The moment for this Latitude Project has finally arrived. As in, the time is now.
You can read a little backgroun.d here in section 1, A Little Background, or skip ahead to section 3- The Time is Now.
- A Little Latitude Movement Background
The original latitudinal light bulb struck me three summers ago, when we moved to Vermont (43rd Parallel North) from Virginia (38th Parallel North), and when- as a farmer actively farming- I was so blown away by what a difference latitude makes in e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. The growing season up here in Vermont, just five parallels to the North of my family farm in Virginia, isn’t just shorter, it’s also more intense. There are less days in the growing season up North, but the days are also much longer in the summertime in Vermont than in Virginia, and plants grow exponentially faster. The intensity of this latitude also plays out in the culture, the kind of quick seasonal shifts manifesting in an intensity and flurry of activity. ‘Seasons are short so go for it!’. If it’s hot, you go swimming. That’s it. No waiting for tomorrow. This sort of first real living experience five parallels North after ten years farming in Virginia dovetailed into a recognition that latitude is something you share with others on the same latitude line. It’s a shared experience. Same daylight and day-length every day for every single person and place directly east and west of where you are standing today. It is so obvious, yet I had never felt it and lived it- the difference that latitude makes in our lives.
I credit my father-in-law with a majorly important move in my life that was critical to the Latitude Movement taking hold as an idea. He put up a nice sized world map on the wall next to our kitchen table. I would look at the map often. And one day, over the head of my little baby, I saw it. A vision of a straight line, like the red line of an airplane going across a map in an old movie, flying directly east from Vermont, across to Maine, over the Atlantic Ocean to Spain, then France, then Italy…and around the world. The line of latitude, what the world needs, what I need…because we need line, focus, connection in these times.
From there, the brainstorm on latitude took hold and grew, just like the plants in my flourishing Vermont garden. And perhaps, like a pumpkin plant overtaking and owning the garden, the latitude brainstorm sort of took over my life and owned my brain, in good and challenging ways. Latitude could be an amazing way to connect local communities globally, not in a vague ‘we are all connected’ way, but in an actual, specific way. Dorset, Vermont and Bilbao, Spain. Manchester Vermont and Sapporo Japan. Connecting along latitude lines could solve other emerging issues- that the world has not become smaller in the digital age, but actually much much bigger, to the point of being totally overwhelming and not human scale. How can we even begin to really process the reality of climate change? We need focus, we need specific, we need line. Latitude Line. We need to make the world smaller, and latitude presents a pathway forward.
When you come across a game changing way to see the world, or at least feel that way, you begin to see it in everything. I travel anywhere and my first question is: which latitude am I now on? I find out where you are from, and immediately wonder what latitude line that’s on, your latitude of origin, and what else is on that latitude. Some major earthquake or another world event happens and I am looking at the latitude. I was never a map geek or a truly geographically minded person, but suddenly I am spending all my time staring at maps and globes.
And through the process of cruising online maps, I begin to feel like I am discovering the world for the first time. Manchester, Vermont and Muskegon, Michigan have no idea they are so directly and intimately connected!!! It’s like seeing something so obvious that no one else sees, maybe a little bit like seeing the naked emperor, and wanting to shout it out to everyone, but then you are…a little crazy. But check it: What if communities began forming along specific latitude lines, and each minute of latitude (there are 60 minutes in each parallel) became it’s own kind of international community, with exchanges and convenings and all kinds of creative collaborative projects? What if our traditional social structures are no longer adequate in confronting the major issues of our time, and we need a new pathway? What about latitude line and communities of latitude, a world bridged by latitudinal citizen ambassadors?
Another trend comes my way and I see latitude as a solution- for instance, the fact that we have all the communication tools in the world, but we generally are becoming more disconnected and isolated. Wait what? But yes, look around you, tools help and they hurt. Tools have helped us to connect with people who think like us. Meanwhile, conversations at the bar, or the cafe or waiting for a bus, they don’t happen because everyone looks at their phone and so we literally have no interaction with anyone who doesn’t fit in to our worldview. We have no perspective, We don’t need communication tools, we need vision! Peripheral vision- to see what’s to the side of us, remember that? And peripheral vision, in a global sense, is latitudinal vision. We need latitude. We need line. And no line is more essential to daily human lived reality in the world than Latitude Line. Between Google Maps and Wikipedia, we can put together the beginnings of a shared narrative of our common latitude fairly quickly. We can begin to discover people and places that share something in common- latitude- but also force us outside our comfort zone, by integrating urban and rural, national and international.
