Orion is a bimonthly out of New England passionately in love with our planet; show a little interest and they’ll send you a big gorgeous issue for free. Even when I disagree with one of its essayists, as I sometimes do, I can only respect the adventurousness of their writing, which takes nothing for granted.
So I wish I could link to a Q&A they have in this month’s issue on an activist named Van Jones, who works with Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. (It’s off-line.) Jones speaks about what it means to be an activist, and, specifically, what he calls "the reverence movement." (His resume gives you some idea of his worth, but not enough: Let me quote some of the Orion interview with him.) If you want to know more, ask Orion for this month’s issue.
A reverence movement is, at the end of the day, taking corrective steps to further enhance the beauty of others and the beauty of yourself.
If you ask people what their actual experience of being on the left is, lots of people say, "Oh, we’re saving the world, blah, blah, blah. I say: "No, no, no, what’s your experience–like, Thursday?" They say: "Oh, it was horrible." It’s like the difference between using diesel versus solar as your energy source. Anger is a messy fuel that eventually causes more problems than it can solve.
Putting a generation of kids in a prison is like clear cutting a forest. We deeply believe we have a throwaway planet–throwaway species, resources, neighborhoods, nations, continents. Young people and adults in prison have been thrown away as well. Once they’re outside the circle of people who deserve dignity and respect, then they can be preyed upon. The prisoners can be worked–Angola in Louisiana is a classic example. Or by big corporations here in California: Microsoft, for some of their packaging; Victoria’s Secret and United Airlines, for their telemarketing orders…it’s all related. The polluters, the clearcutters, the incarcerators, they’re all enacting the same story: money is more important than life, and we have the technology or the guns to protect ourselves from any consequences of our heedlessness.
One thing I know from my own experience is that demonization and deification are the same process, two sides of the same coin, and if you set yourself up to be deified, then you can’t be mad when the other side demonizes you. The idea that either you’re this egomaniac who’s only out there for yourself or you’re this pure martyr with no personal ambitions or desires–both of those are false.
I think people who want to change society have a double duty. We have to be willing to confront the warmonger within and without, the punitive incarcerator within and without, the polluter within and without, the greedy capitalist developer within and without. We have to really look at how we are–combative, punitive, self-destructive, greedy; we’re passionate about changing that in the external world, even as it we enact it in our internal world and in our relationships with each other.
We have this whole David and Goliath syndrome. If you’re an activist, that has a positive side: you want to confront unjust authority, fight against long odds, hold out the possibility of miraculous outcomes. And that’s a good thing.
But there’s a shadow side to David and Goliath, which is that there’s got to be some big mean other. You’ve got to be the small underdog all the time and there’s got to be some confrontation between absolute good (you) and absolute evil (the other). If you’re an activist then you know what I’m talking about; you know what it’s like when you try to lead a meeting and somebody’s got to challenge you on every point. You know what it’s like when you get everyone riled up to attack the mayor, and the mayor doesn’t show up, and everybody attacks you. It’s part of the toxic stuff you’re playing with.
Also, you have to have enough respect to realize that Goliath has probably figured out the slingshot thing by now. So to continue to do the same thing over and over again, which is what we’ve been doing since the 60’s, keeps us from being creative. And it’s probably going to yield worse results over time.
The other thing is, it could be that you’re just in the wrong book of the Bible altogether. It could be that it’s not really about David and Goliath; it’s really about Noah. The kinds of really serious challenges that are coming up will feel more like what happened down in New Orleans. it’s easy to say there’s an evil Goliath called George Bush who’s letting bad things happen to good people. But even if George Bush were to leave the planet, we’ve still got major, major climate destabilization to deal with. And so it could be that we need to figure out new ways to win–to be open to the possibility that sometimes we can win Goliath over to helping us build the ark.