An Idea Whose Time Has Come Back

An Idea Whose Time Has Come Back
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Oct 6, 2009

In Capitalism, A Love Story, Michael Moore explains why Democracy can no longer mean voting every two or four years for others to represent us. It must become a normal and natural practice of our everyday lives.

This idea of a new Democracy is especially appealing after watching our elected officials in D.C. wheeling and dealing with insurance company lobbyists in the struggle over health reform.

We need to practice it as we come to grips with the global warming that threatens to extinguish all living things on our planet and is already producing unprecedented floods and droughts even in the U.S.A.

President Obama, representing the world’s largest contributor to the climate crisis, has acknowledged that when he goes to the Copenhagen Summit in December, he will be unable to make any binding U.S. commitments. This is because members of Congress, who owe their election to huge corporations, will not pass any legislation that initiates the changes in our way of life urgently needed at this watershed not only in the evolution of the human race but in the history of Planet Earth.

This means that we, the people, have to assume the responsibility for making these changes. For example:

  • In Detroit alone there are more than 800 community gardens.
  • Groups of homeowners can decide to install solar-power systems on their houses, removing the equivalent of one block from a city’s electrical grid.
  • Oberlin College’s Environmental Studies Department’s David Orr is working with the city of Oberlin to develop a 13 block area that will create sustainable jobs and become a working model of a sustainable economy.

    These local actions may seem too small to affect a crisis as monumental as global warming. But as Margaret Wheatley points out in Leadership and Modern Science, one of my favorite books:

    “In a web the potential impact of local actions bears no relationship to their size. When we choose to act locally, we work where we are, with the system we know, the one we can get our arms around.

    “From a Newtonian perspective, our efforts often seem too small, and we doubt that our actions will contribute incrementally to large-scale change. Step by step, system by system we aspire to develop enough mass or force to alter the larger system.

    “But a quantum view explains the success of small efforts quite differently.

    “Acting locally allows us to be inside the movement and flow of the system, participating in all those complex events occurring simultaneously. We are more likely to be sensitive to the dynamics of this system, and thus more effective. However, changes in small places also affect the global system, not through incrementalism, but because every small system participates in an unbroken wholeness. Activities in one part of the whole create effects that appear in distant places. Because of these unseen connections, there is potential value in working anywhere in the system. We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness.

    “I have learned that in this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”

    At the peak of the industrial epoch in the 20th century we were convinced that progress depended on the continuing expansion of government and mammoth enterprises like GM. It was difficult to remember that “doing it for yourself” is probably one of the three or four key instincts that we have inherited through evolution over millions of years. It is part of what makes us human. If we can do something for ourselves, we don’t feel as powerless as the person who has to get somebody else to do it for them. The more we can do for ourselves, the more in control of our future we are.

    This is an idea whose time has come back as we enter the post-industrial epoch.


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