Who Has the Skills to Build Community? We All Do

About every six weeks, for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their September 12, 2017 dialog they invited YES! Magazine co-founder Sarah van Gelder to share the stories she gathered on her 12,000-mile cross-country journey from people who were re-making America from the ground up, taking on the climate crisis, wealth inequality, and racial exclusion.
In addition to the transcribed discussion here, you can download or listen to the audio:

For more on Sarah’s thinking and work, see the list on her author page.

Maggie Rogers: Many of us know Sarah as co-founder of Yes! magazine. We’re really pleased today that she’s going to be talking to us about her most recent book that tells the story she gathered on her 12,000 mile cross country journey where she found people who are remaking America from the ground up. This led to her newest project, PeoplesHub, an online space where communities can learn and share the skills of making powerful change.

Peter Block: Thank you Maggie. Thank you John, Sarah, thanks for people joining us. Sarah is a friend of mine. What drew me to her and her work initially was her search for an alternative journalism, that somebody would be willing to do investigative reporting, put on things that work and things that are possible in this world. I love what she created and what she’s doing now because it’s an antidote to the fear-based reporting that most of us have unfortunately gotten used to.

Also, I’m part of her PeoplesHub and the other thing that I think is innovative about what you’re doing now Sarah, is that we know that in every community, something is going on that is creating an alternative future and more of an indigenous restoring our humanity, however you would describe it. Except there’s nobody to tell the story, there’s nobody to connect these communities. If there is a movement happening, you connecting these people who are making changes in communities and giving us the support and the skills. I know John has always said that the hardest thing about being a pioneer is the loneliness. Part of what I think you’re doing now is helping pioneers in neighborhoods, in local communities reduce their sense of isolation and loneliness because if you do work on the edge, you always think you’re crazy. And your parents will confirm that.

Thank you so much for being here, Sarah. Maybe you can start by saying what captures your attention now and how did your journey that you took change your life and your thinking.

Sarah van Gelder: Yeah. I took a road trip in 2015. I spent four months living in a little pickup truck and camper and visited Cincinnati so I saw Peter while I was there. I was visiting communities all over the country that normally don’t get in the news, their stories are usually not told. I was especially looking at places that are struggling like Appalachia in the south and places like Native American reservations and rust belt cities. Everywhere I went, I was asking, who has solutions here? Who’s coming up with some ways forward. It seems to me that the big status quo institutions whether it’s government or the big institution of higher education or the nonprofit industrial complex, somehow the solutions to the big crises of our time are eluding them. I thought maybe it’s happening in the margins where we aren’t paying attention.

I spent four months going from town to city to tiny little back water community and finding amazing stories of what people are doing. It’s true. A lot of those folks feel isolated. They feel like maybe they and a few of their friends are the only ones doing anything. Then I tell them about another place I had just visited. They say oh, I want to meet that person. I started thinking that should be so easy to do. With the internet, it’s so easy to introduce people. Nobody has to actually travel. We can get on a Skype call. That idea was what created the foundation for PeoplesHub, which is my next project.

Peter Block: Can you describe PeoplesHub a little bit?

Sarah van Gelder: The idea is that people everywhere are working on these kinds of innovations and new solutions. People everywhere are in despair about how bad things have gotten and many, many people are wanting to get involved. I was so struck by the women’s march right after the inauguration when millions of people, there were four million people and they were in communities, over 300 communities around the country, who stepped up to say that they cared and wanted to do something.

Once they got done with that day of being on the streets, the next question is “what can I do where I live? How do I make something happen here?” It just seemed so clear to me that that power that people have in their own communities to get stuff done… if we can unleash that power, we can have a real transformation of this country. Not the kind of top down transformation that I think is so problematic. Top down has so many pitfalls in terms of people getting power hungry and corrupt and getting it wrong or privileging one sub sector of the population over others but from the bottom up there is this enormous possibility for creativity and democracy and so forth.

I kept wondering, if there is all that possibility and all that interest, what is holding us back? It seemed to me there are several things. One is people are of course busy, they go back to their stressed lives trying to make ends meet and raise their children and so forth. That’s a given, but there’s some other things too. People are not feeling capable, not feeling that they have the skills, to make things happen. Maybe they’ve tried getting involved in their community or tried holding meetings and they went badly and they ended up saying I’m just never going to do this again or they’ve got into some kind of a conflict and they didn’t know how to navigate it.

I kept thinking there are skills to doing these things. They’re not rocket science. But we’re not born knowing how to do these things either, so what if we could transfer those skills from communities of people who have gotten some pretty good ideas of how to navigate them to places where people are eager to learn. That’s the idea for PeoplesHub, to connect people online so we don’t have all the expense that goes with travel. What if we did it online then there’s no stopping how many people can be involved in transferring this kind of information from one community to another.

What if we train people, not as individuals but in groups where they live, so that as they’re learning, they’re also getting to know each other better and they’re sharing the learning together. At the end of a series of trainings they can look around the room and say, “We’re the ones that know how to do this. We’re the ones that are going to get something done. Let’s go.” That’s the idea — that the isolation you’re talking about is the isolation of people at the edge but it’s also pervasive in our society. I think we’ve gotten to such a toxic level of isolation that it’s actually making us mentally ill in the United States. We need to be finding ways that we can be together in physical spaces, not through social media, but actually be together. We want to train people in groups together even though the person that’s doing the training or the people taking the training may be anywhere in the United States.

John McKnight: Now can you carry that forward so that we can see how it works in particular. Let’s imagine I’m in a small town and ran into something about the possibility of having a time bank. But I don’t know much about how it works or what to do. Is your site a place for me to go?

Sarah van Gelder: Absolutely. Some of our trainings will be somewhat generic like how do you have a meeting where you come out feeling energized and heard and ready to take action or how do you navigate conflicts. Some of the trainings will be generic, things that any group might want to know how to do but other things will be much more specific. We’re thinking of it almost as an open source so a trainer who may want to be primarily affiliated with a time bank but they come on to the PeoplesHub site now and then give trainings on how to start a time bank. If we don’t have that, you can also contact PeoplesHub and say this is what I’m interested in and we’ll try to find somebody through our database who you can work with directly.

John McKnight: That’s a wonderful idea.

Peter Block: You’re really shortening the learning time between when I hear about something and when I can talk to somebody about it.

Sarah van Gelder: That’s right. I think we’re kind of running out of time in our society. This summer with all the wildfires out where I live in the pacific northwest or the hurricanes, these should be wake up calls. Or the election of Donald Trump for that matter. These are wake up calls. Something has gone badly wrong in our society and we don’t actually have all the time in the world to fix them. I think we need to take very seriously the time scale that we have to really step up to these issues. I think scaling horizontally is a way to get that work done.

Peter Block: The traditional conversation is top down and bottom up. I think lateral is probably where the movement occurs. As soon as you say bottom up, it means that we’re starting at the bottom but we’ve got to get up. We’ve got to reach the peak so called in power and maybe making that irrelevant is what a movement really does. You’re creating a vehicle for as you said a lateral or horizontal connection, reduce my isolation, find me somebody to talk to, listen to people who are through it. It’s really a lateral movement rather than bottom up, top down. Any thoughts about that?

Sarah van Gelder: I think you’re absolutely right. That’s very helpful to hear it described that way. I think it’s true that a lot of the folks that are in power are too married to the status quo to be ready to accept the really radical kinds of solutions that we need. I’m talking about things like time banking, things that are fundamentally changing the story of our society and the story of our communities so that they are in fact about building on the abundance that we have instead of using scarcity as a way of concentrating wealth and power.

Too many people at the top are already married to and are benefiting from the status quo. They believe it’s inevitable. They maybe want it to be inevitable. I’m not saying one way or another about that. A lot of other folks don’t see it that way. They can see that’s not working and they’re very open to and maybe even eager for something that is fundamentally very different and willing to be creative. At the grass roots, we can spark that creativity and do that kind of experimenting.

