To continue the point from class about “what can we do”, I just want to re-emphasize the importance I place on joining something. Urban agriculture is an exciting and growing movement, so it’s one that I’m keen on more people joining. But the key, perhaps, is to join something in order to start building social capital and the ability of communities to solve problems–including *your* ability to work with(in) communities and solve problems. This is perhaps an especially key thing for “us Americans” to remember: being part of something effective should be the goal, not necessarily being “the” leader of everything. Everyone should, optimally, earn their right to lead, no? And even to be “one leader among many” — to be an important part of a community or movement, yet to not presume to speak for everyone else in that community or movement — even to reach that level, you need experience and grounding in a group. Even though we’re all often experts in our minds, we can’t presume to use our expertise to tell others what and how they should be doing until we’ve earned it, any more than we would accept someone else coming into our community or house as an expert and start telling us how to live without earning our respect and acknowledgment and trust.
Before we can endeavor to “change the world” (much less to “save” it), we have to learn to work with and be heard as part of a group. Despite Americans’ tendency to “bowl alone“, there are groups in pretty much every community that are working to improve or address things important to you (most likely). And if there aren’t, there are spaces to change and improve such groups–once you join and earn the right to do so. And if nothing else, there are almost always people looking for some of the same things to ally with, if one wants to found a new group. (In fact, Putnam, who wrote “Bowling Alone”, wrote a book and has a project working on how we’re “Better Together“*.) But in the Vancouver-Portland area, there’s no reason to found a new group if you can find allies for your cause already organized.**
There’s no reason we can’t all get there and start changing things now. We can’t all work to change everything–so pick an issue to focus on, something you have passion for, but keep your ears and eyes tuned for opportunities to ally with, build on, befriend, intersect, and realize coalitions with others with similar interests. To paraphrase the famous saying, don’t doubt that small groups encouraging and merging into larger, powerful coalitions can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
* From Putnam: “Better Together describes a dozen innovative organizations from east to west and north to south that are re-weaving the social fabric of our country, and brings the hopeful news that our civic institutions are taking new forms to adapt to new times and new needs.”
** More from Putnam: “The city of Portland, Oregon, where the anti-war movement of the sixties actually changed the institutions so that now there is a remarkably high level of civic engagement in government and politics (more so than in other cities, even other cities on the west coast).”