Off With Their Heads!

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When I posted this infamous photo on Facebook recently with a caption wondering whether the fury over its “bad taste” was misplaced, I got a storm of responses.

Some people recalled how the right had posted many horrible pictures of President Obama being lynched, and thought it was OK to fight fire with fire.

Others said when they go low, we should stay high, and it was never permissible to depict violence against a US President.

What I see when I look at that photo is yes, mob justice; the same kind of justice that brought down the aristocrats in the French Revolution and the Czars in the Russian Revolution. It’s the same kind of mob justice that threw off the yoke of colonialism in the Americas, Africa and India.

Sometimes you just have to say “Off with their heads!” and mean it. And sometimes one person’s “mob justice” looks like revolutionary freedom fighting to someone else.

What I see when I look at that photo are all the reasons why we should be angry—no, FURIOUS!—at the Orange Man.

The man currently squatting in our White House, aided and abetted by his family and henchmen, has been systematically dismantling environmental protections, financial regulations, the New Deal social safety net and health care coverage.

He stands for the billionaires, the hedge funds and the giant corporations who make their obscene profits by riding roughshod over ordinary people, national economies and the environment worldwide.

If the cruel juggernaut represented by this man is not stopped, climate change will run amuck, and the dream of the Libertarians will be realized: every man with a gun for himself. We would regress to a feudal warlord society, as has happened in many of the smaller countries we have armed and goaded into civil wars—think Iraq, Syria or Yemen.

I take no comfort in the knowledge of the kind of military force now available to local law enforcement agencies because this force could easily be turned against citizens who refuse to “get with the program” of the corporate elite: think Standing Rock, think Occupy.

And think how the Libertarians who perpetrated an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state last year were treated with great restraint by Federal, state and local authorities, and got off scot-free; while the Standing Rock water protectors were hit with water cannons in freezing weather, arrested and treated in a demeaning manner in jail and have had to pay fines and fight through many court appearances.

Clearly there are many double standards going on here, similar to the way there was little notice taken when President Obama was depicted being lynched, while the woman who thought she was being funny by showing herself holding Trump’s bloody head has been pilloried.

This is my main point: we can’t afford to let ourselves be distracted by this kind of sideshow. A photo in poor taste is one thing, but a President taking the wrecking ball to environmental, corporate and financial regulation, civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, funding for science and the arts, health care coverage, international treaties…the list goes on…THIS is what we need to be outraged about.

I wouldn’t wish decapitation on anyone. But a political “decapitation”—removing this guy from office, and throwing out the GOP who delivered our nation to him—yes, we need that kind of justice.

Call it mob justice or call it freedom fighting, but let’s get it DONE.

This International Women’s Day, I Stand for Life

The good news this International Women’s Day has to do with resistance.

This year’s unprecedented Women’s March on Washington brought women and our allies out into the American public square demanding our rights, in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time.

Of course, never in my memory has the top American official, our President, been a man who is a gloating and unapologetic sexual predator of women; a man who treats his wife like a porn star bimbo and believes that serious women who dare to aspire to power are “nasty.”

By acquiescing in a warped political process that propelled this man into power, Americans have become bystanders to his nasty, discriminatory behavior towards women. “Make America Great Again” seems to mean “put women back in their place again”—in the home, making babies and waiting to serve their all-powerful men.

Well, no. Just NO.

Our foremothers did not fight so long and so hard for women’s equality just to see the current generation swallow our bile and tears and accept the rolling back of our rights as free and equal human beings.

Everywhere you look you can see women standing strong against this new tide of injustice.

The powerful women of Standing Rock are now flooding into Washington DC, along with thousands of other Native people and allies, for this weekend’s Native Rights marches. The Native people of America, and indeed the world, are leading the way on insisting that humans stop destroying our Mother Earth, and become her loving stewards.

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Tipis on the National Mall, March 7, 2017. Photo by Kandi Mossett

Although there are so many important issues to focus on this International Women’s Day, for me all of them can be summed up fairly simply: either you love and support life, or you hate and destroy life.

