HOW CAN WE CREATE A BETTER WORLD….if we can’t even get along with each other?

15 10 2011

Last Saturday,I was invited to speak, on behalf of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council, on the topic of “How can we create a better world.”  Here’s the text of the invitation:

Still being planned. Educate people against corporatism and militarism. This will be held at the Belmont United Methodist Church. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! If you want to be a speaker on any related topic, or create and staff a literature booth on any topic that is related even indirectly, or help in any other way, contact J. H.  (note: NOT Jason Holleman!)

It seemed to me that the Green Party was a natural to participate in this event, so I invited another Green Party member in town to get together a table for the event–but then we got the word back, that because the Green Party is a political organization, and this is being put on by two 501(c)3 organizations, they couldn’t have any political organizations represented. This seemed pretty bizarre to me, and I decided that I would bring Green Party material to the teach-in and mention the exclusion of the Green Party in my remarks.  Here’s what I said:

Good afternoon!  I’m here on behalf of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council, an organization which has been encouraging people to think local, non-corporate, low-tech, and sustainable for the last twenty-eight years. We are loosely affiliated with the North American Bioregional Congress, which holds hemisphere-wide gatherings every few years. The most recent one was actually here in Tennessee.

But, before I go into our long and honorable history, and our continued relevance today, I want to speak up on behalf of an organization that was disinvited from this gathering–yes, told not to come–The Green Party.  We ( I say ‘we” because I am a member of the Green Party of Tennessee) were told that we are “a political organization” and that inviting us to this teach-in would violate the not-for-profit, charitable/educational status of both Belmont Church and the Peace and Justice Center.  I have also been told by the organizers that  they excluded a half-dozen Democratic Party tablers on the same grounds.  Now,  a half-dozen representatives from one of the parties that is generally held to be the cause of all this mess seems a bit much, but I think it would have been “fair and balanced” to allow one Democrat table and one Green Party table.   Republicans?  Maybe they could run a dunking tank–” See if you can dump Bill Ketron in the cold, cold water–3 throws for only two dollars!”

But seriously, as I understand the IRS’s rules, not allowing the Green Party–and the Democrats– to participate in this teach-in is a misunderstanding of IRS guidelines, which state:

“…the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

There is no impending election (unless you’re a Republican Presidential candidate). The Green Party’s representative at this gathering would not be a “candidate for public office,” –nor, considering the current political climate in Tennessee, would the Democrats be likely to produce a candidate, either–or at least, not a viable one.

The IRS’s guidelines further state:

The presentation of public forums or debates is a recognized method of educating the public. … (nonprofit organization formed to conduct public forums at which lectures and debates on social, political, and international matters are presented qualifies for exemption from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3)). Providing a forum for candidates is not, in and of itself, prohibited political activity. Candidates may also appear or speak at organization events in a non-candidate capacity.

My understanding of what that means is that there is no legal reason why The Peace and Justice Center cannot have a representative of the Green Party at this teach-in, and a Democrat too.  But it seems to me that, if we are going to talk about how we can create a better world, it would be important to have the Green Party in on the discussion since it, unlike the Democrats and Republicans, is not in thrall to our corporatocracy.  If electoral politics have a role in our future–and sometimes i wonder how long that will continue to be the case–the Green Party has a very important role in this movement, and needs to be included.  Just for openers, the Green Party does not accept corporate contributions, period.  While we are best known for our national candidates, we has had the most success in local races, which brings us back to the Green Party’s bioregional roots.  The Green Party in the United States, and here in Tennessee, was started by bioregional activists who wanted to bring bioregionalism’s local, ecological focus into the political arena.

OK, enough about the Green Party–back to the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council.  Nearly thirty years ago, when the Bioregional movement first took shape, peak oil and financial, political, and ecological breakdown were barely a whisper on the horizon, but when I look at what we were envisioning, it seems that perhaps we were intuiting a future in which human social organization would once again be highly decentralized and limited by how far a person could walk or drive a horse cart in a day.  Our message then, as now, is to dig in where you are, to get to know not just the people in your neighborhood, but the natural world you inhabit as well, and to base your decision-making not on short-term gain for human beings, but on the long-term benefits for the whole ecology.

