I arrived back in the Big Burrito Thursday evening from the Whidbey Institute north of Seattle where I attended the Winter Gathering – Change the Story, Change the Future. Check it out at http://whidbeyinstitute.org/event/winter-gathering-2016/ . This is an invitation-only event with a Summer counterpart on Cortes Island, BC at the Hollyhock conference center. I discovered it on Cortes while I was on my self-imposed exile there last July and August. The Gathering has been running for 33 years now and is organized by a Whidbey Island physician, Rick Ingrasci and his wife, Peggy Taylor. Peggy co-founded the highly successful youth empowerment program, Pye-global.
I would call these Gatherings revival meetings for change agents: Racial reconcilers, peacemakers, environmentalists, architects, artists, writers, poets, musicians… My tribe! Our keynote at Whidbey and my housemate was Dr. David Korten (When Corporations Rule the World). Most attendees were from the Seattle-Vancouver region but a few of us came from afar.
What is the New Story for our time, because the old stories aren’t working? Patriarchy, empire, environmental destruction, racial and social injustice, corporatized healthcare. These people are working on the solutions. Don’t you wish someone was working on a solution for El Paso’s cronyism, apathy, and corruption? Already I see where blogger David K is throwing brickbats at the potential candidacy of Jim Tolbert for the vacant District 2 seat. The idea of an environmentalist city rep who isn’t sprawl-friendly terrorizes the developer crowd here.
The most inspiring speaker there for me was a 25 year old Asian gal from Vancouver, Tessica, who has become something of an environmental superstar in Vancouver for championing tap water over bottled water. Easy value proposition – why drink water out of plastic bottles when you have the best tap water on the continent? I don’t think that would play here, though. Maybe in Cloudcroft that has fabulous water, if you’ve tried it.
I sat in a large circle where we got out of our head space and into heart space. My issue – no shit – was trust. The snarky cynicism so carefully cultivated on these blogs is of no value there because you have to trust something to commit yourself to real change. A Whidbey Institute board member – Victoria Santos, a BBBW force of nature – hugged me and said, “Jerry, you are living behind enemy lines and need to come home.” Yes, I’d call city hall, “enemy occupied territory.”
I stuck around for a few extra days to sample the Penn Cove mussels, local wine and to look at real estate. New friends invited me to stay with them until I left. I liked Whidbey, especially Langley, but also felt that it was mostly a retirement community where the young people tend bar while us oldsters sit around and talk about the 60s. That’s true for a lot of beautiful places.
This is a problem El Paso doesn’t have, as I have noted in previous essays on this blog. Unlike Whidbey and its expensive real estate that makes home ownership a near unattainable dream unless you are commuting to Seattle for your job (and some do), El Paso has a buoyant population of youthful workers, some of whom have even graduated from college. If they have a good job, home ownership is very affordable here. The good jobs are problematic, though.
And so ended my Whidbey odyssey but not the idea of something similar here, or at least in the region. Before I left, I noted to our Sierra Club chapter director in Albuquerque that I have to travel 1,800 miles to attend events like the Gathering and why is that? Why are there no such transformative leadership programs in this region and a support network for practitioners?
Peggy Taylor’s Pye-global program focuses on youth empowerment through what they call a Creative Community Model that brings intellectual notions of creativity down to earth for practical application. If what I saw at Whidbey is any indication, this stuff really works. It is a lot more than grooming talented youth to serve the local oligarchy in public office, El Paso’s model of leadership preparation as exhibited by our Shaplites, who are currently leading our institutions to bankruptcy and more cronyism.
I left Whidbey on Wednesday morning and toured Bainbridge Island, then a later dinner at my favorite Seattle restaurant, Cutters Crab House near Pike Market. A friend met me at the airport for the ride home Thursday evening with dinner and drinks at Crave. It felt good to be out of the rain.
FYI, I missed the 60s because I was a Young Republican campaigning for Barry Goldwater back then who, as it turns out, was mostly on the mark :)
El Paso, TX
Freedom is a reality within your heart. Know it, acknowledge it, claim it, use it. – Peter Koestenbaum