Doris “Granny D” Haddock attended “Healing Mountains,” the 16th annual Heartwood Forest Council, in the dwindling forests of West Virginia this Memorial Day weekend. This was her address:
What must it be like, do you suppose, to be a fireman rushing though a burning building, coming across a wealthy gentleman in his grand apartment who insists that, well, this is nothing, there is often smoke in the halls this time of the week – it is likely Mrs. O’Reilly burning her biscuits again. Besides, he insists, the fire department is filled with alarmists and he will not be leaving his apartment just now, thank you, but will be calling a complaint into the mayor, whose re-election campaigns he finances.
The question for environmental activists is this: can the planet be saved even if many of the people do not understand the problem or, despite the ready facts, are insistent upon staying the course of self-destruction because it profits them in the short term? Will the rising stormy seas, the spreading deserts and droughts, only prompt them to dig their heels deeper into the mud of the melting levees?
And as a species, are we not waddling toward the cliff? Why has no great leader stood upon a rock with sufficient persuasion to halt the march and save the day? Are the forces now too great against mere words? Are the zombie masses, holding the hands of their children, on a Jonestown-like death march we cannot fathom or halt? Is it evolution itself we are watching, with our species automatically pre-wired for extinction when there are, say, by God’s count, more Washington lobbyists than tree frogs – and with stickier fingers?
It seems dark. Great electrical shovels, like invading space monsters, take apart our mountains. The monstrous machines called international corporations take apart the small farms and family businesses and democracies here and around the world, pushing people into cities and into powerless poverty, our global ecosystem and survival be damned. The great middle class employers like General Motors are purposely bankrupted by a behind-the-scenes elite so that manufacturing might move to more profitable lands without union and legal protections for human beings. The air is filled with warming poisons. Any attempt by the people to organize or even fairly vote is opposed and dismantled. Dark times. The government is now tracking our calls and putting barbed wire around us when we gather together as free men and women. A slave society, prison industries, yellow and black skies, great manipulations to kill off whole problem populations. A monstrous earth is the vision we can now imagine because, in fact, the great war between humans and the tumorous corporate monsters we let loose is raging. You will see in your lifetimes the outcome.
If we can learn something useful from nature in this battle, it is this: lemmings don’t get to vote. Lemmings, these days, only get to watch Fox News. They don’t have a chance, in other words. We can’t win this battle from inside the pack.
Strategically, I can imagine two possible outcomes for this battle. One is dark and one is bright.
Here is the dark one. Global catastrophe builds upon global catastrophe. Democracies become dictatorships as the masses reach for leadership and rescue from storm, pestilence and famine. Shooting wars break out between those who follow and those who oppose. A time of violence and suffering falls upon the planet. The resources that could have been spent to repair the ecosystem are needed for police security and mass imprisonment or worse. The weakened species, as a whole, finds itself in no position to survive when agricultural systems collapse and anarchy overwhelms all authority. I cannot see much past that, though there is probably much to see.
Here is the bright one. Global catastrophe builds upon global catastrophe. (Yes, I know it starts out badly.) More and more people opt out of the carbon economy to join a rising society of people and communities who have moved rapidly toward an ethic of responsibility and sustainability. These communities produce the best leaders, more and more of whom are elected to national positions. Many existing national leaders begin to move toward the ethic of these communities and of sustainability. More and more towns and cities, led by goal-setting organizations dominated by young people, accept sustainable goals. The first President of the United States from such a community is elected in the same year that similar leaders are chosen in Europe, India and several other regions. The Untied Nations is rapidly reorganized around its own Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a post-carbon age economic model. Multi-national corporations are outlawed, as corporations must now be overseen by the communities that grant their limited, public purpose charters.
Now, which one of these visions, among the millions we could dream up, is the more likely? Or will the future be something in-between, where there are solar cells on every roof, but every roof is a detention facility?
What shall it be? Must we find caves in the far woods and set our booby traps against the storm troopers of the Empire who might come for us, or shall we get some responsible communities moving forward?
