It’s Time to Think Boldly About Building a New American System

First published on Yes Magazine here

The inability of politics to address poverty, climate change, and other basic challenges has fueled extraordinary experimentation in American communities. Welcome to a new conversation on how we make change happen.

Editor’s note: This video and statement are part of the Next System Project, a multi-year initiative to spark deep conversations on how to deal with systemic change in the coming decades.

It’s time for everyone who cares about our troubled country to face the depth of the systemic crisis we now confront as a nation. We must step back from the daily fray and ask: How do we actually get on a path to the kind of society—and world—we’d like now and for future generations? We must begin a real conversation—locally, nationally, and at all levels in between—on how to respond to the profound challenge of our time in history.

It is possible to build a new and better America beyond the failed systems of the past and present.

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending,” Lincoln said, “we could better judge what to do.” Today’s answer to Lincoln’s charge is grim. If one looks at “where we are” among advanced democracies across more than a score of key indicators of national well-being—including relative poverty, inequality, education, social mobility, health, environment, militarization, democracy, and more—we find ourselves exactly where we don’t want to be: at or near the bottom.

We face a systemic crisis

The challenging realities of growing inequality, political stalemate, and climate disruption prompt an important insight. When big problems emerge across the entire spectrum of national life, it cannot be due to small reasons. When the old ways no longer produce the outcomes we are looking for, something deeper is occurring. We have fundamental problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system. The crisis now unfolding in so many ways across our country amounts to a systemic crisis.

Today’s political economic system is not programmed to secure the well being of people, place and planet. Instead, its priorities are corporate profits, the growth of GDP, and the projection of national power. If we are to address the manifold challenges we face in a serious way, we need to think through and then build a new political economy that takes us beyond the current system that is failing all around us. However difficult the task, however long it may take, systemic problems require systemic solutions.

We need systemic solutions

The social pain arising from the economic crisis, the steady unfolding of the climate calamity, and many other deeply troubling developments have made it possible to pose the question of large-scale system change in a serious fashion in the United States. Yet, despite this new space for a debate about fundamental change, challenges to the system have until recently been constrained by a continuing lack of imagination concerning social, economic and political alternatives. It is said that the existing system is the only possibility, one we must accept and work with—that, as Margaret Thatcher famously insisted, “There is no alternative.” But she had it wrong.

There are real alternatives

The good news is that the inability of traditional politics and policies to address fundamental challenges has fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation in communities across the United States—and around the world. It has also generated an increasing number of sophisticated and thoughtful proposals for transformative change. Together these developments suggest that it is possible to build a new and better America beyond the failed systems of the past and present.

We have fundamental problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system.

Indeed, new terms have begun to gain currency among diverse social movements and activist communities—an indication that the domination of traditional thinking has already started to weaken. Thus we encounter the sharing economy, the caring economy, the solidarity economy, the restorative economy, the regenerative economy, the sustaining economy, the resilient economy, and, of course, the new economy. There is talk of the need for a great transition. Several of these approaches already have significant networks and thoughtful research efforts underway. New thinking by creative scholars and members of the labor movement and community-oriented advocates is also contributing to the ferment.

Time for a national debate

It is time for Americans to think boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic difficulties facing the United States. It is time to explore genuine alternatives and new models—”the next system.” It is time to debate what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.

Those of us signing this statement are committed to working towards these ends.

Sign on at


Gar Alperovitz—The Next System Project
James Gustave Speth—The Next System Project
Annie Leonard—Greenpeace USA
Robert B. Reich—University of California at Berkeley
Barbara Ehrenreich—Author
Bill McKibben—
Oliver Stone—Academy Award-winning Filmmaker
Sarita Gupta—Jobs With Justice
Noam Chomsky—Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Daniel Ellsberg—Author, Whistleblower
Ralph Nader—Consumer Advocate, Author, Former Presidential Candidate
Ai-jen Poo—National Domestic Workers Alliance
Danny Glover—Actor, Social Activist, YES! Magazine board member
Kali Akuno—Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Seymour Hersh—Journalist
Saru Jayaraman—Food Labor Research Center University of California, Berkeley
David Korten—Living Economies Forum, YES! Magazine co-founder and board member
Stacy Mitchell—Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Raj Patel—University of Texas, Austin
Sarah van Gelder—Editor in Chief at YES! Magazine

Plus hundreds more—view them here!

Deep in the Amazon, a Tiny Tribe Is Beating Big Oil

David Goodman

David Goodman wrote this article for Together, With Earth, the Spring 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. David is a journalist, a contributing writer for Mother Jones, and author of 10 books. He and his sister Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, have co-authored three New York Times bestsellers.


Nina Gualinga, Sarayaku resident and international activist on indigenous rights, traveling on the Bobonaza River, Sarayaku, Ecuador. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Amazon Watch.

Patricia Gualinga stands serenely as chaos swirls about her. I find this petite woman with striking black and red face paint at the head of the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. She is adorned with earrings made of brilliant bird feathers and a thick necklace of yellow and blue beads. She has come here from Sarayaku, a community deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.

Behind Gualinga, 400,000 people are in the streets calling for global action to stop climate change. Beside her, celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Sting, and Mark Ruffalo prepare to lead the historic march alongside a group of indigenous leaders. Gualinga stands beneath a sign, “Keep the Oil in the Ground.” She has traveled across continents and cultures to deliver this message.

“Our ancestors and our spiritual leaders have been talking about climate change for a long time,” she tells me in Spanish above the din, flashing a soft smile as photographers crush around the celebrities. She motions to the throngs around her. “We are actually speaking the same language right now.”

A year earlier, I traveled to her village in the Ecuadorian Amazon to research the improbable story of a rainforest community of 1,200 Kichwa people that has successfully fended off oil companies and a government intent on exploiting their land for profit. How, I wondered, has Sarayaku been winning?

This is not the story most people know from Ecuador. Headlines have focused on northern Ecuador, where Chevron is fighting a landmark $9.5 billion judgment for dumping millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and leaving unlined pits of contaminated sludge that poisoned thousands of people.

Sarayaku lies in southern Ecuador, where the government is selling drilling rights to a vast swath of indigenous lands—except for Sarayaku. The community has become a beacon of hope to other indigenous groups and to global climate change activists as it mobilizes to stop a new round of oil exploration.

What I found in Sarayaku was not just a community defending its territory. I encountered a people who believe that their lifestyle, deeply connected to nature, holds promise for humans to save themselves from global warming and extinction. They are fighting back by advancing a counter-capitalist vision called sumak kawsay—Kichwa for “living well”—living in harmony with the natural world and insisting that nature has rights deserving of protection.

“Sarayaku lies in southern Ecuador, where the government is selling drilling rights to a vast swath of indigenous lands—except for Sarayaku.”

Naively romantic? Think again: In 2008, Ecuador’s constitution became the first in the world to codify the rights of nature and specifically sumak kawsay. Bolivia’s constitution has a similar provision, and rights-of-nature ordinances are now being passed in communities in the United States.

Sarayaku residents describe sumac kawsay as “choosing our responsibility to the seventh generation over quarterly earnings, regeneration over economic growth, and the pursuit of well-being and harmony over wealth and financial success.”

