A BLIZZARD OF SELF-ORGANIZING
One of the most rewarding aspects of the recent blizzard,
while acknowledging the damage and the losses, was the way in which we self-organized
ourselves on our streets and in our neighbourhoods. The government wasn't there - and in
its place, a natural instinct for mutual self-help emerged.
Good government is essential : at its best, it expresses
the same spirit of mutual self-help. When not at its best, (which can be often) it becomes
an obstacle to community self-organizing, instead of a support. Bureaucracies become
self-important, and begin to think they are "in charge", resenting intrusion by
'the public'. Instead of the experience of "we" which happens at the local
level, it becomes an experience of "them".
What would happen if we took self-organization a small
step further ? There will be other crises, whether earthquake or flood, food crisis or
economic collapse. When a collective crisis really hits, it is at the street and
neighbourhood level that we need to respond. It is at this level that we know each other
personally, and can reach each other on foot.
For a start, each street or block could create its own
Directory, listing its residents by name and phone number, showing the skills, equipment,
interests and enthusiasms that we share. In the old days, we would have known all this
simply by hanging out on the street. Today, we have to build this knowledge from scratch.
By building a foundation of shared knowledge, and getting
to know each other's names and interests, we also get to trust each other (and to know who
cannot be trusted). We are building the social web, the primary basis of relationship
outside the family. From that web, a thousand things can happen. Without it, a street can
be very vulnerable.
In the blizzard, on some streets the web grew quickly, and
everyone worked together to clear people's roofs, unblock drains and make sure everyone
was ok. On others, not even footpaths were cleared, except to people's own houses. The
instinct to work together is there in all of us, but it takes leadership and organizing to
bring it out.
This simple thing, working together to help each other,
can be the basis of a whole new way of life, transforming communities. We can apply it to
growing food together, overcoming poverty, tackling unemployment, local traffic calming,
even designing whole new neighbourhood centres, so that we can walk to our local stores
and not be trapped in the suburbs, as many were after Christmas. Self-organizing is a huge
political principle, for which the government and welfare state are no substitute.
When the little town of Bonaparte, Iowa (pop'n 450) lost
its only shop, and saw its life collapsing, the people got together, raised the money
among themselves, and re-opened the shop as a community business. From that point on, they
have gone from strength to strength.
In the Swedish village of Husa, when the population fell
from 900 to 90 after the copper mine closed down, the village shop closed, and the school
was under threat. But the citizens rallied round, writing and presenting a play about
their village's history, which was a great success. From that, they went on to persuade
the shopkeeper to re-open his shop and since 1979, they have created no less than 15
different co-operatives and associations, to tackle various social, economic and
recreational projects. They even bought the mountainside where the copper mine used to be
to establish a community-owned ski-lift, with 4 pistes, a restaurant and chalets. Much of
the work is done by their own voluntary effort.
In the Stockyards, a declining urban blue collar
low-income neighbourhood in Cleveland, Ohio, where unemployment is twice the national
average, a community development society has launched an initiative to get computer
ownership into 35% of the households, jumpstarting the local culture into the '90s. By
obtaining recycled computers, and setting up a buyers club for low income families, they
are already part way there after just a year. There are 1,000 similar tales to be told,
where communities are self-organizing themselves. It is one of the oldest principles of
nature, if not the oldest - so we ignore it at our peril.
The difficult message we have to get used to is that
because of our social and ecological screw-ups, the 21st century will see many more such
crises, not fewer. The turbulences of climate change will bring us storms, droughts,
floods, heatwaves and freeze-ups. The coming food crisis will bring an urgent need to grow
more food locally. The imminent collapse of antibiotics will bring a huge health crisis.
The real lesson of the blizzard is that our strength is not in government, but in
ourselves : government's role must be to help us to self-organize better.
