The past two and a half years of pandemic, food shortages, racial uprisings, economic collapse, and now another war are enough to make one feel that the apocalypse is unfolding. With globalization and digital technology, breaking news of the world’s problems is at our fingertips at any instant. The scope of the issues we’re facing as a species and as a planet can be paralyzing. And, in the background of all this, we are experiencing climate collapse, with epic flooding, fires, and increasingly severe storms. I was shocked this past summer by the smoky haze enveloping our farm in New York, a result of California wildfires on the other side of the continent.
Millennials like myself and the rising Gen Z have the weight of the world on our shoulders. The American Dream is in tatters.
Our infrastructure is crumbling, and tens of millions of Americans live in poverty and are food insecure, yet if we diverted just 3% of U.S. military spending we could end starvation on earth. Meanwhile, Wall Street fuels a growth model that simply cannot be sustained with the resources we have on this planet. Due to industrialization, much of the world’s population is urbanizing, losing connection with the land and the means of production, making us dependent on purchased imports that often have a high carbon footprint and a legacy of exploitation.
Millennials like myself and the rising Gen Z have the weight of the world on our shoulders. The American Dream is in tatters. The majority of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, and life expectancy has been dropping, since well before the pandemic. Many of my peers confess that they can’t afford to buy homes or raise children, nor would they ethically want to bring children into what they see as an increasingly dystopic future. It’s a sign of the sorry state of things that open talk of the apocalypse is normalized, and a growing “self-care” industry has capitalized on our depression.
Many of us are burned out by years of protesting this flawed system, where skewed national priorities inject $1+ trillion a year into the military budget, while young people flounder in student debt and the majority of Americans cannot afford a $1,000 emergency bill.
At the same time, many of us are craving something more. We have a visceral desire to contribute to positive change in a deeply tangible way, whether that looks like volunteering at an animal sanctuary or serving up food at a soup kitchen. Decades of street corner vigils or marches on Washington that fall on deaf ears feed into activist fatigue. Films for Action’s recommended watch list of films that envision a regenerative future, titled “Cancel the Apocalypse: Here Are 30 Documentaries to Help Unlock the Good Ending,” speaks volumes to this collective need to break out of our depressed cycles of resistance.
As we resist the bad, how can we simultaneously “regenerate,” building the peaceful, green, and just world that gives us hope and keeps us feeling nourished? The issue is that many of us are trapped in the very things that we are opposing, propping up the system we dislike.
To have the capacity to change the world, we need to simultaneously liberate ourselves from the grind and reduce our own dependencies on the multinational corporations that are perpetuating climate chaos and imperialism worldwide. This necessitates a two-pronged approach to change-making that combines 1) what we more traditionally think of as activism, or policy advocacy for system change, with 2) implementing tangible practices at the individual and community level that advance social, environmental, and economic regeneration.
Prong #1 involves tactics like petitioning, lobbying, rallying, and nonviolent direct action to put strategic pressure on key decision-makers from university presidents, investment managers, and corporate CEOs, to city councils, governors, Congressmembers, and presidents. Prong #2, its own form of activism, is about implementing real change in the here and now in practical ways as individuals and communities, with the goal of reducing dependency on the Wall Street economy and taking power away from the multinational corporations that prop up extractivism and exploitation around the world. The second prong takes shape in many ways, from backyard or community veggie gardens and foraging for nutritious wild plants, to going solar, buying or trading locally, thrift shopping, eating less meat, driving less, reducing your appliances, the list goes on. One aspect of this can involve mapping out everything you consume from food to clothing to cosmetics to the building materials for your home – and how you could eliminate it, make it yourself, or source it more sustainably and ethically.
While prong #1 aims at structural change to improve the existing system we live in, prong #2 provides the nourishment we need to keep afloat, enabling us to enact tangible change and fostering our creativity to re-imagine a parallel alternative system.
This two-pronged approach, the blending of resistance and regeneration, is reflective of the notion of prefigurative politics. Described by political theorist Adrian Kreutz, this approach aims to “bring about this other world by means of planting the seeds of the society of the future in the soil of today’s. …social structures enacted in the here-and-now, in the small confines of our organisations, institutions and rituals mirror the wider social structures we can expect to see in the post-revolutionary future.”
A similar model is resilience-based organizing (RBO), described by Movement Generation as the following: “Rather than asking a corporation or government official to act, we use our own labor to do whatever we need to do to survive and thrive as a people and a planet, knowing that our actions conflict with legal and political structures set up to serve the interests of the powerful.” This is contrasted with a traditional campaign-based organizing (prong #1 above) which puts pressure on key decision-makers to enact rules, regulations, and policy changes to address a problem. Resilience-based organizing puts agency directly into our hands to meet our own collective needs. Both approaches are absolutely necessary in tandem.
Inspiring examples abound of this creative blending of resistance and regeneration, combined in a way that both challenges existing structures while forging new systems based on nonviolence and ecological consciousness.
Indigenous land defenders in Canada, the Tiny House Warriors, are constructing off-grid, solar-powered tiny homes in the path of a pipeline. The project addresses an immediate need for housing for indigenous families, while working to block corporate and government extractive policies.
The Japan Campaign to Ban Landmines is building composting toilets for landmine survivors, many of whom, as amputees, struggle to use traditional Cambodian style toilets. The campaign dually raises awareness about the victims of war and the importance of enforcing international disarmament treaties to ban landmines, while serving a basic, concrete need and, as a bonus, creating compost used by local farmers.
Food sovereignty projects, organized by War Child in the war-torn Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo, offer the social and therapeutic benefits of farming for victims of violent conflict, while teaching communities vital skills to grow their own food and create sustainable livelihoods.
I too am striving to live out this two-pronged approach as both Organizing Director of World BEYOND War, a global nonviolent movement for war abolition, and Board President at Unadilla Community Farm, an off-grid organic farm and non-profit permaculture education center in Upstate New York. At the farm, we create a space for the teaching and practice of sustainable skills, such as organic farming, plant-based cooking, natural building, and off-grid solar energy production, alongside community organizing. While rooting our work in practical skill-building for aspiring young farmers, we also recognize systemic barriers, like land access and student debt, and engage in national coalition-building to lobby for legislative changes to alleviate these burdens. I see my farming and anti-war activism as intimately interconnected to expose the impact of militarism on the environment and advocate for policies like divestment and disarmament, while, at the same time, teaching concrete, sustainable skills to reduce our carbon footprint and minimize our dependence on multinational corporations and the military-industrial complex itself.
Coming up, World BEYOND War’s #NoWar2022 Resistance & Regeneration Virtual Conference on July 8-10 will highlight stories like these, of change-making—both big and small—around the world, that challenges the structural causes of militarism, corrupt capitalism, and climate catastrophe, while, at the same time, concretely creating an alternative system based on a just and sustainable peace. Italian activists in Vicenza who have curbed the expansion of a military base and converted part of the site into a peace park; organizers who have demilitarized the police in their cities and are exploring alternative community-centered policing models; journalists who are challenging mainstream media bias and promoting a new narrative through peace journalism; educators in the UK who are demilitarizing education and promoting peace education curricula; cities and universities across North America that are divesting from weapons and fossil fuels and pushing forward a reinvestment strategy that prioritizes community needs; and much more. Conference sessions will offer a glimpse into what’s possible by exploring different alternative models and what’s needed for the just transition to a green and peaceful future, including public banking, solidarity cities, and unarmed, nonviolent peacekeeping. Join us as we explore how we can collectively reimagine a world beyond war.