Local panel of social experts talks about rethink of democracy

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette From left, Micah Cavaleri, Adam Peltz, Peter Stacy, Chelsea Schelly, Angie Carter and Bucky Beach participate on a forum on local democracy at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton Saturday.

HOUGHTON — What things can the Keweenaw learn from intentional communities, and how can the community be re-envisioned?

Those issues were explored at a panel at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Saturday.

Micah Cavaleri, a parishioner at Good Shepherd, organized the panel. He said he had been troubled by the direction of progress in America, particularly with the election of Donald Trump.

“My thought is that we will look at how government and society work, look to how we can re-envision our community, no matter how radical the re-envisioning, and dream about a new and real way forward,” he said.

The panel included Bucky Beach, pastor at Good Shepherd; Angie Carter, assistant professor of energy and environmental justice at Michigan Technological University; Chelsea Schelly, associate professor of sociology at Tech; Peter Stacy, adjunct assistant professor in clinical psychology at Tech; and Adam Peltz, associate professor of psychology and moral ethics at Tech.

Panelists first answered individually tailored questions before a wider discussion led by Schelly and a question-and-answer session.

The Keweenaw can’t become an intentional community in the strict sense, said Schelly, who studies them. In intentional communities, the whole community decides on individual membership. However, some of their ideas can be adopted for the Keweenaw, she said.

First, she said, people can recognize there are already regulations and social rules in place regarding how to use private property. Then, the community can discuss what kind of limits there are and what choices can be made differently.

The community can also think of ways to share material things that bring people together, such as cars or food, she said,

One of the places Schelly studied, the eco-village Dancing Rabbit had nested systems organized by a series of cooperatives. In nested systems, individuals could build their own kitchen or bathroom, or use the collective’s.

“It doesn’t mean they have to share everything,” she said. “They can dialogue about what kinds of things they want to collectively access, and recognizing that there’s flexibility. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

Carter said faculty in the social sciences need to do a better job of communicating the importance of their research and its importance to local communities. She said programs such as localized or cooperative media, food or energy can be beneficial for students, as they help provide hands-on experience and teach students about being engaged.

Partnerships should also be built to include more people or groups, she said.

“You want your community-building to happen in a way where people are coming as leaders and equal partners, where it’s not about ‘I’m here to help you,’ but ‘we are learning from each other,’ and it’s really a reciprocal relationship,” she said. “I think that that can be built, but the intention needs to be there from the start.”

TOMORROW: The panel discusses churches being engaged with the community at large and how intentional communities can could reduce crime or recidivism.