What Victory Will Be Ours? Parsing the Personal, Political and Planetary in a Dark American Election Season

With two days to go before the election, the menace represented by Donald Trump and his fanatical followers is hanging over me like a dense cold fog, almost a shroud. Hillary may not be a knight in shining armor, but she’s all that is standing between us and the screaming hordes of misogynist, racist, violent bigots, who have been turning out by the tens of thousands for their orange-skinned leader.

This is a moment when I can palpably feel the personal, political and planetary spheres aligning, not in joy but in fear and awareness of what a Trump win would mean for me personally, for the tattered political system of America, and for our beleaguered planet.

Personally, as a woman of Jewish descent, as a feminist and an eco-feminist at that, I am squarely in the crosshairs of the Trumpist band of haters. Not only that but I married a Mexican, making my sons fair game as well! Yes, I would feel unsafe and threatened in a country that legitimized Trump’s bigotry by making him the leader of the land and commander-in-chief of our oh-so-powerful and oh-so-obedient police and military forces.

Politically, we see Hillary holding the status quo center, standing defiantly with the big banks and the corporations that have been fattening on our sick economy for a long, long time. Trump and Bernie Sanders take their stands in the right and left wings, Trump advocating for deregulation and a survival-of-the-mightiest economy, while Bernie is our modern-day Robin Hood, standing up for the poor and oppressed.

If Bernie had been allowed to finish his race without having his hamstrings cut by the media and the Democratic National Committee, we would have had a much more animated and perhaps even more polarized race. As it is, between the status quo or descending into fascist chaos, well, even many Republicans are going with Hillary, though vowing to tie her up in knots once she wins the White House.

On the planetary level, just check “none of above,” as far as either Trump or Clinton being advocates for the Earth. One will dig, drill and burn—the other will do it even faster and harder. The best we can say for Clinton is that she is a reasonable, rational person; she reads the fine print in policy reports; she is a mediating type who is likely to try to find solutions that please as many people as possible. I can see her pushing the fossil fuel industry to reinvent itself as a clean energy machine, even if I can’t see her standing with water protectors for a photo op.

This election won’t be over when it’s over. If Trump should win, it would send an immediate chill over the land, the gloom of winter shading into the dismal gray of the unhinged fascist capitalism represented by the self-aggrandizing faux-gold chrome of Trump. Remember the palette of the film 1984? That’s what I see coming our way with a Trump win.

If Hillary wins, the Republicans will be united once again through their common hatred of the Clintons, and will stop at nothing to obstruct her presidency.

I am already wondering how it could be legal for the U.S. Senate to refuse to do its job in holding hearings for Supreme Court nominees. Shouldn’t there be a way for the American people to insist that our representatives, whose salaries we pay, do the job we elected them to do?

Whatever happens on Tuesday, life will go on. Next weekend I’ll once again be retreating to the cozy Rookwood Inn to lead a group of women in aligning the personal, political and planetary in their own life stories, through my technique of purposeful memoir. We may linger a bit on the political this time, reflecting on how the political backdrop against which our lives have played out has influenced who we have become.

In fact, politics is more than a backdrop; it’s interwoven into the warp and woof of every minute of our lives. Liberal Americans, the coastal and urban blue types, have long had the privilege of believing that America really stood for “liberty and justice for all.” Our eyes have been steadily opened these past few years, as smartphones and social media have shown us scene after scene of the targeting of the less powerful by the security forces of the elites. Less visible perhaps, but no less damaging is the predatory stranglehold of the finance, chemical, pharmaceutical and military-industrial/fossil fuel complexes on our entire society.

Our immediate task, this week, is to take a strong stand against Trump’s would-be fascist dictatorship by electing Hillary Clinton—the first woman president of the United States!

And then—we need to look hard at the conditions that led to Trump’s insurgency, and start working on the deeper ailments of our society. Why are people so angry and afraid? Why are people so stressed, anxious, unhealthy and unhappy? What can be done to level the playing fields for our young people, eliminating the specter of debt bondage and supporting them as they get a fresh start on the journey of life?