“Know your watershed,” we have urged–know where your water comes from and where it goes, and make your watershed the basis of your political awareness. We view watersheds as embedded in “bioregions,” areas unified not just by proximity but by biotic community–similar forests, rocks, wild animals,  and weather.  Now, nearly thirty years on, this way of viewing the world seems more important than ever.  As global warming and other modes of increased human interference with the environment bring vast, unintended, and nearly unimaginable changes, more than  ever we need to cultivate a deep awareness of our local environment.  The odds are increasing on the likelihood that our watersheds, and not the global market economy, will be what provides us with food, shelter, medicine, household goods, and a social life in the future.  We had better learn the skills we will need to do this well, while we still have the leisure to do so.  A graceful future is still possible.  While it’s true that mere lifestyle changes aren’t enough to induce the transformation the world needs, without lifestyle changes the transformation won’t happen, either.  We need to pursue both the personal and the political.

I have a confession to make:  i don’t feel like I’m doing a very good job of getting connected with  my own neighbors.  My wife and I don’t seem to have a lot in common with them culturally, or counterculturally, and so we doubt that we would be very effective organizers. We don’t sit easy with that, and are looking for ways to cross the cultural divide without having to act like we are something we are not, or acting like we are not something we are..  We’re open to suggestions.

There’s another aspect of our experience in the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council that I can’t stress too much, and that’s the long-term relationship aspect.

In its earlier years, the Council was a kind of “Tennessee, North Alabama, and South-Central Kentucky Federation of Hippies, Anarchists, and Activists,” and in many ways, it still is.  Back then, however, our quarterly convocations at members’ country farms and communities were great tribal gatherings, with a hundred or more–sometimes many more– adults and children camping out, sharing practical knowledge during the day, and then having delightfully wild parties that, for some at least, lasted until dawn, and beyond.  We sang, played guitars and an assortment of other instruments, drummed, danced, and interacted deeply with each other.  Those of us who are still involved from those early days are bonded in ways that are rare and precious in the alienated culture in which we are all now enmeshed.

But not all of our early companions are still with us, and  I don’t mean because they have already died, although that is a seemingly inescapable part of life.  With deep interaction comes not only the possibility of deep bonding, but the possibility of deep wounding.  We have lost people from the Council due to betrayal, divorce, and disappointment, to name just a few of the separating circumstances.–not to mention the occasional participant who became so obnoxious when the energy was up that few others wanted to keep including them in our activities.  What led to this dispersal, to a certain extent, in my opinion, is that we lacked a common psycho-spiritual technology that might have enabled us to be more sensitive to each other, to listen to each other better, to let go of our own neuroses–you can’t make anybody else let go of theirs, all you can do is try to set a good example–to give each other the love and attention, not to mention the appropriate treatment, that might have kept our ranks strong and united. There are ways for groups of people to do that with each other, ways with names like  Nonviolent Communication, Active Listening, Empathic Listening, Mindful Listening.  I can’t say a lot about these, because I don’t practice any of them in a formal sense myself, but I like to think I’ve benefited from what exposure I’ve had to them, as well as other practices I have been involved in.

In summation, it’s easy to be in solidarity with people for a few weeks or months of struggle.  The tricky part is keeping the bonds of affection alive through years of changes,.  Sooner or later, we will show each other our worst, in spite of our best intentions . Can we keep looking each other in the eye through that?  The changes I see happening in the mid to long-term future are going to shrink the world each of us inhabits.  At some point, the internet will go down, and we will lose all our “Facebook Friends,” except for the ones who are actually part of our daily lives. To build a graceful future, we will need to really be friends with each other, and not withdraw from each other forever at the first sign of anger, selfishness, or foolishness.  It’s certainly not always easy; but I have seen the alternative, and it doesn’t work very well. The bioregional movement provides a coherent vision of a sane future, but it takes more than ideals to keep a movement together.  It takes the work of consistently caring about and connecting with other people.  That, in the end, is what will make or break our revolution.

