In the first essay of Sustainability: Radical Solutions Inspiring Hope, environmental writer Derrick Jensen makes an urgent comparison between the Holocaust and the death-by dams-of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Jensen casts himself in the role of Nazi appeaser, because of his relatively passive resistance: He writes letters to the editor rather than physically blowing up the offending dams. “The central-and in many ways only-question of our time is this: What are sane, effective, and appropriate responses to outrageously destructive behavior?” Jensen writes.
This question stands at the core of Sustainability, a 450-page anthology of 10 years of writings from HopeDance, the South Coast’s most prominent New Age magazine. Published and edited by area activist Bob Banner, HopeDance speaks to the Abbie Hoffman contingent of disaffected Americans leftists. “There are so many problems in the world, and so often we get involved in this complaint-based, single-issue activism,” Banner says. “And so my intention is to broaden it, and [ask], where are the positive solutions? Where are the radical solutions people can go to so they can get inspired?”
Sustainability is split into 11 sections, which include “Activism,” “Communication/Conflict/Peace,” “Alternative Living,” “Peak Oil,” and “Permaculture.” The essays are written by progressives from the South Coast and elsewhere; there are also reprinted articles by the historian Howard Zinn, the American poet-laureate Wendell Berry, and Desmond Tutu.
In its depth of feeling and earnestness, Sustainability offers a picture of the modern American progressive movement, and what troubles it. “We know,” Banner writes in one article, “about the problems. I won’t go into them.” The problems, according to Sustainability‘s writers, are materialism, greed, war, and environmental destruction. For the most part, they are attributed to a monolithic entity called “Corporate America.” Corporate America is an evil octopus, enfolding in its rapacious tentacles the levers of America’s government, society, culture, and legal system. It is comprised of the “politicians,” the “lawyers,” and the “businessmen.” It is served by the Bush administration. The “mainstream media,” another monolithic entity, abets it. “I’m upset with mainstream media, mainstream culture, and a dominant paradigm [that creates] mindless consumers,” Banner said recently. “The leaders probably know what’s going on, but if they were to do anything really meaningful, they would be kicked out of office.”
Banner is no progressive-come-lately; before HopeDance, he published a Santa Rosa-based magazine called Critique: Exposing Consensus Reality. But after moving to the South Coast in 1995, Banner decided he needed a way to get to know, as he put it, the “enviros, permaculture folks, spiritual transformationalists, activists, and pioneers in my backyard.” Thus was HopeDance born. Banner also screens political documentaries in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo under the HopeDance umbrella, all in an effort to “encourage ordinary citizen action and enlightened behavior.” He explained, “We are into finding models that I sense are radical, which basically means going to the root of the problem.”
The essays HopeDance publishes-Sustainability offers a representative cross sample-run the progressive gamut, addressing topics from climate change to organic food. They tend to place a high premium on personal activism. Suspicion of the worth and efficacy of our traditional political process is prevalent. An essay entitled “Peace? Some Thoughts and Actions,” carries this representative coda: “The mavericks who rule with tanks and guns, those who have forgotten the orthodoxy of love, who have left the fold of peace-loving humanity, will lead us to destruction if we don’t show them another way.”
But one doesn’t have to be a hippie or proto-hippie to appreciate the basic thrust of Sustainability, and of HopeDance in general. As fellow progressive (and former Independent writer) Sri Subramanian writes in one of the book’s essays: “Problems like global climate change : can only be addressed at the global level. However, while we continue to do that, let’s also do what we can to create a model of sustainability locally.” You don’t have to espouse the ideals of The Monkey Wrench Gang to appreciate advice like that.
HopeDance is a free, bimonthly publication. For a list of locations where it is available, visit hopedance.org. The 10-year anthology of the magazine, Sustainability: Radical Solutions Inspiring Hope, is available for $25. For more information, call 544-9663 or visit hopedance.org.