The Shift Happens…in Somerville and elsewhere

By Joe Grafton

Most great things are created over food, beer or some combination thereof.

On April 25, I had a beer with Jeff Lawrence and David Day, the President and Arts + Music Editor of the Weekly Dig. Together we hatched an idea – an attempt, if you will, at modern storytelling. I would drive from city to city, to California and back, interviewing community organizers, entrepreneurs and social connectors. I would gather their stories and learn how they are reshaping the world by shifting to sustainable, local-first spending.

I just got back.

All told, I spent more than 23 days on the road. I drove more than 9,000 miles (9,220 to be exact), visited more than 25 cities and towns and interviewed more than 75 leaders. Here’s my conclusion: like no other time in our history, communities are coming together. The project known as “Shift Across America” tells that story.

Here’s just one of the stories from this trip. My first laptop, which was donated, died on night one. The second, my ancient IBM, couldn’t recognize video files. By the time I reached Grand Rapids, Michigan, its camera was almost full. So someone who had never met me – and who didn’t know I was coming – looked at the technology I had, told me it would never work, and simply offered me the laptop he had just ‘retired.’

His name is Gary Glass. He is a Senior Systems Engineer at an IT company called Micro Visions, Inc. He took me to his home and spent 45 minutes setting up the machine while I chatted with his wife, who was cooking dinner. When I tried to pay him, he said something that sums up this whole movement for me: “No way. This is local first, man, we’re all in this together.” Damn right.

His spirit reminded of what I’ve seen so often in Somerville, where residents are impassioned about sustainable living and supporting hometown businesses. Somerville is where Carla DeLellis, the owner of Johnny D’s, agreed to support some kid off the street – me – simply because she believed in the ideas behind the local-first movement. The growing community of entrepreneurs that we have here are as strong as any in the country. As we continue our work at Somerville Local First, their strength will only grow.

The Shift to spending locally has already started in Somerville, and it’s coming soon to other American cities and towns. We’re reorganizing, right now, at the grassroots. Entrepreneurs are opening businesses in post-Katrina New Orleans; the town of Hardwick, Vermont is reinventing itself as a community based on sustainable food and agriculture. Soon, the rest of us will follow suit. We will make the shift. The world will fundamentally change. And it will never go back to the way it was before. I’ve emerged invigorated and inspired. We are winning in this glorious push to create a better world.

I’m going to borrow from the work of others, a characteristic of any good movement, and use the words of those more eloquent than I am to close:

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
—The Elders Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation

Joe Grafton is the executive director of Somerville Local First (, a nonprofit whose mission is to support locally owned independent businesses and a sustainable community.

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