Resistance is the Secret of Joy–and of Social Revolution

The little old building that houses the offices of Orion Magazine was crowded with people of all ages, gathered around a data projector to see the just-released film, DISRUPTION: CLIMATE. CHANGE.

The film, made by the same folks who created the excellent climate advocacy film DO THE MATH, features stalwart activists like Naomi Klein, Van Jones and Bill McKibben, along with newer voices like Chris Hayes and Keya Chatterjee, all focused intently on a single goal: getting the viewing public—that’s us!—to understand that climate change is real, it’s happening now, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and there is absolutely no more important cause to which to dedicate our lives.

According to the 2014 report by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are in for a rough century. If we don’t stop burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow, we’ll drive the global temperature so high that severe climate change will result. Mega-storms, melting polar caps, coastal flooding, ocean acidification, damages to agriculture, human and ecosystem health, mass extinction, you name it.

Walker - from Beauty in Truth jpg

Alice Walker

How do we avoid despair when looking ahead at an uncertain and probably chaotic future? One of the scientists interviewed in the film quotes Alice Walker, who famously wrote that “resistance is the secret of joy.”

This is the title of one of Walker’s novels, and the quote comes from the protagonist, Tashi/Evelyn, who willingly submits to genital mutilation as a young woman eager to conform to her society’s idea of what is right and proper…only to spend the rest of her life dealing with the resulting pain and trauma.

She thinks to herself that “resistance is the secret of joy” as she’s on her way to be executed for the crime of having murdered the old woman who cut her clitoris out with a razor—the woman who performed this “operation” on hundreds and hundreds of young girls over the course of a long career as an exciser.

For us, as for Tashi, there comes a point where we can no longer go along with the path that our elders and leaders have laid out for us.

There comes a point where we have to begin to think for ourselves, and to see that the danger of going along with the status quo far outweighs the danger of standing up to declare that another world is possible.

In a much-quoted column on Truthdig.com, Chris Hedges writes that because of the stranglehold the fossil fuel industry has on our political process, ordinary democratic tactics are not going to work in the urgent struggle to radically rethink and retool our economy to run on renewable energy.

“We have known about the deleterious effects of carbon emissions for decades,” Hedges writes. “The first IPCC report was published in 1990. Yet since the beginning of the Kyoto Protocol Era in the late 1980s, we have emitted as much carbon dioxide as was emitted in the prior 236 years. The rising carbon emissions and the extraction of tar sands—and since the industry has figured out how to transport tar sands without building the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, this delivery seems assured—will continue no matter how many police-approved marches are held. Play by the rules and we lose.

“Resistance will come from those willing to breach police barricades. Resistance will mean jail time and direct confrontation. Resistance will mean physically disrupting the corporate machinery. Resistance will mean severing ourselves from the dominant culture to build small, self-sustaining communities. This resistance will be effective only when we refuse to do what we are told, when we turn from a liberal agenda of reform to embrace a radical agenda of revolt.”

These are strong words from a middle-aged white guy, a media guru with a lot to lose.

Hedges is disdainful of the People’s Climate March on September 21, which, he says, has been coopted by some of the big fossil fuel companies themselves, and has failed “ to adopt a meaningful agenda or pose a genuine threat to power.”

Go ahead, “March if you want,” Hedges says. “But it should be the warm-up. The real fight will come once people disperse on 11th Avenue.” 

This is a point that is also made in the DISRUPTION film by the People’s Climate March organizers, who freely acknowledge that the march is only a first step in what will be a much more protracted struggle to, as one activist says, “take back our future” from what Bill McKibben calls the “rogue industries,” the criminal fossil fuel companies who are selling the future of every living being on the planet for a fourth-quarter profit report.

My favorite part of the film is right at the end, where Van Jones looks directly at us through the camera and says that change must start with each one of us taking a good hard look in the mirror.

photo

The author marching in Washington,DC, February 2014

Planetary and political change starts with personal awareness and responsibility. We can’t keep hanging around waiting for our political leaders to do the right thing. We can’t keep waiting for someone else to step up. If you have a vision of a better world, now is the time for you to start expressing it, finding others to share it, and together making it happen.

Next week I’ll be sharing my own story of coming to awareness, finding my way out of the straitjacket of convention and back into a deep connection with the natural world, which I had as a child but lost as I took my place among the young adults of my generation.

Entitled “The Personal is Planetary,” my talk is aimed at people like me—ordinary, people who work hard, take their responsibilities as parents and mentors seriously, and try to be kind and compassionate towards others.

