Get Your Optimism Fix

Does bucking the forces of a globalized, gas-guzzling, sweat-shop economy sometimes seem hopeless? Do you find it outrageous that Wal-Mart has become America's biggest private employer?  Are you weary of hearing about outsourcing, downsizing, and the latest mega-merger?

If so, I have just the antidote for you (and me).

It's called the Green Festival. There are two coming up—one in Washington, DC, from September 24 to 25 and another in San Francisco from November 5 to 6 (see for details). The festivals are a joint project of our good friends at Co-op America and Global Exchange.

I went to my first Green Festival last November. I had followed the development of this idea since 1997, when it was just a gleam in the eye of Alisa Gravitz, head of Co-op America and a board member of the Positive Futures Network. Four Green Festivals had been held since 2002, all of them successful, with tens of thousands of people attending each one. So I expected a good experience.

But I was not prepared for the jolt of optimism the festival injected directly into my psyche. The festival I attended was held in San Francisco just days after the November 2004 elections. I arrived deeply depressed about the prospects for this country in the immediate years ahead. But as I eased my way through the throngs of energized people in the huge, noisy center, my depression lifted like a San Francisco fog on a sunny morning.

The enormous center was lined with booths selling everything from candles to cleaning agents, finance to fashion, mushrooms to magazines.  The products incorporated recycled and natural ingredients, renewable resources, local economies, indigenous design, responsible business practices, and fair trade. Booths for advocacy, service, and education, showcased multiple ways to make a better world and enlist people to get involved in building that world. People leaning against pillows engaged in thoughtful discussion circles on diverse topics such as how to develop local living economies and  how to reclaim the media. There were spaces for gorgeous art, vibrant music, and heathy food.

It was clear to me that the businesses, non-profits, artists, and visionaries at the festival weren't going to let bad policies from the federal government stop them.  They were moving ahead to create an economy that's healthy for our bodies, our communities, and the living planet.

What I found so powerful about the Green Festival was the impact of the collective experience. Usually we see the changing economy in little pieces, like looking at a landscape through a keyhole. We glimpse fair trade coffee here, organic cotton there, maybe a solar panel somewhere. But each effort seems too insignificant to make the kind of difference our world so desperately needs.

At the Green Festival, the door is flung open to show the whole landscape. Suddenly, you can touch and taste and feel an economy that uses a whole lot less oil and creates a whole lot more community.  You can see that it's dynamic and it's huge. The alive, smiling faces of the people creating it and the thousands learning about it tell us this is the fun side of the revolution.

So join me at the Green Festival for an optimism fix. At the upcoming festivals in Washington, DC, and San Francisco, you can meet people you've seen in YES!, such as Amy Goodman, Van Jones, Gifford Pinchot, Michael Nagler, Joanna Macy, John de Graaf, and John Todd. I'll be at the YES! booth in both DC and San Francisco with my colleague Susan Gleason.

Together, we can feel the pulse of the emerging economy that embraces our environmental and social challenges with such creativity and verve.

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