The Winners of Utne Reader’s

Great Ideas Contest

| July/August 2002 Issue

In our March/April cover story on Great Ideas, we urged you to send us your brainstorms for brightening the world. And that’s what you did; more than 400 entries came through our door. It was an exhilarating experience to read through all these ingenious ideas, and a difficult choice to select a single winner of the $500 prize.

After lengthy deliberation, we awarded first place honors to five members of the Globalization Study Group in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Also featured are some of our other favorite ideas.

Launch a Procott Movement
A "procott" (opposite of boycott) movement is an idea that could support the production and wider distribution of earth-friendly and justice-friendly goods and services.

Imagine if a year from now your community was home to a number of groups of a dozen people each meeting monthly to consider their consumer decisions and habits. People like you could discuss where to purchase essential goods and services, ranging from daily necessities like food and medical services to discretionary items like restaurant meals or a home. You would exchange ideas and offer each other mutual support about your consumer decisions without judging one another’s choices. You might all decide to dedicate a certain percentage of each month’s expenses to earth-and justice-friendly purchases. Then at the next meeting you would compare notes and offer support.

These gatherings would be fun social events as well as educational experiences. The meeetings would always be run with the understanding that everyone has different circumstances as we start to make changes in our habits as citizens and consumers.

Representatives from all these groups in your community might meet quarterly in a council and perhaps develop a list of local retailers and service providers that members could be encouraged to buy from. You would circulate the list in a booklet and on a Web page. Over time you would develop alliances with groups in other communities. Once groups like this were operating in many communities, there would be an opportunity to organize regionally to put pressure on businesses and on city and state governments to consider the groups’ concerns. You would also have a collective voice that showed how growing numbers of activist consumers are willing to exercise spending power for progressive causes. (For more information see: www.procott.org).

And the winner is... members of the Globalization Study Group in Fort Wayne, Indiana: Amy Coursen, Kathy Clark, Libby Friedrich, Grant McClelland, Sox Sperry. The group got its start in a van on the way home from Washington, D.C. after a protest of International Monetary Fund policies.

Celebrate Your Birthday as a Day of Action
Invite friends and family to celebrate your birthday not by buying a gift, but by taking part in an action that is important to you. This year, I've asked my family (15 households) to make my birthday a car-free day in collaboration with my work promoting sustainable transportation in high schools.
Arthur Orsini • Vancouver, BC

Equip Cars with a Friendly Horn
Cars should come equipped with two horn sounds. A soft, mellow note would be used to thank someone for letting you into a lane of traffic, or apologize if you have cut someone off. It would be the honking equivalent of saying "Excuse me."
Amy Rose Dobson

Let the World Vote for U.S. President
Since so few Americans vote, and since the outcome of the United States presidential election affects everyone in the world, I suggest that the whole world be allowed to vote for the U.S. president. If you're going to be in charge of "the world's most powerful nation," you should be accountable to the people of all nations. While we're at it, let's get rid of the U.S. Electoral College.
Tracy Bee • Bloomington, IN

Allow Citizens to Set Government Budgets
What if, when you went to the polls to vote for political leaders, you could also vote on the federal and state budget? The election judge would hand you a ballot with which you could help decide how to spend a substantial portion of tax money set aside for democratic decision making.
Donna L. Williams • Bozeman, MT
Editor's note: This idea has been put into practice in Porto Alegre, Brazil. See "Seven Urban Wonders," Utne Reader, Nov./Dec. 2001.

Establish Public School Vouchers to Fund Student Projects
A reinvention of the long-debated school vouchers idea could improve public education by allowing students to pursue their own educational goals. A new "microvoucher" program could fund students wanting to plan and carry out their own creative projects, which would be paid for by a tax break for the student's family. Examples of possible student projects: writing or producing a feature movie or local cable TV show, designing a fashion line, starting and running a business, conceiving and building an invention, volunteering in the community, restoring a local ecosystem, forming a band, working as a political activist.
Gregory Wright • Sherman Oaks, CA

Designate Street Corners for Public Conversation
No-loitering laws diminish our sense of community and isolate us from one another. Let's designate specific city corners as places where people are encouraged to talk or to listen to ongoing debates. Not out-of-the-way spots, but places people walk by every day. The crosswalk sign would say "Talk!" rather than "Don't Walk."
Ramon Parish • Silverthorne, CO

Levy a Blacktop Tax to Curb Cars
An ecotax on parking lots could fund transportation alternatives like transit and bikeways. Businesses, companies, shopping malls, even universities, churches, and schools would be charged a tax for their parking lots. You might levy a lower rate per square meter for smaller lots. Parking garage and lot owners could decide whether to charge for parking or absorb the cost.
Katherine Tevaarwerk • Victoria, BC

Prevent Pharmaceutical Pollution
Let's include disposal instructions

on packaging of medications to discourage people from flushing meds down the toilet. (We've just found Prozac, among other things, in our local groundwater.)
Jenny Gresko • Wheaton, IL

Offer Travel Grants to Everyone
Have you ever needed to get across the country to get to a funeral, birth, wedding, or other important event but just not had the money to go at that moment? What if everyone in the United States got an airline or train travel allowance? Say two or three subsidized trips per lifetime? This would be a priceless opportunity for young people and low-income people who dream of traveling to the big city, or to the woods or the ocean.
Mazal Gabrieloff • Silverthorne, CO

Say a Little Prayer for Peace
When you meet a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance, or when you speak on the phone, conclude your conversation with "Let's pray for peace in the world" or "Let's keep the world's suffering people in our thoughts."

The possibilities are endless and it makes an impression on people.
Eileen Tye • Cambridge, MA

Tap the Power of Jocks for Renewable Energy
Exercise equipment could be hooked up to power generators at free municipal gyms. As people cycled and ran in place, they would produce renewable energy that could be used to power public buildings or be sold to power companies as revenue for the city. This would improve health-both for those working out and for everyone spared pollution from a power plant.
Elizabeth Townsend • Belfast, ME

Connect People to Care for Each Other's Parents
A person with elderly parents living in a distant place could exchange simple help (mowing the lawn, driving to doctor appointments, grocery shopping) with someone else whose parents live in your town. A nationwide Internet-based registry could match people. It might not even be a direct match, but a whole network of people helping other people's parents. This would be a practical solution to that problem of elderly parents with kids scattered all over the country, and it might also foster a richer sense of community. Helping with a chore might lead to an offer of babysitting or an invitation to Sunday dinner.
Geoffrey L. Isaac • Northbrook, il

Maria Opitz is the coordinator of Great Ideas contest.