Successes Sneaking Up on Us

By David Swanson

Were you aware that…?

A coffee cooperative in Minnesota makes money by creating fair trade and cutting out corporate middlemen.

Family farmers in Vermont survive and prosper by going organic and cooperative.

Health clinics in rural New Mexico are community supported and succeed in ways corporate health care and insurance cannot.

A taxi cab cooperative in Madison, Wisc., run by the cabbies, brings in $6 million per year.

A pharmacist in Austin, Texas, works less and accomplishes more since he quit working for a chain and set up a pharmacy that ignores insurance companies and sells the least expensive generic medicine.

Strippers in San Francisco have unionized.

A community bank in Chicago has $5 million in annual profits and has invested more than $2.9 billion in underserved communities.

Oregonians have boosted voter turnout with encouraging results by getting together on a bus.

Six states and two cities hold clean elections in these dirty United States, with highly encouraging results.

Voters in Kansas and Pennsylvania have tossed out evolution-deniers.

A training camp based on the work of Paul Wellstone has trained tons of successful candidates, including four now in Congress (where, however, they’ve been huge disappointments). And lots of people are inspired to vote (albeit oblivious to the scourge of election fraud making the counting of their votes uncertain).

ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) continues to do all sorts of tremendous work, including in the area of living wage standards. In Florida in 2004, ACORN’s minimum wage initiative, which John Kerry refused to support, picked up 71 percent of the vote, while Kerry hauled in 47 percent (although this story, too, is told as if we can be sure that 47 percent was Kerry’s real total). Disclosure: I used to work for ACORN.

Grannies are slowing military recruitment, protecting threatened trees, and all sorts of things young people should be ashamed we aren’t accomplishing.

The Fightin’ Bob Fest in Wisconsin is a party other states might want to emulate.

And, finally, religious people can become environmentalists if you don’t call it environmentalism.

These stories are all fleshed out in Jim Hightower’s latest book, “Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow,” and they started me thinking about the relative importance of national policy change and local initiative. As Hightower says quite well, we need both.

Norman Solomon’s recent book “War Made Easy,” criticizes those who would shy away from attempts to end wars and retreat into small-time organic farming (or meditation). Of course, those who take that route do not describe it as retreat. They see it as taking positive steps rather than just criticizing others. Again, I think we need both. Global war or global warming will wipe out your farm no matter how organic it may be. But criticizing policies driven by oil, weapons, and greed won’t work without showing people another way.

And, of course, local initiatives that build community should, theoretically, empower people to better lobby for policy changes at the national level. Its unclear to me, however, how much this actually happens, how many local agriculture coops actually push Congress to stop funding foreign occupations. What is becoming clearer to me is how many local efforts can become regional and national successes without any help from Washington. I picked up a copy of another book, “Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots” by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark.

Did you realize that…?

Residents of Norco, La., poisoned by a Shell oil refinery and a Shell chemical plant, forced the company to pay the cost of residents relocating.

A housewife in Niagara Falls, N.Y., organized her community against local pollution in a campaign that led to the creation of the U.S. EPA Superfund program.

Over 100 towns in the United States have denied corporations legal personhood and constitutional rights in a campaign growing out of anger at the dumping of toxic sludge on farms. In Humboldt County, Calif., voters have chosen in a referendum to deny corporations civil and political rights, in response to a corporation-funded campaign to recall an elected official.

A poor neighborhood in Chicago denied good grocery stores has done better by creating an organic urban farm and local market. In Havana, Cuba, they’ve done the same.

North Dakota farmers have defeated efforts by Monsanto to sell genetically engineered seeds.

Loggers and environmentalists in a corner of Oregon have cooperated, resulting in better outcomes for both and new government policies for the whole Northwest.

Residents of Tallulah, La., and parents of juveniles imprisoned there have worked together to shut the prison down.

Cities and towns around the world, including in Washington and Virginia, are experimenting with allowing residents to determine how much money goes where in their governments’ annual budgets.

Hundreds of towns and cities have passed resolutions against enforcement of unconstitutional sections of the USA PATRIOT Act. (However, the act has not been repealed, and has instead been worsened further.)

Two colleges in a Minnesota town are competing to achieve greatest sustainability and independence from nonrenewable fuels. Together they’re influencing the rest of the state. And students have persuaded the International Conference of Mayors to adopt their recommendations.

More than 400 U.S. mayors have signed a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Roanoke, Va., is among the cities leading the way.

Sweden has declared independence from oil.

The Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota is building community and prosperity by building windmills. Other Native Americans are doing the same, harnessing wind and sun.

Local businesses in Utah, threatened by corporate big-box stores, have created a “Buy Local First” campaign with tremendous success.

A major California winery has done well by going organic and urging others to do the same.

Trailing Europe but catching on, the United States now has about 300 worker-run businesses. If anything can encourage democratic behavior outside the office, I would think it would be democracy within it.

These stories and more are told in “Building the Green Economy,” interspersed with theory, analysis, vision, resources, and tips on what an individual can do to get involved. I would add one more tip: Recycle your television and read some books like these. Those of us focused on national approaches can use the fortification of learning about successes, and need to remember the connections between local and national work. Those focused on the local level may want to consider this overview and pause to reflect on how their steps forward can avoid the two-steps back that Washington is always trying to hand them.

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