REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

“If President-elect Trump has his way, we will be standing still on a melting planet. Are we really going to let that happen?” — Sigourney Weaver, Years of Living Dangerously, National Geographic Channel

I finally found time to watch YLD’s season closing episode, “UPRISING,” which weaved Weaver’s exploration of China’s explosive economic growth and its impact on the waukegan-coal-plantenvironment, not only locally but on a massive global scale with America Ferrera’s visit to Waukegan, Illinois. There a still-functioning coal plant, owned by NRG, is creating tension between the community leaders who want to shut it down for the sake of their health and those, including the mayor, who want to keep it open for the jobs. Together the stories connected how climate action requires global attention but must start with local steps.

For over 40 years, SHELTERFORCE has covered the work of practitioners, advocates, and activists for social justice and community development. Some of my November U2Cando blog and some of this month’s blog were posted December 22nd on its ROOFLINES blog website under the title: “You’ve Seen This Movie Before. You Know What to Do.”

I shared how hearing Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, on November 9th served me well as a post-election group therapy. I recalled how his remarks generated flashback memories to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta, who spoke truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the Reagan years of deregulation for profits. Yes, the Reagan Years: when the early days of the Community Reinvestment Act were intentionally stifled; when a promising national investigation and organizing campaign on insurance redlining was suppressed by cancelling one of the final contracts of the Carter Administration.

But then I shared how my community development career started when Nixon was President. Yes, the Nixon Years: when redlining was prevalent as “wise” investing for cities-destroyed-for-cashprofit; when under the watch of HUD Secretary George Romney (yes, Mitt’s dad) Cities Destroyed for Cash was the outcome. That is the title of the 1973 book by journalist Brian Boyer, which documented how the federal government itself had become the predatory lender that fueled redlining and the withdrawal of private capital from America’s communities. I’ll refrain from reminding us about the George W Years; except to observe that our communities are still hemorrhaging from an economy destroyed by greed.

Yes, we have seen this new Trump movie before. But I don’t remember the CEO of Exxon Mobil being cast as Secretary of State. Personally, I prefer CBS’ Madam Secretary, Téa Leoni. Her TV experience is better than the President-Elect. She’s been saving the world; not firing people.

The reality of the current previews for the Trump Years is that this is shaping up to be one of those horror movie sequels with more violence and blood than the earlier ones in the franchise. There is a reason to be scared, horrified in fact. But we cannot retreat.

Thanks to an obstructionist Congress eight years after Wall Street crashed our economy and devastated our communities, government officials still can’t figure out how to employ community residents in rebuilding their own neighborhoods by rehabbing vacant foreclosed homes at affordable prices. The potential for green jobs was never really pursued when the demand for residential energy-efficiency was minimized by a Bush-appointee’s blockage of an innovative financing tool, Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE]. The expansion of solar has been curtailed by public utilities duplicitously working to negate its expansion for residential, commercial and publicly-owned properties; all of which are significant job creating markets.

Our best recourse is to re-engage with our municipal governments to further locally-generated solutions. We must advance the rebuilding of our communities as a core economic strategy to create jobs and assure affordable housing to raise families. It is the antidote to the current plague of hatred. It remains the healing cure for a just and equitable society. We must persevere at the community level, at our roots.

America Ferrera concludes her segment on THE COAL WARS observing:

“The fight against climate change and the transition to clean energy is messy and difficult. But there is so much to be hopeful about. Ordinary people in Waukegan are doing what they can to take on climate change in their corner of the world.”

That’s a theme we should all consider for our New Year’s resolution for 2017 action in our corners of the world.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

“Today, I am as optimistic and resolved as ever that we will solve the climate crisis. Our collective efforts are dependent not on politics or ideology — or elections — but on our commitment to each other, to the health of our planet and to a sustainable future for all…. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.”
Al Gore, Founder & Chairman, The Climate Reality Project, November 09, 2016 24hours-logo

The last presidential candidate who won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College went on to use his free time to give us “The Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps, it is now obvious to Hillary Clinton she should have made this year’s election about climate change.

Turns out I had pre-booked my post-election group therapy by getting tickets with other colleagues of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I’m sure all in the audience were looking forward to hearing about all the progress on climate action that was awaiting us over the next four years. While McKibben shared the audience’s frustrations, he inspired me with his story telling on how 350.org was founded.

In 2008, 350.org began with six Middlebury college students of McKibben’s. One of the first environmental organizations to use a website as its moniker, 350 signifies the 350-vs-400concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) that the atmosphere can safely hold without changing our climate. Too bad for us, we are currently around 400ppm.

