Marching with Words into the Light of a New Era: Time to Rise!

My friend Barbara Newman described the staged reading she and I will be participating in on January 21 as a “march with words,” and this resonates with what I see so many of us doing these days as we rally together in our homes and community centers, our town halls and places of worship, and of course in the great 21st century town square, social media.

MEXICO - ZAPATISTAS ANNIVERSARYI am reminded of Subcomandante Marcos, who said “words are our weapons,” while fighting what appeared to be a hopelessly lopsided fight in the southern jungles of Mexico–Indians with rusty rifles and bandanas standing up to soldiers with helicopters and bombs. Marcos was one of the very first resistance fighters to use the power of the Internet as a way to sway the hearts and minds of ordinary onlookers, the world over, against local oppressors.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we see the man about to become the 45th president of the United States deploying the same tactics, his every tweet as powerful as any bombshell.

This is a dark time, and yet it’s also a time shot through with the light of the new age that is cracking open before us. Let us be candid and admit that while it would have been a symbolic victory for women to have Hillary Clinton sworn in as President today, her political bent was conservative, in the sense of maintaining the status quo.

What is familiar is comforting, we’re all children that way. Some of us are more adventurous than others. Some of us have nothing left to lose, and so we’re willing to place our bets on a total dark horse like Mr. Drumpf. If Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he would probably have won for the same reason (barring major interference from Moscow).

But no use looking backward now. Let’s squint and look directly into the light of the future. Has there ever been a human revolution that has happened without struggle? Have people ever been willing to embrace radical change without having their backs pushed to whatever the wall of the moment might be?

Today in Washington DC a charlatan will take the oath of office as President of the United States. No, it’s not a reality TV show, it’s reality.

But it’s also reality that millions of Americans are energized and activated as never before, as a direct result of the crazy events of 2016. We are “tuned in, turned on, tapped in,” to use the favorite saying of a certain psychic I know.

That same psychic often reminds us that sometimes it takes a strong dose of WHAT WE DON’T WANT to jar us into an appreciation and understanding of WHAT WE DO WANT.

You can see that happening in the outpouring of love for the departing Obamas, in our entreaties to them to stay engaged in public life.

DEM 2016 ConventionBoth Barack and Michelle Obama are powerful orators. So is Bernie Sanders. We will need the power of their words more than ever in the bleak months ahead. We will need words to keep our spirits high, to remind us of the stakes and why we must fight for what we value, even putting our bodies on the line if need be.

It is surely no accident that in the very week that saw a parade of military-industrial complex billionaires coming to Washington hoping to ride Trump’s wave into political power, we got word from the scientists that 2016 was officially the hottest year on Earth since record-keeping began in the 19th century. It topped 2014 and 2015, which were also the hottest years ever in their time.

When I align the personal, political, and planetary in this moment, I see an amazing crystallization taking place. The Earth herself rumbles and roars her discontent and imbalance; political systems that have held for centuries crack and fall apart; and in so many human psyches a deep sense of uneasiness registers, an intuitive sense that something is not right.

Change is not just coming…it’s here. We are living, day by day, through extraordinary times.

I call on all of us to rise and meet the light of change with a strong spine and a resolute spirit.

We cannot go back, we can only go forward. There is a huge opportunity now to go forward into a more perfect union—not just among Americans, but among all peoples on Earth, and to reimagine our role as humans to become the caretakers of our planet, rather than its pirate plunderer-destroyers.

As we cry out against what we don’t want, let’s also use our words to envision and describe the contours of what we stand for.

Peace. Harmony. Generosity. Love.

How would each of these ideals look to you, brought down to the level of your community, your family, your life?

Look boldly into the light of this new era we’re entering, and use your words and your actions to make it so.

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Nova Scotia sunset, 2016

Only Connect! Urgent Questions for our time

Social ecologist Nora Bateson published an urgent blog post this morning, a list of the questions she believes need to be posed in order for global society to shift from our current careen toward chaos towards a sustainable future.

Her excellent questions are (and I quote):

“Education: How can we best cultivate curiosity, information, and learning between generations to prepare ourselves to perceive and respond to the complexity of our world with less destruction than centuries past?

“Health: How can we support health in human beings by making it possible for each person to eat healthy food, sleep well, know that their families are supported, be respected in their community, have relevant contributions (education and employment), breathe clean air, and drink clean water?

“Ecology: How can we interface with the complexity of our natural world so as to create less harm to the interdependence of all living things?

“Economy: How can we shift the economic system so that it is not based upon exploitation of nature and humanity –without crashing the globe into chaos? (note: no one gets rich on this version of economy)

“Politics: How do we get the policy makers of our world to mandate cross-sector information for their decision making processes so that they have the possibility of taking into account complexity?

“Media: How do we get a moratorium on binaries? How do we support public understanding, not trained in perceiving complexity, to become accustomed to it and demand communications institutions deliver cross-contextual information?

“Culture: What is the approach to open the global discussion about the pending fate of humanity? What matters? What are we willing change? How can we survive together?”

She specifies, “The danger we are in is woven across these contexts, so the questions posed must correspond to that transcontextual process,” and “All of the questions…scale from personal, to institutional, to global concern.”