How can we stop trashing our planet and start investing in economies based on renewable energy, permaculture and an awareness of the sacredness of all life? How can we shift our ways of living so that we are united by the solidarity of common purpose, buoyed by energetic hope and optimism in our future?

This past week, I have been reading The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein with my current leadership students. I’ll close with a passage (p. 201) to ponder:

“The best victory, says Sun Tzu, is the one in which the losers don’t realize they have lost. In the old story, we overcome evil and leave our enemies in the dust, wailing and gnashing their teeth. No more. Everyone is coming along for this ride. In the new story, we understand that everyone left behind impoverishes the destination. We see each human being as the possessor of a unique lens upon the world. We wonder, ‘What truth has this man been able to see from his perspective, that is invisible from mine?’”

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Standing Rock: Frontline of the New Occupy Fossil Fuels Resistance Movement

The standoff at Standing Rock—where thousands of Native American men, women and children, along with many non-Native allies, are camping out to block the laying of a 1,170-mile pipeline to carry fossil fuels from North Dakota to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico—is more than just an isolated battle, the Sioux deciding they won’t allow their lands to be taken by force by the oil lords, and putting their bodies on the line to protect their land and water.

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Standing Rock is one of those moments, like the Occupy Wall Street protests, that we will look back on as a tipping point in consciousness; a moment when the lines of battle in the war to keep our planet habitable for our children became visceral and unmistakable.

Just as in Occupy Wall Street, we are seeing militarized police and guards attacking ordinary people who have taken to the public sphere to protect their right to a livable future. The same tactics are being used: escalating the pressure with an overwhelming force of armored vehicles, sound grenades, tear gas, pepper spray, police batons, tasers and rubber bullets until the violence starts and the rounding up of peacefully protesting civilians can appear “justified.”

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Law enforcement claims to be protecting public safety, but in fact they are acting as hired goons for the fossil fuel companies.

In a New Republic article this fall, Bill McKibben used the metaphor of World War III to describe the kind of all-out industrial effort that is needed now to shift our economy from running on fossil fuels to running on renewable energy sources like wind, solar, tidal, geothermal.

We need a Marshall Plan to ramp up and get the job done, McKibben declared.

2564906-H.jpgInstead of hiring a few guys to lay pipelines and fight off anyone who dares to protest, we need to mobilize an army of people who are dedicated to developing, producing and distributing alternative energy systems, along with converting buildings, transportation networks, farms and factories to run clean.

Tar sands, fracked gas and deep-sea oil rigs, along with the pipelines, tankers and refineries that service them, are part of the dead-end 20th century vision that we must abandon if we are to find our way out of the frightening labyrinth of the present moment.

It’s no accident that the nascent Occupy Fossil Fuel movement is being led by Native people, not only because their land rights are once again being flagrantly violated, but also because they have never fully bought into the fossil-fuel-based plunder economy, the economy of short-term gain, maximizing profits, and to hell with the consequences.

The leaders at Standing Rock have created a movement based on prayer and reverence for the sacredness of Earth, and people of all backgrounds from all across the country have responded with a resounding YES!

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While the mainstream media is showing once again its collusion with the Wall Street/fossil fuel barons that also control our government, by simply ignoring Standing Rock, social media has leapt into the breach, with citizen livestreams taking us right into the heart of the struggle.

14572425_10154635715284600_8219779230791003850_nYou can’t support a movement you aren’t aware of, which must be what the mainstream media is up to in willfully blinding themselves and their readers to the significance of Standing Rock.

Like Occupy Wall Street, like Ferguson, Standing Rock is not going to go away. The more the police try to repress the protests, the more they will spread.

Because the simple truth is this: a majority of us want to leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.

We want future-oriented solutions—re-localizing energy sources via solar and wind, not thousand-mile pipelines strangling our country and putting our waterways at risk.

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We don’t want our hard-earned tax dollars to go for paying police to brutalize peaceful protestors at home, nor to support an endless military buildup to safeguard a corporate globalization that follows the same playbook worldwide of trashing local economies and environments.

Americans are not afraid of hard work. We relish challenge and delight in innovation. We have what it takes to head off climate change disaster.

In addition to supporting the Standing Rock protestors who are right now bravely occupying the front lines of the struggle for our shared future, we need to create our own Standing Rocks, our own front lines of resistance where we are.

The Marshall Plan of the climate change wars won’t be led by the Federal government. It will happen on the local level in towns and cities, as well as in global networks of like-minded people, like 350.org and the new Treesisters movement.

It will happen when enough of us have the courage to come together, as the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies have done, to say YES! to a livable future.

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The Epic Stakes of the 2016 Presidential Election—Electing Clinton is Just the Beginning

Yes, it’s exciting—thrilling, even—to see a female-bodied person finally heading the ticket for the Democratic Party. Yes, it’s historic that a woman will be President of the United States. And yes, when we are shown footage of the original Hillary, the idealistic young college student, the hardworking young lawyer/mom, we can see shadows of the woman we’d like to elect.

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But to contrast that earlier Hillary with the image of the tough-as-nails politician she has become is to understand why it’s so hard for women to succeed in the American political landscape—or the corporate workplace, for that matter. You have to learn the fine art of being a fe-male, a man in the guise of a woman.

unknownWhile outwardly conforming to the dominant beauty standards for women—dyed and coiffed hair, generous make-up, body-flattering clothing, heels—you also have to be commanding and aggressive, a no-nonsense sort of leader that everyone will automatically respect.

It’s no accident that our first woman president will be a woman in her golden years. Only when a woman has outlived the possibility of being a sex symbol can she command the necessary authority, with men and women alike, to hold the highest office in the land.

How many women have the stamina—to use a buzzword from the campaign trail—to stay the course over years of trials and hurdles, all the while walking the tightrope of being simultaneously attractive and authoritative?

Donald Trump, bless him, has brought right out into the open the everyday harassment that women have to deal with. Who is unluckier: the attractive woman who gets constantly groped and ogled, admired for her body while her ideas and smarts are ignored; or the unattractive woman who is ignored on both the bodily and mental planes, if not actively booed and hissed from the public arena?

gettyimages-613703308-0Trump is like a stand-in for every boorish man who ever held power in America, whether a boss or a husband, a rich client or a random stalker on the street. Men like Trump elevate their own fragile egos by putting down others, with women being a convenient, always-in-view set of targets.

Hillary has shown us just where to aim our defensive kicks, but she is also evidence of the toll this type of psychological warfare takes on a woman. She’s damned if she “acts like a man” and also damned if she’s “too womanly.” She basically has to become as genderless as possible, and we see that in her carefully chosen suits, cropped but coiffed hair, and in the cold tautness of her heavily made-up face.

I hope that when Hillary gets into the Oval Office, she will not pull up the drawbridge behind her, but will make every effort to use her power to make things better for the girls and women coming along behind her.

Women should not have to give up their femininity to become powerful. Men shouldn’t either! When are we going to understand that gender is a continuum, not a binary; that all humans have estrogen and testosterone running through them in different measures; that every human has the capacity to be both tender and tough, sensitive and aggressive?

29906170001_4818348677001_capturePerhaps that was part of what I admired so much about Bernie Sanders—his easiness with being nurturing and warm, even cuddly, on the campaign trail. No doubt this gentleness comes easier for men as they age and no longer have to prove themselves through aggression.

My dream is that it won’t have to take so long for women like Hillary and men like Bernie to be accepted in the American public sphere.

My dream is that our society will shift away from cheering on the superficial, cartoonish values represented by the Donald Trumps among us, and get back in touch with what really matters: living in right relationship—that is, in respect and caring—for every person, no matter what they look like.

