Love is not a luxury

I am not one to be prone to panic attacks, but I do admit to often being in a low-level state of foreboding, that sometimes elevates itself to full-on dread. It’s not a mystery; I know what my triggers are:

  • the latest news of human activity destroying life or making our planet unlivable, whether by warfare, industrial agriculture, chemical contamination, deforestation, fracking and drilling, leaking and spilling or simply burning fossil fuels;
  • the insanity of a vapid, rapacious, evildoer like Drumpf coming so close to setting up his vampire camp in the White House;
  • the horror of the violence inflicted over and over again on African Americans, Native Americans, undocumented Americans, female, trans and gay Americans;
  • violence and cruelty to the vulnerable, in whatever form.

The dread comes when it seems like this filthy tide of misery is rising, threatening to engulf all the beauty that still exists, day and night, moment to moment, on our precious planet.

I have realized over time that I cannot be an effective activist for positive social change if I let myself be overtaken by sorrow, anger, disgust and despair. If I allow myself to sink under the weight of all the injustice and horror of human “civilization,” I will simply lose it—it will be crawl-under-the-covers time, time to check out of the real world into the dream world, time maybe to never come back.

So I have to practice this strange form of double vision, where part of me remains open, aware and enraged by the suffering, while another part of me goes about her daily life drinking deep of the beauty of the newly risen sun shining through the dew-dropped spider web strung up among the brilliant blue morning glory flowers, mainlining this beauty like an elixir capable of granting me the strength I need to keep the dread at bay and go back out into battle.

It’s almost as if by giving my attention to beauty and good I can strengthen those forces in the world, whereas if I steep myself too long in fury and horror those negative emotions begin to take hold in me and drag me down into a sinkhole of despair that only gets bigger when I struggle to escape.

This is a difficult thing for me to articulate, because I have never been someone who believed in sitting on a meditation cushion and focusing on “the light” as a way to combat the darkness of the real world. Even the ivory tower of academia has always felt too removed for me, although lately, thanks to the activism of the current generation of college students, the lofty impermeability of the tower is wearing thin.

I’m not advocating retreating and withdrawing and pulling up the drawbridge against the dread of the real world. I’m just admitting that for me, and maybe for others as well, it’s essential to restore my energies for the good fight by giving myself permission to savor and spend time immersed in what it is I love and value: deep emotional connections with humans, animals and the natural world.

The key words there might be “deep” and “emotion”: I have to allow myself to really feel deeply my love for specific people, places and animals in my life. I have to take the time to honor and appreciate how much these connections feed me.

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It may be one of the unheralded sicknesses of our era that we no longer feel entitled to the time to simply hang out enjoying each other’s company in real time (as opposed to screen time): cooking and eating a delicious weekday meal with family or friends; spending a couple of hours brushing and romping with a beloved pet; going for a long walk to a special patch of forest and sitting on a rock until the woodland animals forget you’re there and accept you as a harmless part of the landscape. These things take time, and time is what we seem not to have these days, or to deny ourselves.

At our peril. The sense of not having time, of time being regimented by the clock and occupied by a never-ending to-do list, is peculiar to the 21st century experience of being human, and it’s not a good thing, because that constant rushing from one task to the next keeps us living life at a superficial level—surfing through our lives, you might say, as though we were flitting from one website to the next. You can’t develop the capacity for deep emotional connections when you’re surfing…and without that capacity, you won’t be able to commit yourself passionately to any cause—or indeed, to anything at all.

So there seems to be a necessity of living “as if”—giving yourself permission to laugh, to love, to drink deep of the beauty of nature, as if innocent people were not being murdered by bombs and guns every day, as if the polar caps were not melting, as if the forests were not burning, as if the sixth great extinction were not advancing daily, as if the oceans were not being poisoned and warmed, as if the coral were not dying off, as if the bulldozers were not still grinding through the tar sands that will just accelerate all this death and destruction of everything we love….

It’s not easy to hold the awareness of all of this horror—and so much more—at bay. But we who care and want to work for positive change have to focus on love—on our deep, abiding love for this beautiful world and all the precious beings in it that we want to protect.

It sounds simple, like the Beatles line: All you need is love. But on a day to day basis, barraged as we are constantly by all the bad news and evildoers of the world, it’s hard to remember, and can feel like a cop-out or a self-indulgent escape from reality. It’s not.

It’s what “being the change” means. Live the change you want to see in the world, at a deep emotional level, and be part of a rising tide of hope and love that can sweep away the misery.

img_3727This is such an exciting time to be alive. There is so much potential for human beings to take an evolutionary leap away from the tribal competitiveness and heedless destructive ignorance of the past, stepping at last into our full potential as the sacred guardians of the complex ecological web of this planet, which we are finally beginning to understand. The leap won’t happen without our giving ourselves permission to honor our deep connections with each other and with Gaia; without our giving ourselves permission to love.

Hence the need to live, at least part of the time, as if loving was the most important thing we could possibly be doing with our precious time.

Because it is.

 

audre_lordeNOTE: My title is a take-off on Audre Lorde’s famous essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Poetry, as she lived and practiced it, was love. A few lines from the essay that I go back to again and again: Poetry “forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought….Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

–from Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press, 1984, 37-38.

World War III Has Begun: Which Side Are You On?

Although you wouldn’t know it from scanning the front pages of the mainstream media, a major battle in what Bill McKibben has called World War Three, the war to save the planet from human destruction, has been going down in Indian Country for the past six months.

Thousands of Native Americans, members of a whole host of tribes, have gathered at Standing Rock, North Dakota, to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL), which was sited by the Army Corps of Engineers to run dangerously close to the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Reservation.

But as the protesters say, they are not just defending Indian country, they are defending everyone who relies on the Missouri for water—and not just humans but all life.

If there is anyone to look back at this turbulent period in human history on Earth—now coming to be known as the Anthropocene—they will surely wonder at the suicidal tendency of human civilization in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Why, they will ask, would such an intelligent species willingly—even enthusiastically—engage in the poisoning of its waterways and underground water resources; the destruction of its forests; the chemical contamination of its soils and oceans; the overheating of its precious atmosphere by relentless burning of fossil fuels? Why would humans put so much of their intelligence and technological prowess into developing ever more lethal weapons of mass destruction, used to bludgeon each other? Why would they preside blithely over the extinction of millions of other species, the vicious ripping of the great ecological web of life on Earth?

Why indeed?

I know it’s hard for any of us to escape the clutter of our everyday lives, with the constant pressures and worries that beset us on the personal level. But this is precisely what is being asked of us now.

The courageous defenders out at Standing Rock dropped their ordinary lives to be part of the historic encampment protesting the stranglehold of the oil companies on our waterways and our lands. They are fighting in the courts, through the media, and most importantly with their physical presence, standing up to the bulldozers, the attack dogs and the pepper spray.

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Image source: Democracy Now!

This is what McKibben’s World War Three looks like—it’s already begun. It will be fought locally, as communities and individuals wake up to the implications of the destruction and decide that hell no, they won’t take it any more.

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Oil and gas pipelines in the U.S. Image source: https://projects.propublica.org/pipelines/

In my own corner of the world, we are under assault from General Electric, wanting to create toxic waste dumps right in the middle of our small rural towns. We have a gas pipeline being constructed, despite vehement protests, through a pristine old-growth state forest. We have oil tanker trains running constantly right through our communities. Despite a thriving organic and biodynamic farm renaissance, we still have far too many pesticides, herbicides and fungicides being used locally, and too many trees being cut down.

I have been thinking and writing for some time now about how important it is to align the personal, political and planetary in our own lives and in the way we relate to the world around us. On all three of these levels, 21st century American life is way out of balance.

It is time to focus, each one of us, on using our brief lifetimes to create balance and harmony on Earth. Sometimes the way to harmony leads through protest and discord, as is happening now in Standing Rock. Sometimes it can be as simple as choosing to support local, low-impact agriculture rather than industrial agriculture. Leaning on our political representatives to move faster on policy that will shift our society to renewable energy is key.

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Wind farm in Ireland. Source: http://www.iwea.com/_wind_information

There are so many ways to get involved in this War for the Planet, many of them quite peaceful. The important thing is to get off the sidelines. Get involved. Feel the potential of this moment—it’s literally a make or break period for the future of humanity on Earth, and many other living beings too.

The brave defenders at Standing Rock are reminding us that we are all “natives” of this Earth, and we all have a stake in protecting her. Which side are you on?

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Writing to Right the World

“I’m coming out with two books next year,” I announce, with pride but unable to keep a touch of defiance from my voice, in automatic anticipation of my interlocutor’s next question: “Who is your publisher?”

I’ve got my response down: “I’m pulling a Virginia Woolf—I’m publishing with my own press, Green Fire Press.”

Raised eyebrows, a nod that implies surprise and a touch of disdain. “Oh, so you’re self-publishing.”

No, not really. With a partner, I have created a publishing company that publishes high-quality work in alignment with its mission of encouraging positive sGreenFirePress-LOGO-vert-pen copyocial change and well-being. We have three titles in print so far, and my two books will bring our total to five.

Self-publishing has a bad reputation for a few good reasons.

First of all, self-publishing is often seen as self-indulgent, arrogant and vain (hence the old name, vanity publishing).

“Just who do you think you are, bypassing us?” the agents and big-publisher editors snap. “You know your book won’t pass muster with us, that’s why you’re not taking the traditional route.”

To which I would reply: I have the highest standards of anyone I know—as a publisher and an editor as well as a writer. Yes, it’s true a lot of dreck gets self-published, but that is not the case at Green Fire Press, where we will only publish books we believe in and work hard to make as perfect as possible.

The truth is that I have declined to explore traditional publishing because:

  • I don’t have time or energy to go through the whole get-rejected-by-25-agents game;
  •  I want control of the production of my book;
  • I know I will have to do most of the marketing myself anyway, so
  • I might as well reap the rewards of the hard work I’ve put in, by actually making some money every time I sell a book.

I published my first two books through traditional publishers. Neither paid any kind of advance. On the first, I literally never made a dime in royalties, even though the book sold fairly well (several thousand copies). On the second, the royalties were meager in the first couple of years, and soon stopped coming altogether, although the book remains in print and in frequent circulation in college courses.

Unlike Virginia Woolf, I do not have a husband or a trust fund income. I need to make money with the work I put in to my writing. With my next two books, if the books make money, I will too.

Creating a good book takes tremendously hard work and careful attention to detail, not only by the author but by the editor, proofer, designer, marketer and distributor. It’s a team project, and there are very few authors—maybe none!—who can successfully fulfill all these roles. Even Virginia Woolf had the faithful Leonard by her side, along with the whole Bloomsbury Group functioning as her marketing team.

