Category Archives: Change
Chance recently landed me on the crimethinc.com anarchist website, where I found two important books (click on “Books”), available for free online in PDF format. The first, No Wall They Can Build: A Guide to Borders and Migration Across North America, scrutinizes the borders that control movement on the continent. “Drawing on nearly a decade of solidarity work in the desert between Mexico and Arizona, the authors uncover the real goals and costs of US border policy, who benefits from it, and what it will take to change it.” The second, From Democracy to Freedom: The Difference Between Government and Self-Determination, makes the case for anarchy (voluntarism and mutual aid) against any form of direct democracy, which will only reproduce the oppressive state. I highly recommend both, lengthy and dense, but key books for your attention.
Here’s a quote I just found in From Democracy to Freedom that I especially liked: “It’s no coincidence that today’s revolutionary movements lack visions of other worlds, or that a great part of capitalist production supplants imagination among its consumers, offering imaginaries that become more elaborate every day – more visually stimulating and more interactive, so that people no longer have to imagine anything for themselves because a thousand worlds and fantasies already come prepackaged. All the old fantasies that used to set us dreaming have now been fixed in Hollywood productions, with convincing actors, fully depicted terrains, and emotive soundtracks. Nothing is left for us to recreate, only to consume. In the current marketplace of ideas, it seems that the only imaginaries that describe our future are apocalypses or the science fiction colonization of outer space. The latter is the final frontier for capitalist expansion now that this planet is getting used up, and the former is the only alternative capitalism is willing to concede outside its dominion. The revolutionaries of a hundred years ago continuously dreamed and schemed of a world without the State and without capitalism. Some of them made the mistake of turning their dreams into blueprints, dogmatic guidelines that in practice functioned as yardsticks by which to measure deviance. But today we face a much greater problem: the absence of revolutionary imaginaries and the near total atrophy of the imagination in ourselves and in the rest of society. The imagination is the most revolutionary organ in our collective social body, because it’s the only one capable of creating new worlds, of traveling outside capitalism and state authority, of enabling us to surpass the limits of insurrection that have lately become so evident.
I know very few people who can imagine what anarchy might look like, and uncertainty isn’t the problem. Uncertainty is one of the fundamentals of chaotic organization, and only the authoritarian neurosis of states obliges us to impose certainty on an ever-shifting reality. The problem, rather, is that our lack of imagination has disconnected us from the world. A vital part of ourselves is no longer there, as it used to be, on the cusp of the horizon, on the threshold between dark and light, discerning, modulating, and greeting each new element coming into our lives. Our prospects, however, aren’t irremediably bleak. Imagination can always be renewed and reinvigorated, though we must emphasize the radical importance of this work if people are once more to create, share, and discuss new possible worlds or profound transformations of this one.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many times more in whatever future is left to me: Capitalism is the root of all, or most, evils, including climate change, political corruption, etc. I expressed this belief most recently two days ago during a far-ranging political and philosophical conversation with two of my young-adult grandchildren, both very concerned about the environmental and moral state of the world (as are, movingly, many of their contemporaries).
I was reminded of it again this morning, rereading my notes on Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014) by Sven Beckert. Beckert concludes his book by saying, “Slavery, colonialism, and forced labor, among other forms of violence [including the genocidal seizure of indigenous lands], have been at the very core of the history of capitalism. Civilization and barbarity are linked at the hip, both in the evolution of the world’s first global industry [cotton] and in the many other industries that have modeled themselves after it.” All of this, including the devastation of the environment, the oppression of workers and indigenous peoples (Standing Rock), and the manipulation of supposedly democratic political systems for, ultimately, corporate ends, continues today.
I don’t have a quick solution, other than to say that the creation of solutions begins with identifying the problem. As my grandchildren and I agreed, it will take time, because it depends on respectful one-on-one communication, and it will involve group effort/the creation of democratic communities.
I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a long time, and reading Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack (2013) has gotten me to actually do it! Womack says that in 2011 she “attended the Think Galacticon conference. Unlike the typical science fiction conference, its creators hoped to use science fiction as a platform for broader changes in society. Held at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, the conference brought activists, science fiction writers, and fans together to share perspectives on social change and privilege. Panels included talks on classism in fantasy novels (why don’t the paupers ever challenge the prince for power?), the growing black independent comic book scene, and personal growth tools for revolution.
In her workshop, noted activist Adrienne Maree Brown said, ‘It’s amazing to change the world, but it’s heartbreaking, bone-cracking work, and you don’t often see the change in real time. For me as an organizer, what gets me through has been immersing myself in certain sci-fi worlds.’ She uses sci-fi to frame an inspirational perspective for youth that she works with too. ‘Your life is science fiction,’ she tells them. ‘You’re Luke Skywalker, but way cooler; you’re trans and black and you’re surviving the world of Detroit.’
Brown began her activism work in college. She’s a former executive director of the Ruckus Socity, a nonprofit that specializes in environmental activism and guerilla communication, and is heavily involved with the League of Pissed Off Voters. A Detroit resident, she describes herself as an organizational healer, pleasure activist, and artist, obsessed with developing models for action and community transformation.
She’s also a sci-fi fan. After discovering Octavia Butler’s work, she was inspired to develop new work of her own. Brown is using Butler’s pivotal Parables series and its post-apocalyptic tale as a template for change agency in desperate communities. Her workshop at Galacticon was titled ‘Octavia Butler and Emergent Strategies.’ The workshop description read as follows: ‘“All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” These words of Octavia Butler’s have impacted people seriously on a personal level, but how do we apply her wisdom on a political organizing level? How would accepting and coming to love the emergent power of changing conditions affect our strategic planning? This session will be half popular organizational development training and half inquiry into what the future of organizational development and strategic planning will look like.’
As far as Brown is concerned, many abandoned urban communities in New York City, New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, Cincinnati, and Detroit are post-apocalyptic and ripe for community-borne transformation. Seeing supports and humanity in Detroit, her new home town, made Brown look at other cities with blighted communities differently. ‘There are people living in places that we associate with the end of the world, but it’s not the end of the world – it’s the beginning of something else. An economy based on relationships and not the monetary value you can place on someone else.’
Brown now teaches activists how to use strategies from Butler’s books (like community farming, building relationships with neighbors, and essential survival skills) to build communities in areas where resources are scarce. She emphasizes that people in troubled areas need to have self-determination over their food supply, harking back to the Acorn communities in the Parables – intentional communities, ‘places where people come in an intentional way to build a life together. They’re farming with accountability to one another. They have a spiritual community. This is a strategy that could enable people to survive a future where our resources are unsure. Another is door-to-door relationship building that’s nonjudgmental. After the Acorn community is trashed, the main character goes door-to-door and starts to build a community of believers who aren’t rooted in one place, but in a shared ideology. It’s very similar to the Zapatista ideology. They went around for ten years building relationships one by one. Now a lot of organizing is done around the internet and tweeting each other. If we weren’t able to do that, what would we do? We would work with whoever is there with us.’
Brown is also a big advocate of teaching basic survival skills, including gardening, care for the sick and wounded, and midwifery. ‘I’m also looking at building homes and bathrooms. How do you make a bathroom where there is none?’ Her main point is to generate solutions. ‘We shouldn’t spend the majority of our time trying to get someone else to be accountable for what happens in our communities. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you; provide the solutions yourself…
What is the biggest story we can imagine telling ourselves about our future? It can be a utopia or a dystopia, but we want to get a perspective from people who are actually trying to change the world today. What do they think will happen? What’s the best-case scenario? How do we get people to think of themselves as the creators of tomorrow’s story?’”
I’ve been inspired by Butler’s Parable novels too, and many others, including Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing trilogy. In the next few days, I’ll put notes on these books and a list of utopian/dystopian fiction in the Resources section (see top menu bar).
Let’s get inspired!
A confirmed bookaholic, I have stuffed bookshelves in every room of my house, except the kitchen and bathroom. I store books I’m not currently using but think I might want to refer to again in my basement, and yesterday, going through them, I discovered these spiritual gems from From Survival Into the 21st Century: Planetary Healers Manual by Viktoras Kulvinskas, 1975:
“God has a plan. There are no accidents. Don’t complain about seeming badness. Get into God’s trip. Listen in silence. God is calling all of us.
Everything is going according to his cosmic plan. In our present patriarchal world, the desire to control Nature has created poisonous chemicals, pollution, war, murder, famine, plague, and the rape and devaluation of women. Chemicalized and junk foods, liquor, and Madison Avenue conditioning have made us all sick, made us all pause to question our pop-a-pill-for-what-ails-you culture. These poisons are sacred. They have been our teachers. Bless them and thank them.
The coming deluge will herald a civilization based on the universal, timeless teachings of the ancient masters and the disinherited healers of history: women. Survivors will be few – no more than 10% of the world’s population. They will be conscious of natural laws and the corrective measures evoked by disobedience.
Serve your brothers and sisters. Ask nothing. Give everything. Lovingly accept what is offered. Love when nothing is offered. Sing in praise for a chance to serve, not because others need help, but because you may become one with them. In helping, you are being helped. All have something to teach.
In your desire to serve, don’t lay your trip on anybody. It’s all right [even great] for us to be different even though we are one.
Just give. The more you give, the more you have. Giving up material possessions uncovers spiritual richness and contentment with ‘nothing,’ which becomes everything when immersed in the radiance of loving and living in the moment.”
We knew in the ’60s and ’70s that our country and our culture were on the wrong path, that, as Kulvinskas says, we need to move from Piscean materialism to Aquarian spirituality. It didn’t happen then — these changes aren’t as easy as growing long hair, smoking dope, and moving to the country. They still need to happen though, more than ever.
I love Kulvinskas’s introductory words, which remind me of the famous Hopi prophecy on my bulletin board, but I’m discarding the book, most of which advocates a wheatgrass and sprouts diet with lots of fasting, and implies that someday we’ll be able to live on air.
Take what you like and leave the rest.