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Restoration recognizes that once lands have been “disturbed”—worked, lived on, meddled with, developed—they require human intervention and care. We must build landscapes that heal, connect and empower, that make intelligible our relations with each other and with the natural world: places that welcome and enclose, whose breaks and edges are never without meaning. We urgently need people living on the land, caring for it, working out an idea of nature that includes human culture and human livelihood.

—Alexander Wilson, The Culture of Nature

There are many opportunities to begin a conversation, and different ways that we can direct our attention. This year has exemplified another opening in the conversation around the kind of society we want to cultivate.

As we transition into a new year, we can take all that has happened in the past months and turn them into a platform for change—not just in the political sense but in a personal one. The Occupy Movement and those who preceded this phenomenon during the Arab Spring and the Wisconsin protests earlier this year have gained the world’s attention and again raised the issue of the significant gap between those who have resources and power and those who do not.

What we do about this fact—as a culture, in our communities, and as individuals—is up to us. As countries in the Middle East continue to experience the upheavals that accompany significant transition, we need to examine and act on ways in which we can move from occupation to restoration—from calling attention to injustice to proposing and participating in solutions that address the challenges we face.

As Alexander Wilson’s quote attests, we have created a “disturbed” landscape and must take responsibility for restoring it—not only through creating alternative policies and practices but in the way we live our lives on a daily basis. How do we embed the ideals of a more equitable, humane, and sustainable society in our work, in our interactions with others, in our economic relationships?

I have long been a fan of Langston Hughes’ powerful poem “Let America Be America Again” in which he yearns for the ideals upon which this country was founded and laments the fact that we have never been truly able to live into those ideals. The research and advocacy organization PolicyLink has recently released a framing paper entitled “America’s Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model”. Their analysis and recommendations are compelling as always, and policy reform and innovative investment are among the tools we must use to “let America be America again”.

We can point to history and to our current crises as justifications for any apathy or cynicism that we might feel about generating lasting change. And we also have an opportunity—and it can be a very individual one—to carry with us some commitment about one way in which we will participate in positive transformation. Whether it is what we decide to eat or buy, or where we invest our money, or how we engage in our communities and relate with our neighbors and friends, or even the kind of work we decide to do, we can each “occupy ourselves” and play a small but significant role in remaining faithful to the ideals we hold.

The activist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy talks about three dimensions of the Great Turning, the period of time we are now experiencing as we transition from an industrial growth society to another (and hopefully more humane and sustainable) culture. We must pursue holding actions that keep current damage at bay (and the Occupy movement is an example of this), but we also must move to provide analysis and create structural alternatives (PolicyLink’s work mentioned above is part of building this bridge) and we need to promote and nurtures shifts in consciousness (from the way we relate to each other to the way in which we perceive the world) which allow for new systems to emerge.

Keeping the ideals of “occupation” alive while moving to an ethic and practice of “restoration” for our communities, cultures and landscapes is a vital part of this shift.


FEATURED RESOURCE: Navigating Change

One aspect of moving from occupation to restoration is to embed the practices of “extreme democracy” practiced by many Occupy camps in the broader culture.

I was recently invited to present a webinar on facilitating effective community and coalition meetings to Smart Growth America’s Sustainable Communities Network.

That webinar, entitled Navigating Change, is now available along with supporting materials.

December 2011