Common Ground

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These people with guns storming statehouses are just trying to do the right thing.

They’re failing miserably, but that’s where they’re coming from. A steady diet of hate mixed with a coldly calculated approach designed to find and weaponize common ground has created a deeply divided populace. It’s hard to see the little man behind the curtain when you’re blind with rage and jacked up on words like liberty, freedom, and fascism. On either side.

There are a fair lot of us, however, who are isolated in our homes, doing what needs to be done, working from home and flattening the curve. These Astroturf demonstrations, widely covered, photogenic and deeply disturbing are designed to elicit a reaction from us. We don’t have to play along. We have other choices, but only if we calm down and think before we act. It’s hard to do, I know, when we’re confined to our own homes with only a television and the internet to connect us to the outside world. Can we see that this carefully curated–by each of us as well as by the powers that be–version of the truth is being used to return us to a status quo that no longer exists? Failing that, it will be a new normal that will benefit the holders of power–if we play along.

We are all in the same mess, together. We are nowhere near being in the same boat. Many of us are barely hanging onto the lines around the lifeboat, trying to keep our heads above the freezing water. Far more of us than should be are floating, dead, around the boat. A small number of us are living high, eating well and getting regular COVID tests, trying to figure out how to get past this unpleasantness before our core assets are affected. I am talking mainly to those of us who are in the boat with me–privileged enough to be able to stay home and watch all of this unfold as we work from home, or can survive there for long enough to get through lockdown, but in no way capable of doing it indefinitely. These protesters appear to be mainly of this segment of society, using their enforced leisure to protest, demanding the right to get haircuts and go outside. They are asking for “liberty,” not bread, and carrying expensive weapons instead of scrambling to make ends meet.

These people want a fight. The President who is egging them on knows that the more of a shambles he creates, the more likely he is to be able to steal a second term. Look over here and miss what I’m doing with the other hand has been his modus operandi from the beginning. The Republican party is now whittled down to the people who will go along with anything if they can profit from it, and as long as 45 keeps delivering the goods, they will do whatever it takes to keep him in the Oval Office.

The problem, as I see it, is we can’t fix any of this by ourselves. We got into this mess together, and that is the only way we are going to emerge. As it is now, a lot of people have died, and a lot more are going to. What we do now is crucial.

If there was ever a time for the Strength card, now is it. We can’t give the present holders of power what they want. We can do this without leaving our homes, luckily. It can begin quite simply. Stop spreading these news stories about the protesters. Stop whipping up the anger that makes us all act in ways we will regret later. If you’re living now and reading this blog, you know who I’m talking about. If you don’t, Google is your friend.

My mother used to say “Do nothing which is of no use.” It is the ninth principle in Musashi’s Book of Five Rings and while I have of course not always managed to act according to it, I have never forgotten it. It could easily be the touchstone for this pandemic. We are being exhorted, above all, to stay inside, if we can. To be modern Anchorites, albeit with a little more freedom and a temporary term, and leave the streets and public transit for those who have no choice but to go out.

I know I’m privileged. I’m working mainly from home. I am quarantined with only one adult, my partner, my best friend. We have only lost one of the jobs that support us, and my partner has an undetermined period of unemployment insurance while to figure out what her best options are. I’m spending what time is not devoted to work, helping her, and keeping us fed to things like restarting my blog and doubling down on daily practice. Making masks and writing to reps. Using the news as a tool, not letting it use me.

When I saw that angry, despairing post this morning, I saw a wise friend in pain. And yes, the first thought I had was that these people will probably get sick, and what could they expect? Not my finest moment, I agree.

I think sending in the National Guard is a demonstration of weakness, not strength. It would be proof that we are afraid of them and that they must have power. I don’t believe that for a second. If we want to meet them head on, we would do better to channel our inner Mel Brooks and Bugs Bunny. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.

Protesting is a pain–even if you manage to get coverage–and most of the time you don’t. It is about as fun as beating your head against a brick wall, at least for me. These people are getting far more coverage than most, partly because of the guns. They’re not getting massacred or hauled away for many reasons, the largest ones painfully obvious; they’re white, and they’re not shooting. They also have great lawyers. They are not immune to COVID-19, however, and are going to add to the chaos and the body count. How long will they continue to do this hard, unfamiliar work once the sugar high of being constantly on the news ends? What will they do when people begin to get sick? How about when people close to them die?

When you’re in a hole, the first thing you have to do is stop digging. Sending in people to stop these people will only expose more first responders in the form of police and, if there is violence, health professionals, to possible infection. If these people want to dance around any Capitol in the country with guns, let them! Turn off the cameras, move the lawmakers online or to other locations to govern and let them play. Alone. See what happens. And think of some truly creative ways to make them look like buffoons, or better yet, find a way to frame the issue that they can’t ignore. And watch as time passes. How many of them are there, and are any more coming to join them? This is a trash fire, not a movement. Remember the Malheur Wildlife Refuge? Not sending in the Marines, so to speak, was a better idea then too.