John McKnight: Sarah, I think you’ve got the history going with your analysis because I’m old enough that I remember when there was no civil rights movement but you could go to any town, city, or neighborhood and you could find a little group of people who are concerned about civil rights and were beginning to try to do something. But they were not connected.

What made the civil rights movement into a movement was that there were tens of thousands of little groups of people who were working in their vineyard to do what they could about their situation. But the movement was a process that connected them all together so that they could learn and have the kind of power that they never experienced before. They were creating a new way. I think this idea of connecting local initiatives for learning and for increasing power has such a great history that you’re right on point in what you’re doing.

Sarah van Gelder: That’s good to hear. It’s been really interesting how excited people are once they get the idea. Whether they’re people who see themselves as potential trainers or people who say, “I want to take a course in that.” Oftentimes it’s both. They say, “I know a lot about this thing but I would like to learn about that other thing.” That to me is a sweet spot because none of us knows everything. We can all learn but we don’t have to feel like I’m a passive recipient of somebody else’s wisdom. And we don’t have to feel like I’m the big shot who has all the answers. We can all be in a learning process together and I just think that’s a really exciting space to be in.

Peter Block: The time banking John mentioned, this is for people who may not know, it’s a way of tracking generosity. If I do something for you, groceries or walk your dog, I get hours in my bank. The most care in the world is not monetized. This is a way of tracking non monetized care. Edgar Cahn created this; this particular one has the notion of coproduction. You mentioned nonprofit industrial complexes. I thought that was an interesting phrase. You might say a little more about, but basically this hub that you’re starting could be an example of coproduction where half the time I’m learning and half the time I’m teaching. It’s true for everybody who joins. I think that really glues us together so we don’t have a bunch of learners and you’ve got to go find experts. There’s a coproduction quality to that.

Sarah van Gelder: That’s right. One of the things we’re hoping to develop is also a text based forum so if you’re in a community and you run across a particular problem or have a particular question, you can put it up on that text and on the chat and have someone else come in and say, “We ran into that in our community. This is how we handled it.” People can weigh in and have that kind of conversation. I think that coproduction is a really helpful way to think about it.

John McKnight: Sarah, as you took this trip, you found in various places all kinds of local initiatives. You found initiatives around food and new co-ops being formed and urban farming and restorative justice programs and place based economic efforts. Did you see anything in common in terms of the people who tend to do this kind of innovation and production?

Sarah van Gelder: I talked to people who were young and old and people of all races and I guess the one thing might be a little bit of optimism but that things could go better with some effort and a willingness to sort of step out and play some kind of a role in that. But it wasn’t necessarily beyond that. It wasn’t necessarily any particular kind of people. Maybe people who also had the experience of knowing that there could be other ways.

For some people if they spent a bunch of time in a very different culture, they could look back at their own culture and say that’s one way that things could be, but we could actually do it a different way also. For a lot of people it’s that kind of ability to step back from wherever they are and take a look at how they’re living and how their community is living and say, you know what, I think things could be a little better here.

For people who have been marginalized, for people of color who’ve been on the outside their entire lives, that’s really clear for people who’ve been raised in more privileged circumstances they may tend to feel like the status quo is working okay for me. But nowadays, the status quo is working for fewer and fewer people, even folks that are still in the middle class. Their level of security has been really undercut by a number of the economic policies that concentrate wealth and power in a few hands and so many other people then feel like it’s just one pink slip and they could be losing their home or one medical emergency and they could lose all their savings.

I think more and more people are taking that step out of the matrix if you will, the notion that our way of life is the only way there could be. I think things could be different. What would that look like? I think they get very excited when they see people in other communities who are doing those kind, taking that question and making something stabs at some very tangible changes that open up other possibilities.

John McKnight: Another thing I was wondering about in this lateral world as Peter describes it, there are people of all kinds of political persuasions. I think about some of my own relatives. They’re involved in employee owned ownership and are very interested in kind of food generating activities. They voted for Trump. What I’m wondering is, is it possible at the level where you are exploring and where things are associational and face to face and are about in a sense the common good that this whole world that you’re exploring might also be the place that we’re most likely to see the bridging across what seems to be a terrible divide. Do you see any of that?