I so agree that ours is a time of questions. In my classes these days, I spend a lot of time working with my students on formulating their questions about whatever material we’re reading/viewing/discussing. The old answers no longer suffice, and the old ways of framing questions are often too simplistic to address the full scope of the complexity and multi-dimensionality of our time.

I tell my students that I care more about the questions they raise in their humanities papers than about their “thesis statements”; and that the goal of their work is all about process: tracing a new thought path by getting into conversation with others about possible answers that can help us all to refine our questions, sharpen our vision, and build sturdier bridges into our uncertain future.

I believe that there is an important category/ context missing from Nora’s list of questions: the sacred.

I have been thinking a lot about the 95% of the cosmos that is made up of “dark energy” and “dark matter”—“dark” meaning that we don’t know what in the world it is. Everything we can perceive represents only 5% of the universe. What is the rest?

My guess is that the vast 95% is related to what humans have been referring to for millennia as the metaphysical, the psychic, the spiritual, the divine.

That divinity is the big “context,” the sacred connective tissue shining through the cracks between each of Nora’s questions. Science has only just realized it’s there, though our mystics and shamans have always been able to access it (sometimes with a little help from the fungi and plant world).

I see Nora’s first and last questions as related, closing a circle. Education must encourage curiosity and questioning about what matters most: the survival of our species and all of our companion life forms on Earth, including the elemental building blocks of life and the vast, largely invisible-to-us micro-biomes that support and enable life on the planet.

If we shift our vision from the foreground represented by Nora’s rightly urgent questions to the background—the vast “dark” energy and matter that we might call the spiritual interconnections of self and cosmos, immanent in every speck of the familiar 5% confines of the universe we know so far—suddenly the questions shift too, crystallizing into a mighty clarion call that can reach around our little planet and unite us all:

How can we live in sacred harmony? How can we most firmly, most productively, most lovingly connect with each other and with All That Is?

I am reminded of the famous quote from E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, when Margaret Schlegel reflects on the “incomplete asceticism” that rules her would-be lover, Henry Wilcox. Margaret believes that:

“She might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire….Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die” (Chapter 22).

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At this moment, in the early 21st century, we are poised on Forster’s “rainbow bridge.” We have the potential to “connect the prose in us with the passion,” to leave the beast and the monk in us behind.

It’s time for Benjamin’s Angel of History to turn around, snap out of the trance of the past and look bravely into the glowing, as-yet-unlived future, asking the question that reverberates through the “dark” realms of our cosmos:

How can we connect and truly progress?

 

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The Sound and the Fury of 2017

So now the holidays are over. The splurging is done and the credit card bills are coming in; the indulgences of food and drink are showing up on the bathroom scale; and it’s back to work, back to reality, back to the scariness and dreariness of our time and place.

It’s not been easy to listen to the news this week. Imagine living in a country where the ruling party’s very first act of the year is to try to torpedo their own internal ethics oversight committee. Act Two: throw millions of people off the health care rolls, leaving them to sink or swim on the private market.

We’re witnessing the great comeback of the villains of 2007; we’re back at the mercy of the loan sharks and shysters who created the disaster that nearly sank our whole economy.

And it’s not just the poor who got taken for a ride by all those unscrupulous profiteering leeches; let’s not forget how many middle-class people slid downhill during that debacle. Let’s remember how many of our children are still emerging into this cold Dickensian world as young adults dragging a ball and chain of student loan debt wherever they go.

In 2017, the veils are down and we can see the naked power grab of the billionaires for what it is: a victory of short-term profit-gouging over any longterm sustainable thinking.

The ascension of Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to the U.S. State Department allows the worst enemy of environmental health and climate stability to run roughshod over international treaties, agreements and sanctions.

Not that Hillary Clinton was much different. But at least she made some gestures towards respecting international climate agreements. We’re going to look back at those days with nostalgia as we get a taste of what it’s like to live in a world totally in thrall to the fossil fuel companies and their affiliated chemical, weapons, plastics, and agricultural industries. Not to mention Big Pharma and the health insurers, those vultures who profit on the sick and weak.

Every social justice issue we hold dear is under siege now. The villains are in charge, and heaven help anyone who doesn’t meet their narrow ideas of political correctness: male, white, straight, rich, gun-toting, red-meat-eating, Christian, conservative.

So what are the rest of us to do?

Well, we’re not going to curl up in a corner and cry. We’re going to come together and be as loud and abrasive as we can possibly be. We’re going to make noise, get in their way, remind them that their agenda is not a majority agenda in this country, unless they’d like to retreat into their red-state havens and secede from the Union (a little wishful thinking there, I admit).

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We have to give each other pep talks and back rubs. We have to keep reminding each other that no, the majority of American voters did NOT vote for those villains. They may have their hands in the till and their heels on the throats of this country, but they rode into power on the strength of lies and manipulation, and sooner or later, probably sooner, they will be found out and discredited.

In the meantime, let’s be aware of the danger of getting too sucked into the constant 24/7 newsfeeds of the next debacle and disaster.

I try to detach myself from the chatter of social media for at least a few hours a day.

I go outside and try get back in touch with the elements—feel the wind and sun on my face, listen to the trickle of the stream, ground myself on the roots of a great tree.