And of course, my dream goes beyond this re-valuing of human rights to encompass the rights of every living being on the planet.

jb-solstic-mountaintop-copyWhenever I turn away from the glare of the brightly lit television screens and stage sets of our political moment, back to the green and gold of the forest, I am reminded of what really matters. The water protectors at Standing Rock know it; the Treesisters know it; the Bioneers know it; the Buddhists know it. Human beings have not evolved on this planet to rape and pillage and turn the green to dust. With our unique intelligence and capacity to understand time—history as well as prophecy—we are here to be the wise stewards of the planet, to nurture and protect the complexity of the ecological web that nourishes us.

I can’t say I trust Hillary Clinton to understand or undertake this role. She is a 20th century woman, still living out a 20th century drama of war and destruction. That is why we will have to follow Senator Sanders’ model in creating a drama of our own, too big and urgent for her and her business cronies to ignore. Mother Earth will do her part—we can see it already in the constant litany of storms and floods, wildfires and searing heat.

If we humans fail in our evolutionary mission of stewardship, the Earth will simply start over, as she has many times in the past. It’s time to do everything we can, each one of us, to head off that epic fail—starting with defeating Trump and installing Clinton.

And then we will continue stubbornly, with determination and love, the great work of transforming our society into one based on a new fundamental watchword: no, not freedom this time.

For the 21st century and beyond, our core value must be RESPECT.

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.

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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Transition Times: Personal, Political, Planetary

The Solstice is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the moment we hit the very darkest point of the year is also the transition into the next phase, the return of the light; every end point is also a new beginning.

The recent decision of The Berkshire Edge to end my EdgeWise column gives me time to return here, to Transition Times, with renewed energy and commitment. Transition Times began in 2011 as a space where I could write about human rights, social justice, issues of higher education and pedagogy, and my overriding concerns about the environment and climate change. It’s been a liberating and often exhilarating experience to write in my own personal/political voice, without having to meet any particular deadlines or answer to an editor or publisher. And I love that my readership is truly global.

I wish I could say that many of the issues that preoccupied me in the first several years of Transition Times have now been resolved. Sadly, violence—against people, against the natural world—is still a problem of epic proportions, worldwide. Climate change, chemical contamination, animal extinction deforestation and acidification of the oceans have all been accelerating. Our political establishment continues to be dominated by elites who seem to care only about maintaining their own wealth and power, not about preserving a livable world for the rest of us.

While all that is true, there is still cause for hope. When I first began writing about climate change, I felt like other than Bill McKibben and a handful of environmentalists, no one was paying attention to this looming issue. Now it’s common to see climate change on the front page of mainstream media. The Pope has written a whole Encyclical about it. World leaders converged in Paris to talk seriously about what can be done, including key players like the U.S., Russia, China and India, countries that must cooperate for real change to happen.

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I feel less optimistic about progress on the peace-building front. Gun violence in the U.S. continues to skyrocket, as do sales of assault weapons to civilians. Let’s face it, here in the U.S. we live in an armed and dangerous camp. Terrorism continues to rise with the spread of the violent, sexist, medieval principles and tactics of the Islamic State and Boko Haram. Civilians are also being constantly threatened by state-sponsored terrorism, otherwise known as warfare—especially in places where civil society has broken down or become dominated by corruption (think Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, the list goes on).

Against this backdrop of global-scale violence, I see young Americans, who in earlier generations would have been our revolutionaries, struggling with up-close-and-personal issues that make it hard for them to focus on the bigger picture. Poverty, debt, lack of opportunity, institutional racism and sexism, anxiety, depression and addictions (including media addiction)—these immediate concerns are front and center for many young people I know. Mention climate change and they just flinch and turn away, unable to cope with one more problem, especially one so immense and seemingly intractable.

Butterfly-Effect-Logo-WEB-2015In my work—teaching, writing, organizing the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and the new Butterfly Leadership Program, and running Green Fire Press—I am always seeking to empower others to recognize their own potential to become the leaders we are all waiting for. The old saying “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” is so true, and we must wait no longer—there simply isn’t time.

What is needed now is a deep, grounded movement for peace, based on empathy, collaboration and alliances across superficial differences. We must recognize our kinship, not only with other human beings but with all life on Earth. We must re-learn to rightly value the “natural resources” without which none of us could survive a moment: clean air, clean water, fertile soil, a vibrant healthy planetary ecosystem.

