The pandemic inspired the creation of this website. Specifically, what the pandemic highlighted about life in the United States inspired this website. The problems mentioned below have deep roots going back many years. But, for many of us, the pandemic brought these problems into clearer focus and amplified their urgency.
I. Basic Needs
I was fortunate over the last couple years. I had a stable job that allowed me to work from home, and I was able to keep a roof over my family’s head. Unfortunately, many people lost their incomes and could not afford to provide for their basic human needs–through no fault of their own.
Despite our country’s wealth and technological advancement, so many are still perilously close to destitution. I couldn’t help but wonder: what can I do about that? What can we, as a society, do?
II. Loss of Community
But it’s hard to think about what we as a society can do–about basically anything. It’s likely no surprise to any of you that the United States has felt more polarized over the last decade. We cannot seem to hear each other, let alone agree on what are facts and what are not. We seem to connect less with our neighbors, and many of us feel alone in trying to thrive in this society.
The pandemic has accelerated the epidemic of loneliness that we were already experiencing in this country. While teleconference technology eased some of our lost connections, they were certainly no substitute for actual human contact. Without that contact, it can be hard to empathize with others’ situations and understand the nuances of their behavior. For some, that technology increased the stresses of our jobs, leaving us with less energy to connect with our families and others.
Adding to the challenges of inequality and polarization exacerbated by the pandemic, over the last several years, the world has made little progress towards reducing climate impacts. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continue to warn policymakers of the dire risks future generations face if we fail to act now.
While greenhouse gases and climate change are frequently in the news, scientists also warn that there are other planetary boundaries that we are exceeding. The Stockholm Resilience Center finds that we are exceeding boundaries for not just climate change, but also for the level of novel entities into our natural environment (such as plastics), chemical pollution from fertilizers, changes in land usage (such as deforestation), and increased extinction of species.
Despite all these negative trends, there are many positive examples.
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” (Fred Rogers)
To help those who could not provide for their basic needs, mutual-aid groups across the country rallied to provide food, medicine, child care, money for rent, and many other needs to those who needed help.
While it can be difficult these days to consider listening to someone with different political opinions, more volunteers and groups are engaging in deep canvassing to understand people’s beliefs.
On the climate, more people are becoming aware of the critical challenges we face. Young people in particular are leading strikes and demanding action from political leaders to avert a climate disaster.
Towards Community Motive
I created this website to serve as a resource for reimagining our communities, economy, and society. I think that the problems of our loss of sense of community, our inability to provide basic services to all, and our shortcomings in addressing the climate crisis are interrelated.
Since the mid-20th century, our communities have gradually become less connected, and we produce less of our basic needs (food, in particular) at a local level. The provision of many of our needs now depends on markets and governments, but such reliance on markets and governments can carry risks, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society. Some areas might not be profitable for markets, and government policies can change or lapse.
The question I ask: is there a way for communities to come together to provide basic services for all their members, with less reliance on markets and governments?
There are many helpers and good examples out there. What do they need to improve their services? How can we not just inspire, but make practical, a community motive where local people work together to meet basic needs?
There are a lot of steps to be taken to realize answers to the questions above. For now, this site is meant to serve as a resource. This site is not equipped for community organizing or discussion, and I am not an expert in those fields.
Over the next year, I plan to travel to various parts of the United States to understand community organizations better and learn from them about their challenges and opportunities. I hope to understand what can be done to bring people together to ensure that no one in a community goes without food, shelter, healthcare, and other basic human needs.
It’s too early to know what those conversations will yield. Many others have explored or are exploring these areas, and I am grateful to learn from them. My questions won’t be answered in a year, but it’s important to take the first steps. As my understanding of the on-the-ground realities updates, I’ll post here new thoughts and reflections on what communities are doing and what steps can be taken to help communities and organizations better provide services. For more in-depth discussions of related literature, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter.