Originally published on the SOIL blog and newsletter in October 2020, here.
Earthaven Ecovillage lies in the heart of rural Western NC, in Rutherford County, one of the poorest counties in the country. The county has higher than average rates of poverty, unemployment, racial disparity, and death and lower than average rates of high school graduation, health outcomes, median income, and public safety(1). In short, the country struggles with health indicators on every level.
These are the kinds of places that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in the 2016 Presidential election. Rutherford County is no exception. The politics of our neighbors tend to run towards the right, with their major concerns being the preservation of their rural lifestyles and not being ignored by the urban elite that seems to be running the country(2).
Fortunately, and with the greatest of admiration, I am steeped in the rural land-based communities of this place that I call home. Many of these people are literate in land-based wisdom that includes daily practices of both self-reliance and interdependence and has kept them alive through times (including now) when government agencies dismiss, ignore, exploit, extract from, and demean poor Appalachian people of all colors. I have come to respect these people beyond measure for their wisdom, skill, and knowledge of locally adapted systems of farming, forestry, herbalism, geology, fishing, water management, and land intelligence, as well as their willingness to share these things with newcomers and neophytes.
Left Leaning Values
At the same time, as you might guess, most of us at Earthaven Ecovillage are in a different political camp than these rural right leaning folks. Socially and politically, I am steeped in the left-leaning culture, including the LGBTQ+ community, the women’s movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m so grateful to stand on the shoulders of those who have come before and eager to move forward the rights of women, of black Americans, of Indigenous peoples, and of gay/queer folks.
That puts me in an interesting political perspective. I have friends, and more importantly, community members I depend on, on both sides of the political fence.
Because of this I’m finding myself struggling with the vehemence, angst, and downright inhumanity pointed towards those who vote differently. This polarity, seen primarily on social media, is reaching a fever pitch. Any of us with enough life experience know that enhancing polarity rarely if ever results in synthesis, expansion, healing, or forward motion.
Real wealth has intrinsic value. Examples include land, labor, knowledge, and physical infrastructure. The most important forms of real wealth are beyond price and are unavailable for market purchase. These include healthy, happy children, loving families, caring communities, and a beautiful, healthy, natural environment.
– David Korten
It’s very clear that the U.S. presidential election tends to act as a metaphor. Yet the one question I keep asking myself and others on both sides is “Do people really believe that winning one election will fix our broken systems?” To some extent the question is rhetorical as we seem to blame the “other side” for all the problems, instead of the problems being inherent to the nature of a State/Empire composed of run-amok capitalism, global imperialism, and corporatocracy.
The small amount of power we have to change an enormous and dysfunctional system leads to adamance that people vote “our way.”
So, what if our power lay outside of the political systems all together? What if our power were actually embedded in the process of building our community together? What if we turned toward each other instead of away, slowly building that new world?
One of my favorite writers, Arundhati Roy, so eloquently says, “Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Ultimately, the answer, as I see it, comes down to the grassroots. Neither the government nor the corporations nor the wealthy will ever have the will, motivation, or ability to create the land-based, people-based, and economic-based solutions we all long for. And what do we all long for? A thriving community we can count on for all of our life needs and that accepts, celebrates, and honors us for exactly who we are. No matter which sector of life we most affiliate with (food systems, racial justice, human rights, environmentalism, rural living), most of us realize that these systems overlap and intersect with each other.
If you’re eating food of any kind that’s grown in this country, it’s quite likely that you are doing so because of a conservative leaning farmers. And if you have freedom of expression and individuality in your life, you are likely doing so because of a liberal leaning social activist. We really and truly need each other.
I’m not suggesting it will be easy. In fact, it sounds painful and arduous. But what is our other choice? Which will move the needle on our issues more—voting in one candidate over another or coming together to build the systems that will support a resilient community? My money (as well as time, energy, passion, and interest) is on the latter.
Lee Warren is a homesteader, herbalist, writer, food activist, and the co-founder of Imani Farm, a pasture-based cooperative farm focused on small-scale organic dairy and egg production. She is also a co-founder of Village Terraces CoHousing Neighborhood, a permaculture neighborhood “pod” within Earthaven Ecovillage. Lee has lived, loved, and worked in cooperatives since 1997 and has facilitated work-trade, internships, and apprentice programs for over ten years. Equally passionate about women’s empowerment, nourishing foods, and self-reliant healthcare, she is the Executive Director for the Organic Grower’s School.