It suddenly hit me that I’m living in a local TOT experiment. Okay, not a total TOT conversion, but aspects of it.
I live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Pennsylvania was founded by a Quaker, and originally populated by Quakers, and evolved Quaker thought continues to inform many places in the state. Swarthmore is home to Swarthmore College, founded as a Quaker institution. The borough is laced with a contemporary Quaker TOT.
In the interest of keeping taxes down, the borough is governed entirely by unpaid volunteers, both the elected officials, right on up to the mayor, and agency appointees. I am an appointee on the Environmental Advisory Council, working pretty close to fulltime without pay.
Swarthmore is still steeped in capitalism. Government volunteers don’t receive any access benefits. But the Zeitgeist aspect of it is the internal motivation to do what needs to be done, profit be damned. The entire local government is built around that commonwealth ethic. The Environmental Advisory Council is now facing a deficit of volunteers. If the whole government finds itself facing such a deficit, the entire local government system will collapse. But the commonwealth and civic contribution aspects are as much Quaker as they are Zeitgeist in their TOT.
This TOT extends beyond the local government itself. My other nearly fulltime unpaid volunteer job is running a micro volunteer-only nonprofit to develop a strategic energy transition plan for the borough. My micro nonprofit is partnering with another micro volunteer-only environmental nonprofit.
The main local park is managed and cleaned by a micro volunteer-only nonprofit. We have a time bank, similarly managed. Our fire department is entirely volunteer. Last week, when a real estate developer announced plans to redevelop part of downtown, around 3% of the population of the borough showed up at the planning commission meeting. Even some ostensibly for-profit entities clearly serve the community, including a food co-op, a farmers’ market, a local performance venue, and one of the last local newspapers in the U.S.A.
I’m doing what I can to nudge our Quaker-Zeitgeist TOT further into that TOT. I can feel the Capitalist resistance, smothering our citizens with the need to work themselves to such exhaustion that they cannot contribute to the community. But since there already is a commonwealth mentality, there is a foundation to build momentum.
Has anyone here read Change: How to Make Big Ideas Happen, by Damon Centola? I’d love to hear insights on how to put the theory in that book into practice.