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This is what matters. This is what is real. The stories we tell each other on the Internet are but shadows of our real lives upon this planet. In virtual reality we are all “poor players, who strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more.” Our social media bazaars are full of “tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Most of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes met their deaths by listening too well to the tales of political intrigue of their day.

We have better things to do. We have children to nurture, dinner to cook, pets to play with, songs to sing.

Though the world may look very grim in these dark days of January 2017, we only have to look up, like Dante, and see the stars.

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Looking backward, looking forward, on the last week of 2016

For me this last week of the year is always an introspective time, a time to take stock of the year just past, and set goals for the year coming in.

I’ve gone through other rough years in the past, but I’ve never experienced a year quite like 2016.

The long list of 2016 celebrity deaths (will Carrie Fisher be the last to go this year?) has put many of us in what seems to be a perpetual state of mourning, the passing of each beloved celebrity a way of channeling the deeper grieving we are carrying for so many unnecessary deaths in the wars, shootings, and terrorist strikes of 2016.

And then there is the pervasive grief I feel every day for the relentless destruction of the natural world, as human greed cuts and digs and blazes its way around the globe.

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Looking back, there’s a tendency to cast blame. If only the Democrats had not been so blind to Hillary’s deficits. If only Bernie had run as an Independent. If only the Republicans hadn’t fielded such a moronic bunch of losers. If only, if only. That list could go on and on, and not just in the political realm.

The only use of looking backward is to learn from past mistakes and try to do better going forward, so that history doesn’t repeat.

That’s easy to say, not easy to do, especially when we’re living through times when it seems that all our worst dystopian science fictions are coming true.

There seems to be little to look forward to in 2017, in terms of a brighter future. All the political and environmental indicators are pointing to a continuing slide towards the abyss of totalitarianism, militarism and climate chaos with their accompanying loss of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—not just for Americans, not just for humans, but for all Earth denizens.

img_0495But here we sit on the precious isthmus of time between Christmas and New Year’s, a quiet, dark time when we can pull back from the rush of events and think more deeply about where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we are going.

Our daily choices and habits of mind add up to a mighty river of human activity and awareness. Especially now, in our era of networked human consciousness, what we do—and even what and how we think—matters.

If you could press “rewind” and do 2016 over again, what would you do differently?

But since we get no second chances with the past, here’s a better, more pressing question:

What do you resolve to do differently in 2017?

It’s important to take some time to disconnect from the flood of incoming information, the parties, the glitter, the regrets, the anger and the fear—to ponder the way forward.

I ask myself, and I extend the question to you, too: what will you do in the coming days and months to make Winter Solstice 2017 a more positive time for yourself, those around you, and the precious planet we call home?

Look for unexpected beauty this Solstice Season

This Winter Solstice seems particularly dark to many of us, especially in the northern climes. There is a danger now that as we dwell on the sadness, outrage and fear that bombards us every day through our media, we end up adding detail and strength to what we least want.

This Solstice, join me in aligning the personal, political and planetary as we appreciate the beauty and warmth of our friends, family and Mother Earth. As we welcome and create love and light in our lives and the lives of those around us, including in the non-human realms, we will create the future we yearn for, one precious moment at a time.

Beaming love, courage and light to you all—TWOFOLD!!!

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Solstice suns, Stockbridge MA, December 20, 2016. Photo by J. Browdy

At the Solstice, on the Precipice: Good, Evil and the Future of Life on Earth

I sit with my back to the sun on this last day before Solstice. One more day until the slow wheeling of the Earth around the Sun begins to bring us back closer to our animating force, with lengthening daylight rousing us to growth and activity.

This year I fear that much of our energy will be absorbed by reaction rather than action. We will have to expend time and effort to hold back the forces of evil, once again; as our fore-parents did two generations ago with the Nazis.

That evil has never been vanquished; it went into hiding in places like Chile and Argentina, in Texas and Louisiana, in ratholes throughout Europe, breaking out in boils in Serbia or Ukraine. The evil of human hatred has shown its face in Rwanda, in Sudan, in Somalia, in the Congo. It has been out in force in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in India and Egypt, and now, so horribly, in Syria. It was there on the bridge with the water protectors at Standing Rock, facing mace, rubber bullets and water cannons in sub-zero temperatures.

And this is a list only of human hatred affecting other humans. If we add in the cruelty of humans against other animals and other forms of life on the planet, like trees and corals and insects…the horror mounts. The shame of belonging to this species becomes overwhelming.

I have to pause to remind myself that this is also the species that produced the most beautiful forms of architecture, music and sculpture ever known. This is the species that has explored and understood the mechanics of our world, asking questions that would have occurred to no other species.

As mimics of nature, as curious explorers and inventors, our species is remarkable; and our vast numbers attest to our success in rising to become the dominant species on the planet.

We have the moral intelligence to be an intentionally positive, life-enhancing force on the planet.

But instead we have been squandering our intelligence in building ever better weapons of destruction, from assault rifles to bombs to drones; from nuclear weapons to poison gas; from cancer-causing chemicals to carbon-intensive industry….we know the danger and the damage we’re inflicting on ourselves and on all planetary life, and yet we go on doing it anyway.

We are creatures of habit. Most of us would rather go with the flow than stand out and be different from—and ostracized by—our peers. Most of us have been socialized to be followers, and for generations now the leaders of politics, industry and commerce have embraced a tribal ideology that uses artificial borders to divide and conquer the life-giving forces on earth.

