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!

Luna Rising: Calling on Women to Rise for Our Communities, and for Mother Earth

A lot of women I know are taking the knock-down of Hillary Clinton personally. It’s as if she is standing in for all the women who have ever tried to climb the male-dominated career ladder, no matter the field, and found themselves finally up at the top only to realize that that ladder is teetering…so that we all found ourselves looking at each other through Hillary’s eyes on election night, with that sickening realization dawning that…we are going DOWN.

Yes, she won the popular vote, we remind ourselves, clutching at straws of self-respect. Petitions are circulating demanding that the Electoral College represent the will of the people and split its vote accordingly, state by state. Many women are writing letters to Hillary, thanking her for fighting the good fight, and vowing to keep it up, to fight all the harder for this disappointment.

Meanwhile the frat-boy bully, our worst nightmare of the sleazy underbelly of America, is now slithering into the White House.

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How different is this guy from George W. Bush, another frat-boy bully, an entitled scion of a rich family? Bush Jr. had more of a patina; he had the patrician Kennebunkport charm, even though it masked a profound idiocy that kept him dependent on scheming advisors like Cheney.

Trump is the brash New Yorker, the kid from the boroughs whose family ran a real estate mafia, getting rich one gouged rent at a time. Although he has a lot of sycophants and wanna-be besties around him, Trump follows his own counsel. I don’t think he’ll be as easy to manipulate as Bush Jr. was. That just makes him all the more dangerous.

Yes, he’s dangerous. He represents the ascendancy of the worst forms of hyper-masculine arrogance—the kind of guy who throws his weight around, shouts down any dissenter, insists on having his own way all the time. He will glory in uniforms and lust in the power of legions of men saluting and doing his bidding. He will raze forests just for the fun of it like a modern-day Gilgamesh. He will rape and pillage and laugh about the humiliation of the women he leaves behind moaning in the dust.

This man—our soon-to-be President of the United States—is as bad as any petty warlord. Although we can think of dozens of similar dictators and tyrants like him, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a man this bad in our White House. Not this unapologetically, energetically, gleefully BAD.

President Obama is calmly talking about passing the baton, sitting down with the President-elect to talk about the nuclear codes and other key levers of government. His preternatural calm, like Hillary’s unemotional concession speech, baffles and frightens me. Don’t they fear for our country? Is it forbidden for them to express rage and frustration? Or do they know, in some insiders’ way that ordinary folks like us can’t, that it doesn’t really matter who is in the White House, they’re all, as Obama put it, “on the same team”?

What team is that, pray tell?

The team of the rapers and pillagers of women and of the planet? The corporate-finance team that is hell-bent on enriching the richest while hitting up ordinary folks with usurious interest rates on the loans and credit cards we need to survive; casting our children into perpetual debt bondage in return for the education they need to find the jobs that don’t pay enough to live on; drilling and fracking and scraping and bulldozing the Earth to make her pay her way in fossil fuels, no matter that the burning of those fuels will send our climate to Kingdom Come….

Yes, I am angry. If Obama really thinks that he and Trump are on the same team, then that is not a team I want any part of. I don’t want the “peaceful transition of power” if it means power will now reside in the small fat hands of that hateful would-be dictator.

Deep breath. Deep breath.

There is value in anger, I think. We can’t go quietly into the night. We have to fight this menace, and I am glad to see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Bill McKibben and Van Jones, Naomi Klein and Michael Brune and so many other good folks rallying for the fight.

But we have been fighting for a long time, and now to have this sudden loss of ground is disheartening, to say the least. It’s exhausting and demoralizing to see all those old bullies rallying around Trump—Giuliani, Gingrich and Christie, to name just a few—and know that this time around, with the power to appoint federal judges and justices, the way forward will be even harder.

I am wondering if there’s another way to fight this time. Yes, the street demonstrations are important; being visible is essential. The social media shares and livestreams are also key.

