Walking Out and Walking On at the Environmental Protection Agency

‘Tis the eve of an impending government shutdown, and I find myself at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency to talk about “walking out and walking on.” For the past 10 years, I’ve been hanging around with community activists, grassroots leaders, radicals and a few anarchists. We’ve been talking about how to walk out of the dominant system and walk on to build the world we wish for.

So what am I doing talking to the EPA? As a government agency, surely they’re part of the dominant system. And yet, like most radical activists I know, they, too, are dissatisfied with the way things are today and are working to make their contribution to creating a better world. Moreover, they’re stuck working inside a system that has a million holes in it (like every big system), one whose very existence is under threat—and still they want to make a difference.

Here’s what I’ve learned about creating change: After a decade of talking with pioneers, edge-walkers and trailblazers who are experimenting with new ways of strengthening communities, our world is only going to change when enough of us see that more is possible—including those who are inside big organizations, institutions, bureaucracies and even very well intentioned government agencies.

So my invitation to these persevering EPA employees—and to anyone else who feels boxed in, frustrated and disappointed by big system bureaucracies—is this: It’s time for all of us to bust out our inner rebel. It’s time to step into the radical act of throwing off the shackles of whatever limiting beliefs we have about ourselves that prevent us from making the kind of contribution we’re yearning to make.

What might that look like? It might look like walking out of a reductionist approach to problem-solving and becoming curious about interdependence, interconnections, and the emergent properties of change. It might look like walking out of our scarcity mindset and walking on to declare that we have what we need—now let’s get busy discovering the resources that are available to us, rather than focusing on the ones that aren’t. It might look like stepping forward into action, rather than waiting on the sidelines, hoping to get permission, influence, money or the right expertise.

It might look like walking out of our disappointment and fatigue, and walking on to trust that together, we have enough creativity and commitment to get good work done.