Gay Talese’s Basement
Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures
by Jenna Fisher
Over a carton of Chinese food a few months back a family friend asked me, as a journalism student, what I thought of news today. I went on a short rant about the sensationalism and the fearmongering that seems so omnipresent in the news media.
When I stopped to take a breath, she mentioned Yes!, a small, alternative magazine with a positive approach to issues in the news.
I decided to go pick up a copy, but it turned into a hunt. I tried magazine stands and bookstores around the city. At each place, my search among the racks was unsuccessful. Finally, I had to give up and find someone to help me. Inevitably, our conversation would go something like this:
The most difficult thing about the magazine may be finding it. On its website, the publishers of Yes! provide a list by state of where you can pick up a copy if you don’t want to order it online. If you can wait a couple of weeks, Yes! will send you a free copy of their latest issue. If that’s too long, the user-friendly website has almost every article posted.
When you do get your hands on Yes!, you will find a magazine that believes people are tired of just griping about problems in the world; they want solutions. The premise is that there is positive social change afoot, but because progress is not widely visible in the mainstream media, the magazine must, according to its website, “give visibility and momentum to these signs of an emerging society in which life, not money, is what counts.”
When In Context, a magazine with a similar philosophy, folded in 1995 after 12 years of publication, one of its staff members, Sarah Ruth van Gelder, along with a few of her colleagues, felt strongly that the concept of providing practical solutions was too important to die with it. So with no capital and working on old computers from the basement of a rented house on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Washington state, they conceived Yes!.
At 64 pages, the magazine may be small, but it doesn’t feel wimpy. Its sturdy cover and all the inside pages are printed on eco-friendly New Leaf paper. On the back cover, a chart outlines how many and what kind of resources Yes! saved by using the recycled paper.
Yes! appears four times a year, with each issue treating a different theme, such as “Oil,” “Aging,” “Place,” “Media” and “Healing.” The articles don’t try to avoid serious social problems in an attempt to accentuate the positive. Instead, they propose positive solutions. Although the magazine seems to cater to an environment-friendly, human-rights minded, anti-war readership, the solutions its writers offer sound very doable.
A timely article titled “Resurrect New Orleans: A Better City is Possible,” began by criticizing Bush and Republicans, but it went on to outline a plan that included using “rebuilding to lift the poor to safer economic and social ground.” An illustration caption read, “New Orleans can be rebuilt on higher land built up from Mississippi sediment to protect it from future high water.” The idea was to build higher and let wetlands return to protect the area naturally.
Other articles in the Winter 2006 issue dealt with the importance of debt cancellation for developing countries, the workings of fair trade in Uganda, the protection of indigenous rights and an alternative homeless shelter in Alaska. At times, there’s a tinge of anger in the activist tone that accompanies the uplifting news of progress.
I was impressed with the scope of Yes!’s inclusiveness in its issue on spirituality, which ranges from Wicca to Judaism to the Native American perspective. Both Bible quotations and Sufi wisdom are spread throughout, making the idea of a “spiritual uprising” begin to feel like a valid answer.
The magazine is a nonprofit company that does not seek or accept advertising. Van Gelder says that about 40 percent of Yes!’s income is derived from subscriptions and single-copy sales (although the $6.50 cover price is bound to make you think twice). The rest comes from private donations, support from the publishers’ own foundation and sales of back issues.
Many of the articles are written by outside contributors who work for nonprofit groups. Some are excerpts from books, newspapers or other magazines. Yes! is peppered with Web addresses for learning more about the subject matter at hand.
Though it has its weaknesses, the 10-year-old Yes! is filled not only with good intentions but also with good sources for those looking to further their grassroots social activities. Many of the articles are insightful as well as uplifting, and they make it worth shelling out the six-and-a-half bucks. At least once.