I CHOOSE LIFE.

That means I choose to stand up for children, our precious new generations, who have the right to quality education, good nutritious food, a loving family and community, and a healthy environment.

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My first child.

I stand for the right of every human being to play a meaningful role in their community, and to be rewarded and respected for their contributions. Of course, this means that women should have control over their bodies in every situation, just as men do.

I stand for the rights of animals, who should not be made to suffer…who should not be driven to extinction…because of the thoughtless greed of human beings. I stand for the protection of our environment, for the rights of Mother Nature, without whom none of us could live for even a moment.

This International Women’s Day, I give thanks and honor to every woman who has stood up for Life, sometimes in the face of fierce persecution, sometimes even giving her own life for the cause—like the environmental activist Berta Caceres, who we lost in 2016 because she refused to back down when the loggers and drillers advanced towards her community.

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Berta Caceres

Yes, it can be dangerous to stand up and resist the forces of destruction, to say NO to those who would silence us and reinstate the supremacy of the patriarchy, now rearing up in its most potently savage form: racist, misogynist, elitist, imperialist, extractivist, militarist, corporatist, extremist…these are the times we are living in, and they demand an equally potent resistance movement.

Marching, calling, sending post cards, organizing in our communities, networking with kindred spirits across the globe…all this is necessary, and more.

All our activism must be rooted in a deep sense of purpose, a commitment that must run like sap up our core: the commitment to STAND FOR LIFE.

Every great successful movement of the past has been fueled by the moral imperative to do what is right, to live in alignment with our most deeply held values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” was a revolutionary statement in its time, which was shifted by the courageous work of 19th and 20th century activists to include women, people of color and non-landowners under the banner of equality.

We are living in another revolutionary moment. It is a transition time, when if we fail to recognize the intrinsic value of our most precious resources—clean Earth, Water, Air and the life they support—we will soon find our entire civilization swept away by the storms, floods and droughts of Earth recalibrating herself in a massive reset leading into a new epoch.

This International Women’s Day, I vow to stand, as a woman and a human being, for the health and wellbeing of Mother Earth and all her children, human and non-human alike.

Join me.

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Looking for a good place to start? Register for the Pachamama Alliance Game Changer Intensive course, starting a new series in March 2017. It’s free, and it’s a powerful way to connect with kindred spirits who also want to STAND FOR LIFE.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What team is that, pray tell?

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

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

Deep breath. Deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This can be done.

It must be done.

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

Not on their lives…and not on ours.

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

Stepping Out With Confidence on International Women’s Day 2015

Although far less widely known and celebrated in the U.S. than Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day is a much more interesting holiday.

It is one of the few truly global holidays, observed in most countries around the world (hence the prominence it gets at the United Nations, that international enclave in the heart of New York City).

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Unlike Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, IWD is not a romantic or family-oriented holiday. On International Women’s Day, women accept recognition for their hard work and achievements in both the public and private spheres, and gather to advocate for further advancement down the road to full gender equality.

Gender equality looks different depending on where in the world you are located. But at its core is one of the fundamental principles of human rights: that no human being should be discriminated against on the basis of their physical attributes.

Even in the U.S., supposedly a bastion of liberal values, we have a long way to go before we arrive at the goal of gender equality. This is partly a vision problem: there is still a fair amount of confusion over what a society in which men and women were treated equally would look like.

In every society in transition, there is anxiety about change from those who have been benefiting from unearned privilege (in the U.S., that would be white males, especially of the Christian variety). Giving up privilege is hard.

It was good to see Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant make the case in The New York Times this week about why gender equality, “in the boardroom and the bedroom,” will make both men and women happier, healthier, more successful and less stressed out.

It was also good to see a group of Afghan men taking the unprecedented step of standing up for women’s human rights in their country by donning burkas themselves—in much the same vein as the “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” campaign that has men marching together in women’s high heels to protest sexual assault.

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Burkas and high heels are very different in intention—the one aimed at completely covering up a woman’s body and face, the other aimed at accentuating and drawing attention to women’s legs—but similar in effect: these are dress codes that hamper women’s ability to stand strong and step out comfortably and confidently into the world.

