In my last column, I listed nine crises of the ‘00s.
But something else happened during the first decade of the millennium. People around the world turned away from ways of life and practices that are endangering our world and worked to make communities, work places, and technologies green and egalitarian. And peoples movements challenged the power of corporations, the military, and finance interests, insisting on putting people and the planet first. It's this combination of smart, local innovation and people power that offers hopeful possibilities for the '10s, '20s, and beyond.
People fell in love with local foods. There are now more than 5,000 farmers' markets in the U.S., up 13 percent in just one year, many new school vegetable gardens, and CSA. People turned their lawns into gardens, and asked grocery stores and restaurants to offer local foods.
A home-grown U.S. pro-democracy movement brought greater integrity to the elections process. This movement, built on the voting rights movement, began after the questionable election of 2000. Through public scrutiny, legal challenges, and mobilization of poll watchers, it was able to counter election manipulation, voter suppression, black box voting irregularities, and to begin restoring voting rights to felons who had served their terms.
Happiness got redefined. As people discovered that debt and overconsumption cause stress to families, the planet, and each of us, many turned instead to friends, family, good works, spirituality, and personal growth as the keys to a good life.
Media became radically decentralized and inclusive, with anyone able to report on events and to post video, tweets, photos, and commentary. Governments found secrecy much harder to come by. Fact checking became a participatory activity.
Prison overcrowding, budget shortfalls, and powerful advocacy turned the public against draconian prison terms and the drug war in favor of limited prison time for nonviolent offenses and alternatives like treatment and community service.
People went local to rebuild the economy. Instead of competing to get corporations to locate in their communities, they began building economies based on local strengths and local needs, striving to be green and to offer living wages and dignity to employees. Worker-owned cooperatives are at the leading edge of this movement, especially in abandoned rust-belt cities. The new focus is on sustainably meeting the needs of ordinary people, not the greed of Wall Street.
Populist resistance grew to corporate power and big government. This movement pushed back against bailed-out Wall Street banks, the domination of health insurance and Pharma in the health care debate, and the power of big coal and big oil. Right-wing think tanks and media tried to morph this populism into an anti-Obama movement, so far with limited success. (But if Obama continues to capitulate to a corporate agenda, he could be in trouble with populists across the political spectrum.)
The stage was set for nuclear abolition: A global consensus grew around the need to abolish nuclear weapons. In the United States, conservatives like George Shultz are advocates along with progressive leaders.
Indigenous people’s rights were recognized in an official United Nations declaration. Indigenous peoples began using their new-found clout to protect their ways of life and the biosphere, stewarding sources of invaluable cultural and biological diversity.
The United States elected an African-American president. While this didn't usher in a utopian post-racial society, it did show the power of multi-racial organizing. And it set the stage for long over-due remedies to racial disparities and segregation. But, as has been painfully clear, it does not guarantee progressive policies will come out of the White House.
A new guiding philosophy emerged based on respect for all people and all life. This approach is gaining power after both neoliberalism and neoconservatism proved themselves out of touch with the challenges faced by humanity – and out of ideas. The Earth Charter, formally launched in 2000, received endorsements of thousands of organizations representing millions of people during the ‘00s, revealing the potential for a new worldview to take hold based in environmental sustainability and social justice.
A “Survival” Movement swept the world; millions took action to confront the climate crisis, making changes at home and at work, greening cities, resisting coal and deforestation. Look to this movement to grow rapidly, post-Copenhagen.
We may look back on the ‘00s as the time when we began to turn in a new direction – one that can sustain us and the planet, powered by the aspirations and power of ordinary people.
But that shift is far from inevitable. We could get stuck in denial and fear. Instead of reaching for powerful new solutions, we could spin our wheels trying to shore up a failing status quo or exhaust our energy scapegoating one another. The new approaches that were seeded in the '00s could still be swept aside by the entrenched forces of power and money.
But we could also build the new innovations and peoples movements that can change our course before climate disruption, social breakdown, and war bankrupt us. That will be the key challenge for the 2010s.
Sarah van Gelder is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine, a national media organization the links powerful ideas and practical action towards a just and sustainable world.