October 16, 2010
“We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence
During the 2007 ice storm that engulfed Springfield, we hung together. The talk show host who went on the air that night of the storm, a conservative who usually spent his daytime show poking at democrats – especially liberals – never once in those sixteen hours he spent taking phone calls asked the caller’s political persuasion. Not one person calling in for help asked that the person offering help be a Baptist or a Sufi or any of the other qualifiers we spend so much time arguing over. Nor, as far as I heard, did anyone offering help say, “But only if the person needing help is white or straight or believes abortion is murder.”
I bring this up because, in their drive to hang onto the power and wealth they have, the political, religious, financial and corporate elite of this country spend a fair amount of that wealth funding causes or lobbying for laws that keep the rest of us shut out and divided – assuring their power by encouraging us to “all hang separately”.
Yet, everywhere I’ve lived over these last seventy years, from big cities like Chicago to tiny little towns in southern Kansas, people formed neighborhoods or boroughs where – in the working class neighborhoods I’ve lived in, at least – despite their religious or political differences, the local gossip and in-fighting, people did hang together in a crisis. In even the poorest neighborhoods, fractured though they may be by that poverty and its attendant problems, you will find it’s the same if you look closely. That hanging together may center on a local church or school, a local restaurant or even a local bar. We may go to these places to find spiritual solace, better schooling for our kids or a rare night out. We also go there to feel people out, size them up and decide who might have our backs (and who won’t) or whose back we might have in the next crisis we or they face. It’s how we build what we call community – the art of “hanging together”.
Moreover, community isn’t just a small neighborhood in one area of a city or town. I remember watching a video on our local PBS station about life in the Ozarks back during the Great Depression. An older woman told about the winter when, not long after she and her husband were married, he fell and broke his leg. They lived in an isolated area and she worried about how they were going to make it with him unable to work. One evening, she heard a car coming down the narrow dirt road that ran by their place – an unusual enough occurrence that she went out on the porch to see who it might be. Looking down the road, she saw a string of car and wagon lights stretching back over the hill as people from across the area drove into her yard, each bringing what food they could to make sure this young couple had enough to last them through the winter. That’s community, too.
Bad people exist in every area of the country; that’s a certainty. Studies show that about four percent of the population are true psychopaths, unable to feel the emotions most of us feel when we are tempted to hurt someone. Because of this, that small percentage of people is able to wreak havoc out of proportion to their numbers. However, this also means that ninety-six percent of us aren’t psychopaths and if we can reach across the social, economic, political and religious divides we get so hung up on and work together to build real community, we out-number the psychopaths 96 to 4. Not bad odds when you look at it that way. That’s why hanging together is such a powerful thing.
None of us knows how a collapse of the American Empire might manifest, of course. Neither political party at the federal level seems to be doing much to address the long-term economic, energy and climate/environmental challenges pressing in on us, other than trying to maintain business as usual while we go over the cliff. If our leaders could stop bickering long enough, they might do as the leaders of the British Empire did when faced with immanent economic collapse – hand back the countries of their far-flung empire to the people they rightfully belonged to and get out of the Empire business all together to concentrate on saving their own economy and people.
If, however, they choose to maintain BAU, whichever political ideology gains the upper hand in Congress next month, plenty of examples of hard collapse exist. If we wish to avoid the widespread mayhem of these examples, we can’t wait for Washington to wake up. It’s up to us to work locally to prepare – by first building resilience into our own and our family’s lives and then, working within our neighborhoods, towns, cities and surrounding areas to build resiliency there.
I just joined a local group called the Well Fed Neighbor Alliance, with members across the state. http://www.wellfedneighbor.com/ They work with their local neighborhoods to encourage personal and community gardening and in supporting local food pantries. They work with their local and area politicians to pass ordinances that encourage localization and self-sufficiency. (Our city just passed a chicken ordinance that allows people in the city to raise up to half a dozen chickens in their back yards.) In addition, they work with area farmers and businessmen – especially local restaurants and grocery chains – to encourage farmer’s markets and local food supply chains that will make our areas less dependent on the just-in-time delivery system as well as providing local jobs. Similar groups exist around the country. Their goals are to build localized food, energy and economic independence, creating both community and resilience as they do. As you work on your personal resilience, find a local group and get involved in some way, building the resilience of your community.
Building resilience and community, working to downsize and localize our needs won’t be without sacrifice, but choosing to do it now and working together to make the necessary changes instead of waiting for circumstances to force them on us – with all the mayhem and ugliness of a full-blown collapse – is worth the costs. In the long emergency we are facing, the choice is, as Mr. Franklin reminded us, hanging together or hanging separately.
As with the other two areas of resilience, I’ll start a section at the top of the blog with ideas on building community and examples I find of community projects.
- Crash course in resilience (energybulletin.net)
- Eric’s Tomato – Why we need a local food movement (and why it has a fighting chance) (energybulletin.net)
- The Transition Handbook in Yes! Magazine (chelseagreen.com)