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When Karl Hess (Dear America, 1975) turned his back on bigness and anonymity--the evils of which are reviewed here--he turned toward his own sliding Washington, D.C., neighborhood, Adams-Morgan. There, around 1970, ""something began to stir in the debris"": a community government, founded not just on talking but on doing. Hess and his collaborator-housemate Therese Machotka discovered, however, that everyone didn't share their dedication to participatory democracy: reports of work accomplished and proposals for new projects rated cheers--but no participants. Blacks, particularly, wanted ""to have power in, not power to change the system."" This ""cultural bias""--with its premium on ""reparations rather than community renewal""-also led blacks and sympathetic whites to dismiss discussions of crime as racist; and robbery after robbery drove Hess and nervous, country-bred Therese to West Virginia. ""If the culture of poverty is to be broken in any black neighborhood,"" he's convinced, ""it will be broken by black people, not by starry-eyed whites talking soul patter."" But he's also convinced that people are not naturally sheep (consumerism merely magnifies that tendency), that local liberty is not unattainable, that if it's to have a political meaning it must have a material base--hence, community technology. In Adams-Morgan, Hess and Therese focused their efforts on local food production (rooftop gardens, basement fish-tanks) with impressive, if short-term results; but he has a vision of a new Washington--dotted with solar collectors and wind generators, local health centers and law courts--as totally self-sustaining; and he has a galaxy of proposals to substantiate his major contention that any community can develop a technology appropriate both to its needs and its resources. In the inner city, he'd set up shared machine shops and community warehouses; in rural areas, evaluate wood-burning stoves; anywhere, institute a regular review of patents for small-scale applications. All of which might, reasonably, move some lip-service adherents to take action. Even, with Hess' blessing, for a profit.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row