I’m just asking myself, what would it look like to launch a feminine response to Trump’s hyper-masculinity? Sort of like what Code Pink was doing in the Bush years or what One Billion Rising has done with dance flash mobs: meeting the gray sobriety of our corporate-militarized American “team” with the vibrant color and gay creativity of generative, nurturing freedom and joy.

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I think about the patience of Mother Nature, giving endlessly to all of her children, asking nothing in return but our success. I think about how no matter how fast we chop down her forests, she simply starts growing them again, even if the growth starts with the tiniest layer of lichen or moss. I think about the rhizomatic underground networks that support and nourish everything visible; the ones that persist and regrow no matter how much the aboveground targets are hit.

The Treesisters movement is promoting nature-based feminine leadership, specifically focusing on climate change as the global issue that unites all humanity. Climate change knows no national boundaries and it affects everyone—even the richest tyrant in his castle will eventually be starved out by the droughts and floods that will come once the warming has gone totally out of control.

With climate-change-denier Trump and his henchmen holding power in the White House and the US Congress, the whole world is in grave danger.

Feminine energy is needed now; the energy of nurturing and cultivating, the energy that is present in all humans but strongest in those whose bodies are made to bear life: women who are flooded with the loving, nurturing hormone estrogen before they leave their own mother’s wombs, and throughout their entire lives.

Women, now is not the time to shrink back in horror, to curl up and hide for four years hoping for a better champion the next time around.

Now is the time to look at our world through the eyes of Mother Earth, with compassion and benevolence, but also with the fierce love that can move mountains.

We have to rise for our daughters and sons, modeling for them not the passive acceptance of Barack and Hillary “passing the baton” to the bully, but proud and forceful independence that knows no humiliation and will not be intimidated.

There is a lot of talk right now in elite circles about trying to understand the Trump supporter better. I don’t think there’s a lot of mystery to why people in the rust belt are angry, frustrated and ready for change. The public education system is lousy, turning out people who are docile enough to follow a liar and a cheat over the cliff; and if you’re unhealthy from toxic chemicals, in debt up to your ears from huckster lenders, without decent jobs or any hope of improvement—well, it’s revolution time, and we know that people who have nothing to lose will often follow a charismatic leader, no matter what false prophets he is preaching.

A feminine-inspired leader, taking her cue from Mother Earth, will embrace these children along with all her children, trying her best to give them what they need to flourish and grow well. That means good nutrition, good education, healthy communities, a sense of purpose and ways to contribute productively to the common well-being. It’s not too much to ask. It’s what every American and every human being deserves.

At the same time, we know now that we would need six Earths to support the vaunted American lifestyle in its current incarnation, for all the billions of humans on Earth. We are going to have to shift away from the old idea of limitless economic growth, into a new steady state that consumes much less of Earth’s resources, much more efficiently, in ways that make more of us truly happy.

This can be done.

It must be done.

I am calling on women to lead the way here and now—to use the galvanizing push of this horrendous election to inspire us to rise up in our communities, everywhere in the world, to insist that the bullies will NOT have their way this time.

Not on their lives…and not on ours.

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PS: On Monday November 14 the Moon, whose magnetic pull sweeps the tides and the menstrual cycles of all mammals, will be as close to Earth as she’ll be until 2034. Women, let’s all honor Luna that day. Go out and gaze at her. Take her feminine energy into your hearts and then send it out into the world, bathing your communities in that peaceful pulse of pure white light. If we come together, our feminine power knows no bounds. We can do this. We must!

Love is not a luxury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it is.

 

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

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

Resisting Our Suicidal Culture: Are We All Aboard Germanwings?

We’ve passed the Spring Equinox and it continues to snow here in the Northeast. I feel like I’m stuck in Narnia under the Witch, and no sign of Aslan coming to the rescue.

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In the Narnia series, the Witch is a symbol of the dark side of humanity. Greedy, selfish, vain and cruel, she makes others suffer because it pleases her to do so.

