With climate disruption, war, and a faltering economy, the '00s were tough. Still, seeds were sewn for a more green and egalitarian 2010s. And peoples movements offer the power to make real change happen.
In my last column, I listed nine crises of the ‘00s.
But something else happened during the first decade of the millennium. People around the world turned away from ways of life and practices that are endangering our world and worked to make communities, work places, and technologies green and egalitarian. And peoples movements challenged the power of corporations, the military, and finance interests, insisting on putting people and the planet first. It's this combination of smart, local innovation and people power that offers hopeful possibilities for the '10s, '20s, and beyond.
- People fell in love with local
foods. There are now more than 5,000 farmers' markets in the U.S.,
up 13 percent in just one year, many new school vegetable gardens, and
CSA. People turned their lawns into gardens, and asked grocery stores
and restaurants to offer local foods.
home-grown U.S. pro-democracy movement brought greater integrity to
the elections process. This movement, built on the voting rights
movement, began after the questionable election of 2000. Through public
scrutiny, legal challenges, and mobilization of poll watchers, it was
able to counter election manipulation, voter suppression, black box
voting irregularities, and to begin restoring voting rights to felons
who had served their terms.
got redefined. As people discovered that debt and overconsumption
cause stress to families, the planet, and each of us, many turned
instead to friends, family, good works, spirituality, and personal
growth as the keys to a good life.
became radically decentralized and inclusive, with anyone able to
report on events and to post video, tweets, photos, and commentary.
Governments found secrecy much harder to come by. Fact checking became a
overcrowding, budget shortfalls, and powerful advocacy turned the
public against draconian prison terms and the drug war in favor of
limited prison time for nonviolent offenses and alternatives like
treatment and community service.
went local to rebuild the economy. Instead of competing to get
corporations to locate in their communities, they began building
economies based on local strengths and local needs, striving to be green
and to offer living wages and dignity to employees. Worker-owned
cooperatives are at the leading edge of this movement, especially in
abandoned rust-belt cities. The new focus is on sustainably meeting
the needs of ordinary people, not the greed of Wall Street.
resistance grew to corporate power and big government. This
movement pushed back against bailed-out
Wall Street banks, the domination of health insurance and Pharma in
care debate, and the power of big coal and big oil. Right-wing
think tanks and media tried to morph this populism into an anti-Obama
movement, so far with limited success. (But if Obama continues to
capitulate to a corporate agenda, he could be in trouble with populists
across the political spectrum.)
- The stage was set for nuclear abolition:
A global consensus grew around the need to abolish nuclear
weapons. In the United States, conservatives
like George Shultz are advocates along with progressive leaders.
people's rights were recognized
in an official United Nations declaration. Indigenous peoples began
using their new-found clout to protect their ways of life and the
biosphere, stewarding sources of invaluable cultural and biological
- The United States elected an African-American president. While this
didn't usher in a utopian post-racial society, it did show the power of
multi-racial organizing. And it set the stage for long over-due remedies
to racial disparities and segregation. But, as has been painfully
clear, it does not guarantee progressive policies will come out of the
- A new guiding philosophy emerged based on respect for all people and
all life. This approach is gaining power after both neoliberalism and
neoconservatism proved themselves out of touch with the challenges faced
by humanity - and out of ideas. The Earth
formally launched in 2000, received endorsements of thousands of
organizations representing millions of people during the ‘00s, revealing
the potential for a new worldview to take hold based in environmental
sustainability and social justice.
- A "Survival" Movement swept the world; millions took action to confront the climate crisis, making changes at home and at work, greening cities, resisting coal and deforestation. Look to this movement to grow rapidly, post-Copenhagen.
We may look back on the ‘00s as the time when we began to turn in a new direction - one that can sustain us and the planet, powered by the aspirations and power of ordinary people.
But that shift is far from inevitable. We could get stuck in denial and fear. Instead of reaching for powerful new solutions, we could spin our wheels trying to shore up a failing status quo or exhaust our energy scapegoating one another. The new approaches that were seeded in the '00s could still be swept aside by the entrenched forces of power and money.
But we could also build the new innovations and peoples movements that can change our course before climate disruption, social breakdown, and war bankrupt us. That will be the key challenge for the 2010s.