The midterm elections are over. Women won historic gains in the House, which Democrats now appear to be on track to control. Voters in three red states ― Idaho, Nebraska and Utah ― approved expanding Medicaid, a repudiation of GOP efforts to discredit government run health care. And voters in Florida approved a measure giving ex-felons the right to vote ― one of the most significant expansions of voting rights in decades.
The most expensive midterm election in U.S. history fired up people on all sides, including many young people who went all out to put a check on the extremism of the Trump administration.
This is a good time to congratulate those who voted in spite of the obstacles. It’s a time to thank those who ran campaigns aimed at justice and inclusion, whether or not they prevailed, and to commit to supporting newly elected officials in being as bold as the times require.
But that’s not enough.
President Donald Trump is still in office, and he continues to be one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world.
There are nearly 13,000 migrant children being held in government custody in the U.S., and immigrants throughout the country are living in fear of deportation and worse.
White supremacist and misogynist violence continues to threaten our communities.
The enormous tax giveaway to the super wealthy has helped raise our deficit 17 percent higher than last year, the highest it’s been since 2012, when the nation was recovering from a huge recession. Republican leaders have hinted they may look to cut Medicare and Social Security to make up the shortfall.
What happens if fresh water becomes scarce, if there is widespread failure of agriculture and mass migration of climate refugees?
Meanwhile, the poor and middle class are increasingly insecure: A minimum-wage job doesn’t pay enough to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in any U.S. state. Nearly half of Americans say they would struggle to cover an unexpected emergency expense of a few hundred dollars, and the insecurity and anger feed political extremism.
And, most daunting of all, environmental collapse is proceeding much more quickly than scientists expected. As scary as the IPCC climate change report was (and it was a stark warning), the models used by this international commission don’t account for the runaway effects of an ice-free ocean, of methane releases from melting permafrost and warmer oceans, and other ways in which global warming effects are beginning to build their own momentum. These runaway effects could make global heating irreversible.
Many are now quietly talking about what happens if fresh water becomes scarce, if there is widespread failure of agriculture and mass migration of climate refugees — many are quietly talking about a collapse of human civilization. Some are even talking about human extinction.
The changes needed to tackle these crises are monumental. To even start to address them requires huge political will. In the U.S., neither party is remotely up to it. Both are too wedded to the status quo and to the flow of money from large corporate donors and the super wealthy.
At a recent talk I gave, a member of the audience admitted to despair and asked me where I found hope.
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I think we’re screwed, I told him. I’m done with hope.
If we hang on to the structures and mindsets of global corporate rule; the dominance of straight white men; and environmental destruction, and hope a few tweaks will right things, then hope is not helping.
We need much more foundational change, starting with placing a higher value on people’s well-being and the well-being of all children for seven generations than on the accumulation of wealth for the few. Inclusion, instead of fear-mongering and divisiveness, must guide us. Stewarding, rather than exploiting, the natural world must define our ways of life.
And to go deep enough with that shift, we need to begin where we live.
On my 12,000-mile road trip around the U.S. collecting stories for The Revolution Where You Live, I saw example after example of people making profound change. In communities from Detroit, Michigan, to Greensboro, North Carolina, from a North Dakota Indian reservation to the Kentucky coal fields, I found real progress as people came together, imagined the world they wanted, and then took one small step after the next to achieve their goals.
Too often, people are asked to donate money to a national organization or to sign online petitions ― but not to be leaders. Or, they’re told to change themselves or what they buy, as though isolated individuals can change entrenched systems.
These approaches do little to build power or real change, and they make us feel powerless, and rightly so.
But when we act together, where we live, we can support each other and build power. We can start by electing truly forward-thinking representatives, but we can do much more to effect deep change. We can resist, reimagine the world we want, restore it, and build resilience.
Begin small or large, but begin where you live, and you’ll find you have far more power than you might have imagined.
Since the election of 2016, resistance has been front and center. But many are also doing the deeply healing work of restoration — making right the wrongs that have been done to people and the planet. Likewise, many are building their own personal resilience so they can weather the shocks that come with rapidly changing times, while also weaving together stronger communities. And many are reimagining and building the world they want, beginning where they live.
This election was an important check on the power of the extremists who control the Republican Party, and we now have a group of promising new public leaders serving in Washington, D.C. and in state and local government around the country.
Still, the change we need today goes much deeper.
So pause to catch your breath, and then reach out to the people you canvassed or phone banked with, or people you know who are on fire to act. Begin small or large, but begin where you live, and you’ll find you have far more power than you might have imagined. There is too much at stake to wait until 2020 — we can work now to build a just, sustainable, and compassionate world.