C.S. Lewis, like J.R.R. Tolkien, took the struggle between Good and Evil right out of the Christian playbook. Both of these epic stories end with Good triumphing, but also with beloved characters simply moving on to a better world. In Christian traditions, that better world is called Heaven. You can only get there by dying.

For some of us, death does seem like a release, a chance to lay down one’s sorrows and find peace and comfort at last. We get a taste of it nightly when we dream—if we are able to sleep deeply and well.

Was it that pull toward peace that caused the Germanwings co-pilot to slam his plane into a mountain, killing himself and all 149 people aboard? Suicide that takes other innocent people along is reprehensible and incomprehensible. Yet it happens, more often than we might like to admit.

It’s easy to call the behavior of that suicidal co-pilot evil. But there are many other instances of human behavior resulting in cruelty and death that are harder to see and categorize. Often these actions are miniscule in their individual iterations, but together add up to horrifying, devastating impacts.

Most of what is going on with our relationship to our environment falls into this pattern of negligent evil.

For instance, when we buy a beautiful mahogany table and chair set for our porch, we don’t think about the rainforests that were bulldozed to create it. We don’t think about all the myriad life—the bright butterflies, exotic lizards and intelligent orangutans—that had to die so we could enjoy that table.

When we turn on the gas range to heat water for tea, we don’t think about the billions of gallons of water that are irrevocably contaminated through the fracking process to provide us with that gas. Likewise, when we fill up our car tank and rejoice to see the price of gas falling, we don’t think about the despoliation of the landscape and oceans that is going on in order to continue to provide us with cheap gas.

When we continue to support industries that destroy our environment, from industrial agriculture to the petrochemical industry to Big Oil and all the banks and subsidiaries that love them, we are each contributing to the crazy destabilization of our planet’s climate.

We are feeding the Witch that preys on every human being—the side of human nature that lacks empathy for other living beings and values short-term comfort and gratification over long-term well-being.

sustainable-happiness-lAs we round the corner into April, traditionally a month when human cultures of the northern hemisphere celebrate Spring and the return of warmth and green to the Earth, we must focus our attention on what Sarah van Gelder of YES! Magazine calls “sustainable happiness.”

In the introduction to her new edited collection, Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference, Van Gelder points to research showing that what truly makes human beings happy is “loving relationships, thriving natural and human communities, opportunities for meaningful work, and a few simple practices, like gratitude.”

Van Gelder insists that “sustainable happiness is possible,” but “you can’t achieve it with a quick fix and it can’t be achieved at the expense of others.” It all “depends on the choices we make individually and as a society.”  In the book, she gives us a list of five principles to help move us in the right direction:

  1. “Stop the causes of trauma and support healing;
  2. Build economic and social equity;
  3. Value the gifts we each bring;
  4. Protect the integrity of the natural world;
  5. Develop practices that support our own well-being.”

That about sums up a plan for right living, doesn’t it? Easy to say, harder to put in practice in a social landscape that is seems to be so eternally under the spell of the Witch of destructive extractivism.

There are signs that the spell is weakening, though. Rivulets of indignation are spouting up. Individuals are awakening to their own power to imagine a different way of life, a different relation to each other and our planet.

We are beginning to talk with one another about making change, and acting on our deepest intuitions of what happiness would mean for ourselves, our loved ones and our beloved world. Through the networked power of the World Wide Web, these conversations and new paradigms can spread faster than ever before, giving us hope that there is still time to right the wrongs and stabilize the imbalances that threaten to turn our planet into a mass grave on a scale never seen before in human history.

The captains of industry and their hired politicians are threatening to slam our entire civilization into the side of a mountain, metaphorically speaking. Are we going to sit quietly in our seats and let it happen? Or are we going to pound on the door, like the heroic pilot of the Germanwings airplane, who did everything he could to get through to the insane man at the controls and bring his plane home safely?

Looking out at the relentless snowfall of April, I know it’s time to awaken the Aslan in each one of us. It’s time to fight for the survival of the world we love.

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After Charlie Hebdo: Tuning Out, Tuning In to the Violence that Beseiges Us

When the news of the Charlie Hebdo attack flashed into the headlines last week, with all its chaotic blood, gore and terror, I had a surreal feeling of detachment and déjà vu. Similar scenarios have been hitting us so often in recent months and years—the Boston Marathon bombing…the Times Square attempted bombing….Sandy Hook Elementary School…. Virginia Tech…Ferguson….the list could go on and on, and that’s just the incidents on American soil.

How do we cope with the constant background noise of violence against which our lives play out in the 21st century? How do we avoid either extreme: numbing out/tuning out, or becoming overwhelmed with fear and grief?

If you thought I might have the answer, I’m sorry to disappoint. I don’t know. It seems to me that I go back and forth from one reaction to another, depending on my mental resilience when the latest instance of violence surges into my awareness.

Asterix creator Albert Uderzo, 87, came out of retirement to draw this tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack, published in Le Figaro newspaper. Uderzo was where Uderzo is quoted in Le Figaro as saying: “I am not changing my work, I simply want to express my affection for the cartoonists that paid for their work with their lives.”

Asterix creator Albert Uderzo, 87, came out of retirement to draw this tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack, published in Le Figaro newspaper. Uderzo was where Uderzo is quoted in Le Figaro as saying: “I am not changing my work, I simply want to express my affection for the cartoonists that paid for their work with their lives.”

If I’m feeling strong and stable, I can hit a balance, which seems like the healthiest response; I can honor the victims with appropriate grief and anger at the perpetrators, while maintaining the psychic distance I need to go about my daily business without being blown away by fear and sorrow.

Is this really “the healthiest response,” though? Or am I kidding myself here? How can it be healthy and sane to be so compartmentalized that I am able to acknowledge the pain and suffering on one hand, while at the same time going on with my life in an ordinary way?

Digging a little further into this, I have to ask: who does it benefit for me to be able to carry on with a stiff upper lip, remaining calm, cool and collected in the face on ongoing tragedy? Does it benefit me, or the status quo of the society I live in, which has generated this endless loop of repetitive tragedy?

What would happen if one day we all suddenly started to feel fully empathetic with the victims of violence—and not just gun violence, or military violence, but also rape, domestic violence, violence against animals, violence against the forests and the waters of our planet?

In the #BlackLivesMatter and #WeAreSenecaLake protests, and now in the #JeSuisCharlie meme and rallies in Paris, we are seeing a hint of the powerful force that can be unleashed by human compassion.

What if I, and other Americans like me, started to actively fight the conditioning that has made us believe that the healthiest, sanest response to ubiquitous violence is to turn our gaze away and keep moving?

What if we began to lean in to the deep wellsprings of compassion and empathy that are our birthright as human beings, and act out of the power we find there?

What if instead of accepting the constant static of violence as a given of modern existence, we began to actively tune in to it, in order to serve—each one of us—as antennae capable of picking up the signal and disrupting it, transforming it from cacophony to an entirely different, new form of activist harmony?

In their own satirical way, the Charlie Hebdo team was engaged in doing just this. They were holding a mirror up to our sick society, and forcing us to gaze at ourselves and recognize the extent of our own complicity in the violence that besieges us.

I believe, with Arundhati Roy, that another world is possible. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. But on a typical, violent day, all I can hear is the labored thumping of my own heavy heart.

Photo c. J. Browdy, 2015

Photo c. J. Browdy, 2015

The People’s Climate March: Taking the Evolutionary Leap of Radical Democracy

The People’s Climate March in New York City is just one manifestation of a huge sea-change sweeping through our culture. Or perhaps “seeping” would be a better verb—this shift in awareness is not happening with the tsunami force of a revolution, but more with the steady, determined drip-drip-drip of water undermining rock.

Humans are paradoxical. On the one hand, we love everything that’s new and innovative, we all want to be out ahead of the curve when it comes to technological breakthroughs and new ideas. On the other hand, we hold tight to the received wisdom of our forebears, living by enshrined writings thousands of years old (the Bible, the Koran, the Mahabharata, Confucius, etc.) or hundreds of years old (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights).

We have established elaborate educational, political and legal systems designed to hold us to a particular form of society, permitting free, innovative thinking only along narrow channels carefully defined by the interests of business and commerce.

The arts and humanities, traditionally the realm of creative, imaginative exploration, have been steadily starved in this brave new world, which can only imagine creativity in the service of profit.

What happens to a society that can only envision creative energy in an instrumental, utilitarian light?

We become a society of robots. We lose our connection to the soul of the world, the anima mundi that sustains us humans along with all other living beings on the planet.

http---pbs.twimg.com-media-ByDzJSPIYAA_RHcThe People’s Climate March, which is happening not only in New York City but worldwide, with 2,808 marches and events in 166 countries, bears welcome witness to the fact that the sparks of creative, independent thinking have not totally gone out.

There are many, many people worldwide who are aware, and aghast, at the failure of our political and business leaders to act in the best interests of the people and all the beautiful, innocent creatures who are slipping away into the night of extinction day by day due to the relentless human assault on our shared planet.

We are here, we are aware, and we are engaged. We are not going to stand by silently and let corporate greed and shortsightedness overwhelm us.

It is true that business and government have a stranglehold on official channels of communication, education and social change.

They control the curricula taught in our schools, what appears on our major media channels, and what projects and areas of creative exploration are funded. They keep us in line with the debt bondage of school loans, mortgages, car payments and the fear of not having enough money in the bank for a comfortable old age. We’re so busy running on the treadmills they’ve set up we have no time or energy to think about changing the system.

Or do we?

So far, the one social area that has not been overtaken by corporate/governmental control is the World Wide Web. It’s still a Wild West space, a place where you can find everything and everyone, from dangerous sadists to beneficent spiritual leaders. There’s room for every kind of idea out there to percolate through our collective consciousness. And make no mistake: the energy we’re seeing in the People’s Climate March is fueled in large part by the distribution power of the Web, the ability to get the word out and get people fired up to come together to take a stand.

We saw it happen in the Arab Spring, where people used cell phones and texts to organize themselves to resist oppression.

We saw those people get beaten back, the promise of their revolution squashed by the entrenched power of men with guns and tear gas.

The rise of the Islamic State, like the rise of Al Quaeda and the Taliban, is all about conservative forces resisting change.

I am just as afraid of men with guns and tear gas as the next woman. I am happier making revolution on my laptop than in the streets. But at some point we have to come out from behind our screens, get off the treadmills of debt bondage, look around us at the beauty of the world, and say: this is what I want to live for, and this is what I’m willing to die for.

Terry Tempest Williams.  Photo by Cheryl Himmelstein

Terry Tempest Williams. Photo by Cheryl Himmelstein

Environmental activist and writer Terry Tempest Williams, in her book The Open Space of Democracy, says that the time has come to “move beyond what is comfortable” (81) in pursuit of what she calls a “spiritual democracy.”

“We have made the mistake of confusing democracy with capitalism and have mistaken political engagement with a political machinery we all understand to be corrupt,” she says.

“It is time to resist the simplistic, utilitarian view that what is good for business is good for humanity in all its complex web of relationships. A spiritual democracy is inspired by our own sense of what we can accomplish together, honoring an integrated society where the social, intellectual, physical and economic well-being of all is considered, not just the wealth and health of the corporate few” (87)

Williams calls for a radical recognition of the interdependence of all life on Earth. “The time has come to demand an end to the wholesale dismissal of the sacredness of life in all its variety and forms,” she says. “At what point do we finally lay our bodies down to say this blatant disregard for biology and wild lives is no longer acceptable?” (86)

If we humans could step into our destiny as the stewards of our planet, the loving gardeners and caretakers of all other living beings, we would harness our incredible intelligence and creativity to re-stabilize our climate and do what needs to be done to ensure the well-being of all.

