All you have to do is be a pebble and start a ripple...
That's the closing advice Paul Simon gave after spending nearly 30 minutes talking to us about the importance of community building in our world today. He reached out directly to invite Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht to chat after the show. Random? Not really. The Dalai Lama also embraces building relationships with Mayors as means to circumvent the drama and red tape of nation-states. Mayors are leaders in communities that exist as microcosoms of the world. Paul said he likes to hear directly from Mayors about the pulse on a local level. (I assume it's a little hard for an icon like himself to hit the streets incognito!) So he seeks out dialogue to affirm (or deny) that his sense of unity is real.
So he gets it - at the local level, people are working together despite differences of opinion. Paul is furious with the national media for fueling a contentious climate of anger; he appropriately named it an addiction. He sincerely believes there is more that unites us than divides us. His experience has been people really do possess the ability to find common ground, and agree to disagree. Civility in the art of compromise has definitely been lost in Congress, in the NC General Assembly, but not in the municipal arena. So what are we doing different?
Cities are chosen communities. Finding a home-base often involves shopping around - perhaps a reflection of privilege for some more than others. People essentially choose to invest in a place. We want to cultivate community with others who also call it home. We are really lucky to have a creative, entrepreneurial wave of young people investing here; folks who are defining Raleigh, and embracing the responsibility for it's future as our own. Plenty of cities are aching for such energy. Personally, I find refuge from the national fray in local community organizing. It reassures me about the best intentions of people, whereas the national news sends me hiding under the covers. It's easy to find common ground with a neighbor who shares the same road, school, trees, grocery store as yourself. Our physical home is our common ground - from the City to the Planet. We saw it play out this week as Trump pulled out of Paris, sending people frantically flocking to their Mayors and Governors begging for reassurance they would uphold the protections. We are grateful that both Mayor McFarlane and Governor Cooper did so. We need our elected leadership to be good stewards of the environment for the common good. And not just the natural environment, but the socioeconomic environment which also defines the spaces we share with people in our community.
Paul preaches the gospel of saving the Earth, literally. All the proceeds from this summer tour are being donated, as he raises his voice with urgency to turn the tide of climate change. He champions the book 'Half Earth' which argues in order to stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet, by devoting "half our planet to nature". Author E.O Wilson recently joined Paul Simon for a conference in Durham, and gave this extended interview about their mission. As he spoke, Paul crafted a beautiful tribute to the intricacies of biodiversity, the paradise that our planet could be - or perhaps already is if we look around. We notice the full moon, the weather is cool and crisp, the wind blows and treasured music had just been shared by thousands of people. I have to gush that it was pretty magical. Koka Booth Amphitheater really is a beautiful natural space in the middle of a busy City (made possible with public money, btws).
Paul Simon definitely has hope for humanity. He is humble, soft-spoken, kind, candid and perhaps idealistic; but he clings to faith that we are OK. At a time when activist burn out has been setting in, this bump from the Universe has definitely put wind in my sails again. I have gratitude for the access and privilege that being the daughter of an elected official has afforded me. I am proud of my mom and appreciate her super powers exponentially. I do my best to pay it all forward. So I also cling to the belief that local level is the best place to get plugged in, to make change, and to be a ripple for the greater good. Thanks to everyone participating with me.
- Katie Mac Thompson