A seven-year-old girl and her father travel hundreds of miles, fleeing violence, hoping for refuge, and now Jakelin Caal Maquin is dead. Late on Christmas eve, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, age 8, also from Guatemala, died in custody at the border.
That journey of two indigenous Guatemalans looking for peace on a December night was just one story, among so many, highlighting what was broken about 2018. But there are signs that 2019 could be very different because of what is happening in communities across the United States.
This year was tough. A nation that once prided itself on liberating Nazi prison camps instead built up detention camps for refugee children and turned a caravan of desperate asylum-seekers into a political propaganda tool.
Gun deaths hit their highest level in at least 50 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with nearly two-thirds a result of suicide.
Law enforcement failed to take violent white supremacists seriously, revealing huge institutional failures. And police forces continued their practice of disproportionately killing people of color, especially those of black, Latino and Native American backgrounds
It was a year when the federal government, instead of protecting our national treasures, opened land that had been part of the Grand Escalante and Bears Ears monuments to mining claims.
Drug companies stood accused of using shady tactics to increase opioid use, thereby contributing to the addiction epidemic.
At the foundation of all this brokenness is a form of predatory capitalism that trades in the lives of underpaid workers, exploited children and the living fabric of life itself. This year that system was on view for all to see. Not surprisingly, then, this year more young people reported a favorable view of socialism than capitalism, according to a Gallup poll.
The good news is that powerful movements arising from the grassroots are now working to make real change. This activism is largely overlooked by the media, which remains mesmerized by the brinksmanship of Trump administration antics. Nonetheless, people are coming together and taking action, and that’s what gives me hope for 2019 and beyond.
Take the climate crisis. Even under President Barack Obama, the United States was a laggard in responding to what is now a global emergency. Climate deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists prevented much needed action.
Still, communities across the U.S. and around the world are organizing to protect their land and water. Indigenous tribes are often at the forefront of these movements to fight fracking, pipelines and oil terminals. Cities and states are turning toward renewable energy.
Insurgent Democrats who won House seats this November via powerful grassroots mobilization are pressing for a Green New Deal, an ambitious investment in renewable energy and job creation. The suite of policies that constitute the Green New Deal have the support of more than 80 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans.
Our broken election system ― in which democracy is hobbled by voter suppression, gerrymandering, Russian interference and corruption ― is another place where local and statewide action is finally having a positive impact. Across the U.S., voters adopted ballot measures in the midterm elections to make voting more accessible, combat gerrymandering and allow former felons to vote.
Access to the internet, too, is being protected at the state level after the Federal Communications Commission eliminated net neutrality. More than half of U.S. states have introduced laws upholding net neutrality principles.
There is a different tone in much of this organizing. People are recognizing how deeply our society is broken and how deeply the change and the healing must go. We now understand that we can’t outsource our activism to a national organization by just sending a donation or signing a petition.
Likewise, we can’t just fix ourselves. Self-help culture teaches that it’s all on us and that we can go it alone with affirmations, mindfulness trainings and books like Unfu*k Yourself. The message is often one of shame: If you aren’t healthy and happy, you are to blame, and you can alleviate the pain by buying this shiny object or new experience.
“Quick fixes ... distract us from the real work of step-by-step change that begins where we live.”
The truth is that there’s a limit to what we can do by ourselves to heal and to thrive in a broken world. And alone we can do little to change the circumstances that create so much suffering.
But together, in communities, we have power. In communities, we can choose to create liberating practices and institutions, to fight oppression, and to reinforce values that protect our water, air and sources of food.
Working locally doesn’t mean we neglect national and international priorities. It means we start where we are, experimenting, sharing innovations that help everyone, and building support for real solutions at the regional and national levels.
In a culture with a short attention span, quick fixes are appealing ― like the miracle presidential candidate who has the shiny new ideas or the latest technology that will solve the climate crisis and everything else. Those fantasies distract us from the real work of step-by-step change that begins where we live.
Maybe it sounds overwhelming to take on all this brokenness ourselves, but here’s the thing: When we’re working together on problems, we’re also learning to nourish and sustain each other. The energy we get from having a community ― the friendships, the inclusiveness, the personal growth ― keeps bringing us back to make our world better.
Grassroots action is both a powerful driver of change and its own reward. A new, more just world doesn’t happen sometime in the future. It’s something we can create and enjoy every day, beginning by working together now, where we live.
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