The people of Sarayaku are the face of 21st-century indigenous resistance. Sarayaku may be a remote, pastoral community, but it is engaging the Western world politically, legally, and philosophically. Patricia Gualinga and other Sarayaku community members have traveled to Europe to meet with foreign leaders and warn energy company executives about their opposition to oil extraction from their lands, produced their own documentary film about their struggle, filed lawsuits, leveraged their message with international groups such as Amazon Watch and Amnesty International, marched thousands of kilometers in public protest, and testified at the United Nations. Sarayaku’s resistance has angered the pro-development Ecuadorian government—which bizarrely hails sumak kawsay while selling hotly contested oil drilling leases—but has inspired other indigenous communities across the globe.


Sabino Gualinga, traditional healer and community elder. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Amazon Watch.

Defending life and land

I climb aboard a four-seater Cessna parked at a small airstrip in the town of Shell, a rambling settlement on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in southeastern Ecuador. The town is named for Shell Oil Company, which established operations here a half century ago.

Our plane flies low over the thick green jungle. The dense growth below is broken only by rivers the color of chocolate milk, the sinewy arteries of the rainforest.

The forest canopy parts to reveal a grass airstrip and clusters of thatched huts. This is Sarayaku. Moist jungle air envelops me as I step out of the plane. The villagers escort me and my daughter, Ariel, who has been living in Ecuador and is translating for me, past a large communal hut where a woman tends a small fire. Gerardo Gualinga, Patricia’s brother and one of the community leaders, arrives dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, and knee-high rubber boots, the signature footwear of the rainforest. He carries a tall, carved wooden staff, a symbol of his authority.

“The community is in the middle of a three-day meeting to plan our political and development work for the next year. Come along—I think you will find it interesting,” he says, motioning for us to follow him down to the edge of the broad Bobonaza River.

We board a motorized canoe and head upstream, passing slender dugouts propelled by men pushing long poles. In 10 minutes, we clamber out on the river bank and hike up to a sandy village square.

Inside an oval building with a thatched roof, we find José Gualinga, another of Patricia’s brothers, who was then president of Sarayaku. He is holding his ceremonial staff and wearing a black headband and a Che Guevara T-shirt. Gualinga is leading a discussion of how the community should pressure the Ecuadorian government to comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which ruled in 2012 that the Ecuadorian government should have obtained the consent of the native people when it permitted oil drilling on Sarayaku’s territory. Following hearings in Costa Rica, the court ordered the government to apologize and pay Sarayaku $1.25 million, plus attorney’s fees.

The court decision, declared Mario Melo, attorney for Sarayaku from the Quito-based Fundación Pachamama, is “a significant contribution to a more profound safeguard of indigenous peoples’ rights, and it is an example of dignity that will surely inspire many other nations and peoples around the world.”

At a lunch break, Mario Santi, Sarayaku’s president until 2008, explains the history of the struggle here.

“The waterfall, the insects, the animals, the jungle gives us life because man and the jungle have a relationship.”

In the early 2000s, “The government let oil businesses exploit and explore for oil in this territory. There was no consultation. Many communities sold out to the oil companies. Sarayaku was the only pueblo that didn’t sell the right for oil companies to explore.”

Ecuador’s government ignored the community’s refusal to sell oil-drilling rights and signed a contract in 1996 with the Argentinian oil company C.G.C. to explore for oil in Sarayaku. In 2003, C.G.C. petroleros—oil workers and private security guards—and Ecuadorian soldiers came by helicopter to lay explosives and dig test wells.

Sarayaku mobilized. “We stopped the schools and our own work and dedicated ourselves to the struggle for six months,” says Santi. As the oil workers cleared a large area of forest—which was community farmland—the citizens of Sarayaku retreated deep into the jungle, where they established emergency camps and plotted their resistance.

“In the six months of struggle, there was torture, rape, and strong suffering of our people, especially our mothers and children,” Santi recounts. “We returned with psychological illness. All the military who came …” He pauses to compose himself. “This was a very, very bad time.”

In their jungle camps, the Sarayaku leaders hatched a plan. The women of the community prepared a strong batch of chicha, the traditional Ecuadorian homebrew made from fermented cassava. One night, a group of them traveled stealthily through the jungle, shadowed by men of the village. The women emerged at the main encampment of the petroleros. They offered their chicha and watched as the oil workers happily partied.

As their drinking binge ended, the petroleros fell asleep. When they awoke, what they saw sobered them: They were staring into the muzzles of their own automatic weapons. Wielding the guns were the women and men of Sarayaku.

The Sarayaku residents ordered the petroleros off their ancestral land. The terrified workers called in helicopters and fled, abandoning their weapons. The oil workers never returned. An Ecuadorian general came later and negotiated with community leaders— five of whom had been arrested and beaten—for the return of the weapons.

I ask Santi why Sarayaku has resisted. His tan, weathered face breaks into a gentle smile even as he recounts a difficult story.

“Our fathers told us that for future generations not to suffer, we needed to struggle for our territory and our liberty. So we wouldn’t be slaves of the new kind of colonization.

“The waterfall, the insects, the animals, the jungle gives us life,” he tells me. “Because man and the jungle have a relationship. For the Western capitalist world, the jungle is simply for exploiting resources and ending all this. The indigenous pueblos without jungle—we can’t live.”

Sarayaku now wants to help indigenous people around the world resist and defend their way of life. “Our message that we are also taking to Asia, Africa, Brazil, and other countries that are discussing climate change, we propose an alternative development—the development of life. This is our economy for living—sumak kawsay—not just for us but for the Western world. They don’t have to be afraid of global warming if they support the life of the jungle.

“It’s not a big thing,” he says understatedly. “It’s just to continue living.”


“Indigenous lands free of oil: The cry of the living jungle,” a banner hanging on the side of a building in Sarayaku. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Amazon Watch.

Indigenous climate change warriors

The Sarayaku story is just the latest in a long-running battle over Ecuador’s natural resources. Oil extraction began in northern Ecuador in 1964, when the American oil giant Texaco set up drilling operations in indigenous lands (Chevron later purchased Texaco). When the oil company exited in 1992, it “left behind the worst oil-related environmental disaster on the planet,” according to Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization that defends indigenous rights. The devastated and poisoned region is known as the “rainforest Chernobyl.”

Despite pursuing Chevron for damages, the Ecuadorian government of President Rafael Correa has embarked on an aggressive new round of oil development in southern Ecuador, opening thousands of acres to exploration. The government has cracked down on resisters, recently ordering the closure of the Quito headquarters of CONAIE, Ecuador’s national indigenous organization, attempting to stop Ecuadorian activists opposed to oil drilling from attending a U.N. climate summit in Peru, and closing Fundación Pachamama, an NGO supporting indigenous groups. Most of Sarayaku’s land has been excluded in the new round of oil drilling, though nearby communities, including those of the neighboring Sápara people, are threatened. Sarayaku is joining the protests of its neighbors.

