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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace. Harmony. Generosity. Love.

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

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

amazing-sunset

Nova Scotia sunset, 2016

The Soul Force We Need Now

When I wrote my last Transition Times piece, imagining the darkness that would descend on America if Trump should win the presidency, I didn’t believe it would happen. I trusted Americans to unite behind Hillary as the better choice; to defeat the bigotry and stupidity represented by Trump.

Hillary did win the popular vote, but she lost the electoral college. Is this a fair system, this winner-take-all system we have inherited? I don’t think so. But with Republicans gleefully about to control all three houses of government, I’m not expecting any changes on that score. We just have to deal with the cards on the table now.

The cards are not good. Not good for people, for animals, for wildlife, for oceans and forests and prairies. The setback is real.

But let’s not kid ourselves that a Clinton presidency would have been a walk in the park. There’s a reason so many of us were unenthusiastic about her candidacy, even while applauding her as a woman with enough grit and backbone to survive a punishing public life and continue in a historic bid for the highest public office in the land.

Yes, Hillary is tough. Yes, she made friends with the wealthy whose money she needed to make her run viable. Yes, she talked the talk and walked the walk that the Democratic Party wanted to hear. Yes, she won the popular vote in the end.

But not by a landslide. Not by enough. In the end, she could not go that final mile to victory.

The pundits are busy parsing out why the pollsters and journalists were so blindsided by the Trump insurgency. No one is talking fraud, but I wonder…all it would have taken is fraud in a couple of key states…say, Florida and Pennsylvania…to tip the electoral scales.

Even if there was no direct vote tampering, there was tampering of hearts…Trump’s empty sloganeering giving people something simple and digestible to hang on to, so much more appealing than Hillary’s endless fine print.

Bernie Sanders understood the profound despair and hopelessness of the American middle-to-lower class (the middle class slip-sliding away into the hanging-by-the-grace-of-a-credit-card class). And unlike Trump, he actually has some ideas about what to do for these suffering millions.

Hillary represented status quo stability, an extension of the relative peace, prosperity and even tentative progressive tiptoes that Obama brought us. That’s nothing to sniff at. But for people who weren’t feeling the benefits, it obviously wasn’t enough.

No use crying over spilt milk. As pundits around the globe are saying this morning, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and recommit ourselves to the struggle for a sane and livable world. People who believe in the ideal of social justice for all, who believe in preserving our environment as the essential pathway to a livable future—we have to come together now as never before.

That old Hopi prophecy about “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” seems to be awakening, both in the Trump camps and now in progressive circles. The good people of Standing Rock are already living it.

Obviously we can’t look to the Federal government for protection or support. But as Bernie proved in defying the Democratic Party last winter and spring, there’s a lot we can do at the state and local levels, with direct appeal to individuals who share our values and want to put their money and energy behind a shared vision of what America would look like if there was really “justice for all”—and I include all living beings in my understanding of that phrase, from the fish in the sea to the trees in the forests to the birds in the sky and on and on, our whole magnificent ecological web.

Mother Earth is in convulsions right now, thanks to the unchecked growth of us, her most successful species yet. We are over-populating like lemmings, and like lemmings we seem to be on track to restore stability by running off a cliff together—powered by our remarkable technology and the fossil fuels required by our machine-based lifestyle.

This is the bigger picture we must keep in our sights on this gloomy morning after the Trump win. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans, red or blue, elites or working class, or any other way of slicing and dicing our differences.

In the face of climate change, we are all the same in our vulnerability to the big shocks that will inevitably come if we don’t succeed in shifting away from fossil fuels. Trump in his faux-gold tower can’t survive long without the farmers of the world producing food, and the farmers can’t do that if the climate gives way to floods and droughts and storms. We are all connected. We are all connected. We are all connected.

As Charles Eistenstein memorably puts it, we are one being looking out at the world through a multitude of eyes.

