Turn, turn, turn

The activist’s activist, Pete Seeger, left behind a legacy of standing up for social justice and the environment, and a collection of protest songs that still pack an emotional punch. Yesterday, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, at a sold-out celebration performance of Pete Seeger’s music by local musicians, it was déjà vu all over again for me, and I suspect many of the mostly gray-haired Seeger fans.   As heart-felt and enjoyable as the event was, the fact that the issues that Pete Seeger spent a lifetime addressing are still with us — only more so — is not good news for the weary.

pete seegerBut that’s exactly why we need to celebrate our ‘preaching to the converted’ moment, in solidarity with street theater peace activists, Raging Grannies, Matt Schwartz of South Florida Wildland Association (raising the alarm about fracking), Occupy Ft. Lauderdale, Broward Move to Amend, Pax Christi (economic and social justice and respect for creation), the National Lawyers Guild, (lawyers, law students and legal workers for change in the political/economic system), and SOA Watch, (ending oppressive U.S. foreign policy in Latin America), among others.

I draw a lot of energy from a love-in like this one; we all do, whatever our political leanings.  The inconvenient truth is, we prefer to be with like-minded people and the more the merrier. It’s another form of confirmation bias, that is, our tendency to surround ourselves with people and information that confirms what we already believe. Uh-oh. It may be hard-wired into our species in service of the survival instinct, but it’s not working anymore..

I wasn’t thinking about this particularly when I landed hard last evening with a particularly unnerving episode of Years of Living Dangerously, but it’s coming up for me now as a major element of our difficulty as activists, and the challenges we will face.

If you’ve been paying attention to climate change, the Leslie Stahl segment in Living Dangerously carried few surprises, with the possible exception of actually hearing what ice sounds like as it begins to break apart. Terrifying. But it was the other report, about the stubborn (or I could say steadfast) denial of basic climate science by one large, well-funded religious sect, was especially disturbing for me, because 1. I am surrounded by and constantly reminded of this kind of thinking here in mega-church-land, 2. Florida is exceptionally vulnerable and denial now will be very costly later, and 3. I fear for my grandchildren, indeed, all grandchildren. So I have the deepest respect for climate scientist/evangelical Christian, Katherine Hayhoe, the star of an earlier Living Dangerously episode, for modeling a way of reaching out to those whose views differ from her own.   The world we have created in ignorance will demand nothing less.

Pete Seeger would approve.

Transition and Occupy

Transition and Occupy  *  Rob Hopkins responds  *  Can We All just Get Along?

Is Transition like Occupy?  A good question can raise the stakes; inject some excitement, into any presentation. I’ve experienced this fewer times than I would like.  But last Saturday, I was the person on the receiving end during my presentation on Transition to Ashley Moore’s permaculture course at Gray Mockingbird Community Garden in Lake Worth.

SONY DSCIt’s always helpful to say, Good question! and in this case, I meant it.  The answer is, No, and … Occupy and Transition have some obvious similarities.  Both are grassroots movements; both emerged from a conviction that the economic/political system was broken; both were rooted in action: Occupy, in the physical occupation of public spaces to demand change; Transition in community projects to make change.  Occupy is against business-as-usual; you could say Transition is focused on a better way to do business.

Many in my liberal religious congregation were very supportive of Occupy.  We have a strong tradition of social justice and our own martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement.  So in no time, there arose a cadre of people willing to demonstrate regularly on the sidewalks in front of our property. We held a Saturday workshop on Occupy, including a session on Single Payer and another on songs of protest.  Protesting can produce a high, no doubt.  And, whatever happens to the Occupy movement now, we will not soon forget its identification with the 99%.

Although it’s not my thing, I have supported and/or engaged in protest actions for a specific goal:  equal rights for women, Move to amend, stopping the KXL pipeline.  So, although I agree that business-as-usual is in great need of a major course correction, I decided to remain on the sidelines of Occupy, and have happily found a home in the Transition movement.

Attempting to differentiate between Occupy and Transition led to some lively conversation and I’m very grateful that the question was raised.  But there is no more articulate spokesperson than Rob Hopkins himself in how the movements differ.  Here’s a response after he visited as a speaker during the Occupy London action in 2011.  Here are some key quotes (links to the entire article and others follow).

First, like the appreciative enquirer that he is, Hopkins gave tribute to the value of Occupy:

What Occupy is doing that matters so much is that it is holding a space.  It is holding a space where the discussions can take place on their own terms about what is broken and what needs fixing.  It is underpinned by a realisation that this is a crucial time of change where everything is on the table, where business-as-usual is no longer an option.  It isn’t making demands because that would put the power in the hands of the people in power to decide whether or not to respond to them.  It is holding the space for the conversations, and is doing so on its own terms.  I admire that.

And here were some key divergences:

You can’t … just base deep change on an analysis of what is wrong.

Transition says to people “take this model and do it where you are”, whereas Occupy suggests coming together to suspend your life while you explore, with others, the question of what’s the best thing to do now.  Transition is about building that into your own life, right now.

…what everyone can do, in a time when it is increasingly clear to anyone who thinks about it, that business as usual is no longer a runner and that new thinking is needed and soon, is to occupy, in their own lives, that sense of possibility, that space for asking the questions that matter.

You might say that Occupy suggests occupying, for example, Wall Street, while Transition suggests occupying your own street, putting up runner beans and solar panels rather than tents.

Can We All Just Get Along?

That is the bigger question.  What would it look like if we reached beyond our differences and found common cause?  Sometimes, it seems possible, see: Fissures in G.O.P. as Some Conservatives Embrace Renewable Energy.  And A Green Tea Party?

So whether you are a 20-something in a tent city demanding change in the current system that rewards wealth at the expense of everyone else, or a 70-something grandmother who believes that we have to live with less so that others – including future generations – can simply live, we have to work together.  Because putting to rest the notion that we can grow or technologize ourselves out of this unprecedented planetary crisis, is too big a job for any one movement.

A Day at Occupy London
Comments are interesting, too.

How to Engage Occupy Movement

The Green Tea Coalition