The group first focused on an International Day of Climate Action to encourage the world’s most widespread day of political action reporting 5,245 actions in 181 countries on Saturday October 24, 2009. This resonated with me for several reasons.

First, college students sparking this initiative shows the strength of service learning projects such as ICA’s Accelerate77 convening the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. Second, the breadth of the international engagement challenges ICA to collaborate with our ICA-International colleagues to commemorate in 2017 the 40th anniversary of ICA’s “Band of 24”which created human development projects in all 24 time zones across the globe.

Then there is the flashback memory to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta speaking truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the early Reagan years of deregulation for profits.

McKibben outlined the arguments for divestment in 2012, when he boiled down the future of the fossil fuel industry to simple arithmetic – companies own at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can safely burn, so it must stay in the ground, so the reserves and the companies are overvalued when these become “stranded assets.” Not a good long-term investment.

Divestment movements continue to spread on campuses across America. 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is shifting money faster than any divestment movement before it. Now it’s time for local governments to enter the fray and protect the future of our citizens.

If you’re looking this fall for real “reality TV,” check out season two of Years of Living Dangerously, airing on Nation Geographic Channel. In the October 30th opening episode, BLOCKING THE SUN, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong traveled to Florida and Nevada to investigate what’s blocking the growth of solar energy in the U.S. I know it’s shocking to discover it’s our publicly regulated utility companies.

On the good news side, Florida voters in the “Sunshine State” rejected on November 8th, a misleading utility-backed campaign promoting a referendum as protecting consumers and encouraging solar. Their promotional materials did not include an explanation that the amendment would open the door to new fees and costs to rooftop solar users. As Cecily’s interviews captured, solar industry advocates argued that instead of expanding rooftop solar generation, the amendment had the potential to make it less economically viable and limit its expansion. So the battle will continue for more solar in the Sunshine State.

But as other episodes on Years of Living Dangerously document local battles abound. David Letterman’s trip to India —soon to be the world’s most populous but with 300 million people living in rural villages without power – focused on India’s dilemma of using dirty fossils fuels like coal or leading the way with the renewable energy.

central-valley-caIn California, the worst drought in 1,200 years is devastating the nation’s most populous state and the world’s seventh-largest economy. A global water crisis is forcing family farmers off their land in the parched Central Valley and threatening our food supply.

In the remote corners of the African Sahel, migrants are being forced to make the deadly trip across the Mediterranean as “climate refugees.” senegal_ricci_shryock-111-1024x683

“We have a choice, we can build walls or we can build gardens. If we don’t help people build gardens here in Africa, they’re going to come right over our wall,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Perhaps, the President-Elect can find the time to watch a few episodes and learn how all this is connected and why climate action is an imperative. Otherwise, we all will be living dangerously over the next four years.

ENGAGING CITIZENS 40 YEARS AGO

ENGAGING CITIZENS 40 YEARS AGO

“Town Meetings in ’76 are where I learned program organization skills and the power of group participation. The explosion of spirit always happened when the new song was sung and the new story of the community-past, present and future-was read.” – OliveAnn Slotta

town-meetingsIn 1976, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) launched a Bicentennial Commission approved initiative to convene Town Meetings in 5,000 counties across the US, creating one of the most comprehensive data sets of community challenges, aspirations, and proposals. Many of those original documents are in ICA’s extensive archives.

This past year our Archive Team with Dominican University Library Science graduate students explored the community challenges and project proposals that were developed in nine states as a result of ICA Town Meetings. I first found the results surprising but then remembered that this was the post-Watergate Presidential Election Year. What I find disturbing is how relevant these findings are for today’s politics and Presidential Election Year.

Finding #1 from Town Meetings during America’s Bicentennial was the gap between government and citizens fostered by poor communication between citizens & government.

Finding #2 from 40 years ago was the lack of citizen and community involvement and the extensiveness of public apathy.

Finding #3 was no appreciation for diversity amidst racism.

Finding #4 was the challenge of planning for long-term development when confronted with few public services, aging infrastructure, loss of resources, and not enough jobs.

OliveAnn Slotta worked on Town Meetings from ICA offices in Cincinnati and Cleveland. As she reflects above, the experience of engaging citizens to identify challenges that their communities face and to build consensus on action for solutions can be powerful. It is also essential to the spirit of our democracy if we are to trust government to represent its citizens.

OliveAnn now lives in Denver and teaches at Metro State University. With her husband Jim and other ICA colleagues, she is working to Accelerate Climate Action there.

