The distinction drawn, by Jill and the authors we’ve read, between working to fix “broken things” and working toward positive values or outcomes you wish to see is an important one. Working with my primary project, the Village Farmer’s Market, demands the latter approach. The fact is that it is nearly impossible to sustain the energy necessary to carry out a successful project this ambitious, with purely negative emotions. While there is a place for anger (even hate) in social activism it must be transformed into a positive, hopeful approach. Saint Augustine said,
“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
Cornel West often talks about love in the form of righteous indignation. He develops this idea in his new book Black Prophetic Fire, which I highly recommend (although I haven’t finished it yet). This clip from RealTime with Bill Maher gives insight to how hate can be guided by love. (00:15-00:35)
One of UMBC’s points of emphasis for students is the development of civic agency. A great example of UMBC’s commitment to developing civic agency in students is the political science 205 (Civic Agency and Social Entrepreneurship) class taught by David Hoffman, in which students are given latitude to pursue their interests while being guided through the process of initiating change in an in institution like UMBC. I am hoping the Village Farmer’s Market can contribute to the development of civic agency within the community and it’s the individuals within.
In speaking with older activist over the last few years, I have heard a common theme about what makes this moment different from earlier periods where social activism made huge gains. They talk about how in the Great Depression era of activism (which gave us the New Deal) and the 60’s era (which pushed forward on many fronts) there was a sense in the aire that things were goin to improve and that people had ways to make that happen through organizations (labor unions, student orgs, political groups, etc.). Today, they say, much of that hope is lost. They talk about a defeated underclass with little hope because they see no way, no mechanism for change. The political system is such a joke, so obviously broken, that a majority of the voting population simply doesn’t bother to vote because they see no way for it to positively effect their lives. This is indicative of a belief about power that puts elite people and institutions at the top of a power pyramid where people can only ask for change from above. We need to re-establish a civic agency that will empower people and change that paradigm.
I think this is the only approach. In all of our projects we are hoping to fix “broken things”, but I think the ultimate goal of the Village Farmer’s Market is to empower people by connecting them to their community and re-establishing values such as: solidarity, democracy, autonomy. VFM has the ability to build hope in the community by providing a vision where people don’t wait for change to be handed down from above, but create the change they wish to see in the world – to paraphrase Gandhi.