by Martin Boksenbaum
“What do we want?”, someone would call out in a sixties civil rights protest line. The protest line would respond, loud and clear, “Freedom!” Given the many troubling matters we are facing, there could be many different kinds of protest lines, each with its own what-do-we-want answers: Freedom, Democracy, A Healthy Environment, LGBT Rights, Peace, A Living Wage, Justice, An End to the War on Black People; No Penn East Pipeline; Healthy Food; System Change Not Climate Change; and on. I suspect most of us in the Lehigh Valley want the whole ball of wax.
But to find out where we are on the whole slate of concerns would mean involving communities, sizable parts of communities, in ongoing, open discussions. And that’s a good and necessary thing, I think. It would enable us in the Lehigh Valley to come to general agreement on the quality of life we’re looking for. Allan Savory, in describing the first step in his Holistic Management model, has written about the necessity of “finding a common vision, in terms of the quality of life, from which to proceed.”
And then what? There was a second part to the sixties protest line call and response: “When do we want it?”, the response being, “Now!” Now!? Is “now” even possible, the tectonic shift in thinking and acting that that would entail? Well, why not? After all, industrial plants and retail stores can close in a day. In an instant, a crash, a rupture, a leak of combustible gases, and trains carrying toxic fracking waste-water or pipelines carrying dirty tar sands oil or shale gas become catastrophic agents of change. An election can put a new government with its new policies into office overnight. Storm waters can flood communities in a matter of hours. Tsunamis, widespread mudslides, volcanic eruptions, can put an end to an entire region.
So why not now? We’re facing urgent matters. How long can we wait for a change in orientation, in intent, in adherence to a new societal paradigm, in our way of life, before we’ve run out of time?
But that leads to a third call and response that was not asked on the sixties civil rights protest lines. “How are we going to get it?” didn’t need to be asked because the answer was in the action. It was there, right before our eyes. How? By mobilizing people to take to the streets, to stand on protest lines, to take direct action.
But that answer, I think, is ultimately too simple. Bringing about the systemic change needed is complicated.
How are we going to get whatever it is we want? I agree with Naomi Klein’s assertion in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change (2014: 158): “As many are coming to realize, the fetish for structurelessness, the rebellion against any kind of institutionalization, is not a luxury today’s transformative movements can afford.”
We need to create alternative structures of sustainability (some have used the phrase, “infrastructures of resistance”). These can empower people and enable informed discussion and decision-making about difficult and complex matters. Are we up for the challenge?
Here are some of the alternative structures that have shown up or are under discussion in the Lehigh Valley. All are open to whoever would like to help them grow:
Organizations and Working Groups of all kinds have been created to focus attention and take action on the particular what-we-want concerns identified above. Many of these organizations and working groups are listed in the “Directory of Organizations That Support Sustainable Communities” section of the 2018 Sustainable Lehigh Valley booklet. These are important entry points for people who realize the importance of working collectively for change. Further, more and more of these organizations are coming to recognize that they need to work collaboratively with other organizations in order to be effective.
Sustainability Commons is a virtual workspace for individuals, organizations, and informal groups to connect, discuss, collaborate, and share all sorts of sustainability-related topics and projects. The tools available to its various online communities (i.e., working groups, ad hoc affinity groups, participating organizations) include: Blogs, Wiki, Calendar, Files, and Emails. It also provides the possibility of viewing and connecting across the full spectrum of sustainability efforts. The Sustainability Commons is a project of the Alliance.
Networking Collaboratives provide connection between people and organizations working in the same arenas. They increase collaborative potential. Some examples: Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley, and the various “communities” on the Commons (like Climate Action).
Regional Progressive Media, like Left Turn, the LEPOCO newsletter, Lehigh Valley Progressive Events, Natural Awakenings of the Lehigh Valley, provide progressive perspectives, serving as alternatives to mainstream viewpoints.
Lehigh Valley Social Impact Center, a nascent Impact Hub, it is to be part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center, becoming a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities. Its organizers believe a better world evolves through the combined accomplishments of creative, committed, and compassion-ate individuals focused on a common purpose.
Transitions Lehigh Valley provides an organizational approach for developing community cohesion and power in order to build community resilience, it follows the approach of the Transition Towns efforts begun in England, focusing on communities as the major means for addressing the converging catastrophes we face: climate change, peak oil, food and water, industrial agriculture, economic chaos, etc.
Transitions U provides an umbrella presence for all the educational efforts going on throughout the Lehigh Valley for learning, exploring, and mastering the skills and the thinking needed for transitioning to effective, resilient, and sustainable life styles and communities. And is working to make these educational opportunities more widely accessible to people and organizations in the communities served, thereby helping to build community.
Community Bills of Rights “Recognizing that communities want to do more than just say ‘no’ to harmful activities, and in fact wish to put in place their vision for healthy, thriving communities, CELDF [Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund] works with them to develop Community Bills of Rights that establish the right to clean air and water, sustainable energy, sustainable food systems, and the rights of nature”. The value of such an organizational approach to the municipalities of the Lehigh Valley is mind-boggling.
Committee of 100/Green Shadow Government does not yet exist, but wouldn’t it be good if it did? It would be a position-taking body to be created by the greater Lehigh Valley’s sustainability community whose purposes would be to: provide a framework for collective decision-making; evaluate proposals from governmental and non-governmental sources that would impact the area’s people, communities, environments, and ecological systems; and generate plans for a Sustainable Lehigh Valley.
Exciting opportunities all.
For more information about any of these, contact email@example.com
Martin Boksenbaum is a founding member of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities Lehigh Valley.