That’s what I said, to an audience of about a dozen people, in a room whose acoustics were awful.  I’m not sure how much my audience actually heard.  One young woman apparently misheard my message and used up most of our discussion time accusing me of being a Luddite.  I’m not a Luddite–I love technology, I’m even dependent on it in more ways than I’d like to be, because I’m not sure how much longer we are going to be able to maintain this amazing, magical web of complexity.

The strongest energy at the teach-in came from the mostly young people who were there in association with Occupy Nashville.  Their main meeting at the teach in was held in the same acoustically-impaired room I had talked in, so I stayed there and, with some difficulty, observed the way they took care of business.  I was impressed–they seemed much more organized and balanced than the wild, passionate SDS meetings I remember from the 60’s.  It’s reassuring to have a sense that the younger generation is, in some ways, an improvement on the older one.  Here’s a music break, and then I’ll talk more about the “Occupy” movement.

music:  Steve Earle, “Amerika v.6.0″



15 responses

16 10 2011

Occupy America, no, Occupy the World. You’re approaching some real solutions. Nothing is going to change until we bring it all home from Washington and deal with things on a local level; a community level, even a neighborhood level. Washington is too big and too far away and too lost in itself.
Don’t try to fix this system. When someone is dying of cancer, you don’t try to fix them, you help them to die gracefully. Give the present government a way to bow out gracefully. Don’t play with it. Don’t imagine you can fix it. It needs to be discarded and started over from the ground up and get away from this top down governing. Leave people alone and they will figure out how to govern themselves. “The Lord of the Flies” is bullshit. Sure, we all have a little nastiness in us but we’re basically good and left to our own devices, we will do the right things if we’re not interfered with.

16 10 2011

Thanks–I think you’re right about what needs to happen, but it’s gonna be very interesting to see how this part plays out:

“When someone is dying of cancer, you don’t try to fix them, you help them to die gracefully. Give the present government a way to bow out gracefully. Don’t play with it. Don’t imagine you can fix it. It needs to be discarded and started over from the ground up and get away from this top down governing. Leave people alone and they will figure out how to govern themselves.”

As Kunstler likes to say, it’s gonna be a great show from the cheap seats. As I say, you don’t wanna be in the expensive seats when the action heats up towards the finale….

5 11 2011

Why be in ANY seat? Why not be on the field? I’m just wondering…not judging or condemning. I’m thinking that it might be best to not even be in the stadium.

You sum things up pretty handily:

“In summation, it’s easy to be in solidarity with people for a few weeks or months of struggle. The tricky part is keeping the bonds of affection alive through years of changes. Sooner or later, we will show each other our worst, in spite of our best intentions. Can we keep looking each other in the eye through that?”

The “bonds of affection” are secondary. You have seen the coming and going of many in your (our) own “generation” of challengers. You seem to think that preventing the ‘going’ has something (everything?) to do with solidarity that transcends authenticity. I disagree.

The ‘thing’ that brings a group together is a common (shared) recognition of an IMMEDIATE problem/threat…sometimes life threatening, usually not. Once the immediacy of the threat wanes, so does commitment. This is the inherent result of ‘civilized life’. When people’s survival (their a$$!) is not CONSTANTLY challenged, their vigilance subsides. Any sustained cohesiveness that follows the lapse of (a sense) of the immediate threat is either 1) the result of remaining members who are fond of each other (to the exclusion of the ‘pests’), or 2) artificial.

The illusion of safety provided by civilization feeds both its rise and fall.

6 11 2011

You said: “Why be in ANY seat? Why not be on the field? I’m just wondering…not judging or condemning. I’m thinking that it might be best to not even be in the stadium.

This seems to be a reference to one of my favorite Kunstler quotes, “It’s going to be a great show from the cheap seats,” but I didn’t use that in this particular post. And I admit it’s not a complete metaphor, because we are all, in a sense, on the field. There is no one and nowhere that will not be seriously impacted by the societal and ecological changes that are taking place. Lord/Lady knows some of us tried to leave the stadium back about forty years ago, only to wake up one morning and find they had enlarged the stadium and we were still in it. Kind of like Lot in Sodom, only with no way to leave.

The Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council was not formed due to “a common (shared) recognition of an IMMEDIATE problem/threat.” The original energy of the bioregional movement was positive, in the sense that we saw a way things could be better, and got together to try and bring our vision into fruition. And yes, there certainly was/is a perception that the culture we are trying to extricate ourselves from is a threat, or we wouldn’t have felt the need to do something different. But we were/are moving from the position of havnig answers, not the position of objecting to being threatened. There’s a big difference, I think.

Beyond that, certainly there are reasons besides interpersonal conflict that have caused our original membership to erode. People move away, or get involved with other projects whose time constraints preclude their involvement in the group. Some of those are natural extensions of the bioregional vision, others simply involve having to support oneself or a family. And, I am not the only member of this crew whose health now precludes me from partying late and camping out.

However, I’m not the only one pointing out that personal issues can poison a movement. Naomi Wolf, speaking to Occupy Wall Street, said:

“And here are a few things that do matter.

Our courage.
Our moral compass.
How we treat each other.
We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets—like, say, the person sitting next to you at this meeting. After all, that is a battle that’s easier to win.

Don’t give in to the temptation. I’m not saying don’t call each other on shit. But this time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before will demand nothing less.

So it ain’t just me, and it ain’t just the Cumberland Greens. And I appreciate what you said about “the illusion of safety.”

There’s about 2 and a half hours of daylight left and I got things I need to do outside, so I’ll respond to your other comments later. Thanks for your input!

7 11 2011

I love the “illusion of safety” comment. Perfect. I don’t think people in general recognize the evil around them. They misconstrue it as a difference of opinion or greed or a power play. May I present this as a possible scenario:

7 11 2011

Thanks for your thoughtful response…the energy and time (a.k.a. life) that you spent is appreciated.

As for “being in the stadium”–allowing for more metaphor-basking–I’d say that the stadium represents Civilization. Folks like us are labeled ‘counterculture’ by the cultured. ‘We’ get stuck with lots of labels. And they usually are conceived and assigned by people who are discomfited by a relatively few caring, sensitive, outspoken visionaries in their midst.

I often think of my grandmother’s words and rules when I look at this stuff. We kids (and there was often a BUNCH of kids) were not allowed to ‘play in the doorway’. “Get in! Or get OUT!” She would command. And don’t even THINK about going in one door and out another.

I wonder.

There is an attraction to being ‘in the house’ (the stadium?). And there is an attraction to being ‘outside’. The House offers a sense of security and warmth…and food! Outside there is wonder, adventure, stimulation, and a sort of awkward freedom…and struggle. The House has rules–and punishment for breaking them. If we get Outside, and far enough away from The House, we find a BIG place that is governed by the most basic and immutable rules: Natural Law.

It fascinates me that we build ‘houses’ (cities) and develop a sense of security. We delude ourselves. Eventually we become so bound to the illusion that we totally forget that The House is, was, and always will be CONTAINED in that scary, immutable big world Outside.

And, now, tears well in my eyes. Because I think about how people in The House, encouraged by the grand success of the safety illusion, start to build rooms in The House–little houses within a house. And eventually the room is not ‘enough’. We imagine, eventually, that we can be little houses unto our selves. The end. The implosion. The total disconnect. Suffocated by the layers upon layers of shit that we THINK keeps us safe. We use chemicals–licit and/or illicit–as moderators and controllers…and illusory ‘protectors’ (walls).

For me this is the allegorical expression of the process of every Civilization. Our resistance is truly natural. And so is our tendency to find comfort ‘in the house’. Just like little children at the door. Am I in, or am I out? Some of us just CAN’T answer the question. So shoot me.

7 11 2011

I get what you’re saying about personal issues spoiling ‘movements’. And your view is valid to me, respected by me, with or without Naomi Wolf.

I’m just saying that people do what they HAVE to do. Personal issues become spoiling issues when the group/movement has the ‘luxury’ to allow them to.

When the proverbial wolf is at the proverbial door, who’s going to bitch about a potential ally’s hair, skin color, or clothing?

Remove the wolf. The group eats itself.

