This International Women’s Day, I Stand for Life

The good news this International Women’s Day has to do with resistance.

This year’s unprecedented Women’s March on Washington brought women and our allies out into the American public square demanding our rights, in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time.

Of course, never in my memory has the top American official, our President, been a man who is a gloating and unapologetic sexual predator of women; a man who treats his wife like a porn star bimbo and believes that serious women who dare to aspire to power are “nasty.”

By acquiescing in a warped political process that propelled this man into power, Americans have become bystanders to his nasty, discriminatory behavior towards women. “Make America Great Again” seems to mean “put women back in their place again”—in the home, making babies and waiting to serve their all-powerful men.

Well, no. Just NO.

Our foremothers did not fight so long and so hard for women’s equality just to see the current generation swallow our bile and tears and accept the rolling back of our rights as free and equal human beings.

Everywhere you look you can see women standing strong against this new tide of injustice.

The powerful women of Standing Rock are now flooding into Washington DC, along with thousands of other Native people and allies, for this weekend’s Native Rights marches. The Native people of America, and indeed the world, are leading the way on insisting that humans stop destroying our Mother Earth, and become her loving stewards.

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Tipis on the National Mall, March 7, 2017. Photo by Kandi Mossett

Although there are so many important issues to focus on this International Women’s Day, for me all of them can be summed up fairly simply: either you love and support life, or you hate and destroy life.

I CHOOSE LIFE.

That means I choose to stand up for children, our precious new generations, who have the right to quality education, good nutritious food, a loving family and community, and a healthy environment.

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My first child.

I stand for the right of every human being to play a meaningful role in their community, and to be rewarded and respected for their contributions. Of course, this means that women should have control over their bodies in every situation, just as men do.

I stand for the rights of animals, who should not be made to suffer…who should not be driven to extinction…because of the thoughtless greed of human beings. I stand for the protection of our environment, for the rights of Mother Nature, without whom none of us could live for even a moment.

This International Women’s Day, I give thanks and honor to every woman who has stood up for Life, sometimes in the face of fierce persecution, sometimes even giving her own life for the cause—like the environmental activist Berta Caceres, who we lost in 2016 because she refused to back down when the loggers and drillers advanced towards her community.

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Berta Caceres

Yes, it can be dangerous to stand up and resist the forces of destruction, to say NO to those who would silence us and reinstate the supremacy of the patriarchy, now rearing up in its most potently savage form: racist, misogynist, elitist, imperialist, extractivist, militarist, corporatist, extremist…these are the times we are living in, and they demand an equally potent resistance movement.

Marching, calling, sending post cards, organizing in our communities, networking with kindred spirits across the globe…all this is necessary, and more.

All our activism must be rooted in a deep sense of purpose, a commitment that must run like sap up our core: the commitment to STAND FOR LIFE.

Every great successful movement of the past has been fueled by the moral imperative to do what is right, to live in alignment with our most deeply held values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” was a revolutionary statement in its time, which was shifted by the courageous work of 19th and 20th century activists to include women, people of color and non-landowners under the banner of equality.

We are living in another revolutionary moment. It is a transition time, when if we fail to recognize the intrinsic value of our most precious resources—clean Earth, Water, Air and the life they support—we will soon find our entire civilization swept away by the storms, floods and droughts of Earth recalibrating herself in a massive reset leading into a new epoch.

This International Women’s Day, I vow to stand, as a woman and a human being, for the health and wellbeing of Mother Earth and all her children, human and non-human alike.

Join me.

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Looking for a good place to start? Register for the Pachamama Alliance Game Changer Intensive course, starting a new series in March 2017. It’s free, and it’s a powerful way to connect with kindred spirits who also want to STAND FOR LIFE.

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.

Women Writing from the Heart: What the world needs now

This time tomorrow night I’ll be sharing, for the first time, a piece of the memoir I’ve been working on for a good three years now.

il_570xN.378782406_r41jI’ll be reading at a gathering I organized on behalf of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, called “Writing from the Heart.”  It features seven of us in all, each sharing a piece of writing that comes from the deep, sometimes aching, sometimes exuberant place at our core, which we rarely trot out and share in public settings.

I organized “Writing from the Heart” because I believe it is so important, now more than ever, for women to get over our social conditioning to “be nice,” “be polite,” “go with the flow,” and cede the floor.  It’s so important that we start expressing, loud and clear, the truths we hold inside us, which are often far from self-evident.