“Now in Denver, it feels like deja vu. We are eliciting agency resource support, and telling the story of possibility that happens when local people join together to share visions and plan, to anyone who will listen,” reflects OliveAnn. “The major difference this time is that we are working with an experienced team of ICA and ToP facilitators, and Climate Action is an urgent message that everyone recognizes. We are expecting 50 representative participants on October 22nd at the Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods [CHUN] Community Hall. No red, white and blue balloons this time—but maybe some green and blue ones.”

Yet this urgent message of Climate Action is missing from our current political discourse. Climate Change is not a Chinese hoax. It is a Chinese calamity when air pollution is killing about 4,400 people in China every single day.

childrens-trustCurrently, a landmark US constitutional climate change lawsuit is pending a ruling thanks to twenty-one youth from across the United States, age 8 to 19, and Our Children’s Trust who filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit in 2015 against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Check out their website and sign the petition in their support.

Perhaps, it’s time to be even more direct and personal by starting to sue climate-denier elected politicians for “political malpractice.”

bob-sandra-rafos

Bob & Sandra Rafos

At ICA’s Board meeting on September 18th, Bob Rafos (who will be terming out as a director at the end of this year) was asked to offer the Closing Reflection: “We are facing the greatest threat of our time: Climate Change. This is our one mission. Our role now is as it was before:

  • Be a source of awakenment.
  • Sound the call to commitment; and
  • Demonstrate what is possible.

Using ICA’s GreenRise building as a symbol of service and sustainability, we must outreach to others working on climate action.”

That’s what we must do at ICA to fulfill our mission to “build a just and equitable society in harmony with Planet Earth.” That’s what we all must do to engage as US citizens.

Climate Action cannot wait for the 2020 Elections.

RETURNING TO A SUPERIOR LAKE

RETURNING TO A SUPERIOR LAKE

It’s been two years since we were last in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Here on the shore of Lake SuperiorUP Beach I was inspired then to start blogging. After blogging weekly for a year and then monthly for another year, this is my 2nd year anniversary of sharing my perspectives thru U2Cando!

It’s only fitting to be drafting this 64th blog here in Grand Marais as I look out at a calm lake this sunny morning before starting the journey home. Another good vacation but one I’m not yet ready to end. Can’t help but think what it would be like to spend two months up here in the UP [preferably September & October not January & February].

Writing and reading before a mid-morning beach walk. Deciding over lunch where to hike or kayak in the afternoon.UP red sunset Starting dinner in time to be done for sunset on the deck and finally hoping it will be clear enough for a plethora of stars as it was last night.

Now you may understand with that daily schedule why I’m hesitant to start loading the car and would rather grab the latest Daniel Silva thriller and head out to the deck instead. Perhaps there may be time at least for a short beach walk before departure.

Two years ago I wasn’t even thinking about climate change; now Lake Superior is my safe haven. I now prefer sweatshirt weather in the UP to worrying if Chicago’s heat may send me to the ER a third time. The lake and the wind were too cold this trip to even consider a “Superior” swim however short.

I did get some quality “dog time” these five days with Minnie & BowWow. They are the resident philosophers of my inspiration blogger Jan, who was blogging daily two years ago when we visited. Now she is an award winning blogger and still an inspiration.

Au Sable LighthouseYes, there was a lighthouse visit as we hiked the trail to the Au Sable Lighthouse in the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. Although we missed the National Park’s 100th Birthday Party by two days, I still tweeted congrats on job well done in saving our national treasures.

I know where I will hopefully be a year from now. Not sure when we’ll be returning to the UP but even if it’s another two years, I’ll look forward to this as a “Superior” memory to relive.

May your voyage be a safe one, well lit and with the wind at your back.

 

AWAKENING THE FORCE… To Save the Planet, Act Must We

Yes, there is evil in the galaxies. But often the Empire does your organizing for you out of stupidity.

When there is dash-cam video of an African-American teenager being killed by 16 shots from a white police officer, those in charge should watch it right away and act sooner than 13 months.

When you are the Party of Lincoln, you may not want your leading presidential candidate to call for eliminating freedom of religion by banning Muslims.

When you are an administrator of a Christian college, you should reconsider disciplining your tenured African-American professor for contesting fast-spreading hatred against Muslims by wearing a hijab and stating that we all worship the same God.

Thank God for Pope Francis declaring it the Year of Mercy. God knows we need it given this past year.

