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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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?

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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

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