Men are better than women; Christians are better than Jews and Muslims; whites are better than people of color; capitalists are better than communists; humans are better than other animals; rich people are better than poor people….and on and on it goes.

All nonsense.

In our better moments, we know that, as the Christians like to put it, “We are all God’s children.” Or as the Buddhists say, “We all Inter-are,” and the divine is immanent in all of us.

I don’t believe in a God sitting up in Heaven watching His children destroy each other and their world.

I do believe that there is a divine—as in, beyond human understanding or control—energy animating our planet. It is cosmic in that as energy, it flows from our Sun, and our Sun links us to the cosmic energy that flares to life throughout the entire universe.

Just as a seed planted in Earth will rise towards the Sun in the growing warmth and increasing light of springtime, all life on earth is dependent on the Sun and the Earth, the Air and the Water. Capital letters to signify that these are not just inanimate features of the landscape, but sacred, life-giving elements without which no Life would be possible on Earth.

Solstice 2016 will be remembered as the time when the human-induced darkness grew so deep and so frightening that many of us began to wonder whether we would ever be able to find out way out of its shroud.

We have to take comfort and courage in the steadiness with which our Earth circles the Sun, bringing the Spring to the hemispheres all in its own good time.

When despair threatens to overtake me, I remember that our planet has lived through other cataclysmically dark times before. Ours will be the sixth great extinction. Mother Earth knows how to regenerate.

Since the dawn of human history, Good and Evil have been struggling for dominance in the human psyche. Now it seems we are at the end time of that struggle. The stakes are so high now that if Evil wins, it may be decisive enough to take most of Life down with it.

But the Sun and the Earth will keep dancing around each other. The planet will warm and cool. The tiny building blocks of Life will persist and begin to recombine.

And maybe in the next incarnation, the children of Mother Earth will be the kind, loving beings that she so deserves.

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Standing firm in the rip tides of today’s banal new Evil

I’ll admit it, I’ve been waiting for a miracle.

An angel to swoop down from on high and save us. Or at least a collective “coming to their senses” of our Congress, making them reject the obviously warped election and order a re-do. Or even some kind of horrible disaster, making it impossible for Trump and his gang to seize power. Say, a spectacular bombing of Trump Tower while all of them were in it, on the order of 9-11.

Instead, here we sit in dreary December, one day away from the fateful Electoral College vote, and it seems that all the levers of power sweeping Drumpf into office are operating smoothly.

The Democrats, including President Obama, are being pathetically compliant and wimpy, making me wonder what kind of fire their feet are being held to by Trump & the Gang—what do they have to hide? What, at this point, do they have to lose by demanding fairness and accountability to the vast majority of American citizens who did NOT vote for Donald Trump?

We need another Watergate-type investigation, complete with a new Deep Throat, to help us understand what is really going on behind the scenes in Washington and New York, in Moscow, London, Damascus and Ankara. This is a story that puts John LeCarre and Ken Follett to shame—so big, bold, intricate and treacherous that no one could have imagined it. Fact is way stranger and scarier than fiction this time around.

Eventually the truth will out. But for now, we are stuck living through it, day by painful day. However, we are not just the character-pawns in this story, being manipulated by a clever author. Each of us has the potential to be the author of our own storylines within the vast tapestry of current events, and to change the course of history in profound ways.

In upholding standards of decency, kindness and open-heartedness; in practicing what the Buddhists call tonglen, taking in the suffering of the world, alchemizing it into loving compassion and beaming that love back out into the world; in refusing to go with the flow or get with the program when to do so would hurt others; in standing up and saying NO to hatred, bigotry and the naked abuse of power, whether on the global, national or local levels—in all these ways and many more, each of us has the ability to be a beacon of courage and honor in this darkening landscape.

We do not have to march in lockstep when it comes to how to respond to the present emergency. Some of us will be called into the streets to protest; some of us will focus on creating a loving home for our families and a haven for our friends. Some will go out in nature and commune with the timeless wisdom of the trees and boulders. Some of us will write, some will play music, some will paint or make films. No act is insignificant if it comes from a pure intention to offer deep Goodness to the superficial faux gold chrome of today’s banal Evil.

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Two hundred and forty years ago, the first Americans stood up against tyranny and refused to be exploited and oppressed by their rulers. We may be living through just such tumultuous times today. We must have the courage and resolution of the American founding fathers.

The far right has been sounding the same warning for years now, and going about their own plan of overthrow, on a bigoted, winner-take-all model. Can the left rise and make history on the side of justice?

That is our challenge today.

 

I close with two quotes.

First, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence bears reading and re-reading today.

And second, a stirring Facebook post by Dan Rather, who says firmly, “I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing.” And so must we all.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

 

DAN RATHER: Facebook post, December 14, 2016

Now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent. We must all stand up to be counted.

History will demand to know which side were you on. This is not a question of politics or party or even policy. This is a question about the very fundamentals of our beautiful experiment in a pluralistic democracy ruled by law.

When I see neo-Nazis raise their hands in terrifying solute, in public, in our nation’s capital, I shudder in horror. When I see that action mildly rebuked by a boilerplate statement from the President-elect whom these bigots have praised, the anger in me grows. And when I see some in a pliant press turn that mild statement into what they call a denunciation I cannot hold back any longer.

