Guest Post by Scott Morris
A few months ago, I got a phone call from Katie. "How would you like to go to the DR?" "The what?" I replied. "The Dominican Republic. They have an environmental film festival that's featuring Money & Life this year and I'm already scheduled elsewhere and can't go. It's M&L's first big film festival. Sound like something you'd be into? They are paying all expenses!" "Well uh, let me think about tha...YES!"
Having never been further south than Florida, and knowing little to nothing about our neighbors in that direction, I was excited to accept the opportunity for some adventure. And, of course, another opportunity to spread the good word about Money & Life and the new economy movement.
Truth be told, I've been in heads down mode, trying my hardest to keep focused on my currency work and not entertaining things non-essential. I didn't do any homework on the DR before going, but at the same time that meant I left without expectations, which is rather advisable when traveling abroad I've found.
We walk into the 6th or 7th floor of an American sized mall, and into a totally modern movie theater. There's a green room with drinks available (at prices you'd expect in any American city) and this epic "May the Force be With You" on the wall, complete with a Darth Vader mask. Way too cool. After some meeting and greeting we take our reserved-by-name seats and strike up a conversation with a couple of Californians there representing "Otter 501". Before too long, a flurry of camera strobe flashes tells us that the former President of the DR has arrived at the venue...a mere 6 seats away from yours truly. Unfortunately, I have to leave the opening ceremony early in order to attend the first screening of Money & Life at a nearby college campus, but I knew I'd be linking up with El Presidente soon enough.
The first screening was interesting. The panel prior to the film had gone over its time budget, so they'd gotten started much later than anticipated, meaning that the last third of the film (all the good news) had to be cut if I was to have any time to speak with the students. I got up and, through translation, did my best to make up for the absence of the usual, Money & Life-instilled inspiration, and hopefully some of the students took away something useful as they headed off to their 8pm classes.
The next screening was at another university in a town about two hours away. We enjoyed the ride out with our translator and a couple of other escort volunteers, taking in the beautiful countryside views of rice fields, african-looking trees, and mountainous backgrounds. Of course there were the usual developing-nation scenes of more people than appropriate riding on a motorcycle, vans without doors spewing pure black exhaust as a passenger hangs out the side, and goats....just....goats ok? Anyway, the university is another sustainability-minded one, nestled comfortably back into some forest just outside the city. We were greeted by the hosting professor and the Dean of the School of Economics, who mostly focuses on Finance. We shared some discussion before heading into the screening room, where the film was just about halfway through.
After the film had concluded, I was introduced and brought to the podium to speak. This time I wanted to focus on keeping things simpler, more concise, and more heartfully directed. Guillermo did a masterful job of live-translation, and after the talk a number of students stuck around with a few follow up questions. A couple wanted to know how they could start up a "HERO Rewards" of their own there at the University, always an exciting question to field for me. I'm looking forward to following up with them about that. It was a lot of fun and I left a few token Merits with the professors as a sign of my gratitude for the gracious hosting.
One night Lucy Walker was due to receive an award from the organization for her film "The Tsunami & The Cherry Blossom". I was pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to use my proficiency in Japanese while viewing the film, as the subtitles were only in Spanish, leaving the English-only folks literally and figuratively in the dark. After the screening and Lucy's receiving of the award, we were all ushered upstairs to the board room on the top floor, where we would be treated to a surprise meeting with Leonel Fernandez, the former President.
We assembled in the room slowly and former President Fernandez takes his place at the head of the table. He then invites us to introduce ourselves before moving forward. When it's my turn, I cite myself as a protagonist in Money & Life, due to my work "creating a cooperative currency system which supports sustainability-related volunteerism, stimulates the local economy, and works to complement the national currency." "So...you create new currencies? That's kind of COOL!" he says. "Yes sir, we should talk more about it sometime."
The conversation goes on, and he talks about his vision of development for the DR, focused on education, film, and sustainability. He talks about changing the classroom dynamic, fostering more waste-to-raw-material industry, and getting more students interested in filmmaking. I was nervous. I was thinking about speaking up about a system I'd just been reading about in Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne's recently published, "Rethinking Money: How Currencies turn Scarcity into Prosperity" and I really wanted to share, but I wasn't sure now was the time. After all, I told myself, we'd be seeing El Presidente again at the closing ceremony. No. I had to speak up now. I raised my hand.
