Op-Ed

'Yes, we can' transform the economy, save the species, but it starts at home

Like so many, I was ecstatic on Election Day 2008. My daughter, nine months pregnant, posted a picture on her baby blog of herself at the voting booth. The caption read, "Obama Mama."

Two months after the election, young people are still calling his name, "Obama, Obama." The joy and hope are infectious, and there is much cause for celebration on this inauguration day.

I make my living as a professor of women's studies. In that capacity, I decided two years ago to join ranks with other lifelong feminists and work for the election of the first female president of the United States. It was not a particularly popular choice among my colleagues and students, many of whom were fierce supporters of Obama.

In my classes, we reconciled our differences by declaring that both Obama and Clinton campaigns were feminist projects because a Democratic win would ensure that one oppressed group would move from the margins to the center of national leadership. So when the political tide turned toward Obama, I jumped on the wave to elect our first African-American president.

Now it is clear to me that the project to elect Obama is not only feminist, but may well be a call to a fourth wave of feminist movement bringing communities together to work for the survival of our species.

For most of us, this new "feminist" project is clear: create a vibrant economy that includes us all. However, if we think that a small group of people in Washington will successfully dismantle 30 years (and more) of international economic policy that has ruined the lives of three-fifths of the world's population, we should think again. But if we believe that the time has come to step up to leadership in our own communities, riding the wave of optimism and good will that has been resurrected in the United States, then we have cause to chant day and night, "Yes, we can."

In my women's studies classroom, this new mantra can be heard each day as students leave the class to explore ways we might turn our municipality into a transition town. Our textbook comes from Great Britain and the recent Transition movement spreading across England and Ireland. That is, recognizing that an energy crisis really is upon us, and that we have passed the point of peak oil. The fact is we cannot produce enough oil to keep up with consumption.

Towns and cities are working at the grassroots level to reconfigure their community lifestyles to accommodate the inevitable decrease in availability of oil to fuel our way of life.

The key idea is hope over despair, resilience over defeat. The whole premise is that we can live even better than before, once we embrace the principles of sustainable communities."

This new public lifestyle looks to human resources rather than money as its measure of community wealth. Every citizen matters in transition towns because there is work to be done: gardens to plant, farmers markets to organize, local groceries to stock with local goods, solar panels and windmills to erect and town meetings where everyone's voice is taken seriously. It is all reminiscent of the old days of democracy in our country, and the democratic ideal we have been taught to admire.

Perhaps the time has come to return to our roots of rugged simplicity and, in the process, rediscover friendships, our neighbors, ourselves. Yes, we can.

Peggy Rivage-Seul is director of women's studies at Berea College. E-mail her at Peggy_Rivage-Seul@berea.edu.

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