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From the Publisher :: America Can Change

Fran Korten, YES! Magazine Executive Director, riding to work
Fran Korten, YES! Magazine Executive Director.
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The fact that you are reading this column in YES! tells me that you share the fierce faith that with enough citizen understanding and action, America can change. It’s a faith that underlies every issue of YES!

Were you one of the millions deeply moved by Barack Obama’s March 18 speech from Philadelphia? He spoke of healing the wounds of racism, recognizing the legitimacy of anger on all sides, and forging new alliances to take on the roots of our problems. That’s a tall order! He supported his optimism with a fierce faith in this country, saying “What we know, what we have seen, is that America can change—that is the true genius of this nation.”

Perhaps you thought, as I did, “Yes, I share that fierce faith—America can indeed change if people like you and me act on our vision of the possibilities.” Reflecting on his speech, I recalled a moment that shifted the course of my life. It was 1991 and my husband David and I were living in the Philippines. We had spent 21 years in Africa, Latin America, and Asia helping the poor gain a path to prosperity.

But we were painfully aware of larger global forces that swept away much of the good we were helping to achieve. Trade rules designed to benefit global corporations drove small farmers off their farms, replacing them with foreign-owned plantations, factories, and resorts that reduced once independent people to servitude. Ad-saturated television spread a consumer culture that sprouted vast shopping malls and ever-higher mountains of garbage.

Especially troubling was the fact that the United States, the country we called our own, was promoting these damaging trends. Some of our closest Asian friends told us that the thing we could do to best help their people would be to return to the United States and bring about change there. Like Obama, they had a fierce faith that America could change.

So in 1992 David and I left Southeast Asia, first going to New York, where at the Ford Foundation I supported what has become a growing movement for sustainable, community-based forestry. David wrote When Corporations Rule the World, which helped ignite awareness of the dangers of the global economy. In 1998 we moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington, so I could head the Positive Futures Network, the publisher of YES! It was here that David wrote The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.

Over these years America has indeed changed—in some ways for the worse. It has embarked on an endless war, mired its people in ever-greater levels of debt, jailed over 2 million of its citizens, and spewed out so much pollution that the fate of the Earth is threatened. But in other ways it has changed for the better. Just nine years after the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, the expansionist plans of the corporate free-traders have stalled and leading Democratic presidential candidates can’t run away fast enough from NAFTA. Our country is waking up to the limits of the Earth to the point where even consumer culture is being questioned. And now Obama’s speech opens the hope of a much-needed conversation about race and its impacts in this country.

The fact that you are reading this column in YES! tells me that you share the fierce faith that with enough citizen understanding and action, America can change. It’s a faith that underlies every issue of YES!—that we really can take steps to reverse the threat of global warming; stand up to corporate power; transform our health care system; shape a cooperative role for America in the world; face the legacy of racism; and keep up the long march toward a more perfect union.

At this time when so much is at stake, we need all the strength we can muster to act on the challenges. It’s a good time to get in touch with that fierce faith our Asian friends expressed in 1991 and Obama expressed in 2008. America can change.


Fran Korten wrote this article as part of A Just Foreign Policy, the Summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Fran is Executive Director of the Positive Futures Network, Publishers of YES! Magazine.
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