Jodie Evans is the co-founder of CODEPINK and the after-school writing program 826LA. She has been a visionary advocate for peace for several decades. Whether in board rooms or war zones, legislative offices, or neighborhood streets, Jodie’s enthusiasm for a world at peace infuses conciliation, optimism, and activism wherever she goes.
Jodie addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:
- That the war economy is in the structures around us that are violent, oppressive, extractive, and destructive. “We won’t end war until we end the war economy”.
- That we need to lean into the peace economy, which is life, community, planet Earth, parenting, the commons, healing.
- The war economy thrives on alienation and self direction. The peace economy is about connection and community engagement.
- That we should not get caught in the “folly of fretting”. “Everything is about action, because if we don’t act, we let the banality and the brutality of it undermine our capacity to act.”
- The peace economy examples of sharing and abundance found in supporting homeless youth in Venice Beach and creating land trusts for commons to reemerge.
- That we should ask, “How do we use our wild imaginations together to create something absolutely fresh and new? What am I doing today to create the conditions conducive for life?”
- 21 ways to divest from a war economy https://www.codepink.org/21daysofdivest
- Safe Place for Youth (SPY) https://www.safeplaceforyouth.org/
- Lead with Land https://globetrotterfoundation.org/leadwithland/
- Two Rivers Farms https://www.facebook.com/tworiversfarm
- Greenhorns https://greenhorns.org/ (see also episode 18 https://www.resilience.org/stories/2020-10-13/what-could-possibly-go-right-episode-18-severine-von-tscharner-fleming/)
- Soul Fire Farm https://www.soulfirefarm.org/
Connect with Jodie Evans
The future is being created right now, every day, by every act you take.
Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of “What Could Possibly Go Right?”, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. We interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, and ask them all one penetrating question: In all that seems to be going awry and going wrong, what could possibly go right? My guest today is beautiful and amazing Jodie Evans. She is an American political activist, author and documentary film producer. She characterizes her activism as working for peace and justice, environmental causes and women’s rights. Evans was the co-founder of the women’s anti-war activist organization CODEPINK with Medea Benjamin and others. She is the co-founder of an after-school writing program called 826LA. She serves on the board of directors of numerous organizations that foster environmental, charitable, educational, socio-political and healthcare causes, including the Center for New Economics, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Foundation for World Arts, Global Girl Media, Hereditary Disease Foundation, Institute for Policy Studies, Motion Institute, Threshold Foundation, Rain Forest Action Network, and the Schumacher Center for New Economics.
Along with two friends, she bought Two Rivers Farms, which is located at the convergence of the McKenzie and Mohawk rivers in the Mohawk Valley east of Springfield, Oregon. The farm is a communal support system for beginning farmers to share access to land, tools and knowledge. Cultivating both food and education is our primary goal, they say. Her work now centers not on any war, per se, but on replacing the war economy, which would be everything that diminishes love, life, justice, sharing and relationships – and living into the peace economy. As she rattled off the features of the peace economy in our conversation, it mapped perfectly on my long journey to create a world that runs on the energies of love, generosity and sharing, rather than the energies of money and oil. We do the peace economy right where we are locally, dismantling the privileges of the powerful in our own minds and hearts and then gathering with others to create well-being. She organized her community of Venice, California to meet the needs of the homeless in a spirit of generosity. So this is a great conversation where she had barely enough time to outline just part of the features of what she means by a peace economy. I think you’ll see that it’s a world that you would want to live into.
Welcome, Jodie, to “What Could Possibly Go Right?”, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. You are sort of the epitome for me of what a cultural scout is. You watch the horizon for what’s emerging. You are multi-fascinated. You care deeply. You work on frontline issues, not just from a distance. You keep an open spirit of goodwill, even as you kick butt and tell the truth. So quite honestly, you have been a great inspiration to me over many, many years. I was thinking before talking to you, that many people have welcomed the lower key Biden administration after the trauma of the last four years. People who have worked on progressive domestic issues, I think many of us are very surprised by how far he’s taking things, further than we thought. But on international relations, not so much. There’s sort of a “we’re the good guys” screen out here. I know this is the frontline that you pay attention to. So, our basic question that I’m going to toss your way is: With all that seems to be going wrong, what could possibly go right? If you want to look at the landscape beyond the shores of the United States and tell us, that would be great. So Jodie, what could possibly go right?
