We just got through wishing for “peace on earth” and celebrating the birth of a new age, and now it’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday – another opportunity for us to think about peace, nonviolence, and doing things in a new way. On a personal note, tomorrow is also my younger son’s 44th birthday. I’d like to dedicate this post about how we can have peace on earth to him. Happy birthday, Jesse! You and your brother and the children you’ve each brought into the world are my inspiration for doing this.
Can we really have peace on earth? How?
I agree with all the folks who say that we have to start by cultivating peace within – following a spiritual path and meditating or having quiet moments of just being – open to messages from that part of our intuition that’s a spark of the divine, our connection with everything and everyone else. Then we have to do our best to be that peace in our personal lives, accepting and loving ourselves and others where we are, learning nonviolent communication, being of service to each other, etc.
But if it stops there, either our violent world won’t change noticeably, or, if it does, it will take so long that the unnecessary killing and wounding and suffering with go on much longer than it has to. I’d like to see us take the peace we’ve cultivated within and bring it into the larger world, witnessing to it with strangers and organizing to make it a global force, alongside the dark, unconscious forces of fear and greed that are hurting so many and destroying the natural world on which we depend. Not so there can be a battle, ’cause we’re nonviolent, but so folks can see and try an alternative.
What brings us peace shouldn’t put us to sleep, because it’s of a piece with what enlivens us, what’s given us life and beauty and love. It’s mellow, but it’s an active thing. I believe that that life and that love can not only take precedence over the smallness and fear that brings suffering to our individual lives, it can eventually disassemble the economic, political, cultural, and military death machine all these individual beliefs and practices have created. “All” we have to do is make it our top priority and truly bring it to bear.
We can do that individually in acts of courage that inspire others. That’s a necessary part of it. But we also need to get together – to organize and form affinity groups for both mutual support and planning actions and campaigns. Getting together multiplies our power exponentially, and history shows that when we’re steadfast in it, not even the mightiest government can stand against us. Hitler and Stalin are no more, and the American “evil empire” won’t last forever either. Another world really is possible.
It won’t be easy, and there is much to learn and practice, but we can do it, if each of us puts in his and her bit. As King and his hero Gandhi taught, we also have to stay as consistently as possible in a place of love and courage and nonviolence to make it work. And some of us have to be willing to risk everything, even our lives, for our values.
Here’s an example of what I mean: During the civil rights movement, David Hartsough, one of the founders of the Global Nonviolence Peace Force, was sitting in at a lunch counter helping to desegregate it, and a man approached him from behind. Holding a switchblade knife and with a horrible look of hatred on his face, he said, “You nigger lover – If you don’t get out of this store in two seconds, I’m going to stab this through your heart.” Hartsough looked the man in the eye, and said, “Friend, do what you believe is right, and I’ll still try and love you.” The man’s jaw and hand dropped, and he left the store. (More on Hartsough in the next day or so.)
Think about what it would take for you to take that kind of risk and devote that kind of energy to standing up for what you value.
I think many of us, including myself, have gotten inured to the increasing violence and ugliness of our society. The wars; the shootings; the increasingly ugly and violent books, TV shows, and movies. “We tried that in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s,” we say or think, “and it didn’t work…We tried it in 2003 before Bush launched the US invasion of Iraq. Millions of people demonstrated around the world, but the invasion went on as scheduled, devastating an entire country. The same in Afghanistan.” But did we launch an effective, consistent, in-it-to-the-finish campaign, putting our lives on the line? No. Most of us just marched for an hour, and hoped that, magically, our numbers on that day would deter a committed, powerful elite that had already demonstrated its indifference to a public opinion unwilling to “put its money where its mouth was.” This was an elite that had already gotten away with altering the outcome of two presidential elections and allowing (and aiding and abetting) the 9-11 attacks – more brazen even than the elite (or a small portion of it) that had JFK, Bobby, and King assassinated. Or than the one now calling the shots that I and others believe recently faked the death of Osama bin Laden (he probably died 10 years earlier of a genetic disease), among other things.
It’s going to take a lot more will and numbers and moral force than we’ve shown so far to counter this kind of entrenched and amoral power. Are we willing to accept that challenge?
Not that this is about hating the members of this elite – who are sometimes us – individual people acting or not acting as they believe they must. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Or they/we know, but can’t resist the temptation.
We can do better, especially together. We can cultivate the best in ourselves, our spark of the divine, our little light; join it with that of others; and learn from history and past and present teachers how to turn the ship around, stop the hurtling locomotive…It doesn’t have to go over the cliff (global warming) or keep running innocent people down till we’ve all been destroyed by it.
“They” can’t maintain the death machine without our participation and consent, tacit or active. We’re the ones who provide the money and the bodies for their wars, who act like everything’s fine when it isn’t. We haven’t known what to do about it, how we can break out of the current cage when there’s no convenient utopian island to step to. That perfect island will probably never exist. But we can create islands in the midst of what’s happening, and – together – each do better and more than we have.
The new age, the Great Turning as it’s been called, is trying to be born. This is its time. It requires maybe not all hands on deck to manifest, but more of us. Will we stand up and be counted? We’re God’s, the Goddess’s, Spirit’s heart, hands, and voice in this material world. It’s what we make of it: heaven, hell, or something in between. Shall we move more strongly toward heaven (peace) on earth?
Ideas on how in the days to come…
Wanting to do more than just write and talk about the Occupy movement, I’ve been thinking I should go to one of the General Assembly meetings of our local group, (anticipating the frustration I’d probably feel as one of 200 people trying to be heard has kept me away so far). I told my friend J. I thought there should be some system of meeting in smaller groups (like the talking-stick circles I’ve mentioned before on this site) that could then send a representative to a similarly small group at the next level. The next day she sent me a link to a post on our local Occupy website about the Folkmote system, apparently a “cultural universal” until industrial capitalism started taking over more and more of our lives and world.
A few days later, J., C., and I went to a meeting at a downtown park at which Warren Weisman, a local proponent of the system, explained it to about 20 interested people. He said the folkmote system extends the natural trust and cooperation found within tribal groups to voluntary 20-30-person groups of family, friends, and neighbors who see each other on a regular basis and like and trust each other. The groups make decisions by consensus and, when appropriate, send representatives to adjacent or “higher”-level groups. Federated groups are organized in a wheel rather than a hierarchy, with the original groups on the outer circle and intermediate groups on spokes leading to a central hub. The “federated communities are responsible for all public services and manage all aspects of village life.” Folkmote members are “bound together by an unwritten, voluntary mutual aid agreement: ‘When you are in need, I will come to your aid; when I am in need, I trust you to help me; and I agree to meet my own needs to the best of my ability.’ Groups can be territorial, work-related, or based on any other interest or affinity, and, ideally, an individual would be a member of more than one group.
A folkmote system can also be organized quickly in a large group of strangers by asking people to move to a group associated with their favorite color, then to a group associated with their favorite fruit. Folkmote is a “robust system in a catastrophe, government distributed down to the neighborhood level.” We would all benefit by taking more responsibility at the local level for meeting needs, but – barring catastrophe – we can take as much time as we need to do this, just as the nonviolent nature of the Occupy movement allows us to take our time.
The basic meeting discusses who needs what and who has surplus to share. In the Cairo Tahrir Square movement people used this system to defend and care for their own neighborhoods. “Leadership comes up from below, and everybody has a say,” Warren told us. “It’s like you’re constantly plugged into craigslist. It’s community building – building trust up over time.” He gave the following historical examples of folkmote organizations: medieval guilds, the Committees of Safety and Correspondence in the original 13 colonies, the Paris Commune of 1871, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and the Zapatistas. He added, “We’re all already in one or more of them. Who do you call on in an emergency?” Interestingly, according to Warren, Occupy Wall Street is switching from the General Assembly format to a spokescouncil, a localized folkmote. (“Folkmote” means “a gathering of ordinary people.”)
Warren mentioned that Marx had anarchist Mikhail Bakunin kicked out of the 1st International because the latter was against strong centralized leadership and believed people could govern themselves best. The folkmote system and mutual aid are inherent in anarchist theory and practice, as is decentralization in all spheres (decentralization militates against takeover by a minority or conquest by an alien force). Anarchist Peter Kropotkin advocated decentralized food production, as have many concerned about “energy descent” and/or economic collapse. Warren reminded us that anarchy doesn’t mean “chaos;” it means “replacing government with self-organization.”
Thinking again of the Occupy movement, someone asked, “How do you keep solidarity?” and Warren answered that there are no guarantees, but that organizations moving in the same direction could form common “fronts.”
J., C., and I plan to talk to our neighbors – maybe by inviting the closest ones to a purely social event – and others interested in sharing or bartering resources. (See also your local freecycle list – ours can be found by Googling “Freecycle Eugene.”)
I thought it was interesting that halfway through Warren’s presentation we had to move to another area of the park, because a noisy group of about 20 tough-looking young adults, mostly male and some passing a marijuana pipe, started congregating near us. People just naturally form into groups.
To summarize, I quote from a letter Warren wrote to the editor of our local weekly paper prior to our meeting. “I hope the Occupy Wall Street movement maintains its beautiful, diversified, vibrant anarchist roots and doesn’t become just another worthless reform movement. Representative democracy is inherently vulnerable to corruption and needs to be replaced with something better. Like the mutual aid societies people have lived in since Paleolithic times…where everyone has a say in government and we can be responsible for our own administration and public services at the neighborhood level, even in the biggest cities. Where there are work-at-home and cottage industry opportunities for people to not have to be wage slaves. A system that can never be hijacked by any self-appointed ‘superior’ minority.” In the same letter, Warren notes that the Occupy movement is ‘propaganda through deed,’ though more nonviolent than earlier American anarchists, shut down by the government, along with anti-war protestors and ‘Wobblies’ (member of the International Workers of the World) during World War I.
Warren said our local Occupy movement didn’t seem that interested in switching to a folkmote system right now, but if others organized that way they could send representatives to the local General Assembly meetings and ask to form committees, if appropriate, with the local movement. I’ve also recently experienced great responsiveness via e-mail from local Occupiers to a site suggestion I made, and have yet to explore all the possibilities of using our local Occupy website.
To be continued…
P.S. Re: ‘propaganda through deed’ and the Occupy movement, a local Occupier told a university official that the movement isn’t “camping;” it’s occupying. (Our local group is currently occupying an area owned by the state university.)