Sarah van Gelder: Yeah. I think that is the best place to do it in part because when we’re with other human beings, it’s harder to escape the fact that they’re complex and we’re complex and even if there’s one area where we have very strong disagreements, there are all these other areas where we can empathize with those other people. I think it really takes being physically with other people rather than being on some kind of social media fighting with each other to have that experience.

That said, I think this country has a serious (I’m not quite sure if that’s the word) but a seriously toxic question around racism and also gender exclusion and sexism. Those are issues that can make it really unsafe for people at the local level as well as at the national level. There’s violence associated with those prejudices. There’s violence, there’s exclusion, there’s impoverishment and that the history goes back a very long time. Racism especially, but also violence against women seems to be provoked especially during economic hard times, which is where we are and where we’re headed.

When I was doing my road trip, one of the key questions I was asking everywhere is where are communities exceeding in taking on these questions especially about racism. And it seems to me that communities are having some real successes but they’re doing it very deliberately. They’re not just expecting that will happen as a byproduct of working on other issues. They’re consciously taking on racism as a central question. Whatever the demographics of their particular community, they’re taking that on as a second question that needs to be addressed in a really forthright way.

Peter Block: I think in addition to race, economics is really breaking apart. Do you imagine chapters of PeoplesHub in Cincinnati? Because even, it just happens to be where I am in a medium small town but it’s very hard to wire together and connect. If you took a neighborhood and add up all the people who are trying to make that neighborhood better, there’s something elusive to me, I haven’t found a mechanism to say suppose we organize our efforts around the neighborhood. Maybe the PeoplesHub once you get the infrastructure down is a way. I think you said this, it may help you meet face to face with all the other people who are trying to meet an alternative economy or alternative food hub. I think there’s great possibility in that. I don’t know what you think in that way, Sarah, but your national thing may ultimately lead to deeper localism, local connections.

Sarah van Gelder: The focus is very much on people getting the training in local groups. What it allows people to do even if an individual comes to us and says, “I’m tearing my hair out, I want to make change, I don’t know what to do.” We’ll ask them to please find three or four other people with them where they live or to join a group where they live and then to do the training together because that seems like where we have the most potential to really make changes in those place based communities, in neighborhoods or towns. It’s just too abstract and too much sense of powerlessness when we only intersect with national organizing.

I totally agree with you. I don’t think, this could change, I don’t think we’re going to have chapters of PeoplesHub. I think what we’re going to want to encourage is people to create whatever they create at the local level that we then support with resources and training and connections to other communities. For example, in your neighborhood, perhaps there would be a group that would be made up of a number of different neighborhood groups that would come together to have a conversation with somebody over the internet, a trainer somewhere else who might be bringing some ideas that are really useful and be involved in some kind of training process with that person. But in the end, it would be turned back to the groups that are already in existence for whatever they choose to create next.

John McKnight: Sarah, your book reminds me that another traveler in 1832 who went to towns and villages and cities around the United States. His name was Alexis de Tocqueville. What he found was what you found that the primary building block for the society at that time was small groups of people who he named associations. He said what makes America powerful and unique is that we don’t have much associational life in Europe but in the United States we do have strong associational life. We know from Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, that it may be declining some. But I think you’ve taken that Tocquevillian journey and discovered where the reinvention of America can take place once again just the way he did it in 1832. Framed that way, we are historical movement now, the creation of more and more associations that are the great producers of wellbeing. It’s wonderful points you’re making.

Sarah van Gelder: Thank you for saying that. I think that is where are best hope is. That was the conclusion that I came to when I sat down to write The Revolution Where You Live. That is our best hope.

Maggie Rogers: We have a caller. Hello and welcome?

Norlyn: Hi. This is Norlyn Dimmitt. I’ve been following the work of all three of you here for quite some time and just wanted to say Sarah, what you’re doing and what the abundant community is about and what charter for compassion is about and multiple other things that you’re well aware of are all these silos of compassion. I don’t mean silo silo but there hasn’t been this deep collaboration between them. That is the reason we launched our tiny little Compassionate Citizens Foundation, not to do anything new but to take all the stuff that’s already happening and create a mechanism for both funding it and incentivizing collaboration. Are you doing anything currently or what are you doing with the Charter for Compassion/Compassionate Communities initiative?

Sarah van Gelder: Thank you for that. We are reaching out to a lot of different organizations especially ones that have strong local chapters or strong local presence to say might your members want to take some of these trainings. Even if you’re already offering trainings in certain things maybe there’s some of the foundational questions of how do you work together locally that your members still might need that you may not want to offer as a standalone kind of training.

We’re offering that to a number of different national organizations and we’re also on the other side saying that if there are other things that you’re already doing trainings in, that you might want to share with a broader group, we’d also be happy to welcome you in to teach about that. That’s what we’re doing right now. We haven’t specifically reached out to charge compassion although I’ve had conversations about this project with some friends in Seattle who are working on that and we’ve been talking about having further discussion about how we might work together but we’re still in the early stages. We actually don’t launch PeoplesHub until the end of September.

Peter Block: I’m interested before you get off the phone, tell us a little bit about the Compassionate Citizens Foundation. That sounds interesting.

Norlyn: We’ve gone through a lot of iterations. I basically have done nothing. I’m still pre revenue startup almost two years. Two months from today is two years since I decided to donate Connection Realty to the Compassionate Community movement that was already being launched in Seattle. It’s the idea that it’s the last undisrupted financial service industry, the residential brokerage industry, we have recently taken a dramatic shift. We’re looking at faith as a major asset in the ABCD model. We’re looking at churches as being a great site for social transformation. It’s always been. It’s been part of civil rights and everything else but to actually have it be part of the ABCD movement.

Bottom line we’re in the process now of trying to convince RFP USA, which touches most people of faith in the country, Religions for Peace. If you go to RFP USA … it’s 50 faith organizations including the Catholic church, the United Methodist Church and so on, the larger protestants and 47+ other faith bodies, to get them to be kind of the drivers of this common vision of uniting around the idea of Compassionate Citizenship, which I just got a notice from Charter for Compassion, they’re now going to take on educating people to be Compassionate Citizens.

This idea that that’s something that can unite the Trump voter and the Hillary voter and the people that stayed home around the one common thread to all world religions and the secular humanist basically is that compassion counts and we can come together around that bumper sticker, if you will. We’ve been doing dialogue across extreme diversity, Southern Baptist to atheist for over a year in our little pilot project. It doesn’t generate any revenue, that’s the problem at this point, but we’ve proven that the dialogue is actually very possible and people come in committed to respect.

Sarah van Gelder: That’s really interesting.

Peter Block: Thank you. Thank you so much. There are some things on the chat. “Sarah’s approach provides groups for in person opportunity to see and be seen here and be heard, teach and learn from.” Thank you for the comments you’re writing in. Sarah, you use the word training, which I find interesting, and launching at the end of September, how are you marketing this? How are you getting the word out about your new community project?

Sarah van Gelder: We’re ramping up slowly because we don’t want to be overwhelmed. What we’ve heard from some other online training projects since the inauguration is that large numbers of people tend to sign up. We want to start slowly as we’re learning. We’re not planning huge amounts of promotion at first. We’re doing outreach, I’m doing a number of talks around the country in October. That will be a bit of outreach that way. We’re working with these various partners as I was mentioning to you so some of the national organizations that have local chapters that they’re working with, we’re talking to them about whether there might be ways that we can collaborate and bring specific trainings to some of their membership. We’ll be working on the social media side of things. Our website will be out by the end of September and then we’ll start building other social media around that.

We’re doing it a little bit on the gradual side in part because we want to give the initial groups a lot of personal attention to make sure that our model is working really well for them. We’ll have each group actually talk to an intake person and they’ll discuss what they’re after and that person will make sure that the trainings that they sign up for are the ones that really work for them and circle back later and find out how it went. As we do that, we plan to continue to improve the technology and the training methodology to make sure it works well for people.

