“I don’t believe deep change can be top down. Building a different sort of society happens from the grassroots – most powerfully, when local groups can learn from each other.”

Sarah van Gelder
26 October 2017

Sarah Van Gelder on the road in search of the Edge of Change. Paul Dunn/YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.More than 20 years after co-founding YES!, I am launching a new project.

The idea came to me when I was on the road trip that resulted in my new book, The Revolution Where You Live. As I traveled, I met people who were doing amazing things in their communities. Some were starting cooperatives and other institutions of the new economy, while others were working to heal their city’s legacy of racism, resisting fossil fuel development, or transforming their local food system. These innovations are, I believe, the seeds of a more just and sustainable world.

But a question kept nagging at me: Why isn’t there more of this?

The question became even more pressing with the election of Donald Trump. On my recent book tour – when I spoke in cities from Portland, Oregon, to Madison, Wisconsin – people asked some variation on this question: “The election was a wake-up call. I see now that I can’t outsource my activism. I’m ready to get involved. But how do I get started?”

So I began wondering: What if the people I met in one city – say, Detroit – could share what they know with people in other communities around the country? What if people had access to the skills that would allow them to step up with confidence together with others where they live?

We have a lot of work ahead of us ­– especially with the retrograde politics in Washington, D.C. Could work in our communities deepen relationships while building our power and nourishing our spirits?

Those questions led to explorations of peer-to-peer trainings. What if we created an online space where people coached each other about how to have meetings that energize, to navigate conflict, or to take the first steps toward building a new economy?

By connecting online via Zoom, for example, we can keep costs low. And learning groups can develop into the skillful local teams needed to get things done.

One more thing. I don’t believe deep change can be top down. I think building a different sort of society happens from the grassroots – most powerfully, when local groups can learn from each other. PeoplesHub will support and encourage that innovation, and connect up communities across the country.

The response to this idea has been thrilling. People are stepping up to provide and receive training and to help launch PeoplesHub. And our first class is now available – more will be coming out in early 2018.

With this school as my focus, I’ll be limiting my work at YES! to writing a bi-weekly column.

This isn’t as big a shift as you might think. The careful reader might have noticed that my title changed from “editor-in-chief” to “editor at large” in 2015, when I started my 12,000-mile road trip. My new status gave me the flexibility to write The Revolution Where You Live, to speak widely across the country. And in between, I was able to make two reporting trips to Standing Rock ­– my reports have appeared in YES!, in AfterImage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, and were part of The Spirit of Standing Rock, a documentary produced by Mohawk filmmaker Paulette Moore.

I plan to continue branching out with my writing and speaking, but my focus will be on launching PeoplesHub. I believe we need strong communities – to resist the terrible policies of the Trump administration, to sustain us when times get bad (and things could get very bad), and to build the future we want.

Building community takes skills, and I believe we can accelerate learning and empowerment when we unleash the genius we already have in cities and towns around the United States. You can follow me and get updates at RevolutionWhereYouLive.org, and sign-up at PeoplesHub.org to get updates and the latest workshop offerings.


Sarah van Gelder camped out on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, on the land of Alaina Buffalo Spirit, to report on efforts to stop the Otter Creek mine, which would have been the largest coal strip mine in the state.

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics of class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this a chance to realign around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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