José Gualinga says these struggles have bigger implications. “We are doing this to stop carbon emissions and global warming. This struggle of indigenous pueblos is a doorway to saving Pachamama [Mother Earth].”

Women have been at the center of the indigenous resistance. Patricia Gualinga tells me, “The women have been very steadfast and strong in saying we are not negotiating about this. We are the ones who have mobilized for life.” She recounts how, in 2013, 100 women from seven different indigenous groups marched 250 kilometers from their jungle communities to Quito, where they addressed the National Assembly. In the 1990s, Patricia’s mother embarked on a similar march with thousands of other indigenous women.

Sarayaku community members travel widely around Ecuador and beyond, but most return to their pastoral village.

“We want to continue living a good life within the forest,” Patricia tells me. “We want to be respected, and we want to be a model that could be replicated.”

Patricia Gualinga, a community leader who has traveled the world speaking out in defense of indigenous rights, at her home in Sarayaku, Ecuador. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Amazon Watch.

Patricia Gualinga, a community leader who has traveled the world speaking out in defense of indigenous rights, at her home in Sarayaku, Ecuador. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Amazon Watch.

The living jungle

I follow Sabino Gualinga, a 70-year-old shaman, as he walks lightly through the dense tangle of growth. He deftly flicks his machete to make a path through the jungle for me and Ariel. He stops and points up toward a tree.

“The bark of that tree helps cure grippe [flu]. This one,” he says, pointing to a weathered, gray tree trunk, “helps to break a fever. That one,” he motions to a fern-like plant, “helps with psychological problems.”

That night, Sabino’s sons, Gerardo and José, join us in front of a flickering fire to talk about Sarayaku’s journey. They are unwinding after a long day of meetings. José wears a white soccer jersey and his long black hair hangs loosely at his shoulders.

José, president of Sarayaku from 2011 to 2014, led his community to take its fight to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. Part of the court judgment required Ecuadorian government leaders to apologize to Sarayaku. I doubted this would occur, but José was insistent that it would.

In October 2014, Ecuador’s Minister of Justice, Ledy Zuniga, stood in Sarayaku’s sandy community square and delivered an extraordinary message: “We offer a public apology for the violation of indigenous property, cultural identity, the right to consultation, having put at serious risk their lives and personal integrity, and for the violation of the right to judicial guarantee and judicial protections,” she declared.

The court decision and official apology appear to have given Sarayaku an extra measure of protection from new oil exploration. The government must now secure at least the appearance of consent, contested though it may be, lest they get dragged back into court.

“Sarayaku may be a remote, pastoral community, but it is engaging the Western world politically, legally, and philosophically.”

“We’ve shown that laws can change,” reflects Gerardo. “We’ve won not only for Sarayaku, we’ve won for South America.”

A key element in Sarayaku’s success is telling its story everywhere it can. Sarayaku resident Eriberto Gualinga trained in videography and made a film about his community, Children of the Jaguar, which won best documentary at the 2012 National Geographic All Roads Film Festival. Sarayaku has also embraced social media. Community members showed me to a thatched hut. Inside, young people were clustered around several computers updating Facebook pages and websites via a satellite Internet connection.

Now, says José, “When the state says, ‘Sarayaku, we are going to destroy you,’ we have international witnesses. We can tell people the truth.”

José draws a distinction between Sarayaku’s struggles and those led by leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara. “They wanted their freedom. We don’t need to win our freedom. Here in Sarayaku, we are free. But we take from the experience of these leaders. It strengthens us.”

A steady rain falls on the thatched roof overhead. The fat raindrops make a hard thwack on the broad leaves of the trees. A guitarist strums softly in another hut. Chickens and children run free.

“We are millionaires,” says Gerardo, motioning to the jungle that embraces us. “Everything we need we have here.” José peers into the fire. “We are a small pueblo, but we are a symbol of life. Everyone must come together to support the life of human beings and Earth.”

Originally Published on Yes Magazine by David Goodman

Greece’s solidarity movement: ‘it’s a whole new model – and it’s working’

Greece Debt in Doubt?


“A long time ago, when I was a student,” said Olga Kesidou, sunk low in the single, somewhat clapped-out sofa of the waiting room at the Peristeri Solidarity Clinic, “I’d see myself volunteering. You know, in Africa somewhere, treating sick people in a poor developing country. I never once imagined I’d be doing it in a suburb of Athens.”

Few in Greece, even five years ago, would have imagined their recession- and austerity-ravaged country as it is now: 1.3 million people – 26% of the workforce – without a job (and most of them without benefits); wages down by 38% on 2009, pensions by 45%, GDP by a quarter; 18% of the country’s population unable to meet their food needs; 32% below the poverty line.

And just under 3.1 million people, 33% of the population, without national health insurance.

So, along with a dozen other medics including a GP, a brace of pharmacists, a paediatrician, a psychologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a gynaecologist, a cardiologist and a dentist or two, Kesidou, an ear, nose and throat specialist, spends a day a week at this busy but cheerful clinic half an hour’s drive from central Athens, treating patients who otherwise would not get to see a doctor. Others in the group accept uninsured patients in their private surgeries.

Greek elections: young, broke and voting for change

“We couldn’t just stand by and watch so many people, whole families, being excluded from public healthcare,” Kesidou said. “In Greece now, if you’re out of work for a year you lose your social security. That’s an awful lot of people without access to what should be a basic right. If we didn’t react we couldn’t look at ourselves in the mirror. It’s solidarity.”

The Peristeri health centre is one of 40 that have sprung up around Greece since the end of mass anti-austerity protests in 2011. Using donated drugs – state medicine reimbursements have been slashed by half, so even patients with insurance are now paying 70% more for their drugs – and medical equipment (Peristeri’s ultrasound scanner came from a German aid group, its children’s vaccines from France), the 16 clinics in the Greater Athens area alone treat more than 30,000 patients a month.

The clinics in turn are part of a far larger and avowedly political movement of well over 400 citizen-run groups – food solidarity centres, social kitchens, cooperatives, “without middlemen” distribution networks for fresh produce, legal aid hubs, education classes – that has emerged in response to the near-collapse of Greece’s welfare state, and has more than doubled in size in the past three years.

“Because in the end, you know,” said Christos Giovanopoulos in the scruffy, poster-strewn seventh-floor central Athens offices of Solidarity for All, which provides logistical and administrative support to the movement, “politics comes down to individual people’s stories. Does this family have enough to eat? Has this child got the right book he needs for school? Are this couple about to be evicted?”

As well as helping people in difficulty, Giovanopoulos said, Greece’s solidarity movement was fostering “almost a different sense of what politics should be – a politics from the bottom up, that starts with real people’s needs. It’s a practical critique of the empty, top-down, representational politics our traditional parties practise. It’s kind of a whole new model, actually. And it’s working.”

It also looks set to play a more formalised role in Greece’s future under what polls predict will be a Syriza-led government from next week. When they were first elected in 2012 the radical left party’s 72 MPs voted to give 20% of their monthly salary to a solidarity fund that would help finance Solidarity for All. (Many help further; several have transferred their entitlement to free telephone calls to a local project.) The party says the movement can serve as an example and a platform for the social change it wants to bring about.