Peter Block: Because the real challenge with the online is a lot of people do signup and most of them disappear about as quickly as they sign up. I saw something where 170,000 people signed up for a Harvard course and a very small number finished it. Making the experience powerful really is the big challenge, isn’t it?

Sarah van Gelder: Part of it is how passive a lot of webinars are. Our methodology will include a lot of interactive processes in the room where you are with other people. Instead of feeling like you’re a passive recipient of somebody else’s know how, the trainers are going to be inviting people to participate, to do small group conversations, to get up on their feet and form different kinds of formations within their group and then report back. If they report back, they will be reporting back also to other communities around the country who are taking the same class at the same time.

John McKnight: Sarah, can you give us an idea of some of the skill training interactions or classes that you are thinking of putting on?

Sarah van Gelder: One of the basic ones is how to have an ecstatic meeting. Instead of coming out saying, “I’ll never go to another meeting again,” you come out saying, “Wow, that was great. I know these people better, I feel heard, I learned things about my own community and other people and I feel a deeper sense of connection and I feel more powerful because I’m ready to move forward with these other people.” How to have that kind of meeting.

How to navigate conflicts so that when things come up because they inevitably do, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or your group is a failure, it’s just part of life. How do you set yourself up so that when those things happen, you have really good tools so you know how to move through those situations.

Another one is setting goals for yourself and your group. Sometimes groups come together and people say we want to do something but what is the right thing to do or there are so many things to do, how do you choose which to take on at any particular time? How do you make those kinds of decisions? Those are sort of the basic set of core curriculum that we’re starting off with.

John McKnight: It seems to me the generic in my mind is that you’re spreading the knowledge that people have of how to be collectively associated to achieve goals. It’s the life of association face to face rather than the world of institution and face to face, I think what we find is abundance institutionally. We find scarcity. I think it’s very important methodology for discovering abundance to have people face to face in the ways that you’re helping them to engage each other.

Sarah van Gelder: Thank you for saying that and you and Peter have been big influences on me in that regard. I’ve been reading your work for years and also then testing it against what I see around me. I just have felt that that is so important and actually it’s under appreciated. Too much of the political work has been a big organization that then asks its isolated members to do something, to call a member of Congress or to do one thing. Those things are important to do but they don’t make you feel powerful. They don’t make you feel like you’re part of a movement or feel that you have the right to be a creative part of making change. I think this moment we’re in right now, we need that sense of power and we need that sense of abundance. We do have enough where we live to make the kind of world that we want.

Peter Block: I think that’s perfect. Last week I was with someone and we talked about the idea of economic isolation, and I like that term. I think you talked about our isolation, we’re so deeply isolated we’re going crazy psychologically. We’re also economically a little crazy because we act as if we don’t have enough and many people don’t perhaps but, like the gentleman who called in said, the faith community will be a powerful participant in what we’re doing, Sarah.

Sarah van Gelder: I agree.

Peter Block: I also hope that journalism will. I’ve always held you up magically with Yes! and with your solutions journalism, it’s such a great alternative. Do you think it will catch on?

Sarah van Gelder: I think it is catching on. I see more and more places where folks are doing that kind of journalism. I think it is catching on. At the same time the fear and hate and anxiety tend to provoke more attention, which tends to then feed into the business model of a lot of journalism. There’s kind of an addiction to that kind of negative stimulation if you will. But I think a lot of people are really desperately looking for the positive stories as well.

Peter Block: It was an interesting weekend with hurricane Irma. It was almost impossible not to watch. I kept wondering what’s so compelling about it, what’s your thought about why watching the hurricane, both of you, I’d like to hear your thoughts about why you think it was so compelling.

Sarah van Gelder: For me it was partly a fear for people that I know and love that I was afraid they were going to be harmed. There was so little predictability about what might happen to people so there was a sense that I don’t know. There’s an unknown of what’s going to happen to so many folks. To me, it’s a little different than the sort of salacious, dwelling on the latest version in great detail of some horrible crime at the exclusion of the other aspects of it.

