Last spring, I poured my heart and soul into a local special election to authorize our city council to establish a municipal electric utility. In the end, our fabulous Vote YES! campaign lost by three votes. It was devastating.
Mostly, it was devastating because the incumbent utility, Alliant Energy, spent over $150,000 on propaganda to convince our small community to vote against its own interests. (How is this even legal?)
But my biggest takeaway was this: More than half of the voting population chose to trust an out-of-state corporation over their fellow community members. Let that sink in for a moment.
I got involved with this campaign because municipal enterprise is a puzzle piece in the movement to move beyond corporate capitalism to something new—an economy that works for all people and the planet. This is the real solution to pretty much every public health and environmental problem we face in our “advanced” society.
It seemed like a no-brainer. Our community would run the electric utility, save up to $5 million per year, and have the freedom to work toward energy independence. The financials worked. Thousands of other communities across the country already do this…
But we lost. It was much harder than I thought to make this relatively small change. And I realized we have deeper problems to tackle—distrust, lack of relationships, polarization.
I took some time off from community organizing to process what had happened. I read Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild to try to understand my fellow community members. I wrote about the experience in great detail. I was angry, sad, defeated. I spoke about the experience at a Move to Amend event in Cedar Rapids seven months after the referendum and started tearing up on stage—the injustice of it all is still overwhelming.
But the mourning period is over. It’s time to pick up the pieces and get back to work. I’ve been inspired this week by watching the RBG documentary and reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. These two powerful women don’t give up in the face of adversity. Ruth Bader Ginsburg responds to defeat with badass dissents. And when Michelle Obama’s critics go low, she goes high.
Top of mind right now is a local economic development project I’m working on with a group of smart women—the second annual Winneshiek Idea House. On February 23, we’ll gather 100+ people from our community to explore local impact investing and support local entrepreneurs in real-time during the highlight of the event, which we call “Trout Tank” (since trout fishing is a big deal here).
I’m also excited about the new Wellbeing Economy Alliance. This global organization launched in the US this past year, and I look forward to learning more & connecting with this group.
Finally, we just celebrated the first anniversary of our digital marketing cooperative, an attempt to do meaningful,world-changing work in the digital marketing space. I believe cooperative ownership is a key component of a wellbeing economy. I wrote a little something about that in YES! Magazine last fall.
Life goes on. Amazing.