Isn’t that the $64,000 question? (And also, how ridiculous is it that $64,000 doesn’t feel like it’s worth much any more?)
I went to a very good conference on building a transformative, just, sustainable economy over the weekend. I had wonderful conversations, listened to amazing speakers, and I was moved and challenged and inspired. Oddly, though, when a colleague asked me how the conference was, my response was, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just give all this up and sit somewhere and eat pizza.” He reminded me that I’m probably not going to get paid for sitting around eating pizza.
But that sense of frustration and confusion has persisted over the last few days. It came out again in a conversation with another colleague, where I was expressing how frustrated I felt with all the energy food movement organizations expend to try and shift national policies like the Farm Bill or the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act – not because those bills don’t have an important influence on our food policy or that the people working to change them aren’t absolutely amazing, but because all their passion and work seems to result in such small gains that don’t reach the level of the kind of transformation we are all hoping for. And I feel like it will always be that way if we keep playing this game on a playing field that is designed to make us lose, where we have to redefine victory as just not getting beaten too badly this time around.
Another way I was thinking about it: our unhealthy food system right now is a bit like a vicious, poisonous plant with long, strong branches and tendrils that keep reaching out and attacking us. We keep hacking away at the branches and tendrils and flowers (e.g., the Farm Bill), but because they are still connected to the root of the plant, they are always drawing strength to regrow and come back at us. Those branches are so dense and distracting that it feels impossible to even identify the roots, but we need to figure out how to do it and then how to get in there and dig that sucker out. Maybe we need to develop some really good armor so we can dive right past those branches and get to that root. Maybe we need a bunch of people hacking away at the branches to provide cover for a stealth team sneaking in under the radar to get the root. Maybe we need both; we probably do for this kind of hydra-headed beast.
Here’s the thing though: those are fascinating analogies, but they aren’t a concrete organizational framework or policy platform. Those are nice ideas, but they’re not an action plan. I’m a poet and a philosopher and I’m pretty good at it, but I’m not sure that those are particularly practical, valuable, useful skills for this time and place. I would contend that the various movements for justice with which I associate are suffering from a tremendous lack of ideas and vision and imagination and story in our focus on creating projects and policies; but who’s to say that’s not simply my desire to validate my own sense of being a special snowflake who is above the hard work of getting things done?
I don’t think that is really true of myself. (Of course, who would ever say so if it was?) At any rate, I am feeling a deep longing for a sense of vision and power that I have not yet found, and I have these skills that I feel are desperate to be used but have little outlet. I feel bound, and straining to burst my bounds, but I don’t have any idea what that means.
In short, it’s kind of a weird week.