Creation is Our Essence

Our economy is crumbling. One in seven Americans live in poverty. The only thing our partisan politic-deadlock government can agree on is a free trade agreement with South Korea that isn’t likely to produce anything different from every other free trade agreement we’ve created.

More for the rich, less for the poor.

So why the squirrel?

It brings me back. Back to the single greatest period of growth and leadership development I’ve experienced in my life: Summer of Solutions – Twin Cities. It was the summer of 2010, and it was when my potential to lead, to challenge, to create, was unlocked.

I learned how to organize, how to facilitate, how to create a proposal for successful implementation of energy efficiency measures in homes and then how to present it to the administration of an electric utility, the imam of a local mosque, the head of a children’s summer program. I learned about oppression and privilege. I learned how to use Google Docs.

Together, we door-knocked, created an urban farm in a day, fixed and rode bikes, hosted community listening sessions, developed plans to convert an old car factory into a green manufacturing and living zone, planted and harvested food across Minneapolis, wrote business plans, toured renewable energy facilities, organized fundraising events, and ate a lot of delicious vegan food.

That summer changed me, because it empowered me. It gave me the tools I needed to help create the vision I and others have for our world. A world where communities overcome divisions and rise up together to take head on the economic, social and environmental challenges we face.

There’s a reason the dandelion is the focal point of the Summer of Solutions logo. A versatile, highly nutritious plant that can take root almost anywhere, grow, and disperse for miles around the parent plant, the dandelion defines the methodology of the program to gather in low-income communities, build up local infrastructure while training the next generation of green social entrepreneurs, and spread.

I was fortunate enough to go through this great experience, and now it’s time for me to return the favor. So I’m creating.

In 2012, application pending, there will be a Summer of Solutions program in Los Angeles. Building largely off the great work of a local organization, La Causa, we will be working with various different organizations and leaders, and our focuses are likely to include food access, green business, urban agriculture, complete streets and bike advocacy, green manufacturing, renewable energy projects, and community organizing.

I can’t wait to see what creations emerge.

The application to build your own Summer of Solutions program is open until next Saturday, October 29th. I encourage others who are ready to take this step: to join an incredibly talented and growing network of young leaders who aren’t waiting for help from above–they are working now to create the change they wish to see in the world.

Patriotism

Last week, editors at The Nation asked their readers to answer the question, “What Does Patriotism Mean To You?” in 200 words or less.  Some Twin Cities Summer of Solutions folk responded to voice their feelings about our country, promote our vision, and spread the word about SOS.  My entry and those of a few others are posted below.

Patriotism is proactive. It is seeing and believing in a better America, and working to make that vision a reality. Patriots are not sticks floating down the stream of society, shifting and responding to each push and pull of the current that carries it. They are trail blazers pushing forward along the banks and through the valley. It is a difficult yet necessary role, for when the stream encounters a dam, it is the Patriots with the vision and grit to take on the challenge and the allegiance to see it through. They do not balk at, deny, or flee from our nation’s problems.

I am blazing trails in Minneapolis with the Summer of Solutions program.  We see the problems of our hollowed economy, divided communities and degraded environments as inherently connected, and our remedies seek to address them all. We are working hands on to create green jobs, promote energy efficiency, and empower communities across the country. What we are doing is unchartered territory, but we are pushing forward with passion using the assets we have to create a better America. And we won’t stop.

– Casey Wojtalewicz

This is the first Fourth of July when I can safely say that I’m proud to be an American.  I think this realization of my unique brand of patriotism is a result of the past few years I have spent abroad. I chose to attend university in Scotland with the assumption that outside the US, people would be less materialistic, or more earth-conscious and community-oriented. However, I realized that everything I was looking for could be found in my very hometown. Patriotism does not mean loving the political views and lifestyle choices of every citizen. Rather, patriotism is finding the pieces of your country that bring out the best in you, and caring about your country enough to make it a better place. In my hometown of Minneapolis, I am working alongside other youth to create community sustainability and build a green economy as part of a program called Summer of Solutions.  As I work the land in community gardens, talk to community members about energy efficiency, or bike around the Twin Cities, I feel patriotic for this piece of my country, and even more so, for what my country has the potential to become.

Elana Bulman

Patriotism demands that we find an America powered by dirty energy – which funds terrorism and destroys Gulf Coast livelihoods – unacceptable. It means that we lead smarter pathways for our country as car companies and banks and housing markets and energy suppliers that are “too big to fail” start taking our communities and our livelihoods down with them. Patriotism means embodying the entrepreneurial, can-do, team spirit that exemplifies our nation’s best moments as leaders in our workplaces, schools, churches, and neighborhoods. It means walking resolutely towards the dawn of a sustainable, socially-just, and prosperous economy powered by local entrepreneurs, strong communities, and clean and efficient energy.

This summer, I’m helping a new generation of leaders create their own careers in the green economy, empower their communities through collaborative solutions, and help others do the same. They are helping neighborhoods convert hobby gardens into viable urban farming businesses, recapture value from utility bills through energy efficiency, develop green manufacturing centers on abandoned industrial sites to create jobs, and create access to clean transit options. Here in Minneapolis and nationwide, the Summer of Solutions (www.summerofsolutions.org) is helping nurture this type of patriotism – the nitty-gritty on-the-ground leadership to take America forward.

– Timothy DenHerder-Thomas