Sunday, April 27, 2014

#132 A Courage Project

Dear all,
A stunningly beautiful month of April, a new grandson--life is full of gifts.  I've been taking the 15-month old to the community garden every time I have him; this week it was cold and we just sat for a while, bundled up, listening to the birds.  I'm taking in the truth that where we choose to put our attention, that is where we develop the capacity to notice more.  I hope his ear is always attuned to the birds.
And I'm so pleased that the State Department has not approved the Keystone XL pipeline, but delayed any action, and I choose to believe that our messages to the President--of all kinds--played a role in that decision.

A Courage Project

You can have fear without courage, but you can’t have courage without fear.  As I’ve been thinking about how we can best support each other to do scary things, I realize that we can take a lesson from the children.  They look for activities that will test them—climb a tree, walk through a culvert, jump across a gap, have an adventure in the dark, tell scary stories.  Children are pulled to test their courage, in a heady mix of fear and excitement.

As adults, some of us still thrive on risk; others are more cautious and prefer our thrills well buffered.  Both tendencies are being increasingly accommodated by our consumer economy.  Those who want risk without protection gravitate toward extreme sports.  Those who prefer to consume it safely have a range of manufactured thrills available, from parachute and bungee jumping to amusement park rides.

It’s a paradox.  On the one hand, we are protected from risks in small things as never before; on the other hand, the big dangers we face are unprecedented.  These are times that call for enormous courage about things that are real—the courage to face threats to our future, to welcome chaos, and to find our way together into the unknown.

I thought a lot about courage at a recent day of action on climate change, when I ended up stepping away, at the last minute, from risking arrest.  Rather than going on auto-pilot to do what seemed “brave”, I found myself choosing a path where I could stay more present and connected to myself, while still being involved in the action as a whole.  As I reflected on this experience, I realized that there are many ways of being brave, and my most courageous act had probably taken place several days earlier: after noticing that I had been very quiet about my plans, I spent an evening daring to share with a wide circle of friends both my passion for the earth and my feelings about the action.  Showing myself fully:  now that’s scary!

Courage is not one size fits all, and nobody can take another person’s courageous step, but we all can be braver in ways that are completely our own.  What if each one of us did a personal inventory of the times and places where we have been brave, and brought them to our community for acknowledgment and celebration?  Then we could look at where our fears keep us quiet and passive, and develop personal courage campaigns.  With a buddy or a small group, we could share our intentions to practice being brave—in our families, at work, with our neighbors, in the larger community—and come back to share our successes, or grieve our failures, and get ready for the next courageous step.

What are mine?  Talking about what matters to me even though others don’t seem to care.  Openly trying a response, even though it might fail.  Letting others know what I’m trying, and inviting them to join me.  Once they’ve agreed, then sticking with it, holding out confidence that any second thoughts or complaints (theirs or mine) are just a way of showing our fears.

At a recent workshop on easing the transition to lower energy use by building resilience at a local level, the leader asked if anyone had the courage to build a core group that reflected their diverse urban neighborhood.  I was surprised at her use of that word, but raised my hand.  I’m not good at it.  It’s not coming quickly or easily.  But I know what it takes to put my hand on the phone, think of a million useful things that I could do so much more easily than call somebody who is not yet in my circle, or who doesn’t yet know how much I care about something that may not be on their radar screen, pause, breathe deeply, then make the call—and, when I don’t hear back, then make it again.

We don’t know how courageous other people are.  We don’t know what it costs them to do things that might seem easy to us.  But together we can all do more. I’m looking to recapture that model from our childhood:  A gang of buddies coming across—or setting up—a challenge.  An open acknowledgment of fear:  Yikes, this is scary!  Do you think we can do it?  I don’t know.  Let’s try anyway.  Okay, here goes!  The squeals of excitement/fear, the shivers running up and down our spines, the uncontrollable shaking.  Then assessing the results together:  Wow, we did it!  Wow, almost, let’s try again!  Wow, that didn’t work at all!  What next?  Could there be a more human way of being in this world together?

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Local planning
Cape Cod is one of the few places in the country that embeds economic criteria in its planning policies and requires that large projects get approval from both the host town and a regional planning body, the Cape Cod Commission.  The Commission is made up of representatives from each of the Cape’s 15 towns, and focuses on how the development would affect Cape Cod’s economy and environment.  After looking closely at a proposal to bring in a new Lowe's, the Commission concluded that “the probable benefit of the proposed development is not greater than the probable detriment.”

A pivotal issue was the store’s projected impact on jobs and wages. One of the region’s primary planning goals is to increase household income. In a region already saturated with building supply stores, Lowe’s arrival would cause many existing local businesses to downsize or close, leading to a net decline of 48 jobs.  Moreover, the new jobs at Lowe’s would pay $9,000 less on average than the jobs lost at local stores, resulting in a total income loss of over $3 million for the region’s residents.

Armed with this kind of analysis, the Cape Cod Commission has approved relatively few big-box stores in its 24-year history.  Not surprisingly, Cape Cod has significantly more independent businesses per capita than the national average.

Easter sunrise

Well before dawn
biking toward the Easter morning sunrise
a bird I do not know greets me with cheery song.
I take it in, rejoice, bike on.
The bird song follows,
block after block after block.

Is this one bird following me
intent to gladden my heart
and make my ride a joyous one?
Is he passing me on from friend to friend—
in some sweet welcoming relay?

