Thanks to Google, I just stumbled across this post by San Antonio Current writer Greg Harman, re: a recent presentation given locally by David Gershon. [Go read the post… I’ll wait.]
Having spent a lot of time talking with Greg recently for the same story mentioned at the beginning of the post, I think he knows that I will agree with this paragraph referencing Gershon’s POV, even though I am one of those New Media social change-pushers [*grin*]:
“The secret, it appears [to putting “the victory back in Victory Gardens”–no, wait… in manipulating behavior to support sustainability initiatives], is in human connectedness, or, more appropriately, the alienation of modern urbanity. Tweets, it would appear, don’t change culture. Even the best run social-media campaign falls before flesh-and-blood door knockers preaching neighborhood meet-ups, said David Gershon, founder of the Empowerment Institute, a professional training institute. “People don’t have access to their neighbors, and they would like to know their neighbors.”
In fact, not only do I agree with that notion, I’ve spent much of my adult life engaged in some way with community outreach and education. [*grabs own horn to toot*] I’ve facilitated workshops designed to connect communities to artistic productions with heavy racial tolerance messages in a racially divided town; helped coordinate a series of public meetings in Louisiana on attracting and retaining “the creative class” that continues to this day; helped to establish a long-running program designed to train young professionals on how to serve on non-profit agency boards; and served on non-profit community boards such as a regional food bank. Heck, once a business mag gave me one of those “Top 40 Under 40” awards for my community work, which was a nice atta-girl for a lowly writer gal. More recently–and allowing for time dedicated to raising/educating our child a priority, I’ve served as co-chair of my neighborhood association’s social committee. Oh, and I help a little, off-and-on with the local farmer’s market publicity. I’ve got, in a few words, community involvement/engagement/organizing credentials. Chops! Yeah. [*puts horn down*]
But here’s the deal… when old school community organizers dismiss new school community engagement techniques–especially social media, they miss out on the bigger picture. It’s true. (Note that I don’t know if the city of San Antonio is in danger of doing that with the Mission Verde program (a.k.a. the city’s recently adopted sustainability program mentioned in Greg’s piece) per se, but then I’m not technically a resident of SA, so they prolly don’t even care what I think anyway.)
Still, as one quick, personal anecdote will illustrate, social media DOES have the power to make a difference when it comes to connecting and empowering like-minded citizens. And it can do it in a way similar to connecting folks through traditional committee work and door-to-door canvassing.
For several weeks, I’ve been conferring with LaManda (@theyarden on Twitter) about her fantastic Peterson’s Garden project up in Illinois. Essentially, she’s reviving a real, 1940s-era victory garden in its original location. I’ve been keeping up with the project’s progress via Facebook and Twitter, in addition to corresponding regularly with LaManda. And I’ve shared with her everything that I could think of from my own experiences as both a former fundraiser and community activist/advocate. Even though it’s been years since I’ve stepped foot in Chi-town, I feel that Peterson’s Garden is something to which I’ve made a meaningful contribution.
Sure, at the end of the day, that particular project’s most immediate impact will be felt in Illinois–though I do anticipate it will generate some regional and/or local press before the summer is over that might lead to other communities nationwide following suit. However, were it not for LaManda and I having connected via social media, I would have missed out on a chance to support someone who shares my commitment to a larger, over-arching idea of sustainable gardening. (She graciously lists my site as a supporter at the bottom of the page–an honor. Truly.)
My big picture point is this: thanks to Information Technology and social media, our modern notion of “neighborhood” has expanded to extend to more than just our physical neighborhood. It’s cliched, yes. But it’s also true. Online and among thoughtful bloggers willing to share information and ideas, there really is a virtual neighborhood. Is it the same as what came before? No. Is it worthwhile? Yes. And, at the end of the day, I happen to think that when it comes to the victory garden “revival,” social media has the potential to be even more powerful than it’s predecessors–national and regional and local committees who relied upon snail mail the US Postal Service and telephones to connect with one another.
I also still think that for the loose, informal “victory garden movement” to succeed–as well as the larger “sustainability movement” in general, people have to be as willing to knock on doors as they are to tweet. It’s simply not an “either/or” situation, and as such demands a nuanced discussion, even if “only,” for now in San Antonio, in the blogosphere.