There is a joy in self-organizing. We saw it on the
streets in the smiles, the lifts willingly shared. Barriers came down, and hands reached
out. We should build on this experience for the future - not forget it as soon as the snow
- Guy Dauncey
"NEVER DOUBT THAT A SMALL GROUP OF
THOUGHTFUL, CONCERNED CITIZENS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD. INDEED, IT'S THE ONLY THING THAT EVER
- Margaret Mead
Welcome to 1997 ! And another wonderful year,
where opportunities sit like flowers in an alpine meadow, waiting to burst into colour. So
many hopes to be expressed, so many visions to be fulfilled.
Published as a monthly service, nourishing
the vision of an Island blessed by the harmony of nature and community, funded by your
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Development Fund $180
Look at this response ! You've all been so incredibly
generous, and said so many kind things. I'm sorry I can't thank you all personally. Many
thanks to Maria Stewart, Jason LeSage, Jean McKenzie, Peter Schofield, Fran Thoburn,
Valerie Torontow, Al Lubowski, Murray Sutherland, Gil Parker, Dorothy Bishop, Kay Look,
Audrey Woodward, Margaret Fear, Coastal Connections, Dave and Debbie Secco, Alan
Greatbatch, Brian Lupton, Judith Cullington, Blaise Salmon, Brad Andrews, Freda Knott,
Diane Angus, Chris Garrett, Craig Harrold, Ken Wardroper, John Azar, Moireen Philips,
Bruce Torrie, Lois Sprague, Roger Pollard, Daphne Taylor, Gail Schacter, Deryck Thomson,
Susan Gage, Eileen Sowerby, Ira Robinson, Bev Sawatsky, Sharon Hazelwood, Bill Moffat,
Michael & Barbara Clague, Peter Schofield, Felix Lion, Tom Gore, Emma Faulkner, Brian
Burchill, John Lammers, Sylvan Foreman, Doug Crow, Andrew van Iterson, Ann McDonald,
Mallory Pred, Dr Elinor Powell, Colin Graham, Bill Wheeler, Henry & Margaret Schubart,
Maurice Tozer, Mavis Gillie, Barbara Benoit, Nikki Basuk, Heather McAndrew, Laurence &
Judith Fetter, Lynn Husted, Alan Dolan, Susan Day, Bob Mitchell, Ruth Masters, Monica
Oldham, Robbie Andersen, Barbara Houston, Mark Whitear & Rosalie Beach, Bamfield
Preservation & Development Society, Peggy Olsthoorn, Ann Gower, Gail Schultz, Brian
& Peggy Dallamore, James Whiteaker, Vivian Chenard, Laurie McBride, Bis Whitby, Hal
Knight, Don Shaw, Steven New, Mary-Wynne Ashford, SAGE Foundation, Greg & Sharon
Foster, Kathleen Gibson, Art & Marg Simons, Dan Harper, Centre for Studies in Religion
& Society, and Tom Read, in LA.
Donations can be made to EcoNews, 395 Conway Road, Victoria V8X 3X1. If you don't want to receive EcoNews, or are going away, please let
us know - it avoids wasting the postage. To receive EcoNews call (250) 881-1304, or email email@example.com
TOP TEN GOALS FOR THE YEAR 2000
Denmark has set the goal that 20% of all of its farm
produce will be organic by the year 2000. Finland has determined that 25% of its commuting
trips will be by bike. Britain has given $100 million to fund a massive Earth Centre on
the site of an old coal mine as a centre for sustainable living. Why are we seemingly
asleep? To greet the new year, here are EcoNews' Top Ten Goals for the Year 2000 for
Vancouver Island :
10. 10% of all Island timber to be grown according
to the Forest Stewardship Council's ecocertification standards.
9. 50% of all our garbage to be recycled.
8. 20% of all our commute trips on the Island to be
done by bike or on foot.
7. 10% of all new developments to be planned along
ecovillage and ecotown principles, as an alternative to sprawl.
6. 50% of local OCPs to enshrine blue and green
5. 10% of all food grown on the Island to be grown
4. 10% of all our personal investments to be
invested in socially responsible funds.
3. 20% of our streets to have local Street
Committees to help us self-organize.
2. The E & N Railway to be running as a
thriving tourist & commuter route.
