilling” to work.

Though none of this language is included in the actual resolution, its release by the still “green” (in the sense of political experience) AOC provided quick fodder for her many enemies on the right, especially the pundits at FOX News.  And while more than 70 Democratic members of Congress quickly signed on to the resolution, House speaker Nancy Pelosi rather perfunctorily dismissed the wish list of primarily left-wing ideas for combatting both inequality and climate change as a “green dream,” and liberal senator Dianne Feinstein berated a group of young people who came to her office asking for support.

On the other hand, some conservatives, including New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, did not rush to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Surprisingly, perhaps, while President Trump predictably condemned the wide-ranging resolution as a step toward Socialism, Douthat praised the Green New Deal explicitly for its sweeping approach.  Meanwhile, as expected, dozens of environmental and social justice groups quickly endorsed the measure.

It is important to understand that the current resolution is merely aspirational (and, I would argue, inspirational), its short 14 pages offering only a set of reasons for reform and a set of goals to guide policies.  I want to look carefully at what is actually contained in the Green New Deal resolution and suggest, as Jeff Bilbro put it to me in an email, that the GND may be simultaneously too ambitious and not ambitious enough.  Then, I want to delve into the history of the original New Deal to see how its successes and mistakes might help guide this new effort at comprehensive change.

What Is In The Green New Deal?

House Resolution 109 begins by outlining the impacts of climate change as reported in the National Climate Assessment of 2018, offering a depressing litany of rising temperatures, rising sea levels, “and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure.”  It argues that the United States, by virtue of its role in producing 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (a figure ignoring the offshoring of many of them), has a special duty to take the lead in combatting climate change.  It also claims that public policies over the past four decades have led to enormous inequality, and that environmental destruction and inequality have disproportionally decimated certain “frontline and vulnerable” Americans, including “indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.”

Like the original New Deal, the resolution suggests that a Green New Deal can correct these injustices while mitigating the climate crisis, and that it can and must create millions of high-wage jobs for those left out of our current affluence, attain “zero net emissions” of greenhouse gases in the next decade, and secure “clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment” for all Americans.  No small feat indeed.

It calls for large-scale investments into new zero-emission technologies and sustainable infrastructure, including a new energy grid and high-speed rail travel, while, perhaps in an effort to win business and rural support, “spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States,” and “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”

The resolution also addresses other forms of pollution, recommends “science-based” solutions, and suggests the sharing of new more sustainable technologies with other nations.  As introduced, the Green New Deal would provide health care, affordable housing, a safe environment, and higher education for all, while guaranteeing family wage union jobs with benefits and paid vacations as well.

Simultaneously Too Ambitious and Insufficient?

It’s undoubtedly a sweeping concept, and though the document calls for democratic dialogue down to the local level on policy specifics—there are no specific recommendations like carbon taxes or cap-and-trade, and nothing, not even nuclear power, is deemed off the table—opponents are likely, as the President already has, to deem the whole thing a massive Federal power grab. Moreover, the costs of such a program would dwarf previous budgets as a share of the economy, and much of it may not be achievable in the ten-year time frame recommended, whatever the investment.

The attention to agriculture, a major producer of both CO2 and the even-more-heat-trapping methane, strikes me as a welcome aspect of the resolution, which I feared might stop with subsidies for wind, solar, and other primarily technological fixes. Both agriculture and its sister, forestry, can either contribute to climate change, or when carefully managed, sequester carbon.  Current agribusiness and corporate forestry practices tend toward the former, small farms and reforestation toward the latter.

Yet, even in its comprehensiveness, the Green New Deal may not be sufficient to the task it sets out to achieve—climate stability and resilience in a context of far-greater economic equality.  In my view, the most glaring omission in the GND is its lack of any challenge to consumerism and our current obsession with economic growth.  Nearly 70 percent of U.S. spending goes to consumer goods, an increasing share of which are made abroad.  We are not blamed for the carbon emissions embodied in those imported goods during the mining, manufacturing, and transport stages.  They are charged to the countries where the goods are produced, yet we, as the ultimate consumers, should be held liable for these real carbon impacts. Our global economy allows us to outsource much of the pollution and toxic waste produced by our insatiable consumerism.

