Local author Cecile Andrews emphasizes importance of community engagement in newest book
Cecile Andrews, author of the new book “Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good,” probably wouldn’t get along too well with Larry David’s character from HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, known for hiding his face and avoiding communication with anyone he runs into on the street. Andrews is a longstanding part-time Santa Cruz (part-time Seattle) resident who says something that’s struck her about this town over the years is people’s willingness to participate in a practice she’s dubbed the “Stop and Chat”—which is exactly what it sounds like.
“Here, everybody says, ‘Hello, good morning, isn’t it a wonderful day?’” she says. “And these everyday conversations move beyond the ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ Right before the election I was standing and talking to one man about Obama, and he was talking about how if everybody was doing what we were doing—having a conversation—this world would be a different place. I didn’t say to him, ‘That’s the topic of my new book,’ but it was like this message from the universe saying, ‘Yes, this is what we need to be doing.’ And Santa Cruz is so good at it.”
“Living Room Revolution” is a practical toolkit of concrete strategies to facilitate social change by bringing people together in community and conversation. Andrews wrote the book to encourage ordinary people to participate in meaningful conversations, and consequently become part of community change. She says even the smallest cultural shifts, like participating in Stop and Chats, are valuable ways for individuals to contribute.
She cites the Santa Cruz organization Sons of the Beach, a group of people who gather at Twin Lakes Beach to play the ukulele, as an example.
“They’re playing Beatles songs, ‘Que Sera, Sera,’ things like this, and everybody’s singing,” she says. “For me, it’s almost a symbol of Santa Cruz—this kind of nature and happiness and coming together. And that doesn’t look on the surface like it will change things, but what they have found is the more groups like this that people are in, the more civic-involved people get, and the more government pays attention to its people because there’s this sense that we all belong and we all care about each other.”
Andrews adds that research on happiness shows time and again that people derive happiness not from monetary wealth, but from community ties. Presented with the opportunity, people gravitate toward actions and policies that embody empathy, fairness and trust, instead of competition, fear and greed, she says.
One example Andrews provides of a successful cultural shift of this kind is the sharing movement. Websites like Craigslist, Couchsurfing, Air B and B and Shareable are modern day barter systems that have proven popular, useful, and in some cases, profitable, she says.
A longtime community educator, Andrews currently teaches classes as part of the Health Improvement Program at the Stanford University School of Medicine. She is a member of Walnut Commons Cohousing in Santa Cruz and is active in the transition movements in Santa Cruz, Palo Alto and Seattle. She leads a variety of community conversation circles and has a doctorate in education from Stanford.
Andrews will discuss and sign copies of “Living Room Revolution” at Bookshop Santa Cruz on April 17. She will also spread the word about the many local groups and meetups available for community participation.
“I want to have people go away feeling like, ‘Oh, wow, I can get involved, and not only will I make a difference but it will be fun,’” she says. “There’s nothing as satisfying and fulfilling as being in a group where you’re working for something you care about. There’s always laughter, and it’s a great thing. That’s what I hope people will take away from the Bookshop Santa Cruz event.”
Andrews’ three prior books, “Circle of Simplicity,” “Slow is Beautiful,” and “Less is More,” deal with the voluntary simplicity movement, which involves liberating oneself from the consumer and work-oriented culture in order to live in accordance with one’s deeper goals and values, such as spending more time with family, building community, participating in hobbies, connecting with nature and focusing on spiritual development.
“I’ve been writing in the field of simplicity and the slow life, and how to change a community, and it seems like everything I hear from people is, ‘How do we have more community?’” she says. “It really is about creating this different kind of culture. If we’re going to have any changes, we need to move from this ‘every man for himself’ mentality to a ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality.”
While Andrews wrote “Living Room Revolution” prior to the recent violence in Santa Cruz and the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut, she says its message is relevant to those looking to strengthen community ties and prevent violence.
“My essential message is talk to everyone; you don’t know where it will lead,” she says. “Talk to everybody the way you would in your living room. You’re not going to fight and argue, you’re going to be pleasant and convivial. We need to learn those convivial conversation skills and practice them every day.”
Cecile Andrews will discuss and sign copies of “Living Room Revolution” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17 at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. For more information, call 423-0900.