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A Thank You from Michelle Long

"I will continue to be a part of this ecosystem for a very long time to come. Your brilliance and light has built and continues to build BALLE. I will join you from a new position." -Michelle Long

I am writing to share that BALLE is starting the process of a planned transition. Once we have found a new executive director, I will be leaving my role to start another organization.

I am mainly, however, writing to say thank you.

Being BALLE’s founding executive director represents most of my adult life, and my community, and… so I sit here, hands over my keyboard… a bit flummoxed about what to write, how to start, and to whom I should even begin to express my “thank you”? I feel a bit like an old person as I reflect on all the memories. They are filling my eyes — and so enjoyable to think about.

So much life force from so very many people has gone into the creation of what BALLE is today. I remember you. I have learned from you, worked hard alongside you to shift the culture of our society, and I have lived more fully and happily because of you.

It was, sixteen years ago, Derek Long with me organizing local business owners in NW Washington, and being introduced to Judy Wicks — the BALLE-Mama — and Laury Hammel, as they were looking to start a new initiative out of the Social Venture Network. It was hundreds of communities creating “Local First” campaigns for growing and making more of what we need closer to home, and supporting local and cooperative ownership. It was holding up Paul Saginaw and the Zingerman’s model of expanding by growing deep, and Eric Henry’s approach to shorten supply chains — “dirt to shirt.” It was Van Jones as he inspired our growing network to create the nation’s leading hubs of “green jobs.” And it was Don Shaffer who came to visit because Wendell Berry was a hero, and within months, it was Don taking the baton as executive director after my daughter was born. The seeds of “community capital,” local stock exchanges, and place-based impact investing were cultivated in this network more than a dozen years ago. Ten years ago the B Corporations movement launched at the conference we held in Berkeley.

When we were young, Michael Shuman would battle every single local economist who dared write an op-ed about “local” being naïve and counter to comparative advantage and globalization, and David Korten would paint the vision of a local living economy or the “Judy economy” — until the academic literature started to prove us all right.

When we were young, green building was a yurt in the field, renewable energy was never going to be cost competitive, local food could certainly never feed the world, and climate change was too weird to talk about. Until all that changed too.

Our journey was Maggie Anderson, the author of “Our Black Year” saying her “local” businesses were owned by people who left the community at night and pulled bars over the storefronts. Our journey was to connect to local economy leaders in communities for whom the economy had worked least — and there was where we found the most innovation. Our tribe began to reform, into one which was more truthful and more whole.

It was NoVo and our “anonymous” partner, saying yes to investing in “critical connections over critical mass,” and toward Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze and Adrienne Maree Brown’s theories of “emergence.” It was the Academy for the Love of Learning, and the creation of communities of practice that centered on the “I, the We, and the It.” For me, it was walking down the street thinking, “I need to build the Local Economy Fellowship with that Christine Ageton from Colorado,” and then immediately seeing her in a cafe window — she had unexpectedly moved to my town, just six weeks earlier.

It was the first Local Economy Fellows — the scrappy ones — each of whom had led a protest in elementary school. It was gathering in the desert, in a low budget retreat place with leaky ceilings and footprints on the pillows. It was finding counsel and support and the idea that we could be in this together — and sometimes even have each other’s backs and be “sweaty nappers.” It was the second Fellows cohort with their charisma and the Hollyhock hot tubs and wigs and James saying “I’ll show you,” and my own learning. So much learning. It is the patience of D’Artagnan Scorza — “We are not going to do the oppression Olympics here,” and the wisdom of Malik Yakini. It was those smart ones in cohort three, and how they put together all the pieces, each other’s work, into frameworks and ecosystems, and it was Crystal German composting and taking hikes in the “natures.” And Andrea Chen saying that when localists say “crap that was made in China,” it hurts.

