After watching how a few committed souls can build a vibrant, dynamic community, it reminds me a bit about the “Let’s Do It” campaign of 2008 in Estonia, in which a single visionary and a handful of activists mobilized nation to clean up 10,000 tons of trash that had been unthinkingly dumped into Estonian forests. And to do it in a single day. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this was something only a community could do, because only a whole nation acting together has the necessary scale and natural economic leverage necessary to tackle truly national-level problems. Put another way, the national government, working independently of its people, estimated that the project would take 3 years to complete and €22,500,000 to complete-too long and too costly to actually attempt. And the trash festered. Yet by proposing to do the job in a day, at the cost of €500,000 was such an obvious no-brainer that the nation could rally to support and accomplish that.
When I think about the challenges we face in America, which we are all coming to realize are a lot bigger, a lot more complex, and a lot more unavoidable and non-negotiable than we ever let ourselves believe in the past, and I look at the arguments against action that amount to “it’s too difficult and too costly,” I’m reminded of the truly democratic approach that Estonia demonstrated in 2008, and I wonder: what can we not do if we function as a community? The Gource visualization of the Cobbler project shows just how powerful a few visionaries and a strong community can be.
P.S. Speaking of visionaries and communities, Wendell Berry writes quite eloquently in The Art of the Commonplace about both the blessings conferred by living and working in community and the destruction and devastation wrought by ignoring community and thinking only of industrial profit and efficiency. Although he writes agriculturally, his thinking applies equally well to what I have seen in the open source community. I strongly recommend it!