Go Local Discussion Guide

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The "Go Local" movement has been creating a buzz in communities across the country. People from small towns in Alabama to big cities in California are participating in alternative economies, changing the story about what their options are, and declaring independence from the corporate global economy. Connecting ideas and people concerned with the local movement is what this issue of Yes! is all about. Below is a discussion guide focused on the following articles:

1. "Help Wanted," by Ethan Miller
2. "Creating Real Prosperity," by Frances Moore Lappé
3. "Green-Collar Jobs for Urban America," by Van Jones and Ben Wyskida
4. "Abraham to Descendents: Knock it Off!" a roundtable discussion with Sarah van Gelder

Help Wanted

We're taught that we have only two economic choices: capitalism or communism. Even if the system isn't working, we're told, we have to stick with it because there is no alternative. Not true, says Ethan Miller. He describes a different story of reaching beyond the capitalist market to include all the ways we sustain and support our families, our communities, and ourselves. Miller gives six examples of alternate economies (household, gift, barter, gathering, cooperative, and community markets), which highlight the value of meaningful exchange without money.

  • What is the true purpose of trade?
  • Why is it important to consider forms of non-monetary trade?
  • Do you participate in any alternative economies, or have any ideas for an alternative economy?
  • Think about the systems of capitalism and communism, and the values they reflect. What would your ideal alternative economy look like? On what fundamental values would your model be based?
  • Should consideration for human rights be incorporated into the "rules" of the economy?
  • Localizing economies can mean giving up access to the conveniences, foreign luxuries, or exotic goods available in the market today. What would you realistically be willing to give up to make a more local, sustainable economy a reality?
  • Ethan Miller's suggestions for alternative economies place value on what an individual can offer, rather than how much money he or she has. What do you think the outcome would be if the use of such economies increased?

Creating Real Prosperity

During the 1990s, 85 percent of new jobs in Latin America were created in the "informal" economy. Jobs in this sector include small shopkeepers, street vendors, and home-based workers. This flies in the face of the critics who state that pulling corporate jobs out of the Global South would devastate already impoverished areas. Would Go Local movements deprive people in the Global South of their livelihood?

  • Acquiring large amounts of money and imagining the comforts it provides often define perceptions of "wealth." Are there definitions of "poverty" and "prosperity" outside this assumption? How does money bias our views of true prosperity?
  • What would happen if the Global North completely withdrew from the Global South?
  • How do you see the communities of the Global South reorganizing after such a theoretical withdrawal?
  • Some are reluctant to embrace localization because they associate it with a vast reduction of cultural flow and exchange. Can we have sustainable, independent, local economies in every region of the world while still allowing "trade" on a cultural level?
  • Does moving from globalization to localization mean we can't have a global economy at all? Can we have a system of global trade in which all players are treated as equals?
  • Do you think an "alternative economy" like the ones suggested by Ethan Miller could be applied to the global economy? What would the world look like if we implemented this new economy?

Green-Collar Jobs for Urban America

Van Jones and Ben Wyskida describe their vision of a "green-collar" economy for the collapsing economy of Oakland, California. If the murder capital of California can transform itself into a green city, what city can't follow in its footsteps? The "Green Jobs, Go Local" plan includes methods such as delivering fresh, organic food to low-income families, and creating jobs and training programs for the new green economy.

  • What do you think of as a green job, or green industry? What do you think it means to have a green city?
  • What effect do you think greening the city will have on crime rates?
  • How is Oakland turning what some see as a tale of tragedy into a story of hope?
  • In the article, the authors make it clear that Oakland has had its share of despair. Yet for some reason, people are taking action instead of giving up. How bad do things have to get before people take action? What is it that makes people turn to activism instead of resignation, and how can we cultivate it?
  • What issues in your town inspire you to take action?

Abraham to Descendents: Knock it Off!

Sarah van Gelder sits down with a pastor, an imam, and a rabbi to talk about interfaith alliances, spiritual teaching, and the state of the world through the eyes of their different religions. Van Gelder explores how the trio came together after 9/11, their journey to Israel and Palestine, and their hope for the future.

  • Do you think it is important to learn about and understand the values behind other religions? Why?
  • Have you worked with people who have different beliefs than you? What was the outcome? Did you run into any difficulties? What did you learn?
  • Is there a social significance to these three working together? Why?
  • What do you think is the dominant message of these different religions?
  • In the article, the participants mention the danger of times when a religious group overlooks the true spiritual message of their faith. Why do you think this occurs? What are the pros and cons of organized religion?
  • Do you think the "House of Abraham" can be united?

Questions for Further Discussion

We participate in the economy in many ways. Bringing your economy home and focusing on the transactions that can occur in your immediate area can have a real impact on your life.

  • Localizing your diet is a major step towards localizing your participation in the economy. How might switching to a more local diet impact your physical health? Your spiritual health?
  • Do corporations diminish community character? Why is it important to protect diversity and uniqueness?
  • How might working to preserve your city or region's distinctive character from corporate homogenization change your feelings towards those around you (neighbors, local shopkeepers, government officials, etc.)?
  • What do you see as the greatest benefit of going local?
  • In what ways could you encourage others to go local?

What are you doing?

Are you using this discussion guide as part of a discussion group? In a classroom? Please let us know how you use it and how we can improve it by e-mailing us at [email protected]. We're also looking for stories of what you're doing to change the world for the better. E-mail stories of up to 500 words to: editors @ yesmagazine.org.

YES! is published by the Positive Futures Network, an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to support people's active engagement in creating a more just, sustainable, and compassionate world.

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