Who Has the Skills to Build Community? We All Do

More than 20 years after co-founding YES!, I am launching a new project.

The idea came to me when I was on the road trip that resulted in my new book, The Revolution Where You Live. As I traveled, I met people who were doing amazing things in their communities. Some were starting cooperatives and other institutions of the new economy, while others were working to heal their city’s legacy of racism, resisting fossil fuel development, or transforming their local food system. These innovations are, I believe, the seeds of a more just and sustainable world

But a question kept nagging at me: Why isn’t there more of this?

The question became even more pressing with the election of Donald Trump. On my recent book tour—in cities from Portland, Oregon, to Madison, Wisconsin—people asked some variation on this question: “The election was a wake-up call. I see now that I can’t outsource my activism. I’m ready to get involved. But how do I get started?”

So I began wondering: What if the people I met in one city—say, Detroit—could share what they know with people in other communities around the country? What if people had access to the skills that would allow them to step up with confidence together with others where they live?

We have a lot of work ahead of us—especially with the retrograde politics in Washington, D.C. Could work in our communities deepen relationships while building our power and nourishing our spirits?

Those questions led to explorations of peer-to-peer trainings. What if we created an online space where people coached each other about how to have meetings that energize, to navigate conflict, or to take the first steps toward building a new economy?

Perhaps this is how we can spread the genius of grassroots change.

I think building a different sort of society happens from the grassroots.

By connecting online via Skype, for example, we can keep costs low. And learning groups can develop into the skillful local teams needed to get things done.

One more thing. I don’t believe deep change can be top down. I think building a different sort of society happens from the grassroots—most powerfully, when local groups can learn from each other.

The response to this idea has been thrilling. People are stepping up to provide and receive training and to help launch this project, which now has a name: PeoplesHub.

With this school as my focus, I’ll be limiting my work at YES! to writing columns for the website and the magazine.

I believe we need strong communities—to resist the terrible policies of the Trump administration.

This isn’t as big a shift as you might think. The careful reader might have noticed that my title changed from “editor-in-chief” to “editor at large” in 2015, when I started my 12,000-mile road trip. My new status gave me the flexibility to write The Revolution Where You Live, and to go on a book tour in early 2017. And in between, I was able to make two reporting trips to Standing Rock—my reports have appeared here in YES!, in AfterImage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, and were part of The Spirit of Standing Rock, a documentary produced by Mohawk filmmaker Paulette Moore.

I plan to continue branching out with my writing, but my focus will be on launching the online school. I believe we need strong communities—to resist the terrible policies of the Trump administration, to sustain us when times get bad (and things could get very bad), and to build the future we want.

Building community takes skills, and I believe we can accelerate learning and empowerment when we unleash the genius we already have in cities and towns around the United States. I will keep you informed as things unfold, and you can follow me and get updates at RevolutionWhereYouLive.org.



Article re-posted from YES! Magazine under a Creative Commons license. Home page image: Sarah van Gelder

About the Lead Author

Sarah van Gelder
Sarah van Gelder
Sarah van Gelder is a founder of a new nonprofit start-up, PeoplesHub, which will be offering online training to local groups around the country who want to make change where they live. Sarah is also YES! Magazine co-Founder and columnist, a public speaker, and the author of the new book, The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000 Mile Journey Through a New America (Berrett Koehler, 2017). She also edited Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference, and This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99 Percent Movement (both with Berrett Koehler).  

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