Finding a New Unity – Part 3: “Provisional Unity” is Good Enough for Now

Climate change, desertification and mass extinctions represent the culminating ecological crises that are the natural consequence of globalized oppression and conquest. The acceleration of the extraction of wealth from the earth by elite ruling classes has been going on for a very long time.

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This pattern of social organization, given the name “civilization” and assigned the positive spin of “progress” has been spreading for several hundred generations. (See my blog: The First Principle of Being Human: Seek Kindness in all Relationships – Part 2) Over time, and focused in many different places on the earth, the charge of “civilization” has been advanced by expansionist regimes led by people of every race. Under colonial and industrial expansion the European capitalist brand of “civilization” reached every corner of the earth and is now considered to be both “normal” and “inevitable”, a natural extension of human greatness at the top of the evolutionary pyramid. Go us!

In every single “civilization” (differentiating from culture, tribe or nation), society is segregated into horizontally organized classes. Some version of an elite minority controls economic resources and the social  and political culture of its empire or nation. The elite class resides at the top of the social pyramid. A useful majority resides below. They perform the work, provide the manpower and economic resources to make the elite rich and to support the army and the police that serve the elite. Usually there are tiers of classes in the middle. They are on the ground and manage the interests of the elite in exchange for privileges unavailable to the lower classes of workers or slaves. This is the basic pyramid.

Additionally, it is necessary to cultivate warfare between varying empires in order to maintain the fear of imminent  conquest from outsiders. “Organized crime” is also a necessity—a more ruthless version of civilization that lives within a larger empire, feeding parasitically and justifying civil control and a militarized police force. Not a pretty picture, but accurate in a general way. Obviously there is a range of overt brutality that different nations, political ideologies and religious and ethnic versions of civilization express. Some are less abhorrent than others if one does not look too deeply into the shadows.

As a natural consequence of this hierarchical state of affairs, some of us—few on a global scale, by no fault of our own but simply by the condition of our births—have access to rights, privileges and resources that others, the vast majority, do not.

For most people on the relatively privileged side of this global equation, much of lifeʻs activities are related to maintaining or increasing oneʻs upper social and economic position for oneʻs self, oneʻs family, oneʻs business or oneʻs nation. “Security” is the greatest conventional concern for the upper and middle classes. (As well it should be because the system is inherently top heavy and thus unstable.) At the same time, for some members of the “educated owning and middle classes”, global inequality, war, civil rights abuses and the pillaging of the earth generates a crisis of conscience. This crisis of conscious, or Awakening of the Privileged is of a completely different nature than the Awakening of the Oppressed.

For most people on the other side of the global, economic and social justice equation—the side to which the vast majority of people belong—lifeʻs primary activities are related to survival in a system that is stacked against them and wants to keep things that way. Awakening on this side of the equation usually comes not from a crisis of conscience but from anger about injustice.

Both kinds of awakening want to take us to an authentically better world for our children and our future generations. Building unity across these two differently positioned stances is necessary in order to address the global crises we are facing. The poor represent the vast majority of the human resources on the planet. The privileged control the vast majority of the economic capital and the economic and social infrastructure. Both sets of resources must be mobilized effectively and massively if we are to deal with the catastrophe that we have been cooking for the last several thousand years. The non-indigenous elite have been advancing paradigms of conquest and extraction for so many generations that most of us cannot even remember that the bulk of human history happened before agriculture, writing and standing armies emerged.

This is understandably problematic.

The hundreds of thousands of years that we lived in relatively horizontal societies with sophisticated and usually balanced economic relationships within nature, form the bulk of our genetics. This statement often incites the “we canʻt turn back the clock” reaction people who assume that this is what I am advocating. I am not. I agree that there is no going back, technologically speaking. But the essence of my thesis is that we cannot move forward without renewing the practice-based skills and the embodied understandings that allowed our indigenous ancestors to live in horizontal societies with sophisticated, ecologically integrated skill and awareness sets. What we have lost and forgotten in modern conventional society is at the root of our global crisis, not what we have invented.

