Taking up arms against a sea of troubles

marathon-explosion-people-on-sidewalkIn the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing this week, like everyone else I’ve been thinking again about violence.

I am not a total pacifist. I do think that there are some situations in which violence is the only sane route to follow.

I could never be one of those Buddhists who try to send loving-kindness to their torturer.  Sometimes I even have trouble “turning the other cheek” if someone has offended me.

I am a Scorpio: I hold grudges, I brood, I sometimes lash out (though mostly in fantasy, very rarely in real life).

I am very sensitive to oppression, injustice and abuse—although sometimes this sensitivity manifests as a willed numbness, a deliberate refusal to see, because if I allowed myself to really take in all the oppression, injustice and abuse that saturates our planet daily, I would drown in my own howling depression and the guilt of not doing enough to combat it.

To combat it.  The verb choice there, which came out instinctively, is not innocent.

Is it possible to combat the violence of oppression, injustice and abuse without using violence?

What does sending tong-len or turning the other cheek accomplish besides emboldening one’s opponent to ever more impunity?

I believe there are times and occasions where violence is the only answer and the right answer to oppression, injustice and abuse.

But that is quite a different kind of violence from what happened in Boston this week.

Random violence that breaks into a festive, sunny day and kills and maims innocent bystanders is a totally different form of violence than the measured, carefully aimed violence of righteous resistance.

0415-boston-marathon-bomb-13Bombs loaded with nails and bb pellets, set off low in a dense crowd, are calculated to inflict maximum damage on soft exposed flesh and limbs.

Did whoever set those bombs enjoy the panic that ensued, the blood in the streets, the shock, the horror?

I can only imagine this perpetrator as a sadist, because unlike with the 9/11 attack or even the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, there isn’t any apparent symbolism in this attack that makes any sense.

I can understand rage against the U.S. Government, and against the World Trade Center.  Although I could never condone killing innocent people in the service of that rage, I can at least see and comprehend the mindset that saw such collateral damage as instrumental in making a larger statement.

But what possible message could be sent through killing athletes and sports enthusiasts on the streets of an ordinary American city like Boston?

I wish the perpetrator would come forward and stand behind this act of violence.  I want to try to understand the motive, the fury that could have prompted such a carefully calculated crime.

I am not naïve; I know there are many very good reasons that people all over the world hate the U.S. and Americans.

And there are good reasons for Americans ourselves to be angry at our society and government, with its ever-increasing inequality, its investment in environmentally destructive policies and products, its build-up of weapons at the expense of the services that citizens have a right to expect and demand.

There is a staggering amount of oppression, injustice and abuse in the world, not just by people against people, but also by people against the natural world—and thus there is a hell of a lot to be angry about—and even to take up arms about.

But setting off bombs on a street crowded with families and athletes?

That is just more senseless violence–meaningless, useless, a squandering of lives and of anger that could be much more appropriately focused and channeled.

Yes, sometimes violence is necessary, sometimes it’s a good thing.

But the violence we are seeing on at ever-increasing rate here in the U.S. is an empty, hollow kind of violence; the violence of a sadist kid who likes to pull the wings off flies.

And worst part of it is, we seem to be on a roll with it.  Our young people entertain themselves with violent movies and video games; our military-industrial complex continues to grow with ever more sophisticated means to inflict violence abroad; our chemical and industrial destruction of the environment continues unabated.

We live in a violent world of our own making.

Can we who believe in peace, harmony and justice make things right without taking up arms ourselves?

I wish I knew the answer.

No, we’re not crying wolf

I gain a shred of hope for the future when I read about the heroic efforts of Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, to draw attention to the criminal exploitation of the Arctic by fossil fuel prospectors.

Last week Naidoo braved hosing with cold water in the frigid temperatures of the North to take a stand on a huge Russian oil platform.

It was a publicity stunt, yes.  But how else are we going to attract the attention of the multitudes who need to know what is being done under the radar in the new Arctic Oil Rush?

As the pack ice melts at a historic pace, the fossil fuel industry is moving in.  Never mind the fact that oil spills in these waters will be almost impossible to stop.  Never mind the fact that this is the last refuge for so many endangered species, from polar bears and seals to whales and seabirds. Never mind that the more oil we pump out of the bowels of the earth, the faster we’ll wreck our fragile climate.

I am doing a lot of pondering lately about tactics.

The Occupy movement here in the States seems to have largely fizzled.  Oh yes, a couple of busloads of protestors did go down from NYC to Tampa to protest at the RNC—and it’s true that the hurricane warnings put a damper on people’s enthusiasm to venture forth.

But if Kumi Naidoo and his team can brave the Arctic to climb the side of an oil rig, it seems to me that we ought to be able to mount a better protest at our Stateside behemoth, the Republican National Convention.

But no.  The mainstream media is reporting on the Convention in level terms, as though it weren’t a circus aimed at gutting what is left of the social contract that, at least since FDR’s time, Americans have come to consider a birthright. It reminds me of how reporters went along with the “WMD mushroom cloud” nonsense in the build-up to the invasion of Baghdad, or how they all but waved American flags in our faces when publishing the photos of the American soldiers killed in Iraq.