At Green Fire Press, we have an outstanding team of publishing professionals working together to create polished, professional books. We’re part of the new “gig economy,” in that all the services offered by traditional publishers in-house are being performed at GFP by freelance specialists.

We could no doubt debate for a while whether this trend towards freelance publishing services is positive or negative—for the authors, for the publishing companies, for the freelancers, for the economy overall. As someone who has worked off and on as a freelancer or “independent contractor,” I know that it’s a precarious way to make a living, and I strongly believe that our tax structure and social safety net (ie, health care, unemployment, disability, etc) should be amended to support the millions of players in the new “gig economy” (for more on this, see the current issue of YES! Magazine).

But that’s a topic for another day’s column. Today I simply want to thank and acknowledge the excellent work of our Green Fire Press team in producing my two forthcoming books, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered: A Journey to Environmental Awareness and Activism Through Purposeful Memoir and The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir: A Writer’s Companion. As an author I feel in such good hands, and I am excited to roll up my sleeves and work on getting my new books out strongly into the world.

Not just to make money, although that would be nice. My memoir and writer’s companion book are both aimed at fulfilling my mission of “writing to right the world.” I write “purposeful memoir,” and I want to get more people doing that too, through my workshops, online writing circles, author coaching and editing and yes, through Green Fire Press itself.

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As I say in the Writer’s Companion, purposeful memoir asks us to look back at our lives in order to understand where we are now and to envision the future we want to create, not just for ourselves but also for human society and our beautiful, beleaguered planet.

If that sounds like something you want to do too, join me! In sharing our own experiences, we can help light the way for others, and come together to write our way towards the positive changes we want to see in the world.

Star showers

These past few days I have been aware of how overhead the meteors are sizzling, though we can’t see or hear them. Apparently this year’s Perseid meteor shower is especially intense, with some 200 shooting stars an hour at the peak, instead of merely 80 per hour, the norm.

Here in New England it’s been cloudy in the evenings, so I have not been able to see the shooting stars…but I’ve been thinking about how the meteor showers happen 24 hours a day, whether or not we see them. Just because they’re blotted out by the brilliance of the Sun doesn’t mean they’re not happening.

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Somehow I have been able to sense the whoosh of the meteors during the day, as the Sun burns mercilessly overhead; as well as at night, through the blankness of my ceiling, despite the grind of the air conditioner that is the only thing making this heat wave bearable.

Every few seconds: whoosh, there goes another one!

Even though I know the shooting stars are meteors, it still seems, when I see one, like I am watching a “star” detach itself from the dark heavens and fling itself across the blackness of space.

Lately I have been restless, wanting that freedom, the ability to detach myself from the background and streak forwards towards an unknown destination. This is strange for me, as I have been someone who has hung on firmly to my corner of the universe for my whole life, very rarely venturing beyond the borders of what I know and love.

I have the sense that maybe I’m not alone in this.

It seems like we are once again entering a time to “let our freak flags fly,” as Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young put it during the tumultuous 1960s. Time to let go of the customs and habits we’ve accepted as normal, and held on to as if they were the answer to the question we were never taught to ask.

Question: If you’re born as a human being, what is your life all about? Why are you here? What are you meant to be doing with your “one precious life” (Mary Oliver)?

To some degree, I think the answer is both simpler and more complex than we might expect.

We are here to be the soul of the Earth, the anima mundi, the means by which the planet can see, hear, touch, feel and understand herself. The other living beings perform this function too, of course. But only Homo sapiens, so far, has the ability to see into the future and evaluate the past. Through our amazing technological ability, we can foresee when the meteor shower will come, not just this year but for the years to come as well. And we can record the beauty of these showers, in writing and in images, preserving the present moment for posterity in a way that was never possible before we showed up on the planet.

We have a unique capacity to manipulate time, we humans. For better or worse, we are aware of the past and the future as well as the present moment.

I am not sure that this is really a blessing. I might be happier if I could simply detach myself and fly, like a meteor, without worrying about everything leading up to this moment, and everything that will result from my choice to let go.

In my memoir I wrote about an August night long ago when I went to watch shooting stars with a friend up on a dark hillside, just the two of us lying on a tarp, under a blanket, our warm bodies a counterpoint to the cold brilliance of the shooting stars overhead.

That night I chose not to become the lover of my companion; we went our separate ways. Does the memory of that August meteor shower haunt him as it does me? Does he feel the soul connection we made that night, still firm and unshakeable despite more than 30 years gone by?

I feel the meteors shooting across the sky all day, all night, though I cannot see them. Does that make them any less real?

Maybe it is time to detach ourselves from the tyranny of believing only what we see. Maybe it is time, despite our media obsessions, to give more credit to what we feel with our mind’s eye, with our hearts and souls.

Whoosh, there goes another one! Did you see it? Did you feel it?  There it goes!

Hillary Clinton: Holding the Center in These Complex Transition Times, So We Can Do the Essential Work of Creating a Better World

Like most Bernie Sanders supporters, it was hard for me to watch Hillary Rodham Clinton take the stage on Thursday night to accept the nomination of the Democratic Party, while Bernie sat in the crowd looking on, unable to conceal his exhaustion and dejection.