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People from all races, nationalities, ethnicities, religious and spiritual traditions and economic and social classes are waking up to issues of injustice and ecological decline. However, even as allies working to address global and local problems, we can not expect to come together in true unity, with authentic equality of participation, mutual respect and shared leadership without addressing the legacies we inherited from history. We have absorbed the patterns of thinking and the habits of action and reaction of the culture of conquest without realizing how deeply these patterns control our words and behavior. This is true of both the privileged and oppressed sides of the social equation of contemporary, modern, industrial society. It is nearly impossible to come together in authentic unity when our stances toward social and cultural transformation are so diametrically opposed. Privilege stands on one side and oppression on the other. (Of course it is not as clear cut as this. In reality, most people in the United States and Europe embody both sides of this history in our blood.) Awakened persons of privilege and awakened persons of disempowered classes want the same things, but we often find it very uncomfortable to be in the same room with each other. Working through our historical and personal discomfort is usually trumped by the urgency of action for the “cause”. This setting aside of discomfort often leaves allies in a cause with buried feelings of resentment, frustration, anger, guilt or shame.

These negative feelings, in turn, reinforce attitudes, stories and judgements that divide and separate people who could be working closely together on our common interests. Instead, resentment simmers beneath the surface until it reaches a boiling point or something triggers an outburst. Unfortunately, this usually precipitates even more resentment, anger, guilt and shame. The cycle continues.

(Finding a New Unity – Part 4: Parallel Play in the Cauldron of Ancestral Reconciliation will address these dynamics and some of their solutions.)

The movement for environmental justice has been struggling with this problem for three decades or more and making tremendous headway. This headway is expressing itself in the “Occupy” movement, the Climate Justice movement, the Black Lives Matter movement and in Hawaii’s Aloha `Āina Unity Movement. Most recently this new unity is expressing itself at the Standing Rock Camp earth protectors actions, opposing the Dakota Access pipeline.

We are now creating provisional unities that reflect a significant shift in consciousness and the ability of persons with very different historical relationships to privilege and oppression to work together respectfully. These unities are by no means perfect and are frequently uncomfortable on all sides of the cultural spectrum. Transition requires transition strategies. The kind of provisional unity we are currently forging is capable of great power and posses the capacity to achieve the kind of results we desperately need at this time.

For the first time in United States history, a broadly supported mass action is being led by the descendants of the first nations. Genuine support is showing up en masse from non-native citizens from all over the country and world, while news reports featuring the faces and voices of politicized Native Americans are going viral on the internet. The spiritual and cultural leadership of the tribes is now framing the debate over the risks that the extraction economy poses to the water, the land and the people along the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Native spokespeople are naming the global dangers we are all facing from climate change due to a runaway economy of greed and selfishness. All of this is framed by a deep understanding of the sacredness of nature and its desecration, within a historical relationship to cultural genocide against indigenous peoples. Even a recent mainstream editorial by Lawrence OʻDonnell of MSNBC that has gone viral addresses this issue head on, calling Native Americans our “Original Environmentalists.  He goes on to describe the Dakota Access Pipeline as an extension of genocidal history against the original inhabitants of the land of North America. The struggle is about standing up for the inherent sacredness of the earth and water, for the sanctity of the peopleʻs cultural relationship to their tribal lands, with special emphasis on the places their ancestors used for ceremony and burial. This is a unique and potentially pivotal historical moment.

People of privileged ancestry are bringing respectful and passionate support to the leadership of the tribes that are banding together to stop the pipeline. In spite of the awesome show of unity and broad support, I can only imagine that things inside the action camp are not “all good”. But authentic mutual respect and gratitude are showing up in a profoundly new way. This is a “provisional unity” or a “transitional unity”. We have made enough progress that we can fight together and, to some extent, vision together. We are reaching a place where our expression of unity is “good enough” for effective action. This is huge!

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The placard saying “Bulldoze Your Own Temple” says it all. This slogan comes from another example of a “first nations led action”, the successful earth protection movement that has halted construction of a multi-billion dollar, internationally funded telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawai`i. The slogans saying “We Are Water!” at Standing Rock and “We Are Mauna Kea!” in Hawai`i emphasize clearly both the sacred connection of people to the earth and our dependence upon the health of nature for our very existence. This core message is the one that unifies us from a place of common truth and common self-interest, regardless of cultural background. People from all walks of life are showing up with resources and a passion to protect the sacred in ways that are reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties.

If you look at the language and mixed leadership of the climate justice movement that stopped the Keystone Pipeline you will see the “new unity” at work there as well. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is another example. In these two examples the political message is being articulated by a entirely different leadership model than social movements of the past. It is much less vertically oriented and not dependent on charismatic oratory. There is no equivalent to Dr. Martin Luther King, the global and prophetic voice of inspired speeches that propelled the Civil Rights Movement so far forward. The leadership voices in these new movements are greater in number and there are many more women leaders and spokespeople. These “new unity” movements have a more gender diversified and horizontal quality. Interestingly, these two qualities alone reflect and harmonize with indigenous cultural influences. In addition, there is a powerful new emphasis on showing genuine cultural respect within these diverse activist communities. Again, this is due, in large part, to consciousness raising work around the cycles of oppression that have been incubating for the last three decades in the environmental justice, LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter and “Occupy” movements, among others.