In the end, we all know what needs to be done. We need to stay in. We need to make sure that the people who need it get money–that means all of us getting on the same page and lighting up the lines to all of our representatives for the things we actually need. Coronavirus relief for everyone who is not getting a steady paycheck. Healthcare and testing for everyone. I think it’s odd, for example, that today I’m going across the Bay to San Francisco to get a PCR test instead of walking six blocks up the hill to the public hospital. No more handouts for rich corporations. All of this is much harder work and far less exciting coverage, but other countries have managed it. Many hands make light work. This is only difficult because so few people are doing it.

We have a chance to change a lot of things right now, when every institution we thought we could count on has been upheaved. The Overton Window is WAY wider than it has been in a long time. Will we allow the change to be determined by the people now in power by letting them get by with this stuff, or are we going to show them and ourselves that the tools of democracy still work?

Believe it or not, there is plenty of common ground. We are all scared of having our freedom and our lives taken away. We all fear for our livelihoods and our future. We all fear our own government. We’ve forgotten that it’s ours. Talking, not shouting, with each other is the first step. The people on the steps with the guns will realize this eventually. There are a whole lot fewer of them than it seems on TV.

A woman in a white dress pushes a gaudy lion's mouth closed.

 

Why Do We Prophesy Our Doom?

Hillside in Fairfax, CA

The Greenwood Message:
Why do you humans prophesy your doom? Can’t you see how it works here? Look at your cities. What do you see in every crack and crevice? The greenwood says we have always been here and always will be. Join us. Care for us and we will care for you. We are the tenacity of life. Are you? Why do you remove yourself from the green? We remember who you were and who you can be.

I took this down hurriedly in a workshop at Pantheacon. Given by Raven Grimassi , it was an exploration of plant spirits. It was like sunlight through my bones, water trickling across my skin. It echoed something Gaia had asked me to do many years ago.

She asked me to see the good that was in her. She asked me to see the green. It is all around us, always.  What we see is what we give life to. What kind of world do we want to live in? We humans have always created it, thought by thought, action by action. I think we evolved in order to create it. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries we wanted to go to the moon. By the end of the 1960’s, we had done it. We began with words on paper, visions that writers like H.G Wells gave us. We went on to images on film, such as Georges Melies A Trip To The Moon. From there we leaped from Goddard to the terrors of the Nazi rockets to NASA and the Cold War space race. War can be a terrible impetus for invention. But the images of Neil Armstrong and our first view of ourselves as a whole came from that, and changed us forever.

What we give our attention to is what we create. We all know this. The more attention we give to anything, the better the final product whether it’s a home cooked meal, a song, or a garden. Then there are things we co create. The life of a child, or the life of our world. If we are truly one organism, we are yet another function that life has cocreated. We are the awareness of past, present, and future. We are the planet, looking at itself at last and knowing who we are.

But what are we doing with this awareness? I love dystopic stories. The excellent Wool kept me up all night. Likewise The Book of Eli and and the old reliables like The Road Warrior and Soylent Green. The problem is, these sorts of stories, or their opposite, the “life will go on forever just like this” tale are so much the norm that anything hopeful and futuristic is like a breath of fresh air. It opens up the mind just as the stories of our destruction used to. Is it any wonder we’re heading towards these kinds of worlds when that’s what we’re feeding our collective psyche on? It’s as if we discovered a taste for excitement, like a drug, and now that’s all we want to consume. I’m no better. My song Kali Is Here is more of the same.

Most of the dystopic stories have a kernel of hope at the end. The problem is, it’s just a kernel and it’s not often fleshed out. The storyteller spends their time lovingly crafting all the various problems we have to go through to get that future, but no real time on the future itself. Even the few hopeful books of this sort, such as Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach and Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing bring our current problems with us in the form of soulless robotic governments for the brave Utopians to fight against with all their anti Establishment courage and conviction. It’s better this time around, the Utopians already live in their paradise, but they must now fight to defend it. Even when the war is won it is rarely over for good.

Is this what we really want? In fiction, after all, we can play out any scenario we choose. I think we can get from here to the future without mass death or war. I think we can use our knowledge and awareness of ourselves and the planet we live on in service of the whole to adapt to the changes we’ve caused. I think that’s just as much of an adventure as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hunger Games. While, as in the last century, great leaps may well be created in response to great suffering, we don’t have to envision it that way. I fear we’ve already built in a lot more suffering in change than we might have otherwise, but we can always choose to shift our focus. I think things in reality can shift a lot faster than it seems from this vantage point. For me, this is the point of The Greenwood Message. All we have to do is choose life and the whole planet is behind us.