Monday, February 6, 2017

Don't let them steal your joy

It’s bad. Okay, it’s bad. It’s as bad as we thought it would be, perhaps worse than many thought it would be. And it’s going to be bad for a while, probably a long while.

So this is crucial. Do not let them steal your joy.

We all know now that Steve Bannon is the real power behind this presidency, behind the campaign that put Trump in the White House. And we know that Bannon told a reporter from the Daily Beast back in 2013: “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Sounds like Trump’s campaign, yes? Now we know who used whom to get power. Now we know what the agenda is.

Credit and story: Greenpeace USA
So, it’s bad. And it’s going to stay bad for a while. So let’s get on with the work of “new creation” anyway, because we find our joy there, because joy is necessary, because joy is also part of the human condition. And in these circumstances, joy is also an act of radical defiance. It rejects the bleak, dire view of the Bannon crowd about our world.

We know the world is in a difficult place. We also know that the world is so much more than that difficult place. If that's all there was or is, most of us wouldn't bother getting out of bed in the morning.

So this is part of our radical mission, our massive rejection of dystopic hopelessness. We claim joy. We are motivated by joy as well as compassion, solidarity, and our place on the road that is that long arc of history bending toward justice. Joy helps it bend a little faster, with more exuberance. We don't just protest, we dance. We don't just march, we make new creation. 

We need to create the conditions for joy. We cannot neglect that part of our human mission now - to be people of joy, grateful that we are alive now when we can be of service with all the gifts, talents, and vision that we have to contribute to this time of the great unraveling.

It's unraveling for a reason, as we have said and written many times before. The unraveling is necessary and it was always going to be harsh. It's that old saying about how those with power almost never surrender it willingly. We will build new human communities - in concert with other sentient and non-sentient beings with whom we share the planet's fate right now - with a lot of hard work and prophetic witness. But only with joy - and a good sense of humor - will we have the staying power to see this through.

Joy is our witness that something more beautiful can be created out of the crises of our time.

Lake Michigan gale - Margaret Swedish

For the past two weeks since the inauguration, I have been unable to bring words to the blank news pages of this website. I would sit a moment and try to gather my thoughts into some coherent way to enter. I'd get up and walk around, look for chores that needed doing – thank you notes to donors, making a cup of tea, doing some laundry, going to the food co-op.

Then I would come back to the blank space – and the pressure of what I feel inside would press against the outer defenses that are still reluctant to write, to describe, to report just how bad I think this is. And I am hardly alone in that assessment. I have plenty of company.

But this other thing happened right after the inauguration (and every day since): millions of people came out into the streets of our cities here and around the world to declare, THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!! And they were/are beautiful. They rallied and marched and protested with gorgeous creative energy, each event a work of cultural art - the signs, the chants, the music - it was really beautiful. And, sure, there was anger and plenty of righteous rage, but there was something else, too.

There was joy - an abundance of joy. I think a lot of that energy was the sheer wonder of what we found ourselves to be a part of, the enormity of this human outpouring, this vast rejection of hate, fear, and exclusion as defining who we are as human beings.

Women's March 2017 - Credit: CNN

And it continued day after day. When the new administration shut down immigration from the seven Muslim countries, when they tried to make policy from fear and exclusion, tens of thousands came out again in airports all across the country. And they did that day after day after day, until yesterday that protest turned into celebrations of national welcome when, after Bannon & Co. lost in court, visa-holding refugees and immigrants were able to enter our country. Brought tears to my eyes to see the family reunions on the news, I am not at all embarrassed to say.

The president and his ideological master were, um, trumped by the people.

How empowering is that?

Of course, they were also trumped by the Constitution and a conservative Republican-appointed judge in Washington State. And that is good news that not all our constitutional institutions are yet destroyed.

Now the throngs continue - at field offices of members of Congress, or breaking down the phone system for the Congressional switchboard with the volume of calls, and still more protests in the streets.

This is a pretty good start to a massive reclaiming of our democracy after too many decades of complacency, loyalties to parties that have been bought and sold by corporate interests and donors, and a fragmented polity that left our political culture in a state of collapse. Well, let it collapse. Let's build something new. I don't mean this in the way that Bannon does when he says he wants to bring it all crashing to the ground. I mean it in the sense that this oil-lubricated fossil-fueled industrial growth economy is destroying our planet and our future. These people want to crash government and take control of that economy. We want to replace it with a new civilization based on re-creating "right relationships" with the planet and her living systems, and with other living beings who dwell here. We want government at the service of life.
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At the same time, it's only been a bit more than two weeks and this wholly unpredictable narrative has a long way to go. We know what they have in mind, and we know they have the levers of power with which to perpetrate some horrific things. We have to steady ourselves, stay balanced in our work and our personal lives, take time for the inner work that will keep us going.

