From Crisis, Disaster, and Dependency to Self-Reliance, Autonomy and Freedom:
Creating sustainable communities - A five-year campaign at the Woodbine Ecology Center
Despite the comforts and conveniences that are available to many, but not all, people in the (over)developed world, we are continuously dependent upon a social and industrial infrastructure which is unhealthy, unsustainable and relies on the plundering of natural resources. “Natural” disasters like Katrina or Sandy or human-created ones like the financial crisis and climate change are potent reminders of how the current infrastructure can fail or collapse, with catastrophic consequences for ordinary people and the natural world. When jobs become hard to find or cannot sustain us, when electricity and utilities become either unaffordable or unavailable, when clean water becomes a commodity or a rarity, when good food and health care become inaccessible, when droughts, weather extremes, and species extinctions become the “norm,” we are left with two choices: We either become even more dependent upon outside “experts” and a system that is failing us, or we organize and collectively figure out a way to not only survive but thrive.
Self-managed mobilizations in disaster areas as well as many movements in communities where the “crisis” and dependency have been the enforced norm for decades and centuries, provide powerful examples of grassroots egalitarian forms of organization as a response to a disaster that is guided by mutual aid and solidarity, not charity or militarization. But beyond the crisis, disaster and mere survival, we need to figure out how to evolve and transform emergency responses to the kind of long-term liberatory institutions which we will need to sustain the world we deserve. The current crisis, with the effective collapse of the welfare state, the centralization of power at the hands of the few and the mega-corporations, and the ongoing disasters which climate change is bound to bring, give us an opportunity, and a responsibility, to develop viable alternatives which support the basic needs of society, and do it in a way which promotes and celebrate human freedom and solidarity and restore our place in balance with the natural world.
Here at Woodbine Ecology Center, we are embarking on an ambitious, but we feel necessary, five-year campaign to design and create an example of such an alternative, to learn how to move from disaster and dependency to self-reliance, and to share our process with others. We start with questions: What would a sustainable and self-reliant community look like, feel like, how would it act, how would it manage its own affairs? If we had the opportunity to build our world anew, what would we do? How would we grow food, generate power, deal with waste, design our homes our, share the water? How would we make decisions, resolve conflicts, build healthy families, raise our children, mourn our losses, heal our trauma, make sure no one is left behind? What would our forests, streams, and cities look like and what would our relationship with the natural world be?
We know that these are not easy questions and there isn’t a single set of right solutions. The answers lie as much in the how we address the questions, the process through which we develop the alternatives, as they do in the content of our results. We restart as a core of four people, creating a structure of collective leadership and decision making, surrounded by our communities and supported by many of you who helped us get here. In the next five years, with your active participation, we will not only transform our buildings and land to examples of sustainable living but we will also transform our own organization, processes, and structures to an example of the collective and egalitarian institutions that we aspire to. Our goal is to continue to expand our circles and to reconstruct Woodbine into an organization consistent with the values we ascribe to and accountable to the world we want to create. We move forward with excitement and some trepidation but knowing that we owe our children and each other nothing less. We continue to be inspired by the historical examples and contemporary struggles of indigenous nations and all peoples who work to cultivate egalitarian, resilient, regenerative and sustainable communities. We strive to (re)learn how to be and become native to this place, to this land, to live with respect and balance, to transform ourselves and the world into something that we can be proud to pass on to our children and the next seven generations. We invite you to join us on the journey.