January 25, 2017

Do Local Progressives Walk the Walk?

Hey, Bonita…

I am writing with a serious, heartbreaking case of “I give up.”

There is a rather healthy new crop of “community activists” coming up here in Athens. I have dedicated years to local, state, national and international environmental work, and though I might say inside "Oh, now?!” I have already worried my little head silly about that. I came to Athens to build an off-grid solar house from scratch, by hand, from recycled materials because the winters are mild here (*ahem* 70 degrees in January as I sit writing this), and I paid for most of it by working at the Waffle House and other blue-collar jobs. I am a full-time cyclist. Have been my whole adult life.

The nagging ache that has developed goes something like this:

"Who wants change?"

“We do,” cry the masses!

"Who wants to change?"


So many people talk, but do they walk the walk? Athens brands itself as a progressive community, yet on so so many points it simply is just a show, one kept up through boring panel discussions and touchy-feely group activities once every few weeks. But the data doesn’t lie. Less than 2 percent of the population bikes for transportation. Less than 4 percent of the population of the surrounding region eats local food.

What is really getting me is this: Even trying to communicate about this with people I know gets me brow-beaten into silence, called a “self-righteous, judgmental hypocrite.” The nonprofits I have worked with have all suffered from internal issues of conflicts over money, drug and sexual abuse. When I have tried to confront these types of issues within these groups, I have been brow-beaten into submission there, too.

The self-styled leaders of these groups seem to regard themselves as the be-all, end-all of progressive idealism. I guess I do too, but I live a life that actually reflects my word, and it's a lot of actual work! However, I just don't have the strength anymore to try and operate in a community of talkers who can't seem to walk their own line.

All we have in this life are our bodies and our word. Two-thirds of the bodies of the wild animals on this planet are gone! Six million animals are killed for food every hour, and the bodies of our children and grandchildren face serious threat of not surviving unless we, here and now, put our bodies on the line for what we say matters to us—in our daily lives, not just as part of the popularity contests. I'm not holding my breath, but I have just about lost the will to even try and open my mouth anymore.


Paradigm Change, Not Climate Change


You alone will not save the world. I think you know this, what with the tremendous expectations you place on your peers, but you don't seem to respect the choices of others. We all have different levels of commitment that we can make to changing the world. You do, too. You ride a bike, sure, but you've worked for Waffle House, a company that sells factory-farmed GMO food and has serious issues around wage theft and abuse of employees.

But that's a compromise you've made to keep food on your table and a roof over your head, right? For some people, the compromise is driving an SUV to accommodate their large family, or shopping at Kroger because local organic eggs run about $6 per dozen at the farmers market. And don't argue veganism, please, because one bunch of GMO kale is 88 cents at Kroger, while local organic is closer to about $3. As you say, the data doesn't lie.

You know what? I'm gonna echo your peers. Get off of your high horse. I'm proud of you for your dedication to healing the earth, but compromise and mutual respect are the way to get things done. When life zigs, you zag. No one is perfect, not even you, as you reduce your carbon footprint.

Need advice? Email, use our anonymous form, or find Bonita on Twitter: @flagpolebonita.