Outrage, frustration, despair. That was the emotional fallout after the devastating act of cowardice in Boston last week — “act of terror” suggests more grandeur than the perpetrators deserve.
Like many people, I sit at my kitchen table reading the news and feeling useless, wondering what I can possibly do to make things better. That is why I was particularly fortunate to have met Matt Dubel earlier this month.
Matt is the director of the Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. He has also played an integral part in planning the 19th annual HOPE (Help Organize Peace Earthwide) festival, which takes place this Saturday, April 27, at the Student Recreation Center at the University of Maine. The HOPE festival began as an Earth Day celebration, but it has grown to embrace a broader purpose — promoting a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world for future generations.
Matt lights up with animation when he talks about the festival. You can’t help but be buoyed up by his hopeful enthusiasm, and God knows we all need some buoying up.
Political, social and economic conflicts in our world feel overwhelming and insurmountable to so many people, Matt said. What can anyone do? We get stuck.
“But really, we all share the same basic goals,” he says, and he hopes to help us tap into our common ground. “I want to get us unstuck!”
Matt brought an idea to the festival committee last year. Do One Thing, or “DOT,” is an initiative that has been used by many organizers to incite change. Individual citizens commit to doing one positive thing, making one change, taking one step forward. The cumulative result is progress on a large scale.
On Saturday, in addition to great food, live music, children’s activities and display tables sponsored by over sixty organizations, there will literally be large paper dots all over the recreation center. Every person attending the festival will be encouraged to choose their “DOT,” sign it, and make a real commitment before they leave. It could be a sponsored DOT from one of the display tables, conceived by one of twelve speakers who will give five-minute persuasive speeches about their own DOT choice, or one of your own inspiration.
You might commit to buying ten dollars’ worth of local food per week, reconciling a family conflict, walking more and driving less, writing letters to senators, or getting educated about an opposing view.
As the day unfolds, everyone’s DOTs will be posted on a wall — the wall of HOPE.
“I hope that this will help people feel that there is a way to join together and actually DO something about political gridlock and hopelessness,” Matt said; “Instead of just admiring the things other people commit to, you’ll join them. You’ll look at that wall and see that you’re not working alone. You’ll literally see the mutual support!”
“You sound like a man with a mission,” I said.
Matt laughed. “My parents were parents with a mission.”
Matt grew up in western New York’s Finger Lakes region, the only child of parents who instilled in their son a love of nature and a commitment to social change.
“Most Saturday mornings as a kid I’d go with my parents to a march or an event or we’d volunteer somewhere. Around the dinner table we always talked about social responsibility and politics. I consider it my job to help people learn their way to peace, democracy, and sustainability.”
Equally central to Matt’s upbringing was connecting to the natural world. He and his parents spent most vacations camping, which is what led him to the field of environmental education.
Working for the health of the planet and the health of human communities go hand in hand for Matt. That’s why the HOPE festival means so much to him. It empowers each of us to be an agent of change in a shared commitment to both environmental and community wellness.
The organizers of Saturday’s event envision it as a launch day for change. What’s your DOT?
Find one on Saturday. Replace your outrage with purposeful action. If you missed out on making a New Year’s resolution on Jan. 1, let April 27 be your new year. It’s as good a day as any to initiate a change for good.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org