Celebrating Connections: Gleanings from the Speaking Tour

by Ma’ikwe

Maikwe, Josi, & Illly filming a video based on Ma’ikwe’s climate change/DR talk at Hydraulic Pictures in St. Louis.

You may recall that I went on the first part of a National Speaking Tour this spring, where I spread the word about Dancing Rabbit, cooperative culture, and climate change. (Part Two happens this fall. Click here to find out more!)

Throughout my journey there were a thousand moments of laughter, awe, friendship, realness and passion, and dozens of new connections. This post highlights some of the connections I made with other organizations, the remarkable individuals within them, and even some social movements I hope you will appreciate discovering as much as I did. Enjoy!

Locally-specific community organizing: A PLACE for Sustainable Living, Oakland, CA

PLACE: People Linking Art, Community & Ecology, hosted the first ever “Encountering Climate Change” workshop I offered, and is basically a small-sized urban sustainable living project. It’s a terrific answer to a question we get a lot, “Can you do something like Dancing Rabbit in the city?” In my experience the PLACE answer is, “Yes, in many ways, plus you can do some things better.”

PLACE focuses on using art and sustainability to bring people together to experience a bubble of alternative culture. The small property features tiny houses, gardens, and greywater, as well as a community gathering, concert, and teaching space. Like Dancing Rabbit, art and signs of creative problem-solving are everywhere. Also like Dancing Rabbit, there is a palpable sense of community and camaraderie, a light-hearted touch in the midst of serious intentions.

We didn’t talk about their ecological footprint, and the small size of the property and urban regulations are certainly limiting how many different projects they can have going, and in that way, Dancing Rabbit is likely ahead of them. However, they are a multi-racial project and a vibrant urban center with a feel of cross-pollination from other nearby projects, both of which we’re unlikely to manage in rural Missouri. The contrast and overlaps were both fun to see, the PLACE people were gracious and laid back hosts, and this is a great example of how local solutions and foci are going to vary from place to place.

PLACE wasn’t the only small scale project applying principles similar to those we embody at Dancing Rabbit. There are two others I want to give a shout out to. Hawthorn Farm in Woodinville, WA is a small homestead that emanates quiet peace, where I was introduced to a concept–and breakfast– of the “hand harvested diet”. And the newly formed Shanti Farms in Springfield, MO, where owner Joshua Jones is catalyzing a remarkable project, bringing together urban farmers and a vibrant local music scene… perhaps the freshest example I encountered of the overlap between local food and local music I often witnessed in my travels.

Exporting the Communities Movement to the wider culture: Transition US

While it isn’t quite fair to say I “met” the Transition Movement on this tour, it is true that I met one of their professional staffers for the first time, and was deeply impressed with her calm centeredness, intelligence, and commitment. Marissa Mommaerts helped organize the very first talk on the tour, and attended the “Starting a Sustainable Community” workshop a few days later, immediately looking for how to apply what she’d heard in the talk to her professional work, as well as her own community dreams.

The Transition Movement was started by an ecovillage activist in the UK named Rob Hopkins, as a way to bring what we’d learned in the ecovillage movement to the wider culture, to have a faster and broader positive impact on the state of the planet. It’s called “transition” because the main focus is to shift already-existing places towards post-carbon living.

One powerful aspect of this model is that transition asks people who don’t normally work together (for instance, local business owners, small town politicians, and local organic farming advocates), and many of whom don’t normally prioritize sustainability, to problem-solve together based on local community needs. It’s a chance to really apply consensus principles (that everyone has a piece of the truth and everyone has legitimate needs) in a more mainstream environment.

Marissa called Dancing Rabbit a “glimpse of an abundant, fulfilling world that is waiting for us when we move beyond fossil fuels.” I call Transition US a glimpse into the widespread creative application of cooperative culture principles with the same endpoint: moving beyond fossil fuels. So ideally the ecovillage movement can provide inspiration and a pattern language for questions to ask, which the transition movement can translate into a diverse, broadly accessible application.

Seeing ourselves as part of a (r)evolution: The Evolution Institute

The Evolution Institute is the brain child of Binghamton University professor David Sloan-Wilson, who brought me to BU for a talk. Their website says, “Evolution Institute connects the world of evolutionary science to the world of public policy formulation. We bring evolutionary experts together with other experts for a respectful and constructive dialogue, resulting in a new agenda for basic scientific research, policy formulation, and policy implementation.” It is part think tank, part academic clearinghouse, and part practical tool makers.

