Creating a Culture of Connection within an Extractive Economy with Sarah van Gelder

Community Connection

Jan 18

Connection between people is the primary source of value. Poverty is a result of disconnection, from spirit, body, emotion, family, and community, and especially disconnection from the earth. Through wise use of technology and innovative community organizing, people are moving from fragmentation to interrelatedness. Relationships have been commodified, and through meaningful exchange of words and value people find reconnection.

What is needed to create a life-affirming economy that engages and values each individual’s unique genius?

Some answers to this complex question can be found in the new book The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America by “Money-Wise Women” guest Sarah van Gelder. During her solo road trip around the United States, Sarah met with individuals who are enacting significant and innovative change.

The book traces Sarah’s journey across 18 states. She met and interviewed a variety of citizens who catalyzed local changed. Some stories include people who stopped a giant coal mine, brought urban farming into the heart of Chicago, and worked to move Greensboro beyond its legacy of racism. Each story illustrates ordinary people engaging in extraordinary ways to catalyze a cultural renaissance.

We build a culture of connection through exchanges. Through mutual interest in well-being, caring for others is back into the economy. Sarah describes communities that are becoming more informed and engaged. Their resilience  is created through diversity and connection. As people are engaging in meaningful ways in their communities, they satisfy that human need for belonging.

A healthy economy is created as people contribute to their communities while having their needs met. As Sarah says, “That shift, from an economy of extraction to one of reciprocity with the Earth and with one another, is foundational.”

Economic reform is essential for cultivating well-being, certainly, and this includes ameliorating investing, banking, lending, and currency. But through something much greater than bills and coins, through a new awareness of true wealth, a new economy emerges. Individuals engage in life-affirming transactions not as consumers but as collaborators and co-creators, and, as individual behavior shifts, that catalyzes community-level change and ultimately institutional reform.

What is needed to steward shared resources with integrity to create true wealth and well-being for all?

A core goal of this transformation of value is economic and social resilience through decentralization of power. Collective intelligence is cultivated through pathways of engagement based on mutual respect. Movements such as participatory budgeting show what is possible when the public becomes informed and engaged.

In Cleveland, Sarah met with organizers of an inspiring cooperative. Area hospitals, a local foundation, a couple of universities, and a national organization dedicated to local wealth building—the Democracy Collaborative—formed the Evergreen Cooperatives to encourage more local exchanges. The cooperative model taps into the individual’s genius and develops stronger relationships because individuals are stakeholders.

There are many stories of people organizing around both water and food, bringing back traditions, creating cooperatives to provide access to fresh food. Modern isolation has impoverished our communities, as we are separated from each other and the place we live. We are wealthier than we even imagine when we begin to map the resources of people within the community.

Sarah saw a mural in the ordinary urban landscape of Newark, New Jersey: “We the People LOVE this place.” This kind of allegiance is central to a more intimate economy. We discuss her time at Standing Rock and her experience with a community in Montana where Native Americans and ranchers joined forces to stop a mining operation. Sarah explains that “there is a moral authority that comes with representing a place.”

It is an experimental time, mutable and messy. Asking questions is now more important than repeating answers. The engagement of determined and progressive individuals in the community is essential for building and sustaining a powerful localized economy, in food production, entrepreneurship, humanitarian development, manufacturing, services, and stewardship.

Each person has a purpose in life, and people find significance and belonging when in service to others. Through recognizing the gifts and needs of others, money moves in a way that liberates human capacity for compassionate action.

Sarah van Gelder is YES! Magazine co-founder and editor-at-large and author of the new book, The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America (Berrett Koehler, 2017). YES! Magazine is a publication that is nationally recognized for exploring leading-edge solutions to the major ecological and human challenges of our times. The magazine has won national awards for its coverage of such topics as the cooperative economy, mass incarceration, neighborhood sustainability, and personal resilience.




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