Moments of “This project could be huge!!!” are counterbalanced by moments of struggle- “What do I do with this LATITUDE THING following me around and how do I move it forward?” “Maybe I just need to stop trying to be something more than I am, or do something BIG, and just do my own work in the world and raise my kids and basically just come back to what everyone else seems to be doing, just living life.”
But I believe in creativity. I believe in ideas. I believe in thinking outside the box, and the necessity of doing so. I believe we are growing more isolated in a world that has become almost too much for us to participate in with fully open eyes. It is too blindingly bright and fucked up. Latitude gives focus and line. It makes the world smaller, but gives us a pathway into the world, the whole world- not just the awesome places, but the shitty ones too. I believe in what Bob Marley warns about in his song I know a Place- that ‘all of our best thought just a drift into space”. And I say fuck it. If you have ideas, plant them and do something with them and try. Be you in the fullest sense and honor your creativity.
There’s much more I could say, and that’s one of the issues with this project- there is so so so much to unpack here in terms of what latitudinal connections could become.
2. Back to the Line.
A mantra evolves within me, that pulls me out of thought processes that are…too much. “Back to the line.” When I wonder what to work on and begin to feel lost, I say to myself, “Back to the Line.” And I begin looking at and thinking about 43.10N- the minute of latitude that includes Manchester, Vermont, my hometown.
Back to the line.
My original idea for how to channel this latitude brainstorm was to create a latitude garden and make the project farmer-centric. I would look for varieties of vegetables grown in all the little towns in Italy, Spain, France, Bulgaria and Japan that shared the same latitude line as Manchester Vermont. It would be a cool, creative project. Maybe some travel would be involved. It’s still a cool idea, and so I am going to make it happen, if in a small way in my backyard.
And as I started really researching and developing the idea, it became clear that the power of this idea would be in the specificity of latitude. So we have parallels of latitude- ninety of them in the northern hemisphere, and ninety in the southern hemisphere. The distance between each parallel is 69 miles. New York City is in the 40th Parallel of the Northern Hemisphere. What I want and what I need is something more specific latitudinally than a parallel of latitude. When I think about the entirety of NYC occupying just part of one parallel, I realize quickly that a parallel of latitude is too big. So a minute of latitude, which is just a mile wide, is about right. It is very specific. It is one sixtieth of a parallel. A minute of latitude is a mile wide stripe of earth that goes directly east and west around the world. Small towns connect with parts of larger cities. For most minutes of latitude on earth (there are 10,800 of them in total, 5,400 in the Northern Hemisphere and 5,400 in the Southern) there’s enough going on to make that minute very interesting. As you get further North or South on the planet, minutes are kind of limited in terms of towns and cities. But for most of where humanity resides, a minute of latitude is a world unto itself. Minutes that are too small could partner with minutes which have a lot more going on. Or develop another latitudinal relationship- creativity is the only limit, and there are no rules.
Back to the line.
The minute of latitude that includes Manchester Center, Vermont, 43.10 N, is an interesting minute, which helps it as a starting point for this project. In 2016, there’s not a lot of current international conflict/warfare on 43.10 N, which also helps, although that is a sweeping and simplistic assumption.
A parallel is not really a line of latitude in my view, it’s just too much territory. A minute of latitude is much smaller and focused, and perhaps even confining, but it is a line, one you make with a fine-tipped Sharpie along a map. As the movement grows, the formation of latitude communities, or latitude circles, will develop organically. Some minutes will partner with other minutes, opposite latitudes (like 43.10 N and 43.10 S) could team up, who knows. But if we understand that there are over 4,000 cities in the world with a population of 150 k plus, and several hundred cities with over a million people, the idea of a few dozen latitude circles, then a few hundred, and even a few thousand latitude circles (what we might call communities sharing the same minute of latitude) is completely feasible and doable. If just 10,800 people out of the some 7 billion on earth each took on one minute of latitude, and the work of orchestrating and advancing citizen diplomacy on that latitude, we would have every square foot on the planet accounted for by citizen diplomats.
3. The Time is Now.
The Latitude Movement is cool, and the possibilities are awesome, but cool and awesome don’t solve problems, and without solving a problem there’s no momentum. The idea of exploring a specific latitude is interesting, and revealing, but is it CRITICAL or NECESSARY? For most people we encounter around us (if we actually talked to or asked them anything ever anymore) the answer would be No. Which is why the Latitude Movement has hovered in a daily holding pattern in my head for the past couple years. For any new concept to take hold and thrive, it has to solve a problem that people feel is a problem. It has to address something that is visceral, not peripheral, and in direct view- a front and center barrier for people in their conscious lives today. A Problem with a capital P.
