Here we are, caught in a moment when even after an immeasurably important election, the Breath of Life feels caught in suspense, not knowing what will come next for our country, our planet. And I know that many of us are on the edge of hope, needing to help each other reach out to do the action that is the reality of hope.
The Shalom Center is ready for that action; we need your help to make it real. Today is ”Giving Tuesday.” Giving helps make the vision real. And in two more weeks the Giving joins with Hanukkah. Our festival does not need to be commercial. It can affirm light in a time of dark; action in a time of despair; courage of the disempowered in a time of imperial elephants; the Breath, the Wind, the Spirit in a time of Might and Power.
We propose a program of Federal grants to neighborhood co-ops in all sorts of neighborhoods –- rural, small-town, metropolitan center, middle-sized cities, and suburban –- to initiate and support solar and wind energy co-ops. The new energy systems would radically reduce the costs of electricity; radically increase the rapid spread of renewable energy and its jobs; reduce asthma and cancer rates in neighborhoods near coal-burning plants and oil refineries.
Infusing national money into this local transformation would create millions of new “green jobs” in communities now hollowed out and dying. And the new solar systems would greatly reduce CO2 emissions that are scorching and burning our home –- our planet.
What’s more, the co-ops themselves could become grass-roots political challenges to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are making hyperwealthy profits by burning Earth, sowing the anti-life seeds of enormous floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires, and famines. The biblical plagues that “modern” city folks thought were only legends, until Covid 19 came along – but countryfolk who still read the Bible knew were possible.
I sketch this approach as a model of what a community-based, compassionate, justice-seeking America –- simultaneously “global” and “neighborly” -- might look like. I suggest that it could be good practical politics as well as good value politics -– appealing as a Green Neighborhood New Deal to people who started out opposing the national program for the Green New Deal, just as Obamacare when it actually went into effect appealed to people who started out opposing it.
The point would be to emphasize neighborhood co-ops. That would be the crucial difference from almost all existing massive Green campaigns—deliberately funneling money and attention into the heavily Republican rural areas, only for renewable energy rather than for tariff relief as the Trump Administration did. The possibility of energizing folks who live down the farm road instead of a suspect Federal bureaucrat who appears out of nowhere could make a great difference, and the same dynamic with different faces could make a similar difference in poverty-stricken North Philadelphia.
If Republicans control the next Senate, could the initial money be appropriated at all? Possibly, first of all if agro money could be shifted to that purpose by executive order without breaking the Constitution. Secondly, if enough grass-roots energy for such an infusion of money and jobs at the neighborhood level could be ginned up in the rural/ small-town mostly Republican areas in the states of Republican Senators who are campaigning for reelection in 2022 to make them rebel against a hostile Republican leadership, or failing that, to tip the balance in those states to elect Democrats.
Perhaps for some farmers a distant memory – the Rural Electrification Act, by which the New Deal through farmer co-ops brought electricity for the first time to farms in the 1930s – would open some emotional and political doors. And perhaps in some situations, the REA co-ops themselves are ready for a revitalization through wind or solar power.
There are two truths that I hold before me as we move into the next stage of Jewish, religious, American, and planetary transformation.
- The first truth is about The Shalom Center’s long history of work to heal the relationship between Earth and Humanity. In Hebreew, the words are adamah and adam -- as intertwined in language as we are in reality. We look at that old commitment with new urgency, new eyes. We need new face-to-face groups rooted in our congregations and neighborhoods, who see themselves as BOTH joyful celebrants of each other and joyful citizens of America and Earth.
The festival cycle, the seasons of our joy, is the offspring of an ancient love affair between the Jewish people and Earth. Now our wounded Earth needs the healing help of her offspring. We must draw deeply on the authentic meaning of the festivals and reshape them to become a healing of our wounded Mother Earth. Hanukkah is next, light in time of dark, conserving energy its theme.
The second truth is that we have come to a great precipice. Behind us is a world of overlapping slaveries that we had gotten used to. Worsening economic inequality. Deep danger to democracy itself. Racism. Contempt for the public health. Contempt for Earth and all its myriad beings.