We must re-learn and teach our children appreciation and even reverence for this beautiful battered planet of ours. We must institute social priorities based on peace and collective well-being, not violence and competitive profiteering.

UnknownWe have a candidate for the American Presidency now who is not afraid to take up these values and call them by their old, 20th century name: socialism.

While I have no problem with the moniker socialism, I wonder if it might be time for a new, 21st century political movement, with a new name that doesn’t come with all the blood-soaked baggage of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Your ideas of possible new names, emphasizing collective well-being and reverence for life, would be most welcome. Here’s one idea to get us started. How about Gaiaism?

Happy Solstice to all, and may this new year be a transition time to a new and better world for all of us Gaians.

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As above so below. Photo by J. Browdy c. 2015

 

 

#LifeMatters: On Die-Ins as a Path to Social Change

Die-in at NYU Bobst Library, December 2014

Die-in at NYU Bobst Library, December 2014

There’s something weird and macabre about the current spate of “die-ins” occurring across the country.

The logic seems to be that we register our very live protest by pretending to be dead, and blocking normal business as usual in the process.

The message: you must stop killing us and people we care about!

This season’s die-ins have mostly taken place in the name of racial justice.

I’d like to see the struggle broadened to include species justice as well.

Imagine if we protested on behalf of the coral reefs, the migrating birds and butterflies, and the small-animal roadkill?

Imagine if we staged die-ins on behalf of the sea turtles and the whales and the polar bears?

What about the tortured factory-farm animals and lab animals and the forest creatures whose habitats are being destroyed daily?

Imagine if we didn’t relent, but kept dying and dying and dying, swooning over and over again in public places until those in power were compelled to pay attention?

One thing is for sure, the powers that be in our uber-capitalist society want us alive and kicking, doing what’s expected of us as productive citizens: to keep consuming at a steadily increasing rate of purchase.

Buy, buy buy! Don’t worry about tomorrow, think about consuming today!

This is the constantly trumpeted message of countless advertising campaigns, and it’s the general ethos of American society, which admires those who can indulge in consumer wish-fulfillment, and disdains those who choose a different, less self-indulgent path.

Die-in for racial justice at Harvard Medical School, December 2014

Die-in for racial justice at Harvard Medical School, December 2014

Whether we choose to physically represent the “death” of our consumer selves, or to simply make a personal decision to refrain from participating in the excessive spending that is pushed on us from Black Friday through Christmas Eve…it is time to recognize our own power as consumers.

We can choose to support or starve the fossil fuel monster. We can decide to keep the factory farms humming or to put our purchasing power behind local farms where animals are allowed to live happier lives. Or even to go further, and eliminate meat consumption altogether!

In this age of Congressional gridlock and the stranglehold of big money on politics, we ordinary little guys must remember that we do have power if we come together to wield it.

One person staging a “die-in” is just a weirdo who can easily be removed.

A hundred or a thousand people refusing to go along with business as usual is something different: it’s a social movement, a force for social change.

The first step toward social change is awareness. I thank the die-in protestors for leading the way in raising our awareness and stopping the mad rush of business-as-usual.

Die-In at the COP 20 climate talks in Lima, Peru, December 2014

Die-In at the COP 20 climate talks in Lima, Peru, December 2014

I’m no Grinch; I’m going to be buying presents for my children and celebrating the holidays with friends and family.

But as I do, I will be trying to limit my participation in practices and policies I know to be harmful.

#LifeMatters. Yes, it does.

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.

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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.

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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.  

Michael Brown and the Dream of Radical Equality

 If Michael Brown had been Michael White, would the still-unfolding tragedy of Ferguson have occurred? When was the last time you heard of a white college student being shot down in cold blood by a police officer? Kent State, maybe? Yeah, it’s been that long.

10547712_1453135431613983_6655587389963374312_nThere is no excuse for the police officers hired to protect the peace using their weapons to kill unarmed citizens on the street.