As Bernie said, there is a winner and a loser to every contest, and he lost this time. But it is impossible to escape the feeling that he could very well have won, if the Democratic establishment had not undermined him at every step, aided and abetted by the establishment media.

What would this election season have looked like, if we had two outliers, Donald and Bernie, duking it out?

We’ll never know, because this time around the center held—the center represented by the centrist Hillary Clinton.

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As Bernie has been saying, it’s clear that his revolution has pushed Hillary to the left. We heard it in her acceptance speech, where she said loud and clear that she stands for free public education for kids from families making $120,000 or less. She said, somewhat less clearly, that she stands for “a living wage,” and for student loan relief. We know that she believes in universal health care. She said over and over again that she will work tirelessly to create more good jobs in America…with “clean energy jobs” a phrase repeated more than once in the speech.

I took away two important impressions from her remarkable convention performance last week.

One, she did a brilliant job at pitching herself as a leader. While she does not have the oratorical gifts of Barack or Michelle Obama, she looked more comfortable on the stage than I’ve ever seen her, and she spoke with a believable conviction about her ideas and vision for the country. She looked fierce and glad and on fire to sweep away that cracked glass ceiling once and for all, and hallelujah for that!

Two, it was clear from her speech that this is a leader who can learn, grow and change. While she has principles and commitments that have never wavered—women’s rights are human rights, for example, or all children deserve quality education and health care—she is also capable of shifting her ideas as she learns more about a given issue. This has earned her a reputation of “shiftiness,” but I am coming to see that as unfair. We want a leader who listens, thinks for herself and lets her opinions evolve.

For example, her stance on the invasion of Iraq, or the TPP treaty: initially she supported both these moves, and now she understands that we were led into Iraq on false premises, and that the TPP is not going to improve the lives of ordinary people—certainly not in the US, and maybe not anywhere in the world.

Seeing her position on these issues evolve over time gives me hope that she will also be the kind of leader who, as Bill McKibben wrote in a recent email to supporters, we can “pressure” to move towards the left of the center space she holds.

Like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton is striving to represent “all Americans,” and let’s admit that that category includes the frackers and the assault weapons enthusiasts as well as the environmentalists and the peaceniks. For a leader, holding the center ground in the midst of such fractious, strong-willed constituencies can be exhausting, especially as you are doomed to fully please no one.

But this is the kind of leader a big, complex democracy like America needs. Someone who can sit calmly in the center of the storm and keep the ship of state moving forward, as President Obama has done despite the obnoxious Republican obstructionism in Congress.

Hillary Clinton has the advantage of being deeply steeped in Congressional politics, as well as gubernatorial politics and international politics—as she reminded us in her convention speech, she is no stranger to public life. Almost twelve years as the wife of the Governor of Arkansas, eight years as First Lady of the United States (and not the kind of first lady who just bakes cookies and chooses china patterns); eight years as Senator of New York; and four years as Secretary of State.

As President Obama said in his own super-moving convention speech, there has never been a candidate as well-prepared as Hillary Rodham Clinton to assume the presidency of the United States.

I believe that she will be an effective leader who will be able to get things done in Congress. It is up to us, her constituents, to let her know loud and clear how we want her to represent us.

That is where the Bernie revolution must get back into gear. We can’t sulk on the sidelines and refuse to vote! Now more than ever we must engage relentlessly with the powers that be, rejoicing in successes (like pushing Wasserman Schultz out of the party leadership) and continuing to let the Democratic Party know that if it wants our votes, it has to walk the walk of its democratic principles.

Hillary is right, “we are stronger together.” The Democratic Convention (unlike the RNC) showed an inspiring range of people coming together—people of all ethnicities and religions, all kinds of people standing together under that big tent to participate in steering our country into safer waters.

I was so glad to hear Hillary say clearly that she intends to work through policy to ensure that the rich, including Wall Street and corporations, start standing with the vast majority of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet. Clearly, she has heard Bernie Sanders and his millions of supporters. We will need to hold her to her promises.

Hillary Clinton is a transitional figure between the old guard represented by her husband, among many others, and the new millennial wave represented, someone bizarrely, by that old white guy (and Jewish Democratic Socialist), Bernie Sanders.

We are in the midst of a seismic cultural shift, not just in America but in the world. The era of the global free trade cowboy is coming to an end. The globe has become too small and the Internet connections too penetrating to allow violations of human and environmental rights to be perpetrated with impunity. The TPP is a last gasp of this old regime (and why Obama has been supporting it is beyond me, it’s a serious flaw that I hope he will come to regret).

We are moving into a time when the local truly does become the global; when each of us sitting in our homes is aware of how intricately we are connected, all across the world. Next step, to fully mine these connections for the potential they hold to mobilize each of us to stand up for what we believe in, and join hands with others who share our vision of social and environmental justice, irrespective of archaic artificial boundaries like nationality, ethnicity or religion.

No single leader can do this for us. We need to make it happen ourselves, where we live—and this means in our local, physical communities as well as in our virtual communities online.

The Republicans are mobilizing on their side, and they’ve got a leader they deserve.

In Hillary Clinton, we have a leader who will hold the center for us as we do the essential work of social change, transitioning our global human civilization from a “dominate, exploit and destroy” mentality to a “nurture, connect and prosper” mentality.

Is it an accident that our transitional leader happens to be a woman? I think not.