I know Western women who will argue that they feel more confident wearing their heels, and I’m sure there are Afghan women who prefer to step out in public shielded by their burkas. But this has everything to do with the world in which they operate, dominated by an often hostile, or at least aggressively attentive male gaze. It’s not about their own comfort in their own bodies.

No, we’re not going to get back to the Garden in which Adam and Eve romped about gaily without so much as a fig leaf coming between them and their lovely natural surroundings.

But this International Women’s Day, let’s reaffirm the basic principle that all human beings are created equal and deserve equal human rights, no matter what they look like and no matter where they live—beginning with the right to step out confidently into a affirming, welcoming world.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon puts it, “To be truly transformative, the post-2015 development agenda must prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment. The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”

Amen to that! And as the International Women’s Day 2015 theme says, it’s time to “Make It Happen!”

Moving From Human Rights Day to Earth Rights Day

UnknownWas there some kind of intentional bitter irony in this week’s avalanche of bad news about human rights, released just in time for Human Rights Day (December 10)?

Leading the list is the so-called Torture Report, about CIA human rights abuses during interrogations. I’m sorry, but I can’t muster up much shock about this supposed “news.”

Anyone who has been following Latin American news for the past thirty years or so knows that the CIA has not only been routinely torturing its prisoners, but also teaching its particularly vicious brand of torture techniques to the repressive dictatorships the U.S. has found it to be in our “strategic interests” to support.

Doesn’t anyone remember the infamous School of the Americas? That was the testing ground for the interrogation manual used at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other detention sites, some so secret we don’t even know where they were located.

To me, the fact that detainees have been savagely tortured by American CIA and special forces is old news. What’s new is that there is at least a little bit of official shame over it.

In the past week we’ve had “revelations” about fraternity gang rape, rape in the U.S. military, and fatal police brutality against people of color, specifically Black men.

Again, this is nothing new. What’s new is the sense of outrage.

Not since the Occupy Wall Street movement have ordinary Americans taken to the streets the way they have this week to protest the failure of our criminal justice system, exposed in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

The response to the violations of women’s human rights has been less vigorous. I’d like to see the same kind of multiracial, cross-gender coalitions building to counter the systematic abuse of women’s bodies through forced sex—whether on college campuses, in the military, through sex trafficking and sex slavery, or rape as a weapon of war.

Again, this is an old story. Women have been raped since the beginning of time. We’ve discarded old, worn-out cultural narratives before and we can do it again.

On this Human Rights Day, I declare that the Age of Impunity is over.

The flip side of the surveillance state we all live under is that we the people are watching those in power too.

Not only are we watching, but we have the power to share information and mobilize ourselves for resistance as never before.

Flash mobs anyone? Whose streets/our streets?!

The new story I’m waiting for, which still seems like a distant mirage on the horizon, is the one that argues not just for human rights, but for the rights of all life on Earth.

Humans have been so arrogant in our conception of “rights.”

We do not have the right to destroy the forests, prairies and savannahs of our planet. We do not have the right to kill the coral reefs and drive marine life to extinction.

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We do not have the right to poison our rivers, lakes and aquifers with toxic chemicals, or to wreck the balance of our earthly climate with our unrestrained burning of fossil fuels and destruction of carbon-sinking greenery and soil.

To me there is a clear continuum between the torture of captives, the killing of unarmed citizens, the rape of girls, and the razing of forests and on-going extinction of millions of species.

The question I would like to pose on Human Rights Day is this: when are we humans going to step into our role as the ethical stewards of life that we have evolved to become?

Many wise people today say that it must be women who lead the way into this new ethical age. It must be women who write the new story.

I believe that every human being can access masculine and feminine strengths and characteristics, no matter the biology of the body we’ve been born into.

I believe that both women and men need to fight our patriarchal culture’s glorification of the masculine by tapping into our nurturing, life-giving feminine side.

Women and men, the Earth needs you now. We’re not just talking about Human Rights anymore, we’re talking about Species Rights, about Plant Rights, about the right of the living biosphere of our planet to flourish and continue its million-year progression into a thriving future.

We need to move from Human Rights Day to Earth Rights Day, and we don’t need to wait for the United Nations to get its act together to do it.

Let’s make every day Earth Rights Day, starting with—tomorrow.

On Building Solidarity in Social Justice Movements: Reflections on Ferguson and Beyond

As a scholar of personal narratives by marginalized women activists from around the world, I have been studying the dynamics of privilege and oppression at close range for many years.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

For those on the receiving end of repressive treatment, an essential strategy of resistance is one voiced by the poet-activist Audre Lorde years ago: “the transformation of silence into language and action.”

We’ve been seeing this transformation since the murder of Michael Brown last summer. The people of Ferguson refused to take this outrage silently, and others, of all ethnicities and from all across the country, have rallied to their cause. Since the moment the grand jury decision letting the police off the hook—again—was handed down, my social media feeds have been on fire with declarations of sympathy and anger, along with demands for positive social change.

It has been heartening to see so many Americans marching together in cities all across the country in support of racial justice. Lots of white faces mixed in with the black and brown ones, all united in demanding that our government and legal system protect the rights of all Americans, not just the ones with privilege and power granted by a discriminatory system.

Unknown-1An oppressive system will try to protect those in power and maintain its status quo by discouraging dissent, sometimes silencing its critics by force (as in, for example, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X) or longterm imprisonment (think Leonard Peltier or Nelson Mandela).

Sometimes the silencing is imposed by shaming (think how women are often made to feel embarrassed and “unfeminine” when we dare to speak out against oppression by men); sometimes by peer pressure and the judicious distribution of rewards to those who go with the flow (for instance, young men can be rewarded by fraternity membership or sports glory when they go along with oppressive treatment of women or younger recruits).

One aspect of privilege I have been especially struck by is this formulation, which I learned from the gender studies scholar Michael Kimmel: “privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

Too often, those in power don’t realize how they participate in the oppression of others. Or maybe they choose to turn a blind eye, because acknowledging the effects of privilege would make them feel uncomfortable about themselves.

Privilege and oppression are relative terms, and very few people fit entirely into one category or another. In other words, I might be privileged by my white skin, but disadvantaged by my gender. I might be privileged by my gender, but disadvantaged by being born into poverty. And so on.

Those of us who believe in justice and want to live in a country that protects the rights of all its citizens equally need to understand how important it is to use our privileges, whatever they may be, to fight oppression in all of its guises.

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Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, NY, early 20th century

For example, immigration reform: Americans who remember that just a few generations back their families were fortunate enough to be able to enter this country legally need to stand up for the rights of today’s immigrants.

Or women’s rights: we need to cheer on men like Nick Kristof, who consistently serves as an ally for oppressed women, using his privilege as a New York Times columnist to call attention to violations of women’s human rights worldwide.

In the environmentalist and animal rights movements, we see human beings using our privilege to advocate for the rights of wild animals and farmed animals to a life well lived.

And so on. Social movements are strongest and most successful when they draw their power from solidarity between the privileged and the oppressed.

History shows us that when a social system veers too far into an oppressive dynamic, it becomes weak and liable to fall. Social revolutions occur when enough people are fed up and have little to lose by challenging the status quo.

Americans know that we’re in a precarious state right now, with our politicians being bought and paid for by industry, the super-rich growing ever wealthier while the vaunted American middle class slips down into the ranks of the struggling working poor.

We are living through a dangerous time, but a time of opportunity too: a time when those of us who are awake to the dangers can speak out against oppression, stand up for justice, and insist on the structural changes needed to make our country live up to its own ideals.

I’m not talking about riots here, although those are sometimes the only way the system can be made to focus on the rage of the oppressed.

I’m talking about recognizing the dynamics of privilege and oppression, understanding our own place in the system, and using whatever privileges we have to support those with less power.

Only this kind of broad-based solidarity, based in our own communities but with a nation-wide reach, can shift the oppressive system that was stacked against Michael Brown in Ferguson. When to start? Now.

Letter to Sandra Steingraber: Civil Disobedience and the Fossil Fuel Monster

Dear Sandra,

I have been thinking about you for days now, ever since I heard the news that you were leading the peaceful protests defending Seneca Lake. Now you’re sitting in jail, taking your turn along with several others who also chose to serve jail time as an extension of the protest, rather than taking the “get out easy” card of paying a fine.

Sandra Steingraber going to jail

Sandra Steingraber going to jail

Thoreau would be proud of you! You are a living example of his famous injunction on civil disobedience, written from the jail cell that served as his bastion of protest against slavery and a war he knew was wrong: “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

The machine of our time is the fossil fuel industry. It is an industrial monster, with mining claw arms, a drill bit mouth and a huge bloated body belching stinking carbon smoke. It has no eyes to see the destruction it causes, nor ears to hear the screams and wails of the innocent creatures—including human beings—mown down in its path or sickened beyond recovery.

Over four hundred members of We Are Seneca Lake blockade the gates of Crestwood Midstream and stand up to the expansion of dangerous gas storage in the crumbling salt caverns next to Seneca Lake and under the beautiful wine country of the Finger Lakes. Lead by renown biologist, author, Sandra Steingraber. Pictured; Yvonne Taylor, Gas Free Seneca, Doug Couchon, People for a Healthy Environment, Members of Finger Lakes CleanWaters Initiative, Seneca Lake Pure Waters, ShaleShock, DJ Astro Hawk. (PRNewsFoto/We Are Seneca Lake)

Over four hundred members of We Are Seneca Lake blockade the gates of Crestwood Midstream and stand up to the expansion of dangerous gas storage in the crumbling salt caverns next to Seneca Lake and under the beautiful wine country of the Finger Lakes. Lead by renown biologist, author, Sandra Steingraber. Pictured; Yvonne Taylor, Gas Free Seneca, Doug Couchon, People for a Healthy Environment, Members of Finger Lakes CleanWaters Initiative, Seneca Lake Pure Waters, ShaleShock, DJ Astro Hawk. (PRNewsFoto/We Are Seneca Lake)

You and a handful of courageous resisters have gathered on the shores of the mighty Seneca Lake, to put your bodies on the line to stop this monster at all costs, before it can carry out its federally sanctioned intention of making the fragile salt caverns beneath the water into a volatile gas depot.

Did we learn nothing from the tragedy of the BP gas spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Haven’t we learned that fossil fuels and pristine waters do not mix?

Drinking water is a finite and precious resource on this planet. We can find other ways to create energy—solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydrogen—but if we pollute the precious aquifers and freshwater reservoirs upon which our very life depends, there will be no return.

I know you of all people know this well, Sandra. Your first book, Living Downstream, tells the story of how you uncovered a serious cancer cluster in your own hometown, caused by the toxic runoff of chemicals into the groundwater.

‘Look upstream,’ you admonished us then. ‘What we need more than a cure for cancer,’ you said (still recovering from cancer yourself) ‘is strong action to prevent cancer, which means strong regulation against environmental pollution.’

Now one of the magnificent Finger Lakes is under direct threat of contamination. A gas rupture there would ruin the drinking water for tens of thousands of people; destroy the aquatic environment for millions of fish and other lake creatures; and severely impact the recreational use of the lake.

Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake

Is it really worth the risk? Can’t a safer place be found to store gas, away from the fragile ecosystem of the lake?

It’s beyond disappointing that our government caved to the fossil fuel monster in granting a permit to put a gas storage chamber beneath the floor of Seneca Lake. The people can do for ourselves what our craven politicians could not. We can make our lives “a counter friction to stop the machine.”

You are showing us the way, and I am with you in spirit, helping to spread the word and extend the protest into the potent realm of cyberspace.  It’s time to banish the fossil fuel monster once and for all.

In solidarity,

Jennifer

NOTE TO READERS:  Please read the comment below which gives more ideas for taking action in solidarity with Sandra and the other Seneca Lake defenders.  For starters, visit this site and voice your support: http://www.wearesenecalake.com/pledge-protect-seneca-lake/

Joining Humanity’s Immune System: In the Body, in the Classroom, in the World

I had a tough day today in the classroom. I guess I brought it on myself by daring to raise unmentionable issues like violence against women and cancer….daring to follow Eve Ensler’s lead by assigning my students to read her remarkable cancer/incest survivor memoir, In the Body of the World. Unknown I assigned it for my class on “Media Strategies for Social and Environmental Justice.” The first book we read was Bill McKibben’s activist memoir Oil and Honey, about how he founded 350.org in a college classroom and how it grew to be a hugely successful global movement aimed at raising awareness about climate change and pressing for swift transition to renewable energy models.

This week we’ve been looking at Eve Ensler’s trajectory from a theater artist interviewing women about their vaginas and creating the series of monologues that would become “The Vagina Monologues,” to founding the V-Day movement to end violence against women, and now the One Billion Rising for Justice global phenomenon. Eve Ensler TED

But along the way, Eve Ensler got cancer. It arrived, she says in her viral TED Talk “Suddenly My Body,” with the force of a bird smashing into a plate glass window.

Her cancer memoir, In the Body of the World, is remarkable in its fearless interweaving of the personal and the political, the individual and the global, the violent rape of a daughter (Eve herself) with the violent rape of our Mother Earth by Western capitalist culture.

 ***

My plan for the class was to focus mostly on the cancer issue…to look at the horrifying statistics of cancer in the U.S., to name it as the runaway pandemic it is, and to think with the students about how we might most effectively employ media tactics and tools to raise awareness and push for social change. But I didn’t realize how deeply Eve Ensler’s description of violence against women, as related the violence of our chemical assault on Mother Earth, would resonate with these young people. Some of them were deeply troubled, even to the point of having to leave the class.

With the students who stayed, I had a good discussion about cancer itself. We looked at the most recent statistics of cancer in the U.S. (1.6 million NEW cases projected for 2014 by the American Cancer Society) and discussed the most common media strategies for dealing with the issue of cancer in the U.S.: walks, runs and galas “for the cure.” LivingDownstream_Portrait1

It took some pushing, but eventually I got the students to begin to discuss how activism that only focuses on “the cure” is missing the huge point: we need to focus on preventing cancer, not just curing it once it’s appeared. In Sandra Steingraber’s famous formulation in her cancer memoir Living Downstream, we need to start looking upstream.

What would looking upstream really mean? Buried deep in the American Cancer Society report is a short section on the environmental causes of cancer. This is what it says: “Environmental factors (as opposed to hereditary factors) account for an estimated 75%-80% of cancer cases and deaths in the U.S.”

Let me say that again.

“Environmental factors (as opposed to hereditary factors) account for an estimated 75%-80% of cancer cases and deaths in the U.S.” Environmental factors in the context of this report mean manmade chemicals and toxins present in our environment, from water to air to soils to our bloodstreams and mothers’ milk.

So what would it mean, I asked the students, to really probe this issue with the intent of stopping cancer before it begins—going to the source of the problem? It would mean, of course, we agreed after some discussion, pursuing the mining, chemical, pharmaceutical, atomic energy, fossil fuel and industrial agriculture companies. Oh yes, those—the ones that rule the world. It’s a tall order. Just like stopping violence against women, or reining in the carbon polluters and shifting to renewable energy. These are the major issues of our time, though. If we’re not stepping up to work on these issues, what are we doing with our brief, precious lifetimes?

***

In my next class, “Islamic Women Writing Resistance,” we were talking about violence against women, this time in the geographical context of Afghanistan.

Malalai Joya

Malalai Joya

Since we were reading the autobiography of Malalai Joya, the young woman who was elected a member of the Afghan Loya Jirga and famously called out the mullahs on their oppression of women, I steered the conversation into a discussion of leadership. How was it that despite the horrifically violent Afghan society under the Taliban and the warlords, where 90% of women are subjectd to physical, mental and sexual abuse, Malalai had managed to retain her confidence and bravado, her sense of herself as a leader?

And more importantly, what are the costs to a society that not only doesn’t respect and include the talents of 50% of the population, but actively works to suppress these gifts?

The answer to the first question has everything to do with Malalai’s father, who encouraged her to go to school, to become a teacher, and eventually to become an activist politician. Without his support, she could never have succeeded as she did. Chalk one up to the power of allies.

The second question is the one that really interests me. It seems to me that it takes tremendous energy to oppress half the population. Eventually so much is going into terrorizing the women and their potential male allies that there is nothing left over, in terms of psychic energy, to build a healthy, vibrant society.

It’s a true zombie society, with the powerful preying on the weak and the whole social fabric fraying into oblivion.

Is it an accident that the societies where women are being most savagely oppressed are also the societies that are poorest, most chaotic and most violent? Think Somalia, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia….

There are some countries where wealth has made it possible for strict patriarchal control of women to proceed without terrible violence and disorder: Saudi Arabia and the other Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Egypt. Even, maybe, the U.S., Russia and the E.U., where women tend to self-regulate their own subservience to the patriarchy, conditioned by high doses of media and peer education.

In every case, though, what we’re talking about is the same. We’re losing millions of bright, talented, gifted people to cancer every year. We’re losing millions of bright, talented, gifted women to violence and self-sabotage every year. And at the same time, this is happening against the backdrop that Eve Ensler describes so movingly in her book: the interweaving of the violence against women, the violence against individual bodies, and the violence human civilization is perpetuating against the Earth.

“Cancer is essentially built into our DNA, our self-destruction programmed into our original design—biologically, psychologically,” she says. “We spend our days, most of us consciously or unconsciously doing ourselves in. Think building a nuclear power plant on a fault line close to the water. Think poisoning the Earth that feeds us, the air that lets us breathe. Think smoking, drugging. Think abusing our children who are meant to care for us in old age, think mass raping women who carry the future in their bodies, think overeating or starving ourselves to look a certain way, think unprotected sex in the age of AIDS. We are a suicidal lot, propelled toward self-eradication” (194).

??????????????????????It doesn’t have to be this way. I am so glad to be reading the new edition of Joanna Macy’s classic work Coming Back to Life, as an antidote to the darkness described by Ensler and Joya. Macy quotes Paul Hawken, who refers to activists and activist organizations as “humanity’s immune system to toxins like political corruption, economic disease and ecological degradation.”

This immune system, Hawken continues, “can best be understood as intelligence, a living, learning, self-regulating system—almost another mind. Its function does not depend on its firepower but on the quality of its connectedness….The immune system depends on its diversity to maintain resiliency, with which it can maintain homeostasis, respond to surprises, learn from pathogens and adapt to sudden changes” (qtd in Macy, 55).

A current example of such an immune system in action is Sandra Steingraber’s anti-fracking movement in upstate New York. She and her Seneca Lake defenders have come to the rescue of the fragile environment of the Finger Lake region and its jewel, Seneca Lake, putting their own bodies on the line just like Eve Ensler did when she allied herself with the women of the Congo, vowing to stop the violence. 10470955_854714074549076_2405675760464249402_n Any one of us has the power to become a defender of life. All we have to do is to pay attention to what’s happening, start asking the hard questions, stop going along with the flow. We need to do this is in a proactive way. We’re not looking for a cure to violence against women/against the Earth—we want to address the underlying causes of the violence, to look upstream and stop it at the source.

This necessitates a willingness to spend some time outside of our own comfort zones of denial and voluntary blindness. It involves looking at painful, messy, upsetting aspects of human existence, and taking responsibility for the ways in which each of us contribute to the status quo, if only by looking away. It will be personal as well as political in ways that will often hit entirely too close to home.

We need to open our eyes and really look at what our Industrial Growth Economy and the society it has created is doing to our bodies and the body of the world. We need to look at the way women’s bodies, in particular, are forced to bear the brunt of the pain, even though women account for just a fraction of inflicted violence in the world.

Don’t look away. Take it in. And then think about what you can do to join “humanity’s immune system.” Look for me on the front lines—I’ll meet you there. Dandelion_seeds_Computer_backgrounds

Ebola & Islamic Extremism: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

airport Ebola screening

Airport Ebola screening

Although American officials are making lots of reassuring noises about screening passengers coming from West Africa for signs of the dreaded Ebola virus, the truth is that the only way to totally safeguard against the spread of the disease is to close our borders entirely. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Talk about an unexpected side effect of globalization. Goods and services spread around the globe at the stroke of a keyboard or the roar of a jet engine, but the same mechanisms we celebrate as having pumped up the global economy also, potentially, have a darker side.

What was it Marx said about the bourgeoisie digging its own grave?

I keep hearing the undertone, in the media reporting on Ebola, of the “blame-the-victim” complaint, “What’s wrong with these people? Why are they living in such poverty? Why don’t they have doctors, nurses, hospitals? Look how their squalor is putting us all at risk?!”

There is truth to this. The poor folks in Liberia, Guinea and Sierre Leone, former colonies of the U.S., France and Great Britain, respectively, have not managed to modernize their societies. This is due to a number of factors, including corrupt leadership (strongmen often propped up by the Western powers), violent civil wars (armed by Western weapons manufacturers and distributors), and banana republic-style economies where Western corporations rule by extraction, extortion and exploitation, without giving anything back in taxes, infrastructure or education for the local people.

This is where the West has made its big mistake. How could we in the so-called developed world be so naïve as to think that we could ignore the poverty and suffering of other parts of the globe without that poverty and suffering coming back to haunt us?

Liberian child soldier

Liberian child soldier

If we had invested in schools, medical facilities and housing in Liberia, instead of sending endless supplies of assault rifles and ammunition, we would not be worrying about Ebola now.

Likewise, if we had invested in education and economic development in the Middle East, instead of relying corrupt warlords to keep the population in line, we would not be dealing with a seemingly endless morphing insurgency of Taliban-Al Quaeda-Islamic State terrorists.

It really is true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In a globalized society, pretending that vast disparities of wealth don’t matter is just plain stupid. Imagining that a vicious virus can be contained by airport thermometer checks is as ridiculous as imagining that an international terrorist network can be stopped by a few fly-by bombings.

The world’s leaders need to take a lesson from Malala Yousefzai, the 17-year-old girl who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her steadfast insistence, even after nearly having her head blown off by the Taliban, that girls should be educated.

Malala Yousefzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace prize

Malala Yousefzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace prize

Study after study has shown that when a society educates and empowers women, it becomes more economically successful and more politically stable.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

This week, in my African Women Writing Resistance class, I’ve been reading and discussing the autobiography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and first woman head of state in modern Africa.

Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, has been in the news a lot lately, begging for help in containing the spread of Ebola and warning grimly of the consequences of international inaction.

She came to office vowing to take her country back from the warlords and reintegrate child soldiers, to educate girls and boys and build a sustainable economy. She’s made great strides, but the stark pictures of the pathetic state of the nation’s health care infrastructure make it clear how far Liberia, like other poor African nations, still has to go.

The bottom line is this: if we want safety, we have to build towards it, step by step, from the ground up. We can’t ignore poverty and then get mad when impoverished sick people dare to infect us, or when desperate people turn to radical Islam as a way out of their misery.

Child worker on Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia

Child worker on Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia

There is no excuse, in our globalized world, for the dramatic disparities of wealth and poverty that exist today. Those of us lucky enough to live comfortably in the U.S. or Europe should be using our privilege to advocate for those less fortunate.

Not just out of altruism. Out of self-preservation, too.

If we had been helping Liberia and other West African nations build good social infrastructure, instead of extracting profits from diamonds, rubber and gun sales, we would not be worrying about the spread of Ebola today.

If we had been educating children in Syria, Yemen and Iraq instead of supporting corrupt dictators and ignoring the plight of ordinary people, we would not be facing the spread of Islamic extremism today.

How many innocent humans will have to die before we begin to understand that simple adage? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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