While all this was going on, I was also keeping up with the news that supports the work I do - news of the planet. We know what it means to have this administration in place in the midst of the gravest crisis humans have faced since we first evolved here. The ecological unraveling remains that "mother of all threats," the one that could swallow all the others whole if we keep on as we are. THAT is the stuff that disturbs my sleep and fills my days with anxieties, the stuff to which humanity is still paying grossly insufficient attention.

So, in the midst of this early chaos of the Bannon/DT regime, this news from Mother Earth appeared in my email queue:
‘Beyond the extreme’: Scientists marvel at ‘increasingly non-natural’ Arctic warmth, by Jason Samenow, Washington Post, Feb 1
Arctic sea ice is at a record low and could, in spurts, disappear within our lifetimes, by Jason Samenow, Washington Post, October 27, 2016
Crazy times in the Arctic, Mark C. Serreze, Earth: The Science Behind the Headlines, Jan 23, 2017
A Climate Change Economist Sounds the Alarm, by Mark Buchanan, BloombergView, Jan 31, 2017
While the nation has been fully attentive to the White House circus, these stories already have been lost. As Buchanan writes in that fourth article, citing the turnaround of the ever-cautious climate change economist, William Nordhous: "...the shift in his assessment is stark. For two decades, the advice has been to do a little but mostly hold off. Now, suddenly, the message is that it's too late, that we should have been doing a lot more and there's almost no way to avoid disaster."

There is no way, period - without the almost - as indicated by the other stories. The climate system of the planet, which has been relatively stable for the flourishing of humans and other species of this era of evolution, has already been severely altered. The consequences are with us - not in the future, but now.

VIDEO: Stunning, stunning stuff - heat and fire in Chile  

This is something they already know in Chile, for example, (115 degree temperatures this summer and the biggest forest fire disasters in their history following on 10 years of drought) and in Australia (repeating the trend of summer highs in the 110s), or Bend OR (under a weight of unprecedented snow that brought the city to its knees), and the conditions in the Arctic reported in the stories above. Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder CO, reports that highs in the Arctic this winter reached 17-22 degrees Celsius above normal. The Washington Post reported that on Dec. 29-30, a freak storm pushed the temperature near the North Pole above the freezing point - .07 degrees Celsius or 33 degrees Fahrenheit - which is 50F above normal!! [see: Freak Storm Pushes North Pole 50 Degrees Above Normal to Melting Point] The winter of 2015-2016 also saw freakish heat in the Arctic. Overall, temperatures in the Arctic have been warming far faster than anywhere else on the planet [See: Record-breaking temperatures have robbed the Arctic of its winter]

The impacts of this Arctic heating are not all immediate. Many are building. Most every climate scientist I read these days says we are in an unprecedented situation now, and the future is full of frightening unpredictability.

Global warming made every state a red state in 2016
After all these years of doing this work, I have been left with these questions: what is the nature of our cultural inability to understand what industrial/consumer society is doing to planetary systems and living communities all around the planet? Why is it not a part of our conscious awareness, our education from childhood on, simply an aspect of our daily lives to know how this planet works, and to live accordingly? Why do so many seem to fear this knowledge? Aren't the consequences of our cultural ignorance and denial more frightening than making the changes in our human economies that would have prevented this crisis?

Is the addiction fostered by consumption of energy, technology, and various unneeded consumer items really more powerful than our instinct for survival?
Credit: Margaret Swedish

These are going to be rough years for those of us working on the planetary crisis. We need to stay rooted in our spiritual journeys, in the sense of deep meaning that we find in our work, and in a trust that we are part of the Earth's own response to the unraveling. We have to do everything we can to honor and celebrate all that is still magnificent about this planet, including the gift of being here in this moment. As our Native friends would say, we have to make ceremony - every day, we need to get out of bed with a sense that we are in permanent ceremony helping our Mother to heal, helping ourselves and one another to find the wisdom to know what to do, and to be willing to surrender the expectations of this destructive economic life to make way for new creation.

And we need to do all that with joy - joy in our hearts, joy among our relations, joy in the beauty that surrounds us, joy that is our song, our way of singing a new future into being.

No, they cannot have my joy. I do not surrender my joy to them. It is my supreme act of defiance. It is my well from which I drink of the wonder that is this planet and from which I find sustenance and strength for the work ahead.

~ Margaret Swedish 

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