Last weekend I was at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin. Someplace I would never be except for the influence of my honey, Steve. He’s a solar, energy-efficient kind of guy and hanging with him lands me in curious places.
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.
My little radial heart quickened and went pit-pat.
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.
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.
I was shocked to discover, via a May 15 article in the NYT, that the stereotype for solo travelers is someone who is “single and looking,” on a dating holiday. Really? Of course, people would only go on vacation by themselves if they were looking for sex, or perhaps marriage! Not looking for the brilliant onion domes of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, not yearning for a perfect croissant in street-side cafe, not hoping to wander for a day in acres of gardens. No, we’re out touring the world hoping to get lucky, to cure ourselves of the singleton disease. This is news to me and the all the other people that make up the one in five people who traveled on their own on their most recent leisure trip, mostly women.
The Visa study cited noted that solo traveling was done mainly by “Women Wanderers” under age 45 (rats, I was hoping for a good showing for the over-60 crowd), and half were professionals from China and India. Again, down come crashing myths. What? Women from restrictive, third-world countries are professionals and they travel by themselves more than women from the USA?
The most frequent response I have to my solo womanly world wanderings is, “Oh you are so brave to go by yourself.” I have a hard time knowing what to say back. By nature, I am not a joiner. I live by myself and have for most of my life. So what, I’m supposed to hunker down with a tour group or cozy up with someone for a couple weeks of tight quarters? I’ve tried it, and learned. I don’t want to spend my vacation negotiating with someone else about when we go where, why. I don’t find the constant chatter of a companion a good sound track for exploration. Interjecting worry about whether or not my pal having a good time, is an extra layer of stress I prefer to leave behind.
So far, Steve and I are able to travel together peacefully, but his companionship is not a requirement for me to go on a trip.
I just returned from a ten-day solo adventure to Russia. A place shrouded in media myths; a country with a remarkable history and role in today’s world churn, it provided a double whammy to folks’ amazement about me traveling alone. “Ew, why Russia? By yourself? You are so brave!”
Oh Fiddlesticks! I‘m not brave; I’m a well-researched, curious traveler. I felt I needed to get to Russia if I was ever going to. Emotions are running high out there in the rarefied clouds of global politics, who knows when the doors would close and I would miss the chance to walk through palaces, past onion dome Orthodox churches, down blocks and blocks of beautiful buildings while thinking about Mongol Hordes, serfdom, the siege of Leningrad, the great social experiments of socialism and communism? Miss finding bowls of borscht or Uha fish soup, plates of pickled herring, or piles of Pelmeni dumplings stuffed with mushrooms? Miss immersing myself for days in art, losing myself in a night of flawless, extravagant, and passionate ballet? Miss wandering through sophisticated shops while cosmopolitan, stylish women stride tall beside me? No way!
There were hard moments during the trip but I’m not sure any of them would have been better if someone else was there. In fact, I finally settled on a very Zen-like, do-one-thing concentration to get myself around in the enormous public spaces and the particularly vexing Moscow metro. I found time slipped away, paring down my vacation to-do list with the velocity of a sharp Soviet scythe. I’m glad I didn’t have to argue with anyone about where I was or what was getting chopped off the list.
Here are a couple essays from my days there.
May 2 St. Petersburg: Go with the flow
Riffs inspired by books, articles, and winds that sweep into my life.