Yet, 195 nations have finally agreed to curb pollution. This 32-page document outlines how countries should reduce their emissions, adapt to climate impacts and finance the low-carbon economy over the coming decades. Carbon Brief has created an interactive graphic explaining all the fundamental components of the Paris deal.

It could have been a legally binding agreement but the Obama Administration knew they wouldn’t get Congressional approval. Republican majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell has already threatened that the Paris agreement is “subject to being shredded in 13 months” if Republicans win the White House.

Some deniers can no longer ignore the obvious. Six years after the Copenhagen summit in 2009 failed due to their lack of cooperation, China had to issue a red alert during the Paris negotiations instructing their people to stay indoors because the air was too polluted to be breathed. That would go over big time here.

Earth & AfricaKofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, wrote on December 22nd about the imperative of climate justice at the core of The Grassroots of Climate Change to assure “that the promised climate finance is sufficient to enable the least-developed countries to adapt to present and future climate change.” He stresses that the entire continent of Africa is at extreme risk.

Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder of Creating the Future, observed in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) on July 28, 2015:

“Looking back over the past century, however, the world has indeed experienced sweeping social change. Those successful efforts were led not by individual organizations, but by movements. What might be possible, therefore, if socially minded organizations and businesses acted more like movements than organizations? “

There will be a new US President elected in less than a year. Changing the conversation on climate change and engaging communities for justice on multiple fronts are New Year’s resolutions that not only need to be made but also honored.

Perhaps, 2016 will awaken a global movement that unites forces pledged to justice for all. As Yoda would advise: To Save the Planet, Act Must We.

MOVING APATHY TO ACTION CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING

“Faith communities are a growing part of the climate change movement.”
– Naomi Klein, Chicago Film Premier of This Changes Everything, October 20, 2015

October had a lot of action planning. The Chicago office of the Local Initiative Support Corporation [LISC] selected the Institute of Cultural Affairs to incorporate our methods to maximize participation and community engagement in four day-long sessions for its new Chicago Plans initiative, launched on October 2nd. Ten communities were selected to enhance their skills in convening community stakeholders. With a flash back to my CANDO days at the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations, two of the groups involved were assisted in their start-up in the mid-90s by CANDO’s Demonstrating, Enabling and Empowering Development [DEED] program led by Patricia Bell: West Humboldt Park Development Council and Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation.

Naomi Klein and her film director husband Avi Lewis chose to be at the Chicago Film Premier of This Changes Everything,This-Changes-Everything_Film Poster which screened in 50 cities on October 20, 2015. As my blog followers may remember, the book left quite an impression on me. With the film’s visuals, the call to action is even more compelling and the personal stories of the struggles even more gripping.

Aningi Jyothi of the Sompeta Women’s Committee is a matriarch in Andhra Pradesh, India. While singing sweetly, she battled fiercely along with her fellow villagers to successfully fight a proposed coal-fired power plant that would have destroyed their life-giving wetland. In the course of this struggle, they helped to ignite a nationwide movement.

Crystal Lameman, Treaty Coordinator and Communications Manager of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta’s Tar Sands country, is a young indigenous leader fighting for access to a restricted military base in search of answers about an environmental disaster in progress. That fight is now working its way through the Canadian courts. “If you drink water, if you breathe the air, this is about you,” Crystal warns in the film’s closing.

On October 23rd, ICA convened its Fall Sustainability Forum for the Faith Community. The opening keynote was by Bishop Sally Dyck, Northern IL Conference of the Methodist Church. She shared how she co-authored with her niece, Sarah Ehrman, A Hopeful Earth: Faith, Science, and the Message of Jesus because her niece asked “what are you doing about climate change?”

Seva Gandhi, ICA; Patricia J. Eggleston, Imani Village; K. Rizwan Kadir, Inter-faith Presenter; Dr. Mark Potosnak, DePaul University, Catholic Climate Covenant; Rev. Brian Sauder, Faith in Place; Bishop Sally Dyck, Northern Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church

Seva Gandhi, ICA; Patricia J. Eggleston, Imani Village; K. Rizwan Kadir, Inter-faith Presenter; Dr. Mark Potosnak, DePaul University, Catholic Climate Covenant; Rev. Brian Sauder, Faith in Place; Bishop Sally Dyck, Northern Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church

The forum’s Eco-Justice/Policy working group learned from Melissa Brice about the Urban Church of the United Methodist’s Divestment Campaign from fossil fuels. The campaign calls for the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to screen petroleum and natural gas from its investments. (The board began screening some coal from its investments in January 2015.) As the campaign website’s preaches: “We are United Methodists who believe it is wrong to profit from wrecking God’s creation.”

