Speaking at the Green Business Conference, Nov 12, 2008

On Wednesday I spoke at the Green Business Conference, on the impact of the elections and this moment.

The opening speaker in our panel was Jay Harris of Mother Jones. He said this is a transformational election, where people were unstuck from the world view they have inhabited. The election was a rejection of hate. Maybe not for the right reasons – maybe because things were so BAD that people set hate aside to reach for better. Our inability to stop Prop 8 is evidence that hate is not done.

He noted that it was cool to be engaged again, which was great – he said that Obama pulled everyone in.

Jay then covered what was not transformed – K Street, Wall Street, the Bush appointees and establishment who are burrowing in and will be resistant to change. They already have been, eviscerating reporting measures . He said we must expose these impediments to change.

I was second. Here are my notes and speaking.

First, I reviewed what happened in the Election Protection world (link EP mini-report), and concluded that, as we saw in 2006, when we get a progressive outcome we kind of shrug off the broken system. Shame on us – that system needs to function. But we all want to celebrate right now, which I understand. I just hope 2010 we aren’t in the same exact boat again. What worked beautifully was 866 Our Vote, and growing collaborations like GenVote, where folks were combining efforts. Ruckus provided Action Kits, a Scenario Memo, Calls to Action, and the first report of the day.

I noted my personal sadness about the homophobia evidenced in the ballot initiatives that passed, and spoke of how we have to step back and see how the Arc of Change is exposed to us by Obama’s win. 60 years from getting civil rights to holding the presidency. We must all place our work on that larger Arc.

This is the Age of Yes, which people are hungry for. Folks want solutions, and that is what green business seek to accomplish.

In this yes, we have to recognize the shift we have made relative to race. This country just voted for a black man to be in charge of our economy, and our military. It is a challenge to us in terms of who we look to for leadership. Many of you have been willing to have people of color or different classes work for us, or even side by side. But how many of us are willing to work FOR black folks, for poor folks, for people of color? Looking at the leadership of green business and non-profits, the answer is not enough. But that’s what this moment demands of us.

The good thing is, people are willing to invest in leadership that reflects a true multi-racial analysis. The grassroots money that poured into this election shows people can invest in change.

For those of us who are solution minded, this is good news. We are the ones who can help finish the sentence “Yes we can…” Yes – we can localize our economies, yes we can invest in sound energy practices and policies. Yes, we can secure green collar jobs on the path to no collar jobs, jobs with no ceiling, meaningful work and lives for all people.

FDR was rumored to have told a body of organizers in negotiation with him, “Ok, you’ve convinced me, now go out and put pressure on me!” Where Obama has policies that are aligned with our green dreams, we must be the pressure of a wind at his back. Where he is off, we must be a corrective pressure. Correcting, for instance, the myths of clean coal, nuclear, or that ethanol will save us. Leila Salazar from RAN breaks it down like this – even if we destroyed all of our agricultural land to grow corn for ethanol, we’d only meet 10% of our current need. We need solutions that give, and don’t take more than we have, more than we can sustain.

The Obama campaign could teach us a lot about how to campaign for these solutions we want – moving beyond high-level strategic and disconnected parachute campaigns to a better model, ground up grassroots people based campaigns.

We have the solutions, let us be humble enough to learn how to be what is needed.

Yes, we can.

The third speaker was Paul Ray, a guru in the green business realm. He had an unattractive but highly informative powerpoint presenting research he’d done on the state of people’s beliefs at this moment. Here are some of his points – there was more than I could jot down:

– Americans have caught up with Europe and Japan in their desire to go green.

– Al Gore called for large scale action.

– we now have a super majority for ecological action in Congress.

– 55% of people he surveyed would support solor and wind power as energy alternatives, not coal and nuclear.

– 71% of people see themselves as citizens of Earth in addition to being American. A sign that hyper patriotism may be fleeting.

– Only 25% of those surveyed are ready to pay more in taxes for gas – he said this is savvy, that folks see that the money goes to big gas and oil.

– He noted  the interesting fact that while the clear majority of those surveyed have apparently “liberal” values, 72% refused to identify that way. He saw this as a branding issue.

– Paul joined other economic analysts I’ve heard in saying that recession was a two year recession, a time when people will cut out non-necessities, will cut out luxuries. Green businesses need to make their goods necessary.

We didn’t have much time for discussion afterwards, but there were a few questions. In response to a question about what young people could do influence businesses they go to work at, and what employers could do to encourage youth participation – I said to engage young people on branding and marketing. Not just have them around on data entry, but actually involve them at every level in shaping the business that will shape our future.

Another person asked about starting a business now, and I shared my belief that the smarter investment now is not in new gidget ideas, but investing in community developed green ideas, that investment will go further.

This week I definitely had a theme or 14 đŸ™‚