The Resurgence of Citizen's Movements

| November/December 2000

Beyond the empty campaign rhetoric that passes for public debate today lie the seeds of a dramatic cultural and political transformation. In 50 years, America will be a very different place. And surprise! It might be better than you dare imagine. Here's why.

We are beginning a mythic period of existence, rather like the age portrayed in the Bhagavad Gita, in The Lord of the Rings, and in other tales of darkness and light. We live in a time in which every living system is in decline, and the rate of decline is accelerating as our economy grows. The commercial processes that bring us the kind of lives we supposedly desire are destroying the earth and the life we cherish. Given current corporate practices, not one wildlife reserve, wilderness, or indigenous culture will survive the global market economy. We are losing our forests, fisheries, coral reefs, topsoil, water, biodiversity, and climatic stability. The land, sea, and air have been functionally transformed from life-supporting systems into repositories for waste.

Feeling the momentum of loss at the beginning of a new century, one wants to close one's eyes. Yet that is the very thing that will bring forth ruin. I believe in rain, in odd miracles, in the intelligence that allows terns and swallows to find their way across the planet. And I believe that we are capable of creating a remarkable future for humankind.

In the United States, more than 30,000 citizens' groups, nongovernmental organizations, and foundations are addressing the issue of social and ecological sustainability in the most complete sense of the word. Worldwide, their number exceeds 100,000. Together, they address a broad array of issues, including environmental justice, ecological literacy, public policy, conservation, women's rights and health, population growth, renewable energy, corporate reform, labor rights, climate change, trade rules, ethical investing, ecological tax reform, water conservation, and much more. These groups follow Gandhi's imperatives: Some resist, others create new structures, patterns, and means. The groups tend to be local, marginal, poorly funded, and overworked. It is hard for most groups not to feel justified anxiety that they could perish in a twinkling. At the same time, a deeper, extraordinary pattern is emerging. If you ask these groups for their principles, frameworks, conventions, models, or declarations, you will find that they do not conflict. Never before in history has this happened. In the past, movements that became powerful started with a unified or centralized set of ideas (Marxism, Christianity, Freudianism) and disseminated them, creating power struggles over time as the core mental model or dogma was changed, diluted, or revised. This new sustainability movement did not start this way. Its supporters do not agree on everything--nor should they--but remarkably, they share a basic set of fundamental understandings about the earth, how it functions, and the necessity of fairness and equity for all people in partaking of its life-giving systems.

This shared understanding is arising spontaneously from different economic sectors, cultures, regions, and cohorts. And it is spreading throughout this country and the world. No one started this worldview, no one is in charge of it, no orthodoxy is restraining it. I believe it is the fastest-growing and most powerful movement in the world today, unrecognizable to the American media because it is not centralized, based on power, or led by charismatic white males. As external conditions continue to worsen socially, environmentally, and politically, organizations working toward sustainability multiply and gain more supporters.

We will never recover what we have lost. It will take 5 million years to restore the diversity of lost species. Nevertheless, in 50 years we can begin the very necessary work of restoration. We can begin to reduce carbon in the atmosphere; recharge aquifers; bring back lands that have been taken by deserts; create habitat corridors for buffalo, panthers, and gray wolves; and thicken our paper-thin topsoil.What is possible in 50 years is a world that is wonderfully messy and deliriously creative. It doesn't fit a single scenario written anywhere by anyone. As for the United States, it will not be a country defined by technologies, measured in money, or summarized by demographics. It will be, perforce, a country in a world defined by the acts of restoring life on Earth--dancing, donning costumes, singing, performing rituals, enjoying magic, praying, worshiping, and playing. This is the work of carefully reconstituting what has been lost by creating conditions conducive to life.

5/6/2009 3:05:08 PM

Sounds good to me..

5/6/2009 3:04:48 PM

Sounds good to me..

Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!

Facebook Instagram Twitter