Vicki, it’s so fun to be with you. I miss you. We’ve been many decades tilling these soils together. So I’m planting seeds of peace. I want to back up in the sense of, working at the level of Biden is not where we work. At CODEPINK, we see the structures, they are violent, they are oppressive, they are extractive, they are destructive. We were working to end war, and about eight years ago, we realized, Oh, we won’t end war until we end the war economy, and that really war serves the war economy. You couldn’t see that more vividly than right now with China, and Blinken making a total fool of himself talking to the Chinese. Even Biden yesterday, where he’s saying Xi doesn’t know anything about democracy, which basically means Biden knows nothing about China.
So we back way up, and realize that there is a war economy. Then we also look at, there is climate catastrophe. There’s a level of inequality that has never probably been on this planet. There’s like $2 trillion worth of weapons sold every year, including 300 million weapons owned by American citizens. When we look at that, and I kind of look at it as the flood, it’s like: Here we are. What is our existential flood that we live inside of? And how do we make it past the flood that we’ve kind of created ourselves? We call that cultivating a local peace economy. Now, in looking at the war economy, it exists and it’s weird, because people grab onto it thinking it gives life. But it doesn’t. It is killing you, it is killing your communities, and it’s killing the planet. That’s never been more obvious than right now. COVID helped us to see it. But the devastation of the form that has been operating for the past couple of 100 years, has failed and it’s failed miserably.
So, a peace economy. We are alive because of a peace economy. That is parenting, that is community, that is the planet Earth that is so generous. The peace economy exists, and every year, it’s squeezed down more and more. Education, healthcare, the commons, farming, how we feed each other; they are really at the mercy of the destructive tendencies of the war economy. So what we say is, of course, we will continue to resist the war economy in all the ways we can. And mostly for us at CODEPINK, that’s just telling the truth, that is standing in front of all the lies that come at us and say, It’s like you’re trying to catch us in the flypaper of that narrative. We’re not going to go there. We’re going to give you another narrative. The narrative about how we live on this Earth, or how we create conditions conducive for life, isn’t even in the conversation. So the fights that are happening in Washington, they’re tinkerings, but they’re not changing the system. We have seen what the murder of George Floyd showed us is, we’ve been in the streets trying to change things, and they change for some people, but mostly in just the way they get co-opted into the system, and leave other big swaths of people behind.
So you have to look and say, Okay, how do I affect the war economy and peace economy, right? How do I cultivate my local peace economy, which would be the arc that takes me through the flood? So, the war economy, we have to divest from it. We have 21 ways to divest from the war economy, because we don’t even realize that as we desire peace, as we desire connectivity, as we desire fulfilment, we are inside a machine that is destroying those synapses for ourselves. If we decide to play in that game, we decide at our own peril. It’s gonna have its way with you, because it’s this kind of destruction machine. So how do we first practice our way out of these habits that are the war economy, and that we can divest ourselves from? So we have 21 ways of divesting from the war economy. I’m just going to run through a few of them quickly, so you can kind of see how what that looks like. The war economy thrives from alienation, so it does its best to make us feel alienated. A peace economy is about connection. How do we break those patterns? Then, self directed to community engaged. We’ve got so lost in the war economy thinking, and especially one of the things is big. I say this to peace activists: You did not start the war in Syria, you are not going to end the war in Syria. There’s something that happens inside of empire mind. You know, we’re all in the US, imperialists. Right? We don’t even understand that our brain is on imperialism, and that makes us stupid. We don’t even get that because it’s like the water we swim in, right? It makes us really stupid. So, self is no way to get anywhere. Everything has to be community, whole brain directed. Like, what is the whole thinking? We’ve forgotten that that’s even a value, but it’s a necessity. It’s not just a value. If we’re not doing it, we’re getting very lost. It’s like the billionaires giving money to philanthropy. It’s just gonna get us more lost, just like the way they made the money. It’s not like it’s not changing anything. It’s just taking us off on another tangent of lostness. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Philanthropy is just part of the problem. But we get stuck in this, “But we have to fix this and we need things here.” War started when civilizations became complex. I say, find the simple. The complex is killing us. The big is killing us. Do not worry about anyone else.
The future is being created right now, every day, by every act you take. So, what does that look like? What are you doing? Don’t worry about other people. I want to also say there is this folly of fretting, that is destroying the world. We all get caught in the folly of fretting. We get caught in our fears. I work with people all over the world; they have real fears. We live in the United States of America; we have these crazy false fears, that then get us off on tangents and we have these crazy ideas that are full of hubris that we’re gonna fix the world. Just a reminder, we’re like 4% of the world, and we are making the worst problems for the world. Just stopping is a really big gift to the planet. Stop, go back to the simple and quit coming out of that empire mind. Come back to: What is it to be human? What is it to be relational? What is it to be connected to each other? And connect it to the need of this moment. From that place, you can start to move out. I’m going to use a couple of examples, just a couple more like competition to interdependence, transactional to relational. Oh, that’s a big one. At CODEPINK, we work on that everyday, that discipline; our brains have been so conditioned to be transactional, instead of relational to get something done, to do it so we get this return. We forgot that we’re in relationship with other human beings. And it’s really bad. Apathy to engagement…
So I’m going to pop in here too and ask… Okay, in a way I could be saying just what you’re saying, because we are so on the same page, really. The simplicity of your localization, you know, everything’s relational. Where do you see green shoots of this peace economy growing now, as the old order fumbles the ball? Tell me that.
First of all, when I started this eight years ago, people couldn’t quite see it, but a lot of people took it on. So they’re at the seven year level, and I want to say, seven years is transformative. Nine months you get caught into it. Seven years is transformative. But I think COVID has helped everyone see what is essential. More people are coming and joining. Right now, it’s on steroids. The air lift is pretty cool. So let me go back to a starter moment. I’m going to start with my own community; like, how do you do this? So the first thing is we got together as a community. We invited a bunch of people and there were 30 people in the room. I live in Venice Beach, California. Where is the war economy? Who is suffering from the war economy the worst in my community? We looked out, which helped us. Where do we live? Who’s at the effects of the war economy? Because they’re at the effects of the war economy. You are homeless because it serves the war economy. The war economy wouldn’t be able to function if you weren’t homeless. That’s part of the design. When we look at people who are homeless, we see it’s first of all, a failure of the system. It’s failed in many ways. But it’s also in service to the system. We have to recognize that if you have a home, that person not having a home benefits you having a home, in the function of the system. So we found out that we had 1500 homeless youth living in our community.
So what is a peace economy? It’s love. It’s care. What’s missing in the war economy is the understanding that we’re human beings and we need care, we need healing, and we need to be relational. So let’s just start out. What does that look like for the homeless youth? So we started out at the beach feeding meals out of the car on Saturday, and then we listened to what they needed. “Oh, what do you need?” Not coming with hubris, like we know what you need. “Who are you, and what do you need?” And each week, we responded to those needs; backpacks, socks, jackets. But we went out to the Venice community and said, “How do we love the homeless youth in our community?” The organization that came out of that was called SPY, Safe Place for Youth. So we would put out on all the forums we had; come bring this, come bring that. If you’re a therapist, could you come between the hours of blah, blah, blah, and sit with them. Could you bring your health care services and support them? So it became quite an abundant thing. We have a Baptist Church around the corner, and he gave us the upstairs on Thursdays and people made meals. Then one of the women who was volunteering her time to do the therapy, her husband invested in Snapchat. He made a lot of money, and he bought a building on the main street, where now we’ve been able to serve thousands of youths, and they’ve been housed and they’ve learned skill sets.