It was “there is no such thing as a sustainable business outside of a sustainable system,” and the call to bring together the surrounding ecosystem. It was expanding from those who connected local businesses to those who invested in them, and set the policies for their success. The investors, and the community foundations, and the worker organizers, and the health care system — which as it turned out, couldn’t make people healthy, without equitable local economies. It was “it can’t be done” becoming “it will be done” and then, “it is done.” It is the Community Foundation Circle committing hundreds of millions of dollars in a shift from Wall Street to diverse, equitable local ownership and the health and sustainability of the natural world. It is Sallie Calhoun teaching us about soil and Joel Salatin howling, “Soil carbon sequestration at a business conference — this never happens?!” It is Business Week magazine saying the BALLE Conference is the “Davos of Main Street,” and then it was seeing our ideas become “trendy” and “competitive,” and realizing we had to go further — toward cultivating a shift in the mindset from which the systems arise. It was, “all assets are now being deployed locally!” And then Jay Bad Heart Bull saying, “Culturally it makes no sense to me, to bow before the one who has hoarded money — rather than to the one who has given it all away.”

It is over and over hearing the most amazing local leaders in North America saying, “I have true peers for the first time in my life — people with whom I can be honest and say that I don’t know what I am doing and I need help.” It was Pam Chaloult joining with me to build the best staff team of leaders we have ever had, and it is all the human beings who have given so deeply of their life force on the board and on the staff over all of these years. It is Sandy Wiggins’ committed, evolutionary leadership. And it was new life — BALLE babies — my own now nearly 13 and taller than me, up to little Quill Thomas born two weeks ago.

It is a family, so we’ve had our fights and let each other down. I didn’t always communicate well and some people felt left behind and I wish that were different. It is so much learning. It has been hearing “my life will never be the same,” and “what have you done for me lately?” over and over and over, sometimes from the same people. It is the expansion from local food and green building, local sourcing, and green jobs, to community finance, workers’ rights, and economic development policy. It is the resistors and reformers meeting the re-imaginers and re-creators — in an ecosystem, all held together with BALLE-amory. This tribe fell in love — and they called it, “BALLE-amory.”

Last month it was this share from Adil Dhala of the 2016 Fellowship: “I’m currently in Ohio for my second immersion of the BALLE Fellowship program.… Given the climate in the U.S. right now, it’s a privilege to be amongst the Fellows.… They are the unsung heroes of the resistance, organizing to build community wealth and courageously challenging systems of oppression on a daily basis.” Last week it was watching the French film “Demain” (Tomorrow, which won the French equivalent of the Oscars) and features our community. It was also a phone call from the U.K. last week asking me to join a Davos-type summit for the Local Economy leaders of the planet and hearing his amazement, that wherever he goes he hears of us, and that we seem to be “the train station through which all passes.”

Two weeks ago it was Otto Scharmer from MIT filming the “ecosystem” players in Oakland. It is Fellow Aaron Tanaka pulling all the strands of the local economy ecosystem together through the Ujima Project in Boston, and Fellow Matt Stinchcomb doing the same in upstate New York.

BALLE is now called “crucial infrastructure for the field” — but of course it is much more of an organism, a pulsing, living organism and set of relationships. It is the most amazing people I know. Dreamers and really, really smart doers. People who led protests for justice in elementary school and people who led protests for justice from BALLE facilitators. As I sit here remembering — I have moments of pure love in my mind. I am picturing a room full of us dancing, and every single one of us was fully in love with each of the others. It didn’t stick, not in every moment since — but that moment was real, and therefore I know it is possible.

We are in a moment of undeniable and immeasurable risk — for our democracy, our humanity, and for our capacity to sustain ourselves on this planet. The BALLE network is in 70% of States and Provinces and represents the smartest, most well-connected people on the continent. This network of trust and relationship got here authentically — by going through it together — and they will stand shoulder to shoulder, ride or die. They have know-how, real wisdom and a boldness that is ready to be tapped. In fact, it is quivering with readiness.

It is a wonderful moment for our next leadership. After having served this organization and movement for many years – I welcome you. We have so much to talk about!

In the framework of resist, reform, recreate, reimagine, I live in the last — and more so all the time. As to where I am going… I will become co-founder of Defend the Sacred. It will be a source of re-vestment capital, a network and a conduit of inspiration and will be in collaboration with several “defender councils” made up of wisdom leaders. We will aim to shift resources and our mindset toward that which helps further our evolution toward a gift economy, and the joy of our fundamental interdependence.

I will continue to be a part of this ecosystem for a very long time to come. Your brilliance and light has built and continues to build BALLE. I will join you from a new position.

Thank you. I love you.

– Michelle Long