Think Outside the Box

Bergel_Peter_opinionBy Peter Bergel

On the surface things look pretty grim. The chances for any kind of meaningful world peace seem remote. The environment is terribly degraded and seems to be retaliating with global climate change — probably the worst crisis the human race has ever confronted. The economic system is in the toilet and may not recover. People are hurting everywhere — from poverty, disease, war, racism, renewed threats to liberty and despair. And yet— amazing currents are flowing all over the planet, washing in a harvest of hope that so far has not captured the notice of the mainstream media.

Bad News and Good News

The bad news is everywhere you look — on the TV, in your mail and coming up in conversations. Every day we hear more. As the old adage reminds us, “when you’re up to your ass in alligators it’s hard to remember that the original plan was to drain the swamp.”  Still, that’s what we have to do. Why are we progressives in the first place? Because we like to bellyache? Well, some do, but most of us see a lot of the problems and want to create a better world, i.e. drain the swamp. Put another way, we want to dredge a deep channel in the river, but are often distracted into sandbagging the levees to prevent immediate floods.

Despite the tough year we’ve been through and all the bad news, we still have a lot to be thankful for. As we approach Thanksgiving 2009, The PeaceWorker chose “What We Are Grateful For” as the focus topic for this issue, not only because ’tis the season, but because there is so much good news, courage, strength, wisdom and power developing out at the grassroots that’s flying below the radar of the establishment news media. Click on the focus topic button to access some uplifting stories.

All the News that Fits

First there are the news media themselves. Even as newspapers and network TV are increasingly owned by a handful of companies that seek to limit and control what we learn of the world, the blogosphere has burgeoned. Through it, more information is now available than ever before, and it is better catalogued and more accessible. Much of it is free, but it is up to us to decide what sources we trust, since the old arbiters of reliability are no longer as dependable as they were.

Other tools, like Facebook and Twitter, despite often being used as toys, have enormous potential for growing into the news media of tomorrow. While it used to be true that speech was only free to those who owed a printing press (and later a TV or radio station), freedom to speak to the entire world is now available to anyone who can access a computer.

Economic Alternatives

“Over the past few decades, thousands of alternatives to the standard, top-down corporate model have sprouted up — worker-owned companies and co-operatives, neighborhood corporations and trusts, community-owned technology centers and municipally owned enterprises. In fact, today, involvement in these alternative models of business outnumbers union membership as the means by which private-sector workers and community members are taking their economics into their own hands, “says Maria Armoudian in an Alternet interview with University of Maryland political science professor Gar Alperovitz. Alperovitz notes that “There are 11,000 worker-owned companies in the United States, and more people involved in them than are members of unions in the private sector. There are also 120 million Americans who are members of co-operatives — a huge number, about a third of the population.”

Citizens for Good

When I was a student at Reed College, campus groups had to obtain the approval of the Student Council to operate as official student organizations. One droll student councilor suggested that they could speed up consideration of these approvals if they just gave blanket approval to the whole lot under the heading “Students for Good.”

Author/entrepreneur Paul Hawken, suggests in his book Blessed Unrest, that a vast, autonomous “citizens for good” movement exists throughout the globe. He says, “I soon realized that my original estimate of 100,000 organizations was off by at least a factor of ten, and I now believe there are over one — and maybe even two — million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice.”

He goes on to speculate, “as I counted the vast number of organizations, it crossed my mind that perhaps I was witnessing the growth of something organic…could it be an instinctive, collective response to threat?”

He ends his introduction by saying that the book is “inadvertently optimistic, an odd thing in these bleak times. I didn’t intend it; optimism discovered me.”

I have had the same experience as I grope for a comprehensive peace vision that can help lead the peace movement to renewed effectiveness. It brings to mind this definition of faith: “faith is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.” If we raise our eyes from our own fear, despair and negativity, there is great cause for faith, optimism and enthusiasm. We don’t get to choose the facts, but we do get to choose how we interpret and describe those facts and which ones we focus on. The bad news is there and is definitely bad, but don’t ignore the good news just because of that. Φ

OR peaceworks

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