Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

February again. The sap is starting to rise here in New England. The blue ribbons of tubing snake through the maple groves, bearing the sweet elixir of life down to the saphouses, where the boiling pans await. The first snowdrops and pussy willows gleam, foreshadowing the great greening to come.

It’s been unnaturally warm this past week—almost 70 degrees here in western Massachusetts. We look at each other, enjoying the unexpected warmth, but with dismay and fear lurking behind our smiles. This is not right.

So much is not right in these first days and weeks of 2017 DTE (Donald Trump Era). You know the problems, I don’t have to list them. Each week brings a new outrage, a new shock, a new nadir. Just when you thought America couldn’t sink any lower in the eyes of the rest of the world, there they go again: insulting our allies, assaulting our citizens, making plans to frack and drill the whole globe to kingdom come.

I’m not the only one who foresees a repeat of the 9/11 playbook hurtling our way. It worked before, and although our eyes are opened this time, it will probably work again.

Manufacture an external threat—that’s not hard to do, any number of terrorist organizations would be happy to oblige—throwing the homeland into chaos and requiring a “state of emergency” that suspends all the usual processes of law. With everyone hunkered down in fear, the police state can be implemented and the cowardly Congress will do the bidding of the executive branch. The Supreme Court will stay quiet.

Order will be restored, but it will be the New World Order of the DTE: imperialist white industrial capitalism on steroids, the taxpayers obediently bending over to have their asses kicked as they foot the bill for the military and police to subdue any resistance to the corporate takeover of the entire planet by billionaire business and finance executives slavering over ever-ascending short-term profit.

Don’t like it? They’ll pull out the rubber bullets and throw you in prison—and oh yeah, the taxpayers will pay for that too. Or maybe you’d rather have a taste of what they do to people labeled “terrorist” in their secret rendition sites. Or let’s just get it over with, here’s a real bullet for your trouble. Sweet dreams.

So much is not right here.

The American liberal elite needs to be reminded, perhaps, that the rude shocks of the DTE era are nothing new. Americans of color, undocumented immigrants, people of color all over the globe have been living this nightmare for hundreds of years, ever since the European colonial onslaught began.

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In my memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered, I faced my own privilege as someone born into the New York City white liberal elite. I opened my eyes to the fact that my generation of urban “yuppies” lived comfortably on the backs of exploited workers, enjoying cheap oil and gas while ignoring the giant devastation of the Alberta tar sands, the Amazon forest, the Nigerian delta or the Arctic. I recognized my own complicity in ignoring the despair of millions of impoverished Americans and my complacency in foolishly imagining that the drones and riot cops would never be turned against me and my children.

I came to understand that I had to use whatever privilege I had, as a well-educated white American woman, to fight the dark, oppressive forces that are seeking to sink our entire planet into a violence, fear and deprivation.

But I didn’t realize, as I was writing that book, that I was standing on the brink of the DTE, a time when the boomerang of climate change would be exacerbated by the takeover of American government, business and military by vile haters and savage oppressors, eager to take sadistic pleasure in the subduing of all dissent and disobedience.

When I finished What I Forgot in 2015, I imagined that the worst problem facing us would be the runaway juggernaut of climate change. That still may be the case: we are seeing the disruption of the climate already, in tornadoes, floods, droughts, disease, loss of glaciers and other sources of drinking water for millions…with vast migrations of climate refugees underway.

But now the DT gang in control of the American government seems maniacally intent on intensifying all of it. Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism” is blowing like a violent hurricane across our entire networked planet, and although the generals and ideologues in control of our government may think they can control it, as they did in the past (think Katrina or Baghdad) and make more billions (using taxpayer money) in the clean-up and reconstruction, I don’t believe they will be able to get the climate change genie back into the bottle now.

They may be able to subdue ordinary Americans with their violence and repression, but Mother Earth, once aroused, will sweep their guns and tanks before her like so many toys. She has her own agenda, our Mother, and she’ll do no one’s bidding.

So what is the task for those of us who are awake to the accelerating transition of our planet and the very real potential that we will be living through the decline and fall of Western Civilization?

Recognizing how terribly destructive and horrible Western Civilization has been for the natural world, indigenous peoples, and people of color all over the planet is a necessary first step. We have to recognize and come to terms with the key role America has played in the violence and havoc that has laid waste to so many communities across the globe, destroyed forests, grasslands and ocean reefs and pushed untold millions of beautiful flora and fauna into the dark night of extinction.

We did this. Or we stood silently by as it was done.

And we are living through the consequences now. They’ve taken everyone else, now they’re coming for us: starting with the most vulnerable here in America, and steadily racheting up the violence aimed at anyone who resists or dissents.

So much is not right here.

It’s our job to make things right. We were born in this time for a reason. It is a time of almost unbearable polarity and ever-accelerating change. We have to step boldly up to the challenges, look them in the eye, and link arms with others to take a stand for what’s right.

We might all rather go back to sleep—wake me when it’s over, honey!

But in the DTE, we don’t have that luxury.

Now is our time, and no one will save us if we don’t stand up for ourselves and what we love.

Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

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Ghosts of Latin America: Will It Happen Here?

As a student of Latin America, I feel a strange sense of déjà vu lately when I follow the news.

A corrupt, shadily “elected” president putting his cronies in charge—check. An ineffective, corrupt congress with their fingers to the wind, more interested in their own political fortunes than in representing their constituents—check. Wealthy, corrupt businessmen put in charge of all the key government agencies—check. Environmental regulation be damned—check. The press muzzled and threatened for any whiff of dissent—check. And the people, oh yeah, them—they should shut their mouths, tighten their belts and work harder.

There have been many comparisons of the Drumpf era to the German Nazi era. What is less well known is how many of the Nazis fled to Latin America when the Third Reich came to an end. There they took advantage of the prevailing racism and whatever wealth and education they possessed to quickly rise into positions of power in industry and government. They lurked there, nursing their totalitarian fantasies and grooming their puppet politicos, until they were strong enough to start the process of taking over the levers of power and crushing dissent.

Latin America was also a field for the proxy wars between the Soviet Union and the United States, with lines being drawn being pro-business capitalists and pro-worker communists. Often the local people, native and mestizo, were caught in the crossfire between these mighty opposing ideologies, which laid waste to entire economies and communities.

If you want to look for the origins of the big migrations of Latinos northward, this is a good place to start.

As with the current situation in Syria and North Africa, people don’t leave their homes unless they absolutely have to. What would it take to get you to abandon your home and set off on the road with your little children and whatever you could carry? My ancestors did it in the late 19th century, fleeing the pogroms and conscriptions of the Jewish ghettos in Poland and Russia. During the 1930s the Dust Bowl refugees packed up their troubles and left the parched Midwest, heading for California.

We don’t know yet how far the Drumpf people and their Republican henchmen in Congress will go in pushing the American populace towards that level of desperation.

When they take away our health care and make the pharmaceuticals unaffordable, release the loan sharks on us and start taking our homes again; when they turn our public schools into boot camps for dumbed down docility and drug the kids who won’t obey; when they frack our neighborhoods and run oil pipelines through our waterways; when they turn our national parks into mines and hunting grounds—are we going to simply bow our heads and take it?

When they take away funding for the arts and public media, turn the scientists into their private industrial brain trust, alienate our closest international allies and ramp up the drilling, fracking, mining, logging, burning and chemical poisoning that is destroying our planet at an unprecedented pace—are we going to shrug and turn away?

When they bribe and coerce the judges, intimidate the press, militarize the police and start killing our sons and daughters if they dare to take to the streets in protest, are we going to stay quiet?

In Latin America, the repression of those who dared to speak out and organize against the dictators and capitalist bosses was brutal: I’m talking disappearances, torture, decapitations, burnings, destruction of homes…the old Spanish colonial playbook laced with a good dose of Nazi righteousness and American capitalist arrogance.

Will it come to that here? Will the plague of the Drumpf era bring us into another civil war?

Right now the Dow Jones is flying high and things are functioning smoothly enough at the local level. The majority of Americans—who, let us remember, did not support Drumpf–are anxious and unnerved but going about our day-to-day business while stepping up efforts to stay informed and figure out how best to resist.

We know we’re in one of those moments that will be discussed in detail by historians, assuming our civilization comes safely through to the other side of this crisis.

So many questions cannot yet be answered. Will Bannon, Drumpf and the Republicans start a new war, repeating the 9/11 playbook that worked so well to keep the population quiet while providing rich new markets for the military industrial complex?

Will the Supreme Court rubber stamp the new regime’s savage efforts to roll back civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, voters’ rights, environmental protection, consumer protection, financial regulation etc. etc.?

Will freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right to peaceful assembly and protest be trampled on and curtailed?