What is so interesting to me about this organization is how they are bringing what is happening in academia around topics like cooperation and sharing economies into the realms of public policy formulation. They’re also developing practical tools that can assess the power of a project like Dancing Rabbit, and also potentially empower us, by helping us see patterns and connections in our work.

After living at Dancing Rabbit for a while, the sharing culture becomes the water we swim in. Until we spend a significant time away (say, two months on the road on a speaking tour…), we can easily forget just how remarkable this place is. And so groups like the Evolution Institute are a gift to us. By putting our work into context, they help us see clearly what we are doing.

They also play an important role in legitimizing the work we do in community. David originally connected with us when he and two fellow researchers were conducting a major study on quality of life in intentional communities (which a number of Rabbits participated in). So now, when I’m out there telling people, “Look, folks, this sustainable living thing doesn’t suck,” it won’t be just me saying it anymore. Furthermore, David’s work can help us understand more about why it doesn’t suck, and how to translate that for the wider world.

The power of faith: The United Methodist Church

Many, many people in the US these days get their community needs met through church. Faith communities are powerful, not only as a place for the contemplation and development of ethics, but as a powerful organizing tool for ethical action. And one of the fastest growing movements within faith communities is what is often referred to as Creation Care, biblically-inspired sustainability activism.

Five years ago at an Earth Day event, I met a remarkable UMC minister named Pat Watkins. We hit it off, Pat visited Dancing Rabbit a few months later, and went away feeling inspired and interested. Pat is now leading the globally-focused United Methodist Ministry with God’s Renewed Creation, and he connected us with several UMC churches with very active Creation Care programs across the country.

So one of my last stops on the tour was giving the talk at a UMC church in Stockton, MO [picture from the church kiosk]. Our organizer, Cheryl Marcum, told me several times how much she felt like I was there at God’s behest, and I felt a moving sincerity in Cheryl that deepened my respect for the very positive power religion can have in the wider culture, especially related to climate change.

Religion is a powerful force in many people’s lives and there can be both good and bad aspects of that. Churches provide a deep and authentic moral compass for many people, and few communities can mobilize to action as quickly as a church when it is called for. Pat and Cheryl are two solid examples of people who understand the deep ethical implications of our relationship to the planet, and are harnessing that power in alignment with much of Dancing Rabbit’s mission.

Rethinking economics on a much larger scale: Commonomics USA

It was two days before the last event of the tour, and I had a Skype interview scheduled with some guy named Matt Stannard from some group I’d never heard of called Commonomics USA. I was tired after two months on the road, and frankly went into it just wanting to get this last interview out of the way so I could tuck myself back in my own bed soon. But his questions were exceptionally interesting, and it quickly became clear that this guy was doing something powerful.

Commonomics USA might well be the organization I “met” on tour that has the greatest potential for truly deep social change. I’ve come more and more to see economics (policies, systems, world view, the whole thing) as the linchpin for getting us on track to be truly sustainable.

Matt is the Policy Director for Commonomics USA, whose website says it “works to advance economic justice, reclaim the commons, and promote democratic economies through nonpartisan partnerships with America’s public officials, grassroots activists, and the general public. We engage all forms of civic life to enable and further solidarity-based economies.”

The phrase that roused me from my late tour stupor during the interview was “materialized empathy”. This is very, very close to how I think of sustainability: that it is essentially a concrete expression of care for others, and at that point it clicked that he was talking about embodying what we are doing at Dancing Rabbit, on a very large scale.

The beauty of the work Commonomics is doing is that, if successful, it will open the door for projects like Dancing Rabbit to be much easier to bring into being. Right now, we are swimming upstream against conventional cultural values and policy manifestations from those values. Economic policies grounded in the valuing of the commons, with democratic control over resources and a focus on well-being instead of wealth accumulation, are absolutely essential if we are going to transition the world as a whole to the post-carbon reality both Transition US and the ecovillage movement envision.

Here’s the article  Matt published that includes our interview. Seeing the work we do here tied in to some of the biggest public debates raging right now is a great affirmation that what we are doing has relevance well beyond the 280 acres we’ve named Dancing Rabbit.

My takeaway from two months on tour? From the smallest of inspiring projects like Hawthorn Farm, to the far-reaching implications of the Evolution Institute and Commonomics USA, I’m deeply grateful for the glimpses into the great transition all these organizations represent, and I’m proud that Dancing Rabbit is part of the sustainable, cooperative culture movement that is slowly becoming reality.


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