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

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