These new expressions of social action are not perfect in their call nor their practice of “unity.” But they are effective. In crisis, effectiveness is much more important than perfection. Again, we must remind ourselves that we are in a period of transition. Metamorphosis looks really messy and confusing inside the chrysalis. In the long run, we will fail to progress through transition to emergence if we do not each address the ancestral legacies at work below the surface. Even if we temporarily set aside this awareness so that we can MOVE effectively forward, much pain and grief remains hidden in our social and mental habits as well as our cultural assumptions. The contexts wherein we can heal the wounds of history are very different than the contexts wherein we are organizing for unified, urgent and dramatic political action.

It is very important not to fall in love with fighting the disease. There is an excitement and an aliveness that comes from battling injustice and taking heroic and sacrificial stands for the benefit of future generations. It is fine, perhaps even necessary, to engage with that excitement wholeheartedly and ride it for what it’s worth. But there is a danger in it, too. All too often political urgency can be used as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility. I have been down that road myself. It takes difficult and nuanced personal and cultural self-examination to move out of the excitement and chaos of transition toward authentic, lasting, mutual respect and equality of participation. We all long for a genuine experience of unity that truly understands and honors diversity.

So what do we do with that longing? How do we mature our fledgling unities?

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Finding a New Unity – Part 2: Kapu Aloha: Reflections on the Aloha `Aina Unity Movement in Hawai`i

Part 2 – Kapu Aloha: Reflections on the Aloha ‘Āina Unity Movement in Hawai’i

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There is another problem that lives in the realm of education and stands in the way of new social unities. It comes from the complex residue of thousands of years of ethnic, racial and gender oppression, embedded in dominant conventional cultures. These are historical wounds that affect whole social classes, races and cultural groups. While modern bigotry and oppression is often of a less dramatic nature than its historical precursors, it is no less effective at dividing common people who otherwise have essentially the same sets of interests when it comes to the environment and social and economic justice. To borrow from the previous blog, “we are all on a global industrial train heading for the same ecological cliff”. But globally our nations, religious sects and independence movements are fighting and bombing one another instead of working together to redirect the damn train.

To make matters more complicated, there are always overlapping legacies of oppression and conflict. For example, in the Middle East, Suni Muslims face historical conflict between Suni sects. Extreme factions practice hatred against Shia Muslims. Depending upon majorities and minorities and which sect controls the government of a particular region, there are class struggles woven into the religious sectarian histories. There are cultural and language differences that make communication challenging, as well as gender oppression issues. Laid over all of that is the global hegemony of the “developed” nations over the “developing” nations. Other examples are: How corporate globalization asserts control over the resources that fuel the global economy; The historical conflicts between Jews, Christians and Muslims and how genocide and land theft of indigenous people is woven through all three cultural and religious histories; The persecution of non-heterosexual persons by patriarchal cultures. Each of these examples are tangled messes, fraught with violence, betrayal and mistrust that dates back generations and hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.

Every place on earth has its particular version of this story. Today, this is all cooking under pressure as the climate shifts and resources become scarce. To sort this out and make peace in such a situation is…not probable. Possible, but not probable. Where do we turn for historical examples that can help us? What kind of time-frames are reasonable? How do transition strategies apply in this situation? What is the current role of the “developed” (industrial) nations and global corporate interests in keeping these conflicts “hot”? How can we cool them? How do we apply our understanding of Natural Law, that everything is connected and that all life requires reciprocity, to apply water to these intense global fires? How can we infuse culture with the human principle that puts kindness, compassion and caretaking at the top of our social priority list?

These are the poignant questions of the global environmental justice movement as well as the growing indigenous rights movement. One thread is coming from the more modern cultural bias of social and environmental activism, with some leaders and spokespeople and many allies from educated middle and upper class backgrounds. The other thread is emerging as indigenous leaders are finding ways to make their voices heard and building connections with one-another, across cultures, in their struggle to protect or reclaim their land and sovereignty. These two movements are coming together to create powerful alliances. But even with shared goals, the histories of betrayal and oppression make these new alliances fragile and tentative, understandably so.

The efforts to build unity in the environmental justice movement, the indigenous rights movement and the global climate justice movement offer us great hope in the global political arena. This mounting global movement holds great promise for effective solutions to both the micro-local and the macro-global conflicts and industrial scale destruction of nature.

