Guest Post - Cecile Andrews

by: Heather on 08/23/2007
Posted in: Sustainable Living

Today we have another guest post, this time from Cecile Andrews, author of Slow is Beautiful. Thanks Cecile!

We know we're in a crisis on many fronts. In particular, we're faced with climate change, war, and the increasing loss of freedom and democracy in the United States. In my book, Slow is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure, and Joie de Vivre, I've talked about how our lack of time is a key issue in all of our major problems. Some look on this issue of "time poverty" as a lesser issue: We're faced with such dire problems, how can you talk about long work hours?! But if citizens have no time to inform themselves, engage in civic discourse, or get involved politically, there will be no changes. Our increasingly long work hours can undermine democracy and our work to save the planet.

But there's another "hidden"issue as well: the decline of freedom of expression in the work place. In Slow is Beautiful I tell a story about the president of my community college, where I was an administrator for many years, chastising me for criticizing the chancellor of our system. I wasn't fired, but disgust with his treatment contributed to my decision to quit.

Now there's a new book out exploring this issue: Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace, by Bruce Barry, professor at Vanderbilt University. (BK, 2007) He documents many instances of employees being fired for expressing political opinions. It might be for something as seemingly innocuous as a bumper sticker, a letter to the editor, or a blog comment -- things you don't even expect your employer to know about! As corporations get more involved in politics and focus more on their "image," this problem will get worse. And there is almost no protection. Unlike European countries, we have very few due process protections in firing cases. The International Labor Organization states that there can be no discrimination for race, religion, sex, and national origin, political opinion. 160 countries have ratified that convention, but not The United States.

So, once again, the question is: What do we do? As I talk about in my book, I've focused on the new "localization" movement: building involvement locally in our neighborhoods. I helped found an urban ecovillage (, where our basic goal is to bring people together to build sustainability and community. Our particular focus is creating small group activities where people talk and discuss. One new activity is our "Democracy Conversations: A Civics Book Club." We're offering this in conjunction with our neighborhood library, neighborhood center, and neighborhood book store. We're starting with Al Gore's new book, Assault on Reason, (there are over 500 reservations for it in the Seattle Public Library and it's sold well at our local bookstore, Santoros Books). It's a "safe" book to begin with -- you need to make activism safe and easy these days, because people are afraid of engagement. (Speechless shows their fears are well founded.)

I'm very excited about this new effort, but it's no more important, really, than another of our activities: a weekly neighborhood gathering for coffee in a local cafe. We must find ways to bring people together and get them talking, whether it's casually in a cafe or more formally in a book club.

As John Dewey said, "Democracy is born in conversation."

Cecile Andrews, author of "Slow Is Beautiful" and "The Circle of Simplicity"


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