 

 

Another Day, Another Mass Killing: Confronting the Causes of Young Men’s Rage

As we wake up to yet another spasm of hideous violence in the world—this time more than 75 innocent Bastille Day revelers mowed down by a truck driven at high speed along a packed sidewalk—I can feel myself reeling off into that terrified little-girl mindset, a cellular memory of always being afraid in crowds, always being afraid of violence lurking around the corner, always seeking the safety of my own little room, my own little bed, hiding under the covers.

But I am well into midlife now, and I can’t hide under the covers anymore. I have to accept adult responsibility for the violent world we live in. If young men are angry enough to risk their own lives to kill gay Latinos in a nightclub—to kill Parisian youth at a rock concert—to kill police officers—to kill young men of color—to kill, kill, kill—what does that say about the society they grew up in? Whether they grew up in Tunisia or Florida, they are part of the same global society that I live in too, and the anger that leads to the killing is real and must be addressed. Adding more anti-terrorist squads, sending out more drones—these are tactics aimed at the symptoms, but do nothing for the causes of the violence.

Virtually nothing is ever said about causes of these young men’s anger and fear and how/why it prompts them to actions of violent hatred. And yes, I am putting racist police who kill innocent people in the same boat as the racist terrorists. Difference of ideology, difference of scale, but same result: innocent people dying.

I’m also being deliberate here in my use of pronouns. Every single mass shooting in the U.S. has been perpetrated by young men, and I have yet to hear of a woman cop being charged with an unjust killing, although there have been some young women coerced into becoming suicide bombers in other places in the world. For the most part the terrorists have other uses for the women—as sex slaves. The question that seems primary to me is a simple one: what is causing so many young men to become so violent?

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I believe that every baby comes into this world with the capacity to become a loving human being. We may have different propensities to kindness or cruelty, but these can be worked on in the nurturing process. Bloodthirstiness and criminal violence is not genetically programmed, at least not yet. But it seems to be overtaking more and more of our young men, worldwide. What’s up with that? Where is it coming from?

Social indoctrination. Boys are being trained to love violence and to see themselves in the role of the aggressor. This is happening everywhere a boy has access to a violent video game, and with guidance from adults in places like radical Islamic madrassahs and radical gun-rights enclaves in the US. It’s happening all over the Internet, wherever violent fanatics hang their hats. The result: a steady beat of mass killings by fanatical young men with guns, acting out of a perceived sense of righteousness.

Ready availability of weapons. Ours is a world awash with weapons. The countries that manufacture the weapons decry the violence at the same time as they gloat over the profits of selling the arms—to their own people and abroad. The violence won’t stop until we deal with this contradiction and restrict weapons to the hands of trained peacekeepers, turning the giant factories to manufacturing implements of peace instead of weapons of war.

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Poor education and lack of opportunities for young men. Young men need challenge. They need opportunities to shine and excel and receive the admiration of their peers. These days too many young men must make do with vicarious pleasures: rooting for sports teams, playing video games. In the end they have to pull away from the screen and confront the fact that their lives are going nowhere. They don’t have the education or skills to get satisfying work. They’d rather be unemployed than work in demeaning jobs. They take out their frustrations on their girlfriends or on each other…and end up in prison, or dead. A few break that general mold and go out in flames, taking a handful of innocent bystanders with them.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is so much good work to be done in the world. We need to improve education, offering retraining to young men who need it, and develop a new international public works program like Roosevelt’s post-Depression Civilian Conservation Corps, which put thousands of young men to productive, society-building work. It doesn’t have to be just manual labor, although the strong backs and firm muscles of young men would be welcome on myriads of civilian projects. We also need young men to write and sing and dance and entertain. We need young men to develop better video games that are about the human power to create, rather than our compulsion to destroy. We need loving young men to guide our boys.

Nothing I’m saying here is new, or rocket science. I’m just so frustrated at our current way of responding to violence with fear, dread and retaliation, instead of with resolve to get to the bottom of what is causing young men to act out in this deadly way, over and over and over. I’m frustrated with the political deadlocks in the U.S. that make it easier for a young man to buy an assault weapon than to get a driver’s license. I’m frustrated with the kneejerk responses to terrorism that blame entire communities for the rage of a few individuals.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said so many times, in so many ways: Violence will not be stopped by more violence. It can only be stopped by loving attention to the sources of the rage.

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Loving people, we can’t hide under the covers. We have to connect and communicate with each other across all the artificial barriers that divide us, and resolve to do everything we can to confront the problems we face as local communities and on a global level. This just can’t go on.

From Orlando to Dallas and beyond: dreaming of a homeland to be proud of

The weather here in Nova Scotia has been stormy, but that’s nothing compared with the storms sweeping across my homeland, the USA. I write the word “homeland” with an inner cringe…can I really call this violent place home? Home is supposed to be a place of refuge; a sanctuary. I feel that about my island home here in Canada, but when I contemplate going back across the border, I can’t avoid an instinctive sense of fear and foreboding.

According to the astrologers, Mars is in Scorpio now—pretty potent times, when the god of war meets the sign known for intensity around death and sexuality. That might have “explained” the tragedy in Orlando. But the steady beat of innocent Black folks being gunned down by law enforcement officers for misdemeanors—or no crime at all—cannot be explained by anything except a racist society full of trigger-happy cops.

And this latest episode in Dallas defies any explanation. I am not satisfied with the official story, that a single sniper was able to kill five cops and injure several more people before being cornered in a parking garage. I have not seen any convincing evidence proving that the young man they killed in the garage with a “robot bomb” was in fact the sniper they were looking for. Eventually I assume they will show the forensic evidence linking the bullets found in the bodies to Micah Johnson’s gun, but even that kind of evidence could be trumped up.

I fear that this young veteran, handily dead, could be taking the fall for a sinister conspiracy aimed at further destabilizing the country and giving the police permission to “get tougher.” Which seems to mean, use more of their military surplus equipment against their own homeland citizens.

I read an article by an ex-cop who said 15% of cops are good people who would never commit a racist act; 15% are racists just waiting for an opportunity to strike; and 70% are just ordinary folks, susceptible to the prevailing culture in their community and police force.

Those percentages are probably about right when applied to the U.S. population at large, too. Clearly what needs to be worked on is the prevailing culture—the structural racism, the structural elitism, the deck stacked against the poor, no matter the color of their skin, and the way it’s becoming almost impossible to climb out of poverty if you’ve been born into it.

This bigger picture is what can be so hard to get from the media, which converts everything into sound-bites, “status updates,” or even, lord help us, tweets. Everything moves so fast, we are kept busy just trying to stay abreast of what’s going on, with little time or energy for contemplation.

Meanwhile, out there beyond the personal and political, the planet herself is getting ever more out of balance. The floods, the wildfires, the toxic algae blooms, fungi killing off amphibians and bats, the sudden death of entire populations of birds, reindeer and seals…it’s all part of the bigger picture of a planet gone deeply awry.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the violence and political mayhem we are seeing in the world is connected to the inner turmoil in human beings. We are the consciousness of the planet. We alone among all species are able to understand history and predict the future. We know the consequences of our actions and we live and die according to moral codes.

All of us who are sick at heart in these days of horrendous violence at home must understand that what we are seeing in the U.S. is just a pale echo of the massive violence Americans have inflicted on people in other countries (from Vietnam to Iraq, from El Salvador to Afghanistan and on and on), as well as—on an even bigger scale—on other living beings on the planet, from iconic creatures like elephants and lions on down to coral, fish and butterflies, not to mention all the beautiful members of the plant kingdom.

Since we have allowed the arming of our civilian population with military-style weapons, our country is turning into the same kind of war zone  experienced by people in other countries, and animals everywhere.

And more of us are becoming infected with that conflictive kind of consciousness, dominated by fear and its twin, aggression. The inner landscape mirrors the outer landscape, with devastating consequences for those caught in the crossfire.

Neither fear nor aggression will get us where we need to go, as individuals, as a society, or on the global scale. Nor does moral exhortation seem to have much effect. The only real solution has to be the deep, structural one: redirecting our resources away from weapons and war, towards education, well-being and an economy that gives every human being the opportunity to live a peaceful, satisfying life.

You may say this is utopian. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” There are many economists who understand that we have a choice whether or not to base our global livelihoods on the death-and-aggression-focused military-industrial complex, or on “right livelihood,” the kind of activities and industries that make people happy, well and fulfilled, and at the same time protect and care for our planet and the myriad other creatures who live here too.

While honoring all those—and there are so many—who have fallen prey to our violent culture, we must keep in mind the bigger picture, and the magnitude of what is at stake. The violence perpetrated against Black people at home is the same violence being perpetrated against so many others, in all the places in the world where we sell and deploy our vaunted American military weapons and expertise.

Let’s dare to imagine a future in which Americans are famous and respected not for the size of our military budget, but for our leadership in stabilizing our planet and making it a safe, prosperous home for everyone. We can do it. And we must.

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Brexit, Trump & Sanders Insist: We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For. But Who Are We?

When faced with the madness of the world, I often get the impulse to just retreat into my own private little corner and raise the drawbridge—let the world go to hell, just leave me in peace! But of course, no sooner does such a thought manifest than I realize how ridiculous it is: there are no “private little corners” anymore on this crowded planet, we are all as interconnected as a hive of bees, and just as vulnerable to plagues, whether mental or physical.

I’m sure you’re aware that bees have been having all kinds of problems lately, caused by humans overworking them or meddling with their environment through chemicals. In one common scenario, chemically addled bees simply lose their way out in the field, unable to navigate their way back to the hive. Out there alone, even surrounded by flowers, they die.

Today’s very close vote by Britons to leave the European Union seems to me just such an addled choice, driven by xenophobia and the injured feeling of having given up too much for too little in the way of rewards. Sound familiar, Americans?

I don’t know enough about Brexit supporters to be able to analyze their motives—I am sure we will be treated to an earful of punditry on that subject in the days to come. What I do know is that this vote symbolizes—or even actualizes—a dangerous political current that we are facing here in the U.S. as well.

Is it pure coincidence that Donald Trump was in Scotland on the eve of this historic vote for just exactly the kind of political extremism he represents? Am I out of my mind to see shades of conspiracy in this series of events: UK votes to leave the EU… stock markets crash…softening up the US electorate with the fear and crisis Republicans have manipulated so well in the past…allowing the engineering of a Republican presidential win, with Trump or someone else at the helm, maybe Paul Ryan?

Oh, give me my moat and drawbridge should that ever come to pass! And yet I know there would be no moat wide enough to protect me or any of us good-hearted people from the danger such a scenario would represent.

The only way around this is straight through, with full engagement. I am heartened to see the mainstream media beginning to regularly fact-check the inimical Mr. Drumpf and trumpeting the fact of his constant shameless lying. But the general public, particularly of the Republican variety, doesn’t read The New York Times. How can we communicate to them the catastrophe they’d be inviting by allowing the Republican Party to have its way with America? How do you communicate with people who won’t listen to reason?

The latest episode of U.S. Congressional charades—I mean, politics—in which the distinguished Democrats of the U.S. House of Representatives sat defiantly on the floor of the Chamber, phone video feeds flying high, signaled not only these courageous Representatives’ desperation to be heard on the gun control issue, but also the tactics that succeed in our weird, through-the-looking-glass times.

Go ahead, Paul Ryan, you can try to shut down the official cameras that, through C-SPAN, would have informed Americans about this bizarre act of democracy happening in the heart of the U.S. empire. Social media is the new Paul Revere, riding at lightspeed to alert the populace, and it is much harder to shut down.

Of course, both sides are working social media. We on the side of sanity—that is, peace, justice, prosperity for all—must work it harder and smarter. It’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of moment we’re in now. We can’t have a Brexit scenario happening here with the U.S. presidential elections. No. Way.

Here are some questions I wish I didn’t have to ask:

  • Why are we allowing the Republicans to get away with stealing our democracy by not appointing a Supreme Court judge? Would they ever allow Democrats to get away with that, should the situation be reversed, with a Republican president making the appointments? We are we standing by passively and allowing this to play out as they want it to?
  • Why do the Republicans want the general populace of the US to be armed with the most deadly weapons a single human being can carry? When the Second Amendment was enacted, it was because at that time, ordinary citizens would often have to be called upon as spontaneous militia. Is that part of the diabolical Republican playbook now too? Think about that for a moment, you don’t have to use too much imagination to see where that scenario goes….
  • Fear and hate thrive on crisis. Could it be that what the xenophobic, bigoted haters fear most of all is a peaceful, just, prosperous world, where everyone is doing just fine?

They’ll tell you such a new world is impossible, but I know that’s not true.

We humans are blessed with extraordinary intelligence. If we chose to use it for the good of the hive, and each member of the hive, we would thrive and create a global civilization that would rival our greatest utopian dreams.

We are capable of it, and we’ve already envisioned it. We just need collective and individual determination to turn back the tides of hatred, fear, violence and isolation. We need clarity and dedication to work together, locally and globally, to manifest the better world our hearts know is possible.

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Bernie Sanders allowed us to see, in a visceral, lines-around-the-block, stadiums-overflowing kind of way, that there are a lot of us good-hearted people here in America, just waiting for a leader to call us together.

We’ve got to stop waiting.

In our networked, hyperlinked times, we don’t need a single charismatic leader anymore, and that’s what the shining example of Bernie shows us: that each of us can and must pick up where he leaves off, and do what we can—just as he always, his whole life, has done what he could—to remake this world according to a positive vision of social and environmental justice for all.

We can, we must…and we will.

Bernie Sanders’ Unconventional Leadership: What the Democratic Party Needs Now

From The New York Times, May 29, 2016:

“Early optimism that this would be an easy race is evaporating…. While [Hillary Clinton] enjoys many demographic advantages heading into the fall, key Democrats say they are growing worried that her campaign has not determined how to combat her unpredictable, often wily Republican rival, to whom criticism seldom sticks and rules of decorum seem not to apply.

“Mrs. Clinton is pressing ahead with a conventional campaign, echoing the 2012 themes used against the Republican nominee that year, Mitt Romney. But Mr. Trump is running a jarringly different crusade: accusing her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of rape; proposing that the country conduct brutal methods of torture; and suggesting that South Korea and Japan be permitted to develop nuclear arms. Prominent Democrats say a more provocative approach is needed.”

A provocative approach…like that of Bernie Sanders, perhaps?

Sanders is as “jarringly different” as Clinton is boringly conventional. But the Times is too locked into business as usual to recognize visionary leadership and revolutionary change, even when it’s staring them in the face.

The rest of this article is all about what Hillary should do to up her game—ignoring the fact that between them, Sanders and Trump have already changed the rules of game beyond anything the mainstream Democrats could have imagined.

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This is shaping up to be as bizarre a presidential race as the Gore/Bush contest in 2000, with its hanging chads and sleazy strong-arm banana republic tactics. The intervening years have only made it more apparent how important US politics is to the fate of the entire world.

But what has changed since 2000 is the strengthening of grassroots political awareness and engagement by virtue of the World Wide Web. We are not as easily manipulated anymore by the party lines as touted by their mainstream media outlets (for example, the New York Times for the Democrats, Fox News for the Republicans).

The obverse of the surveillance state that the established authorities have been building up is the people’s surveillance of the state. What began with the horrifying release of the Abu Ghraib torture photos has continued not just with big sting operations like Wikileaks, but also with an army of ordinary citizens wielding smartphones.

From police brutality to sexual assault to chemical leaks and abuse of animals, it is getting more and more difficult for people in power to get away with crimes. Victims have become survivors, and survivors have become testifiers and avengers, crusaders who lead the charge for truth and justice.

Trump and Sanders recognize the power of the sleeping giant of the American public, amplified through social media. HRC and the NYT still don’t seem to get it.

Donald Trump and his followers are off in their own reality-TV parallel universe, using the same media-driven tools and tactics to accomplish their bigoted, dangerous, hateful agenda. In their own echo-chambers, they loom large enough to take themselves seriously, and those of us on the side of the real American dream of “liberty and justice for all” must not underestimate the potential might of the Trump mob.

However, there are more of us than there are of them. The slumbering, lumbering American public just needs to get aroused, and it will defeat the thin ranks of bigots and the fascists among us.

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I ask you: where do you see the most political excitement among the opponents of Donald Trump?

Not among the grim defensive ranks of the Hillary-ites.

Only in the youthful, idealistic, enthusiastic crowds pouring into stadiums across the country to cheer on Bernie Sanders.

The New York Times is right about this much. To win this race, the Democratic Party must abandon convention and embrace the brave new world we find ourselves in now. The Clinton dynasty, like the Bushes and the singular Mr. Trump, are 20th century leftovers.

If the Democratic Party is to survive the turbulent 21st century, it must support forward-looking politicians with new ideas. It must support Bernie Sanders. And so must we.

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From Selfies to Withies with Eli Pariser: Who’s In the Frame?

UnknownTis the season of Commencement speeches, and I read one this week with particular attention, because it was by an illustrious alum from Bard College at Simon’s Rock—Eli Pariser, the founder of Moveon.org and Upworthy, two awesome organizations dedicated to using social media technology to shift culture for the better.

There’s a lot to love in Eli’s speech. He tells the graduates that having a sense of self-worth is the foundation of empathy, which is the social glue that holds communities together. He enjoins the young people before him to remember that they matter, citing studies showing “the powerful effect that believing we matter has on the way we behave, especially toward those who are different from us.”

He continues: “When we’re affirmed in who we are, when we believe that we matter, we relax. We’re more open to new ideas, other ways of seeing things. We’re more accepting of each other. We feel safe. Our subconscious bias goes down. Our empathy goes up. Instead of seeing stereotypes, we can see and accept people as individual human beings.”

This leads him to the important question of how we should value ourselves, or what in ourselves we should value. After all, a bigot might look in the mirror and value hir hatred, right?

Eli is clear on this question: “Here’s what I believe: You matter because you contain within you a great capacity to do good. To act with love.”

He concludes his speech by asking the students in front of him to take out their cameras and instead of taking selfies, take “withies”:

“I want you to capture yourself in the context of everyone around, everyone who has travelled this journey with you. Instead of a selfie, let’s call it a “withie.” With your friends. With your classmates. With your professors. With your family. With as many people as you can fit into the frame. The whole context….As you move out into your next chapter, this wild and weird future, remember this. You’re not alone in your frame. You do matter. You have this great power within you to do good and to remind people that they matter too.”

Totally awesome message! There’s just one thing missing here, and that is an acknowledgment that there is much more in the frame of our “withies” than people.

2016 is a year when we desperately need to bring the great green and blue pulse of planetary life into our frames, and remember that our love and empathy must be extended to all living beings, from the plants that produce the oxygen we breathe to the plankton, coral and mangroves that support the ocean food chains, to the bacteria that give us rich earth and the insects that pollinate our crops.

Interestingly, Eli mentions non-human life just once in his speech, a reference to penguins that apparently occurred to him only because the penguin is the mascot of the institution he was addressing. He uses the communitarian nature of penguins to illustrate his idea of “withies”:

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“As any student of “March of the Penguins” knows, penguins are awesome. They can swim faster than a human can run. They can drink ocean water and sneeze out the salt. And when it gets really, really Antarctic cold, they huddle close to one another. They put the kids on the inside. They rotate turns on the outside, absorbing the chill. They come together. And that’s how they make it through the winter.”

“March of the Penguins” came out in 2005, bringing us up close and personal for the first time to the dramatic lives of Antarctic penguins, nesting and raising their young in the harshest environment on Earth. A decade later, a film like that would never be made without acknowledging that penguins are among the many iconic species now being threatened with extinction by the manmade global heating that is causing their ice shelf home to melt into the sea.

The fact that someone as smart and savvy as Eli Pariser could write a Commencement speech in 2016 making no mention of the environmental crisis at all is deeply sobering to me.

It reminds me of the humans in the 2008 movie WALL-E, who have computer screens perpetually fixed right in front of their faces. We have become so entranced by our own reflections in our screens that even our “withies” are all about us.

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Let’s go back to the conclusion of Eli’s speech for a moment. He says:

“As you move out into your next chapter, this wild and weird future, remember this.You’re not alone in your frame. You do matter. You have this great power within you to do good and to remind people that they matter too. If you do that, then truly there’s nothing to be afraid of. Class of 2016, you’re going to do just fine.”

Yes, I totally agree, with this essential caveat: the Class of 2016, and all of us who are in the service of love on this planet, must become aware of the gravest challenge of our “wild and weird future”—climate change and environmental destruction—and begin to direct our energies towards creating a livable future, not just for us but for life as we know it on this planet.

That means coming out from behind our screens and reconnecting with the elemental life on this planet—earth and water, fire and air. We need to feel the wind on our faces, to smell the fresh scent of damp earth, to remember what it’s like to swim in a clean river and sit around a fire on a starry night, telling stories.

Penguins are not just mascots. They are living beings with every right to continue their march into the future. Let’s put them, and the polar bears, elephants, whales and all other life on Earth, into our “withies” too.

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