In Community Lies Our Strength

In times like this, like everyone else, I look for signs of hope.

My letters to you, dear reader, are always the last thing I write for the issue before it is sent off to the printer. And when I say last, I mean, literally a middle-of-the-night, few-hours-before-deadline coalescing of months of thinking on the package of features, news reports, and dispatches that we put together for each print issue.

dam protestors
A community-led struggle against a mega dam that would flood the small Mexican town of Temaca seems to bearing fruit. Photo by José Esteban Castro/WATERLAT GOBACIT

This time round, my thoughts have been especially scattered. Frayed by the cynical politicking on display at the ongoing impeachment hearings in the US House of Representatives. Distracted by the police siege on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong; by the attempts to violently repress the people’s uprising against inequality in Chile; by the opposing factions clashing over the coup in Bolivia; and by the routine, everyday abuse of power I see all around me.

As this year draws to close, it feels as though there’s an unraveling happening all around us, as though the center no longer holds.

In times like this, like everyone else, I look for signs of hope, for a way forward through the morass. And I’m glad to say, I didn’t have to look too far. The answers — so basic, so clear — jumped out at me from page after page of this issue itself: Band together. Build community. Tell your story.

As environmental activist Heather McTeer Toney points out (Conversation), we have to “try to find those places of commonality that allow us to bring people to the table around similar issues.” Similarly, author-activist Terry Tempest Williams urges us to build alliances. In her new book Erosion: Essays of Undoing (In Review) she stresses how coalitions and communities — both human and non-human — are essential for life to thrive on Earth.

What’s more, I see great examples within these pages of what this banding together can achieve. Take the tale of a small Mexican town’s years of resistance against a mega-dam project, a community-led struggle that appears to be bearing fruit (“The Town that Refuses to Drown” ). Or the feature about grain farmers across the US Midwest who are building a peer-to-peer network to help each other transition from chemical-dependent to regenerative farming practices (“A Big Idea,” page 49). Or the dogged activism of Hawai‘i residents who continue trying to get the island state to better regulate pesticide use on GM corn and soy farms run by agri-chemical giants (“Toxic Drift” ).

The more I reflect on these features, the more clearly I see in them the underlying story that, in Williams’ words “power tries to control.” The story “that sees the world as a complicated whole,” that underscores how deeply the problems we are facing today, environmental, social, cultural, political, are interlinked.

I find hope in the fact that the act of highlighting that underlying story, as we do in this issue, is in itself a form of resistance.

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