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‘New Story Spokane Festival’ Presents a New Way of Looking at Climate Change


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‘New Story Spokane Festival’ Presents a New Way of Looking at Climate Change

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News Story by John McCallum

There’s a new story building behind sustainable, socially-responsible and ecologically-friendly living, and a new Spokane nonprofit organization wants to tell that story to the community through a two-day festival in May at Gonzaga University.

The “New Story Spokane Festival” runs May 19 – 20 at GU’s Hemmingson Center (702 E. Desmet Ave.) The two-day festival — which is set up as a sort of “banquet” for participants to consume information on these ideas — will feature speakers and breakout sessions on a variety of topics that include sustainable agriculture, ecological restoration, green building, resource efficiency, social equity, cultural preservation and much more.

The Origin of the Seventh or ‘New’ Story

The festival is the idea of New Story Spokane, a nonprofit that bills itself as “a local, openhearted collaboration of folk in the Inland Northwest working to ‘Prosper, together, by caring for Planet and People’ facing fear, aggression and violence with the strength of love.” The concept of New Story originates from the festival’s May 19 headline speaker, Irish-American author Gareth Higgins, who is one of the “originators” of the movement.

gareth higgins
Gareth Higgins / Contributed

Higgins, who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during “The Troubles” and now lives in North Carolina, lectures internationally on storytelling, reduction of violence, the power of dreams and our connection with the Earth. He is also the editor of several publications, and together with author, speaker, activist and public theologian Brian McLaren, wrote “Cory and the Seventh Story,” a children’s illustrated book along with an adult companion book, “The Seventh Story: Us, Them, and the End of Violence.”

The books describe the six stories people currently tell themselves about how they are governed in the world: domination, revolution, purification, isolation, victimization and accumulation. But the books then present a seventh story as an alternative to these six — a new story.

“It’s the seventh story we don’t spend enough time telling each other and that’s nonviolence,” New Story Spokane member Tom Robinson said.

Who Will Choose?

Cory and the Seventh Story

In the books, Cory has an owl for a companion. The owl keeps asking at points in the story “Who, who, who will save us?” After hearing the seventh story, the owl’s refrain becomes “Who will choose?”

“We are in essence the solution,” New Story Spokane Chairperson Roger Hudson said. “So, it’s up to us to choose the seventh story.”

Hudson, a co-designer of the Gqunube Green Ecovillage in East London, South Africa, a peacemaker in Ndaleni, South Africa, during the lead up to Nelson Mandela’s release from political prison and who has served Covenant United Methodist Church in Wandermere for the past five years, said there are many people practicing this seventh story of nonviolence toward society and ecology.

A Festival that Illustrates the New Story’s Focus on the Common Good

New Story members meet weekly in groups called “Porch Circles,” and it was out of those in late 2022 that the idea of a showcase for these local efforts at environmental and social solutions came about.

“Maybe all we need is to have a festival of people engaged in seventh story work, practice and celebrate that the seventh story is alive and well,” Hudson said.

“Once again, (we asked) how do we elevate the common good to a higher place of value?” Robinson, a Gonzaga University professor of U.S. politics and member of organizations such as Spokane Alliance and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, asks.

One way Hudson believes this can be done is through implementation of American Franciscan priest and spirituality writer Richard Rohr’s statement from his book “Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality” that “The best criticism of the bad, is the practice of the better.”

Scientists, sociologists, economists and other experts have been cataloging the bad aspects of climate and ecological destruction for years through quantifying its effects on the environment and on human civilization — effects that are beginning to manifest more and more.

Showcasing Those Who Exemplify the ‘Practice of the Better’

But there are people who are countering this by practicing the better, and these are what New Story Spokane Festival seeks to draw attention to through speaker presentations, interactive breakout sessions, food, poetry reading and music.

green power house
The Green Power House in Whitefish, Montana built by Michael Smith. / Photo courtesy of Algae Aqua-Culture Technology

Featured presenters include Whitefish, Montana’s Michael Smith, who built a Green Power House that is part greenhouse, part furnace whose byproducts include a natural and safe fertilizer and the ability to produce enough electricity to power 100 homes for a year.

jim sheehan
Jim Sheehan / Contributed

Also presenting will be Don Scheuerman from Endicott, Washington, who in seeing the decline of and takeover of local, family farming by larger, more wasteful industrial agriculture, researched and started growing ancient grains requiring less water and are much friendlier to the soil. This led him to founding, with his brother Richard, Palouse Heritage as well as Spokane’s The Grain Shed.

