But as that system began to peak, as crops required increasingly expensive and toxic inputs to produce the same meals, ‘walk outs’ began to experiment with local and organic food. Today, there are more than 6,000 CSAs nationally, and the number of farmers’ markets has skyrocketed in recent years. My guess is that in this room most of us consciously choose local and organic agriculture.
We see the same phenomena happening today in the shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy, from conventional architecture to green building, from Wall Street and global finance to main street and crowd-sourced capital. What each of these transformations have in common is that nobody planned them.
Sometimes, leaders like to take credit for them, and we, citizens, like to ascribe genius to our favorite innovators, but the truth is they are emergent phenomena. Emergence, which is at heart of this worldview, is nature’s way of creating change.
Emergence is tricky to see, and it’s hard to describe, but we know it’s present when local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas get connected, and then, suddenly and surprisingly, emerge as a powerful system.
I’m a localist. I believe it is through small, local actions, alongside people who share our visions and dreams, that we create the conditions for change. That’s why I’ve chosen to focus my attention on working here in Jamaica Plain and throughout the Boston area.
As an impact investor, I want to create the conditions for a just and sustainable local economy to emerge here at home. I do this through my work with the Boston Impact Initiative which provides capital to locally-owned enterprises that address the growing wealth gap and ecological challenges of our times. I know there are others like me doing similar work in New York, Detroit, Oakland, and beyond. I trust that our separate local efforts will add up to collective change.
To do this work, I rely on ‘The two loops’ as my theory of change. So if you embrace this map of change, then the question arises, “What role do you play in it?” When you recognize that the dominant system, the status quo no longer has the capacity to create solutions to the very problems it was created to solve, what do you do? I’d like to share four roles each of us can play to support the shift to healthier systems.
You’ll probably recognize yourself in more than one. ‘Walk outs’ are the trailblazers. These are the folks willing to turn their back on the dominant system, eager to be free to experiment with the future.
If you’re ‘a walk out’, then you’re willing to feel ignored, invisible, and lonely a good portion of the time. That’s because what you’re doing is so new and different, people can’t see you work even when it’s staring them in the face. These can be difficult dynamics to live with, especially when you know you’ve done a good work, that you’ve already solved problems others are still struggling with. That’s why we, ‘walk outs’, need each other.
When we work as community, we sustain the resilience and the stamina to give birth to the new in the midst of the breakdown of the old.
So, let me give you an example from my local economy work. In today’s economy, ownership and investment are in the hands of the few. But every one of us has the right to participate in owning the assets we work so hard to create. Cero is a worker-owned recycling cooperative that operates in some of our city’s poorest neighborhoods. In addition to being owned by every single one of its workers, Cero has figured out how to sell shares of its stock directly to the public, raising more than 370,000 dollars from community investors.
These people are trailblazers, and they are setting an example for the rest of us on what it looks like to walk out of Wall Street and walk on to rebuild a local, living economy. Of course, not all of us are suited to the kind of uncertainty, isolation, and risk that ‘walk outs’ must embrace.
So another role is to stay inside failing systems and become thoughtful and compassionate in attending to what’s dying, to become good hospice workers. As a skilled hospice worker, your gift is to offer comfort and support to those who are suffering, and to help the dying focus on the transition ahead. It’s my belief that many of our big systems are in their death rows.
Our schools are failing our children, our food is making us sick. Our financial institutions are exploiting our citizens, but all of us can’t abandon these systems all at once. Take a look at the space between the dying of the old and the emergence of the new. There is a gap. And that’s because the emerging systems aren’t robust enough yet to receive all of us.
We still need fossil fuel to manufacture solar panels. We need to provide food aid where there is drought and disease. We need hospice workers to guide us through these transitions. In our local economy, the Jobs, Not Jails campaign is an example of compassionate hospice work. These activists are fighting to redirect two billion dollars from prison spending to job creation.