Syriza supporters in Athens

In the sleek open plan, blonde-wood office she used when she was a successful architect, Theano Fotiou, a member of Syriza’s central committee, was packing leaflets for the last day of campaigning, with the help of a dozen or so exceedingly enthusiastic young volunteers. She is seeking re-election in the capital’s second electoral district. “The only real way out of this crisis is people doing it for themselves,” she said. “If people don’t participate, we will be lost as a country. This is practice, not theory, a new social ideology, a new paradigm – the opposite of the old passive, dependent, consumerist, individualist model. And the solidarity projects we have now are its incubators.”

Fotiou said a large part of the first stage of a Syriza’s government’s programme – ensuring no family is without water or electricity (in nine months of 2013, 240,000 households had their power cut because of unpaid bills); that no one can be made homeless; that the very lowest pensions are raised and that urgent steps are taken to relieve child poverty, now standing at 40% in Greece – was largely inspired by what the party had learned from its involvement in the solidarity movement.

“We’ve gained so much from people’s innovation,” she said. “We’ve acquired a knowhow of poverty, actually. We know more about people’s real needs, about the distribution of affordable food, about how not to waste things like medicines. We’ve gained a huge amount of information about how to work in a country in a state of humanitarian crisis and economic collapse. Greece is poor; this is vital knowhow.”

If the first instinct of many involved in the movement was simply to help, most also believe it has done much to politicise Greece’s crisis. In Egalio, west of Athens, Flora Toutountzi, a housekeeper, Antonis Mavronikolas, a packager, and Theofilos Moustakas, a primary school teacher, are part of a group that collects food donations from shoppers outside supermarkets and delivers basic survival packages – rice, sugar, long-life milk, dried beans – to 50 local families twice a month.

“One family, there are six people surviving on the grandmother’s pension of €400 a month,” said Mavronikolas. “Another, they’ve lived without running water for two months. We help them, yes, but now they are also involved in our campaign, helping others. People have become activated in this crisis. They are less isolated.”

In the central Athens district of Exarchia, Tonia Katerini, another now largely unemployed architect (“There’s not a lot of work for architects right now,” she said), is one of 15 people running a cooperative social grocery that opened a year ago and now sells 300 products, from flour to oranges, olive oil to bread, pasta to dried herbs. The business has grown rapidly and the collective’s members can now pay themselves an hourly wage of €3


The local “without middlemen” market, one of 30-odd to have sprouted in Athens and several hundred around Greece, where farmers sell their produce for 25% more than they would get from the supermarkets and consumers pay 25% less, takes place only once a month, and the group wanted to set up a small neighbourhood grocery offering similarly good value, high quality foodstuffs directly from small producers.

Ninety per cent of the products the store sold were “without middlemen”, Katerini said, and about 60% were significantly cheaper than in the supermarket. Several come from other solidarity projects – the store’s soap, for example, is made by a collective of 10 unemployed people in Galatsi.

“All these projects, it’s very important to me, are not just helping people who need it, but they represent almost the start of a new kind of society,” Katerini said. “They are run as direct democracies, with no hierarchy. They are about people taking responsibility for their lives, putting their skills to use, becoming productive again.”

Katerina Knitou has devoted the past few years to preventing people from losing their homes. Part of a group of lawyers formed to fight a much hated “emergency house tax”, her focus has switched to the one in three Greek households fearing repossession or eviction – either because they are among the 320,000 families behind on mortgage or other debt repayments to their bank, or one of the 2.45 million Greeks who have been unable to pay a recent tax bill.

Knitou, a Syriza member like almost all those involved in the movement, gives free legal advice on how to avoid foreclosure and eviction. In the first half of last year 700 homes were either repossessed by the banks or foreclosed on by the Greek state over unpaid tax or social security bills. (With colleagues, Knitou also occasionally takes more direct action, disrupting – and preventing – planned auctions of repossessed and foreclosed homes.)

“This whole thing,” she said, “has made a lot of people very aware, not just of what they face, but also of what they can – and must – do. Expectations are going to be high after Sunday, but there are of course limits to what even a Syriza government will be able to do. It’s up to us, all of us, to change things. And honestly? This feels like a good start.”

First Published: The Guardian by Jon Henley in Athens

The First FairCoop Bulletin

Hello friends! This is the first FairCoop Bulletin; we plan on sending these out on a semi-regular, (non-spammy) basis to let you know what’s going on in the global movement. The wealth of any movement is its members so please if you have any doubts, questions, suggestions or downright inspirations, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and get involved.

1. Participate in defining how FairCoop is going to make decisions!

Ok first of all, as you probably know, the decision-making structure of is based around councils, like the branches of a tree, and the ‘trunk’ of this tree is the provisional Ecosystemic Council, which is now beginning to do its work, and as one of its main tasks has developed a draft of the methodological process for making decisions at FairCoop ecosystem level.

Right now the draft has been published here.

Please have a read – there are two weeks for the document to be discussed and improved in our own social network, the Fairnetwork.

These are the complete deadlines that are scheduled:

  • Draft: 06-18 November
  • internal discussion on the council: 19-26 November
  • open discussion on the network: 27 -17 December
  • draft update with network: 18-21 December
  • Voting: (to confirm between finals of December and beginnings of January)

2. Internal economics updates

FairCoop has received a donation of 12600 euros from, an international Fair Trade company dedicated to fresh hand made cosmetics, that is involved in helping activists and good causes, like permaculture and animal rights around the world. Our ongoing conversation with Lush continues to make broader collaborations in the near future possible.

At the same time that we are able to share this information we have published the incomes and spends of the first three months of FairCoop activity. You can get the info and make comments in this link:

3. A new network front page has been released. From here it will be easy for you to browse the different resources of the FairNetwork.

4. A new local nodes guide has been published, if you are interested in setting up a local node, check out this document!

5. The translation to diverse languages continues!

German and Romanian, are already translated and we are working for add they in the site. More help is needed for those languages that are in the works, like, Portuguese, Italian, Norwegian, Dutch…

Check how to contribute to translations here:

Also we want to remind you that if you don’t feel totally confident writing in English you can write in your own language. To make it easy for everyone to follow the discussions, we would like to suggest using these two forums for multilingual writings:

– For asking questions:

– For sharing ideas, proposals, thoughts, etc…: FairCoop Community ->

6. Call for the Global South Council. The process for receiving the biographies of the candidates who want to become members of the first (provisional) Global South Council is open. If you are interested in becoming part of the council, please send your bio to any of the Ecosystemic Council members ( If you aren’t yet in contact with any of us, please contact us at coop at

Originally published here :

10 Ideas For Change, Co-operative Local Economies


As the cracks in corporate capitalism deepen, the co-operative economy is gaining strength. Rooted in community and in the democratisation of ownership, co-operative structures allow citizens to reclaim power over their workplaces, their open spaces, their housing, shops and public realm. Here are ten ideas for building grassroots democratic economies:

1. Take over local shops: Community-run shops – and pubs and petrol stations and libraries – have grown in the UK in recent years, particularly in rural areas. In Ceredigion a co-operative called 4cg began by fighting back against a supermarket planning to move into the town. Through a series of share issues it has communally purchased land and buildings and offers cheap parking and facilities. Its assets now include a community shop as an outlet for local producers and a children’s centre. In a remote island in Maine in New England, employees bought out the three main retail businesses in the town to create the largest worker co-op in the state.