Some studies suggest that production of consumer goods, whether domestic or foreign, may account for up to 60 percent of carbon emissions, more than either transportation or temperature regulation in buildings, the other leading culprits.  In my view, there is simply no way to seriously reduce our carbon footprint without reducing our penchant for consumerism, and yet we are going in precisely the opposite direction.  Abetted by instant-gratification marketers like Amazon and planned-obsolescence producers like Apple, our consumption levels continue to rise dramatically.

Bill Rees, the University of British Columbia economist who developed the concept of the “ecological footprint” suggests that the world is already in “overshoot,” consuming at least 60 percent more resources and dumping far more wastes than nature can process, and that countries like the United States are consuming at rates that would require multiple planets to sustain.  Moreover, recycling doesn’t offer a way out—most of it can no longer be sold to the Chinese or elsewhere, and our waste is simply dumped into vast methane-emitting landfills.

At the same time, almost as if they lived on a different planet where none of this was happening, economists left and right beat the drum for even higher rates of economic growth—the 4 percent rate that President Trump hopes for would mean a doubling of American consumption in only 18 years!  It is hard to imagine a Green New Deal which accomplishes the goals it sets forth without challenging the gospel of consumerism and growth.

Lessons From The Older Green New Deal

But like Ross Douthat, I’m not about to abandon the Green New Deal simply because it’s not yet where I want it to be.  I consider it a bold step in the right direction, an aspiration that can finally get us talking as a nation—and across partisan lines—if we care about the future we are leaving to our children.  What seems clear to me is that we cannot solve the problems that face us—from climate disasters to environmental degradation to poverty, racial division, rural despair, inequality and economic insecurity, anger, the opioid crisis, increasing mortality rates, the stresses of overwork, and the loss of meaning in our lives—silo by silo, as if they are disconnected.  For all its current weaknesses, the GND is an effort to “solve for pattern” as Wendell Berry recommends.  Surely, what we face is what William James referred to as the moral equivalent of war, a multi-faceted existential crisis brought about by our refusal to live responsibly and within limits.

The term Green New Deal harkens on an earlier New Deal, which was a response to problems remarkably similar to our own.  While we aren’t dealing now with massive unemployment, the income and wealth divides are once again as wide as they were then.  In that period, too, the nation faced an environmental crisis, its soils washing and blowing away, its mountains stripped of forests, fires and floods widespread, its wildlife decimated—in less than a century, bison numbers had been reduced to such a degree they had to be bred in the Bronx Zoo and released in the wild; only 15 Trumpeter Swans remained out of millions; bighorn sheep had been reduced from two million to seven hundred, and most waterfowl populations had shrunk by an order of magnitude.  And when it was first advocated by FDR, the howls of “socialism!” from Republicans were deafening.

Though it was rolled out piece by piece, the New Deal was as ambitious as today’s GND.  And, in its early days, as historian Douglas Brinkley shows clearly in his opus, Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America, the old New Deal was also, first and foremost, a green New Deal, with programs like Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act arriving later.  While the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the New Deal’s first, largest and most popular program (launched in 1933), was a massive jobs program for unemployed men—with more than three million members overall—it was, even more importantly, an environmental project.  Working from hundreds of camps, spread to every state to increase local support, the CCC planted hundreds of millions of trees (including a “shelterbelt” that saved midwestern soils), helped restore damaged landscapes and wetlands for wildlife, and created hundreds of state and national park facilities that visitors enjoy to this day.

The CCC provides a clear model for a national service program for young Americans—my best friend from childhood, now a conservative Republican opposed to “welfare,” told me he could readily support such a program.  It might also be extended, for example, to unemployed coal miners as GND climate policy requires a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.  Much as CCC members did in the 30s, the miners could restore a wounded Appalachian landscape.  There are now some 530 cutoff mountaintops in that part of the country.  Imagine unemployed miners able to earn a family wage by staying where they now live, working outdoors and restoring those mountaintops, not with a quick sprinkling of exotic grasses as we now term “reclamation,” but with a full and diverse canopy of carbon-sequestering trees.

