Getting inspiration from utopian/dystopian fiction
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!
Starhawk’s Facebook post yesterday
Starhawk, one of my favorite activists, novelists, etc. (Google her) posted a brief paragraph on Facebook yesterday that, I think, says it all:
“So many horrors afflicting the world that I haven’t been writing about. I’m struggling with a sense of revulsion at how banal even the most brilliant analysis becomes when sandwiched between a cute kitten batting at an Ipad and what an old friend ate for lunch. I ask myself, is there anything I can say that will actually move the conversation forward? That hasn’t already been said? The structures all around us are breaking down as the life-support systems of the planet are melting down, and the issues are not separate. We are living under a global system that is not working for the vast majority of people, that marches on and on concentrating wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands, that obstructs all efforts to address the grave dangers that beset the planet. And it’s cracking apart under the weight of its own callous injustice. The tragedy is, when it falls, the pieces land mostly on the innocent, on those who have reaped few benefits and done the least to cause it. And when structures break down, people grope for new structures, often more rigid and cruel than the old. So what can we do? Take a moment of silence, to honor the dead. In that void, ask yourself, What would the world look like if our building blocks were justice, balance, compassion? Lay the foundations, stone by stone–the only memorial that can possibly appease the innocent dead.”
How to create peace on earth
In my last post, “Creating peace on earth,” I tried to arouse your desire to take the peace you’re hopefully creating within out into the world. Saying I thought that together we could transform the hellish aspects of life on planet Earth in the early 21st century into comparative heaven, I promised some ideas on how to do this “in the coming days.”
This post is at least a beginning on that.
The first thing we have to do to create peace in the “outer” world is to cultivate it within. Because if we don’t bring real peace, real love, and real calm to our brothers and sisters in desperate, conflicted situations, we’ll just end up increasing the misery. If our motives are egoistic or based on an entrenched point of view, we need to go home and do some inner work. Are we bringing more anger, blame, and judgment into the world? That’s counterproductive. Are we just trying to make ourselves feel better, heal our own confusion? We need to own that and be aware of how it can hurt rather than help. We’re human beings, not angels, so we can’t wait to be perfect, but we need to be honest with ourselves and others about where we are in any given moment.
Going out into the world, we may encounter people who are angry and desperate enough to kill or otherwise grievously hurt themselves and others. Can we meet those people, or others lacking in skill and/or understanding where they are, with acceptance and compassion? Sometimes yes, if, as I said in my previous post, we’ve been “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.” Sometimes no, because we’re human, and we fall back easily into a narrow, egoistic perspective. Sometimes, as noted above, the best we’ll be able to offer will be our honesty, admitting that we’re frightened or confused, wanting to be able to (fill in the blank), but having trouble doing that, because (fill in the blank).
We’ll be constantly moving between the inner and the outer, recharging alone and going back out. And we’ll need to strive as much and as often as possible to give ourselves the same understanding, love, and compassion – “empathy,” as Nonviolent Communicators call it – we want to be able to offer others. Feel the love and acceptance in the air, with no boundaries, because – and here comes another #1 – we are really one. What hurts others hurts me. As long as one of my brothers and sisters is in prison, I’m not free. Isn’t that why you want to do this work in the first place?
The third #1 that I want you to be aware of is – full disclosure – a belief of mine that you may not agree with; but I want to share it with you because of the urgency of solving the problems that concern us – also because I’d rather see you/us experience success and avoid frustration. It’s this: our current global and national political and economic system is fundamentally flawed, untruthful, and can never solve the problems it continues to create. I’m talking about the United States, in my eyes the most violent terrorist entity ever, and capitalism, whose profit motive prevents us from solving problems like environmental catastrophe, poverty, and war, to name a few. Gun control in the wake of the killing of little children in Newtown, Connecticut is, thankfully, a big issue right now, but we can’t have a clear discussion about it because of the gun lobby, the people who profit from the sale of automatic and other weapons and ammunition.
You can read my ideas about these kinds of issues, based on the third #1, elsewhere on this blog (and there’ll be more in the future) – basically, what I’m saying here is that I think working within the system and expecting our “leaders” to solve problems is a pipe dream, a waste of time. We have to take matters into our own peaceful but determined hands, and create alternatives that will eventually replace the forces, practices, and institutions that run things now.
So, there you have it – my three #1s:
- A spiritual practice that keeps you in touch with and accepting of what’s true for you and others in each successive moment;
- Love for yourself and others, including all life, because we’re one; and
- (this one’s optional) a realization that the current political and economic system won’t solve the problems that most concern us.
Once you have these primary goals/ideas/practices as a base to start from, you can work on whatever kind of problem draws you in most strongly. Do you want to be a peacemaker between struggling humans? Between humans and the environment? Work on the welfare of animals? The list could go on forever – there’s plenty to choose from.
Maybe I should have added a fourth #1 to the list, because something else to remember is that, as I said in my previous post, our individual acts can inspire others. “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.”
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it will come as no surprise that my area of interest is world affairs, especially – because I’m a U.S. citizen – U.S. foreign policy. I feel partially responsible for trying to halt the U.S. death machine – the killing of innocent people (and, really, they’re all innocent, in the sense that violence never solves anything, and we’re all capable of causing harm) to create and maintain an empire and advance capitalist business interests.
I’ve also been big on ending injustice all my life, and one of the many epitomes of injustice for the past 60 years has been the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government, supported by the United States government. Which brings up a corollary to the third #1: Never take any government’s propaganda, perpetrated these days via the mass media, at face value. You have to look deeper, because governments are always lying, at least in part, to cover their real motives. The latest example of this, which I have yet to fully unravel, is the “need” to fight Islamic terrorists in northern Mali. Something funny’s going on between the United States and Algerian governments here (bearing in mind that Algeria is a dictatorship), and you can bet that the regular, real people on the ground (Tuaregs and others) have a different story to tell. But I digress…
What tools and resources can you find to help you and your group(s) with the work you want to do?
For basic support and understanding of principle #1, read Miguel Ruiz, Erhart Tolle, Byro Katie, or Adyashanti – a lot of what they’ve written is online (videos, too). The Zen Peacemakers have a website, as does the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Starhawk is a favorite resource of mine – read her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, or her books on pagan spirituality, or find her website online to see what she’s doing and blogging about.
Also, if you haven’t already, check out the work of Marshall Rosenberg and others in Nonviolent Communication. (Rosenberg has a book with that title, and others, and there’s much online, including videos.) We’ve learned a violent (separated) way of looking at the world and communicating with each other that we don’t even recognize as such. Communicating the NVC way (When I see/hear…, I feel …, because I need …Would you be willing to (specific action)?) can seem stilted when you first try it, and it takes years of practice to make it a habit, but you need this tool in your kitbag.
For your specific interest(s), ask others, read books and periodicals, and look online. Because of my specific interest(s), the tools I’d focus on – if I were doing more than, to be honest, just reading and writing this blog – would be things like tax resistance, the International Solidarity Movement, the Global Nonviolent Peace Force, and Witness for Peace (Google these terms to find out more). Queued up on my bookmarks to explore further this week are Naomi Klein on capitalism and climate change (a Moyers and Company video), open source ecology, A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution, and the 2012 Global Peace Index.
The works of Gene Sharp, available on the Albert Einstein Institution website, are invaluable for the kind of world peace organizing I’m interested in. I have much of Sharp’s work in hard copy and will let you know more when I’ve had a chance to read it. (Or you can let me know more when you have a chance to read it!)
Remember the story I told you in my previous post about David Hartsough, one of the founders of the Global Nonviolence Peace Force, and what he said to a white racist attacker when he (David) was sitting in at a lunch counter helping to desegregate it? Go back and read it if you haven’t yet. I said I was going to tell you more about David, but I still haven’t had time to research him. You can though – he seems like a leader in what we’re trying to do.
I’ll keep offering ideas, examples, and models…How about you? What do you have to offer, even if it’s just a question. Or a disagreement. Let’s start a conversation, and maybe form some partnerships or affinity groups.
Starhawk’s advice for the election season
Election campaigns in my view are usually a distraction from what really needs to be done, since voting changes little in our money-dominated system. I’ll probably expand on that thought more than once in the coming months. Meanwhile, here’s some good advice from Starhawk’s June 5th blog… (If you don’t know who Starhawk is, do some research — she’s awesome! I particularly recommend her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing.)
“Whatever your politics, whether you vote or don’t vote, whether you register Democrat or Republican, Green or Libertarian, you are about to be subjected to a barrage of negativity that will go on for months and months, fueled by the deep pockets of billionaires who are now free to spend as much as they want to buy elections. The Republicans alone have a war chest of a billion dollars! Think how many mortgages in trouble that money could save, or how many students could get a free college education! Instead, it will be spent to blanket the country with a miasma of negativity, and the Democrats will be scrambling to do their own counterattacks. Energetically, we can prepare to live under a kind of gray miasma, a kind of psychic smog. Yuck!
There are some things we can do about this in the practical realms—ranging from contributing money to good causes to getting out in the streets and staying there, as the students and workers in Quebec have been doing for weeks. A good, loud casserole—that means banging pots and pans each night as a political protest—might help drive away some evil spirits.
But I want to talk about what we can do energetically. If you are an ultra-rational sort who doesn’t believe in the woo-woo stuff, here’s where you can stop reading and go do something productive with your day. But I will say this—whether or not you believe this can influence the larger world, this kind of magic will help shift your own energy. If you find yourself spinning off into cycles of fear—anquish—despair—fear, this will help! And if you have more positive energies of your own available, you will be more effective at all the practical things you do.
So if you’re with me, let’s work on shifting the energy around all this. Why should we quietly lay down and suffer under their toxic thought-blanket? What would happen if a whole lot of us used our intention and focused imaginations to shift the energies? And why not use some of the energy of this transit—energies which will continue to flood in over the next weeks.
So here’s the idea—a simple meditation you can do alone or in groups, when you have a spare moment or when you find yourself spinning off into those vortexes of impotent rage, stop and do this:
Visualize drains for all the negativity, the fear-mongering and the lies. Like little spinning whirlwinds, spinning counterclockwise, dust devils sweeping up the miasma of the psychic smog, spindles gathering the toxic wool and spinning it down back to earth, down to the fiery magma below us to transform back into pure energy.
Release that energy, and ground. Touch the ground, absorb some good, healing energies from the earth, and draw in what you need for your own work and well-being.
Then visualize a clockwise spiral, a rising vortex of compassion, love and hope. You could imagine spinning it around some symbol of justice and freedom—personally, I find the Statue of Liberty to be a potent Goddess symbol.”