As a journalist, I try to track down stories that open people’s eyes to new ways of thinking. I can measure how many people read, listen to, or watch a piece of reporting, but it is often tough to gauge what happens to my stories once they’re out there in the world.
That wasn’t the case with Fixing the Future, a documentary I hosted that follows people from all over America who are making economic change happen in their communities. These people are running local business alliances, engaging in service exchanges, investing their money in community banks, and running worker-owned cooperatives.
When the documentary first aired on PBS as a television special, our team soon heard from communities around the country, where viewers wanted to know how they could nurture their own local economies. Could, for instance, larger-scale cooperatives address social problems? Can we re-think community banking? What happens when businesses and residents band together to focus on improving livelihoods?
When viewers wanted to know more about Hour Exchange, the Portland, Maine-based time bank featured in the film, their interest compelled the founders of that group to embark on a cross-country pilgrimage of their own, sharing their experiences and spreading the idea of growing local economies.
It was then that we realized how powerful it was to show that people could take action themselves to address economic problems. We knew we needed to update Fixing the Future into a longer documentary that showed a wider set of stories. That way, it could have a more enduring role in getting people together to talk about creating—as one wise man terms it in the film—an economy that serves people as opposed to one that we are forced to serve.
In the new documentary, there is a scene in which the time bank duo from Portland arranges a group discussion about local economic interrelationships to explore what services each person could offer and to whom. A ball of string unfurls as it is tossed back and forth among individuals in the room, and gradually forms a web. It is an almost sculptural manifestation of local networks that might, if nurtured, foster an economy that would better serve people and the planet.
This strong social fabric provides an incredible support structure in times of crisis.
One unforgettable figure who appears in Fixing the Future is Tim Jones, a policeman in the hard-hit rust belt town of Chester, Penn. We see Jones traveling to Santa Fe, N.M.—where Hour Exchange is helping set up a local time bank—where he hopes to learn ways to heal his economy back home. Even with all his insight and charisma, the wonderful children back in Chester eventually upstage Jones, as they tend their new community garden in a town without a single grocery store selling fresh fruits and vegetables.
We found our original premise holds. While the mainstream media focus on Washington and Wall Street, we found the real agents of change are on Main Street, where they are testing and perfecting some amazing innovations.
Watch the trailer
David Brancaccio wrote this article for YES! Magazine. David is host of Fixing the Future, a correspondent for the radio program Marketplace, and former anchor of Now on PBS. He is author of Squandering Aimlessly, a book about how Americans apply personal values to their money.