Walk Out Walk On explores the power of individuals who choose to take a community driven approach to tackling "unsolvable" problems. Wheatley and Frieze take the reader on a "learning journey" throughout some of the world's most progressive communities who dare to buck social norms and change their futures.
Walk Out Walk On
by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze
(Berrett-Koehler Pub, 2011)
“Who do you want to be for this world?” “Are you willing to risk being changed by this journey?”
These are two questions asked by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze in their deeply personal and thought provoking book Walk Out Walk On.
The structure of the writing emulates a guided tour, or a “learning journey” as the authors call it. Through narratives and sensory descriptions, the authors expose the reader to a series of progressive, international societies who are making changes as a grassroots level. However, this is not a book that simply catalogs the ventures and adventures of distant populations. At various points, the reader is directed to meditate on the opinions, ideas and internal conflicts that they experienced while they were reading. Through this guided self-reflection, Wheatley and Frieze encourage their audience to confront their own ethnographic prejudices and investigate the humanistic underpinnings of each sociopolitical movement.
The question that kept arising in my mind was ‘Why not?’ In the beginning of the book, Wheatley and Frieze introduce the reader to a community in Mexico which uses bicimáquinas, or bicycle-powered machines, to power blenders and laundry machines and to retrieve water from wells. Why not? Later on, a village joins together to play what appears to be a simple game of make believe. They dream up community centers and build them out of construction paper. The game turns very real when the dreams are implemented into society. Play and power are mixed. Why not?
The societies, their cultures, their goals, and their accomplishments are as diverse as they come, but Wheatley and Frieze are able to focus on the people behind the movements. They put a human face on issues as complex as economic self-reliance, food security, and political separatism . They reveal the emotions, desires and needs that are present not just in the members of one village but in everyone who calls himself or herself a human. They are able to interweave communities and their obstacles in a way that mirrors the innate interconnectedness that is crucial to living in a “trans-local” world.
My favorite part of the book was when I was introduced to Anna Murunda, a resilient widow who found empowerment in the imploding nation of Zimbabwe. At the time that the book was written, Zimbabwe had a sextillion percent inflation rate. As the authors described it, a sextillion percent inflation rate “means always buying two beers at once, because by the time that you finish the first, the second would otherwise cost you double.” Ana Murunda lived on $4 per month. It was the pension left to her after her husband passed away. School alone cost $5 per month.
Instead of falling victim to her circumstances, Murunda used her skills to not only survive, but to empower other women, as well. She started a sewing co-op and made bags, clothing and other sewn items. From there, she went on to create a knitting school for local girls. Capitalizing on her independence and finding her voice, she lead discussion groups on the subject of AIDS, a disease that greatly affects much of the population in Zimbabwe. Murunda has a permaculture garden and grows fruit trees in a desolate geological area by using the waste from movable outhouses to provide a nutrient rich area to plant seeds.
“I thought that because I was one of the poorest people in my community, I had no role to play,” Murunda says in the book. “I have learned that I have been an example in my community for being a widowed woman who overcame severe hardship. I have learned that I am a strong woman. I have learned that I can find peace within myself…”
The book asks the reader to confront stereotypes and to consider the role that engineered identities and Western patriarchy have played in their lives. It gives the audience a glimpse of a world where people learn for the sake of learning, embrace all ideas, and combat neocolonialism with a sense of self-efficacy and a community-driven approach.
The book prompts questions. It prompts reflection. And it prompts action. It is a must read for anyone interested in social justice and personal growth.
Reviewed by Haley Petersen