Will Americans sit by passively and let this happen?

And what about climate change? We’re already seeing the effects more dramatically every month. The acceleration is almost unbelievable. Will Mother Nature intervene, throwing some icy water on the fossil fuel industry’s wet dreams of limitless riches?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to rise.

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Telling Senator Warren to Shut Up? Hell No! When They Go Low, We Will Too

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The maelstrom over Mitch McConnell’s insulting “shutting up” of Senator Elizabeth Warren has provoked some thoughtful commentary on how very typical it is for women to be silenced in majority-male environments.

“The unpalatable truth is that women encounter this behavior in most professions,” writes Susan Chira in The New York Times. “It often comes from well-intentioned men who are horrified when it is pointed out or oblivious when it is going on, as well as those who are less enlightened.”

I have encountered this kind of behavior many times in my own profession. For example, one man who I’m sure would think of himself as “enlightened,” recently stormed out of a meeting in a rage after a woman colleague, tired of listening to him hold forth interminably, dared to interrupt him in order to insert a thought of her own.

Yes, women still struggle to get a word in edgewise, not only because of the behavior and expectations of others, but also because of our own internalized socialization, which enjoins us to be polite, wait our turn, speak only when we’re very sure of the value of what we have to say.

In the wake of the Women’s March on Washington and all the solidarity marches around the country and around the world…in the wake of the Drumpf administration’s retrograde and quite open attack on women’s rights…in view of the extreme seriousness of our historical moment…

IT IS CLEAR THAT WOMEN CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO BE QUIET.

For many of us, the idea of speaking up in a meeting or a crowd can be frightening. We may not think of ourselves as community leaders, or want to step outside the comfort zones of our carefully defined personal and professional lives.

But these are not ordinary times.

We stand on the precipice of a future that may well be more cataclysmic as anything the 20th century threw at us.

We are told that Bannon, the evil genius behind the throne of the orange man, is eager to foment World War III. Through his golem, DT, he is provoking and needling our allies, sometimes by making friends with common enemies like Russia; he is weaseling his way into the Vatican and trying to stir up dissension among the Cardinals under the current peaceful, green-minded Pope; he is going out of his way to exacerbate the climate change problem by putting the full weight of the presidency behind fossil fuel extraction and distribution, the hell with environmental impacts.

A new “axis of evil” is being laid out for us, the conditions for war made artificially inexorable, just as they were in 2001 when Bush & Co. lied to America and threw us into the needless Iraq war.

I stand for reproductive rights just as much as the next woman, but American women, I’m telling you, we have even bigger battles to fight right now.

Women’s rights are human rights; critical issues of economics, geopolitics and environment are women’s issues; women need to be seen and heard—loudly, nastily, stubbornly—on every issue of concern to our nation and the world today.

Mitch McConnell is going to find that while he may have silenced U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on one evening, there are going to be dozens, if not hundreds and thousands of women standing up to take her place. Thought we may not be welcome in the august chambers of Congress, we can barrage members by phone, email, snail mail and social media to make our voices heard.

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We can and must work in our communities to plan the ousting of the idiots in the 2018 elections, when every single House seat will be up for grabs, along with a good number of Senate seats and governorships.

We have to get used to the idea that the Repugs will play dirty, and be willing to fight fire with fire. No more “when they go low we go high.” When they go low, we have to go low too, in the interests of winning!

Women, especially white women, are a key demographic in upcoming elections. Progressive white women need to reach out to the 53% of white women who voted for Drumpf and find out why. What did they see in the slimeball–I mean, the guy? Are we seeing some sad version of Stockholm syndrome here?

This is a time for coalitions across all kinds of borders. We can win the battle for our country and our future, but only if we put aside perceived differences and focus on what unites us.

I am remembering “Me and Bobby McGee,” the Janis Joplin song from the 60s, with the refrain “Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.”

American progressives, we don’t have much to lose now. We have everything—EVERYTHING—to win. Let’s get out there and WIN THIS!!

 

Useful organizing links:

Indivisible Guide to Resisting the Trump Agenda

Women’s March on Washington Next Step: Huddles

People’s Climate March on Washington, April 29, 2017

General strikes, including “A Day Without Women”

Guide to the Anti-Trump Movements

This is no fairytale, Donny, and you are no king

unknownI wonder if Donny’s mother read him fairytales at bedtime.

He seems to be living in a Grimm world: he is the raunchy old king, surrounded by fawning courtiers, accepting the attention of the young prince to whom he reluctantly married his daughter but relying more on the machinations of his cruel, crafty chief advisor, who stands just behind the throne, whispering twisted tales that the king, a leering smile on his pasty face, will roll out as absolute fact and law of the land.

e0722magnacartasigningwBannon is the Lord Vizier to our stupid but dangerous monarch. He’s obviously got the king wrapped around his little finger, even managing, just a few days into Donny’s reign, to get himself appointed to the National Security Council, while the distinguished Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff found himself shown the door.

The Muslim ban, the privileging of Christians…this is right out of the Crusades, which were of course a formative background for the European fairytales. In my childhood, I read the entire Andrew Lang series over and over, so I recognize the playbook well.

The king, who lives in a gilded palace up on the hill, is timidly informed that the people are not happy with the high taxes, endless work and low living standards they have to endure to keep him and his knights in feasts and armor.

He roars back and sends his goons out to knock some heads.

Sullenly, the people go back to work and the king goes back to carousing with the courtiers and sleeping around with all the women in the castle.

774587When the knights get restless, he sends them off on quixotic quests like fighting dragons–or Muslims in the Crusades. I know this was an earlier time, actually the time of good King Arthur. But Donny seems to have conflated these periods (no surprise, he obviously wasn’t paying attention in history class). Now, as in medieval times, it’s Christians against Muslims. And maybe the Jews will be next, although the king’s Jewish son-in-law may be able to deflect the monarch’s attention elsewhere.

Already in the first week we’ve heard of the return of the CIA “Black sites,” where people can be disappeared for interrogation. Here we have the Inquisition rearing its ugly, vicious head again, complete with medieval-style torture chambers.

The king and his henchmen aren’t worried about retaliation by the people. They know they hold all the cards: fabulous and endless wealth; a vast network of spies and informants; military might enough to crush any resistance at home or abroad; and an impregnable castle with a wide deep moat and a drawbridge, guarded by the toughest soldiers day and night.

But this is not a fairytale world, Donny. We are not living in medieval Europe. You are not a king—you can’t rule by edict. Your relatives, including your sainted mother and your current wife, came to this country as immigrants precisely because in this country, we have laws that safeguard the rights of all the people, not just the rich and powerful.

Somewhere along the line you seem to have forgotten this basic fact. You have become so deeply corrupted that you can no longer discern between the racist lies of Bannon and the truth enshrined in our Constitution, that in this country all people are free and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

No, we don’t live in a perfect union. The Constitution has been a work in progress, and will continue to need updating to reflect our modern understanding of right relations among people, nations and our planet.

But we will not be dragged by you and your billionaire cronies back into Medieval times. We will not be carpet-bombed by edicts designed to shock and demoralize us.

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We see right through you, Donny. You’re wearing no clothes, dude.

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And we’re watching you. Thousands of us spent their Saturday afternoon and evening out at the airports protesting your idiotic, counterproductive “Muslim ban.”

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“Flash mob” protest at JFK airport, 1/28/17

A courageous federal judge, Ann M. Donnelly, was the first of what I’m sure will be many judges to uphold the laws of our land and show you, in no uncertain terms, that you are not a dictator—you serve at the will of the people.

You did not come to the White House with a popular mandate, despite your pitiful attempts to twitter out your pathetic “alternative facts.” You are skating on very thin ice. There is already, one week in, a strong movement to impeach you rumbling up from the grassroots. The lawyers are preparing their briefs even as we speak.

You may live in infamy as the president with the shortest term in history. You’ll go back down into your swamp, braying and snorting belligerently all the way no doubt, leaving us with your other evil advisor, Pence.

At least Pence is someone who lives in the modern world, not a fairytale fantasy. I don’t think he’ll be so quick to send brutish threats ricocheting around the globe, though it’s clear he’ll do his best to bring women to heel at home.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all humans are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…as long as that pursuit does not harm others.

Donny, why don’t you go home to your tower and let Melania read you your bedtime story.

Stop Letting the Days Go By!

One of the soundtracks that has been running through my mind these last few days is “Once in a Lifetime,” by David Byrne and the Talking Heads.

The song was a 1980s anthem to the midlife crisis of a suburban man who has just gone with the flow and followed the usual cultural path, only to wake up “behind the wheel of a large automobile…in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife” asking with angst, “How did I get here?”

The answer, sung almost gaily, is: “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down, Letting the days go by, water flowing underground….Same as it ever was, same as it ever was….”

Right now our whole culture seems to be asking with alarm, “How did we get here?” The answer is, as Byrne intuited, about going with the flow.

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In my elemental framework for purposeful memoir, WATER is related to the teenage and young adult years, when we are swept into the cultural stream that surround us, and most of us just let the days go by, letting our culture carry us along.

Every so often we hit some kind of snag that causes us to lift our heads, sputtering, look around as if waking from a dream, and ask how in the world we got here.

img_0014We’re in such a moment now, as individuals and more broadly as a society. In my elemental lexicon, we’re in a FIRE moment now, a time of challenge and trials, but also a time when we can tap most deeply into our passions and beliefs.

The question “How did I/we get here?” is a fundamental one to be asking ourselves at this juncture.

That’s why I’m so passionate about encouraging people to undertake the elemental journey of purposeful memoir.

In looking back over our life experiences, and understanding them more deeply in the context of the political and planetary tapestry into which our personal lives are woven, we not only come to understand “how we got here,” but also to start envisioning where we would like to go next.

wif-cover-ebookIn my memoir, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered, the journey was circular, as I ended up back on the childhood ground of my being (symbolized by the element EARTH) understanding that I had to get back to my original passion for the natural world, which had been worn away by the ceaseless current of the heedless American culture into which I was born.

Here comes the AIR of reflection:

We come into our lives with a purpose that we don’t always understand or fulfill. One thing for sure is that it is never too late to begin, or begin again, to become aware of what it is we are here to do, and move ourselves further along the path towards our destination.

Purposeful memoir is a tool that can help you on that journey of self-awareness, particularly when you investigate your personal life in its full political and planetary dimensions.

elemental-journey-cover-new-smI am excited and honored to be offering my new Writer’s Companion guide for purposeful memoirists, along with in-person classes that will provide the space for shared reflection and insights about the elemental journey.

Neither my book nor my classes are prescriptive. My aim is to open up possible avenues of inquiry, and to get the creative juices flowing, helping you put together the jigsaw pieces of your own life to find your own unique sense of purpose.

Here in the Berkshires I’ll be offering a monthly class, following the book, aimed at cultivating creativity and building community while sharing highlights from our life journeys. You can find out more about those Saturday afternoon classes, offered under the banner of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, here.

Soon I’ll be announcing an online writers’ circle for purposeful memoirists, for those who can’t get to the Berkshires for an in-person class.

I also have various readings and other kinds of workshops coming up, which you can find out about on my website.

And though I’m certainly no Meryl Streep, here is a little video my son and I made, where I talk about what purposeful memoir means to me, and why it matters.

Truly, now is the time, and we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Day One of the New Resistance

What an exciting day it was! Today was a day when once again, people all over America and the world took to the streets to stand up for justice.

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This time it was a “women’s march,” but lots of men came along in solidarity, and I was glad to hear Senator Kamala Harris, in her speech to the crowd in Washington DC, sassily point out that the economy and jobs are “women’s issues.” Women’s rights are human rights, as the saying goes, and no society can be successful if half their population is left behind.

It’s frustrating that we are still fighting for the same rights that our mothers and grandmothers sought decades ago. How could women’s right to control their own reproductive health be threatened once again? Why do we still not have pay equity? Why is “women’s work” like housework and childcare (or teaching) not respected or rewarded? Why don’t parents accrue social security for time spent doing the hard work of raising the next generation?

I flip between moments of truculent hope, when I look at that sea of energized women and men in the streets of our nation and believe that We the People Have the Power—and moments when I see in my mind’s eye the pink bulbous faces of the Republicans who dominate our Congress, as well as hold most of the Governors’ seats in our country, and despair that our side will be able to overcome their political stranglehold.

They have their hands on our throats now, and they’re squeezing hard.

c2uaqf6xuaesylaBut we are many; they are few. They can’t choke all of us; they can’t cut our mikes or silence our social media feeds.

We’ve burst through the old gates that used to keep the people in their place—outside of the halls of power. They may be able to drag protestors out of the Chambers of Congress, but they can’t drown out the howls of protest we can put up on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram walls.

Let’s see them try to take away our health care rights, like access to family planning. Let’s see them try to put the bogus “pre-existing condition” obstructions back in place. Let’s see them try to throw the poor and the elderly and the sick off the health care rolls.

Let’s see them try to expand fracking into every suburban neighborhood, with pipelines criss-crossing state parks and town squares. Let’s see them start pushing Big Oil again at the expense of our precious oceans and forests.

Let’s see them try to divide and conquer us by fanning the flames of inter-group rivalry, a classic “master’s tool” from colonial times: white against black, religion against religion, men against women, straight against gay and on and on.

You know what Congressboys? We’re too smart for that shit now.

We see right through you, Mr. Emperor-with-no-clothes Drumpf. You’re an embarrassment. You only got where you are by lying, cheating, and kicking your opponents in the balls (or the pussy, as the case may be).

As many of the speakers said today, this is only the beginning of our resistance. We’re going to have to stay focused and be willing to give time, energy and treasure to this fight, which is truly shaping up to be THE fight of our time, the fight that will determine the future of our planet for—well, perhaps forever.

If that sounds like hyperbole, I assure you it is not. The stakes are HIGH. The going will be TOUGH. We must stick together and keep our spirits up for the long haul.

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Capacity crowd at the Colonial Theater for the Berkshire Sister March event (this is just half the theater, taken from backstage)

Today in my little corner of the world, a group of talented creative women made it possible for some 1,650 people to get together in our biggest local theater, the Colonial, and watch the livestream of Democracy Now! reporting from the march in Washington DC. In the afternoon, a few of us presented a staged reading we had prepared—six writers reading their own powerful responses to the election, and six actors reading highlights of the U.S. Constitution. I wish I could share it all with you, because it was totally amazing!

I only have the short piece I presented, which I called “Tales from the Grassy Bank.” As I say in the piece, I decided I didn’t want to do what most of the speakers in Washington were doing: getting people all riled up about everything they hate about the way our political system malfunctioned this year.

Instead, I wanted to get the audience to slow down and get beyond the personal and political, reminding ourselves about the planetary, our Mother Earth who has been so patient with our misbehavior as a species, and who is always there for us to turn to for solace when the going gets too rough.

So this is what I presented, January 21, 2017 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield MA, at the Berkshire sister march event.

Tales from the Grassy Bank

by Jennifer Browdy

            Although I have a lot I could say about how much I disagree with the people taking charge of our government right now, and the policies they stand for, I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend my precious time on this stage strutting and fretting and repeating the tales told by the idiots now in power.

After all, Shakespeare reminds us that in the end all that posturing is only sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I want to take us to a different place.

Close your eyes, if you want to, and imagine we’re sitting outside on a summer day, on a grassy bank by a rushing stream, shaded by a big old willow tree. The sun is warm but in the shade of the willow it’s cool and calm. An occasional bee drones by, and you can see the blue dragonflies darting above the water. A cardinal is singing his heart out in the tree high above us.

Sitting here in this peaceful place, you can feel the strong, massive roots of the willow holding up the bank, and holding you up with it. The power of the intertwined mat of roots rises up through your tailbone, up your spine, and reaches out through the top of your head towards the sun—the brilliant sun without which the green bounty of this special place could not exist.

This is the place from which my activism springs. Everything I do in the world can be traced back to my love for and deep connection to the natural world, and my awareness my life has no meaning—and indeed, I could not exist for a moment—apart from this connection.

This is true of all of us, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The important thing to understand is that we belong to the Earth, and we have a deeper purpose here than being poor players on the superficial stages created by others’ political agendas.

What we are here to do transcends the tumult of our particular time and place, which is why it’s so important to take the time to turn off our screens, disconnect from the mad rush of the 24/7 news cycle, and focus on doing the inner work that is a necessary prologue to effective activism out in the world. Slowly and patiently we must cultivate our capacity to become the fierce defenders of this Earth we so love.

When we work at this together, our lone quiet voices will swell to become a mighty river, a roaring torrent that will sweep away the tales told by idiots and replace them with a deep understanding of ourselves–as individuals, as members of our society, and as integral parts of the entire ecological web of our planet.

Whenever you start to feel lost in the sound and the fury, in the superficial madness of our time, remember that the grassy bank is always waiting there for you.

You can always retreat to your own special willow tree, and do the slow, timeless work of aligning the personal, political and planetary, remembering and honoring the elemental sources—Earth, Water, Fire and Air—from which we all spring.

Truly it’s a hellish landscape we’re walking through these days. But if we persevere, with the spirit of Mother Earth as our guide, we’ll be able to find our way out to the place where we can look up together, and see the stars.

