Monday, October 24, 2016

Changing how we work for change

"Either you build from the bottom up or nothing changes." ~ Gar Alperovitz

The cultural contrasts could not be more profound - which is what tends to happen at the precipice, or at the decisive moment of transition. The tension rises. A keen sense of what those who benefit from the status quo are about to lose comes up against those left out, marginalized, or outright oppressed by that same status quo who have become empowered to shake off that oppression, to bear witness to a new world, a different world, a better one than this.

We are in a decisive moment like that. And, no, I don't mean the national election. That certainly matters. Conditions for bringing about change will be altered by the outcome, but the change necessary now, the kind needed to get this world on a better path than this destructive one, will not come from the voting booth.

Keep in mind that I am not saying don't vote. VOTE!! It is one way we keep some space in our political system open for the other work we need to do, the work that DOES bring about change...from the bottom up.

For me, those sharp, clear, cultural contrasts are best seen right now in what feels like the worst of us up against the best of us - the campaign for the White House and the struggle in North Dakota and Iowa to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. One is disgust-inducing, the other inspiring beyond words. One means we sink into more chaos or keep a firmer hold on the status quo of corporate power, and the other shows us the path toward healing our relationships with Mother Earth and our history.

As a friend of Rev. Billy Talen (that character brilliantly created by Talen and the Church of Stop Shopping) said about what he experienced in North Dakota with the Standing Rock Sioux, "It’s not like a protest. It’s a ceremony."

And I agree with Talen in this piece [Environmentalists: Make Your Stand Like Standing Rock] - the nature of how we make change needs to be changed. Mere protest won't do. And ego-led top-down organizing won't do. This must become a movement of bottom up sacred work, spiritual work, humble work, community-building work that creates a new culture to replace the one that is destroying the living communities of the planet....


The kind of work that will no longer be effective is the kind that tries to do that without changing the culture itself, that keeps the status quo of "standards of living" and the striving to achieve those ever-rising consumer standards in place. The kind of work that will fall short is the kind that merely focuses on issues without altering the culture itself, how we live together, how we share our responsibilities for changing the world, and then what kind of world we are trying to create.

Real change will come when enough of us reject the main goals and aspirations of this economy - to have millions of people at work, and trillions of dollars invested in sustaining an economic culture based in consumption of the planet's resources for our comfort and pleasure, for our rising "standards" of living. If this is the only way we can think of to live, the only kind of "job-creating" economy we can come up with, our time on this planet will be short, and getting to that demise will be painful beyond anything we humans have experienced previously.

So, vote, yes. But there won't be some great victory for the planet come Nov 8 because fundamental change of our destructive course is not on the ballot. Vote because as citizens this political system is still our responsibility, even though we continue to give it away to those with the real power over our lives (like AT&T and Time Warner, the front page economic news of the week). Vote to help keep a space open for the work that really needs to be done to change things.

Like in North Dakota. Because in North Dakota, the state is using repression and violence to try to crush a rebellion against the pipeline industry and the politicians that industry supports (buys). And the nation is barely paying attention. [see: Standing Rock: Water Protectors Running, Surrounded, Arrested...; and Human Rights Abuses Escalate at DAPL Prayer Services in North Dakota].

The tension is this extreme because of the practical matter of a specific pipeline endangering specific waters and the rights of indigenous, as well as farmers and other landowners, and the millions of investment dollars involved; but it is also extreme because this action of the Water Protectors has grown into something far larger than itself. Inspiring other actions against fossil fuel infrastructure around the nation, and solidarity that is not only national but international, Standing Rock and the #NODAPL struggle is becoming a decisive watershed moment that could turn the tide toward a rejection of our fossil fueled consumer culture.

And that has the corporate powers-that-be very nervous, and very angry.

So, we vote for whatever we believe gives our world, our Earth, the best chance. Then we get back to work bringing about the real change that is being birthed in places like North Dakota. We have arrived at the watershed, the crossroads, the precipice (select your favorite metaphor). What we do next will be decisive.

~ Margaret Swedish

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