Hardly anyone has bothered to remark on the fact that we just passed our two-thousandth dead American soldier in Afghanistan this summer.

These deaths just creep upon us, the same way that oil rigs spring up like weeds in previously pristine waters, along with aquaculture farms, chemical runoff, GMO seeds and fracking wells.

It all happens so quietly and so deftly, while we are busy trying to pay our bills, or getting in a little vacation, or saying farewell to another loved one who has succumbed to cancer.

The Kumi Naidoos and the Tim DeChristophers and the Rachel Corries of the world jerk us back to reality and remind us that while we weren’t paying attention, the thieves got in and began “minding the store.”  In their own fashion.

Their tactics are always the same.  Catch people unawares; get them to sign documents ceding their rights; then systematically go about the business of resource extraction as quickly as possible, with as high a profit margin as possible.  Get it done before the sleeping populace awakes, before the regulators notice anything amiss, before people and animals begin to sicken and the lawsuits begin.  After all, the legal process can be held up in appeals for generations, and meanwhile how many fortunes can be made?

What should our countering tactics be?

Visibility is important: hence the merit of the Greenpeace approach.

Building a movement is important—not just among those willing to camp out in city parks, but among senior citizens and the middle class, unemployed white collar workers and soccer moms, as well as the marching band kids.

People need to realize that this is deadly serious.  No one is crying wolf here.

If we don’t act now to break our fossil fuel addiction, our time on this planet is almost over.

Maybe if we’re lucky, we can come back as bacteria or cockroaches.  But humans?  We’re just about done.

 

“Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine”

I believe that we are coming to a crossroads as a nation.

Since 9/11, we’ve been traveling down a road bristling with guns, military technology, paranoia and fear.  Though most of our aggressive energy has been aimed outside our borders, there has also been a steady preparation for mass violence within the U.S. as well.  In the decade since 9/11, our national police forces have been armed with military hardware, and have trained extensively in riot control, with the results that we saw for the first time during the recent Occupy protests.

In the peaceful town of Fargo, North Dakota, report Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting, “Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret.”

Billions of federal tax dollars have been spent nationwide on this kind of military hardware for police, in the name of Homeland Security.

Security from what?  Security for whom?

Short of an all-out military invasion by a foreign force, which seems hugely unlikely, these weapons can only be meant to confront an insurgency within our own borders.

Are we thinking about a civil war, then?

Are these police being armed and trained to protect the interests of the 1% against the raging anger of the 99%?

A year ago it would not have occurred to me to ask these questions.  But obviously the Homeland Security crowd was already thinking ahead and planning for a time when such armor and weapons would be necessary to “maintain security” and “uphold law and order” on the home front.

Yes, they must have been aware, even as they were cashing in on our ignorance, that there would come a time when no more could be squeezed from the bottom two-thirds of American society.  When there would be so many homeless, so many poor, so many disenfranchised, that these people would feel they had no other recourse than violence, and nothing left to lose.

 

A new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness found that “more than 1.6 million children – or one in 45 children – are homeless annually in America. This represents an increase of 38% during the years impacted by the economic recession.”

I’m sorry, but that is just unacceptable in this country, which likes to think of itself as the wealthiest and most enlightened society on earth.

When you add up all the trials and tribulations being visited on the poor in this country–and “the poor” is a vast category that gets bigger day by day–and you weigh billions in Homeland Security anti-terrorism outfits for police against dwindling food and shelter for children–well, something just isn’t right here.  There’s something rotten in the state of America.

And yes, we are at a crossroads.

It may seem to some that I am over-reacting, but this is the way it feels to me: if we continue following along docilely on this daisy path that we’ve been led down by the architects of corporate capitalism, we are like the Jews of Germany in 1940, peacefully gathering our belongings and getting on that train to Auschwitz, or marching cooperatively out to the forest to be mowed down by machine guns into the mass grave.

We know enough now to know that the powers that be do not have our best interests at heart.

We’ve been sickened by their chemicals, and our health care system seems geared to treat sickness (at a profit) rather than to promote wellness.  Our oceans, air, soils and drinking water have been contaminated and rendered toxic. Our taxes have been used for guns and landmines instead of schools and social welfare.  Those who have gotten rich in this system have done so on the backs of the poor and those who cannot defend themselves: the natural world above all.

Are we going to continue down this path?

Or are we going to gather our courage at this crossroads, and strike off in a new direction?

A lot of people are asking this question now.  Over on the New Clear Vision blog, Charles Imboden suggests that the Occupy movement has ignited a renewed “commitment to direct democracy and shunning of ‘representative,’ republican forms of decision-making (so often susceptible to corruption and corporate influence) [which] can be further strengthened as the foundation of the egalitarian, ecological society.”

As one of my readers commented today, what would happen if they held an election and we just didn’t show up?

I don’t know if there is a way to cut ourselves loose from the federal government and its taxpayer-supported state terror apparatus.  Thoreau tried, back in the 19th century, and was promptly thrown in jail.

His letter from prison is worth re-reading today.

“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority?