1. 100% of all school-leavers to be required to do
a month's community or environmental service as a pre-condition of receiving their high
LIVING WITHOUT GARBAGE
Roger Smeeth has been having an interesting discussion
with Victoria's City Hall lately. He says that since he generates no garbage, he should be
removed from the garbage collection service, and the $120 a year utility billing for the
service. City Hall has been supportive, but ultimately they say that garbage collection is
require by law - if they started letting some people off it might encourage others to dump
their garbage in the creek. Currently, Roger has 17 categories of recyclables at his 1818
Leighton Road nest : All foodwastes for composting (bones are buried or burned) 5
different categories of paper & card 6 different types of plastic for collection by
Chris Mowat (642-3530) (excluding type 3 PVC which is an ecological no-no) Steel and
aluminum, including bottle caps All glass, except broken glass Batteries Discarded clothes
& household equipment. Roger takes the remainder, a single bag of miscellaneous
non-recyclables, directly to Hartland Road once a year. Here's to a local hero !
WHO IS YOUR LOCAL CRD DIRECTOR
These elected mayors and councillors are responsible for
making regional decisions about our environment, planning, transportation, health services
and a host of other things. Cut this list out, and keep it : it's your key to involvement
in our local democracy :
Don Amos (Sidney) 652-6290
John Bergbusch (Colwood) 474-5619
Diane Bernard (Sooke)
Denise Blackwell (Langford)
Kellie Booth (Salt Spring)
Bill Camden (View Royal) 380-0500
Jacques Campbell (Outer Gulf)
Chris Causton (Oak Bay) 595-4543
Bob Cross (Victoria) 478-6127
John Garrison (Saanich)
Wayne Hunter (Central Saanich)
James King (Esquimalt)
Frank Leonard (Saanich) 479-6710
David Mclean (Victoria) 598-4432
Bob McMinn (Highlands) 478-4403
Linda Michaluk (North Saanich) 656-4144
Carol Pickup (Saanich) 382-6424
John Ranns (Metchosin) 478-3446
Larry West (Langford electoral) 478-2759
Ray Williams (Saanich) 658-5647
Geoff Young (Victoria) 388-7875
You can write to them all at CRD, PO Box 1000, Victoria
V8W 2S6, and fax them at 360-3130.
FERRARA - THE CYCLING CAPITAL
The City of Ferrara, on the river Po, has 100,000 bicycles
for its 135,000 inhabitants. There are 33km of cycle tracks, and cars are banned
completely from several streets. There are special bike stoplights, even ride-in
phone-booths where you can make a call without dismounting. The 'bici-buses' have large
luggage compartments designed to store bicycles, and there are plans for a network of
cycle lanes leading out to the surrounding villages. Farrarans love to cycle - 30% of all
trips are made by bike. 20% are made on foot, 14% by public transport and just over 33% by
car. The area is completely flat, and Ferrara is the poorest town in the region, so many
people have not been tempted to splash out on cars. Now, as many towns and cities are
tripping over their wealth, Ferrarans are appreciating the virtues of two-wheeled
Mediated agreements save time, money, &
your work and personal relationships PATRICIA LANE Lawyer*/Mediator 598-3992 *Law
$4,000 IN PRIZES FOR
Are you a post-secondary student with a keen inventive
mind and a concern for the future of the environment ? The Canadian Intellectual Property
Office, in conjunction with the tri-university service known as PATSCAN, is offering
prizes of $1,000, $600 and $400 for college, undergraduate and postgraduate students who
come up with the best innovative solutions to environmental challengers - and a further
$500 prize for the best recycling concept. You are encouraged to research patents to
review the novelty of your innovation (with help from PATSCAN), and the deadline for
entries is Feb 28th 1997. The top finalists will be judged by a panel of technology
transfer professionals, and the winners will be announced in March. Don't worry - you'll
get full confidentiality for your innovation until it is patented. For details, call Ron
Simmer at PATSCAN on 822-5404 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Good luck !