Peter Block: I think it was different. It had drama. As far as solutions journalism, we need to know how to write about what’s working with the same kind of drama and uncertainty maybe. It also surprised me as how many people in Florida I know. It’s like I’m more connected to that state than I realized. John, do you have any thoughts about the hurricane and our interest in it?

John McKnight: The hurricane allows people to feel they can do something in a way. I noticed a couple of the televisions stations make very clear how you can make contact in a way that you can contribute so that it is a medium for contributions at a distance that I think is very satisfying for people. They’re not just hearing bad news, they’re hearing about something that is a crisis, but they’re being appealed to respond to do something. That’s the solution end of the equation that you hardly ever get in the media, but we’re getting it this time.

Peter Block: Anything else, Sarah, that you’d like to share with us? A fragile thought perhaps that you want to throw out into the world and see what happens?

Sarah van Gelder: Well, just building on what John was just saying, I think people were so turned on seeing the Cajun Navy and the other person-to-person kinds of ways that people have pitched in to help each other out. It’s just so reassuring to know that people will turn up in an altruistic sort of way. They won’t ask your bank account or your credit rating or your race or gender. They will just help out. There is something deeply reassuring about that and even joyful.

Rebecca Solnit wrote that book, A Paradise Built in Hell, about how happy people are in the midst of these kinds of disasters when they have an opportunity to pitch in. I found the same thing on my road trip. I wasn’t going to disaster areas. I was going to places that were having chronic economic dislocation and so forth. What I found is that when people came together to work together, there was this joy unleashed, whether it’s Detroit or Louisville, Kentucky or a reservation out west. There was some kind of joy that you can just see and feel it as soon as people came together to work on something together. I think that’s an untapped source of energy and power, the actual joy that people have because then that’s the energy that feeds this kind of revolution that we’re talking about. It’s an energy that is fundamentally loving and non violent and it’s very powerful.

Peter Block: Thank you so much Sarah for the work you’re doing. Thank you for including us in it. I do think the lateral movement, the horizontal connections, is very powerful. It’s very challenging to sustain it and keep it going. We hold a lot of events in every community that are very exciting. We had an event and 300 people showed up and they were touched. How do you make it something more than theater? It was something to remember and I think you’re creating some of the connective tissue that will connect us between when we’re gathering and how we stay connected. You’re going to give us a way to do it. I like the practicality that you’re trying to bring to it. I just appreciate what you’re doing Sarah and our friendship. Thank you so much for joining us today. Any final thoughts?

Sarah van Gelder: Thank you Peter for being part of it. I appreciate that. Thanks for having me.

Peter Block: John, any final thoughts?

John McKnight: Sarah, I think of you as the wonderful exception. I remember maybe 20-25 years ago I was asked to spend half a day with the leadership of the Chicago Tribune to talk with them about journalism and community assets. It was a wonderful interactive sympathetic thing. At the end, one of the people said, John, this has been wonderful but you don’t understand. What we mean by news is bad news. This is not our domain. I thought this is just crazy. You’re reporting about society and you’ve decided to report on the empty half of the glass.

The number of people in the world of journalism who have the perception you have of what it is we need to know to be a citizen, which is not how many people were killed on Tuesday. You contribute so much by being the model for what we do need to know rather than the popular media, which mostly is filled with what we don’t. Thank you for everything you’ve done.

Sarah van Gelder: Thank you so much John. I really appreciate that.

Maggie Rogers: Sarah, I just want to add a couple of thoughts. As you were talking, you mentioned that one of the resources that PeoplesHub will provide is that of connections. I know that in my work with Peter, we often hear something going on in one community and we want to connect them to another. I’m happy to know you’ll have a database and I hope we can work with you on that. I think it’s so valuable to be able to connect these people. Thank you for that and I look forward to the future work with you on it.

Sarah van Gelder: Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Maggie Rogers: I appreciate you taking the time with us today. Thank you everybody for your comments and Norlyn for calling in. We will have a recording of this on the website www.abundantcommunity.com and we’ll also have a transcript of this as well. To learn more about what Sarah’s doing, you can go to revolutionwhereyoulive.org.

About the Lead Author

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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