With a new year ahead and the days growing longer, we can renew our sense of hope for the future. A better future to me includes communities in which nature thrives, a planet that is safe and stable for our children, and social relations grounded in equity, justice and inclusion. This future may seem elusive, especially after a challenging 2017 in which many national politicians seemed more interested in denying social and environmental problems than addressing them. However, in our complex democracy and system of federalism, social movements can build awareness and exert influence; organizations can work together in a myriad of ways to drive change; and state and local government can make policy and take action. I’m finding hope for the new year in developments taking place that may build our collective awareness and action into a rising tide of positive change.
Social Movements- Equality and Justice
African-American voters played a decisive role in the election of a U.S. Senator in Alabama in December. The suppression of the African-American vote in Alabama was a catalyst during the civil rights movement that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ruling on a Supreme Court case in 2013 brought by a county in Alabama struck down some of this historic act. Nonetheless, intense organizing by the African-American community and supportive organizations prevailed and may foreshadow elections decided by voters that are representative of the diverse demographics of our country.
The constant barrage of revelations of sexual harassment, misconduct and violence in 2017 was disheartening and troubling. It has broken the silence and led to movements to end this behavior such as ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time is Up’. In bringing to the surface one of the worst manifestations of unequal power between men and women, the broader movements for electing more women to public office and equality in the workplace have also been further catalyzed.
These and other growing social movements in our country provide hope for ending devastating cycles of injustice and mistreatment and changing systems so that individuals may realize their full potential. These movements are fundamentally about how we view and treat one another.
Social Movements- Children and Nature
Just as social movements for equality and justice can alter our relationships with each other, the growing children and nature movement can alter our relationship with the natural world upon which we depend. Richard Louv, founder of the Children and Nature Network, described the power of this movement in bringing people together around a new story with the potential to change society in his blog post, the New Nature Movement: “Our story – our shared yearning to reconnect children to the natural world – represents one of the few concerns in America that brings people together across partisan and religious lines. To change a society, as the philosopher Ivan Illich wrote, ‘you must tell a more powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step’… We must continue to support the birthright of all children to a healthy environment and a connection to the natural world, and to teach the responsibilities that come with that right.” This movement for children and nature is taking root through the Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative and organizations working strategically together through the Children and Nature Network.
Local Government and Land Use
In addition to social movements that are gaining momentum in the new year, local governments are also taking action to promote healthy, sustainable communities. In particular, land use decisions have enormous influence on community development, economic activity, our impact on the environment and how we connect to each other and nature in our daily lives. I’m hopeful when local governments responsible for such decisions factor in these many impacts, recognize the problems with existing land use patterns and act boldly to shift these patterns. Two recent such decisions in the San Francisco Bay Area give me such hope.
The city of Mountain View approved a plan to build nearly 10,000 new homes on land that has largely been used for parking in a large business park area. It includes 20% housing for low-income residents, many acres of public parks, retail space and infrastructure for biking, walking and using transit. This will allow for residents to work, live and play locally, reducing traffic congestion in the region, providing ample opportunity for community building and benefitting the environment. We need development to look like this in the future. Plans for Mission Rock in San Francisco and the Diridon Station area in San Jose are other examples.
Further north, the Trust for Public Land, in partnership with Marin County, has bought the San Geronimo Golf Course to convert it to public open space. While golf courses can provide space for nature (Audubon International certifies golf courses that adequately provide sanctuary for wildlife) and recreation, this conversion opens up this space for many more people, returns the landscape to a more natural state including protection for endangered coho salmon and substantially reduces water use and runoff from fertilizers and herbicides.
Land use patterns are difficult to change. The complexity of local and state policy, resistance of the status quo and vested interests, and the need for coordinated effort and funding can deter change. Examples such as in Mountain View and Marin County, however, can demonstrate how bold action can take place to support healthy and sustainable communities.
Taking action motivated by the story of a better future is the essence of hope. For more on hope and action, check out Annie Burke’s website and blog The Sun Rises. Social movements that strengthen our relationships with each other and advance equality and justice; social movements that strengthen our connection to and protect nature; organizations working together to advance these movements; and local governments taking bold action for future communities- these all give me hope.
What gives you hope in 2018? How may this hope call you to action? Please share your thoughts in comments box at bottom of this webpage.
In hope and gratitude,