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Stockbridge MA, Sunset and Moonrise. November 2016. Photo by J. Browdy

With thanks to my sister writers, performers and organizers of this inspiring event, “Rock the Constitution!”: Kristen van Ginhoven, Jayne Benjulian, Jana Laiz, Barbara Newman, Lara Tupper, Sheela Clary, Rachel Siegel, Grace Rossman, MaConnia Chesser, Corinna May, Lori Evans, Joan Coombs, Ariel Bock, Brenny Rabine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace. Harmony. Generosity. Love.

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

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

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Nova Scotia sunset, 2016

Only Connect! Urgent Questions for our time

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

Her excellent questions are (and I quote):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we connect and truly progress?

 

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I Have a Dream…on MLK Day 2017

On this Martin Luther King Day, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has never seemed more imperative, or more poignant.

In 2008, Americans had the dream that electing our first Black president would lead to a permanent undoing of racism, opening the door to a new age of American egalitarianism.

But here we sit on the other side of eight years of a stellar Black first family in the White House, feeling like Hamlet looking from “Hyperion to a satyr.” Are we really going to go from the noble, wise, sylvan-tongued, sane, progressive Barack Obama to a crass, dumb, twittering, insane conservative populist like Trump? Really? REALLY??!!

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This seems like a bad dream, except that every day we wake up and it goes on, but worse.

As we gaze grimly at the nightmare of the Trump inauguration, I hold out the dream that the outrageous thievery of Donald J. Trump will galvanize Americans of all walks of life to unite under the banner of the 99%. This time it won’t just be leftists and twenty-somethings setting up camp in the parks, it will be all of us—the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans who are going to get kicked in the shins, the groin, the stomach by the thugs that Trump is currently assembling and giving the glorified title of “Cabinet.”

This is not a Presidential Cabinet, it’s a gang of thieves and crony henchmen out to continue the work of the euphemistically named “Citizens United” by giving corporations unfettered rule over people and the planet.

Remember back in the Occupy days, there was a card deck depicting the worst capitalist criminals? I think it’s time to bring an updated version of those cards back, and while we’re at it let’s create a 21st century version of Monopoly too, with Trump hotels going up against Pachamama eco-resorts, Rex Tillerson and his Big Oil against Elon Musk and Solar City, and wild cards like Monster Hurricane (caused by warmer seas), Mass Shooting in Airport, and Next Incurable Infectious Disease.

Ok, I admit I’m getting a little punchy here. But seriously, if you can’t find the dark humor in our current predicament, well, let’s just admit that they’ve won, and go overdose on Oxycontin with the neighbors.

But no, I do have a dream. I do, I have a dream! I dream that Americans will stop being querulous but passive, stop being distracted by football and Facebook, come together in churches and schools, town halls and libraries, public parks and town squares—that we’ll look each other in the eye and realize that there is more that unites us than divides us; that all of us want a good quality of life—meaning friends, love, good food, recreation, stimulating education, satisfying work, good health…and that none of this is too much for citizens to ask of the richest country in the history of the world.

I have a dream that we’ll come together and realize that it is not necessary, and not right, that so much of our common wealth goes to support the development and production of weapons and implements of war. We don’t have to subsidize the fossil fuel industry that is poisoning us. We don’t have to support the chemical companies and Big Pharma, evil twins that thrive on the sickness of others, aided by their nursemaid, Big Insurance.

I have a dream that we will wake up and see that we are all interconnected, from the humblest bacteria to the mightiest whale, from the flowers in the field to the birds in the sky. Instead of blundering destructively about the planet, I dream we will learn to be alert and attuned to the tiniest variations in ecological balance, and make global harmony our imperative mission.

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I dream of a future in which human beings will learn to be truly inclusive, not just with each other but with all life on the planet. In my dream, superficial differences and artificial boundaries between humans will be a thing of the past. We will celebrate our differences while also understanding our fundamental commonality. We will work together to create the best possible lives for all.

The current nightmare of Trump and his gang may act as the catalyst to get us pole-vaulting into this future all the more quickly.

Let’s face it, we’ve been sleep-walking for a long, long time, trapped in a trance that forced us to do the bidding of the elites.

Enough of that. Time to wake up now.

No more nightmares. The spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. is beckoning to us now, telling us this is our time….time to make our dreams come true.

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The Sound and the Fury of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are the rest of us to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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