However, deeply entrenched historical conflicts have much social encumbrance. They are devouring the human and natural resources that we desperately need for addressing economic justice, ecological decline and climate change. Peacemaking at a scale never before imagined is demanded of us. The shrinking fossil resource base, global finances and human capital being wasted on war must be redirected to ecological restoration and the retooling of our failing carbon energy and agricultural infrastructure. Even to reach a state of transition toward a hopeful future would require a level of social and political will on the scale of a World War. There is much educating and organizing to do.

As hope hangs in such  a precarious balance I tell my  15 year old daughter, whoʻs deep sensitivity to the suffering in this world breaks my heart every day, “Honestly, success is not probable. You are not crazy when you feel hopeless. But success is possible. Where there is possibility, there is always hope. We must always be searching for the best possibilities and give ourselves to them. This is how hope is cultivated. Positive change has always felt hopeless from the point of view of probability. There is nothing new in that. But social transformation is not a mathematical equation. It always has something of the miraculous in it. Just like a seed, hope is the small thing from which great things grow when it is given the conditions that it needs to thrive.”

Again, from the slogan of the New School for Union Organizers that I attended some 25 years ago; “Agitate, Educate, Organize!” How might we apply the insights of the three principles of the New Old Way: 1) Interconnection, 2) Reciprocity and 3) Kindness to this concept of organizing? Where can we look for examples of successful peacemaking across cultures with conflicts that are generations old? Where do we see successful cross cultural alliances being made? Some emergent answers to these questions are sparking from indigenous land guardianship movements, from the deepening exploration of nonviolence, from the practice-based work of liberation educators in Latin America and from the global climate justice movement. The Peacemaker Story of the Iroquois Confederacy is a little known history  that offers our movement great instruction and hope. I think an intelligent weaving of these threads of history, experimentation and improvisation has the possibility to inform a New Old Way forward from this place in history.

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A good place to start this exploration is Hawai’i. The principle of kindness would suggest that when we agitate, we must agitate from a place of exemplary kindness, connection and humility. This is something that has been brought forward by the Aloha `Āina Unity Movement. This movement has called for an upright tone and standard of conduct in their actions with a concept and practice rooted in Hawaiian cultural understanding: “Kapu Aloha”.

“A Kapu Aloha is a multidimensional concept and practice inspired by our kupuna. It has been used within a Hawai’ian cultural context for many years, but this may be the first time it has been brought out into a public sphere. It places a discipline of compassion on all to express aloha for those involved, especially those who are perceived to be polar to our cause. A Kapu Aloha helps us intentionalize our thoughts, words and deeds without harm to others. It honors the energy and life found in aloha — compassion — and helps us focus on its ultimate purpose and meaning. It is a synonym for ahimsa, non-violence, and peaceful consciousness.” Manulani Aluli Meyer, Indigenous Scholar-Practioner, Ed.D Harvard http://hilo.hawaii.edu/news/stories/2015/04/13/kapu-aloha/

From Wikipedia: “A Kapu Aloha is an order of restraint placed by Hawai’ian cultural practitioners, to act with only kindness, love and empathy. During the ceremonial period (enactment proceedings), alcohol, drugs and tobacco are prohibited. This separates the secular from the sacred and begins the ritual process collectively. Total purity is not attained but enacts a separation of ordinary life to mark the activities as sacred.”

The Aloha `Āina Unity movement has given careful attention to the language that it uses to describe itself and its actions. It refuses the label of a “protest” movement. In the words of Manulani Aluli Meyer, summarizing a story shared by Luana Busby-Neff from Molokai, “It is not what it (a movement) stands against that is important, but what it stands for and with.” In the case of Mauna Kea, it stands for and with the mountain and its sacredness. In general, as its name implies, the movement stands with love and respect for the land, “aloha `āina”. The “`āina warriors” are protectors of the land, who identify and align themselves with the greater sacred forces of nature from which we all derive and sustain our existence. They are following the culturally prescribed protocols, conventions and beliefs that have developed over generations of a carefully cultivated relationship with the Hawai’ian lands and waters. This movement is calling upon a “nonviolence” that reaches into the depth of its cultural connection with nature in a way that may be unique in history.

