Tomas Atencio


The term NOW is an adverb that speaks with a sense of urgency: ACT  AT ONCE!  I don’t think Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” radio program communicates urgency as used above; it strongly affirms the moment and reflects on where Democracy is at the present time. By bringing out news items that tell what the established media will not, the NOW implies that it is alternative media.  David Brancaccio’s NOW in PBS brings out cutting edge topics of social and environmental justice themes. They both have an activist mission. When I went to Oaxaca, I expected a definition or an explanation of NOW Activism. NOW I find myself reflecting on its meaning to me. Good move to encourage reflection and dialogue.


At Oaxaca, specifically at la Universidad de la Tierra, I picked up a strong message on  acting on authentic issues of sustainability, indigenous and appropriate technology, indigenous and traditional knowledge, learning communities, governing and politics with the resources and skills available at the present time. I also heard during the week: “Don’t waste time developing broad strategies to address symptoms.  Addressing issues through policy initiatives does not get to the problem in time, if at all.  On the other side of the coin, being conscious of the threats to the environment, for example, such acts as turning out lights, conserving water, driving at low speeds, etc. would be aspects of NOW Activism. Taking these small, seemingly insignificant initiatives apply to other threats and problems.

A NOW activist, I assume, must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the issue at hand and some notion of the outcome of his or her actions, within the NOW window and beyond. I assume that advocates of NOW Activism have an agenda for training NOW Activist. Perhaps the Oaxaca gathering was a step in this direction as are all the projects of Berkana Institute. If this is not in the making, we need it as part of a learning society.


I haven’t considered my self a NOW Activist, according to my understanding of its meaning, but may have inadvertently been one. Many years ago I came upon the “community of interest model” for community organizing. The community of interest is the first stage. The second stage uses dialogue to deepen the community of interest’s understanding of its shared concerns and visions, to discern possible pathways toward common goals, and to develop alternatives for resisting obstacles to freedom and fulfillment. This second stage process is called the “community of solution;” In the “community in action,” the third stage, the initial community of interest acts on the knowledge, understanding, and heightened consciousness attained by dialogue.


In short, this process leads to a new awareness and respond-ability. The ability to respond implies that action and reflection also foster commitment, courage, and fortitude to respond to the revelations in this new awareness.


In the mid-sixties I directed the Colorado Migrant Council (CMC), a War on Poverty project where we identified college-aged migrant workers and trained them to identify potential communities of interest from the everyday life experiences of migrants. They learned to engage participants in reflective conversations so that they could understand the forces impinging on their lives and thereby forge and carry out action plans to address their concerns. Ultimately, the process was an exercise in experiential learning — that is, learning from everyday life, resulting in a new awareness and respond-ability.  The project was a great success, as migrant workers moving in the stream could ACT immediately on their problems and challenges. The process was not violent; it focused on acquiring knowledge and skills to deal with problems of everyday life, many of them fostered by racism and discrimination. I still work toward the same goals.


The issues and concerns today that call for NOW Activism are spawned by globalization, i.e., immigration, the destruction of indigenous cultures throughout the world, free markets and the death of the middle class in industrialized societies, war instead of diplomacy in dealing with international relations at a time when war means ultimate destruction; environmental degradation and disregard for its consequences; technology that alters the natural course of nature such as modified seeds, etc. without regards for their outcomes; pharmaceuticals and the turning of health care into a market commodity; biased media used to manipulate the story in favor of the powerful;  schooling at a time when different models for learning are called upon by the knowledge age but we don’t respond and society end ups with an uneducated populace.


NOW Activism — small, local communities of interest — can respond to these global issues by documenting their own stories and identifying the recurring patterns in their story. I have been working on the idea that these recurring patterns are themes that are universal; they are archetypal and small communities around the world could share these thematic stories and respond to them via social action within their own context. NOW Activism should work at having indigenous and communities in developing societies throughout the world connect and dialogue around their common themes. This is where sophisticated communications can be used to address the threatening trends in our world. (See my other attachment)


I share three examples in the state of New Mexico, USA, of what might be called NOW Activism.


The New Mexico Acequia Association, Santa Fe, NM, is an organization of all acequias (gravity flow irrigation canals) in New Mexico, advocating for New Mexico villages in the face of water adjudication and unbridled urban development, teaching youth traditional farming and developing documentation and learning centers of the land and water struggle in New Mexico.


Sawmill Community Land Trust. This organization, in Albuquerque, NM, grew out of a community struggle to close a highly toxic particle board manufacturing plant in the midst of our barrio. The Sawmill Advisory Council won a 15-year battle, cleaned up the area, and organized a Community Land Trust for Affordable Housing, where a new sense of community emerging is a product of ecological and social reclamation. I have dedicated much of my time conceiving and working towards a documentation center of the Sawmill experience to uncover and develop local knowledge that is made available for community learning.


Bioneers and SustainTaos are two organizations, the first founded in Santa Fe, NM in 1990 and now a national group with offices also in San Francisco, CA, and SustainTaos, an organization in Taos, NM that carries out the Bioneer vision and mission in northern New Mexico. Google the San Rafael, CA convention in Oct. 2006 and you will get a roster of what we would call NOW activists and the content of their work.