7 11 2011

“When the proverbial wolf is at the proverbial door, who’s going to bitch about a potential ally’s hair, skin color, or clothing?”
Or who talks too much, or who else one’s mate has been playing with…but if there has been unresolved friction about any of these or other “personal” issues, that friction will slow down the intelligence and cohesiveness of the response, whether or not they have had “the luxury” to put personal issues center stage and let them work out. Without “the wolf,” I think it’s much easier to build group strength by dealing with personal issues, which do not have to “eat” a group if they are handled properly. (What constitutes “proper handling” is a subject in itself!)

7 11 2011

well said, but I absolutely refuse to shoot you! :-)

7 11 2011

Well, Casimir, that’s quite a link you dropped on us! I don’t know enough quantum physics to judge the validity of his scientific assertions, but what he is saying comes close to what Doris Lessing predicted in Shikasta, which she wrote in the 70’s. She made enough accurate predictions in that book–the ascendancy of China, the bankruptcy of Europe, a drying climate, and a youth revolt centered in Greece–that her claim that the planet has been out of alignment with a kind of positive energy for the last 10,000 or so years, but is about to get back in alignment with that energy, which will cause major, positive changes in human culture–a return to harmony and sustainability– just when it seemed to be too late–this prediction just might be on the money, too. But there will be no way to know or be sure until it happens. So I’m not holding out my hopes for the Cosmic Coast Guard to come bail us out, just doing my best to encourage compassion, insight, equanimity, and joy in myself and others, and those qualities plus justice in the world at large. That seems like the best we can do, whether it helps focus an energic realignment of the planet or just helps me/us pass on peacefully.

7 11 2011

“Cosmic Coast Guard” . . . I like that. And I guess I’m going to have to study a whole lot more physics, Caz. Or maybe I’ll just hang on ’til 2012 and see what happens.

Great points, Bro Martin. And I’m glad you refuse to shoot me.


8 11 2011

Keep doing what you’re doing. what else can we do? Old Doris is right but she missed a step: total chaos. If we experience a realm boarder shift, it will create chaos like we have never seen…and then the positive energy can flow. It may be just as likely that we may have to go “somewhere else” and leave this all behind. I don’t really get the physics of it all but the C’s are indicating that something like this is imminent over the next 20 years. So be it. I’m ready to bail. I’ve had enough bad energy, not in my life, but on the planet that I’m a part of.

The trouble has been going on so long that it has become endemic. I’m not a Bible thumper and I don’t mean to get biblical on you but even the Bible continually reiterates the point that the the planet is in the grips of the “wicked one’ which I take to mean evil and although there are some great things going on here, we have to exhaust so much energy to survive that real consciousness has a hard time expanding.

Thanks for listening to my rant. Keep writing. While we’re here we have to do whatever we can. I can tell you this, once I leave here I’m not coming back. I think we’re here as Lightworkers to try and save the planet but it may be too late.

8 11 2011

Read Shikasta, Canopus in Argos–Archives, and the Sirian Experiments–she got the chaos , too. .

8 11 2011

Caz, I must have missed the ‘rant’ part. I enjoy the perspective.

I’m glad that the negative energy “on the planet that [we’re] a part of” has ‘missed’ you. I wish I could say the same for me. It hasn’t missed me.

And I don’t discount the concepts set forth in the Bible–even though I think they have been grossly misrepresented countless times. We [humans] describe what we experience the best ways that we can. There are mysteries, so it seems entirely acceptable to me that we would have our mystics…and mysticism. It is what it is.

These ideas about ‘chaos’ have always fascinated me–and I think a bunch of other people, too. I’ve often wondered if that which we ‘see’ as chaos might actually be quite orderly if viewed from ‘the other side’. I think many labels have been assigned in attempts to ‘package’ characteristics of what goes on around (and in) us. I’ll resist the urge to get tangential…

And, Bro Martin, Shikasta is ‘new’ to me. I’ll look into that.


8 11 2011

Just between you and me and the whole dang internet, it’s my understanding that those are the terms on which i’m visiting this beautiful, benighted place, too.

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