There is no excuse for the kind of racial profiling that has spawned the bitter joke among Black men that they were stopped for DWB—driving while Black.

For a naturally empathic species, we humans can be remarkably insensitive to the well-being of others. I have realized, through examining my own experience closely, that this is due to cultural conditioning that enjoins us to put ourselves first—as individuals, as members of families and cultures, and as human beings.

We are not encouraged to think of ourselves in relationship to others. And without that sense of relationship, it’s hard to get worked up about what happens to others. It’s their business, their concern, not ours. Michael Brown? He must have been causing trouble.

The riots that came down in the wake of Brown’s killing show us that people of color knew otherwise. They took this murder personally because it could have been any one of them shot down by police. They are standing up for their rights in the way that people without power do: putting their own bodies on the line and raising a ruckus too loud to be ignored by the authorities.

Sometimes smashing storefront windows and setting cars on fire is necessary. It’s the last resort of people pushed beyond the bounds of civility.

There is a song that keeps running around in my head lately, from the Civil Rights Era, called “It Isn’t Nice.” It goes like this:

It isn’t nice to block the doorway

It isn’t nice to go to jail

There are nicer ways to do it

But the nice ways always fail

It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice if you told us once you told us twice

But if that’s freedom’s price

We don’t mind.

Well we tried negotiation

And the token picket line

Mr. Charlie wouldn’t see us

And he might as well be blind

When you deal with men of ice

You can’t deal with ways so nice

But if that’s freedom’s price

We don’t mind.

What about the years of lynchings

And the shot in Evers’ back?

Did you say it wasn’t proper

Did you step out on the track?

You were quiet just like mice

And now you say that we’re not nice.

But if that’s freedom’s price

We don’t mind!

 When yet another unarmed black boy is shot by police for no apparent reason…well, it isn’t nice, and the authorities can’t expect a nice calm response. Further curtailing civil rights by imposing a night curfew won’t help matters either.

What’s needed is first of all an apology; and secondly a real sit-down between the Black and the white communities, a sincere and prolonged effort to come to terms with reasons behind the continuing segregation and impoverishment on the Black side of the tracks, and strategies for making things better.

10600474_1445994419015603_795058456781638434_nBarack Obama’s rhetoric from early in his presidency—we are not Black Americans and white Americans, red Americans or blue Americans, we are all Americans—comes back to haunt me as I think about the killing of Michael Brown. For too long we humans have seen the world in terms of differences and separations, rather than recognizing the ways we are all the same and connected.

One day I hope humans will look back on this period of history and shake their heads, wondering how their ancestors could have been so misguided as to imagine that people with dark skin were any different than people with pale skin. I hope that in this future time, it will be inconceivable that a life could be snuffed out for no reason.

We humans are blessed with incredible powers of creative imagination, and the ability to manifest what we dream. We need to focus our imaginations now on envisioning a safer, saner world, where respect and mutual aid are the highest values—and not just respect for humans, but for all the life forms on the planet.

If we can use the situation in Ferguson as a catalyst for moving forward in the dream of radical equality, then Michael Brown’s tragic death will not have been in vain.

Warriors for the Planet

Another summer, another war. I wonder how many summers there have been in the last 5,000 years when human beings were not occupied with killing each other?

Correction: not “human beings,” “men.”

Let’s be frank: even though there may be women in the armed forces of many countries now, war still remains a masculine activity and preoccupation. The women who serve as soldiers must adhere to the masculine warrior code and become honorary “bros,” for whom the worst insult is still be called a “girl” or a “pussy.”

AnneBaring_A_lgI have been reading Anne Baring’s magisterial book The Dream of the Cosmos, in which she gives a detailed account of the shift, around the time of Gilgamesh, from the ancient, goddess- and nature-worshipping “lunar cultures” to the contemporary era of solar, monotheistic, warrior-worshipping cultures.