How could it be that good people like us have let the planet come to the brink of disaster?

Human beings are like caribou—or like lemmings. We are instinctively compelled to run with our pack, even if the pack is running straight over a cliff. Those who try to buck this stampede can find themselves trampled.

The DISRUPTION film makes the point that we Americans are both bystanders to the tragedy of global climate change, and perpetrators. We have been enjoying the carbon-intensive lifestyle that is now driving the entire planet down the road to ruin.

True story. But regrets and guilt won’t get us anywhere now. We must find within ourselves the courage to look in that mirror, accept our culpability and deficiencies, and move on to do whatever we can, in the time that is left to us, to work towards a smooth transition to a sustainable future for children and grandchildren.

I’ll be in New York on September 21 for the People’s Climate March, will you? Let’s remember that resistance is not only the secret of joy. It’s the only way real social change has ever been accomplished.  

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6 Comments

  1. This is worthy of sharing on social media – but I’m just not that brave. How to lose the regard of your friends and loved ones – irritate their usual feed with climate change articles. The irony!
    There are two really simple first things we can all do to offset our own feetprints – far more effective than rallying in the vain hope that our governments will act decisively. 1. Switch to a plant based diet, and 2. fly only when absolutely necessary. If your job entails flying, change it, and live on less if needed. We did.
    But again, these are things that polite people will not mention in public.
    It’s a freaky unseasonal day in Melbourne today. Shit fire season forecast. Pardon my crabbiness and thank you Jennifer for another excellent article.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  September 8, 2014

      Angie, I think one of the ways we polite people can best practice resistance is precisely by mentioning the unmentionables, to hell with observing convention! Convention and conformity to the status quo, with its elaborate system of social conditioning & etiquette, is what got us here in the first place. After half a lifetime spent “being nice,” I’m done with that. Time to get real.

      Reply
  2. Lydia Littlefield

     /  September 8, 2014

    Hi, Jenny,

    I have just read your blog, and the Truthdig Chris Hedges article (even though I shouldn’t have taken the time). I’m wondering about going to NY to march, and I’m interested in the power of Chris Hedges’ “go if you want” stance, and how it sucks the air out of my desire to go. Are you going with a group from SR? Or are you going on your own?

    Big reveal here: I have never gone to a march in NY or Washington. It could be time. BUT, Tom marched in Washington last year and went through the process of getting “arrested” and learned about the faux quality of protesting in that milieu. I can’t now remember the details of his story, but it left him more interested in behaving in subversive behavior rather than traditional protesting.

    I probably will get to the evening of Sept 20, and will be exhausted from another batch of classes (I just started my second year of grad school at UMass- historic preservation), and I will likely wonder – what was I thinking? If Chris Hedges doesn’t think it’s worth his time, should I bother? From my current vantage point, going down to NY to protest seems pretty appealing.

    I hope your semester is off to a fine start.

    xo, Lydia ps: I will be placing my submission into your mailbox this morning. If it’s too late (and really, I know I have pushed the limits!) save it for a rainy day, and enjoy it at your leisure.

    Reply
  3. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  September 8, 2014

    That was my first reaction to Hedges’ “March if you want” comment too, which is why I wanted to go read his entire column more carefully. He’s just saying that the march can only be a starting point for more protracted, focused and ultimately messy struggle. The corporate powers-that-be are not going to go down easily, and they have all the guns, armor and tear gas. However, if enough people get mobilized and activated, our passion will win. They don’t have enough jails to hold us all.

    I believe there’s power in getting together in the flesh–we humans are herd animals and we need to see the blazing passion in each other’s eyes to be fully motivated. Yes, I plan to go. I hope it will be a peaceful Sunday march with no arrests or tear gas. But whatever happens, I want to be there. This is the most important issue of our time, or any time in human history. This is not the moment to stay on the couch.

    Reply
  4. Wendy Penner

     /  September 8, 2014

    I was moved by the movie and how we can go beyond personal action (reducing our carbon footprint) to political engagement in a way that inspires and energizes. Hope we can have these conversations countywide! I look forward to reading others’s responses to your thoughtful piece!

    Reply
  5. I know, Jennifer, I should continue to show the courage of my convictions through advocacy – but I’m running out of friends!! People do not like the truth. It’s so burdensome.
    Still, we plod along, making sure we win a few hearts to the cause, by laughing at ourselves as a bit of light relief.
    Congratulations you Americans for staging this protest. Hope it shatters the complacency of the mainstreamers once and for all.

    Reply

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