THE WORLD MICROCREDIT SUMMIT
What happens when you think about world poverty, and the
millions of women, men and children who live in the most wretched conditions barely
finding enough to eat each day ? If you have not yet learnt to push the thought away into
the part of the brain that is used for storing things that are 'hopeless' or 'impossible',
you probably feel an oppressively heavy weight at the burden of pain so many of our fellow
people live with on our planet. 'World hunger' has always seemed so huge a problem,
without solutions. Not so, however, and one of the most imaginative solutions that has
been found this century, microcredit, is about to have its first major world conference in
New York, Feb 2nd - 4th. Blaise Salmon, a Victoria investment adviser and EcoNews reader,
is helping to organize the summit through a group he belongs to, called RESULTS.
Microcredit schemes allow the very poorest of the poor to obtain loans as small as $30 to
help them develop microenterprises, and lift themselves out of poverty. From its birth in
Bangladesh with the Grameen bank, microcredit now reaches more than 2 million poor women,
with a repayment rate above 97%. The goal of the Summit is for microcredit to reach 100
million of the world's poorest families by 2005 (5 million in industrialized countries).
You can help by mailing the enclosed postcard to Jean Chretien, encouraging him to attend
the Summit. And if you want to learn more, or give further help, call Blaise at 384-1842.
More on RESULTS in the future.
GARRY OAKS IN SAANICH
Can you help the Garry Oak Society with their inventory of
Garry Oak trees in Saanich ? They need 20 volunteers who would be willing to walk the
streets this spring and summer, and record the oaks on a map.
Call Paul Gareau, 592-9089.
FOREST ACTION ALERTS
The Sierra Club of BC has started sending out monthly
Forest Action Alerts to help you protect the province's ancient forests, fish and
wildlife. The action needs one letter a month. To receive the Alerts, call the Sierra Club
THE PEACE OF THE WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of the wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry
OF THE MONTH : "VIRT"
No, it's not the latest musical to hit town. Would that it
were ! It might be more fun.
It stands for the Vancouver Island Resource Targets plan,
and that is 'resources' as in 'logging'. It's the Master Land-Use Plan for crown lands on
the Island. Hey - how did that happen ?
VIRT is the offspring of CORE, but whereas CORE was a very
participatory process, VIRT has been devilishly backroomish. The VIRT team will have a new
draft plan ready in January, and is moving straight to the final version for Cabinet
approval, with no public process.
So what's in it ? VIRT proposes 3 types of forest zone for
the Island (think of it like urban zoning, but without any Public hearings for zoning
changes). 50% of the forest has been designated High Intensity Area (HIA), with a relaxed
Forest Practices Code. HIAs are intensive logging zones where other values are secondary.
Only 8% has been designated Low Intensity Area (LIA), 20% of which has already been
clearcut from top to bottom, including Mt Paxton. Only 13% of the Island is protected -
6.6% of the original ancient forest. In CORE, LIAs were supposed to be 'vanguard areas'
for ecosystem management, but that's all being backtracked, with virtually no provisions
to protect wildlife habitat, or strategies to protect threatened species such as the
marbled murrelet. The rest of the Island is designated as GFA, or General Forestry Area.
Tourism and recreational values have hardly been
considered. One of the stated objectives of the plan is "to substantially increase
the supply of timber from scenic areas". Maybe they figure if they cut enough, it'll
no longer be scenic, and then they can take the lot. There's only the bare minimum of fish
So what's to do ? It's time to bring out all the
saucepans, and make a big noise. We've been shafted, and it's almost too late.
Action : Call, fax or write immediately to Paul
Ramsey, Minister of Environment (387-1187, fax 387-1356) and David Zirnhelt, Minister of
Forests (387-6240, fax 387-1040). Outside Victoria, Enquiry BC (1-800-663-7867) will
connect you for free.
Tell them the plan is just not acceptable, and ask that
the final draft be delayed until you've had a chance to comment. You can also call Rudi
Mayser (751-7130) and ask to attend the January meeting of VIRT. For more information call
the Sierra Club 386-5255. Let's go !