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Start With a Gift

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 If you're wondering where to begin creating transformative millennium events, try following the Millennium Institute's advice ...

Millennium cola. Millennium edition sport utility vehicles. Millennium Beanie Babies™. You know they're coming, along with the latest end-of-the-world predictions and the biggest New Year's Eve part-eeee ever. We can be torqued by what's bound to be the biggest marketing tool in a thousand years. Or we can look beyond the hype and use the turning of the millennium to move toward community and sustainability.

One step in that direction, available to all, is a Millennium Gift. Peter Aykroyd, a founder and former chair of the Millennium Institute and now consultant to Canada's Community Funds for millennium projects, says that all cultures have traditions of marking anniversaries and passages with gifts.

What is a Millennium Gift? It is a gift, whether an object or an action, given to the Earth and the community of life on the Earth. The form is less important than the spirit. Unlike the usual gifts given in this society, Millennium Gifts may have no specific beneficiary; they may be given for the benefit of people not yet born, for the benefit of living beings not seen by the giver.

Millennium Gifts may be all those simple things you've been meaning to do, but haven't quite gotten around to: Bike to work a few days a week; use more recycled or green products; find ways to drive less.

Millennium Gifts may also be more active: Plant trees; start discussion groups to address issues in your community; teach sustainable skills to young people.


Start locally
All over the globe, people are creating Millennium Gifts together with friends and neighbors; in some cases, they are doing so at the behest of local and national governments.

On April 6, 1997, the thousandth day before the beginning of the year 2000, the Canadian Government put out a call for its municipalities to plan celebrations and activities around the turn of the millennium. The first answer to that call came not from one of the great urban centers, but from Bobcaygeon, Ontario, a town of 2,500 people. Four residents of the town recognized the millennium as an opportunity for community revitalization and organized “Team Bobcaygeon.” Today, more than 700 people – over a quarter of the town's population – are involved.

Bobcaygeon 2000 emphasizes intergenerational participation and ties renewal of interest in the past to work toward the future. Among the projects already underway:

• Planting 2,000 white pine trees in the now-gone native forest of the area to produce a fully mature stand of forest by the year 3000.

• Landscaping the town park.

• Restoring historic buildings in the business district and encouraging more local business.

• Producing a millennium quilt to celebrate the history and future of the town.

• Knitting 1,000 pairs of mittens to assure that no one in the town will have cold hands at the millennium.
None of these activities alone is grand; together, they link the past and the future and build community for the present.

Bobcaygeon 2000 has written materials on their project; they encourage others to contact them for information on how to get started and how to keep going. Their website is www.kawartha.net/~bobcom/bob2000.htm; email Gayle Thomassen, of Team Bobcaygeon, at gthomass@peterboro.net.

That's easy for a little town of 2,500, you say, but I live in a big city! No matter where you live, you are in a community of 2,500, be it the residents of your high-rise apartment building or the people within a 50-mile radius of your ranch. Talk to them; get them involved; make them your own small town.

Or contact any group to which you already belong – your church, your service club, your office. Most groups already are doing something similar to a Millennium Gift, says Nadine Bloch of the Millennium Institute. Join one and find ways to make group activities intergenerational, culturally diverse, and directed toward sustainability.


Get beyond the hype
To get started, check out the Goodenough Community, a Seattle-based intentional community that is both a “caring, healing environment and a learning/training laboratory.”

About a year ago, a group of 35 community members began a 10-week study of the millennium. That study provided a gateway to learning about themselves, their own personal assumptions and fears about the future, and the human race.

Their research led them to believe that in spite of the media hype – which has the potential to be trivial or frighteningly apocalyptic – the year 2000 could be a time of incredible transformation. Says Dr. John Hoff, founder and executive director of the Goodenough Community, “The meaning of the millennium depends on us. We put flesh and color on the vision and make it come true in our lives.”

To that end, the group began working on a Millennium Survival Kit (see page 37) as a resource for other communities that want to go beyond the millennial hype. The kit includes a book of reflective essays, an audio cassette with songs and poems on the millennium, and a video in which they share their learning, their hopes and fears for the future, and a suggested process for forming millennium study/activist groups.


