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?

Protest and social transformation–what do Uranus and Pluto have to do with it?

I said when I started this blog that I’d be open to all kinds of explorations of the transition times we’re living in.  Recently, after a long period of just reading his open-source work, I subscribed to the astrology reports produced by Eric Francis.  I am wondering: could it be that the motions of the planets have a real impact on how we think, feel and act here on Earth?

Francis just produced a terrific reading of the history of American protest movements since the Sixties, grounded in his knowledge of astrology and inspired by his visit to the Occupy Wall Street protest last weekend.

Apparently we have just returned to a period of astrological alignment of Uranus and Pluto.  Francis writes: “the most passionate and sustained uprisings are reasonably predictable: they tend to happen when Uranus and Pluto come into alignment. When the planet of revolution (Uranus) and the one about evolution (Pluto) get together, there is always an international revolt. The alignments spread out over 10 to 12 years, and we are still toward the beginning of this one.  The last time these two planets got together was between 1960 and 1972.”

Francis describes the “vibe” at Liberty Plaza Park as quite different from the militancy of the 1960s.  “The feeling was nothing but friendly. There was not the fist-in-the-air sensation that Sixties demonstrations are remembered with.…The vibe was open but also introspective. People were expressing concern and anger about the economic situation and there was a clear sense of understanding that Wall Street holds a lot of the responsibility for that — but no sense of rage being projected onto anyone. My sense from many things I’ve read and heard is that among this generation of activists, there’s the awareness that we need to change ourselves and change the world in the same gesture.”

So true—because there is only a difference of degree between the protesters’ privilege and that of the corporate and financial leaders they’re criticizing.  All of us Americans have benefited hugely from the corporate globalization of “free trade” and the easy accessibility of credit.  The problem is that now the chickens have come home to roost, and the same havoc that we–as a nation and as a leading member of the global elite–wreaked so thoughtlessly on the rest of the world is now coming back to haunt us.

When I listened to the news this morning and heard of the extreme hardship being forced down the throats of ordinary Greeks in the name of “fiscal austerity,” I remember the same scenario going down in Mexico and Argentina and so many other nations, as we continued to party here in the U.S.  Well, the party is over here too, at least for the 99% of us, and it’s not fun at all.

 But, as Eric Francis notes, there is a lot of potential in this moment of crisis.  “As you think about what this aspect represents,” he counsels,  “remember that the personal awakening process of Uranus in Aries is about to meet up with the changes in society represented by Pluto in Capricorn. There is potential for wide-scale cultural change, but it starts from the inside-out. That approach, if we follow it, will help us avoid many of the really huge mistakes that were made during the protests of the Sixties.

“Uranus in Aries also connects people to groups, but from the perspective of being an individual. Pluto in Capricorn turns over the soil of society’s institutions, bringing out their frailty and their fertility. It will be exciting to see what happens as this aspect builds to its first peak in June 2012 and then develops for the next three years.”

“Exciting” might not be the word most of us would choose for the crazy lurching of our society, both national and global, towards the tipping point forecast long ago to arrive in 2012.  It’s exciting the way a roller-coaster ride is exciting, and I have never in my life allowed myself to experience that thrill.

But maybe part of what is being asked of us now is that we let go of our fears and inhibitions, and allow ourselves to try something new—something other than what has been expected of us as we grew up and docilely took our place in the structures that had been established for us by previous generations.

It’s pretty plain to see that those structures have outlived their functionality, and were never good for this planet to begin with.

It’s the transition time, folks.  What are we going to become?


%d bloggers like this: