Friday, 11 February 2011 20:45By Joe Romano,
I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.
—Isna-la-wica (Lone Man), Teton Sioux
We have reached that most wintry of months, the month when the bills come due for all those holiday revels and New Year resolutions. We've brought in the new, and now we're rummaging around to try to clear out the old. It is the time of year when we poke our heads out to confront our shadows, and it is the month when we go inside not only to our hearths but also to our hearts to rekindle the fires of our love for one another. This is the month when many Native American tribes traditionally hold a midwinter celebration during which they appoint new Council members. The rest of the tribe's members are purified and released from the burden of their dreams and a new year can then be welcomed.
It is the time when our federal and local governments clear out their old incumbents and bring in our new elected officials to take their seats. In Congress, we saw the gavel of the House of Representatives passed from the Democrats to the Republicans. In the context of history, or even by today's standards in many places in the world, this is an incredibly civil, orderly and peaceful transition of power.
But almost immediately, an assassination attempt in southern Arizona took the spotlight away from our democratic process and focused the nation on rancor and division. In the days that followed, some accusations flew, and defensiveness followed, as it always does.
Then, one evening, the eyes of our nation focused on a memorial service held in the small, local community of Tucson, Arizona, where this violent attack took place. What happened there was anything but politics as usual. We were not shown just another dumbed-down, focus-group neutered, political party-approved national television event. We seemed to hear the unfiltered voice of a community.
"Really just a family doc," as he described himself, Dr. Carlos Gonzalez delivered a traditional Native American blessing, as he had done before, he said, except that he had "never done one with so many people." "I am fifth generation of this valley of Tucson," he introduced himself, and went on through a full traditional blessing to the seven directions and to all our relations for almost nine minutes, complete with the use of an eagle's feather. All of our relations, our earthly, spiritual and communal relations were invoked.
As he spoke, and as the night went on, the service was punctuated by shouts and cheers, so much so, that at times it appeared more a rally than a memorial. Apparently, shoring up their relations was what this community needed.
There was some outcry from the media that the invocation was "weird" and "peculiar," and that the cheers were "inappropriate" and "disrespectful." After all, they pointed out, none of the victims were Native Americans.
Admittedly, the scene was not the usual television fare, but if one scanned the victims' families, they seemed quite moved by the celebration, as did some of the survivors who were also in attendance. The proceedings were not what we might have expected here in Ithaca, or what folks in Florida, Michigan or Hawaii might have done. In fact, if this had happened in Hawaii, there might have been ceremonial leis, ashes scattered from canoes, chanting and Hula dancers. These people were celebrating their local spirit, and at least some of their local traditions and cultures.
If it were to have been held here in Ithaca, it would not have been so strange if there were Tibetan monks present, even thought the rest of the nation might not understand why.
President Obama also spoke that night and he asked us, in honor of the victims, to "strive to be better" and to "use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."
It sounded, both in this speech and in his recent State of the Union address, like he wanted us to be cooperators, and it sounded like he was asking us to become better citizens.
It is easy to cooperate when you agree. In fact, that isn't so much cooperation at all. Cooperation happens when you hear another's belief that you cannot fathom and you try to find a place where you can begin to understand their point of view.
Sometimes we are so sure of what we believe in that it can seem like there is nowhere to meet an opposing view. Sometimes it can feel like the beliefs we hold are the only thing between those who don't think like "us" and the end of the world. If that is true, why should we listen? Why should "we" cooperate with "them?" One reason to try is that whichever "side" we are on, it seems that fully half of our nation is holding fast to a different view. So many good people cannot be so wrong. Maybe if we tried harder to cooperate we would find that our viewpoints are not so polar. After all, we are all so clearly stuck, the one point of view we can be most sure of broadening is our own.
It is clear in regard to national politics what the president is asking of us, but how can we become better local citizens? And how can we become better cooperators here at GreenStar?
As local citizens, the easiest way to have an impact is to support our community by shopping local and staying involved. If we broaden our range of local events and businesses to include places we don't always visit, we might network our way into different communities within our community, and meet people who might hold the same beliefs in different ways, with different priorities for example, or with different reasons for doing the same things.
As citizens of GreenStar, we can "strive to be better" by getting involved. Currently, seven seats on our Council are open and we are heading into a period where many decisions about our governance style, expansion plans, and the direction of our co-op will be decided. It is an important period for us to attract members who will come to listen to the issues at hand and help guide our co-op in the most sensible manner through the issues before us. As in our national politics, we are seeing that it is perhaps not the time to come to office with a clear-cut agenda, so much as an open mind and, in the words of our president, a willingness "to listen to each other more carefully."
As a nation, as a community and as a co-op we are faced with pressures that simply weren't there even ten years ago. In the case of our nation, we are seeing new superpowers with unified vision and strong economies emerging. These countries seem to understand that their "hopes and dreams are bound together." Our community has lost jobs and businesses over the last two years and continues to do so. The poor are losing resources, and as a community we continue to perpetuate our differences rather than find the ways to "sharpen our instincts for empathy." Perhaps, we can "expand our moral imaginations" to address these issues as a community of involved citizens.
At GreenStar, we have made great strides, but in the past our victories have often come at the cost of difficult disharmony. Our Council has already made the commitment to "strive to be better," and as an institution the decisions before us will serve to remind all of GreenStar's cooperators of "all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together." We are poised to move into a new era as we approach our 40th year as a co-op.
The theme for the memorial service in Tucson was "Together We Thrive," as optimistic a visioning as could be for a community so beset by tragedy, and such an example for the rest of us.
We hope you will be a part of our new visioning for GreenStar. Run for Council, join a committee, come to a meeting. Participate. You will meet new people with energy and with vision, and together we will find a way to combine our voices in a unifying vision for our co-op, because co-ops are stronger together, and only together will we thrive.
By Laura Buttenbaum,
What is a co-op? This seemingly straightforward question can elicit a wide range of responses, from visceral and intrinsic to completely organizational and economic. According to the International Cooperative Association, "A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons unite...