An open space for global conversation
This post is the "conversation starter" for our Cafe Call this Monday from 8-10am Pacific/11am-1pm Eastern. Register here (or use your PIN from a previous Monday call). Meanwhile, please help us get the conversation started now by sharing your reflections via this discussion thread.
Something in the air lately appears to be conjuring up passionate and poetic writing on the subject of systemic violence. In her widely circulated piece, Mad, Passionate Love -- and Violence: Occupy Heads into the Spring, Rebecca Solnit points out the irony that popular attention towards the Occupy movement has focused on a few instances of violent behavior on the part of protesters, while the violence that gave birth to the movement--that which is embedded in our economic system and the military-industrial complex with which it is intertwined-- is often accepted, ignored or even celebrated. It's well worth reading Solnit's entire post. Here's an excerpt:
[I]t all began with the fountain pens, slashing through peoples’ lives, through national and international economies, through the global markets. These were wielded by the banksters, the “vampire squid,” the deregulators in D.C., the men -- and with the rarest of exceptions they were men -- who stole the world.
That’s what Occupy came together to oppose, the grandest violence by scale, the least obvious by impact. No one on Wall Street ever had to get his suit besmirched by carrying out a foreclosure eviction himself. Cities provided that service for free to the banks (thereby further impoverishing themselves as they created new paupers out of old taxpayers). And the police clubbed their opponents for them, over and over, everywhere across the United States.
The grand thieves invented ever more ingenious methods, including those sliced and diced derivatives, to crush the hopes and livelihoods of the many. This is the terrible violence that Occupy was formed to oppose. Don’t ever lose sight of that.
And while "the grand thieves" getting away with murder may have been the most obvious violence that gave birth to Occupy, there is arguably a more subtle and pervasive form of violence that lies beneath it, embedded in the foundational assumptions of our economy.
One day after Solnit's post appeared on the Tom Dispatch blog, poet Phil Rokstroh wrote a scathing cri de couer for Common Dreams on "The Noxious Fantasy of Unlimited Growth." While so many of us worry about the loss of American jobs and the GDP, or the failure to punish the excesses of Wall Street, Rokstroh suggested that we are missing the big picture:
The concept of endless economic growth, accepted as sacrosanct by both U.S. mainstream political parties, and internalized as the dominant mode of mind by the general population of the corporate/consumer state is mirrored in the exponential mathematics of a malignancy.
Cancer, if given voice, would proclaim itself to be a believer in "free market values"…devoted to the principle of endless growth…until, of course, it would silence its own voice by killing its host.
And Rokstroh's not the only one using dramatic metaphors to describe a system headed towards disaster. As we noted in our Vital Conversation on 2/13, no less a member of the establishment than Ban Ki-Moon has referred to our economic system as "a global suicide pact."
Where does this leave us? Rokstroh, channeling the Occupy ethos, issues an urgent call for "an uprising:"
Incremental change will not slow a runaway train. Awareness and action might. In our case, at this late date, if the corporate elite, who control the agendas of the state, are not challenged and brought to heel, and soon, then there is little else left for us to do, other than become hospice workers for our doomed species.
Rokstroh then asks us to "fall in love with limits" (emphasis added), out of which "an active participation in confronting malignant power can be transformed into a life-vivifying vehemence to bring meaning and structure to an overly complex system." The theme of love runs through Solnit's piece as well:
When you fall in love, it’s all about what you have in common, and you can hardly imagine that there are differences, let alone that you will quarrel over them, or weep about them, or be torn apart by them -- or if all goes well, struggle, learn, and bond more strongly because of, rather than despite, them. The Occupy movement had its glorious honeymoon when old and young, liberal and radical, comfortable and desperate, homeless and tenured all found that what they had in common was so compelling the differences hardly seemed to matter...
What happens now [that the honeymoon is over] depends on vigorous participation, including yours, in thinking aloud together about who we are, what we want, and how we get there, and then acting upon it. Go occupy the possibilities and don’t stop pedaling. And remember, it started with mad, passionate love.
How is your love calling you to action? And how does that love stay strong in the face of a violent system that seeks to provoke fear, despair and violence in return?
For me a great influence has been 'The Law of Love and the Law of Violence'
In 2003, an American activist fasting from a tent for economic rights gained my attention and I became his route for communication with his senator, John Edwards. I eventually offered him an exit strategy, inviting him to the UK such that we might act together.
He'd been working in Eastern Europe on a project to tackle poverty and gave an interview to a diaspora leader about his success. We then got down to developing a business plan to address poverty in the UK. In this extract, he draws attention to the risk of uprising and the insufficiency of capitalism as an economic model. The plan was to create a network for community benefit societies ( an I&PS form) which would create funds to stimulate local economies.
Our focus returned to Eastern Europe and the issue of disenfranchised children and there we came across unbelievable examples of neglect and abuse from which organised crime profits. The article 'Death Camps, For Children' revealed these extreme conditions and what might be done about it. By the end of 2006 this had become a comprehensive strategy proposal, a 'Marshall Plan' for localised wealth creation and placing all children in family homes. It called on the US government for support, weighing the cost against what was then being spent in Iraq each week
By 2008 it was increasingly apparent that we were being stonewalled and with fax to USAID and the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations called their attention to the imbalance between spending on ordnance and the kind of work we were doing, here is the final paragraph. This was entitled 'Genesis'
"Thank you for your time and attention to this. I and others will look forward to hearing from you. I hope we continue to realize ever more fully that outside the box and inside the box have only a box in the way. We outside the box know quite a bit of what's going on, many times in exquisite detail, perhaps in ways that those inside the box can't quite as easily access if at all. We are grossly underfunded in favor of missiles, bombs, and ordnance, which is about 100% backwards. Now, with even the US Pentagon stating that they've learned their lesson in Iraq and realize (so says top US general in Iraq ten days or so ago) that winning hearts and minds is the best option, I and others shall continue to think positive and look for aid budgets and funding spigots to be opened much more for people and NGOs in silos, foxholes and trenches, insisting on better than ordnance, and who understand things and how to fix them. We can do that. We can even do it cost-effectively and with far better efficiency than the ordnance route. Welcome to our brave new world. Except it's not so new: learn to love and respect each other first, especially the weakest, most defenseless, most voiceless among us, then figure out the rest. There aren't other more important things to do first. This message has been around for at least two thousand years. How difficult is it for us to understand?"
As we were later to discover, our efforts were being hijacked and in 2010 USAID announced a collaboration with our British Council which was to eliminate our primary focus in delivering homes for all children. We appealed against the abuse of IPR in vain and last year Terry died in poverty. We were unable to fund his medical treatment.
Civic activist friends discovered his body and describe the unfinished mission he talked about on his death bed. This was what he told me too in the last telephone calls. .
When Dr Rajiv Shah spoke of the need for USAID to 'embrace enlightened capitalism' it became more than clear that this enlightenment didn't extend to us. We seemed to be in the way of powerful commercial interests. So about a week ago, I created a petition reminding the US Senate of the 2008 request for an alternative to capitalism founded on love and respect.
FYI in 2008 Barack Obama and Joe Biden were members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations until their move to the White House in 2009.
With great reluctance I have come to accept, and with the greatest of respect for strict adherents to non-violence I now assert, that a non-violent approach to achieving the goals of Occupy, and the larger goal of saving our planet will weaken real resistance and undermine any possibility of us bringing about any sustained, meaningful change. We must be wary of what Derrick Jensen calls "the Ghandi Shield": In this film (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hx-G1uhRqA) he explains how our denial to recognize the uselessness of the mainstream social progressive/environmental movement's pacifist tactics for saving our planet from corporatist destruction, and our unwillingness to embrace direct action to stop the destruction, have made us all complicit in the runaway ruination of Earth.
Jump to 49:30 of this (uneven) film and stay with it for 15 minutes or so (you will probably, like me, want to turn it off because the message is not one we want to hear) to learn how the establishment selects out the stubbornly non-violent segment of social and environmental movements and uses them to co-opt and render harmless the movement and isolate and demonize those demanding real action and change.
Interesting to note how many of the advocates of direct action in this film are women.
"No one gives up power voluntarily or willingly." (Charles Handy)
"Power concedes nothing without a demand." (Frederick Douglass).
Regrettably something has come up and I won't be able to attend this call. I decided however to transcribe some of the film I refer to above that explains Jensen & colleagues' argument that pacifists, and both types of activists (non-violent reformers and resistance forces) need to stop arguing with and criticizing each other, and start to work together. The transcription, and my analysis of why so many of us know we 'should' be activists doing more than we are, but are not, is here: http://goo.gl/fb/U1y9d
I hope the call is successful, stimulating and inclusive.
I haven't the time at the moment to respond as fully to this budding discussion as I'd like, however, I will give it a start. I feel greatly moved by your actions, Jeff, and will be in direct contact with you to learn more.
Dave Pollard's piece below carries with it a certain reason that appeals to one's "enough is enough" side, where we smack the bully so hard it startles them out of their trance. What is least apparent in any bully scenario, is the degree to which we have given the bully permission.
I have time for one narrowed perspective here. I really can't know the true strength of my peaceful objection until I've exhaustively examined all the ways in which I have been, and remain, complicit with the system and its driving forces. As a simple example, I stood outside of a Whole Foods market for 2 days this week gathering signatures to place "mandatory labeling for food containing Genetically Engineered Organisms" on the California state ballot. (We were volunteers, not paid.) I use this example because it is as close to a "no brainer" as I can think of, especially, one would think, parked at the door of a market that asks significantly more of your wallet to purchase healthier food.
Over the course of 2 days, perhaps 50 % of the people passing were willing, even enthusiastic, to engage. The other 50% demonstrated why non-violence often results in the picture Dave P. describes. They displayed apathy at best, annoyance at worst. Nonviolence, to be a force, requires mass. Enough mass to overcome the inertia of status quo virtually all of us, in one form or another, have been complicit in upholding. I'm complicit. Regardless of all the ways in which I've rebelled and refused, revolted and instigated, persistently followed my heart on my destiny path, there are too many ways I've knowingly and unknowingly complied.
The truth will set us free. The more we make it our business and our mission to understand the systems in which we operate—our commerce, governance, psychology,spirit—all of it, and then assume personal authority within each of those systems, we can then begin to have a truer measure of the effectiveness of our peaceful actions. Our authority is cast with those whom which we are willing to afford it, be it ourselves or another.
We are as disempowered as we allow ourselves to believe we are. If we allow our disempowerment to carry us too far, our options will appear few, as they do right now for so many.
I have to leave this dangling mid thought in order to arrive elsewhere on time. I look forward to engaging live with many of you on Monday's call.
You make an important point Jitendtra, in drawing attention to the need for a critical mass.The absence of this in our case was part of our undoing. Added to this, we faced a furious campaign of anonymous defamation from a source intent on undermining our efforts. This claimed that the 'Death Camps' story had been fabricated to scam grant funding. On Terry's death. the author took pleasure in gloating
The work was that of a would be politician who uses a UK barrister, his sister, to threaten us with litigation for publishing his personal information.
Our opponents were both organised crime and our own governments who have been very focussed on giving Ukraine access to European markets. We'd been advocating an alternative to capitalism long before the 2008 crisis and in hindsight,our work must have been difficult to comprehend. .
What the video Dave shows brings home to me is that our primary objectives were eventually erased by the hijack of our work. You may read part of what was going on from this exchange with the British Council which reveals the involvement of commercial partners .
My petition was aimed to be a 'shot across the bows' drawing attention to the dishonesty of these government agencies, whose questionable ethics allow for children to be considered disposable by kowtowing to powerful moguls and commercial interests. .
Like yourself, I find considerable disappointment in failing to gather more than a handful of signatures for my petition.
In my blog, You me, we, ethics and people-centered economics I describe the evolution of our work from reasoning that humans cannot be considered disposable
Shared on today's call as a brilliant example of "guerilla theater:" TINY TENTS