by Thomas P. Healy

One of my favorite treasures snagged at a public library book sale is a copy of sociologist Paul H. Ray's The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. It's a million dollars worth of wisdom that cost only a buck.

Ray published the book after 13 years of probing deeply into the lives, values and habits of more than 100,000 Americans who, he wrote, "invented the current interest in personal authenticity in America." Their "authenticity" was reflected, for example, in the growth of popular movements for civil rights and environmental protection, as well as participation in the consciousness movement that has swept the nation.

He estimated that some 50 million Americans align their values with their actions, likening those of us who do to a "country within a country" because we happily co-exist with our materialistic, "what's-in-it-for-me?" neighbors.

He estimated that some 50 million Americans align their values with their actions, likening those of us who do to a "country within a country" because we happily co-exist with our materialistic, "what's-in-it-for-me?" neighbors.

"Our future is not merely something that happens to us but something that we participate in creating," Ray wrote. "If we do this consciously, we can create a world that works." Published in 2000, such unabashed enthusiasm seems out of place in 2004, when we are constantly reminded that "the world has changed" since 9/11 and that military might is our only means to live safely in a world filled with terror.

After re-reading Ray's work, I've come to see that fearful, self-defeating acceptance of the status quo is the way to guarantee terror, misery and economic decline. I believe we must swiftly and aggressively counter passivity, cynicism and lethargy with heartfelt passion, cooperation and vision.

True, we face immense challenges. We need not look beyond the borders of the Hoosier State for a sobering glimpse of the massive problems we face:

• Nearly three-quarters of a million Hoosiers don't get enough to eat every day, including 275,000 children under the age of 12 who are either hungry or at risk of hunger.

• Indiana leads the nation in home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies, yet has no mechanism for assisting families who are at risk of becoming homeless. The recent property tax debacle might have the unintended effect of adding to the number of people who lose their homes.

• Our dependency on coal-fired power plants has propelled Indiana to the top of the nation's list of mercury-contaminated states, increasing the risk of neurological damage to our most vulnerable citizens and contributing to the statewide advisory to limit fish consumption from Indiana waterways.

• An ill-considered new-terrain I-69 route proposed for southwestern Indiana is not only expensive but also threatens to destroy unique forests, karst topography, wetlands and wildlife habitats, ruin productive farmland and spread the ill effects of sprawl to rural parts of the state.

These problems capture headlines — and rightfully so — but a compensating phenomenon also deserves headlines. This groundswell movement of "change agents" is active in every community in the state, crosses economic, racial and ethnic lines, and circumvents the left/right political dichotomy.

Most Hoosiers are fiscally and socially conservative, yet they are finding common ground with people across the nation who embrace a more inclusive vision of what it means to be an American and what constitutes a truly representative democracy.

Networking with groups around the state for many years I've witnessed steady growth in the practices and principles of our populist force for change.

Indiana is gaining an international reputation as a center for peace studies programs that attract students from around the globe. Two of the nation's best-funded Peace Studies programs are based in Indiana: The Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies ... and the Plowshares Group ... . With each graduating class, a new flock of "doves" is released into the world to practice nonviolent conflict resolution skills learned in the Hoosier State.

Dedicated environmentalists are committed to thoughtful stewardship of Indiana's land, air and water. Groups such as the Hoosier Environmental Council, Valley Watch, Save the Dunes and Heartwood are forging new alliances, lobbying various government agencies, building grassroots efforts to educate the public about our state's dire environmental situation.

Using Paul Ray's 2000 estimates, at least 1.5 million Hoosiers are promoting progressive values with personal action. This is a substantial constituency and an emerging cultural and political force that deserves our not only our acknowledgement but also our involvement.

During the past year, progressive thinkers such as Michael Moore, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Molly Ivins and others have brought their hopeful messages to Indiana, reminding Hoosiers that the majority of Americans want clean air and clean water, broader economic and educational possibilities, and more opportunity to participate in honest government.

By no means are these "liberal" ideals. They are American values that have deep roots in Indiana. But these values do not flourish without our participation. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, your unique talents and creativity are urgently needed. There are countless ways — big and small — to help in consciously changing "the way things are" and creating a "world that works" for everyone. Won't you join us?

Thomas P. Healy is a journalist in Indianapolis.