Each one of us has her own perspective on the world, her own experiences to share, her own passions and convictions.  I am less concerned with the content than with the character: what matters to me is that you say what is in your heart, and listen to the heartfelt ideas of others, and that out of this exchange we begin a dialogue on what’s important in this deep, rich, rarely mined terrain.

Let us be frank: although women have made great strides in the past century, we still live in a male-dominated world.

Old, masculinist stories of domination, penetration, exploitation and subordination still prevail over many of the world’s societies.

We live in a violent world on many levels, and the violence, whether against the natural world or against other human beings, is overwhelmingly committed by men.

Women have been forcibly kept out of the male-dominated public sphere in most societies, for much of human history.

We have been the ones bearing and raising the sons who go off to war.  We have been the ones keening and mourning over the coffins that return.  We have been the ones who have been silent while our daughters have been forced into marriages too young, or to men we knew would be abusive.  We have been the ones raising our grandchildren as best we could when our sons and daughters died of AIDS, or ended up in prison.  We have done the best we could with the tools and strengths we had available.

But this is a new time.  Without really realizing it, we have stepped over the threshold into an era that calls for an extraordinary effort on the part of women and men of good heart and far-reaching vision.

Women and men must work together to create new social, economic and environmental frameworks that will enable us to survive and even flourish in the brave new world of climate change that is now upon us.

Women, who have centuries of experience of nourishing, cultivating, collaborating, and surviving against all kinds of odds, have a special role to play in this new era.

Women need to teach these skills to men; and men need to share with us their warrior spirit.

In this new age, the feminine and the masculine must come together in the service of generations to come, each learning from the other and together becoming greater than they could ever be apart.

Every human being has both estrogen and testosterone coursing through hir system, and every human being is capable of both nurturing and violence.

Today, we need women to have the courage to defend the rights of future generations, both human and non-human, and we need men to stand with us in acknowledging that the age of masculine privilege and dominance has been terribly destructive, and must now come to an end.

This is what is in my heart on this 12th anniversary of 9/11, this 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup, this 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Tomorrow evening at this time, six other women will share writing that comes right from the depths of their hearts.  This sharing must become a great, passionate tide, an upwelling of feeling and action that will sweep us away into a better future.

Let it be so.

Women Must Stand Up For Peace & Security

A deranged soldier, armed with gun and knife, walks off the base into the nearby small town, and massacres 16 people, including 9 children.

No, it’s not the plot of the latest Schwarzenegger movie.

It’s real life in Afghanistan.

Or Oslo, Norway.

Or Homs, Syria.

Or the local high school or university in Anytown, USA.

What happened in Afghanistan this week is part of an ever-escalating pattern of violence visited on innocent civilians by armed men.

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Whether the men are sponsored by a state (ie, they’re soldiers), are part of armed militias (think Taliban or Janjaweed or Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army) or individual “rogue” psychopaths is immaterial to the victims of the violence.

The larger point that must be reckoned with is that we cannot expect to live in a global society dripping with arms and saturated with constant virtual and real instances of violence, and come away unscathed.

Americans are always so shocked when the violence happens in our backyard, as in school shootings or Timothy McVeigh-style bombings or police brutality against unarmed Occupy protesters.

We’re shocked when our soldiers, “our boys,” commit atrocities while serving in the armed forces abroad.

But how can we expect our boys to be immune to the general atmosphere of violence that we all live and breathe—young boys and men in particular?

People like to argue about whether playing countless hours of shoot-em-up video games results in more violent youth.

All I can tell you is that the military now uses video game technology to teach warfare to young soldiers, and one of the goals is precisely to overcome the natural human aversion to killing, especially killing those who haven’t done you any harm.

Lt. Col. David Grossman

In the class I teach periodically on gendered violence in military culture and war, we read excerpts from the work of Lt. Col. David Grossman, who maintains a website called “Killology.com.

Grossman, a psychologist who has become one of the most sought-after military and police trainers in the U.S., if not the world, defines “killology” as “the study of the reactions of healthy people in killing circumstances (such as police and military in combat) and the factors that enable and restrain killing in these situations.”

Grossman began his career teaching soldiers and police officers “the psychological techniques needed to develop Mental Toughness, a Survival Mindset, and a Hardened Focus,” integrating “psychological skills with physical and tactical training… to achieve maximal performance excellence as a modern warrior.”

Interestingly, now he not only offers training in the psychological “hardening” necessary to become a socially sanctioned killer—ie, a soldier–but also has begun to write and speak out against media violence, which, he says, teaches children to kill.

I think he would agree that what happened at Abu Ghraib a few years back, or in Afghanistan this week, when ordinary American soldiers go haywire and start torturing and killing civilians, is not just a case of a few bad apples.

If we allow our kids to grow up playing “harmless” violent games that are ever more realistic, gripping their imaginations and giving them access to the bloodthirsty, adrenalin high of killing, we can’t expect them to be agents of peace, especially when, as soldiers, they are further trained for war and given real weapons and the authority to use them.

My heart bleeds for the victims of this latest massacre in Afghanistan.  I can hardly imagine the pain of the survivors of the family of nine children and their mother annihilated all in one foul blow.

They aren’t the first, and they won’t be the last innocent bystanders to be caught in the crossfire of a senseless war.

I think of the many other places in the world where civilians have been caught in the crossfire of baleful enemies: Central and South America in the 1970s and 80s, when the US and USSR funded proxy wars that wreaked havoc with innocent local communities; current conflicts in Africa and the Middle East that are really about the control—by outsiders, the same old Great Powers–of ever-shrinking resources; the list goes on.

Like the Russians before them, the American military is preparing to throw up its hands and give Afghanistan back to the warlords.

It will be a disaster for the women and girls there, who had begun to hope that a more liberal mindset might prevail and help them shake off the bonds of radical Islamic gender-based oppression.

Perhaps it is up to the women of the world to rise up together to insist that our men and boys stop pouring so much time, energy and money into creating and using lethal weapons, and representations of violence.

We have seen what happens when we let boys be boys and play with their guns, real or virtual.

Can we afford to stand by and watch the endless replay of rapes, homicides, massacres, the endless parade of crippled bombing victims, the burned, the sightless, the psychologically damaged for life?

I am losing faith in the ability of the men in charge to solve this problem.

Back to Lysistrata!

If we want life, we women have to walk boldly forward and manifest our visions of peace, security and cooperation.

We need to create a procession of the world’s women, those who will stand up for peace and nonviolence—a procession so long, so wide and so loud that it cannot be ignored.

Women of the world, the future is in your hands.  What will you do with it?

 

Wangari Maathai’s Canopy of Hope: remembering a warrior woman for the planet and role model for us all

Kenyan Wangari Maathai, who died last night of ovarian cancer, was a woman who took everything she learned and used it for the benefit of her local community and the planetary community as a whole.

As a girl, she used to sit by a certain fig tree that grew near her family village.  Beside the fig tree a clear, sparkling stream flowed, planted with arrowroots and hopping with small frogs.  Her mother told her that this was a “tree of God,” which wasn’t to be harvested for firewood.

Later, Wangari realized that “there was a connection between the fig tree’s root system and the underground water reservoirs.  The roots burrowed deep into the ground, breaking through the rocks beneath the surface soil and diving into the underground water table.  The water traveled up along the roots until it hit a depression or weak place in the ground and fushed out as a spring.  Indeed, wherever these trees stood, there were likely to be streams.  The reverence the community had for the fig tree helped preserve the stream and the tadpoles that so captivated me.  The trees also held the soil together, reducing erosion and landslides.  In such ways, without conscious or deliberate effort, these cultural and spiritual practices contributed to the conservation of biodiversity” (Unbowed, 46).

Wangari came of age as the traditional wisdom of the village people was giving way before the onslaught of Western epistemologies.  A girl who excelled in her schooling, she educated by Catholic nuns, and was fortunate enough to be chosen for the so-called Kennedy airlift of 1960, under which the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation provided scholarships for promising young African students to study in America—the same program that brought Barack Obama’s father to the U.S. to study.

Wangari ended up at Mount St. Scholastica, a Benedictine women’s college in Kansas, where she majored in science, and she went on to earn a Master’s in biology at the University of Pittsburgh. She continued her studies in Germany, and in 1971 earned a Ph.D. in biology from the University College of Nairobi—the first women in East and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree.