The next great New Deal environmental initiative, the Soil Conservation Act passed while its pages, in the hands of members of Congress, were literally turning brown from soil blown all the way to the Capital from the Midwest and southern Dust Bowls.  What followed was the establishment of Soil Conservation Districts in every U.S. county, where farmers, ranchers, academic extension agents, and local leaders came together to negotiate better care of soils and water. Such districts, now sometimes called resource conservation districts or simply conservation districts, remain vital to this day and might well be used to engage local input regarding Green New Deal agricultural policies and their local application—I had the opportunity to keynote the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts’ annual meeting last November.   Part of this, as the GND resolution indicates, means reverting large agribusiness holdings to sustainable small farms and training the many young Americans who want to farm to do so, while making land affordable for them by redirecting agribusiness subsidies.

Curt Meine, a biographer of ecologist Aldo Leopold, tells me he believes the Green New Deal must begin with agriculture and rural America, both because modern food production is fossil-fuel intensive but also because a sustainable food system is the basis for everything else.  The opportunity to enhance the lives of small farmers and other rural Americans, who feel neglected by urban liberals, seems an essential aspect of winning bipartisan support for the GND, as it did with the old New Deal.  Rural Americans, initially skeptical of FDR’s grand schemes, were won over by direct improvements in their own lives.

Another Missing Element: Work-Time

As Brinkley chronicles brilliantly, the original green New Deal also saved millions of acres of land for National Parks and wilderness areas, state parks, and wildlife refuges. But not all of it was about conservation.  Perhaps the first vision of the New Deal was the creation of new jobs, not by government programs, but by shortening and sharing working hours. As early as 1930, the Kellogg’s Cereal Company, in Battle Creek, Michigan, had cut its workday to six hours (while paying for seven).  The result was an immediate gain of 300 jobs for the unemployed.  Workers used their extra free time to look after the community (crime dropped precipitously), get more outdoor exercise, volunteer in the community and its schools, take up new hobbies, and grow their own vegetables. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, Frances Perkins, thought the idea could work at the national level.

With the backing of Perkins, Roosevelt, and organized labor, a bill capping the American workweek at 30 hours (anything more would be charged as overtime) overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Senate on April 6, 1933, only a few weeks after Roosevelt’s inauguration. But facing strong opposition from the National Association of Manufacturers, Roosevelt backed down, in return for support of the CCC and a later jobs program, the Works Progress Administration.  The bill never went to the House.  Five years later, Congress passed the 40-hour workweek bill.  At a time when a third of the country was ill-clothed, ill-housed and ill-fed, as Roosevelt put it, expanding the economy to create jobs rather than shortening hours made sense.  A better distribution of poverty wouldn’t have won hearts and minds.

But today, we don’t suffer from too little production.  Today, continued economic expansion as a jobs program is a recipe for environmental suicide, not a healthier, happier society.  Cities like Seattle, where I live, suffer from too much wealth, rather than too little.  Our vast wealth has led to displacement, homelessness, congestion, and palpable community anger rather than happiness.  Today, a reduction in working hours—it’s been 80-years since the 40-hour week took effect and we are many times richer—could offer a way to increase employment opportunities without increasing consumer spending, while improving our health, strengthening our communities and giving us more choice in a society where both conservative and liberal Americans have noted the stresses of overwork and our rush-rush culture.  A Swedish study showed that a ten percent reduction in work-time would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 to 8 percent.  Policies shortening and sharing working hours are essential for the Green New Deal but, with the exception of vacation time, these have, so far, been overlooked.   For the poor, higher minimum wages and a basic income guarantee, which has also been suggested by GND supporters, could make up income losses from shorter hours.