The sooner we understand this and get beyond old tired habits of separation, the better chance humanity has of evolving into the great steward species we were meant to be.

That old Garden of Eden story was a warning about the dangers of knowledge without wisdom, a warning that we are still struggling to absorb and learn from (and no, it wasn’t Eve’s fault!).

What is the wisdom we can live by in the difficult era that’s now dawning?

We have to acknowledge the deep pain, disappointment and anger that the Trump voters are living. It’s real. Trump didn’t invent it or even cultivate it; he just understood it, and understood, as an entertainer and consummate con man, how to make it work for him.

He will have no balms for the disenfranchised. America won’t return to some mythic “great” past. The anger and bitterness will continue until we can come together as a society to find real solutions that give all people a sense of dignity and purpose; opening up accessible pathways to health and well-being, individually and as communities.

Behind the wish to “make America great again” lies longing for a time when we could believe in and work together towards a brighter future. I know we don’t all agree on what that future could or should look like. But we should be talking about it together, not walling off from each other in distrust and fear.

Can I listen to a man spewing vile hatred over me and my family and everyone I love? Can I try to understand where he’s coming from, as he shoves me under a bus?

I don’t know if I have that in me. But I do know that in these times that are coming, I must stand firm in human decency; stand up for justice and integrity and love; and let that soul force—called forth by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and so many other social change agents from Jesus on down the ages—stream through me out into the world.

If enough of us do this, together we can make that stream a mighty river, and ride that river to a better world.

jen-light-6

Soul force

Burning for change

Sometimes an image just leaves me speechless.  Here’s one like that:

Tibetan monk self-immolates

Here’s another view of the same scene:

Jamphel Yeshi, a Tibetan exile, set himself afire in New Delhi, India, this week to protest China's repression of Tibet

The smile on the face of the burning man continues to haunt me.  It is like the beatific smile of an angel–or of a martyr who goes happily to his death hoping to advance a worthy cause.

Jamphel, who died of his burns, is one of 30 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest China’s brutal treatment of Tibet, and to call for the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland. Twenty of those incidents occurred in the past year, and of those 18 of the victims have died of their wounds.

As Melinda Liu reports in The Daily Beast, “Committing suicide is a last-resort measure in any society, but it’s seen as especially extreme for Tibetan Buddhists. Because their religion reveres all living beings, many Tibetans believe those who take their own lives will not be reincarnated. That’s a grim fate for religious devotees who aspire to be reborn, again and again, in more enlightened forms. “But what else can people do? We don’t have guns. We don’t want to harm other human beings. Yet we can’t stand to see our religion and culture being crushed,” lamented one Tibetan man from Lhasa, who requested anonymity because he feared China’s massive security crackdown.”

Hana Shalabi

There are other examples around the world of people taking drastic stands to protest brutality and stand up for civil liberties and human rights.  In Israel, several Palestinian prisoners who are being held without trial have begun hunger strikes, the most extreme of which has been carried out by Hana Shalabi, who just today agreed to end her 44-day hunger strike in exchange for being released to the Gaza Strip.

In the U.S., such extreme tactics are very rare, probably because we are led to believe that we have other avenues of protest open to us.

It’s true, we do have other avenues of protest open to us.  We can rally in the streets, we can sign online petitions, we can call our elected representatives, we can pressure the media into reporting on issues we deem important.

We can write blogs like this one, without fear of being summarily arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the powers that be, as happens routinely in many other countries.

But when it comes right down to it, I wonder whether all these various forms of protest really get us anywhere, or whether they are so many steam valves, designed to allow us to vent our frustrations without really rocking the boat.

What do we have to do to accomplish the big changes we want to see in the world? How far do we have to go?  To what degree to we have to put our own security and well-being on the line?

Tim DeChristopher

Tim DeChristopher, the environmentalist activist who disrupted a federal mining auction to protest the sale of public lands to corporate interests, made his point, but landed swiftly behind bars.  He emerged into the news again this week when prison authorities, for some unknown reason, transferred him from minimum security to a lockdown cell.  His friends and allies went ballistic, beseiged Congress with calls and online petitions, and got him transferred back to more comfortable quarters.