Act locally; share globally
Once you've chosen a gift, you can share it more widely by making it known to an organization that is gathering information on Millennium Gifts. You can, for example, make your gift a part of Pole-to-Pole 2000, a millennium trek being organized by Martyn Williams.

This expedition, comprised of 12 young people selected from all continents, will leave the North Pole on skis in March of 1999. After arriving in Vancouver, BC, the team will divide into smaller groups to follow separate routes down each of the continental land masses to the South Pole.

The South Pole will be the first place on Earth to see dawn in the new millennium. The Pole-to-Pole 2000 team will be there to greet that dawn. The kids will carry with them records on computer disk of Millennium Gifts from people all over the world – personal commitments to the Earth and to the future – and make a symbolic presentation to the new millennium. Your gift can be among them. (Submit gifts at the Pole-to-Pole web site, listed on page 31.)

Williams is the first person to lead expeditions to both poles and to Mt. Everest. In 25 years as an expedition leader, he has seen the changes wrought by humans even in the most distant reaches of the world. He has also seen opportunities opened up by advances in technology, and he decided to use the latter to expand awareness of the former.

A pole-to-pole journey is an unprecedented expedition. “I thought if a group of young people could do something that had never been done before, it would make a real statement about human potential,” Williams says.

Along the journey, the Pole-to-Pole 2000 teams will participate in environmental and humanitarian projects. They will work at rehabilitating salmon streams in the American Pacific Northwest. They plan to assist in providing water to villages in Indonesia. They will participate in a peace conference in Bosnia, and in environmental projects in Japan, Russia, Uganda and other countries.


Don't just stand there
It may seem that one basic element of gift-giving is missing from most Millennium Gifts – the joy of watching the reaction of the recipient; the direct experience of sharing with another human being.

In ancient Polynesian and Western Native American cultures, the giving of a gift involved more than presenting a material object; the gift was also imbued with Aju, the spirit of the gift. This belief created bonds within the community that served the same civilizing function as the modern rule of law.

The turning of the millennium presents a chance to return to that older tradition of gift giving. When you make a Millennium Gift, you may never know the beneficiary, but you will know that your spirit is received somewhere down the line.

We are fortunate to be present for an event that comes around, not once in a lifetime, but once in 40 generations. Find your Millennium Gift. Give it to the world with Aju.

For more information on the projects mentioned here, see the Millennium Resource Guide on pages 29-33.


Doug Pibel is a freelance writer enjoying a simple life in Snohomish, Washington.


Millennium Mad Lib
As the millennium approaches, more and more people and organizations will feel called to write a guiding declaration for the bright new 1,000 years ahead. Such a long time frame will likely invite lofty aspirations expressed in eloquent language.

Two millennial glitches might short circuit this process, however. One is that long, high-minded documents often do more for the writer than the reader, no matter how eloquent. The other is, with no time to even answer our phone messages, who has time to write about a millennium?

So here is a generic declaration, with many of the elements one might want to include. Selected words are left out. They are only identified by their part of speech. The Reader (you) will ask a friend, without telling that it's a millennium declaration, to fill in the blanks by requesting an “adjective,” “adverb,” “noun,” “geographical location,” etc.

Vicki Robin

Our (noun) to the Future
Facing the next (length of time) we feel called upon to affirm our hopes, (plural noun) and (plural noun) for the future of (geographical location). We believe that humanity has a great capacity to (verb) and we affirm our commitment to nurture that (adjective noun) however we can. We are leaving a (adjective) millennium filled with wars and other manifestations of man's (noun) to man. We are leaving an ambiguous millennium when science and (plural noun) have brought us (adjective) but mixed blessings. We are leaving an unjust millennium when a small percentage of the world's (plural noun) enjoy a large percentage of the world's (plural noun). And we say, (exclamation), this cannot (verb). We must change (adverb) so that our (plural noun) and our children's (plural noun) may enjoy peace and prosperity for length of time to come.

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