Rev. Brian Sauder, CEO of Faith in Place, challenged the 90+ attendees to have the “Audacity to move Apathy to Action.” ICA is committed to changing the conversation about climate change. Apathy will not save our planet; only the courage to care for God’s creation.
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On a personal note, let me assure my blog followers who know me that I am sustaining my faith in the Chicago Cubs. Despite having been there for the Game 4 loss to the Mets and my World Series Game 5 ticket for November 1st not being valid at Wrigley Field, as Eddie Vedder sings, Someday We’ll Go All The Way.

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT CHANGE

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT CHANGE

“You on an adventure, Mr. Citizen. I bet you didn’t know that. It’s all adventure. You signed up for it and didn’t even know it.” – Aunt Ester, Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

Point Betsie, Michigan

Point Betsie MI

It’s been a busy month since I posted my last blog. Fortunately it started with a vacation trip to western Michigan with sunsets, wineries and lighthouses.

September included a visit from my colleague Irvin Henderson, who is consulting with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) on applying to have our Chicago landmarked building placed on the National Register of Historic Places for ICA’s social justice history. Knowing of Irv’s work with the Hill Community Development Corporation to restore the Granada Theatre in Pittsburgh, we went to see the Court Theatre’s awesome production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean.

August Wilson at the Granada

August Wilson at the Granada

Set in 1904, this play begins Wilson’s ten-play 20th Century Cycle. Having seen most of them, I thoroughly enjoyed finally meeting Aunt Ester, the ancestor character that hovers throughout Wilson’s saga of African-Americans in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where he was born and raised. Aunt Ester’s admonition to Mr. Citizen remains pertinent over a century later.

The week of September 21st was the Fall Sojourn for ICA’s Archives Team and the largest ever with over 40 volunteers working in three teams to “create the future of our past.” One team explored the Imaginal Education of ICA’s Training Inc. projects which graduated 25,582 individuals across 15 locations.

Paul Noah Charts ICA's History

Paul Noah charts ICA’s History

Another reflected on ICA’s roots as the Ecumenical Institute and the relevance of a New Religious Mode for the emergence of conversations on Faith & Sustainability. The third team combed the archives for materials on ICA’s Bicentennial Town Meetings in 5,000 US counties and Human Development projects in each of the world’s 24 time zones.

I had the opportunity to welcome our archivists and to hear their closing reports but I spent three days that week visiting community and sustainable development activists in Austin, Texas. I spent the plane ride down reading ICA’s history and founding as The Ecumenical Institute as compiled by Beret Griffith. I was joined on my visit by ICA board director Randy Williams, who shared with those we visited the story of how Rev. Joseph Wesley Mathews left the Christian Faith and Life Community at the University of Texas to become the Dean of The Ecumenical Institute in Evanston, IL.

“As arguably the most progressive city in Texas, Austin nonetheless has its challenges,” Randy reflects. “It is one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in the region. If local people, through neighborhood initiatives, could be connected, this would create significant synergy and momentum for addressing these challenges.”

Red Bench AustinInterfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) believes that the work of “cultivating peace and respect” cannot be left to diplomats and dignitaries; the faithful, have to play a leading role. Red Bench is an ongoing dialogue program designed to address one of the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. September’s Red Bench conversation was on Racial Intolerance.

Texas Impact, “People of Faith Working for Justice,” lobbies on issues of religious social concern. It is part of Interfaith Power and Light, a national movement with branches in 39 states, devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith, and encouraging a “religious response to global warming.” This past February, in conjunction with Austin’s Interfaith Environmental Network and iACT, they held their second-annual Preach-Off on Climate Change, for religious leaders to share their tradition’s wisdom with not just their own congregations, but with the entire community.

Evolve Austin Partners champions the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan, crafted by the people of Austin to create a more affordable, mobile, and sustainable city. By addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by Austin’s explosive growth with compact and connected strategies, they will be seeking to create better and more inclusive choices for living, working, and getting around Austin. Their mantra is that it’s time to “change the conversation about change” to achieve the best Austin imaginable, a city that offers opportunity, freedom, and fairness to all.

Of course this month’s most historic moment was Pope Francis’ address to Congress:

“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.“

The New York Times reported Pope Francis omitted the sharpest phrase in his prepared text: “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.” A spokesman later said he lost his place and passed over it by accident.

Politics serving human needs is not a point to be passed over, Mr. Citizen. It’s time to embrace the adventure you’re on and get engaged in changing the conversation.