Here is why the brighter scenario is the more realistic: the problems of the carbon age are not based on innate self-destructiveness, they are based on addiction, and all the enabling supports of that addiction are unsustainable and are now teetering. We who lose more environmental battles than we win are now about to win the war. We must become ready to keep that victory from turning into a new kind of hell.
This carbon addiction is a nasty sort, worse than heroine. The heroine addict has, surrounding him or her, the larger society of people who are productive and loving and healthy. As compelling as the heroine addiction may be, this other world is always there, always visible, always pulling and ready for a welcoming return.
Where is the saner, sustainable, more democratic, more human-scaled and human-celebrating community offering a visible and attractive alternative to the over-mortgaged, over-consuming, over-stressed carbon addict? Have we put in place the better world we would have people move toward?
It is interesting to be in a region where so many people escaped that corporate lemming treadmill in the 1960s and 70s to create just such communities. Some of the places survive as small communities or weekend retreats where friends may be free and happy. The parties are good, I am told. But gray heads cannot change the world alone, and, while escapism is healthy for personal renewal, it is not revolution, and revolution is what we need. It will come from people now in junior high school and younger.
Do not despair; they are but a few years from voting, if voting will mean anything. We do not have to tell them about fairness or about the value of a healthy earth or the value of freedom. But we do have to give them ways to move their ideals into effective political action. Can we help them be more effective than we have done for ourselves? I think we can, and I will get to that.
First, here are a few things I hope we can do to prepare the ground for a peaceful, happy revolution.
We need to make the better world visible, so the carbon addict may be drawn to it, and may see it as a place to go as nature begins to vote more often in her harsh way – and there is no way to rig her vote.
We must encourage and advance the positive, human-scaled and community-based systems already in place, such as community supported agriculture, edible schoolyard programs, local economy support projects and the like. We must go far beyond these ideas. We must create political support organizations in every housing project, to assist people with their immediate needs and build a new base for progressive politics. We must work closer with labor unions, so that they see a longer view, particularly in regard to environmental issues, and so that the tremendous political power of united workers begins again to shape public policy. We need more “listening projects,” to hear people and connect with their higher values. Many of you are doing precisely these things. We need a greater international reach. If some local communities in this country would partner with communities in, for example, Mexico, non-exploitive agricultural cooperatives can be established that enable people to stay in the communities they love, rather than suffer the abuses of illegal immigration. Let’s create the leadership for a better world, and let’s make it visible and attractive and real.
As people who must transcend borders, let us transcend our own political districts. If the politicians of this area are too beholden to the money of Big Coal, for example, let us partner with the voters of districts far away, who must breath the same poisoned air but whose Members of Congress are not so beholden to Coal. I think my community in southern New Hampshire would be delighted to partner with a community here, if we can find ways to organize this idea. We have been divided and conquered, but we can undivide at will, for we all have a stake in the air and water and the earth’s health and our human and democratic rights.
Part of the problem of the progressive left is that we have fragmented into dozens of organizations, each of which must struggle for funds and email addresses and all the rest. We need to fold ourselves back into the Democratic Party and thoroughly invigorate it. Do not worry that we will cause the Party to marginalize itself. If the Party can base its actions on good science, effective governance, and efficient delivery of the programs the people need, it will prosper across all the left and all the middle of the American political spectrum. But by splitting ourselves off into all these good government organizations we have left the party to the selfish elites, and they don’t know how to serve the people or the truth, and that means they do not know how to win.
We have a great tool in the Internet, if we can keep it. Great energy is being applied to corporatize that last, great commons. If they ruin it, of course, we can and will create an alternate one in its place. It’s just a matter of calling our computers into a new system that I’m sure we will all be happy to create. Let the old one try to prosper without us!
I would hope that some of the internet experts who care to keep open the commons will begin this planning, in the event that a switch-over becomes necessary. I hope the progressive funders, such as Mr. Soros’s Open Society Institute, will lend some assistance. The servers of such a system may need to be in a country that still respects privacy, and the connections may need to be by satellite instead of telephone line, but we must and will keep open the lines of communication between human beings in this time of great transition.