In her elaboration of this shift, I read the tragedy of our time, enacted over and over again all over the planet, and not just by humans against humans, but also by humans against the other living beings with whom we share our world. I quote at length from Baring’s remarkable book:

Gilgamesh-187x300“The archetype of the solar hero as warrior still exerts immense unconscious influence on the modern male psyche, in the battlefield of politics as well as that of corporate business and even the world of science and academia: the primary aim of the male is to achieve, to win and, if necessary, to defeat other males. The ideal of the warrior has become an unconscious part of every man’s identity from the time he is a small child.

“With the mythic theme of the cosmic battle between good and evil and the indoctrination of the warrior went the focus on war and territorial conquest. War has been endemic throughout the 4000 years of the solar era. The glorification of war and conquest and the exaltation of the warrior is a major theme of the solar era—still with us today in George W. Bush’s words in 2005: ‘We will accept no outcome except victory.’ This call to victory echoes down the centuries, ensuring that hecatombs of young warriors were sacrificed to the god of war, countless millions led into captivity and slavery, countless women raped and widows left destitute. It has sanctioned an ethos that strives for victory at no matter what cost in human lives and even today glorifies war and admires the warrior leader. This archaic model of tribal dominance and conquest has inflicted untold suffering on humanity and now threatens our very survival as a species.

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“The cosmic battle between light and darkness was increasingly projected into the world and a fascination with territorial conquest gripped the imagination and led to the creation of vast empires. It is as if the heroic human ego, identified with the solar hero, had to seek out new territories to conquer, had to embody the myth in a literal sense and as it did so, channel the primitive territorial drives of the psyche into a Dionysian orgy of unbridled conquest, slaughter and destruction. We hear very little about the suffering generated by these conquests: the weeping widows, the mothers who lost sons, the orphaned children and the crops and patterns of sowing and harvesting devastated and disrupted by the foraging armies passing over them, the exquisite works of art pillaged and looted….The long chronicle of conquest and human sacrifice, of exultation in power and the subjugation of enemies might truly be named the dark shadow of the solar age” (118;124).

Like Baring, I see our time as a critical era in the long history of homo sapiens on the planet. There is still hope that enough of us will be able to detach ourselves from the pressures and busyness of our lives—will become conscious of what is happening to the planet and human civilization writ large—will understand that there are other ways to relate to each other and to the Earth, ways that will seem increasingly possible and obvious once we focus on them and begin to put our energies into manifesting our visions of a creative, collaborative, respectful mode of being.

Baring ends her disturbing chapter on the ascendancy of the solar warrior culture with a hopeful quote from The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas, from which she springs into her own positive vision of the potential of our time.

“’We stand at the threshold of a revelation of the nature of reality that could shatter our most established beliefs about ourselves and the world. The very constriction we are experiencing is part of the dynamic of our imminent release. For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life; to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously.’

“As this deep soul-impulse gathers momentum, the ‘marriage’ of the re-emerging lunar consciousness with the dominant solar one is beginning to change our perception of reality. This gives us hope for the future. If we can recover the values intrinsic to the ancient participatory way of knowing without losing the priceless evolutionary attainment of a strong and focused ego, together with all the discoveries we have made and the skills we have developed, we could heal both the fissure in our soul and our raped and vandalized planet” (130-131).

My heart aches for the suffering of the innocent civilians trapped in the crossfire in Gaza this summer, and for the grieving families of the passenger plane heinously shot down by warriors who were either poorly trained or just plain evil.

I am heartsick when I think about the holocaust that is overtaking living beings on every quadrant of our planet as humans continue to ravage the forests and seas, to melt the poles with our greenhouse gases, and to poison the aquifers and soil with our chemicals.

The last Polar Bear

This is where the solar cultures, with their “great” warrior kings, have led us. And yet, as Baring says, they have also presided over the most amazing advances in science and technology that humans have ever known in our long history on the planet.

We don’t need or want to go back to the simple innocence of ancient lunar societies. We don’t have to bomb ourselves back into the Stone Age.

What we need is to go forward, wisely and joyously, into a new phase of consciousness, in which the masculine warrior spirit is used for protection and stewardship rather than destruction, and the Earth is honored as the Mother of all that she is.

Never let anyone tell you it can’t be done. It is already happening.

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