The following excerpt is adapted from Ronnie Cummins’ forthcoming book Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food, and A Green New Deal and is reprinted with permission from the publisher, Chelsea Green Publishing.
Over the past five decades, as a food, natural health, and environmental campaigner, anti-war organizer, human rights activist, and journalist, I have had the unique, inspiring, and, at times, depressing opportunity to work and travel across much of the world, in both rural and urban areas and in developing and “overdeveloped” countries alike. From the anti-war, civil rights, and anti-nuclear movements of the 1960s and ’70s to the war zones of Central America in the 1980s, the street protests and public interest campaigns of Washington, D.C., in the 1990s, and my current US and international work on food, farming, health, and climate, I have seen some of the best and worst examples of human behavior and collective action, including a rather full spectrum of what I call “activist malpractice.”
After delivering thousands of talks and presentations, organizing rallies, boycotts, and protests, doing media interviews, writing articles, lobbying politicians, raising millions of dollars every year in donations from small and larger donors, and helping build local, national, and international coalitions, perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that people respond best to a positive, solutions-oriented message. Gloom-and-doom messaging—whether we’re talking about climate change, poverty, health, war, or political corruption—that offers no plausible solution does not generally inspire people to get involved or take action. On the other hand, given the seriousness of our current situation, it’s important not to downplay the unprecedented life-or-death threats that we face, nor the formidable political, economic, and cultural obstacles that block our way forward. Our new Regeneration movement needs to be able to communicate the absolute seriousness of our climate emergency and societal degeneration, but at the same time, it must deliver the good news that we have the tools, growing grassroots support, and a practical plan, embodied in the Green New Deal in the United States, to turn things around.
In the spirit of positive messaging, the following are six basic rules for organizing a grassroots Regeneration revolution.
Rule 1: Search Out and Emphasize the Positive
Regenerators, given our current dire situation, need to operate on the old adage that “the darkest hour is right before the dawn.” Instead of dwelling on the negative, we need to search out and highlight positive trends and practices.
Rule 2: Link Up with People’s Primary Concerns and Connect the Dots
In addition to highlighting positive solutions, it is important to keep in mind that different people have different situations, perspectives, passions, and priorities. One size or one approach does not fit all. Therefore, we need to integrate our green justice and Regeneration messages with the specific issues and concerns that are most important to grassroots constituencies and then lay out, in everyday language, a strategy that makes people understand that we can actually solve the problems they care about the most, while solving a host of other pressing problems at the same time. Only by starting from where people are at, and then connecting the dots, can we capture the attention and imagination of a critical mass of the global grassroots and get them to start thinking about how they can participate in our new movement and new economy.
Rule 3: Stop Organizing around Limited Single Issues
Single-issue thinking is a major form of activist malpractice that routinely gives rise to divided movements and fractured constituencies. To bring about true Regeneration, or even to pass sweeping new regenerative legislation, such as a Green New Deal, we must be not divided and fractured but united, inclusive, and holistic in our understanding of the global crisis we face.
Rule 4: Stop Pretending That Partial Solutions or Reforms Will Bring About System Change
The rise of authoritarian and fascist regimes and the weakening of a common sense of purpose, cooperation, and solidarity have brought us to a dangerous precipice. Will the United States and global grassroots wake up in time, break down the false walls between all of our burning issues, and unite across borders in a common global campaign for survival and Regeneration?
Rule 5: Act and Organize Locally, but Cultivate a Global Vision and Solidarity
Our food, farming, land use, energy, and commerce needs to be not only regenerative, eliminating the use of fossil fuels, toxic chemicals, GMOs, and dangerous drugs, but also relocalized. We need global-scale change, but we need it to unfold locally, in the thousands of towns, cities, and rural counties where people live and work in the United States, as well as in the million towns, cities, and rural communities where the world’s population lives. This means getting involved in changing local consciousness, local politics, and local policies as well as making changes on the regional, national, and international levels. If we want to win people over and inspire them with hope, we need to be able to point to positive examples of food, farming, landscape management, resource management, renewable energy, education, and other regenerative practices in their local communities or regions that embody the principles that we’re talking about.
Rule 6: Become a Positive Example of Regeneration
The personal is political. People hear not just the overt message of what we say or write but also our subliminal message—that is, our presence, behavior, and attitude. Only by striving to embody the principles of Regeneration (hope, solidarity, creativity, hard work, joy, optimism) in our everyday lives and practices (i.e., our work, food, clothes, lifestyle, and how we treat others and the environment, vote, spend our money, invest our savings, and spend our time) will we be able to inspire those around us. Only by constantly nurturing our personal health, mental and physical, and our convictions, ethical and political, as well as those of the people around us, will we be able to maintain the strength, self-confidence, and optimism we will need to carry out a Regeneration revolution that will take the rest of our lives.
In the 1960s, when I came of age as an activist, we had a saying: “There is only one reason for becoming a revolutionary: because it is the best way to live.” I believe this slogan is just as appropriate now as it was then. One of the wonderful things about Regeneration is that it not only is our duty and our potential salvation but can actually become our pleasure as well. As the farmer-poet Wendell Berry once said, “The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”
Ronnie Cummins is the founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a non-profit, US-based network of more than two million consumers dedicated to safeguarding organic standards and promoting a healthy, just, and regenerative system of food, farming, and commerce.