But he’s still behind bars.

And the mining companies are still out there digging up the wilderness as we speak.

Obviously his action, however noble, was not enough to truly change the rules of the game.

If we want to see deep, systemic change in the way governments and corporations do business, especially in regards to human rights and environmental justice, we may need to take a giant leap forward in our radicalism.

I am not saying we should set ourselves afire.  Heaven forbid!  But it’s going to take more than weekend protests or online petitions to drive a wedge into the status quo power structures and open up new pathways that will lead us to real transformation.

What will it take? I wish I had the answers; I don’t.  All I know is that enough of us have to get deeply dissatisfied and fed up with the way things are, and be willing to run the serious risk of undertaking revolutionary action for change.

It happened back in 1776; it happened in 1865; it happened in 1968; and it may very well happen again in this magical year of 2012, the prophesied beginning of the Age of Aquarius.

We know we are at a transition time; every indicator points to it, whether social, financial, political, scientific, astrological, astronomical…you name it.

We know where we’re coming from.  The question of the moment remains: where are we going?

Talking ’bout revolution on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve puts some people in a rah-rah kind of mood, and others get pensive and reflective.  Although I’ve done my share of partying in the past, this year I’m feeling pretty subdued.

The rainy weather outside doesn’t help matters.  Yes, we’ve got a cold nasty rain going on this year in New England–not a snowflake in sight on December 31.

And it’s depressing to open my email inbox and find hordes of outstretched hands from excellent NGOs, begging for last-minute donations.

As someone who has often been in the position of asking for donations to fund various initiatives I’ve worked on, I know that these end-of-year gifts can literally make or break a small organization.  They’re the lifeblood that keeps so many worthy causes alive.

Of course, we all know that if we give to these organizations we can write down our taxable income and give less to the federal government, and many people take satisfaction in being able to direct their giving, instead of sending it into the amorphous federal pool to be redistributed according to the whim of our so-called representatives in Congress.

So why am I resisting giving this year?

I am just irritated with the system that starves worthy social and environmental causes while lavishly feeding the maw of the military industrial complex.

I am irritated that the Democratic Party keeps asking me for small donations of $15 or $25, sums that actually matter to me, sad to say–while at the same time courting the big corporate interests whose millions of campaign spending will control the election.

I am irritated that no matter how much each of us gives, it’s never enough to solve the problems that face us.

And I’m beginning to think that money is not the answer.

It’s such a revolutionary thought, and yet once out of the box it seems so clear.

Just as giving a dollar to a beggar on the street may help that poor guy get through one more night, but does nothing to solve the bigger problems that landed him on the street in the first place, throwing money at the dozens of worthy charities that are hunting us all down today is simply not going to effect the kind of deep systemic change our society and our world needs.

It’s not about money.

Yes, it’s true that corporate money has corrupted our political system.  But just as fighting violence with more violence only escalates the conflict, trying to fight big money with more money will accomplish nothing because we’re still allowing the guys with the deep pockets to set the agenda.  We’re being reactionary, and our thinking, along with our dollars, stay inside the established sociopolitical framework.

In the coming year, we need to quiet down the ambient noise in our minds–the shouting, the screams, the piteous begging, the brash hawking of wares, the political sloganeering–and do some deep thinking about the ways in which we have been limited by the system we grew up in.

It’s time to re-establish our priorities, as individuals, as a nation, and as a global society.  Throwing good money after bad accomplishes nothing when the values that drive the system are warped and destructive.  We’ve got to go deeper in our approach to change.

Yes, I’m talking about revolution this New Year’s Eve.  Not reform.  I’m talking about going all the way, because we’re at an economic and ecological breaking point now.

We have little to lose, and so much to gain by decisive action.  Think about it.

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