Kara Odegard will be speaking about “Measure Meant,” the Spokane social impact consulting business she founded to help local, green businesses analyze themselves and their ability to deal with the impacts of change, with Jim Sheehan, founder and president of Spokane’s Center for Justice and the Community Building Foundation speaking on wealth, community building and the One Block Revolution.

The Festival’s Entertainment

sara thomsen
Singer and songwriter Sara Thomsen / Contributed from sarathomsen.com

Finally, singer and songwriter Sara Thomsen will be performing throughout the festival, including a closing concert on Saturday evening. From Minnesota, Thomsen has released six solo albums as well as two CDs as a member of the trio “Three Altos,” along with a solo CD with her partner Paula Pederson.

“The Twin Ports folk singer picks up the torch carried by the balladeers of decades past: Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, and Peter, Paul and Mary,” according to a review in the Duluth Reader Weekly. “She could make Conan the Barbarian drop his sword and collapse blubbering.”

New Story Idea of Nonviolence ‘Perfectly Suited’ for Climate Change Solutions

The seventh story idea of nonviolence is perfectly suited for issues of climate change and sustainability, Hudson said.

He points to an illustration known as “A Pattern Map,” which provides a “framework for understanding what the new story/sustainability/conservation economy looks like” through a combination of equity, ecology and economy supported by three main themes — social, natural and economic capital — that are in turn built by smaller themes.

To be a sustainable society, the focus needs to be not just on one area of capital, but all three equally.

“It’s not enough to be built on natural capital, we similarly have to be working on building social capital,” Hudson, who used the map as part of his ecovillage design in South Africa, said.

pattern map
The Pattern Map used by New Story Spokane’s Roger Hudson to depict the structure of a sustainable, ecologically-friendly and socially-responsible economy / Graphic courtesy of Roger Hudson

“Also, economic capital,” he added. “We can’t have industry building something that destroys things and requires society to clean up their messes.”

Saving the Earth

The essence of the May festival at Gonzaga is to shed light on local efforts at all three forms of capital and how this is leading to a more sustainable lifestyle in the region, one that helps the environment and the people living in it.

“We’ve got the means to save the Earth,” Hudson said. “That’s what we’re trying to address.”

Hudson, Robinson and others also hope the festival leads to exposing people to the concept of the New Story movement and perhaps the creation of new groups. The movement is a national organization, with Spokane’s chapter creation being helped along by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, a festival sponsor and New Story Spokane’s fiscal sponsor.

“This means that while they build their new nonprofit, they fall under our 501(c)3 status, which allows donations to them to be tax deductible,” Smith-Barbieri Executive Director Lerria Schuh said. “It’s kind of like incubating an organization while they’re getting ready to be their own nonprofit.”

Besides Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, other festival sponsors include The Grain Shed, Palouse Heritage, Spokane Riverkeeper, Measure Meant, Simba (Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance), LINC FoodsCommunity Building and Gonzaga University Center for Climate, Society and the Environment.

“The essence of the festival is the seventh story put into action,” Hudson said. “If you want to change society, and we need to, it will build over time. We need to do it in a way that is nonviolent to people and to the environment.”

The New Story Spokane Festival runs May 19 – 20. Registration costs $45 for the two-day event, and can be done by clicking on this link.

John McCallum
John McCallum
John McCallum is a freelance writer living in Liberty Lake. A graduate of Eastern Washington University with degrees in Journalism and Radio-Television, John spent 21 years at the Cheney Free Press as an award-winning staff reporter, editor, managing editor and photojournalist covering everything from government to education, sports, religion and current affairs. He is a member of Spokane’s Knox Presbyterian Church and has served as a church leader on session and participated in worship through a variety of roles. He has made six mission trips to Guatemala as a member of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest Guatemala Task Force. John enjoys time with his wife, Sheila, and their Dachshund, Chili, road trips — especially the Oregon Coast — along with running, biking and kayaking.

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