Our Declaration of Independence bequeaths us our cherished foundational principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These truths may be self-evident but they are not self-replicating. Each generation has to renew these vows. This nation was founded as an opposite pole to the capriciousness of an authoritarian monarch. We set up institutions like a free press and an independent court system to protect our fragile rights. We have survived through bloody spasms of a Civil War and a Civil Rights Movement to extend more of these rights to more of our citizens. But the direction of our ship of state has not always been one of progress. We interned Japanese Americans, Red Baited during the McCarthy era, and more. I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing.

In normal times of a transition in our presidency between an incoming and outgoing administration of differing political parties, there is a certain amount of fretting on one side and gloating on the other. And the press usually takes a stance that the new administration at least deserves to have a chance to get started – a honeymoon period. But these are not normal times. This is not about tax policy, health care, or education – even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption.

But as I stand I do not despair, because I believe the vast majority of Americans stand with me. To all those in Congress of both political parties, to all those in the press, to religious and civic leaders around the country. your voices must be heard. I hope that the President-elect can learn to rise above this and see the dangers that are brewing. If he does and speaks forcibly, and with action, we should be ready to welcome his voice. But of course I am deeply worried that his selections of advisors and cabinet posts suggests otherwise.

To all of you I say, stay vigilant. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that even as a minority, there was strength in numbers in fighting tyranny. Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking. Engage in your civic government. Flood newsrooms or TV networks with your calls if you feel they are slipping into the normalization of extremism. Donate your time and money to causes that will fight to protect our liberties.

We are a great nation. We have survived deep challenges in our past. We can and will do so again. But we cannot be afraid to speak and act to ensure the future we want for our children and grandchildren.

 

And a final bonus: check out this work-in-progress on organizing. The comparison of left activism with Tea Party activism is especially interesting. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DzOz3Y6D8g_MNXHNMJYAz1b41_cn535aU5UsN7Lj8X8/mobilebasic#heading=h.1t4uu5uonb6f

Dear Van Jones: We Need a Dream Party as well as a Love Army

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When I first heard Van Jones call for the widespread mobilization of a Love Army to stand against Trump’s legions of haters, I was taken aback by the juxtaposition of Love, the life-giving force of pure positive energy in the universe, with Army—a hierarchical human structure organized in the service of war, death and destruction.

I’m still not crazy about the term, but I do appreciate the sentiment behind Jones’ call, especially after reading this excellent interview with him in Rolling Stone.

“Tight around Trump is a little hate army… of very cynical, nasty people who took over our government. We have to build a massive Love Army that can take the country and the government back in a better direction. That is completely doable. Because there’s now many more people wanting to get involved than were trying to get involved a month ago, when it would have mattered. [bitter laughter]

“The problem is not the abundance of people with bad intentions; it’s the superabundance of people with good intentions who don’t know what to do yet.”

Jones suggests we people of good intentions get organized in order to fight back in the service of Love. Impossible to argue with that, and bravo to him and other leaders, from Standing Rock on down the line, to getting right back on the horse after that wild bucking bronco episode otherwise known as the election.

The Army metaphor conjures up a vision of many people coming together in a common cause, carrying out a vision set by the politicians and crafted into an actionable agenda by the generals.

That would be OK if we could trust the politicians to actually represent us. But one thing this election season has made quite clear is the extent to which our political elite has become alienated from the ordinary folks. Bernie Sanders aside, both the Democratic Party and the Republicans showed themselves to be equally tone-deaf to the concerns of masses of Americans in every state who are just barely scraping by in an economy entirely rigged for the rich and powerful.

To use obsolete terms that suddenly seem relevant again, America is host to a huge Third World within its own seemingly First World borders. This has always been the case—ask any denizen of a rural trailer park, a city public housing project, or, for that matter, an Indian reservation.

But now the middle class is slipping into the abyss of poverty too. Between the credit card shysters with their 35% interest rates, the mortgage loan sharks, the exorbitant cost of health care and higher education, the takeover of Main Street by the big box corporations and the steady erosion of working class jobs to other countries and to robots….the middle class is going, going, gone.

Why these folks thought Donald Trump, of all people, might serve their interests, is a puzzle for the historians. It seems mainly to do with the dumbing down of our general populace, raised on reality TV and shoot-em-up video games, trapped in oppressive school systems that discourage creativity, questioning and independent thought, and insulated within conservative communities that fall back on a passive, fatalistic acceptance of “God’s will” that can be easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians.

That this is the reality for millions of people in “Third World America” is an outrageous truth that Democrats must bear responsibility for, as well as Republicans. President Obama did his best to be the president of “all Americans,” but with the Republican Congress blocking him at every turn, his hands were largely tied. And even he supported the TTP agreement, another trade deal that embraced globalization without accounting for the harm it might do to working Americans or to the environment.

As Van Jones says in the Rolling Stone interview, both parties sold working Americans down the river—and they’ve been doing it for many, many years, it’s nothing new.

What’s new is the social media technology that enables us to know about it, practically as it’s happening.

Even when we’re talking about Big Espionage operations, like the Russian hacking of the U.S. election, now information that would have been sealed away behind CONFIDENTIAL barriers for years is suddenly rip-roaring through social media channels, totally out of the control of the politicians or the generals.

This can seem scary, but it is also a huge opportunity. If we’re to create a Love Army, it will be a decentralized one, mobilizing from individual communities and operating through household computer networks, connected by telecommunications satellites open to any user with a smartphone.

The elites who developed the technology that is so ubiquitous now did not anticipate it would eventually have the potential to be used in the service of populist goals. Donald Trump, with his simple but effective use of Twitter, is so hard to understand because he’s playing both sides so well: the populist general mobilizing the working class to follow him…while at the same time courting the rich and powerful and promising them total control.

What does “populist” mean in these topsy-turvy times? It means Bernie Sanders as well as Donald Trump—both of these guys tried to work through established channels, the Elephants and the Mules, to gain the power to remake the country in their image. Bernie might have succeeded if the Democrats hadn’t stupidly shut him out, leaving the field open for Trump and his Russian allies to sweep to victory.

van-jones-fist-in-your-faceBut here comes Van Jones and his Dream Corps with a new definition of “populist” and a new, 21st century vision of how to mobilize a decentralized army in the service of Love.

His reset at the values level starts with national teach-ins, “once a week, every week, standing up for the most vulnerable people: Muslims, the DREAMers, Jewish people, women, trans people, black protestors. And once a week, give the whole country a chance to show a whole lotta love – both to demonstrate and deepen a solidarity with those groups, all under one hashtag. #LoveArmy is an opportunity to reassert at a values level….And it has to be inclusive, by the way, of rural poor people, of people in coal country, red-state and industrial Heartland voters who are also going to be let down by Trump, who are also going to be in a lot of pain.

“If you’re building a Love Army that includes all of the usual suspects that Trump went after and also people that Trump tricked, you start building a majority movement. That’s what I’m trying to do. The people that Trump attacked, but also the people that Trump duped.”

The truth is that the Democrats have not acted with sufficient love either. As Jones puts it baldly, “Both political parties suck right now. The Democratic Party has become a hidey hole for all kinds of elite snobbery, and Democrats won’t confess to it and deal with it. The Republican Party has become a hidey hole for all kinds of bigots, and they won’t confess or deal with it.”

Maybe we are at the point in our Union, almost 250 years on, when another party is needed—a party that is truly in the service of all Americans, and even bigger—in the service of Life everywhere on our planet.

This new party needs to go beyond tribalism to work on behalf of the health and well-being of the entire planet and all its denizens, from the rainforests to the boreal forests, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in-between. We are all connected—we know that know scientifically, and our values, as Jones says, must come from that profound awareness of interbeing.

I would like to see Jones stir up not just an army, but a political party that could advance his inclusive activist vision and mobilize those of us who want peace, prosperity and the happiness and well-being of all. Maybe he should call it the Dream Party.

I’m in, Van! Sign me up!

Honoring the Water Protectors of Standing Rock on Thanksgiving

So here we are at the start of the holiday season once again. The food stores in my New England town are mobbed with people loading up their shopping carts with turkeys and all the trimmings for a grand Thanksgiving meal. Christmas trees are beginning to appear at the farm stands and garden centers. The lights are coming on to ward off the early afternoon gloom. We are going through the motions.

On the other side of the country, there are some other kinds of motions going on this Thanksgiving season.

How about water cannons drenching unarmed and unprotected people peacefully protesting the pipeline that threatens their land and water?

How about mace, rubber bullets and all-night floodlights?

How about constant intimidation and harassment?

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This is what the Thanksgiving season is bringing to the good people of Standing Rock, North Dakota, and the friends and allies who are standing firm at the camp, determined to protect the water and resist the bullying from law enforcement and private security guards.

Yes, here we are at Thanksgiving, the holiday supposedly celebrating the way the Native Americans generously fed the European settlers, helping them avoid starvation during that first New England winter.

The Pilgrims didn’t repay the Native people well then, and that was only the beginning of the holocaust visited on Native Americans all across this continent.

In the history books, they make it sound like that was all a long time ago; like those old prejudices and oppressions are safely in the past.

But Andrew Jackson the Indian-killer is still on the $20 bill, and what we’re seeing in Standing Rock this Thanksgiving week shows that there is still no respect when it comes to Native Americans.

mapBe it noted that the Dakota pipeline was originally routed right next to predominantly white town of Bismarck ND. When the people there protested, the route was promptly changed. It didn’t require thousands of men, women and children, camping out for months; there were no water cannons, tear gas or rubber bullets used.

But when it comes to re-routing the pipeline away from Lakota sacred lands, and away from the Missouri River, which supplies millions of people with drinking water—the gloves come off immediately.

One shudders to think of how this might have been handled in the days before social media. In 2016, the North Dakota authorities are brutal, but they know the world is watching: there are many people, including celebrities, standing with Standing Rock in its quest to protect the water and land.

Still, here we are at Thanksgiving, and the news from Standing Rock is getting worse, not better.

President Obama has not responded to the pleas for help. There have been protests across the country, but with the sudden, unexpected ascension of Trump and the Republicans, Americans who might have thrown their weight behind Standing Rock have been distracted, making plans for the Electoral College March, the Million Woman March, and standing vigil at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

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From Trump Tower to Standing Rock, what we’re seeing is all part of a continuum of violence: violence against women, against less powerful identity groups, against animals and trees, against the land and the water and the oceans; against life itself on this great planet.

In the old days, what is happening now would have been depicted mythologically as a struggle between life and death, good and evil, the weak and the powerful.

But this time around a victory for the powerful is going to take us all a step closer to the Armageddon of climate change.

How can we open the eyes of the fossil fuel lords and the militarized police that are doing their bidding?

There are movements afoot to divest from the fossil fuel industry and from banks funding the Dakota pipeline. Money seems to be the only language these folks understand, so that may be an effective form of protest.

There are phone numbers to call, and plenty of opportunities to help out with much-needed supplies at the Standing Rock protest camps, as winter sets in.

This Thanksgiving, every American should give thanks for the Native Americans who, despite everything, are still standing firm as protectors and stewards of their lands.

People don’t like to think about this, but it’s true: there may come a time when we European settlers will once again call desperately on Native peoples’ deep knowledge of this land. Once again, Native generosity may be the only thing standing between us and starvation.

All over the world, as climate change sets in and modern industrial agriculture, trade routes and energy sources are disrupted, those who still remember how to nestle into the bosom of Mother Earth and live simply off what she provides—these will be the people who will survive the shocks that await human civilization in the Anthropocene.

Maybe the good people of North Dakota should think twice, this Thanksgiving week, before sending out the dogs and the water cannons, the tanks and the tear gas again.

May we all give thanks for the blessings Mother Earth gives us constantly, without reserve, seeking nothing in return. May we learn to be grateful, and as generous in our turn. May we humans—all of us—rise to become the Earth stewards we were always meant to be. May we give thanks and honor to the Native peoples for showing us the way.

Yes, we have work to do! Seizing the potential of the borderlands between what is and what is possible

“It is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counter stance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed; locked in mortal combat…both are reduced to a common denominator of violence.

“The counter stance refutes the dominant culture’s views and beliefs, and for this it is proudly defiant. All reaction is limited by, and dependent on, what it is reacting against. Because the counter stance stems from a problem with authority–outer as well as inner–it’s a step towards liberation from cultural domination. But it is not a way of life.

“At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes.

“Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.”

–Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La frontera

 

gloria-anzalsuabWritten by a Chicana queer in 1987, Borderlands/La frontera was always ahead of its time. Or maybe it was just that as an inhabitant of the radically unsafe cultural and literal borderlands, Anzaldua was much more aware than most of her audience of what is at stake in making your home on a border—on, as she put it, “that thin edge of barbed-wire.”

I named this blog Transition Times back in 2011 because even then it felt like we were moving into the liminal, transitional space between the old cultural norms and an as-yet unclear new culture, a new way of relating with each other and our planet. Like Charles Eisenstein, I am searching for new ways of understanding what is happening in the world, and how I can be part of a movement for real, radical social change.

Yet like most everyone I know, I am still going through the motions of the old story, even while trying to get glimpses of something different.

I am still, as Anzaldua puts it, stuck in the counterstance, standing on the opposite side of the river from those I want to change, shouting futilely into the wind.

One of the peculiar challenges of our time is that “the enemy” is not easy to identify, and all too often it turns out that if we really follow the money, the “enemy” is us.

Who created the fossil fuel industry? I did, along with everyone I know, as we enjoyed the convenience of burning oil and gasoline, heedlessly using plastic, leaving the coal-fired-electric lights on.

Who created the so-called Rust Belt and killed the American workers’ unions? I did, preferring to buy my cars from Japan, and cheap goods from China.

Who created the corporate beast, now slouching insouciantly into the highest levels of American governmental power? I did, we all did, allowing corporate money to rule our politicians, allowing corporations to put short-term gain above longterm health and sustainability, rewarding those corporate leaders with ever-higher incomes and status.

Who created the military-industrial complex, along with its henchmen the pharmaceutical-petrochemical-agricultural complex? We all did, going along complacently with industrial agricultural built on chemicals, ignoring how unhealthy it made us, investing in the ever-climbing Big Pharma and Big Insurance industries that got richer in proportion to how unhealthy we became.

I could go on, but you get the drift. To really unpack Anzaldua’s image of enemies locked in a counterstance on opposite sides of the river, you have to admit that we are looking at a scenario we created.

When we look at the oh-so-real image of militarized police spraying unarmed, peaceful water protectors with huge canisters of mace, we are looking at what could be our future, as everywhere across America and the world, precious resources like water are being privatized and threatened by mining, fracking, drilling and all the dirty industries built on fossil fuels.

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What would it mean to follow Anzaldua’s advice of moving beyond a simple yes-no opposition, into a “new consciousness” that can see with both eagle and serpent eyes?

In our current situation, it would mean doing a lot of soul-searching as to why so many poor people in America voted against their own interests, for the aggressive, macho reality TV star that even the Republicans weren’t sure they could stand.

Our two political parties were revealed, in this election cycle, to be equally out of touch with conditions on the ground in America. Both parties are split between fat-cat corporate types and rabble-rousing throw-em-out types, and neither party, it seems, is strong enough to unite these two wings.

Neither presidential candidate this year would have had a real mandate, as in a nation united behind them. In truth, it’s the class divide that tripped up Hillary Clinton, and her inability to be convincing when she claimed she’d help the working class.

Trump was just a better liar, knowing that if he could stoke the voters’ anger against the status quo, they wouldn’t care about what specific policies he might or might not be able to enact once in office. Who cares about the fine print when you have a candidate who gives you permission to shout obscenities and have some fun?

Again, to ask where the Trump voters came from is to be led back to the mirror. I place a lot of the blame for voters’ lack of engagement and discernment at the feet of the American public education system, and beyond that, to parents who abandoned their kids to the tutelage of the internet, video games and TV—all of which are run by social elites, let us remember.

Religion is the opiate of the masses, Marx proclaimed in the 19th century. For the 20th century, and to this day, media has become the opiate of the masses. Media has moved into the place of leadership formerly held by education and individual teachers, religion and individual pastors, and even family and individual parents.

How often of late have you seen young people sitting at the table listening to the conversation of their elders? Unless they are forced to, they would much rather be off by themselves with their eyes glued to their screens. Even groups of young people will sit together each one on their own screen, occasionally commenting out loud to each other about what they are seeing on-screen.

We have begun to awaken to the power of media, especially social media, to influence reality, with Facebook now at last taking seriously the disruptive potential of “fake news.” Fake news probably won the election for Trump. And this is the mother’s milk our kids are being raised on, as they are let loose in an internet landscape they have to figure out for themselves.

The question is, now that we’re awake, what will we do about it?

Like everyone I know, I have been signing online petitions, joining online resistance groups, giving money, thinking about joining the street protests.

But this is counterstance politics. It absorbs our energy into fighting against, rather than using that precious resource, our time and energy, into developing an alternative, based on “new consciousness,” in new territory.

What would it mean to fight FOR the world we want to live in, rather than AGAINST the dying gasps of the old order? What would it mean to start telling new stories of what could be possible, rather than endlessly rehashing the fear and loathing of the past?

I’m not talking about sticking my head in the sand or pretending that the bigotry of the Trump people isn’t real and dangerous. It’s real, and it’s very dangerous. We are right to be afraid.

But we can’t afford to spend all our energy saying NO. We have to also work in our local communities to live into alternatives, and celebrating our successes loudly and happily at every opportunity.

Alliances and coalitions of all stripes—across the artificial boundaries of race, sex/gender, class, ethnicity, religion, region, nationality—these can and must get stronger, as we all agree to inhabit the borderland spaces together.

We must all be “queer” now, as is beginning when we see people promising to register themselves as Muslims, should such a national registry ever come to pass, or standing in solidarity with the Native American water protectors’ movement, in repudiation of the disgraceful settler-native relations of the past.

We can work on the local level to implement renewable energy alternatives, moving boldly into solar, wind and other democratically available resources and hitting the fossil fuel industries where it matters—their bottom line.

In so many ways, we can use our power as consumers to create the world we want to see. That means understanding the stakes involved in “cheap” Chinese goods or industrial food, and being willing to spend a bit more in the short term, to invest in the long term health of people and the planet.

Buying organic or food produced locally using permaculture agricultural practices may cost a few pennies more, but that small individual investment can have a big impact if many of us are willing to make the shift.

Same with eating less meat, or even no meat. These seemingly small personal choices really can have a big impact if enough of us are making them and talking about them and encouraging each other to see the big picture of why it’s important.

For me, as a parent and a teacher, one of the biggest areas in need of “new consciousness” has to do with rearing the next generations. We must fight the domination of the corporate media by insisting that kids remain connected to their innate creativity.

Seriously, I don’t think kids under the age of 10 should have free-range access to the internet or games. We want our kids to stay connected to the real world—the natural world, their communities, their families, their friends. We want them to develop their own creative voices and visions, to “play make-believe” and dream into the new stories their generation will need. Allowing them to stuff their minds on junk-food media is undermining their potential at the most basic level.

But we must provide exciting alternatives to those screens. School should not be boring. Communication is our greatest strength as a species, and we need to get much better about how we teach, how we parent, and what we offer our kids in the way of stimulation and opportunities for growth. Their needs are not the same as what we current adults needed in our pre-internet time. But abdicating our role to the internet is a dangerous cop-out.

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Young people need our guidance more than ever. It will be harder to reach those who have been weaned on internet-milk, but it is possible, and we must go at it with all the creativity and love we possess—and not just for our own kids, but for all kids. Especially those from the angry, disenfranchised families, the poor kids, the Trump kids.

I agree with everyone who is talking about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work in the wake of the election disaster. But what the work is…that is the question we must ponder deeply.

Going to Washington DC to protest the inauguration of Trump the day AFTER doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, in terms of use of our precious energy and time. Why isn’t a big protest being called for December 18, the day BEFORE the Electoral College is to finalize their vote?

We need to be strategic in the coming weeks, months and years. We don’t have the luxury of time to fritter away our energy in non-effective counterstances.

As we move into this uncharted borderland between the familiar old culture and the unknown future hurtling towards us, let’s keep our faces bravely looking ahead—not like Walter Benjamin’s famous angel of history, turned backward to the destruction and disappointment of the past.

What family, what community, what world, do you want to live in? Get clear on it and then—go make it so.

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