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice …is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.

As we gear up for next year’s Presidential elections, we must take these wise words of Thoreau’s to heart.

But we must also be aware, as Thoreau certainly was, that there are other paths to take, outside of the machine.

We stand at a crossroads.  Each of us must make up our own minds, in our own time.

How much longer will we continue to docilely feed the machine our tax dollars, and march peacefully where they lead us?

SlutWalk, Occupy Wall Street and other sparks of resistance: let’s fan the flames!

Finally this morning The NYTimes.com is paying some attention to the Occupy Wall Street protests.  But the tone is still highbrow and dismissive–Charles Blow, who really should know better, labels the protesters “hippies and hipsters” and the movement overall as “a spark set down on wet grass,” with “no where to go.”

He also finds space to inform us that “a New York Times/CBS News poll released two weeks ago found that a third of those who make $30,000 a year or less don’t believe that the government should raise taxes on the wealthy to lower the budget deficit.”

Could that be because those who are living on the edge are so beaten down by a variety of forces, including lousy education and the constant scorn this country shows the poor, that they could care less about “lowering the budget deficit”?

I bet that the pollsters would get quite a different response if the question were worded more directly, as in: Should the government raise taxes on the wealthy to help the poor get a better education, promote job growth and tighten the social safety net?  Hell yes! they’d say.

Meanwhile, up in Union Square, another protest is brewing today: SlutWalk, a new, international protest movement against “rape culture.”  In a rape culture like ours, the SlutWalkNYC site informs us, “sexual violence is made to be both invisible and inevitable; and these two practices are what normalizes rape, harassment and assault….The forces that normalize rape culture are not examined; rape is not seen as a culture or “practice” and if it is ever discussed, sexual violence is seen as an isolated act that occurs between individuals.”

SlutWalk began in Toronto last year, in response to an incident where a police officer told a rape victim that she had been “asking for it” because of the way she was dressed.  That the movement has caught on so quickly, especially among young women, is testament to the validity of its argument that no woman, no matter how she is dressed, is ever “asking” to be raped.

Both Occupy Wall Street and SlutWalk are driven by young people who are frustrated with the status quo and know that a better world is possible.  Their elders should know better than to dismiss these young folks as idealistic dreamers.  Hasn’t all change in human society, both positive and negative, been driven by those who dare to dream differently?

Lately I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen‘s latest book, a huge tome called simply, Dreams.  In it he argues that one of Western civilization’s crucial fallacies is our collective tendency to ignore and dismiss our dreams, as well as the possibility that through our dreams we may connect with “supernatural” forces that we don’t understand and cannot control.

Derrick sides with indigenous cultures who believe that the natural world is alive (“animism”) and can communicate with us.  His big question in Dreams is a weighty one: why hasn’t the natural world fought back harder in the face of the sustained murderous onslaught of humanity?

I would not presume to speak for the natural world.  But this question can be applied to a lot of other contexts today.

Why has it taken so long for Americans to get out and protest the takeover of our country by the corporate elite?  Why has it taken two weeks for the New York Times to deign to notice this gadfly protest on the flanks of the giant Wall Street bull?  The New York unions are finally stirring and considering joining the protesters–why has it taken so long for the American working class to awaken?

I think it might have something to do with the way we in the U.S. are caught up in a media-induced waking dream/nightmare, with a storyline that repeats over and over the following all-pervasive mantra: c’est la vie, there’s nothing to be done about it.  No fundamental change is possible.  The contamination of our environment is inevitable, and necessary if we want to maintain our comfortable fossil-fuel-driven lifestyle. The ever-growing gap between rich and poor is inevitable, as natural and normal as rape culture–boys will be boys, and you can’t expect rich boys to care about the poor.

Etc.

Someday analysts may look back on this period as one of remarkably successful mass indoctrination.  That is, if there are any shreds and shards left of our culture to examine after climate change is done with us.

To answer Derrick’s question, climate change is Nature fighting back.  Has anyone noticed that it’s been raining practically non-stop in New England for weeks now?  Here we are almost in leaf season, and our once-glorious maple trees are barely able to muster some mustardy brown color.  If this rain were snow, we’d be buried.  It may be an interesting winter season, to say the least.

However, resistance movements, both human and natural, are stirring all over the planet.  Like Occupy Wall Street, they may seem small, fragmented and disorganized to people who are accustomed to watching the huge, well-funded, tightly organized spectacles of mainstream political parties, or even mainstream-funded resistance movements like the Tea Party.

But it’s possible that dispersed, small-scale resistance may just what is called for under the present circumstances, when anything more obvious would simply be crushed by the iron fist of the corporate capitalist ruling class.

Resistance is happening when people take the time to relearn ancient human practices like small-scale biodynamic agriculture, bee-keeping, and storing food for the winter.  Resistance is happening when people refuse to let the dominant narratives ride rough-shod over their dreams of positive change.

Resistance is happening!  Let’s prove Charles Blow and the other naysayers wrong. It may be a rainy season, but let’s be the dry tinder for the spark of protest to fall on. It just takes one spark to start a wildfire, after all.

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