Fran Korten, D’Artagnan Scorza and Adrienne Maree Brown
Suzanne and I are just back from attending the BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) conference in awesome Buffalo (seriously, it’s very cool) and are full of great ideas and inspiration about localism, entrepreneurship and community building.
As a microcosm example of the kinds of people and ideas that were zinging around the campus of Buffalo State College, I’m going to tell you the story (appropriately) of a workshop entitled “Changing the Story”. The idea that we can change our reality based on how we express it is hardly a new one, however I think that we can all agree that one can never be too creative when it comes to social change and imagining a better future.
The session was ably led by Fran Korten (left), ED of Yes! Magazine (who, coincidentally, we had met at the airport and shared a cab with on the way to the conference, making her our “first BALLE friend”), who vividly illustrated the principle of how story can shape outcome by citing the disparity between early Norsemen and Inuit’s ability to survive in the Arctic: the Norsemen’s racist belief that they were superior to the fish-eating Inuit “scraelings” (wretches) basically led them to starvation.
As activists, she invited us to share with other participants the story that we are changing. In my case, it was about shifting from seeing menstruation as unclean, painful and embarrassing to having a holistic view of our cycles and appreciating and honouring them for the amazing life-giving, Earth-connecting mysteries that they, and by extension our entire bodies, truly are – yay!
Fran’s next panelist was Gar Alperovitz of The Democracy Collaborative, a longtime political activist who shared the belief that the capitalist system as we know it is failing us, and that we are on the precipice of immense change, led by none other than us BALLE-goers – wow!
D’Artagnan Scorza (center), ED of Inglewood CA-based The Social Justice Learning Institute, shared a powerful video that laid waste to the idea that most young black men in that community are destined for lives of crime and incarceration. We watched as scores of strong, proud youth reclaimed a lifeless urban lanscape and built a flourishing community garden. Their new story is about food sustainability, community development, wealth and pride.
Although working on the other end of the country in Detroit MI, Adrienne Maree Brown’s (right) story of her work with the Detroit Food Justice Task Force is one of empowerment, healing and a better future brought about through urban agriculture with startling similarities to D’Artagnan’s. I loved how she is shifting the “Detroit is dead” story to “We don’t need saving, we need you to respect what we have created.” This shift is in turn bringing a new phase of distribution and education about nutrition and food security. Adrienne further leveraged her “inner sci fi geek” to challenge us to liberate our imaginations with respect to thinking about the future – how awesome could it be? Here’s her awesome post on the session, as well as Suzanne’s account of meeting Adrienne at SVI Hollyhock in 2008!
The dominant messages that I took away included that most communities are already resourced and need empowerment and leadership from within, rather than outside “experts” pointing the way, and that the crucial area that needs the most fearless navigating lies between the old and new stories.