Traditionally, social movements have focused on issues of human justice and liberation. The land and nature have taken a second position (if they are mentioned at all.) Or, environmental movements have focused on issues of ecological degradation without addressing issues of social injustice as integral to their causes. This is shifting dramatically in the environmental justice movement. The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, big international environmental organizations with educated middle and upper class leadership, are all making the connection between social injustice and the destruction of the earth. In the Aloha `Āina Unity movement the sacredness of the land and our human obligation to care for it comes first. Issues of human justice and sovereignty flow as natural consequences from our core connection to the health and sacredness of the land, mother earth. How we treat the earth, our mother, and how we treat one another are intimately related. We are all children of the same mother and the call to care with kindness and compassion is all encompassing in this regard. As Manulani Aluli Meyer points out, “Kapu Aloha is not a new stance or practice, it is simply being brought forward into the public sphere as a force around which to build political power and social will for the first time.”

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This is a hugely significant development with global implications. The leadership of this movement, many of whom are women, is rooted in traditional Hawai’ian cultural practices and family lineages dating back hundreds or thousands of years. The call to unity is encompassed within the concepts of Aloha `Āina and Kapu Aloha. These are values and practices that anyone can embrace regardless of cultural background, but which inherently recognize and honor the first people of the land of Hawai’i. This creates appropriately tiered layers of support beneath the banner of the Aloha`Āina Unity Movement. People of more recent ancestral or personal connection to Hawai’i are welcomed as supporters and even co-strategists, as long as we show humility and authentic respect toward the cultural leadership and protocols and the traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom of Hawai’ian land stewardship.

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For some people of European descent, taking what appears to be the “back seat” creates confusion and even frustration. From my perspective this is a perfect challenge to the hidden assumptions of literate, institutionally “educated” and historically arrogant European cultural influences. We relative newcomers must pay our dues and earn respect from the leaders of our host cultures, however long that takes and however uncomfortable it might make us in the meantime. I will go into how this earning of trust can look in future blogs.

All contemporary people must take responsibility for our ancestral legacies. In the case of persons, like myself, a white skinned person in a male body of almost entirely European ancestry and European-American cultural heritage, the path of responsibility looks very different than for a woman of primarily Polynesian ancestry and Hawai’ian cultural heritage. My next blog will specifically address challenges that persons with ancestry and cultural heritage on the privileged and powerful side of history must face if we are to move toward true cross cultural unity. Obviously, I can only speak as an observer of the challenges of those on the oppression side of this equation, but this is what I see: We are all equally subjects of natural law, whether we choose to abide by this fact or not. We all depend upon the health of this planet to ensure a liveable and abundant future for our coming generations. This fact is the force that compels us to seek unity.

If we put the health of nature and the understanding of the natural laws that, 1) everything is connected and that 2) all life requires reciprocity, at the center of our conscious value system, then we are compelled to seek unity with our fellow humans. If we are compelled to seek unity, then we are compelled to seek peace. Peace only comes from reconciliation. Violence, even in its most subtle forms, never brings peace. At best, coercion sometimes brings a “truce”, a temporary cessation of hostilities, but never peace in the true sense of the word.

In order to achieve our goals for a beautiful, naturally regenerative planet governed by healthy, thriving cultures and societies that embody economic justice, democracy and cultural respect for all, we must all become peacemakers. The communist revolutions of the last century showed us clearly that the means do not justify the ends. A despot is a despot, whether he dresses up as a capitalist or a socialist, as a billionaire CEO or as a Party Commandant. And every person can become a peacemaker no matter what social class, gender or ethnicity.

The path to peacemaking is different for every individual. It is also different for every group of people who already share many points of cultural and political unity. The path to peacemaking is a path, not a destination. It is a process that one commits to, a Practice. And like all practices, the path to mastery is arduous. It asks much of us. And one of the arduous things that peacemaking asks is for each of us to take full responsibility for our ancestral and cultural legacy. There is no one else that can do it. Our forbears don’t have bodies to do it themselves. To the extent that we refuse to take up this responsibility and heal the wounds of history, we pass that responsibility on to the next generation. This has been going on long enough now. As the slogan of Maui County Council Candidate Alika Atay puts it, “Nuff Already!” Passing the buck looks like exactly what it is, global suicide.

Each one of us today carries a mixture of ancestral, cultural, social and personal legacies, some that we were born into and some that we have adopted or that have adopted us. Some of our strengths and wounds are personal and some are based upon class, gender, ethnicity and so forth. So there is no “one size fits all” recipe for responsibility, healing and reconciliation. What is important is that we commit to the path of peace and unity and that we support everyone else to commit to the peacemaking path as well. We can fight for our passionate issues, for economic justice, for cultural autonomy, for sovereignty and respect, to protect and restore nature, to end war, whatever it might be. But our current global condition demands that we must also make peace and build unity across cultures and across the historic divisions of gender, race, class and ethnicity. This is no small task. The further exploration of what this implies is an important intention of this blog.