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Vision: 8 Ways We're Making America a Better Place -- in Spite of the Disasters Coming out of Washington

We can have the kind of economy, government, environment, and country we want, if we keep pushing, organizing, building, and otherwise doing the work of democracy.

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He put two 500-gallon oil tanks, painted a cheery yellow, in the park where people can deposit their pooch's poop. Microbes in one tank digest the waste and send methane gas into the second tank, which fuels a gaslight lantern to illuminate the park. Mazzotta's functional sculpture tidies up, provides free renewable energy, and helps us think differently about what's in front of us, including seeing waste as a resource.

6. De-Paving.

Another small step with a big progressive payoff is being taken in such cities as Boston, Davenport, Houston, Portland, and Seattle. People in these places have come together to address the seemingly pedestrian matter of pavement (this is but one of many freewheeling ideas for local activism spun from the fertile mind of enviro-maestro Bill McKibben, who has prompted thousands of local folks to form 'work parties' that come up with hands-on solutions for their communities--check it out at In this case, the problem is that cities simply have too much of their land locked under pavement, which causes flooding, toxic runoff, heat, and an inhuman disconnect from nature. Thus, the rise of a de-paving movement.

Somerville, Massachusetts, for example, has 77 percent of its land coated in asphalt, concrete, and other impervious slabs. So teams are volunteering to free the land, bit by bit, reclaiming green spaces in yards, school grounds, traffic medians, etc... It's hard, hard work, and it's slow, but the payoff is tangible as gardens, parks, and life emerge. A similar group in Oregon has put up a website ( that offers planning tips, a list of tools, and step-by-step instructions for others who want to uncover the joy of the green earth. As one de-paver says, "There's some-thing really empowering about literally taking things into your own hands and restoring your community."

Buying Our Democracy

This will sound loopy, but I think we must also be grateful to the Koch brothers this year. Yes, the billionaire, laissez-faire extremists whom we outed in the February Lowdown, detailing dozens of front groups (including the Tea Party) that Charles and David funded and orchestrated in a secretive, long-term effort to impose corporate rule over our nation.

We owe them a huge "thank you," because their political excesses and ideological overreach have finally shredded the cloak of secrecy around these front groups. Now, even such establishment media outlets as The New Yorker are covering the Kochs ( see Jane Mayer's extensive, well-written story in the August 30 issue). The brothers are turning into the bobblehead dolls of the emerging plutocracy. Thanks to these free-spending zealots, the public is beginning to see that there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy to undermine public supremacy over corporate power.

The Federalist Society, Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, and Mercatus Center are just a few of the brothers' creations that for years have tried to remake the judiciary into a governmental monkey wrench to undo our people's democratic authority. In January, this perfidious effort culminated in the constitutional coup that five Supreme Court corporatists pulled off with their decree in the hoked-up 'Citizens United' case ( Lowdown, March 2010). As you'd expect, congressional Republicans applauded the coup, and, while Obama and the Democrats have merely complained about this raw power grab, they've essentially accepted it as a done deal. That would be that--except for one thing: you. Ordinary people, who usually pay little attention to arcane court decisions, grasped the import of this one from the moment it was issued, and 80 percent oppose it (including 76 percent of Republicans). This has fueled two important, though little reported, uprisings across the country:

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