Measuring Success

The original New Deal needed a way to measure its progress in increasing national output and reducing poverty.  In 1934, economist Simon Kuznets came up with a single index for such a purpose, the Gross National Product.  Revised slightly, and now called the Gross Domestic Product, it is a tally of “the final market value of all the goods and services produced in a country in a given year.”  When we talk about economic growth, we mean growth of the GDP.  But, as even Kuznets pointed out, the measure is simply one of economic output; in no way does it indicate the full welfare of the nation, and in fact, as Italian economist Stefano Bartolini points out, it may well do the opposite.  GDP counts what is paid for.  The costs of accidents or oil pollution or climate disasters often count as plusses but are actually remediation of the effects of earlier growth.  Faster growth may increase work-time and decrease social connection, or destroy the natural commons, leading to poorer health but greater expenditures, and thus a bigger GDP.  Meanwhile, many aspects of life that produce real satisfaction are not counted at all—housework, the value of nature, and the value of leisure, for example.

So just as the New Deal needed an index of success, so does the Green New Deal, but it requires a different one.  We need to measure things that contribute to quality of life and the restoration of the environment and subtract those that do not.  We cannot say whether this will mean growth, or de-growth—it depends on what we measure.  What is clear is that material throughput cannot continue to expand.  But without a new measure, the Green New Deal has no real way to be judged accurately.

Get Involved

As Curt Meine and others point out, the original New Deal, and even its green components, was not without unintended consequences from which we must learn.  Perhaps the most serious was its reliance on big dams.  Grand Coulee, Bonneville, and other massive hydroelectric projects were wonders of the world in their day, but some of them have destroyed salmon runs and others are silting over.  Straightening of rivers has led to new destructive flooding.  These mistakes, which might have been avoided by smaller construction, do not condemn the New Deal, and they vastly improved many lives, but they sound a cautionary note we would do well to heed. Which technologies, seen as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, may bring similar reasons for caution—nuclear power, large-scale wind farms?

But the call for caution is not a summons to inaction.  In my view, the Green New Deal is an exciting and hopeful prospect, especially because of its ambition.  There will be big fights over how to fund it, as there were over the equally-expensive (for its era) old New Deal.  Surely that will require some forms of carbon taxes, taxes on inequality and financial speculation, on extreme wealth and on market externalities like pollution, and on consumption and advertising.  Surely, as it is without question a security measure—the Pentagon has called climate change America’s greatest security risk—it will require a transfer of funds from a bloated and dangerous military budget.  There will be fights over application at the local level; here, as much as is possible, the principle of subsidiarity should take precedence and every effort must be made to engage ordinary citizens in the development of policy, in part through the conservation districts that already exist.

But the stakes are too great to do nothing, and our children and theirs—who are already fighting for this—will not forgive inaction.  It is exciting to see high school and college students leading the way in this effort and filling the offices of members of Congress to demand that they not turn a blind eye to these existential threats.  It is exciting to see Minnesota high schoolers come together to create a draft plan for a state Green New Deal and present it to their governor, Tim Walz. So join them; add your own ideas, criticize where needed, but affirm as much as you can.  Talk to friends left and right and center, asking only that they be respectful as you will be.  Surely if Thoreau and Muir and Carson and Stoneman Douglas and Leopold and the Roosevelts could, they would be at the doors of Congress with the new children’s crusaders.  Think of what they once did and vow that we can do no less.

We will need local models.  In my upcoming film, Green New City, I’m exploring how the diverse and economically-challenged port of Vallejo, California might become an urban model for the Green New Deal, as it seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, develop through attention to nature, beauty and environmental restoration, and fully engage its citizens in planning for the future (including participatory budgeting).

When past times tried our souls, Americans did not retreat to rabbit holes.  When sacrifice was demanded for the public good, they responded willingly to rationing and hardship and found a way forward.  I, for one, intend to take the concept of the Green New Deal to every forum I can, to criticize and seek to improve but not dismiss this bold idea, to act as if our very future on this planet depends on what we do now, and indeed, it does.

John de Graaf, Outreach Director of The Happiness Initiative, has produced more than fifteen national PBS documentary specials and is the co-author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic and co-author of What’s The Economy For, Anyway? He has taught at Evergreen State College and serves on the board of Earth Island Institute. His new initiative is the Make America Beautiful Again campaign.