Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day's Eve: Lessons from Earth and Spirit

It's the day before earth day, and my mother has asked me to meet her at the Earth Day 2012 conference held on the Portland Community College campus. I wake up at 5:45 in the morning and start down the highway.   Three and a half hours later, the time I usually wake up on a Saturday, I arrive.  Like any conference, there are too many choices.  I decide to go to sessions I think will give good ideas for the happiness initiative. 

The Power of Hope: and how to keep it in your heart
Kim Smith is a sociology professor at Portland Community College. Her session is called “Creating a Cycle of Hope.”  I am late, and she is gracious.  How do you escape cynicism, disillusion, apathy, and depression when fighting the good fight to save this planet? She has a formula:
  1. Take responsibility.  Happiness, sustainability and a better future is not a right, it's a responsibility. Accept this and see how important every decision and action is.  Understand how interconnected you are and each action is to the system. (Later in the day, I learn how these can become rights!) 
  2. Create a vision of the world you want, based on your values. This is like creating your own mission statement, one of those “seven habits of highly effectively people.” 
  3. Seek quality information. In this one, you hone your information gathering. Sometimes this means tuning out of certain media so you can tune more closely into high quality sources.
  4. Discover practical actions. Don’t reinvent the wheel!  Join other efforts or build on other efforts before going out and doing your own thing. 
  5. Act in line with your values.  

We talk for the rest of the hour about the kinds of action one can take: socially responsible daily behavior (like voting, recycling), community education (like conducting workshops, speaking) community building (like organize a community clean up, organize neighborhood voter drive), grassroots political activity (like door to door canvassing, writing letters), direct involvement (like tutoring a child or volunteering at a soup kitchen), community capacity development (like leadership training, setting up clinics), formal political activities (like lobbying), direct action (like marching, rallying and picketing).  Each of us recount what we are doing, and at the end, Kim brings us together in appreciation of how we all are part of a change movement. 

Wisdom from the Amazonian Jungle: Never Give Up
Naten Anank and his wife give a talk “The Key to the Future is the Past.”  Natem grew up in the jungle in Equator. He talked to us of the natural system of renewal within the Amazonian jungle, and showed us the parallel in our world.   People learn through hardship, the experience personal growth, which they then take into the world, and then work with others in groups or organization.  To Natem, this is happiness.  He then points out the difference between our world and the one he came from: the economic growth paradigm.  He calls us to unite and fight the system, to work together to care for our planet and to be happy in our lifetimes.  

A Warriors Story of His Weapons: People are the Power
Paul Cienfuegos (his last name is Spanish for 100 fires) is one of those unassuming people who emits just the right combination of humility and power that your first impression is you can trust him.  He leads workshops all over the US about his book “Awakening to our Power as We the People.”   He starts by explaining how the 13 colonies were essentially corporations chartered to serve the reign of England, and the American Revolution was really a revolt against corporations.  After the revolution, our government chartered corporations for a singular purpose and to ensure they did no evil.   Today we have swung back into the pattern of corporate rule, with corporations convincing us our rights lie elsewhere: “Vote with you dollars!” the emergence of consumers over citizens and, more recently the corporate consumption of “Green Economy.”   

Paul calls on the decolonization of our minds.  

We have the power to do this, he says.  He reads from Oregon’s constitution, formed in1857 were Article 1 Bill of Rights Section 1 states that “all power (is) inherent in the people...the right to alter, form or abolish the government.” Washington, Pennsylvania and many other states have similar language.  

For more than a century in our country we have been funneled into activism that does not really work; activism that ultimately frustrates a participatory society.  We have the political and legal power to rule.  One hundred years ago, corporations did not rule the world. We ruled them through our government, through rules and regulations, our state constitutions and other legal documents.  

Vermont legislature just called for an end to corporate personhood and an end to the doctrine of money as speech.  This means 2/3 of house and senate and 38 states must pass the amendment. Not likely, says Paul. Instead, he points to the community rights movement. 

The community rights movement started in rural Pennsylvania.  A group of people tired of fighting through the regulatory agencies and seized back their authority. They started by passing laws that banned certain kinds of companies (a factory pig farm, bottling sweet spring water, mining in another area).  Today, the Santa Monica city council is writing an ordinance that gives people the right to sustainable water sources, energy, waste disposal, and food systems and gives rights to ecosystems.  
Our group brainstormed for laws and ordinances we would like to see:
  • Incentives for consuming less not more. 
  • Ordinances to encourage urban agriculture and distribution
  • Ordinances that allow neighbors to share power when they have geothermal, solar or other power sources 
  • Laws requiring take back and recycling for companies using materials 
  • Increase tax rates to what they were in the 1950s
  • Ordinances to use wellbeing measures (the happiness initiative!!!) instead of purely economic metrics. 
  • Law that everybody has a right to healthy and adequate food
  • Ordinances that encouraging co-housing
  • Mend the rich poor gap by passing ordinances to define a maximum annual income
  • Pass an ordinance that ends the externalization of environmental & social costs in business
  • Laws to ensure true transparency of information 
  • Laws ensuring balance of power in courts for people and corporations

 You can find out more about Paul’s work at the community defense legal fund and his website.

It’s late afternoon on a Saturday and I did not get to sleep in and missed my naptime, but that’s okay.  In the distance I hear the melodic chanting of tribal elders brining in a new age. They call on the skies, the earth, the four directions. They send their blessings to us and across time that we may heal this planet, and heal ourselves.  They send their blessings to you that you may be as powerful as you wish to be in your work for the earth and for those you love. 

Posted by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of the Happiness Initiative. 

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