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Friday, September 15, 2017

What Can One Small Person Do?

Ten-year-old needs a little break

First things first: my schedule for September, somewhat complicated, but I’ll try to make it clear.

Friday, Sept. 15, I’ll be closing at 4 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 16, I’ll be opening late (following an 11 o’clock memorial service up the hill) but will be open until 5 p.m.

Then, from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Monday, Sept. 25, the bookstore will be closed for vacation.

I’ll be back in the shop on Tuesday, with regular hours (11-5) Tuesday and Wednesday and Friday and Saturday, plus the evening event with author Bob Downes on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. (see sidebar).

*  *  *

Okay, now to come back to our sheep -- or, more literally, to books –

Last Wednesday, Sept. 13, I attended a book event at Trinity Congregational Church. Mistakenly, I expected the book’s author, Sarah Van Gelder, to be in attendance, but it turns out she will be in town on Oct. 7, and meanwhile people in town were getting together for a preliminary discussion of her book, The Revolution Where You Live: Stories From a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America.

Some people at the church on Wednesday evening had read the book; others (like me) were about halfway through it; and a few had not yet started. Presenters Nancy Fitzgerald and Marie-Helena Gaspari, however, had prepared and led us through a set of exercises to generate discussion and get everyone thinking about questions we might want to ask Sarah Van Gelder when she comes to town. The presenters did a magnificent job. The meeting only took an hour (with cookies and lemonade afterward), and it was an hour very, very well spent.

One woman admitted she had postponed opening the book because she was afraid it would be just one more “Ain’t it awful?” collection of horror stories around the country. Nothing, she realized when she finally started reading, could be further from the truth. Avoiding the big cities on the east and west coasts, Van Gelder visited reservations, small towns, Midwestern rust belt cities, and communities in Appalachia, finding everywhere people who loved their homes and were finding ways to come together to overcome racism, inequality, environmental threats, and unemployment. She met with activists of every stripe and learned that the solutions people were attempting to put into place were always unique to those communities, their histories and their specific challenges.

For me, a theme that ran throughout the book was restoration. Early in the book Van Gelder met with ranchers in Montana practicing restorative grazing, sometimes called mob grazing, a practice I first read about in the magazine Acres USA. Before the book ends, she has encountered a Virginia town dedicated to restorative justice, a process whereby those convicted of violent crime can begin to make amends to victims and be re-integrated into the community rather than becoming life-long outcasts. In between were burned-out city neighborhoods being restored to productive local food-growing projects and employee-owned businesses restoring dignity to owner-workers. And the stories in the book connected not only with my readings in eco-agriculture but also to more recent readings I’ve been doing in ecological economics and steady-state economy, work both by and inspired by the work of economist Herman E. Daly, so that I feel much as I did my first semester in college, learning many new things and seeing many connections across exciting disciplines.

Another participant confided to me quietly that she felt the tasks to be accomplished in our country were huge and overwhelming. Well, they are huge, and they certainly can be overwhelming, and I certainly know the feeling she was talking about. I think it’s like preparing to move from one house to another: You look at everything that has to be packed up and transported, and what needs to be done looks impossible. All you can do is start with one room or even one closet or a single kitchen drawer and make progress little by little.

For myself, I think the biggest challenge is not the enormous size of the task but how easily I can be paralyzed at the thought of my own smallness. Another message of Van Gelder’s book, however, is that people do not have to be wealthy or hold political clout to come together and accomplish crucially important work for their communities.

When I come back to my bookstore after a few days of vacation, I’ll be hosting an author presentation and book signing, and to be perfectly honest I had a little anticipatory trepidation about the book that I did not share with the author. I’m always a little apprehensive when non-Native writers create Native American characters in their fiction. I have enough confidence in Bob Downes that I know he is respectful of Native culture and history – he not only did considerable research but is also learning the Anishnabe language – but there are still sometimes touchy feelings about who gets to tell whose stories, and not all non-Native writers are as serious as Bob when injecting Native culture into their fiction.

So now, to answer Sarah Van Gelder’s question about what “one small [specific] person” (me) can do to help my community, I want to collect a diverse audience for Bob’s events – not only ethnically diverse, but diverse in terms of age – and I’ll be taking proactive steps to try to make that happen.

A bookstore, after all, especially a small, independent bookstore in a little northern village, is all about connections. Someone the other evening had the kindness to refer to my bookstore as one local “pocket of hope.” Now it’s up to me to live up to that challenging designation.


Dawn said...

"Pocket of hope." That's just lovely! I struggle, too, with what one person can do. I've decided I will do what I see that needs doing that is within the scope of my talents. And if everyone did their little bit the whole would be complete.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, you may struggle with your feelings, but your activism in the truck safety group, with your annual trips to Washingtonto petition Congress for better laws, is an inspiration. Yes, I truly believe we each have to pick at least one thing and just start doing it.