For me, the Big Problem to propel the Latitude Movement forward arrived election week 2016, in my morning perusal of the New York Times, in the form of this post election 2016 map article from the NYT showing the two Americas, the one that voted for Hillary, and the one that voted for Trump:
The BIG PROBLEM is the Urban-Rural divide, and the disconnect between Urban Metro/Coastal America and Small Town America. We have two countries inside the US that are so disconnected it is literally tearing our country apart, not unlike the mid-19th century. People cannot understand why other people in America think so absolutely and fundamentally differently. And with the help of social media, our bubbles have solidified into walls. How can we contemplate international citizen diplomacy when our home is a complete divided mess?
The Latitude Movement can actually be a real solution to bridging our differences in this country.
A real aspect of the Latitude Movement, as I have envisioned it, is connecting communities around the world on the same latitude with one another. This global vision for the Latitude Movement includes connecting communities across the US sharing the same latitude, and more specifically, urban AND rural communities. Coastal populations with inland populations, sections of large metropolis with small town counterparts.
Further, I recently started looking into Sister Cities, and the history of this concept, which really took hold after the second world war. Sister Cities focus on international ‘twinning’ between international cities, with the idea of engaging Citizen Ambassadors in citizen-to-citizen peace around the world. But what we clearly NEED to solve OUR BIG PROBLEM is a Sister City concept in the US that connects not just City with City, but City with Town, village, farm, suburb, outer suburb, the boonies, the wild, the other. Here in the US, those are the bridges we need to create to unite this country. We need sister communities, and I would argue that organizing bridges between urban and rural would be most effective along latitude line, building on the common platform of same line/same light, and perhaps connecting gardeners with farmers for starters. Food often helps most diplomatic efforts!
And that’s where the latitude movement comes in. If Sister-City type Citizen Ambassadors built peaceful and meaningful exchanges along specific latitude lines, we would truly work to build a united country of connection and understanding, or that is at least the idea. The logic of latitude line is that it is something ALL the people and places along that line have in common, whether or not they like it. So the common ground here is not based on interest, but the simple, unshakeable, place-based reality of shared latitude. Shared latitude as a new kind of sister-community is effective because it is also a practical path forward for the systematic and healthy growth of this idea of bridge building in the US. Instead of wondering which cities should connect with which towns, we can quickly look at maps and see who is on our team so to speak. No drafting process and matchmaking needed.
As the Times article so clearly shows, the two Americas are no longer the North and South as we have believed for far too long. The two Americas share the same latitude lines and can be united through the hard work of East-West citizen diplomacy. If we print out the maps, and start drawing some horizontal lines with across them with a fine-tipped Sharpie,we begin connecting our country together, from two Americas to one, and from one America with the rest of the world. In fact, you cannot draw an East-West line across the maps of the two Americas without going through, and connecting, both of them.
So there we have it. Enter Latitude Movement stage right.
Imagine latitudinal lines as bridges of support, listening, real conversation, and partnership, going East and West across the entirety of those two maps and you will see why the time for the Latitude Movement is now. Here at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, a three year brainstorm waiting for its moment for planting and nourishment.
Latitude- EAST and WEST- is the practical bridge that can unite and heal this country.
Here’s the link to the NYT map project if you haven’t clicked on it yet- take a gander, print it out, find your minute of latitude, draw an east west line, and get started:
And here’s a link to Sister-Cities.org: http://sister-cities.org. You can look into the history of the concept, and also quickly discover that the concept needs a fresh twist. Some of the basics of Citizen Ambassadorship have been worked out and established, it’s just that we need something like the Americorps version of Peacecorps in terms of citizen ambassador work. And if you think through how we can do rural-urban bridge building, latitude really becomes such an effective tool.
When I started this latitudinal brainstorm about three years ago, my interest was how local folks could connect globally in ways that were sustained and not random. The latitude idea, of following a specific latitude line east and west around the world, was to make the world smaller, and to utilize the common platform of same latitude to build real bridges amongst local people around the world. The problem I was attempting to solve was how to make the connection between local and global a REAL one, not just a vague idea, or an overwhelming one. But that is not a capital P problem for most people, even though I think it should be. What is a capital P problem right now is the urban-rural divide in the US, and the Latitude Movement is a way to solve it.
Eastward and Westward,