2. Support the development of co-ops: New York City’s most recent budget includes $1.2m for the development and support of worker-owned co-ops, the biggest investment ever made by a city government in the US. In the Bronx, the Green Worker Co-operatives runs a Co-op Academy to help new co-ops get off the ground. The Fund for Democratic Communities supports the development of democratic communities in southern states of the US. In the UK there are a number of development agencies including the Wales Co-operative Centre, Co-operative Development Scotland and Co-operatives UK.

3. Build community media: The centralisation and corporatisation of media has huge implications for local development and democracy. In many places local newspapers have succumbed to market forces and closed their doors. But a movement of co-operative and community-run media businesses is building. Sheffield is home to the UK’s first local television community benefit society, Sheffield Live TV, funded by community shares, and in France a crowdfunding campaign to save regional daily Nice-Matin and convert it into a worker’s co-operative beat its target of €300,000. The West Highlands Free Press has been running for over 40 years and is now employee-owned.

4. Mutualise the local economy: Sheffield co-operative Regather’s ambitious mission is to create a mutual local economy. It helps local people exchange goods and services with each other, expand co-operative working and build collective resources. In Dalston in east London, the Hackney Co-operative Developments supports and incubates cooperative and locally-run businesses.

5. Take over the local football club: The most recent issue of New Start shone a light on the growing number of supporter-led football clubs and the power of community-run clubs to boost their local economy. As big clubs get ever more remote from the communities in which they are based, Supporter’s Direct is helping a new wave of supporter-led clubs to emerge.

6. Gain community ownership of natural assets: Our ancestors – who worked together on common land and managed local woodland as communities – would have despaired at today’s concentration of land ownership and gated communities. A new commons movement is rebuilding community ownership of parkswoodlands and evenmountains.

7. House-build for the common good: Rather than allowing housebuilders, developers and property owners to extract all the value from new developments, there are a number of ways in which that value can be used for the benefit of the wider community. Community Land Trusts are gaining momentum across the UK as housing becomes increasingly out of the reach of many. Community-controlled and owned, they hold land in trust so that housing remains permanently affordable.New garden cities are reviving Ebenezer Howard’s model, which spread the increased value of development to build community infrastructure.

8. Set up community finance mechanisms: New forms of local finance are needed to drive a co-operative revolution. In many places local banks and investment clubs help support co-operative development. In the US urban community land trusts have flourished with the help of city-CLT relationships, in which the local government supports and helps fund new developments. In Germany the KfW public bank provides capital at 1% to local co-operative banks and municipal savings banks for local investment.


9. Fund the platform: Co-ops and collaborative ventures rely on civic participation, and when it comes to participation, the wider and deeper the better. Organisations like Civic Systems Lab have learnt that the creation of an open platform, on which citizens are invited to co-build the projects and services they want, has greater impact than pre-defined projects that limit involvement. Good examples are Singeldingen, a kiosk in a park in Rotterdam that has become a base from which locals run an endless range of activities during the summer months, and Incredible Edible Todmorden, which invited the whole town to become food growers.

10. Open a Mayor’s Living Room – or similar neighbourhood space: An empty property on a street corner in Rotterdam, previously a place for anti-social behavior, has become the meeting place for the whole neighbourhood. In the so-called Mayor’s Living Room the local community comes together to cook, hold meetings, play music and hang out. Households can become members and pay €3 a month, which helps upkeep the building. Residents come together to celebrate national holidays and, as described in the Community Lovers Guide to Rotterdam, ‘young and old, local residents and professionals, everyone has found a place in our living room’.

Original article published at :


The Satori Generation

Satori Generation

A new breed of young people have outdone the tricksters of advertising.

They don’t want cars or brand name handbags or luxury boots. To many of them, travel beyond the known and local is expensive and potentially dangerous. They work part-time jobs—because that is what they’ve been offered—and live at home long after they graduate. They’re not getting married or having kids. They’re not even sure if they want to be in romantic relationships. Why? Too much hassle. Oh, and too expensive.

In Japan, they’ve come to be known as satori sedai—the “enlightened generation.” In Buddhist terms: free from material desires, focused on self-awareness, finding essential truths. But another translation is grimmer: “generation resignation,” or those without ideals, ambition or hope. 

They were born in the late 1980s on up, when their nation’s economic juggernaut, with its promises of lifetime employment and conspicuous celebrations of consumption, was already a spent historical force.  They don’t believe the future will get better—so they make do with what they have.  In one respect, they’re arch-realists. And they’re freaking their elders out.

“Don’t you want to get a nice German car one day?”—asked one flustered 50-something guest of his 20-something counterpart on a nationally broadcasted talk show.  The show aired on the eve of Coming of Age Day, a national holiday in Japan that celebrates the latest crop of youth turning 20, the threshold of adulthood.  An animated graphic of a smiling man wearing sunglasses driving a blonde around in a convertible flashed across the screen, the man’s scarf fluttering in the wind.  “Don’t you want a pretty young woman to take on a Sunday drive?”

There was some polite giggling from the guests.  After a pause, the younger man said, “I’m really not interested, no.”

Critics of the satori youths level the kinds of intergenerational accusations time-honored worldwide: they’re lazy, lacking in willpower, potency and drive. 

Having lectured to a number of them at several universities in Tokyo, I was able to query students directly.  “We’re risk-averse,” was the most common response.  We were raised in relative comfort.  We’re just trying to keep it that way.

Is this enlightened, or resigned? Or both?

Novelist Genichiro Takahashi, 63, addressed the matter in an essay 10 years ago.  He called the new wave of youth a “generation of loss,” but he defined them as “the world’s most advanced phenomenon”—in his view, a generation whose only desires are those that are actually achievable.  

The satori generation are known for keeping things small, preferring an evening at home with a small gathering of friends, for example, to an upscale restaurant.  They create ensemble outfits from so-called “fast fashion” discount stores like Uniqlo or H&M, instead of purchasing top-shelf at Louis Vuitton or Prada.  They don’t even booze.

“They drink much less alcohol than the kids of my generation, for sure,” says social critic and researcher Mariko Fujiwara of Hakuhodo. “And even when they go to places where they are free to drink, drinking too much was never ‘cool’ for them the way it was for us.”

Fujiwara’s research leads her to define a global trend—youth who have the technological tools to avoid being duped by phony needs.  There is a new breed of young people, she says, who have outdone the tricksters of advertising. 

“They are prudent and careful about what they buy. They have been informed about the expensive top brands of all sorts of consumer goods but were never so impressed by them like those from the bubble generation. We have identified them as those who are far more levelheaded than the generations preceding them as a result of the new reality they came to face.”

The new reality is affecting a new generation around the world.  Young Americans and Europeans are increasingly living at home, saving money, and living prudently.  Technology, as it did in Japan, abets their shrinking circles.  If you have internet access, you can accomplish a lot in a little room.  And revolution in the 21st century, as most young people know, is not about consumption—it’s about sustainability.

Waseda University professor, Norihiro Kato, points to broader global phenomena that have radically transformed younger generations’ sense of possibility, calling it a shift from “the infinite to the finite.” Kato cites the Chernobyl meltdown and the fall of communism in the late 1980s and early 90s; the September 11 terrorist attacks in the early 2000s; and closer to home, the triple earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear disasters in Japan. These events reshaped our sense of wisdom and self-worth. The satori generation, he says, marks the emergence of a new “‘qualified power,’ the power to do and the power to undo, and the ability to enjoy doing and not doing equally.  Imagine a robot with the sophistication and strength to clutch an egg without crushing it.  The key concept is outgrowing growth toward degrowth.  That’s the wisdom of this new generation.”

In America and Europe, the new generation is teaching us how to live with less—but also how to live with one another. Mainstream media decry the number of young people living at home—a record 26.1 million in the US, according to recent statistics—yet living at home and caring for one’s elders has long been a mainstay of Japanese culture.

In the context of shrinking resources and global crises, satori “enlightenment” might mean what the young everywhere are telling us: shrink your goals to the realistic, help your family and community and resign yourself to peace. 

What Takahashi called “the world’s most advanced phenomenon” may well be coming our way from Japan. But this time it’s not automotive or robotic or electronic. It’s human enlightenment.

Traducción Español

Roland Kelts is a half-Japanese writer based in Tokyo and New York. He is the author of the bestselling JAPANAMERICA: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US, and a contributor to enlightened media worldwide. 

Original Article published on ADBUSTERS

Why Is The World Ignoring The Revolutionary Kurds In Syria?

The autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few bright spots – albeit a very bright one – to emerge from the tragedy of the Syrian revolution. Having driven out agents of the Assad regime in 2011, and despite the hostility of almost all of its neighbours, Rojava has not only maintained its independence, but is a remarkable democratic experiment. Popular assemblies have been created as the ultimate decision-making bodies, councils selected with careful ethnic balance (in each municipality, for instance, the top three officers have to include one Kurd, one Arab and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian, and at least one of the three has to be a woman), there are women’s and youth councils, and, in a remarkable echo of the armed Mujeres Libres (Free Women) of Spain, a feminist army, the “YJA Star” militia (the “Union of Free Women”, the star here referring to the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar), that has carried out a large proportion of the combat operations against the forces of Islamic State.

How can something like this happen and still be almost entirely ignored by the international community, even, largely, by the International left? Mainly, it seems, because the Rojavan revolutionary party, the PYD, works in alliance with Turkey’s Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), a Marxist guerilla movement that has since the 1970s been engaged in a long war against the Turkish state. Nato, the US and EU officially classify them as a “terrorist” organisation. Meanwhile, leftists largely write them off as Stalinists.

But, in fact, the PKK itself is no longer anything remotely like the old, top-down Leninist party it once was. Its own internal evolution, and the intellectual conversion of its own founder, Abdullah Ocalan, held in a Turkish island prison since 1999, have led it to entirely change its aims and tactics.

The PKK has declared that it no longer even seeks to create a Kurdish state. Instead, inspired in part by the vision of social ecologist and anarchist Murray Bookchin, it has adopted the vision of “libertarian municipalism”, calling for Kurds to create free, self-governing communities, based on principles of direct democracy, that would then come together across national borders – that it is hoped would over time become increasingly meaningless. In this way, they proposed, the Kurdish struggle could become a model for a wordwide movement towards genuine democracy, co-operative economy, and the gradual dissolution of the bureaucratic nation-state.

Read more here

How Should We Go About Researching Happiness & Wellbeing?

Bhutan Dachu Laa Pass Aili P

Bhutan Dachu Laa Pass Aili P

Blog-post written by Aili Pyhälä

Last month, I had the immense fortune to attend the 14th International Congress of Ethnobiology , this time held in the wondrous country of Bhutan.

Bhutan is perhaps best known to the world for being the only country that has officially endorsed Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross National Product (GNP), the latter being the standard – and increasingly criticized – global measure of national development. It was also wonderful to see that this beautiful country and culture – one of the only in the world- has managed to resist so many ugly facets of globalization.

And that’s not all: Bhutan has officially designated 42% of its surface area as National Parks, many of which are connected by ecological corridors. Conservation seems to go beautifully hand-in-hand with the still widely practiced Buddhist philosophy, as the people still hold great reverence to countless numbers of sacred sites, many of them protected natural phenomena. In addition, it is unheard of to evict people from Protected Areas; it is possibly still the norm to live in relative harmony with nature, still winning over many of the less sustainable and outdated e.g. Forest Policy Laws (which, incidentally, were adopted from India in the 1950s, remnants of British colonialist-style conservation and forest management).

One of Bhutan's many Natl Parks

One of Bhutan’s many Natl Parks

The Congress

The congress I attended – along with 300 or so other participants – is the main gathering of the International Society of Ethnobiology  to bring together researchers, academics, students, policy-makers, lawyers and community leaders from all around the world, including from the hosting country. This year, to my pleasant surprise, an exceptionally large number of indigenous peoples and their representatives also attended the conference. It was the largest ever international conference organized in Bhutan to date, explaining perhaps why her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi, the Princess of Bhutan, was present herself at the opening ceremony, enlightening us all with her beauty and her well-spoken words on the importance of traditional knowledge in guiding us into the future.

Lamai Compa site of Congress

Lamai Compa site of Congress

The congress was very well organized and generously hosted by UWICE, the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment, a government research and training institute under the Department of Forests and Park Services (Ministry of Agriculture and Forests). The week-long congress (1st-8th of June) took place in the stunning Lamai Gompa Dzong in Bumthang, a valley in central Bhutan, a 12-hour bumpy and dusty yet spectacular bus ride from Paro, where we had all flown into.

The conference format consisted of a healthy and stimulating mix of conventional academic presentations and more open discussions, talking circles, workshops, cultural presentations, field trips, and even a Biocultural Film Festival! The over-arching conference theme was “Regenerating Biocultural Ecosystem Resilience”, under which sub-themes included topics related to conservation and governance, but also much less rarely touched upon ones such as “Living Well: Environment, Sacred Heritage and Livelihood” and “Mindfulness, Ethics and Mental Ecology”. For a more general account of the conference, see here  for another blog I co-wrote with my colleague Álvaro.

Highlights on wellbeing

Already on the very first day of the conference, there was a scientific stream on “Health and Wellbeing”, (in which I also presented some of my own recent research results). In this session, I was enlightened particularly by the speaker before me, Evelyn Roe, who posed the question: “How does the way of knowing affect what we come to know?” Drawing from insights she had gained while observing water lilies in Zambia, Evelyn gave an excellent presentation on phenomenological botany, with a strong and clear message of how much we miss out on when we only use intellectual, analytical, scientific approaches to try to understand things, while disregarding the more holistic, intuitive, experiential ways of knowing. Her talk illustrated how a holistic paradigm of science starting at the observational level could help to build more meaningful and better grounded research studies.