Or am I just a witness
in that pre-dawn dark and cold
to all the heralds of the day?

The thought that it is personal
brings on a smile.
The sure knowledge that
these birds will sing the sun up
as long as they have breath to sing
reminds me of the chance we have each day
to give our thanks
for all the life the sun makes possible
on Earth, our home.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

The Obama administration's Good Friday extension of the review period on the Keystone XL pipeline, pushing back a final decision on the disputed project indefinitely, to have time to review some 2.5 million public comments, and assess the impact of a pending lawsuit in Nebraska.

Philadelphia's move to the forefront of a national movement to protect immigrants from deportation over minor and nonviolent crimes, by limiting the information it shares with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A restorative justice program in Oakland California's public schools, which has led to dramatic reductions in suspensions and referrals for violence, as well as increases in graduation rates and test scores.

The opportunity to connect with individual women artisans in Guatemala and orchard planters in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan through the no-interest lending program of Kiva.

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Monday, April 7, 2014

#131 Seeds

Dear friends,
Spring is coming!  My mind keeps turning to seeds and flowers, and the earth--the inspiration for much of which follows.  And I'm still writing every other day or so to the president.  If you want to join me, check out


My grandmother loved a flower that she called Rocket.  It was tall and pinky-purple and bloomed at the side of the road.  She would gather seeds and scatter them—and now, whenever I see Rocket blooming, I wonder if that beauty might have come from one of my grandmother’s seeds.

Not all seeds grow.  Even if we plant and care for them most tenderly, forces without number can keep them from becoming mature and productive plants.  And when we scatter them more randomly, the chances go down even farther, as some fall on rocky ground or among the thistles.  But some do grow, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

I became very aware of this truth after Chuck and I poured our hearts into trauma healing and peer-listening workshops in Northern Uganda.  Back home, we kept hoping that something would take root as a result, but heard precious little news of growth.  Maybe the ground was just too stony.  Yet, when we returned three years later, we discovered that one of the most self-effacing young men in our workshops had been steadily teaching his friends everything he had learned.  When we returned again, we were astonished to discover that a teenage girl, who was very much at the edge of that second workshop, was now leading an energetic and committed group of students in a neighboring town.  Who would have imagined?

I’m learning this lesson again as I search for ways to play my part in the movement against climate change.  Once I got the idea that anybody who went to college could play a role by urging their alma maters to divest from fossil fuels, I was motivated to get started right away.  Yet I struggled.  The administration of my college was glacially slow in responding to my inquiries, and I wasn't able to build much momentum with the alumni that I knew.  There were no encouraging signs.  

More stony ground?  But I really wanted this fruit—and started dropping seeds among my friends and colleagues.  When it looked like disappointment might stop them as well, I hustled to work the soil.  After all, the seeds had come from me, and I felt responsible.  I was able to make contact with some enormously helpful staff people at the Fossil Free movement of, and worked to link them with my friends.  Buoyed by this resource, I scattered a little more.

Over the months that followed, there was some heartening progress at my college, but certainly no fruit to enjoy anywhere.  Then one recent Sunday a fellow congregant told me that the letter he’d written to his college had been answered by the president, no less, who was intrigued with this idea and wanted to know more.  Omigosh—a sprout!

Later that same week, a young woman who went to college with my son mentioned to others in my hearing that she was now involved with the new alumni council that had been formed to address fossil fuel divestment.  I had included her in one of my messages to everyone I knew who went to that college, but hadn’t heard back from anybody, and hadn’t expected her to make such a stretch.  Another sprout!  Now I can't help but wonder if there are yet others growing totally out of my sight.

This is not the only way to grow things.  I may choose at times to pour selected resources into a carefully controlled environment, in the hopes of getting good fruit.  But there’s something about not knowing which seeds will take hold, and spreading them generously with the knowledge that we are not ultimately in control, that speaks to me.  I think that I, like my grandmother, will continue to scatter seeds by the side of the road.

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.

The process was first developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, and there are now over 1,500 participatory budgets around the world. Most of these are at the city level, for the municipal budget. PB has also been used, however, for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies.
Though each experience is different, most follow a similar basic process: residents brainstorm spending ideas, volunteer budget delegates develop proposals based on these ideas, residents vote on proposals, and the government implements the top projects.

Lenten rose

The hellebore, or Lenten rose
is new to me--
deep mauve, pale green and ivory
in bloom before the daffodils,
now planted in one corner
of our park.

A bitter winter hid the ground,
park lovers picked their icy way
or stayed at home.

But now the corner with the hellebores
has been revealed--
debased, awash in trash.

I pass it twice, in pain.
The third time, in the rain
I find a plastic bag
and pick it clean.

The corner now is theirs alone.
The hellebores can shine
in all their quiet loveliness.
My eye can rest
and I go home
more hopeful, and refreshed.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:
The government of El Salvador, which stopped issuing gold mining permits half a decade ago, despite high gold prices and persuasive arguments about boosting economic growth--because the majority of Salvadorans get water from one large river system, and gold mining invariably pollutes nearby rivers and watersheds.

Thousands of North Carolinians, who have been challenging the state government's austerity agenda for months in protests called Moral Majority Mondays, organized by a coalition including union, civil rights, faith-based, environmental and feminist groups.

Knowing that, during the conflict in Ukraine, there were local people in the big square in Kiev actively sharing skills and perspectives of Alternatives to Violence.

The ability to act in ways, no matter how small, that increase the stock of hopeful things in the world.

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at