MINNEAPOLIS – Now that our president-elect is Community Organizer-in-Chief, a new era of community organizing has begun. Continuing the trend, a new initiative called Community Earth Councils was launched on November 12 at the Great Hall in the Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota.
More than 200 artists, community leaders, students, business people, non-profit luminaries, elected officials and activists, both young and old, attended the event and formed 20 new councils. Community Earth Councils are an intergenerational community-building movement bringing elders (50+), youth (16-28) and others together to address environmental and social issues at the local level. Their efforts will be coordinated by a network and website for global impact.
Attendee Barbara Lee Friedman, founding executive director of a small non-profit organization, found the Symposium "inspiring and life-changing." Friedman had recently decided to discontinue the non-profit and pursue a job in a larger entity. After attending the CEC launch, Friedman, a musician, says she was "energized by being among like-minded people" and is re-committed to the non-profit work that’s her passion.
The groups represent many neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, including Mac Groveland, Far North Suburbs, Uptown, Minnetonka, East Metro such as Stillwater and Scandia, Bloomington, Edina, Linden Hills, Highland Park, Burnsville, Apple Valley, Dinkytown, St Paul’s Midway and as far afield as Northfield and St. Peter.
Founders Eric Utne and John Miller hope to have 100 Earth Councils across the country within a year, and 500 around the world in three years. Miller says he too was heartened by the energy and enthusiasm at the launch.
"Having 200 people come out on a cold Minnesota evening tells me that people are really eager to find productive ways to make a difference," he says. "What really struck me was how happy and grateful the elders and youngers were to find one another. I think both these groups tend to be under-utilized in our society, and the gifts they bring are incredibly complementary. There will be a lot of learning on all sides, and I can’t wait to see the initiatives that all these groups of creative and committed people come up with."
Youth organizer Timothy Den Herder-Thomas says he belongs to a group of youth "committed to a vision of a different future." A member of various organizations, Den Herder-Thomas says he has seen the benefits of fusing the vision, energy and new ideas of youth with the experience, understanding and skills of older people.
"Time and time again," he says, "I see coalitions of young people with energy and enthusiasm but no experience in organizing non-profits or developing a business asking, ‘Where are the old people – we can’t do this alone?’ And I’m also a member of rural development groups with people saying, ‘We’re trying to develop this new energy economy – where are all the young people? We can’t do this alone!’" Den Herder-Thomas adds that having older mentors in his life has brought immense value and change to the way he works.
Rick Moody, director of academic affairs for AARP in Washington, D.C., was a guest speaker at the Symposium. "Young and old need to work together to save our planet," he says. "We have enough time if we begin right now."
Attendee and speaker Jan Hively, founder of the MN Vital Aging Network and co-founder of SHiFT, notes, "We have enough if we make good use of what we have. Learning how is a lot more fun when we learn together."
Community Earth Councils are groups of eight to 20 people who meet regularly to share their stories, look at what’s working in their communities – and what needs some help – and devise and implement projects that contribute to society and/or the environment. Each CEC is created by its members and designed to help young and old find community, inspiration, meaning and purpose.
The Symposium was presented by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing, AARP (Office of Academic Affairs), and the Utne Institute. Sponsors included the Alliance for Sustainability, Heartland Circle, the Life Science Foundation, Minnesota Campus Compact, SHiFT, Utne Reader, the Vital Aging Network, the Will Steger Foundation and Youth Energy Action MN.