"Yes?" Mr. Fernandez says after my politely raised hand had been missed by another speaker, "Did you have something you wanted to say?" I did. Even now I can feel the tell-tale jitters that accompany me when I'm living my edge. Voice shaking a bit, and feeling shy on breath, I begin "Well, I just wanted to put something forward for your, and everyone's, consideration. I've been reading this "Rethinking Money" book by one of my advisors, and it has something to offer which could pull my currency work out of the abstract and into more concrete terms. In fact, I believe it would address many of the needs you've just identified, as it's custom tailored to education, and can increase any investments made into education have a greater return by 10 or 12 times the original amount..." I went on to describe what Bernard and others call the "Saber" currency, which uses vouchers issued to very young students to incentivize cross-generational tutoring, and resulting in cheaper access to higher education for graduating seniors. "What can you tell me about BitCoin?" he asks. "Well, there're a lot of people very excited about it these days, and I can understand why. BitCoin has been useful in that it has shattered the misconception that it is only governments and central banks who can create money, but in terms of its system design, it's actually very limited in terms of what it can do for social or environmental ends. I think we'll see it become a commodity-like store of value, but not much more." I reply.
Someone asks him whether he'd rather be a former president, or a baseball player for the Cubs, and that's the end of the group's time with him. Afterwards, while taking some group photos, I shake his hand and reiterate my desire to have a conversation about the DR's development and currency. We agree we'll meet in NYC in the first week of October. "Be sure to follow up on that." he says. I sent the email yesterday.
After our screenings were done, it was go here, enjoy this, go there, enjoy that until we headed home. We visited a cacao plantation, saw how cacao was planted, grown, harvested, fermented, roasted, and processed into that sweet brown nectar called chocolate. We planted about 2,000 trees with a bunch of Dominican students, and dined at a restaurant right on the water, which had its own private swimming area in case you felt like taking a dip before (yep) or after (that too!) your meal. Of course the meal plans were slightly interrupted as a mild tropical shower decided to join the party, sending the restaurants crew running on the dock (pictured) grabbing table cloths, collapsing umbrellas, and otherwise battening down the hatches. Half an hour and some floor squeegeeing later, no problemo!
We spent most of this time connecting with other filmmakers and film festival hosts. Lucy Walker was emphatic in her recommendation that I get myself to Silicon Valley as soon as possible (anyone feel like sponsoring a plane ticket?) because there are "loads of people with loads of money looking for people with ideas just like yours." She and a number of others all extended offers of places to stay should I ever come through, and I hope I'll be able to take them up on those sometime!
Eventually it was time to head home. We were to arrive at 11pm with plans to pick up the car and drive directly back to Ithaca, 4 hours away, getting us home at 3:30 or so. "Plans? HA!" the gods said. We got home to discover that in spite of a seemingly still charged battery, my car wouldn't start, leaving us stranded on the other side of New York state. The gods, if ironic and comical, were at least kind in their favor as we had parked in the driveway of someone we found on Craigslist. He kindly put us up for the night, helped us try to jump the car the day after, and even put us up for another night ALL FOR FREE when it ended up needing some time in the shop. What a blessing ~~ Frank, you really are a life-saver. Thank you so, so much again. Looking forward to hosting you here in Ithaca sometime soon! ~~ Such a gift-economy experience seemed a somehow appropriate way to end a marvelous trip to an island paradise-to-be.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Katie, both for the opportunity to enjoy this trip, and for the trust to represent the message of Money & Life with authenticity. Thank you to FUNGLODE staff and the DREFF volunteers for making the experience the smooth sailing it was. Special thanks to Natasha, Emy, Marc, and Guillermo for their excellent work. Looking forward to seeing you in NYC in October! If not there, then perhaps in the DR again sometime for another festival.
For many in attendance, being invited to, and given the special treatment at the DREFF was a chance to step back and realize that what is often thankless work is actually seen, appreciated, and very important to many, many people. For me, it was a chance to take a moment to catch my breath and help spread the good word about the beautiful gift to us all that is Money & Life. Katie has done us all a great kindness, and then done it all over again by releasing the film in the way she has. I humbly and cordially charge each of those who read this piece to share Money & Life with their community, a group they're involved in, or just a friend, and to send something back in return for the gift to Katie, whether by charging a voluntary donation, taking a collection, or otherwise just pulling a little something together. With all of us sending this and that, we will eventually return the debt of kindness with the best kind of interest there is.
Now, it's time to return to our work. We have a great responsibility as those aware of which way up is to spread that awareness, raise one another's consciousness, and leave this world in a better state of affairs than we inherited it. Jean Houston had it completely right "This is clearly the most interesting time inhuman history. I mean other times in history thought they were it, but they were wrong: this is IT!" So get out there! What ever instrument you play in this symphony of shifting paradigms, play it loud and play it with pride.
Scott Morris lives in Ithaca, NY and was featured in Money & Life for his "HERO Rewards" program and its "Merit" currency, which encourages volunteerism, supports the local economy, and builds real wealth. He now consults for the board of the Ithaca HOURs, and is working to bring modern cooperative currency technology to N. America via a Cooperative model. For more information including contact info, please visit www.mylocal.coop.