I spent my post-election day at a philanthropy conference pondering the role foundations play in civil society, and how we can work together to change local communities. As it turned out, this was the most therapudic place I could have been.
The first speaker, Benjamin R. Barber, had a lot to say about our role as citizens. If liberty were only about voting, he said, we would only be free on election day. Citizenship, not voting, is how democracy plays out locally. It's about engagement, participation, listening, and putting our differences aside for the greater good. The next thing he said turned my perspective around.
"We either will join together to confront problems, or we will be defeated by them one by one."
My day had begun in disappointment, not about the outcome of the presidency, but about Proposition 37, the California measure that would require GMO labeling. During the course of this election season, Monsanto and friends spent over $40 million to keep Proposition 37 from passing, and their marketing push worked. The results were close, as only 500,000 votes divided the state. (See the official results here.)
I hoped this would be our tipping point, that my home state would set an example for the rest of the country and demand that our voices be heard. My glass half-empty scenario went like this: Almost 5 million people voted against GMO labeling. But when I changed perspectives and saw the glass as half-full, I realized that there were another 4.3 million Californians that spoke up. Even though the measure didn't pass, our collective voice was heard, and this campaign has pushed the GMO labeling issue into the mainstream. It might take a few more years, but the good food movement that Michael Pollan hopes is real, is here to stay.
We still have work to do and more battles to fight with our forks and our votes, but we must view this as merely a bump in the road. We can choose to remain angry in our homes, or turn our disappointment into activism. I'll be choosing the latter, and I hope you'll join me.