Love in the Time of the Polycrisis


Susan Grelock Yusem, Director, Narrative Development

June 12, 2023

Environmental Health
Nature and Ecology

21 New Signs of Emergence

“Commitment to truth telling lays the groundwork for the openness and honesty that is the heartbeat of love.”
bell hooks, from All About Love: New Visions

In April, Commonweal’s Omega Resilience Awards (ORA) team, myself included, gathered at Commonweal with partners from Latin America, India, and Africa.

ORA was launched by Commonweal’s Omega program, a new initiative from Commonweal Co-Founder Michael Lerner, which focuses on addressing the challenges of the global polycrisis. As an innovative, catalytic grantmaking project, ORA provides fellowships, research grants, and media creation. Its aim is to support new models of thinking, leadership, communication, and engagement to help us best navigate these wild times.

After a year of working to build the ORA program, we made a plan to meet in person, at Commonweal, with representatives from our core partners. Only four people could come, thanks in large part to an increasingly difficult process for visitors to obtain visas to travel to the United States. But the Commonweal and Omega teams were deeply moved to be able to walk on the mesa, share meals, and hold deep conversations with Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria, Paramita Saha from India, and Gaston Chillier and Anabella Museri from Argentina.

Seeking inspiration before our first morning session, I reached for a book on my shelf and pulled down All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks.

I opened it and read, “In a world anguished by rampant destruction, fear prevails. When we love, we no longer allow our hearts to be held captive by fear.” This idea resonated through the whole weekend for me.

The ORA team and the fellows who they recently selected are collectively committed to deepening our understanding of how to live fully in these turbulent times. It is well documented across the planet that we are facing wild times. The Omega program has spent the past year documenting and curating news of the cascading crises we call “the global polycrisis,” in hopes of helping us make sense of what is happening. Much of the news is grim.

As we live through extremes, like social turmoil, extreme weather, pandemic, and economic instability, we also hold complex emotional experiences: hope and despondency, courage and fear, joy and grief. But, even if we can hold the tension of these opposites, what exactly should we do? ORA was created in part to answer this question. The projects of the 21 new ORA fellows offer some suggestions that, to my senses, are grounded in a deep commitment to truth telling and fearlessness and, in light of the truth, moving forward with creativity. Perhaps this is the kind of love that bell hooks invites.

  1. Kumar Sambhav, New Delhi, India: Building India's first and largest database of land disputes and natural resource conflicts.
  3. Nandini Velho, Assam, India: Generating new practices at the intersection of conservation science, community knowledge, and new media.
  5. Ruhani Kaur, New Delhi, India: Using photography and multimedia to tell stories of inequities affecting the human condition.
  7. Samir Bordoloi, Assam, India: Building networks of young indigenous food advocates and agripreneurs to galvanize the local food economy across the North East.
  9. Sarika Panda, Haryana, India: Making Indian roads safe, inclusive, and liberating through citizen and government partnerships.
  11. Shweta Bhattad, Madhya Pradesh, India: Re-envisioning land, life, and farming through socially-engaged art by a collective of farmers, women, youth, and makers.
  13. Sumana Roy, National Capital Region, India: Shaping the discipline of Plant Humanities in India to rekindle the relationships between communities and their botanical worlds.
  15. Jennifer Uchendu, Nigeria: Beyond Solutions: From Rest to Resilience with indigenous African Practices.
  17. Gerald Barekye, Uganda: Improving food systems and nutrition security of East African Crude Oil Pipeline affected communities through organic farming.
  19. dipti bhatnagar, Mozambique: Looking into the history of 500 years of colonialism, slavery, and genocide written into African bodies, minds, communities, and countries, as well as the solutions and lessons.
  21. Saymore Ngonidzashe Kativu, Zimbabwe: Creating a modernized, open-access repository of African seeds.
  23. Agnes Oloo, Kenya: Producing impactful stories about the polycrisis to facilitate training &  exchange around the globe.
  25. John Mulingwa Nzau, Kenya: Researching and highlighting the glaring inequalities and discriminations perpetrated against the people of Nairobi City County.
  27. Tatenda Jane Dzvarai, Zimbabwe: Holding the intersectionality between gender and climate justice. Training of young people of the Shuar Nationality on climate change.
  29. Orlando Huerta Ponce, Mexico: Training and Reflection on the Energy Transition.
  31. Millaray Huichalaf Pradines, Chile: Reconstruction of the Mapuche social and spiritual fabric / Machi Millaray Huichalaf.
  33. Henry Picado Cerdas, Costa Rica: Developing a magazine as a mobilizing axis for the agro-ecological transition in Central America.
  35. Dulcinea Lezcano & Renata Nicora Chequin, Argentina: Building resistance against forest monocultures.
  37. Daniela ‘Dani’ Silva, Brazil: Stimulating a sense of belonging and to strengthen the Amazonian identity in children, adolescents and young people from the peripheral regions of Altamira.
  39. Rosalia Shacain Marian, Ecuador: Training of young people of the Shuar Nationality on climate change.
  41. Damián Andrada, Bolivia: Building an Indigenous and environmental journalism program.

ORA fellowships are one-year in duration and fellows are encouraged to follow their hearts, minds, and hands to see where their work goes. However, we are working with the anchors to provide training and networking opportunities within and across the cohorts. In addition, we are making space to share the stories of their work through a digital magazine project. And the ORA team will be watching closely to listen and learn.  We are looking to understand what is emerging globally that can be shared more widely and inspire ever-increasing generative actions. Mark Valentine, co-director of ORA, said, “Collectively, we believe that the ORA fellows will illuminate new pathways towards building resilient societies.”

Facing the polycrisis head-on is daunting and sometimes overwhelming. The Omega project’s booklist isn’t exactly what you want on your nightstand. (Although I surely recommend checking out the thoughtfully curated collection.) But, we do believe that the path to healing ourselves and our relationships with each other and the planet requires facing these times and moving forward. The ORA Fellows are so powerfully showing us possible ways. As bell hooks writes, “The space of our lack is also the space of possibility.”

What possibilities lie ahead? Please stay tuned and subscribe to the Omega program email to follow the journeys of the new ORA Fellows.


Photo at top: Commonweal ORA team and global partners gathered at Commonweal in April. Pictured, left to right, Stanley Wu, Nnimmo Bassey, Mark Valentine, Gaston Chillier, Paramita Saha, Anabella Museri, Andrea Frey.

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