It was an awful couple of weeks leading up to the YES! birthday celebration—with the killing by police of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the fatal shooting of five Dallas police officers and then three more in Baton Rouge, the deaths of 84 people in Nice, an attempted coup in Turkey, and then Donald Trump’s announcement of his vice presidential pick.
My partner, who’d had a difficult week, asked, “Is it just me? Or are things especially unhinged right now?” I don’t think it was her.
But here’s another way to see it: The root word of emergency is emerge. Times of emergency also carry within them new possibilities.
Yes, there is a real possibility of fascism, with the rise of Donald Trump and his calls for a racist, nationalist, xenophobic, and violent response to the times. Tony Schwartz, who co-authored Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, told The New Yorker he is deeply remorseful about his role inflating Trump’s reputation and said he was terrified that if elected, with access to the nuclear codes, Trump would bring about the end of human civilization. The Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan wrote a chilling article in The Washington Post entitled “This is How Fascism Comes to America.”
But this future isn’t inevitable. We started YES! 20 years ago to explore other emerging possibilities.
We knew then, as we know now, that our current system is unsustainable, and so the one thing we can count on is change. But what would make that change inclusive, sustainable, just, and compassionate, instead of violent and fascistic?
People sometimes think YES! started out to be a feel-good publication, to put a positive spin on events, but that’s not what we set out to do. The crises of inequality, exclusion, and environmental destruction have always framed our work, and finding evidence of an emerging world that transcends these crises has always been a central focus.
For example, police violence against Black people—truly a national crisis—is part of a much bigger question: How do we recover from a history built on the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of people of African descent, a legacy that continues hundreds of years later? We don’t claim to have the answers to that question, but, as journalists, we cover those who are working on this, like Black Lives Matter, grassroots organizers, and advocates of restorative justice.
We have a climate crisis, too, and climate is part of the larger issue of an economy built on extracting wealth from Mother Nature and from other peoples. So YES! explores what people are doing to rebuild our economies so that they replenish and heal the Earth while meeting human needs.
The good news is that many of the smart things we might do to promote greater fairness and climate stability also help to solve the problems of inequality, poverty, debt, and the corrupting power of money in politics.
There is no Utopia in the works here. People are too flawed and quirky, too ready to argue and think only of themselves.
Still, at a time when the status quo is fundamentally broken, and when a xenophobic, racist, fascist alternative is rising, there are leaders at every level of society who are creating other possibilities—and those emerging approaches weave together the multiple systems and stories that make up a just and sustainable society.
Journalists are often described as writing the first draft of history. At YES!, for 20 years, we’ve been writing the first draft of possible futures, based on the changes people are making, below the radar, that are transforming the world. We don’t know what sort of future will actually emerge—we could get overrun by Trump and others of his ilk. But there is still time for life-enhancing, inclusive change to take hold, and the choices we each make, and the work we do together, will make the difference. YES! will be there, telling the stories of the power we the people have to stop hate and to create instead the world where all can thrive.
Sarah van Gelder is a co-founder and columnist at YES!, founder of PeoplesHub, and author of The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America.