This is a season of nostalgia for many of us, with traditions of meal and memory sharing helping to erase the distance of miles and years. Yet this year’s homecoming is set against a discordant backdrop of unseasonable warmth and record financial, environmental, social, and political uncertainty. Nostalgia also played a key role in our recent elections, where it was clear that many people were hankering after another kind of country, one where their jobs and societal structures were familiar and certain.
What does it mean to make America great again? For some of us, a great society is one which assumes the rights of all of us to safety and physical security. Greatness also assumes shared responsibility and commitment for the health of our communities and our planet. This kind of greatness has no limits, and fosters creativity, connection, and personal growth. Contrarily, any “greatness” that relies on fear, hatred, and greed runs into limits of all kinds—including the limits to physical and emotional growth.
Our recent conference was a celebration of interconnectivity and an examination of how we can creatively and constructively respond to our physical limits. From carbon farmer David Brandt expressing his pride in his regenerated soils to Richard Heinberg sharing what a renewable- energy economy might look like, the sessions mirrored back to all of us the excitement and agency possible when we forthrightly face up to the transitions we need to make. Keynote Nicole Foss began the weekend suggesting that we put our hands and hearts in our communities, and in session after session, we heard from those who are leading the way—through new economic structures like workers cooperatives and public banks, through regenerative land use practices and decentralized energy systems, through reconnection with nature and with each other.
The conference was structured around our new strategic focus on Resilient Communities. Resilience has entered the political and academic lexicon as a definition of a person or entity that is capable of “bouncing back” after disastrous events. Since we are in the middle of a variety of long emergencies, we need to expand the idea of resilience into a state of preparation and readiness for the various dislocations we face. Rather than focusing on stasis or a return to life as we knew it, resilience suggests that we continually re-examine our definitions of assets and what we need to live a healthy life.
Thankfully we have many local, historical, and international models to draw from. Our current film, The 100 Year Plan, examines three societies that have high human development coupled with low ecological footprints—Cuba, Kerala State in India, and Slovenia. The message of director Jim Merkel is that 100 years of small families and small footprints could help regenerate the planet.
In addition to our media and conferences, our work on building resilience centers on Regenerative Land Use, Community Economics, Energy Democracy, and “Being the Change.” From foodshed analyses through developing community economic incubators and new educational programs, we are in this work for the long term. It may seem paradoxical to focus on structural change when the world is—literally and politically—on fire. Yet planning is what we need to ensure that we get the world we want. Arthur Morgan started our organization on the eve of World War II when the world was similarly in a dark place. One of Morgan’s main tenets was the need for vision and planning in the creation of healthy communities.
We are dreaming now not for a nostalgic past, the contours of which continue to recede, but for a resilient future for all who share our planet.
Please help us sustain our expanded programming by giving generously today. We look forward to building with you.
With best wishes for a peaceful and abundant holiday season,
Susan Jennings Executive Director