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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All nonsense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is our challenge today.

 

I close with two quotes.

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

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

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

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

 

DAN RATHER: Facebook post, December 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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