But the biggest thing was, it’s a community that’s an old community, that rich people are moving in. All of a sudden, LA is run by neighbourhood councils. There was a whole platform of people who are running on safe and secure, “We’re gonna make our communities safe and secure.” And the rest of us were like, that’s a dog whistle for racism, for abuse to people who are poor. So, in most neighbourhood councils, 6,000 people voted around Los Angeles. In Venice, 58,000 people voted, because they had been creating this love puddle for the homeless. And right now in LA, there are more of those without houses in Venice. Why? Because we made a space that was safe for them. Here, they get water, they have toilets. There’s an understanding that I exist because you exist, and how do we be in that relationship of understanding of what’s really failing in our city. You know, 60% of your tax dollars for the last 20 years have gone to weapons and war, and not to the fabric of society. So that’s what happens. Here’s what happens. We all participate in that. So it’s to help educate people of the system we live in, and how do you be relational with that? That’s one example.
I’m going to use another one, which is: privatization of land is the original sin, because then I have to protect it, it’s mine. And how we got away from commons; that’s just been eroded. So one of the things is, how do you create land trusts where we come back to creating forms so commons can reemerge? Because what we’re actually trying to reemerge is a commons, which is a peace economy. How do we share and care for each other? And how does the abundance of what we have be available for all? So I had a place up in Northern California, gave it to the community with the intention of it being in the commons in 20 years, because it takes time to build community and have relationship. So for 20 years, not a dime was spent. It was like, there’s no money, but what does labor bring? It was the most vibrant space. It was like a biodynamic farm when you were on it, because it was never about money. It was always about what is needed. What does the community need? What do they want to offer? What do they want to create for themselves? Now it’s this robust, abundant, beautiful space. Then I used that as a way to bring other people that have big pieces of land together and say, What are you doing with your piece of land? And they would say, Oh, I’m doing this to get this return on investment at the end. I would say, Well, there is no better return on investment than a vibrant community. What does money matter? You need so little money to live, really. You know, I’m speaking to the teacher of this. If you just got to the place of like, what do I actually need, and quit living life out of return on investment; first of all, it’s so much more beautiful. I mean, the most amazing things are happening. Out of that 750 acres have been returned to the Muscogee. There are only 43 people who still speak the language. I mean, given back into a land trust for the Muscogee. There was a woman who came, who had a plantation in Louisiana. It has now been given to black farmers. And now Lotus Foods has come in to have a market, because you can’t just give things. You have to also give the sustainability, the abundance. There’s another woman giving a 7,000 acre farm, as she’s got a 20 year plan to make it sustainable for the community before it passes over.
So what does that look like? What does whole community thinking look like? Lead with Land has just erupted. Right now, it’s a $200 million project in the middle of Los Angeles, called 40 Acres and a Mall, Crenshaw. It’s like we talk about reparations. If we talk about being able to have experiments in what the future looks like, well here’s 40 acres in the middle of Los Angeles that belongs to a black community that was going to be taken over by the Trump kids. Now BlackRock wants to take it over. But the community has stood up and said, No, if you give this lease to these people, we will not show up there. They cancelled the lease with the Trump kids. Now we’re in a fight with the BlackRock, but it’s real. People get it. I want to say that, first, it’s nine months to break our habits, because literally, the brain synapses think that the war economy is life, but it’s not. When you start to practice these other things… I mean, how many people come to me like, Oh, my God, we live in a field of generosity. But if we’re caught in the war economy, you are not connected to that field of generosity. People are just shocked by what happens when you start in the giving field. Then it’s just like, Oh, my God, it’s everywhere. It always was, but your headset is somewhere else and you’re not witnessing it.
So after about nine months, Reverend Barber and I compare notes, because that’s what Moral Mondays is for him. He’s teaching the war economy and peace economy, because it so articulates it if you can see it as like a war economy and a peace economy, it’s easier to relate to it. If you know what the results of inequality, of militarism and racism, the imperialism we live inside of, the patriarchy we live inside of; if you know that what you need to do is just divest yourself from that, listen to what’s needed and serve the joy, the fulfilment, the wonder, the creativity, it’s kind of profound. I can see that because now I’ve witnessed it for seven years, the synaptic relationships that are happening, where it’s gone now from farming, to indigenous farming, to bringing in healing. Now the criss-crossing of relationships, and I’ve watched it; it becomes these spirals that find each other, feed each other, nurture each other. So really, I say to you, let go of the war economy. It is not serving you. Matter of fact, you are serving it. It is using your life. So you choose how you want your life to be used. You find out how to create conditions conducive for life with your life, and your life will be a stepping stone to a more vibrant future. And it will itself be more vibrant and nurturing and relational and joyful and everything is working.
Ah, so invigorating, I’m sure that people just walk by you on the street and they catch it a little bit. So, a lot of what you’ve done has depended on getting a group of people together, to work together.
That’s number one here.
So here we’ve been for the last year, somehow or another, in suspended social animation. How has this agenda, the peace agenda, possibly even been empowered and forwarded through this time when our old social habits have been disrupted? I’m interested.
Well, coming together on Zoom has become a habit. Many of these have come together on Zoom, continued to do the work. In my community, the work on serving the unhoused community is super vibrant. It’s been really our connective tissue, I would say, which is so nourishing. But also in the Lead with Land, or in how these synergies coming together, it’s been that there is a network that has been built, and it’s coming together. It’s sharing. The community that is committed to this is huge. That’s the thing. It’s not seen, it’s not what you read about in the paper, it’s not what you run into, because it’s all happening locally. But if we don’t start these experiments, if locally we are not experimenting, we are going to go down. You know, it’s going down. So choosing to create one of the experiments. Some of the experiments catch fire, and they’re flooding all over. It’s like Severine with the Greenhorns, who’s all over the place, nurturing new experiments. It’s Soul Fire Farms, where she’s nurturing BIPOC farming that’s going on all over the country. Well, it’s happening on Zoom, but it’s also happening locally. I mean, farming, a lot happens outside. But I want to say that if anything, COVID has ramped this up, because people get it. The old system is failed. It does not work. We watched it fail everyone. We’re watching billionaires get richer, that is not okay. The systems are failed. What does it look like to create these systems? And that’s what’s happening, and it’s fantastic and beautiful.
Right, one of the things that is getting clear to me from talking to my beautiful cultural scouts from so many different areas, is it’s like we’ve lost the imagination for something else. So what you’re doing actually, is you’re creating a vibrant, lived, almost tableau. You’re creating these beautiful tableaus around the country, and you’re a great storyteller and cheerleader. So people can go like, Oh, that’s how it would look. Because we cannot imagine, inside the war economy, inside the patriarchy, whatever we want to call the system that is destroying us. I think that one of the great things about COVID is that as you say, it’s laid bare. There’s no doubt anymore. And we’re less and less afraid of calling B.S. on the very thing that we think is our lifeblood, which is money.
But you can’t just call B.S. You have to act. That’s what we are at CODEPINK. Everything is about action, because if we don’t act, we let the banality of it and the brutality of it undermine our capacity to act. It’s about acting everyday. That’s why we give people the practices; as soon as you start practising, as soon as you start taking… That’s why I call it the folly of fretting. You have to just go, Okay, I get it. And when we say we know something, I don’t believe you know something until you actually act on it. There’s a lot of “I know something” but I don’t trust that you know it because you’re still caught up in this other thing. I know what gets in the way is a doubt, a “What if?” Can I tell you there is no frickin’ “What if?” We know, any intelligent person knows, when there is inequality, there is going to be violence. If we are not creating systems that connect us and create relationality, we are messed up. So it’s a bad thing. To not operate out of that, is where I get confused. If you look out and you see what happened in Texas, and if you don’t look at these climate change things that keep escalating, then they are going to escalate every year. Unfortunately, it’s taking down always the poorest, always those who have the less. So who are you, and what are you doing? Don’t worry about others. Who are you? What are you doing? How do you get together with your community? How do you find ways to divest from these bad habits that you have engendered, thinking this was life? And how do you use your wild imaginations together to create something absolutely fresh and new?
Absolutely fresh and new. I feel like you’re narrating like 30 years of my life, or maybe 40. I mean, I definitely lost some altitude in the Trump years. I just couldn’t believe that I would wake up every morning and there’s one more thing that I thought, okay, that’s sort of nailed down in something that’s going in the right direction. But, no, nothing’s nailed down. They go and yank it out. But it made us in a way – it definitely was demoralising – but it also made me stronger. There’s no way to be sort of a happy alternative person, or is there?
Or bystanders. There’s no bystanders.
It’s not even bystanding. It’s like I’m going to just have my nice, sort of individualism. It’s sort of eco individualism, if you will. So I think that our political muscle has gotten stronger, not in necessarily in electoral politics. But in that we are the polis, we are the people. This is our place. And I feel my own dander and courage just rising as I listened to you. Yeah, it is sort of a bracing reminder, because with what could possibly go right, in the midst of all that’s going wrong, let’s acknowledge what could possibly go right. It’s a way of looking at what’s in front of you to see the possibilities that are rising, and what you’re also saying is, not only stand there and look at them and tell your friends and tweet about it and take a picture, you know? Engage, engage, engage with the possibilities.
And you’re going to learn every day, and what that does to your brain, what it does to your body, what it does to your capacity to be related to the possible. I think that when we step out, when we look at the stupidity and say, that’s not the game I’m playing, I am not on that narrative. I’m on another narrative, and my narrative is, what am I doing today to create the conditions conducive for life? What am I learning about that? I don’t know; what is that? And I learn and I share, and the sharing that takes place is just phenomenal. Let’s just say of sharing. The crime that was revealed last weekend that the United States is not allowing the sharing of vaccines; that is the war economy. Let those moments fuel you, to creating the peace economy, to being relational, because you’ve got to look at that and go, that’s a fail. And where can I share?
Whenever I look at things, I just go, Oh, my God. How do I behave different than that? What does that look like in this moment? Then it teaches me another muscle. It teaches me, it breaks me out of the constriction. When you’re in a room together, because the first thing of a local peace economy is find a community and just start, every time something different comes out of every community. What’s magical that I don’t think people understand is when you get in a community and you start talking about need, the brain power that shows up and what shows up in the room, is kind of phenomenal. I don’t even know how to language it, but it’s so phenomenal. It’s like we don’t use our brains every day, really, for life. Our brains were created to create conditions conducive for life. Some days I just sit here and I go, how many people struggled, thought, gave everything that I am here? And that I’m gonna not show up for it? Now I want to say everybody that’s part of the local peace economy says they’ve never worked harder but they’ve never been more fulfilled. I think we’ve all bought into this notion about we’re living life for vacations and retirement. What is that? That’s not even life. We’re like living life to be extinct, instead of being engaged. So it’s like instead of extinction, I’m for revolution. And the revolution is just about engaging in another possibility.
Wow. Why don’t we call that a wrap, because I don’t know that we could get any higher. Thank you so much, Jodie.
Thanks, Vicki. We’re sisters in this for so many years.
Read and listen to more related articles on Resilience.org:
Building a Local Peace Economy: We Have the Power
Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice Leah Penniman
Black Commons, Community Land Trusts, and Reparations
Baltimore’s Push to Solve its Affordable Housing Crisis with Community Land Trusts