by Gretchen Mead
Last week I had the great honor to sit in front of my son’s 1st and 2nd grade class. These 6- through 8-year-olds interviewed me about what Victory Garden Initiative does, asking me: “What inspires you?” and “Do you grow peaches?”
I was there to educate them, but believe me: I learned so much more than they did. The thing that struck me most was how quiet, intentional, focused and absolutely charming this room filled with 42 seven year-olds was. The culture was so purposeful and so kind-hearted, values and ethics permeating everything they learned. The teachers said very little, and the children aspired to participate the best they could. These educators maintained the quietest power over the class that I have witnessed in many years.
Recently, I have been reading and teaching about power in social movement and found some analysis of the United States’ rise to a superpower. Analyst Joseph Nye claims, “The United States has dominated others with [hard economic and military power], but it has also excelled in projecting ‘Soft Power’ with the help of its companies, foundations, universities, churches, and other institutions of civil society; US culture, ideals, and values have been extraordinarily important in [the rise of American power].” He goes on to define Soft Power as “the ability to shape others’ long-term attitudes and preferences” and makes the point that Soft Power is key to long-term national security.
Interesting point, Mr. Nye. So you are kinda saying if we can ensure people love us, they will be less likely to hurt us. Ha!
As the United Nations Climate Summit exclaims the role of agriculture in the proliferation of greenhouse gases; as countries across the globe close their doors to Monsanto, GMOs and Roundup; as the UN publishes reports about local, sustainable agriculture being the ONLY route forward to a sustainable future, perhaps it is time for the US to once again lead the way with ideals that the world will want to softly align with.
The problem is one of ‘Sticky Power.’ Back to Nye and his fascinating categorization of political power: Sticky Power is the kind that, once aligned with, either through hard economic and military coercion or Soft Power, get the aligners Stuck. It’s not all bad to be Stuck in some ways. In this most important example, consider if the US and China didn’t have entirely embedded economies; they would have no real reason to try to get along. Maybe ‘Sticky Power’ is the next candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize or for Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
To wrap all this up in time for you all to catch the next episode of Wisconsin Foodie, I suggest this means that it’s all up to us. The global economy and the power that it wields isn’t subject to the power of a government—ours or anyone else’s. It’s Stuck. It cannot heed the UN’s recommendations nor the huge amount of science pointing to the need for a dramatic shift in global agricultural practices. We can keep waiting for politicians to change policies and for big business to shift practices, but in spite of the great amount of accountability they—we—are all Stuck.
It seems the time for transparency has come. Time for our government to be honest about the Stuckness of it all, time for our government to remember that it is a government by the people, for the people and WITH the people; with the people is perhaps the most important piece. The Food Movement is big and bold. The people are speaking. Local, sustainable agriculture is the foundation of the people’s power through the way we spend our money, the enterprises we enter, the nonprofit work we support, the things we teach our children, and the culture we create. It’s time for the United States of America to once again charm the rest of the planet with its ideals and values, graciously earning the role as the Soft Power of the world.
Just like we learned in elementary school.
What do you think? Do you feel Soft or Stuck? Share your comments below or on Facebook!