Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

February again. The sap is starting to rise here in New England. The blue ribbons of tubing snake through the maple groves, bearing the sweet elixir of life down to the saphouses, where the boiling pans await. The first snowdrops and pussy willows gleam, foreshadowing the great greening to come.

It’s been unnaturally warm this past week—almost 70 degrees here in western Massachusetts. We look at each other, enjoying the unexpected warmth, but with dismay and fear lurking behind our smiles. This is not right.

So much is not right in these first days and weeks of 2017 DTE (Donald Trump Era). You know the problems, I don’t have to list them. Each week brings a new outrage, a new shock, a new nadir. Just when you thought America couldn’t sink any lower in the eyes of the rest of the world, there they go again: insulting our allies, assaulting our citizens, making plans to frack and drill the whole globe to kingdom come.

I’m not the only one who foresees a repeat of the 9/11 playbook hurtling our way. It worked before, and although our eyes are opened this time, it will probably work again.

Manufacture an external threat—that’s not hard to do, any number of terrorist organizations would be happy to oblige—throwing the homeland into chaos and requiring a “state of emergency” that suspends all the usual processes of law. With everyone hunkered down in fear, the police state can be implemented and the cowardly Congress will do the bidding of the executive branch. The Supreme Court will stay quiet.

Order will be restored, but it will be the New World Order of the DTE: imperialist white industrial capitalism on steroids, the taxpayers obediently bending over to have their asses kicked as they foot the bill for the military and police to subdue any resistance to the corporate takeover of the entire planet by billionaire business and finance executives slavering over ever-ascending short-term profit.

Don’t like it? They’ll pull out the rubber bullets and throw you in prison—and oh yeah, the taxpayers will pay for that too. Or maybe you’d rather have a taste of what they do to people labeled “terrorist” in their secret rendition sites. Or let’s just get it over with, here’s a real bullet for your trouble. Sweet dreams.

So much is not right here.

The American liberal elite needs to be reminded, perhaps, that the rude shocks of the DTE era are nothing new. Americans of color, undocumented immigrants, people of color all over the globe have been living this nightmare for hundreds of years, ever since the European colonial onslaught began.

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In my memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered, I faced my own privilege as someone born into the New York City white liberal elite. I opened my eyes to the fact that my generation of urban “yuppies” lived comfortably on the backs of exploited workers, enjoying cheap oil and gas while ignoring the giant devastation of the Alberta tar sands, the Amazon forest, the Nigerian delta or the Arctic. I recognized my own complicity in ignoring the despair of millions of impoverished Americans and my complacency in foolishly imagining that the drones and riot cops would never be turned against me and my children.

I came to understand that I had to use whatever privilege I had, as a well-educated white American woman, to fight the dark, oppressive forces that are seeking to sink our entire planet into a violence, fear and deprivation.

But I didn’t realize, as I was writing that book, that I was standing on the brink of the DTE, a time when the boomerang of climate change would be exacerbated by the takeover of American government, business and military by vile haters and savage oppressors, eager to take sadistic pleasure in the subduing of all dissent and disobedience.

When I finished What I Forgot in 2015, I imagined that the worst problem facing us would be the runaway juggernaut of climate change. That still may be the case: we are seeing the disruption of the climate already, in tornadoes, floods, droughts, disease, loss of glaciers and other sources of drinking water for millions…with vast migrations of climate refugees underway.

But now the DT gang in control of the American government seems maniacally intent on intensifying all of it. Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism” is blowing like a violent hurricane across our entire networked planet, and although the generals and ideologues in control of our government may think they can control it, as they did in the past (think Katrina or Baghdad) and make more billions (using taxpayer money) in the clean-up and reconstruction, I don’t believe they will be able to get the climate change genie back into the bottle now.

They may be able to subdue ordinary Americans with their violence and repression, but Mother Earth, once aroused, will sweep their guns and tanks before her like so many toys. She has her own agenda, our Mother, and she’ll do no one’s bidding.

So what is the task for those of us who are awake to the accelerating transition of our planet and the very real potential that we will be living through the decline and fall of Western Civilization?

Recognizing how terribly destructive and horrible Western Civilization has been for the natural world, indigenous peoples, and people of color all over the planet is a necessary first step. We have to recognize and come to terms with the key role America has played in the violence and havoc that has laid waste to so many communities across the globe, destroyed forests, grasslands and ocean reefs and pushed untold millions of beautiful flora and fauna into the dark night of extinction.

We did this. Or we stood silently by as it was done.

And we are living through the consequences now. They’ve taken everyone else, now they’re coming for us: starting with the most vulnerable here in America, and steadily racheting up the violence aimed at anyone who resists or dissents.

So much is not right here.

It’s our job to make things right. We were born in this time for a reason. It is a time of almost unbearable polarity and ever-accelerating change. We have to step boldly up to the challenges, look them in the eye, and link arms with others to take a stand for what’s right.

