By Rick Schwertfeger for RunningIronReport.com
Evidence increases in the United States today of two processes underway simultaneously:
One, a potential collapse of key institutions that underlie the existing American economic, political, and social systems. Evidence abounds of an economic system that concentrates wealth in a small minority of Americans, and leaves the majority struggling with insufficient income, debt, and no notable hope for policies that will change that reality.
The American political system has devolved into significant dysfunction — with a near coup having been carried out successfully by one party, an ineffective opposition party (that perhaps at its core is not more than 20 percent different from the party in power anyway), a flawed election system, and passivity and non-voting by big chunks of the eligible voting population.
And those two processes eat away at the social fabric of American society, leading to marginalized communities — both geographic and demographic; a screaming opioid abuse crisis; excessive use of other sedating and mind-altering substances; a large segment of unhealthy people evidenced by the rates of obesity, poor diets, lack of exercise, and tobacco use; excessive consumption of mass and social media, frequently in the isolation of the one’s domicile; and flight from participation in community institutions.
At the same time, growing segments of Americans are saying, “Enough!”
On the one hand, many of those folks are accepting that collapse is possible, even probable. And they’re saying in various ways, “What can be done to strengthen, harden, and reengineer our communities to both survive a collapse and come out of it with effectively functioning, vital and healthy places to live and create the future?” Those of us exploring such paths forward have been called New Counterculturists.
Key to the development of a new American society is localism. The focus is developing the desired communities town by town. And it will be crucial that the processes reject parochialism and be creatively forward looking.
A second crucial component: extreme and successful efforts must be made to find common ground among community residents. The current divisions in American society must be rejected via the very hard work of engaging with all residents, respectfully hearing folks out, and finding common grounds from which to move forward. A common ground for some folks may be just one small thing of agreement to start with. The process then will be to move forward from that one point of agreement, accomplish something seen by most as a positive improvement in the community, and move on to another issue. But it will not be linear! For there will be a number of areas of reengineering that will be worked on by different community members concurrently.
A major foundational theme must be for each community to focus on promoting the general welfare. It is one of the core purposes written into the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. While participating in developing these new, hardy communities, residents need constantly to assure as a first criterion that the new institutions, governing processes, and economic relationships promote the general welfare. That does not mean that individuals or groups of residents won’t benefit from various new relationships. Of course they will. But the overriding theme must be that the new relationships at their cores promote the general welfare of the community.
Chris Hedges, in an internet article on the website Common Dreams titled “The Coming Collapse,” identified as a start five components of communities that New Counterculturists can create on the local level:
• Community Development Organizations.
• Local Currencies.
• Food Cooperatives.
• Alternative Political Parties.
Your author will add:
• Skill-focused educational institutions, including training for jobs and occupations that community members want to have in their new society and economy.
• Alternate transportation systems.
• Focused, effective counseling organizations.
• Co-ops for a variety of community functions.
• Local single-payer medical care insurance.
• Health-promoting community entities to increase levels of physical fitness, increase consumption of healthy nutrition, and increase participation in recreational play for fun as well as for healthy competition.
Many readers will come up with other components of a new community that they’d want. The process then going forward will be to gather those folks who are interested in creating one of these new elements in their community. It will require much, much dialogue. Approaching community members to learn what they desire, what skills and knowledge they have to contribute, and coordinating their contributions with a focus on accomplishing the tasks.
In their landmark book Building Communities from the Inside Out, John Kretzmann and John McKnight shared a relevant example from Chicago. Residents told them that Mrs. Jones always cooked for church socials. McKnight asked if other residents were good cooks. A few were mentioned. So the organizers got them together as they didn’t know each other. They started sharing recipes, and together eating dishes each had prepared. Then they started cooking together for church and community affairs. The demand became so large that they formed a catering business, including hiring other community residents to work with them.
Turned out the skills were already present in the community.
By listening and then facilitating networking, a whole new community function, a business, and jobs were created by the residents.
© 2018 Rick Schwertfeger
Editor’s note: Rick joins Craig and Jim in an upcoming Running Iron Report podcast.