(Photo by Jeff Anzevino)
We’re witnessing the implosion of a lot of really bad ideas right now: racism, militarism, predatory capitalism. It turns out that these approaches to survival as a species, let alone a body politic, just aren’t holding up to the test of time. Really. Who knew?
Sarcasm aside, only a whole lot of smart people, and a lot of them are from here. We live in the valley where Washington refused the crown, where Sojourner Truth walked to the courthouse and won her case, where the Anti-Rent Wars of the 1840s led to the first tenant protections in the New York State Constitution and ultimately to the downfall of the manor system and land reform.
This is Eleanor Roosevelt’s turf, and Pete and Toshi Seeger’s. This is where Millionaire’s Row became a series of public properties (did you know that Rockefeller heirs have been quietly getting land into the hands of young organic farmers for years now?), a place with an entire school of Romantic painting named for it. (Don’t even get me started about artists, writers, and musicians. I have an article to write and that’s an encyclopedia.)
Is this a perfect place? Please. Yet since the time of the Haudenosaunee and the Great Law of Peace, there’s been something powerfully wonderful about this river, and these hills. New York was the breadbasket of the Revolution and its wine cask as well, a couple of centuries later, a company named IBM started yet another revolution. We benefit, economically and culturally, from our downriver neighbor, voted Greatest City in the World in 2019; diversity and culture were cited as the reasons why.
Right now, amidst a waterfall of watersheds, much feels beyond our control thanks to the commodification and centralization of most everything and the shouted game of “gotcha” in progress. National Geographic highlighted Ulster County’s climate initiatives as a model to be emulated back in 2016, Mohonk Consultations has been solving war since the 19th century, and yet the world’s still in a huge snarl.
It would be wonderful to be able to put great ideas out on the national stage and see them get a fair hearing, clarity, and traction. This seems to happen with more frequency in some parts of the world than in a nation founded on “every landowning white man for himself” (who’da thunk it?), but now that the bankruptcy of that concept is coming into sharper focus all the time, perhaps our descendants may get to live in a world where individualism is seasoned with true respect for freedom and justice for all, with the pursuit of happiness measured by something other than a stock portfolio.
For the moment, we need to focus on our own backyard and the neighbors we can reach. We need to get really good at listening and speaking without rancor, at demonstrating by our actions the advantages of justice, sustainability, and fairness to people who have been bullied into accepting a status quo that’s hurting them too. And we need to take care of each other. How?
There is enough. We are enough. It’s not as though we haven’t been studying on these matters together for a while. A lot of us have seen this coming and have been putting our shoulders to the wheel and our minds to the task of creating social, economic, and environmental justice for years now, and this moment of multiple crises is the perfect time to take stock, see what we can replicate, nurture and scale up. Here are a few thoughts.
Leverage existing local assets. The Hudson Valley has lots. (You among them.) The O+ Festival folks, in their tenth year, have a network that’s there even when the bands have stopped playing, offering a comprehensive list of health, mental health, and substance abuse resources and targeted aid for artists, musicians, and wellness providers. SUNY Ulster’s Small Business Development Center will hook you up with one-to-one counseling to develop your small business plan, and the Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center in New Paltz can help you make that first prototype or small batch. UlsterCorps coordinates volunteer power county-wide. The Holistic Health Community offers local resources for everyone. Sustainable Hudson Valley has a range of programs in progress to help us alleviate climate change.
We can help build these organizations, lending our time and energy and growing their networking reach. You may know about something they don’t, or have a great idea they haven’t thought of yet; don’t be shy! Reach out with love. Help brainstorm. Get entrepreneurial.
Participate in local government. Town boards and city councils are mostly meeting in cyberspace, and the Open Meetings Law means that when they have a quorum, the public’s invited. From the comfort of your couch, you can observe your community representatives in action and put your two cents in during public comment periods. See a problem? Brainstorm a potential solution and get a petition going. Federal and even state governments can seem (and be) hard to reach out and touch. Your county and municipal government? It’s that person you were in line with at Stewart’s. Get to know them, find ways to help them, cheer when they do something right, and consider stepping up for a volunteer appointment. Maybe you’ll end up running for office yourself.
Local governments are all tasked, this year, with conducting a thorough review of any police agencies they supervise, and the process is mandated to include public comment. From the Town of Rochester Constabulary to the police forces of Kingston, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie, the conversation will be taking place. Make your voice heard. Push the envelope toward justice.
It’s easier to fire off an email than to pen a letter. Put your thoughts to the keyboard, reach out to the town board, and cc the Senate; it can’t hurt.
Support collectives and employee-owned enterprises. Rolling Grocer 19 in Hudson, Rosendale’s Earth Designs Cooperative, and Future Fruits in Kingston are all using the collective model, in which everyone involved has a place at the table and a voice in the governance. Across the United States, there are less than 400 such enterprises (other countries have thousands) in all sorts of sectors, from food to construction to education. Got an idea for a collective endeavor you could start with a few friends? Involved in a business that could benefit from becoming collectively managed? You can learn all about the benefits, risks, financing opportunities, and how-tos at becomingemployeeowned.org.
Get to know your neighbors. Organize a socially-distant cleanup day or a family fun day in the park, maybe a neighborhood public art initiative. Neighborhood pods and mutual aid networks that have sprung up during the COVID-19 response can accomplish all kinds of fun and useful things.
Real estate’s hot, with a fresh wave of folks from downstate looking for more breathing space. Help newcomers, whether it’s a takeout menu or directions to the transfer station. Turn them on to good local media and arts organizations. Help them get past the culture shock and into the Catskills groove.
Join a CSA. Small farmers funded by memberships can survive and thrive at a moment in time when the Secretary of Agriculture and federal authorities don’t seem to realize they have any relevance. We know better.
Shop local and independent, even in cyberspace. Our own Tilda’s Kitchen and Market is a portal to local groceries, products, and services. So is the advertising in local indie publications. Hudson Valley bookstores, clothiers, and artists, to name just a few subspecies, offer better quality and customer service than any megacorporation ever could, and by supporting them you’re keeping your dollars in town and your Main Streets vibrant.
Get to know local nonprofits. We mentioned some up above, but there are a vast and vibrant array of them around here: arts organizations, historical societies, think tanks, land trusts, groups working on food systems and sustainability and civil rights. Many have websites full of resources both educational and entertaining.
This year especially, they could use our help. Find a group working on a cause that’s dear to your heart and become a member. Donations to nonprofits make wonderful holiday and special occasion gifts too.
Build skills. Learn to preserve food, speak Spanish or sign language, administer first aid, forage, do basic carpentry, make great videos, mediate, meditate. Teach others. Take a free online course or two in something you’ve always wondered about.
Barter and use our community currency, the Current. Every dollar converted to a Hudson Valley Current is removed from the extractive system of interest-freighted money that is keeping Wall Street fat and happy while Main Street bleeds, and stays here to help you and your neighbors meet your own and one another’s needs. And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.