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Celebrate the power of connections at HOPE festival

Protesters take to the streets of Lower Manhattan to celebrate the first Anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan, New York on September 17, 2012.
Byron Smith | MCT
Protesters take to the streets of Lower Manhattan to celebrate the first Anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan, New York on September 17, 2012.
Posted April 17, 2013, at 1:45 p.m.
Last modified April 17, 2013, at 2:23 p.m.

I often open my email to find requests to sign petitions, call legislators, attend meetings and rallies and donate dollars. It can feel overwhelming, even though I know responses to climate change, budget cuts, threats to civil liberties and endless war are all important and urgent. Still, it is exciting to be part of a multifaceted movement.

The HOPE Festival, to be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the University of Maine’s Student Recreation and Fitness Center will bring together more than 60 organizations presenting alternatives to the challenges we face.

We all know each effort by itself is not enough to challenge the corporate power, militarism, inequality, sexism and racism that are at the root of these issues. It is easy to get discouraged and give up the hope of fundamental change, especially when we see the gridlock in Washington. Our individual efforts may seem like just “drops in the bucket.” But Frances Moore Lappe, best known as author of “Diet for a Small Planet,” points out that many drops can fill a bucket on a rainy night. She suggests we often don’t see the bucket which, according to Lappe, is democratic participation.

The “bucket” of people power was visible when the Occupy Wall Street encampments called attention to the need to challenge the control of the economy, politics and the media by the 1 percent for their own profit to the detriment of the majority. The encampments have gone, but the struggle for fairness, equality, human rights, peace and environmental sustainability continues.

This democratic participation was evident in the last election when 91 Massachusetts towns overwhelmingly supported a referendum calling for a “budget for all” that taxes the rich, cuts military spending and redirects funds to human needs. Penny polls across our state reflect similar values. So many of us believe we need to reorder our priorities, yet our elected officials rarely represent our views. What can we do to continue to make our voices heard?

Perhaps we can take heart from Paul Chappell, a West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran, who is now the leadership director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. When he visited Orono last fall, Chappell talked about the need to develop the muscles for peacemaking, the fundamental muscle being hope.

In his book, “Peaceful Revolution,” he distinguishes between naive hope, which is passive, and realistic hope, which is based on active participation. He cites the late historian Howard Zinn who repeatedly pointed out that democracy is not what governments do but what people do.

“If we don’t have realistic hope that progress is possible, and if we don’t translate our realistic hope into participation, nothing will ever change for the better,” says Chappell. If we focus on politicians, rather than on our own efforts, we can feel powerless.

As Chappell points out, the struggles to end slavery, for women’s suffrage, and for civil rights required years and years of petitions, rallies, boycotts, civil disobedience and more, to be successful.

Here in Maine, there are so many organizations working to create a better world. More than 60 of these organizations will share information and invite participation on April 27 at the 19th annual HOPE (Help Organize Peace Earthwide) Festival. Together we will celebrate the power of our connections to the earth and to each other with live music, an entertaining children’s program and delicious food for sale by local vendors.

The theme of this year’s HOPE Festival is “Do One Thing,” or DOT. Participants will be able to choose a DOT they can commit to doing and post their DOT on a “wall of HOPE.” A unique grass-roots keynote will be 12 of our friends and neighbors, each briefly sharing one thing they feel passionate about that would make a fundamental difference if many were to do it.

The DOTs may be individual actions such as composting, walking to do grocery shopping, growing your own food or using cloth diapers. They might include organized actions such as forming a gay-straight alliance at your high school, creative actions, including poetry and song, or collective actions, such as signing on to divest in universities, pension plans and churches from fossil fuel corporations.

The day will conclude with a “connect the dots” ceremony to affirm that our varied DOTs are part of a powerful larger movement united for the common good. Come celebrate as together we affirm our active hope for a just, peaceful and sustainable future.

Ilze Petersons is a member of the planning team for the HOPE Festival and program coordinator for the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.

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