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An Essay About People Power
Feature

An Essay About People Power 

Scott Vineberg

This essay kicks off an inquiry into how to make America and Topanga better than ever. 

News reports that we are more divided and polarized than at any time in US history. It doesn’t feel that way to me, especially after being at Topanga Days. It was so sweet this year, with what seems to be a fresh influx of families and young people, everyone getting along, and not one sloppy moment in sight, even around the bar. So where is the problem? Polls reflect this sentiment, with more than 85% of Americans sick of the fighting in our politics and media. 

But capturing attention sells ads. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a factor as old as gossip. If the news or a social media post stirs up emotions, people are more likely to stick around to be fed more ads. Don’t believe the hype. 

To take the pulse of the nation, I took a road trip last summer from Topanga to Montreal by way of Texas, Kansas, Chicago, then back again via New York, North Carolina, Arizona. This nation is thriving in so many ways with endless miles of excellently paved roads and streets, restored towns set amidst perfectly arrayed, vibrant green, monocrop corn and soy and thousands of wind turbines. People were always kind and open to conversation. Only occasionally (roughly 1 in 10 people), when a media-hyped culture-wars subject came up, did I see any kind of edge: an astonishing contrast to what is reported in the news, and especially because I like to talk about politics, what works and doesn’t work in our society. 

Even amidst the problems, there are amazing solutions. The vast monocrop of industrial soy and corn is depleting the nation’s top soil, with less than 52 seasons left to go at this rate. The runoff of manure, fertilizer and pesticide makes almost all of the rivers and streams in the Midwest unswimmable, the water undrinkable. But I met Kerry Ferguson, a fourth generation farmer near the geographical center of the US (and the Home on the Range Cabin) who is in his sixth season of ‘no till farming, ’which is more productive, builds topsoil and… his ponds are swimmable, his family and staff are healthier. He is part of a growing trend of farmers changing things for the better. (Learn more at the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast, esp. interviews with Gabe Brown. Support regenerative proposals for the upcoming $709 Billion Farm Bill at RegenerateAmerica.com)

Topanga and America are great as they are, and they could use a few upgrades. After 19 years in the canyon and the US, I see both are true. Topanga has always been a wild place, with people seeking proximity to nature, ample privacy and the freedom to do their thing. The spirit and work of volunteers and community organizers takes care of the elderly, operates the community house, interfaces with the County and State, cleans Route 27, restores the creek, leads fire safety and emergency preparedness. 

At the same time, insurers are withdrawing coverage in California because of increasing numbers of fires of increasing intensity. Most concerning, there is apparently no plan to stop something like a Woolsey Fire (Malibu, 2018) from burning through the entire canyon in an hour. Can we improve prevention and preparedness? Install AI-assisted infrared and smoke detectors? Power sprinklers at the edge of neighborhoods? Fire shelter tiny homes? Seems like a good reason to rally some community problem-solving. I have a hunch there’s a bunch of issues we could address, especially applying best practices in participatory problem solving. 

That’s what People Power is about: organizing around shared interest to find and actualize solutions—with or without the involvement of government. I believe the US and Topanga could use more of this kind of community goodwill, intelligence and action. And with the influx of new residents during and after COVID, it seems like a good time to bring at least some of that new energy to the amazing organizations doing work in the canyon. 

Topanga is a microcosm of the nation, whose overall vibe seems to be: “Leave us alone, let us be free, but let’s coordinate to solve big problems, serve basic needs and make a few upgrades.” I am part of a growing non-partisan movement for localization, de-corporatization, and participatory problem-solving as key corrections to the corruption of our democracy. We need to amplify the power of people, especially at the local level as a force to address our real needs and to counter the power of special interests who have literally bought the two parties, our governments and media. 

I am starting a survey to find out what matters to Topangans and to connect with people interested in this conversation and course of action. Take the survey at Topanguin.com

Scott Vineberg is a social entrepreneur who has led start-ups in retail, food & hospitality, media, mentoring, action sports, tech, real estate, community, psychedelics & regeneration. My present focus is to actualize the most catalytic super solutions, starting with collective intelligence and participatory democracy.

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