We might all rather go back to sleep—wake me when it’s over, honey!

But in the DTE, we don’t have that luxury.

Now is our time, and no one will save us if we don’t stand up for ourselves and what we love.

Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

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De-coupling our wagons from the locomotive of global capitalism

There is a clear spectrum of response to the urgency of the environmental and economic challenges that face us.

On the one end is the Deep Green Resistance movement, calling for a complete take-down of industrialized civilization, violently if necessary (and it would be necessary, of course–industrial civilization won’t go down without a fight, unless it’s wiped out by natural disasters).

On the other end are those who believe we will be able to find our way into a sustainable world order via technology, ie, renewable energy sources that will keep the capitalist engines burning bright.

On this spectrum, I would have to locate myself somewhere in the middle.  While I see the necessity of deindustrialization, I don’t really want to live through the violent havoc a strong de-civ movement would cause.

But I know things can’t go on as they have been.  We must shift from an economic model built on endless growth to one that seeks to maintain a steady state, both for human societies and for the natural world (as if there were a separation between these two).

We must also shift from the capitalist system of accumulated wealth for the few based on the commodified labor of the masses, to a system in which people’s labor is more directly connected to their well-being, and wealth is not allowed to concentrate in a few disproportionately powerful, distant hands.

The only movement I’ve found so far that is actively working to accomplish a vision similar to what I’ve sketched out above is the Transition Town movement.  The brainchild of UK visionary activist Rob Hopkins, the movement describes itself as follows:

“The Transition Movement is comprised of vibrant, grassroots community initiatives that seek to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis.

“Transition Initiatives differentiate themselves from other sustainability and “environmental” groups by seeking to mitigate these converging global crises by engaging their communities in home-grown, citizen-led education, action, and multi-stakeholder planning to increase local self reliance and resilience.

“They succeed by regeneratively using their local assets, innovating, networking, collaborating, replicating proven strategies, and respecting the deep patterns of nature and diverse cultures in their place.

“Transition Initiatives work with deliberation and good cheer to create a fulfilling and inspiring local way of life that can withstand the shocks of rapidly shifting global systems.”

What appeals to me about the Transition Town movement as a strategy for change is that it’s locally based and collaborative.  The first step is getting to know your neighbors, finding out what skills you can share, and taking stock of how you can prepare intelligently to cope with whatever environmental and economic shocks may lie ahead in our future.  It doesn’t dictate a one-size-fits-all model, but rather gives communities credit for being smart enough to figure out their own, locally adapted solutions.

As a society, America seems to be in collective denial about the reality of climate change.  We don’t want to hear that if we continue down the path of capitalist growth based on fossil fuels, the planet will heat up past the point where we could expect life as we know it to continue.  We don’t want to put the pieces together, because if we do, we will be forced to face the fact that we need to change. 

If we could accept this fact, we could begin to talk seriously about directions to take to make that change happen.  It would be nice if we could count on our world leaders to step up and face the challenge squarely, in a concerted effort.  But given the reality of global politics, still based on competition and armed power struggles, it seems very unlikely that we can look to the United Nations, or individual national governments, for the kind of decisive leadership we need now.

So we need to turn to each other, on the local level, and begin asking, as the Transition Town movement envisions, what can we do right here, together, to become more resilient?  What resources do we have, right here, that are not dependent on current systems of international or long-distance national trade?  How can we plan together for a sustainable future?

In a way, it’s an effort to de-couple our personal wagons from the locomotive of capitalist growth, which is proving so destructive to everything in its path, and seems to be on the verge of careening out of control.

I’ve been hearing a fair amount of fear expressed about “going backwards.” When people imagine stepping down from the capitalist growth model, they picture having to give up modern conveniences like advanced medical technologies, ready access to electricity, indoor plumbing, etc.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  We have to work on developing new ways of generating those conveniences, that are less destructive to the planet (the technological fix) and also work swiftly to dismantle those features of industrial civilization that are throwing our whole ecological system out of balance (de-industrialization).

The Transition Town movement calls this “the great re-skilling” approach.  We need to remember older, more sustainable ways of doing things, while also keeping the best of new technologies and learning how to apply them in smarter, more efficient and ecologically sound ways.

There are over 100 full-fledged Transition Town initiatives in the U.S., and hundreds more worldwide, along with many start-up groups forming all the time.  Although all of us seem to have so much to do, and so little time these days, this is really a movement we need to be focusing on now to prepare for the decade ahead.

Given the lack of effective top-down leadership, should we really be wasting our time worrying about national elections, for example?  Or bothering to go to international conferences on climate change?

Or is the smarter thing to do to begin, quietly and with determination and hopeful good cheer, to make our own preparations for a very different sort of future, in our own transition towns?

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