Williams calls this “the next evolutionary leap” for humanity: “to recognize the restoration of democracy as the restoration of liberty and justice for all species, not just our own” (89).

DSC_2200WIf we are able to take this leap, we will not only avert climate-related disaster on a Biblical scale, we will also overcome many of the social problems that we currently struggle with. “To be in the service of something beyond ourselves—to be in the presence of something other than ourselves, together—this is where we can begin to craft a meaningful life where personal isolation and despair disappear through the shared engagement of a vibrant citizenry,” says Williams (89).

Williams’ small gem of a book grew out of a speech she gave at her alma mater, the University of Utah, in the spring of 2003, as America was rushing into its ill-conceived War on Terror in Iraq. She describes her heart pounding as she got up to make a speech advocating a different form of democracy than that embraced and espoused by all the conservative friends and family sitting in the audience before her.

Challenging one’s own friends and family, betraying one’s own tribe, is the hardest aspect of being a social revolutionary. You have to question the very people you love most, who have given you so much and made your whole life possible.

But if we become aware that the social systems that gave birth to us are the very social systems that are undermining the possibility of a livable future on this planet, can we continue to just go with the flow, to avoid asking the difficult questions?

Or will we become change agents who work slowly and steadily, drip by drip, to awaken those around us, those we love most, to the necessity of undertaking “the next evolutionary leap” in the human saga on the planet?

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A message from the wounded heart of our magnificent Earth

This week, as in the foreground Washington politics continued as usual, a remarkable animal came like a messenger sent to remind me of the state of things in the background, where what’s really important is going on.

I’m using Mary Daly’s terminology here: she calls everything that mainstream society generally focuses on part of the “foreground,” which distracts us from the deeper and more significant issues and events going on in the “background.”

Instead of worrying about how the “snools” are jerking the country around from their headquarters inside the Beltway, Daly urges us to pay attention to the bigger, deeper picture of what’s happening on a global level to the ecological systems that keep us all alive.

Sometimes it’s hard to wrench my attention away from all the grotesqueries going on in the foreground.  This week, I had help.

***

On Tuesday, as I was walking along a trail by a small river near my house, in the gathering gloom of dusk, I looked back to see my dog Loki standing stock-still near a large object that I couldn’t immediately identify.

Afraid it might be a big and potentially dangerous animal, like a raccoon, I hurried back, and was astonished to perceive that Loki was standing nose to beak with an enormous eagle-like bird.

osprey

Both animals were calm, and Loki came to me at once when I called.

The eagle, which I later identified as an osprey, turned and looked at me keenly, with a gaze I can only call commanding.  Its huge, hooked beak was intimidating; this was not the kind of wild animal I would consider going anywhere near.

And yet here it was, down on the ground, strong and well-fed, clearly in its prime, but immobilized by a badly broken right wing, which was hanging twisted and useless at its side.

A human being in that condition would have been writhing and crying desperately for help.

The osprey merely stood its ground, calmly and regally, waiting.

It was still there the next morning when I went back to check on it.  I had called the state Fish & Wildlife Service, and as I stood there by the eagle, a wildlife biologist called me to ask directions to the bird.  He was going to bring it to a veterinarian to have its wing set, and then bring it to a shelter.

Wild raptors with broken wings almost never fly again, but there are raptor rescue centers that maintain them as ambassadors for their kind, educating the public about the beauty and importance of these magnificent birds.

 ***

I don’t know how that bird came to break its wing. There was a house not far away from where I found it; perhaps it flew into a window at full tilt?

I do know that if it had come down elsewhere, away from the trail, it would have certainly died of starvation or been eaten by a coyote, which I have seen in those woods.

In this case, human beings could be of use to this osprey, and indeed I felt very strongly, when it trained its sharp, steely gaze upon me, that it was demanding my help.

More broadly, I take my encounter with the eagle this week as a reminder to keep my focus on the bigger, deeper picture of the continual wounding of the natural world.

For every damaged osprey there are literally millions of creatures I can’t see personally, who are wounded and dying all over the Earth.

I can’t afford to lose myself in the busy-ness and distraction of foreground concerns—the headlines of mainstream media outlets, the daily housework, the struggle to make enough money to pay bills and keep my family going.

Those concerns will continue and as a functioning member of human society, I have to keep my eye on them.

But my inner eye–my third eye, my most deeply aware sense of vision–must be ceaselessly trained on the slowly unfolding planetary tragedy that is occurring relentlessly in the background.  I must stay alert for opportunities to be of help to those who cannot help themselves.

I thank the beautiful osprey for this reminder, and wish it, most fervently, Godspeed.

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Moving from suffering to pain to resistance

“Pain is an event, an experience that must be recognized, named and then used in some way in order for the experience…to be transformed into…strength or knowledge or action.  Suffering, on the other hand, is the nightmare reliving of unscrutinized and unmetabolized pain.  When I live through pain without recognizing it…I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it.”

Audre Lorde,  Sister Outsider, 171

Too much of the time, we who are sensitive, aware human beings on the planet feel the burden of suffering, the “nightmare reliving of unscrutinized and unmetabolized pain.”

For example, when I read in the current National Geographic Magazine that 25,000 elephants have been killed this year in East Africa by poachers and even government soldiers who want to make money on their tusks, the nightmare of suffering descends upon me.  When I hear that the president of Kenya has declared that “elephants must pay for their room and board with ivory,” I begin to feel physically sick.

The same kind of nausea descends on me when I hear about the melting of the ice in the Arctic or the permafrost in Greenland—even more so when the loudest response to this calamity comes in the form of rapacious, competitive cheering and jostling for position to be the one to extract the greatest amount of riches now revealed beneath the ice.

Or when I read about the ongoing sexual abuse that is occurring rampantly on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota, a kind of externalization, upon the defenseless bodies of small children, of the unmetabolized suffering of generations of Native peoples trying to survive in unspeakable conditions.

Brooding over all the news of suffering that comes my way each time I take a look at the daily news, I can quickly feel myself overwhelmed with a sense of my own powerlessness.

That is where I need Audre Lorde’s fierce courage to pick me up, dust me off and send me on my way again.

The challenge is to remain open to the suffering, in order to, as she says, recognize, name and use it “to fuel some movement beyond it.”

For many of us right now, the greatest challenge is the awareness that we don’t know what to do. And maybe, even, that there is nothing we can do.

I cannot heroically save the elephants, any more than I can refreeze the polar ice caps or swoop in to rescue the frightened child who is being raped right at this moment.

No.  But what I can do is to try to leave myself open to the suffering—in other words, to not turn away, not deliberately turn off my empathy in order to try to hide from a reality that is hard to confront.

It is my belief that if more of us were to commit to recognizing and naming suffering when we see it, we would find the strength and the right channels to collectively metabolize suffering into the kind of pain that leads to action.

Each of us needs to become a vortex through which the pain can be transmuted first into resistance, and then into an active seeking for alternative paths.

It is not necessary that tens of thousands of elephants die.  It is not necessary that we see the melting of the Arctic as an opportunity to extract more fossil fuels and heat up the atmosphere still more.  It is far from necessary that the children of Spirit Lake are tormented by their elders.

Do not turn away from this suffering.  See it, name it, and turn the pain that these events awaken in you to a righteous force for change.

You don’t need to have all the answers or know what to do with the pain.  Just allow yourself to feel.  Allow empathy to flow.  And then see what happens next.

