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Organized Localization

by Tom Church

Our present society values commercial success over ecological sustainability. We fear scarcity more than we celebrate abundance. People cope with the pressure of living in this atmosphere in as many ways as there are people.

In this chaotic time, it seems that I try to hang out with like-minded people who are specializing in trying to change other people’s minds. We do this through protest gatherings, educational forums, government lobbying, and litigation; whatever gets attention. We meet, we set focused goals, and we go at it, whatever “it” is.

The Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley is trying to showcase and form cooperatives; bringing together the many things that work. I’d like to focus on the goals and principles of two organizations I look to for positive guidance.

The Transition Town movement embraces the value and values of sharing in society, going back to the basics of survival of body and soul.

“Now is the time for us to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being.”

I picture local reciprocal relationships; local cooperatives promoting shared resources, information, tools and labor, food and energy accessibility. It emphasizes the best sustainable farm practices like soil building and permaculture practices. I picture what I experienced long ago in the hills of West Virginia when I ran away to be alone. I found myself in a vibrant cooperative and loving community where people needed each other. You help me work on my house today and I’ll help you tomorrow. I lived it in an awakening neighborhood in Philadelphia too. Transition Town celebrates the diverse composition and talents of all the members of the community. It affirms, encourages, and says that celebration of all forms of arts and music and performances of all kinds are as necessary to sustainable health as breathing and eating.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the community I’ve been marching with, protesting with, and litigating with. There are millions of dedicated people who are outraged at so many separate things. We need to get together and organize from the bottom up. That’s where the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund jumps in. CELDF and Thomas Linzey educate, advise, and litigate.

“The only thing environmental regulation regulates is environmentalists…. Federal and state laws such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, rather than prevent pollution, have actually legalized environmental harms by shifting focus away from the harms themselves to regulating how much destruction of nature is allowed.”

This “gives people the illusion that our environment is being protected.”

Originally the US Constitution put in place a “bottom up” system that is now “top down”. The only way to serve and protect our ecological balance is to change the current balance of regulatory power. I don’t think the independent-minded Founding Fathers envisioned the oligarchy in power today. The Constitution says “We the people”. CELDF helps local municipalities put in place their own Community Bill of Rights. They have Democracy Schools to discuss true democratic principles. They work with communities to write and defend ordinances “stripping corporate rights and giving ecosystems rights instead”.

The smaller a community is, the more you realize that every member has value and can contribute to the whole. Many hands make lighter work. Every member feels safe when they are valued and contributing. Through the years, decision making has shifted to the trickle-down system we see today. The feeling of safety diminished on both ends. Nobody feels valued or safe. What’s fascinating in the human condition is that the fear and the need to dominate increases more at the top than at the bottom. Much more. To the point of insanity. But there are more of us. And at least in theory, if we get the ground shifting under their feet by forging local alliances, creating cooperatives, and celebrating together, we can make a difference by showing what truly works. Let’s show them what we’re made of. Let’s dance.

by Tom Church

Tom Church moved to West Virginia in his 20s, worked for a natural gas utility and had wells drilled on his property. Now, older and hopefully wiser, he and his wife Sheila Gallagher support “Soil Not Oil”, local energy production, and the concepts of the Transitions Movement.

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