In 15 white tents set on the high meadow grounds of the ReNew the Earth Institute, the fair is a 3-day solar energy affair at heart. Solar panels, solar batteries, solar racking systems, solar ovens, solar cars, solar motorcycles, and off-grid technologies - with heaping side helpings of sustainability, farming, alternative construction methods, aquaculture, herbal medicine, kombucha-making seminars and workshops. All digested with the help of beet burgers, organic prairie brats, and pizza baked in cob ovens and washed down with glass pints of Central Waters solar-brewed beer.
It was more hip than the John Hartman festival last month in Bean Blossom. Dreadlocks abounded. Alternative funk-rock bands and frog choruses played on stages. You could donate $10 and get a free bucket of compost made from the collected waste of last year’s fair. There was a distinct Changing the World charge in the air, both implicit and spoken. There was even an ad in the program from a financial advisor wanting people to invest to Change the World.
Keynote speaker Jon Wellinghoff, Immediate Past Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), talked about the net metering war between utilities and those providing solar to the grid. He warned about the electrical grid being vulnerable to terrorist attack. Right at the very end of his speech he predicted that new technology changes will force policy change.
The next day, Amy Goodman, (host and executive producer of Democracy Now! - the independent, news program you can see around here on Free Speech TV or listen to on WFHB) welcomed us in the main tent to “the sanctuary of dissent.” In promotion of her book (The Silenced Majority - Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope written with her husband Denis Moynihan) she told stories about the voices of ordinary people standing up to corporate and government power - and refusing to be silent. When “people speak for themselves, when people speak from their own experience, it breaks down bigotry,” she said. Not to agree, but to get to an understanding of where someone is coming from. “And that's where peace begins.”
She talked about Pope Francis in his stunning encyclical on the environment and climate change, calling for swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging world leaders to listen and for a change of the throwaway consumer culture.
She quoted Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
“There is a hunger for communication, for democracy,” she said before raising her hand in a V-ed peace sign at the end of her speech.
It was susceptible. For the past few months I’ve been researching the political movements of the 1960s and early 70s for the new novel I’m writing. Half of my dining room table is covered with era books about social dissent and alternative living ideas. I’ve been watching radical documentaries and movies. Built a hippies board on Pinterest. My young heroine Connie Borders - who lives in my heart and head - wants, more than anything, to be part of Changing the World.
I left the Energy Fair feeling as if I need to re-engage with Changing the World.
It’s not a new feeling for me. It’s been banging around inside since I retired five years ago and am free from the scowls of clients and bosses to do and think whatever I damned well please.
I have friends who are pure activists, despite their jobs. They write letters to congress. They protest. They post outrage on Facebook. But I was never that brave, or pure.
Is my old revolutionary spunk renewable? I have tried a couple times to get involved. I’m not interested in Changing the World on the grand scale. I want things in my sphere of influence. To be a good neighbor and to live local. If we all did that, it would be Changing the World.
- I successfully campaigned for white rice to be replaced with whole grains on hot bar of BloomingFoods, the local coop, citing conflict with its nutritional foods mission.
- Next, I lifted a few fingers on my keyboard and spoke out publically against a proposal to build a trash transfer station in a nearby residential area. The project was finally denied.
- Encouraged, I worked a tiny bit on helping to craft regulations for the historical preservation district forced upon my neighborhood, something clearly out of my area of expertise – my biggest contribution was some light editing and definitions of “should” and “recommend” for the glossary that were not included in the document put out by the committee.
- I tried volunteering at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, a food pantry that I adore. A place that teaches gardening and food preservation while they distribute healthy foods. Right up my foodie, gardening alley. But the required recurring shift times interrupted my research and writing schedule. And, because I believe that I am most powerful in what I write – it has priority (how do my activist friends with jobs squeeze in all of their volunteering?)
So I gave it up.
But when I got home from Wisconsin, the next night was a member-owner’s meeting about the financial crisis the BloomingFoods coop is facing. I decided to go, just to listen. The board chair reminded us that Changing the World was the reason the coop was started decades ago. And now, the coop world is changing.
Soon I found myself, Amy Goodman and Connie Borders standing invisibly next to me, speaking out. Pleading for a return to the philosophy of affordable food and a transparency with the comments and feedback of members. Afterwards, I was urged by a neighbor to attend a coop Community Linkage Committee meeting.
I was resistant at first.
It’s the same night as Green Drinks where big issues are brought to the local level and served with cold craft beer. But the next day was studded with conversations about the BloomingFoods situation. Soon I found myself suggesting to others that they attend the coop meeting. And I realized that my thin tie to Changing the World, my philosophy of living locally and being a good neighbor, dictates attendance at the coop meeting.
So I am going.