Swept Away

There are times when I wish I had the skills to be a political cartoonist, and this is one of those times.

I am imagining a huge hurricane bearing down on the huddles of Republicans and Democrats, each hunched in conspiratorial circles around their own little campfires, plotting away about TV ads and televised speeches, while the lightening sears the electrical grid, huge ships get washed up on the streets of coastal cities, and homes are blasted and flattened. Those crazy strategists don’t even look up until the pouring rain puts out their fire, and by then the storm is on them and it’s too late to run and there’s nowhere to hide.

Reading the latest political blog from The New York Times “Caucus” column makes me feel sick.

Here comes a storm that may cost lives and billions in property damage, and all the brightest minds in Washington DC can think about is how best to play it politically?

If that is the way all threats to our wellbeing are treated by our politicians, it is no wonder that we’re in such trouble today.

I expect better from the Democrats, but as so many of my readers have insisted vociferously lately, maybe I need to take off my rose-colored glasses and see my party for what it is.

Just another political party whose main goal and raison d’etre is simply Power.  Politicians who try to play by more humanitarian rules don’t seem to get too far in Washington.  Once they get into the clutches of the political strategists, their lives and minds are not their own.

There must be another way.

I can take off my rose-colored glasses as regards what we have now, the players currently on the ground.  But I refuse to let go of my hope that the system can be better.

True, the Marxist experiment has not worked, and nothing has come along to offer another vision of a more ideal socio-political-economic system.

But there are some interesting ideas brewing on the margins now.  The Living Economies movement, the Green Party agenda, the whole ethos of sustainability as opposed to limitless growth.

Maybe the real end to that cartoon strip I’m imagining is what happens the day after the storm.

The Republicans and Democrats are standing on soapboxes making speeches about how much they care about the damage, but no one is listening to them. People are going about the business of clean-up with determination and good cheer, and it’s quite clear that they have no use at all for the out-of-touch pols.

Yes, those elected officials do control the purse strings of “disaster relief.”   But that’s our money they’re parsing out!  Our tax dollars, far too much of which goes to blowing things up in the military, rather than in constructing a solid, sustainable economy.

The question I am mulling over this morning is, what will it take to achieve fundamental political changes in our country?   Can we do it by reform, or is it going to take all out revolution?

Or will Mother Earth do it for us, sweeping it all away to make way for a new epoch?

Floods, drought: the Earth needs us now

floods in southern Russia

I could hardly believe it when I read in the paper today that major floods in Russia have caused nearly 200 deaths this week.

Floods?

It is bone dry here in the hills of western Massachusetts.  It is so dry that if I did not water my vegetable garden every day, all my beautiful plants would be drying up in the merciless drought.

When I walk by the half-dry river in the afternoons, I am struck by all the yellow and brown leaves on the path—the forest has the golden cast of September now, the dry spell fast-forwarding us from mid-summer to fall.

The first veiled hints of trouble have made their way into the mainstream media, with crop losses due to drought expected to push up the prices of food in the U.S.

Barely a mention of shortages yet.  No rationing.  Just higher prices, which will make it harder for those of us on fixed incomes—not to mention all the unemployed—to afford to buy what we want to eat.

Clearly there is a shocking imbalance between the torrential rains in Europe and the parched drought here in the US.

Clearly it’s anthropogenic climate change rearing its scary hydra head.

I have heard tell of Native Americans calling on the rain gods to bring rain clouds to a dry landscape.

Our own techno-engineers talk about seeding the clouds to provide rain.

In both cases, it’s a matter of human beings applying our great brain power to find solutions to problems that threaten our existence.

Each of us has some gift to contribute to the common cause of survival—remembering that the survival of human beings is entirely intertwined with the survival of every other life form on the planet, from plankton to trees to bees.

Truly, this is no time to wait shyly on the sidelines to be invited, or to wait for others to take the lead.

As the saying goes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. If ever a time called for brilliant and dramatic solutions, that time is now.

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