The Optimism of Uncertainty

By Howard Zinn

In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning.

To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability. A revolution to overthrow the czar of Russia, in that most sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most advanced imperial powers but took Lenin himself by surprise and sent him rushing by train to Petrograd. Who would have predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II–the Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands), and the German Army rolling through Russia, apparently invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets of Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?

And then the postwar world, taking a shape no one could have drawn in advance: The Chinese Communist revolution, the tumultuous and violent Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China renouncing its most fervently held ideas and institutions, making overtures to the West, cuddling up to capitalist enterprise, perplexing everyone.

No one foresaw the disintegration of the old Western empires happening so quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be created in the newly independent nations, from the benign village socialism of Nyerere’s Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin’s adjacent Uganda. Spain became an astonishment. I recall a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade telling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism being overthrown without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone, a parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists, Communists, anarchists, everyone.

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respective spheres of influence and control, vying for military and political power. Yet they were unable to control events, even in those parts of the world considered to be their respective spheres of influence. The failure of the Soviet Union to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision to withdraw after almost a decade of ugly intervention, was the most striking evidence that even the possession of thermonuclear weapons does not guarantee domination over a determined population. The United States has faced the same reality. It waged a full-scale war in Indochina, conducting the most brutal bombardment of a tiny peninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. In the headlines every day we see other instances of the failure of the presumably powerful over the presumably powerless, as in Brazil, where a grassroots movement of workers and the poor elected a new president pledged to fight destructive corporate power.

Looking at this catalogue of huge surprises, it’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience–whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.

I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know of one another’s existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain. I try to tell each group that it is not alone, and that the very people who are disheartened by the absence of a national movement are themselves proof of the potential for such a movement.

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate. in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

By Howard Zinn

We need a new policing story

Police are still killing black people. To change that we need more than defunding.

I am a resident of Asheville and I support the Black Asheville Demands.  In this I am following the Racial Justice Coalition.

Further I charge and encourage the City Council, City Manager, Chief of Police and Buncombe Co. Sheriff to let the deliberation about the fulfillment of these demands be the beginning of our city’s transition into a 21st century public safety culture, model and structure that provides realistic, genuine safety for all.   

A decade from now you all can be the generation of leaders who led a cultural transformation that created a system of public safety that works for all and influences the world to do the same.

In this request I am following the leadership of Black activist, attorney and wisdom teacher, Dr. Shariff Abdullah, author of Creating a World that Works for All and founder of the Commonway Institute.

We must shift the narrative from one that centers those officers who’ve committed unlawful assault and murder or even those “good cops” and begin to center the experience of people who are impacted by the current model are having and want to have.  

Fear, violence and force do not make us safer.

If police are to stop killing black people we must do away with the 18th century policing culture and policing model.  It served its purpose in the 18th century – largely the policing of black bodies and murder of black people.  It serves neither the values nor the complexity of the 21st century.  Let it go and let go of any demand that it be defended.  At least long enough to make space for something new to emerge.  

Leave behind the idea that we create security through fear and violence and force.   The evidence is clear that this idea is unfounded, illogical and false.  Stop supporting it. Stop teaching it.  Stop believing it.   

For one thing, criminals are becoming more weaponized than the police forces, which has led to an escalating arms race where the police are becoming more militarized in technology, tactics and consciousness.  Accept that this is not working and leave this strategy behind.  The evidence is in that this strategy has failed to support and ensure public safety.  

For another thing, there’s an alternative. 

Let us hold a vision where 10 years from now:

  • Governance and public safety rely on each one of us to protect the rights of all and to be responsible to, with and for the well-being of all.  
  • All communities in Buncombe Co. are safe, all communities are free of violence and oppression of all kinds from all groups. 
  • Systems and structures are in place that support active and positive participation in the safety and well-being of our communities 
  • Citizens no longer have the choice to outsource our safety to a separate force while remaining unaware, unresponsive or uninvolved because just as citizens have a duty to serve on a jury, we are also expected and supported in serving on public safety. 
  • There are no uniformed armed police because we don’t need them.
  • The public safety system consists of a blend of volunteer and professional roles filled by people from our communities who support and facilitate evidence based, trauma-informed strategies and tactics based on 21st century values of empathy, inclusivity and restorative justice.
  • There is a small and well-armed force that can deal with people who do use a level of violence that warrants armed tactics.   

Recognizing that this 21st century vision of public safety will have benefits through out our interconnected culture,

Recognizing that this vision requires systemic transformation that includes the participation of all parts of the community,

Recognizing that not all members of the system will respond cooperatively to change and we will need ways and means to deal with this resistance effectively at the diverse points in which it will arise,  

Recognizing that the fulfillment of this vision will require new skill sets, processes and funding,

I charge and encourage you and us, the community who will be participating in these decision-making processes to shift funding, to begin with safe experiments and learn as we move forward toward this vision. There are examples of successful transformations on this scale that we can be inspired by and learn from.

Get your own #NastyWoman stickers

That DJT, he’s just the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t he?

When the #nastywoman comment went viral, I went online to find a sticker.  But all I could find were cups, t-shirts and caps.

So I designed on at Vistaprint and shared it on Facebook.  A bunch of women asked for one or several of their own.  So I ordered 40, charged $4 each and gave the proceeds to Asheville Planned Parenthood, which is right around the corner from where I live in Asheville.

I didn’t have enough for everyone who wanted some.  So I’ve figured out how you can order your own.

Just click here or on the sticker to order as many as you like.    Please post photos and tag me on Facebook or Twitter!


Unlock the power of INTENTION for 2016 with just one word

Christine Kane and I have been acquainted for many years now – since way back when I was the Membership Manager for WNCW and she was a working musician.

Later, as Development Director for Dogwood Alliance, I was delighted to see her name in our list of supporters because it meant I would get to know her a bit more.  She has a pretty amazing story.  Hers may have been the first blog I ever followed.

Early on, she had this great tool for starting the new year.

Instead of making resolutions, she had decided to pick a WORD to guide her through the year.  As soon as I read that post the little “ding” went off in my mind. You know that “ding” that tells you, “yes, this lines up with my inner guidance.  I’m going to see where this leads.”


Of course, we all know most resolutions don’t work, so I never bothered with that malarky.  But a WORD – I could feel the expansive qualities a guiding word could provide.

As Christine says, “A WORD not a resolution – contains energy and images and meaning — things our hearts and souls can get excited about! This is how transformation begins.  And, when you choose your Word-of-the-Year, there’s this great feeling that happens when the word just “locks in” and you know it’s right.  It’s a little scary… and a little perfect.”

In 2015 my word was Order.

After my break-up with my partner of 9+ years , I wanted to experience order in my home, my work and my finances.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that any of those things look Pinterest-board-perfect as 2015 draws to a close.  There was quite a lot to put in order after that relationship!  But I can say that I definitely experience more order in those areas. I’ve set up systems for my finances, moved whole rooms full of furniture and put up shelves, cleared my home office and brought my many work and community projects into greater focus.

A year of living into a deeper sense of order,  has created meaningful transformations that will continue to help me live with intention.

I hold a vision for our community and our world. #CultivateCommunity

I hold a vision for our community and our world. #CultivateCommunity

Harvest follows order. Harvest does not follow chaos.

“Harvest follows order. Harvest does not follow chaos.” ~Angeles Ariens

And now new year approaches and it’s time for a new word.

So, I’ve download my copy of Christine’s free e-book “Your Word of the Year – Uplevel Your Life with the Power of Your Intention”.     I always enjoy using this tool to gain clarity and courage for the coming year.

Are you curious to discover your Word of the Year?  Download your free copy here.  I’d love to know what you come up with!

Peace and fun,










Bountiful Cities – Asheville urban agriculture for abundance + food sovereign community

#TithingTuesday is all about inspiration in action, nourishing my vision for community of health, resiliency, prosperity, peace and fun for all.  Personally, I am inspired by organizations that take a systems approach to social change.   It no longer makes sense, if it ever did, to try to solve any problem or relieve any pain without looking at the whole system from which that problem or pain arises.   Another cool aspect of taking a systems approach is that a group needn’t be large to have a meaningful impact on the system.

bountifull_cities_logoI’m delighted to feature Bountiful Cities in this week’s #TithingTuesday  post because this is a group that really demonstrates the power of a small group taking a systems approach and having a meaningful positive impact.

Bountiful Cities is the urban agriculture resource in Asheville.  We share agricultural skills and resources to promote social justice and economic viability. We envision abundance and food sovereign communities.

If you appreciate the movements toward community gardens, food security, and urban agriculture in Asheville, you have Bountiful Cities to thank.

Urban Agriculture for resilient community

As anyone who knows me through Facebook or in real life is aware, I am super enthusiastic about urban agriculture and permaculture as systems-level solutions for creating resilient community and transitioning beyond the fossil fuel economy.  As a land-partner in Patchwork Urban Farms, (watch the video on the sidebar >>>), I’m also in partnership with Bountiful Cities, which incubated Patchwork and Grass to Greens, Asheville’s premier edible landscaper.



Here’s a picture of me and the ducks at Peace & Fun Gardens patch of Patchwork Urban Farms

PUF logo

Bountiful Cities incubates innovated urban agriculture social enterprises.


Grass to greens

Bountiful Cities partners with Grass to Greens to transform lawns into edible landscapes

grass to greens_veggies and flowers

Edible landscapes by Grass to Greens provide food for people and habitat for pollinators

Establishing Community Gardens in the early days

In their first three years, starting in 2000, Bountiful Cities partnered with the mostly African-American residents of their neighborhoods to establish Pearson Garden in Montford, Burton St. Community Garden in West Asheville and Shiloh Community Garden in Shiloh.



Bountiful Cities collaborated with residents in establishing gardens in Pisgah View and Hillcrest neighborhoods.  From these gardens grew not only fresh food and healthy soil, but also innovative social enterprises,  Gardens United and Ujamaa Freedom Market.  In the Southside neighborhood they’ve partnered with Green Opportunities Kitchen Ready program to establish a garden at the Eddington Center.

Gardens established at Claxton, Hall Fletcher and Vance elementary schools are providing rich learning opportunities, and have led to more green and sustainable initiatives at these schools.

Advocating for ethical food systems

But wait!  There’s more!  Bountiful Cities also participates with local, state and national organizations in advocating for practices and values that allow sustainability to emerge through integrated food systems, food security, food production and job creation.  They’ve been a leading voice in the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council since it’s inception.

For over 13 years Bountiful Cities has been working with communities teaching urban agricultural skills from seed to seed, and advocating for healthy food systems that are accessible to all.  This is group that nourishes me spiritually by their inspiring commitment to values of justice, community and education.

I encourage you to uplift yourself by making a donation to Bountiful  Cities here

And join me at Bountiful Cities Celebration, December 5, 2015 at Ol’ Shakey’s Bar on Riverside Dr.

I share my #TithingTuesday posts on facebook facebook_16 and twitter twitter_16.  I hope you’ll like my page and follow me!

#TithingTuesday – nourishing my vision

I hold a vision for our community and our world. #CultivateCommunity

I hold a vision of resiliency, prosperity, peace and fun for All. #CultivateCommunity

If you’re not giving away money, you are missing one of the most enriching experiences you can have. Just a small portion says to your soul “I have enough to share.”

For me, tithing means being a source of nourishment to people and groups that spiritually nourish me. And yes, for me tithing is 10%. That amount gives me a regular opportunity to remember and know that I have enough to share and that my Source and Supply are unlimited.

On #tithingTuesday ‘s I share my enthusiasm for a group or groups that inspire me and contribute to my vision for a world of health, resiliency, prosperity, peace and fun for all the children of every species everywhere forever!

I share my #TithingTuesday posts on facebook facebook_16 and twitter twitter_16.  I hope you’ll like my page and follow me!


I don’t have beliefs

When people talk of spiritual and philosophical  matters (and even social, psychological, economic and political matters) we often express our thoughts and feelings within a framework of “belief”.

The first of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, is “Be impeccable with your word.”  In practicing this first agreement, I’ve found that, in fact, I don’t have “beliefs”.


believe: (intransitive verb)

1: a :  to have a firm religious faith  b :  to accept something as true, genuine, or real <ideals we believe in> <believes in ghosts>

I make choices about my thoughts and actions based on these consciously chosen meta-choices.   I find this keeps me in a state of honest inquiry where I’m empowered and I like that better than thinking and acting by default.

What kinds of practices do you use to help you make empowered choices about your thoughts and actions?







Of Goats and Kudzu

Every year about this time someone hears from someone that I rented goats to get rid of the four decades of kudzu that covered what is now part of Patchwork Urban Farms.

I did rent goats but that is not ultimately how I got rid of the kudzu.   Read on…


Contrary to popular kudzu fear-mongering…

Kudzu can be removed and controlled with out chemicals or destroying the top soil with heavy equipment.  It’s not hard but you do have to be more persistent than the kudzu.  It helps to have help.  Hiring people to help creates a green jobs!

Who did I call about renting goats?
Wells Farm  in the Mill’s River and Tuxedo, NC area are the only folks I know about that are renting goats for invasive species management.  There may very well be others.  I hired goats from Penny and Michelle  at Got Your Goat, who don’t seem to be in business anymore .
Things I learned about goats and kudzu:
1. They love it.  Eat it up!  They’re also really fun and easy going.
2.  The neighbors loved them.  To this day when I’m a neighborhood gatherings and meetings people say, “Your the woman that had the goats.”  It’s been a great ice-breaker for me in the neighborhood that is experiencing so much transition and, let’s name it, gentrification.
3.  Goats really need variety.  So on my property, after they finished off the leaves,  they pretty much stopped.  They didn’t really do much to the vines themselves.  However, Penny said that  if there had been a variety of species they  probably would have eaten the bark off the vines as well.
4. I don’t know if they’ll eat the vines or not.  We ended up waiting until early spring to remove the vines.
5. There is no ordinance about renting goats for a few days to get rid of invasive species.  There is an ordinance for keeping  goats in the city.  No one questioned me at all.
Here’s how we removed the kudzu vines:
  1. Since I still had vines, I had to cut those away and bail them up.  This is best done with two people.  One to roll the bales (preferably down-hill) and one to cut the vines down close to the ground.  You can use loppers or a machete.
  2. Mark each of the crowns with a little flag where the vines were coming up out of the ground.  These crowns are usually about 2 -8 inches down in the soil.
  3. After you have all the vines pulled away and the crowns marked, you can go back with a trench spade and loppers or clippers and cut all those crowns off from the tap root that is connected deeper in the soil to the big kudzu root.  I had over 100 crowns on my .12 acre plot.  It took 3 of us about 3 sessions of 4 hours each to get all of them cut out. aftergoats11
  4. You’ll miss a few but you can see them easily and remove them when they start sending out shoots.
  5. It’s important to do Step #4  because you must deny the root the energy created by photosynthesis so that eventually the root will die too.
  6. Plant cover crops to compete with all the wonderful pioneer species that will come to fill the void left by what is, essentially, a clear cut.  Kudzu is a nitrogen fixer so the soil probably has a pretty healthy nitrogen content.  So maybe give it something that will add phosphorous.
My best,
Michelle Smith is a social profit cultivator who works with for-profit and non-profit businesses that are committed to contributing to vision of vitality, prosperity and peace for the whole community.  She is co-founder of Social Profit Strategies in Asheville, NC

Visionary farmer partnering with land owners & learning communities in Asheville: Patchwork Urban Farms

This Spring Peace & Fun Gardens, my little urban corner in the Southside neighborhood, is one of the plots being farmed by Sunil Patel the founder of Patchwork Urban Farms!

Cover crop at Peace & Fun Gardens in Asheville's Southside neighborhood

Cover crop of scarlet clover at Peace & Fun Gardens in Asheville’s Southside neighborhood

I’ve nurtured a dream of an urban food forest and micro-farm for about 7 years now.  I worked with Zev Friedman to develop a permaculture design.  I partnered with Zev and Dylan Ryals-Hamilton’s innovative permaculture education business, Permaculture in Action, to reclaim the side lot from kudzu invasion, build the soil, install temporary water catchment and grow a beautiful poly-culture garden (called a milpa) two years in a row.

But the truth is, much as I want to live in a community with thriving urban agriculture, and much as I want to inhabit an urban food forest and micro-farm at my home, I don’t know diddly about farming.  I’ve learned a ton from Zev and Dylan through Permaculture in Action but in no way am I ready to live a land-based lifestyle.  I’m only a passable gardner — though I will allow that I have had som success with canning and fermenting.

No problem, I thought.  Surely there must be some farmers who wanted to try growing in the city for the local markets and restaurants.   Then last December, the Universe conspired for Sunil Patel and I to meet at Appalachian Accelerator’s big event at Highland Brewing.

sunil smiling

Sunil Patel – owner/ farmer at Patchwork Urban Farms

It was love at first sight (at least for me)!  Not only is Sunil adorable inside and out, he brings a decade of farming experience to his business, Patchwork Urban Farms, including have been the main farm instructor at Ashevillage Institute for the past two years.  Patchwork Urban Farms is bringing resilience and abundance to Asheville’s urban and sub-urban landscapes with permaculture, bio-dynamics and whole systems design.

The soil building we’ve already done, proximity to downtown, River Arts District and West Asheville restaurants plus the visible location made Peace & Fun Gardens an attractive site to start up urban farming.  We collaborated on a customized agreement that laid out very specifically what each of us would be bringing to the project and the yields we would receive.

I didn’t want any rent in exchange for the use of the land to farm.  I am happy to receive a regular CSA share of the farm yield.  I’m also helping to care for the ducks and plan to help out with the market stand we’ll be setting up on Tuesdays.



The other plots in Patchwork Urban Farms are at Pearson Gardens in Montford, Hillside Garden in West Asheville and some early succession production in Swannanoa at Everbear Farm.  Sunil has partnered with Asheville Institutes Urban Farm School as well.  I’m really looking forward to connecting with all the other members and land partners in our farm community!  And I’m starting to get the hand of the ducks!


There are still a few more CSA shares available for Patchwork Urban Farms.  Pick-ups will be at the Pearson Gardens in Montford and at my house, Peace & Fun Gardens in Southside.  Contact Sunil at [email protected] to get in on this great community urban farm!

Groups and businesses in southeast are becoming more adaptive and resilient through the use of Dynamic Governance

How many awesome groups or businesses in western NC do you know that

  • Want to be inclusive of diverse perspectives but they also need to be efficient?
  • Want to empower people but they also need people to be accountable?
  • Need to be able to adapt to change quickly but they struggle to get people to make a decision and move forward together?

These do not have to be “either/or” choices.  Leaders can have “both/and” organizations.  Dynamic Governance helps groups and businesses like this become resilient, efficient, fair, creative and powerful.

In Asheville and the surrounding region, businesses, organizations and networks like Sow True Seed, YWCA and the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council are seeing remarkable results as they adopt the methods and tools of Dynamic Governance at the pace and scale that works for them.

People can learn these paradigm-shifting methods and tools in bite-sized pieces and begin using them right away to see remarkable results.

Get FREE access to our Introduction to Dynamic Governance videos here.