Like so many other highly educated women who join the workforce, Wangari experienced plenty of gender discrimination as she tried to advance her career. Frustrated with her lack of advancement within the university, she joined the National Council of Women of Kenya, which was a group of educated women who sought to improve the living conditions of all Kenyan women.

“We could either sit in an ivory tower wondering how so many people could be so poor and not be working to change their situation, or we could try to help them escape the vicious cycle they found themselves in,” she said.  “This was not a remote problem for us.  The rural areas were where our mothers and sisters still lived.  We owed it to them to do all we could” (124).

For Wangari, the problems were clear:

“The connection between the symptoms of environmental degradation and their causes—deforestation, devegetation, unsustainable agriculture and soil loss—were self-evident.  Something had to be done.  We could not just deal with the manifestations of the problems.  We had to get to the root causes of those problems.

“Now, it is one thing to understand the issues.  It is quite another to do something about them.  But I have always been interested in finding solutions.  This is, I believe, the result of my education as well as my time in America: to think of what can be done rather than worrying about what cannot.  I didn’t sit down and ask myself, ‘Now let me see, what shall I do?’ It just came to me: Why not plant trees?’ The trees would provide a supply of wood that would enable women to cook nutritious foods.  They would also have wood for fencing and fodder for cattle and goals.  The trees would offer shade for humans and animals, protect watersheds and bind the soil, and, if they were fruit trees, provide food.  They would also heal the land by bringing back birds and small animals and regenerate the vitality of the earth.

“That is how the Green Belt Movement began” (125).

 The Green Belt Movement mobilized thousands of ordinary women in Kenya to start tree nurseries, and to plant trees near their homes.  It also became a forest conservation movement, with Wangari leading women in protecting Kenya’s remaining forests against the loggers hired by giant transnational conglomerates.  She made plenty of enemies in the government when her agenda threw a wrench in their greedy plans, and she was often afraid for her life.  She was thrown in jail many times, and frequently confronted violence at the hands of police and goon squads.


 Through it all, she remained, as the title of her memoir suggests, UNBOWED. She would not be browbeaten into submission to authority.  She knew that her cause was not only righteous but right for Kenyans and for the planet she loved, and this gave her the courage to stand firm against intimidation.

Wangari’s activism cost her her marriage: her husband, a Kenyan Member of Parliament, divorced her after she earned her Ph.D. and became more financially successful.  She could have chosen the easy way and lived a very privileged, comfortable existence in Nairobi, if she had been willing to bow her head and put her husband’s needs and career before her own.  Instead, she went through a humiliating public divorce trial:

“It became clear that I was being turned into a sacrificial lamb.  Anybody who had a grudge against modern, educated and independent women was being given an opportunity to spit on me.  I decided to hold my head up high, put my shoulders back, and suffer with dignity: I would give every woman and girl reasons to be proud and never regret being educated, successful and talented.  ‘What I have,’ I told myself, ‘is something to celebrate and not to ridicule or dishonor’” (146).

The divorce trial ended, incredibly enough, with Wangari being sentenced to six months in prison for “contempt of court”; she was hauled off to prison without even having the time to say goodbye to her children. It was clearly an attempt to put this uppity woman in her place, but it did not work: Wangari would not be intimidated, and emerged from prison determined to put her talents to work for her people, come what might for herself personally.

Her Green Belt Movement became a model for sustainable, grassroots-driven development throughout Africa and beyond, which worked not only for environmental sustainability, but also for women’s rights, human rights and participatory democracy.  Wangari consistently provided an upright model of honest, steadfast leadership, leading by example in speaking truth to power and and refusing to be cowed.

“What I have learned over the years,” she said, “is that we must be patient, persistent and committed.  When we are planting trees sometimes people will say to me, “I don’t want to plant this tree, because it will not grow fast enough.” I have to keep reminding them that the trees they are cutting today were not planted by them, but by those who came before.  So they must plant the trees that will benefit communities in the future.  I remind them that like a seedling, with sun, good soil, and abundant rain, the roots of our future will bury themselves in the ground and a canopy of hope will reach into the sky” (289).

Wangari Maathai herself grew that “canopy of hope” for all of us.  May the seedlings she planted be nourished with care by those of us who aspire to walk in her footsteps, for all those who deserve a better world in the future here on our precious planetary home.

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