Now what does this have to do with happiness and wellbeing, you may ask? Quite a lot, I would say. While not meaning to discredit mainstream scientific approaches, so much of wellbeing research has to date been carried out in precisely this “intellectual, analytical, scientific way of knowing” that Evelyn referred to, almost in an obsessive manner of attempting to find the perfect measurement scales, analytical frameworks, and then see who are, for instance, “the happiest people on Earth”. One might stop and question whether we are being contradictory in our approach and to the very nature of happiness and wellbeing, concepts far more on the holistic, intuitive and experiential scale than what measures of them indicate.

A couple of days after Evelyn’s talk, our plenary audience was gently led into a few minutes of peaceful silent meditation by Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi, Director of the National Museum of Bhutan and enlightened monk. Hundreds of people sitting in perfect silence in the large auditorium, having just been taken through an exquisite visual journey of Bhutan’s Sacred Sites… quite something for a conference! This was the session called “Sacred Mandala: Protecting Bhutan’s Sacred Natural Sites”. In his talk, Khenpo spoke about how there is another sort of “sacred site”, namely the inner sacred site, and that we conservationists and ecologists often forget and overlook this. He spoke to us of the new global disease – nature deprivation – and I was once again reminded of how intricately inter-linked the inner and outer worlds are. How many have stopped to realize how strongly connected our natural environment is with our mental and physical states of wellbeing?

A sign for visitors on the path to the Tiger's Nest

A sign for visitors on the path to the Tiger’s Nest

Policy-makers and mass media speak to us of growth, and progress and development, measuring these with predominantly materialistic and economic indicators. Meanwhile, the more a society “develops”, the more it seems to stray from nature. Makes me wonder whether perhaps access – or – connection – to nature should be included in the next version of the GNH index?

As for happiness, I smiled to myself when our speaker, who is regarded a national expert on happiness and GNH, did not want to give us a definition of happiness. According to Khenpo, each person has their own specific and unique definition of happiness and what it means to them, and that is how it should be.

I couldn’t agree more!

So why are we so fussed about studying, measuring, comparing, and categorizing happiness and wellbeing, if happiness and wellbeing are such uniquely individual experiences?

Wellbeing at the community level

Another great section in the ISE Congress was the double session dedicated entirely to presentations and discussion around “Community-led initiatives for wellbeing in a changing world”. Co-chaired by Gary Martin (Global Diversity Foundation) and Octaviana V. Trujillo (Northern Arizona University), the session was one of the most deeply awakening ones that I attended all week, and excellent in its balance of presentations and open-floor discussion. Gary Martin opened the session nicely underlying that whatever term we want to use, be it “wellbeing” or “buen vivir” or “happiness” or “living the beautiful life”, it is clear that this broad concept is becoming increasingly discussed, studied, used, marketed, and even institutionalized and constitutionalized (take Bolivia, Bhutan and Ecuador as examples). But how do we, as individuals and communities, understand or live these concepts.

The point of the session, as Gary clarified, was to focus not so much on the institutions or academics behind wellbeing, but on what communities had to say about it. What followed were a highly diverse set of rich and informative talks by several community leaders and representatives, as well as individuals working closely with communities and their wellbeing.

Wellbeing for the Bribri of Costa Rica

Alí García Segura (Univ. of Costa Rica), a Bribri indigenous representative from Costa Rica, gave a moving talk about the mismatches between Western and indigenous culture and concepts in Costa Rica. He told us that in his native language, there is no word for “love” or “nature” or “life”; all these words are one and the same concept. In his culture, there is no need to utter words for this concept; one simply “lives it”. For Alí and his people, these are all internal terms, not external concepts to be verbalized. He went on to explain how confusing it can be for his community when outsider researchers come and want to talk to them about “wellbeing”. Similarly, he shared with us an interesting characteristic of his culture: people don’t ask questions: if one has a question, then the answers to it are believed to arise naturally and by themselves through dialogue. So again, when foreign researchers come to their villages and go directly from one household to another with their ‘survey’, asking lots of questions on concepts they don’t have words for, not surprisingly, the local community are left feeling awkward. What a great example of the challenges in communication between cultures, and between local and “scientific” ways of knowing and expressing.

According to Alí Garcia Segura, wellbeing for the Bribri is rooted in everything, in the seed of life itself. “If I am well, then everyone else is well. If everyone else is well, then I am well”. In the Bribri culture, others come first: by ensuring that everyone else is well, one also ensures that one self is well. Hence, not surprisingly, according to Alí, they also find it hard to grasp the foreign notion of ‘development’. The impression they have been given is one of having a big car and a big house. But they themselves know that, this is not development. Development is being in good health, and knowing that the entire family and community are also well.

Alí also replicated the usual story of external development agencies that arrive in his village with pre-determined “development projects”. I would almost say development “packages”, seeing they do not even bother to ask the Bribri about what development might mean to them,

A placard seen at the entrance to a Dzong (temple)

A placard seen at the entrance to a Dzong (temple)

The case of Buganda Kingdom

Another inspiring account was that given by Mahmoud Ssekimpi Ssemambo, the Prime Minister of the Buganda Kingdom (Uganda), who gave a lengthy and comprehensive talk about “Nurturing wellbeing in the Buganda Kingdom”. He started off by pointing out that in Buganda, anyone can be well, no matter what their social class, status, or rank in society.

According to Mahmoud, his peoples recognize three underlying forms of wellbeing: the physical, spiritual and environmental. All these are seen as integrated by basic knowledge and wisdom and governance systems. Wellbeing for the villagers of Buganda is ultimately about good health, being at peace with one another, knowing one’s responsibilities and obligations, and looking after each other. Community wellbeing requires a conducive environment, fundamentals of which are land for growing sufficient food and working health systems. Community work also plays an important part of life, as does sharing (e.g. of seeds) and participation in communal events. In order to maintain their traditional knowledge system and wisdom, the principles that Buganda Kingdom adhere to include: generosity, even to strangers; children’s upbringing by the entire community (no orphans, thanks to extended family set-up); and a strong belief system guiding their norms and practices, including taboos to delineate clear responsibilities (e.g. on natural resource management and hygiene).

One of many encountered sacred spots in Bhutan

One of many encountered sacred spots in Bhutan

Despite these good intentions, not all has been smooth and easy in Buganda Kingdom. Influences from outside (i.e. new settlers who do not understand or appreciate local structures), coupled with increased Westernization and commercialization (local villagers aspiring to the Western culture as if it were better) have also resulted in an increase in selfishness, the selling of land for quick money (especially by the younger generation) and inefficient health systems. But rather than let mainstream development run its often damaging course, the Buganda Kingdom have taken a number of initiatives towards enhancing community resilience and wellbeing, including: a revival of territorial sovereignty and integrity (they were just recently given land titles after previously having been on state-owned land!); a move towards preserving traditional customs and traditions; embarking upon self-help projects (e.g. food sovereignty), and; revitalizing traditional medicine knowledge and practice. All in all, quite an exemplary account.

Other African initatives

Unfortunately (due to parallel sessions elsewhere) I missed the presentations by Rimuy Pagung (Sarep Southern Africa Environment Program) and Friedrich (Fidi) Alpers (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, Namibia). I heard later on in the coffee break, however, that Fidi’s talk was excellent and very much in line with my own work, so I approached him and found out that he is working to help to facilitate inter-generational transmission of Traditional Ecological Knowledge between elders and youth to improve wellbeing in Bwabwata National Park, Namibia,. Wonderful! And it gets even better: the indicators of wellbeing they use include dignity and self-determination.

Stories from North America

Octaviana Trujillo, a Yaqui Native American and Professor, gave us a positive insight into what it is like to walk the line between academia and community work, as an indigenous representative herself. She managed to reassure me at least that it can be done. Octaviana took a few minutes to share with us some good news from the USA, where the national government has finally started providing some “mini-grants” (funded by some National Institutes for Health and Science Foundations) for more meaningful research on health and wellbeing – “meaningful” in that the research is also geared to benefit the community. According to Octaviana, the funding bodies have realized that if they really want to solve long-term problems of health and wellbeing in Native American settlements, they have to get to the root of it, by working directly with the communities themselves.

“You can tell much about a country by the way they treat their animals” In Bhutan even the dogs seems happy

“You can tell much about a country by the way they treat their animals” In Bhutan even the dogs seems happy

So, Octaviana has been visiting Native American reservations to interview the elders about what health, wellbeing and happiness mean to them, and about their visions and wishes for future generations. I am already curious to hear more, both about the research findings and about the hopefully positive implications these research-collaboration projects at multiple levels.

The most deeply touching presentation was that given by Linda McDonald (Liard First Nation) who shared with us a short film, “Educating Our Youth”, produced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It spoke to us in an open and raw manner about the effects this reconciliation effort has had on healing historic trauma from the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people in Canada as a result of forced residential schools and all the implications these have had across generations. Many of us in the audience were moved to tears by this powerful video clip (available freely online here. The session ended with Gary Martin leaving us to ponder on how we – humanity – can be well, if and when we are inflicting injustices and suffering upon others, whether due to race, class, sexual orientation, gender, or whatever absurd reason.

Some final reflections

At the end of the session on “Community-led initiatives for wellbeing”, I found myself questioning some seeming contradictions that had risen in the presentations. For instance, while we learned that for the Bribri of Costa Rica that it is culturally inappropriate and insensitive to ask them questions about wellbeing (for two predominant reasons: a) they don’t use words to describe such concepts, and; b) it is not in their culture to ask questions) we learned in contrast from the USA that this kind of investigative approach seems to be precisely the way forward for any kind of meaningful research and effective collaboration with the Native American communities. Another puzzling discrepancy was that while in some societies (like Buganda Kingdom), equality in terms of social class/status does not seem to be a prerequisite of wellbeing, other speakers were stressing the importance of it (as also established in other research and brilliantly argued by, for instance, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009) in their highly recommendable book The Spirit Level).

My last day in Bhutan. The magnificent Tiger's Nest

My last day in Bhutan. The magnificent Tiger’s Nest

As a researcher of cross-cultural notions of wellbeing, I am left to wonder where this leaves me, and us…

What do differences and contradictions like these mean for global and cross-cultural research on – and initiatives for – wellbeing and happiness? How do we move forward when we find ourselves stumbling upon such surprisingly different cultural inconsistencies like the ones mentioned above? Why should we even attempt to draw any universal definitions or measures of wellbeing when there apparently exist such fundamental differences in what are considered determinants of wellbeing?

There are moments like these when feel stuck, in internal dilemma, about whether I should just drop my happiness and wellbeing research, and leave it to float in the unarticulated space of the intuitive, with no need to dig deeper or analyze further. Why not leave it for each individual and community to live their own concept of wellbeing, and express it as they wish? I also wonder how we as researchers impact upon cultural notions of happiness and wellbeing when we try to categorize and define, measure and weigh, analyze and compare these intangible concepts? How does the constitutionalization of happiness and wellbeing relate to individual and community-held views and perceptions?

All this I was left to reflect upon while sitting on the 12-hour post-congress bus ride to Thimphu, and while gazing out of the window over the endless blankets of green, I again found my naturally inquisitive mind ticking. The next day, while having breakfast with a Finnish friend working in Thimphu, Riikka Suhonen, I was given Bhutan’s official report on Happiness: Towards a New Development Paradigm.  Along the rest of my trip, I read it cover to cover, captivated, frantically scribbling notes along the margins.

Watch this space: there may well soon be another blog coming from me on the GNH…


Zimbabwe Permaculture: community transformation in just 20 years!

ImageFounded on the theory of ‘permaculture’, the Chikukwa Project, through its humble beginnings with just 6 concerned neighbors, has flourished and succeeded for over 20 years now. When a spring, serving 50 households dried up and rains silted up their water digging attempt, a permaculture design workshop was organized. Following the workshop people began collecting seeds, planting trees, growing vegetables and starting fruit tree nurseries; they fenced off springs and planted native species and woodlots and put in contour bunds and swales.  Today the Chiukwa Ecological Land use Community Trust exists and a Permaculture Centre to host workshops for surrounding towns and villages. They also reach beyond permaculture and teach conflict transformation, building community relations and peace in their region of Zimbabwe.

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Trajedy of the Commons? Not here! ‘Celebration of the Commons’ is more like it at the Common Ground Country Fair in Maine, USA

Every year there is a poster contest for the next year's fair

Every year there is a poster contest for the next year’s fair

The Common Ground Fair has been in existence since 1977.  Founded by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) which is also the oldest and largest state organic organization in the United States, this yearly harvest event draws many from all over Maine and from across the United States as well.  MOFGA’s mission statement is as follows:

The purpose of the Association is to help farmers and gardeners: grow organic food, fiber and other crops; protect the environment; recycle natural resources; increase local food production; support rural communities; and illuminate for consumers the connection between healthful food and environmentally sound farming practices.

And the best way to fulfill their mission statement is by hosting this amazing fair.

For a child seeing honey bees and getting to taste the honey, petting goats and rabbits, getting faces painted and seeing the giant vegetables with their winning blue ribbons, and getting to march in the children’s parade, are memories for a lifetime.  For the accompanying adult, the fair offers amazing talks on fermentation and canning, sustainable living (any many many other talks), a chance to peruse the tents of local crafters and artisan, engage in conversation with my like-minded rural neighbors, and a place to become acquainted with and participate in local and international social causes. Oh and of course the music and organic food carts are one of the main attractions (the music is free but the food—just be ready to pay quite a bit!)  Every year one can expect to find something familiar and something new to see and learn about.  It is a chance for collaboration and discussion of agricultural experimentation plots that had been in the making since the previous year. To promote earth healthy transportation, those who trek to the fair on bike or foot are given front row parking and free admission.  No one is turned away, volunteers line up to participate no matter the job required, and come rain or snow, this four day event brings smiles to all who attend.  It truly is a celebration and an amazing education of the harvest, sustainable living, community and giving back to the earth.

Do you have such an event in your home country and state?  To learn more about the Common Ground Fair and find ways to perhaps start a similar event go to: