This is the story of how a desire for community and conversation yielded intergenerational groups of citizens who gather across the country to address environmental and social challenges.
In 1991, Utne Reader published a cover story entitled, "Salons: How to Revive the Endangered Art of Conversation and Start a Revolution in Your Living Room." Readers were invited to send in their names, addresses, and daytime phone numbers if they wanted to meet other readers of the magazine in the same zip code.
The magazine got over 8,500 responses and eventually set up 500 salons, with twenty people in each, all across North America. Within a year, more than 18,000 people had joined the Neighborhood Salon Association, meeting at least monthly in office conference rooms, church basements, coffee shops, and, mostly, in each other's living rooms. The Blue Man Group met and formed in an Utne Salon. A lot of marriages, businesses, and nonprofit initiatives got their start there too. Several schools and cohousing projects trace their genesis to Utne Salons. Shortly after the issue came out, a number of large daily newspapers, including all seventy-seven in the Gannett chain, started discussion circles for their readers. The Utne Neighborhood Salon movement was born.
We think the world is ready for the next generation of intimate citizen gatherings and that they should focus on one of the most important concerns of our time. In December 2007, the Utne Institute launched "Community Earth Councils" throughout North America, building on the success of Utne Reader's Neighborhood Salons.
Community Earth Councils
Community Earth Councils (CECs) are groups of elders (age 50-plus), youth (ages 16-28), and others that come together to address global environmental and social challenges at the local level. They build community, helping young people find meaning and purpose, while providing elders with a way to give back, inspire, and make an impact on the future.
Our shining example of an intergenerational group of citizens coming together for the greater good is Linden Hills Power & Light, which began with a few Minneapolis neighbors discussing what they could do in response to Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth." They soon developed a campaign to encourage local students to ride their bikes to neighborhood schools year round. This effort evolved into the recent commitment by the City of Minneapolis to collect organic waste (food scraps, pizza boxes) from 4,000 neighborhood homes. The waste will go into an anaerobic garbage digester, producing methane gas that will either be bottled and sold to 3M Company or used to put electrical power back into the grid.
During 2008 and 2009, Utne Institute established over twenty Community Earth Councils in the Twin Cities, and 977 people from throughout North America signed up to start or join a CEC in their community. CECs have identified a need- to bring elders and "youngers" (and others) together to meet and get to know each other. Exactly what they will do to address social and environmental challenges is still emerging. Many groups seem to be evolving their own goals and forms according the interests and needs of their members. (See Dressel and Henkin, this issue, for additional examples of environmental CECs. …