By Laura Lee Grace
There is a saying that “If your life’s work can be accomplished in your own lifetime, you are not thinking big enough.”
It has been my honor to work for decades with Roy Prosterman – a man whose ideas are “big enough” for us all. And for that we all owe him a debt of thanks.
I met Roy in 1978, when he was giving a talk on behalf of The Hunger Project. Founded in 1977, by Werner Erhard, John Denver, and Buckminster Fuller, The Hunger Project hoped to end world hunger by 2000.
The founders were great at motivating people but at that time, understanding how to end global hunger was not their specialty; so they enlisted Roy, who joined their effort.
When I heard Roy speak that first time, what he had to say was so clear, so logical, and so empowering of the poorest people on the planet that I was thrilled.
I learned during his talk that democratic land reform, done correctly, wove together solutions to the three primary world problems that concerned me most: population control, world hunger, a more peaceful global environment.
That day, after hearing Roy speak, I signed the Hunger Project Pledge:
“I have taken a stand. I will take ‘the end of hunger as an idea whose time has come’ as my personal responsibility.”
I decided right then and there that my way of fulfilling the pledge was to work with Roy Prosterman in any way I could. I met him after the talk and expressed my support.
Then remarkably, in 1980 I found myself living in Seattle and began to meet Roy regularly to offer my assistance.
In those early days, Roy always said things like “We are planning to go to India for field work” and “We are working on a draft land reform for the Philippines” and “We are in contact with some people in the government of Manila”
Finally after many months of this, I just asked him directly: “Roy, who is the We”?
It then came out that there was no we. Roy was doing all of the work by himself late at night. He was travelling to engage in field work on law school vacations at his own expense. And he was still teaching a full load of courses at the University of Washington School of Law to boot.
Hearing this, I began assisting Roy to build up his organization and expand the awareness of his work. Little by little a wonderful group of Seattlites took an interest.
This first group of friends did everything from fundraising to helping Roy with fieldwork. In 1984, for example, I went with Roy to the Philippines to learn if Corazone Aquino would be open to the sort of land reform the country really needed.
After a morning spent doing fieldwork, we returned to our hotel to learn that some coconut plantation owners from outside Manila had been in our hotel asking for Roy by name…and they were armed.
A year or so prior, three of Roy’s land reform colleagues were gunned down and killed in a café in San Salvador. So we knew that threats from large land owners were not to be taken lightly.
Despite these threats, Roy wanted to stay. But I firmly told him that he had decades of work ahead of him and it was foolish to take such a risk.
So we planned a Hollywood-worthy departure.
We needed to avoid the large crowded hotel lobby so we had our driver load our luggage and bring the car around to a back entrance. We made our escape out the back, trying our best to look casual and unruffled. Wezoomed off to the airport to get on the next flight out of the country. We left so quickly, we almost forgot to ask where our flight was headed.
Now, as I think back to that question I asked decades ago: “Roy, who is the we?”
I know the answer. We are the we.
All of us who support Landesa and receive their newsletter are the we. All of us who want to end poverty and empower women and reduce conflict, we are the we.
Helping grow the we and building support for Landesa has enriched my life in so many ways. I plan to continue to do so, and hope I can count on you to join me as the we.