RURAL ROUTES/Margo Ford McMillen

Making a Difference Where You Can

A great pleasure of writing this column is when readers want to strike up a conversation about something they’re working on. Your emails always include important ideas that eventually get back into a column. Your rural neighborhoods are threatened by industrial hog farms, fracking, GMOs, chemical overuse, just like my rural neighborhood, and each mess means there are more of us who want to disconnect from the industrial systems.

So today there are people all over the nation buying local and supporting our communities. Farmers’ markets are thriving and craftsmen are back in the woodshops where they belong, making baby gifts and repairing dining room furniture.

We’re learning to cook again! Woo hoo! And we’re preserving food in the fat harvest times to use when foods are scarce. We’re trying to eat in a way that might save the planet. I’m hearing about vegan diets in the hope that grain will go to feeding humans instead of animals for slaughter, local diets to cut down on food miles between farm fields and urban markets. Together, we’re making “GMO-free” the hottest new label for the food companies.

One of the very best trends I’m seeing is the talented young people running for office. No idea if any of them will make it, but they’re on a high learning curve and next time they’ll do better. My favorite line from one of the hopefuls is, “they’ve set the bar SO LOW ...” and she’s right.

Once we’ve figured out that our own personal responsibility is part of the answer, there’s no end to what we can accomplish. Because the raw materials we have for changing the planet are ourselves and our families, our neighborhoods and our towns.

My neighborhood is dealing with the incursion of factory farming right now, and the fight is exhilirating, because we’ve worked for years at our friendships. We’ve spent hours together, eaten meals together, picked each other’s apples and fished in each other’s ponds, watched each other’s kids, loaned each other money, supported each other in bad years. It could be grim work to fight a corporate bad boy, if we think about the potential of losing our quality of life, but, working together, we can turn a dull project, like hanging leaflets on hundreds of mailboxes and doorknobs, into a celebration.

So that’s the public face of activism, but there are more private decisions to make as well. I’m thinking of the many decisions that each of us make in planning retirement. After all, it makes no sense to invest in corporations that we’re fighting. If you hate GMOs, let’s say, you shouldn’t be investing in Monsanto. If you hate war, you shouldn’t be investing in Lockheed Martin. So, if you’re lucky enough to be employed and paying into a 401k or IRA, or if grandpa left you a portfolio, please take the responsibility to see where that money is being stashed.

This kind of investing, called “socially responsible investing,” or SRI, is becoming trendy. According to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing, “From 2010 to 2012, sustainable and responsible investing enjoyed a growth rate of more than 22%, increasing from $3.07 trillion in 2010. More than one out of every nine dollars under professional management in the United States today — 11% of the $33.3 trillion in total assets under management tracked by Thomson Reuters Nelson — is involved in sustainable and responsible investing.” There are even books on SRI “for dummies”.

Following their step-by-step instructions, you’ll start with the mysteries of “screening,” where you list the categories you cannot, or can, stand to be associated with. Gambling, cigarettes, fracking, war, no. Human rights, consumer health, alternative energy, women in management, yes.

After you make the list, you look for compatible funds and stocks. Or you find an advisor who understands what you’re looking for.

Soon, you can move from the “for dummies” stage and find writers with a deep understanding of the issues. David C. Korten has written about the local economy versus the corporate for years. His 2010 book, Agenda for a New Economy, makes a distinction between “phantom wealth,” or Wall Street investments in corporate dollars and “real wealth,” or investment in things that serve and build community.

Korten’s New Economy has three conditions: Ecological balance, equitable distribution and living democracy. These ideal conditions create markets that are “rooted locally ... designed to balance the need for stability with a capacity for creative adaptation to local micro-environments, and structured to be locally self-reliant in meeting most of their energy and other resource needs.”

The beginning comes when we pledge to take seriously our own impact on the world, and when we explore the needs and opportunities in our own families and communities. It takes forever to make the changes you want, but there’s always more we can do.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2014

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