Before us, facing us, is a precipice as deep as was the great Red Sea of our most ancient transformation. Deep, yet possible to cross if we take courage. Small steps on tippy-toes will be no help. Small incremental steps will only take us falling to disaster.
The precipice is deep but narrow. Leaping across to begin a new kind of society will save us: A new society like an ecology of living differences that fit together to make a sacred unity. Like a jigsaw puzzle where each piece of the puzzle – each one of us -- is different in exactly some way that we can fit together.
Yet America seems paralyzed, caught between two hostile halves. What can we do? We can help each other leap across the precipice. We can help each other heal the split between “red” and “blue” America. We can help The Shalom Center create a Green America, of Green Neighbors, Green Neighborhoods. And we need your help to do it.
We can campaign to ensure that the Green New Deal becomes a Green Neighborhood New Deal, reaching Neighborhoods on both sides of our political divide. It should include grants to start and sustain solar energy co-ops in neighborhoods everywhere – rural and small town like the Rural Electrification co-ops during the New Deal, as well as urban and suburban neighborhoods. The political opposition between the two is unnecessary and destructive.
Ancient Israelites, during the Sabbatical/ Shmita year (Lev 25), provided both justice for humans and justice for the Earth. So too would the Green Neighborhood New Deal today, if it included the neighborhood co-ops we have described. And the whole transformation would have much broader public support.
A lesson from the much more recent past: In 1936 the New Deal met the needs of farmers and involved them in a fruitful coalition through the Rural Electrification Act. It provided federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve isolated rural areas of the United States. The funding was channeled through cooperative electric power companies.
Imagine a Neighborhood Solarization Act that offers grants and loans to neighborhood co-ops to solarize homes and businesses and schools that become co-op members, and also pays for training new home-grown solar and wind engineers and then pays them for new green jobs at decent wages.
Federal grants to neighborhood co-ops would bypass the state and local politicians who have a huge stake in defining the “other” Americans as the enemy. The new solar systems radically reduce the costs of electricity; radically increase the rapid spread of renewable energy and its jobs; reduce asthma and cancer rates in neighborhoods near coal-burning plants and oil refineries. Ends the deaths by Black Lung of coal miners who need the jobs that kill them, and would live well on solar-energy jobs. Reduce the “deaths of despair” by people, urbam or rural, who are still choosing drug overdoses as they face an empty future for themselves and their children.
Infusing national money into this neighborhood transformation would create millions of new “green jobs” in communities now hollowed out and dying. And the new solar systems would greatly reduce CO2 emissions that are scorching and burning our home – our planet.
What’s more, the co-ops themselves could become grass-roots challenges to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are making hyperwealthy profits by burning Earth, sowing the anti-life seeds of enormous hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, and famines.
I sketch this approach as a model of what a community-based, compassionate, justice-seeking America – simultaneously “global” and “neighborly” -- might look like. It could be good practical politics as well as good value politics – appealing as a Green Neighborhood New Deal to people who started out opposing the national program for the Green New Deal, just as Obamacare when it actually went into effect appealed to people who started out opposing it.
We at The Shalom Center can inspire that campaign. We can supply the materials to weave into your congregation’s celebrations and its teen and adult education, into your own letters to newspapers and elected officials, calls to radio and TV shows.
But to do that we need your support – not only ideas, but money to help us spread the ideas. Not only candles, but the candlesticks, the menorahs, to help lift up the candles to spread the light to change the world. It's time to start preparing for the eight days of Hanukkah (starts the evening of December 10) and the twelve days of Christmas (starts Christmas Eve, December 24). When better for a healed economy, a healing Earth? With the help you send us, we will send you the materials to make change happen.
If you donate by clicking on the “Contribute” banner just below or theone on the left-hand margin of this page, , you help us all leap together across the precipice. If you can, please make your minimum gift a Minyan of Life, leaping together -– 10 x chai, $180. More if you can – and less if necessary, for every gift gives life.
Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur