Earth Activist Training

I just returned from the Earth Activist Training at Diana’s Grove in Missouri. After two weeks of intensive learning about permaculture, activism, and beyond, I have plenty to share…

First of all, on a personal level, this was a profoundly renewing and healing experience. Diana’s Grove ( http://dianasgrove.com/ ) is situated on about 100 acres of beautiful land in the hills of rural southern Missouri. My ride and I rolled into the Grove a couple of days early, so I got to spend some time adjusting to this environment by walking the land alone and helping out a bit with preparations for the coming weeks.

There are no words to convey the magic of this land! On top of the main hill, there’s a community building where meals are served and many classes are held. There’s also an extensive dog rescue program that takes in stray/abandoned dogs and locates new homes for them. So throughout my time at the Grove, my classmates and I were often accompanied by canine companions ranging from adorable little puppies to older dogs of many breeds and sizes.

At the bottom of the hill, there’s an open barn that has been converted into a community meeting space. This is where we had several of our classes, along with our end-of-session talent show and dance party. Nearby, there are two gardens, a couple of cabins, and a gift shop that supports the work of Diana’s Grove.

Just beyond the barn and at the foot of the big hill lies a great field filled with tall grasses and plants. This part of the land includes a large mowed labyrinth, a lone tree preserved in the midst of the field, and pathsways to the camping areas, stream, and other parts of the land. Included among these other areas are meeting spaces, ritual spaces, and my personal favorite — Brighid’s Grove, which is a meeting and ritual space sacred to the Goddess Brighid.

Living in a cabin on this land for two weeks was a wonderful experience — and yet, even this was overshadowed by the Earth Activist Training program itself.

The two main teachers for this EAT were Starhawk, whose writings I’ve read with great enthusiasm in the past, and Charles, a man I was less familiar with who has a great deal of knowledge and experience to share about earth activism and permaculture. They also had a student teacher named Chris who supported their efforts and presented on a number of topics of his own. Together, they lead us in a course of lectures, discussions, and hands-on learning and design activities that kept us very busy for the full two weeks. To be honest, each individual day felt more like several days worth of learning because we covered such a range of information and activity… 🙂 But somehow, they managed to weave a little time magic and pack all of that education and experience into two weeks.

The information was incredible, and hard to convey even in an extended blog entry. Our topics of study included:

* Basic permaculture principles;
* Protracted observation (actually LOOKING at existing systems before doing your design);
* Permaculture activism (events at mass demonstrations and events in local communities);
* The design process and group process (consensus);
* Political activism related to peak oil and other topics;
* Working with water as a renewable resource;
* Bioremediation;
* Soil ecology, compost, and soil health;
* Plant guilds and animals;
* Microclimates;
* Green building and renewable energy;
* Media literacy and activism;
* Making biodiesel;
* Urban permaculture strategies;
* Agroforestry;
* More on group process and consensus decision-making;
* Community Economics;
* Climate Change;
* And beyond! 🙂

It would be impossible for a single human being to be an “expert” in all of these areas. But it’s possible — and in fact, essential — for us to know the basics of all of these topics and how to apply their wisdom in our daily lives and our community infrastructure.

Before attending the EAT, I had already been aware of most if not all of these issues on some level. But during the course of the training, I learned more about each issue and how to weave them together into the design of our living systems. It’s not enough to simple consider these issues as abstract and disconnected points of discussion. Instead, we have to learn as much as possible about them so that we can weave them into a holistic understanding that will serve as the underpinning of how we look at living systems and design them in accordance with ecological principles and observations.

In addition to all of this learning, it was wonderful to connect with others who shared in this interest in permaculture and community involvement. There were 20 students total, along with the three instructors and the staff at Diana’s Grove who sometimes joined in on lunch discussions and open evening sessions. Spending two weeks with such bright and loving people was an experience that I will always treasure… and I hope that many of our connections will stay in place even over the geographical distances that now separate us.

Between the joys of the land, the power of the training program, and the opportunity to connect with all of these wonderful people, I feel incredibly blessed — and incredibly empowered to continue and renew my active involvement in Carbondale and Southern Illinois. It’s going to take me a while to digest all of this and find the best ways to apply it in our community… but in the meantime, I’ll be reaching out to many of my friends here to share what I experienced and learn what I can from all of you about the best ways that we in Southern Illinois can work together to create a better life for ourselves and our living planet.

I’ll have plenty of news soon about new projects in our area and current events with the many wonderful projects that always exist. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line and say hello…

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Superman Returns. Swell, eh?

Now that Superman’s new movie has hit the big screen, it’s time for me to delve into my latest reflections on this classic superhero. I’m sure that other people are doing this too… but most of them probably aren’t tree-hugging anarchists like me, eh? So here goes…

First of all, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I wore my now-infamous Superman costume to the local corporate movie theatre on opening night, where I was greeted with a mix of curious glances, chuckles, smiles, and even friendly conversation from strangers. For a few moments, as I sat there looking up at the pre-movie slide show of ads, I felt a bit restless. After all, Superman usually only busts out the suit when it’s time to go fly off and save the day. But with so many fellow Superman fans wearing T-shirts all around me, I was already in the mindset – and soon enough, the movie started.

Even though I’d seen half a dozen separate previews, I didn’t know what to expect. But from the moment the classic Superman theme started playing, I felt like a kid again. For over two hours, I watched a great drama unfold before my eyes. Some people might say that superhero stories are too simplistic – and when they’re poorly done, that’s a very valid critique. But when they’re at the finest, superhero dramas leap the giant chasm between simplistic stereotypes and epic archetypal narratives. And the story of Superman, for me anyway, is an archetypal narrative that speaks with tremendous power.

Of course, the anarchist tree-hugger in me has a lot of critiques about certain aspects of Superman’s story. But I can make these very serious critiques while still adopting a very playful and welcoming attitude toward our good friend Kal-El.

Yes, the whole idea of a superhero is at times paternalistic and disempowering to the “common man” (and the “beautiful woman”) who is being saved. And more often than not, Superman is a rather apolitical (or even counter-revolutionary) figure who simply helps to maintain law and order rather than addresses the deeper roots of crime, poverty, violence, etc.

But even in the movies, comics, and graphic novels, Superman does have his moments where he shines in radical critique of violence, greed, war, poverty, and other political issues. This still leaves a huge gap in the overall character development as Superman usually fails to address most of the greatest political issues of our time… but if you can set aside all of that surface-level buzz for a moment, Superman becomes a very empowering character.

In MY version of the Superman mythos, the potential for political awareness and empowerment of the masses will play out much more fully. But in the meantime, the existing narrative is an incredible story of personal empowerment that every Superman fan can tap into whenever they’re looking for inner strength and inspiration.

What’s so empowering about this story? Basically, Clark Kent is an Everyman – a polite, quiet, often geeky man who tends to be clumsy and often goes unnoticed. On the surface, he seems to be one of the weakest and most unimportant characters in the whole story. But when trouble arises, he discovers an almost invincible strength inside of himself. He sheds the mask of meek propriety and leaps dramatically into the foreground of the narrative. He could easily use this strength of his to become a godlike dictator, bending the entire world to his will. Instead, he chooses to serve humanity, lending his strength and his very life to the service of the common good.

Of course, when taken as a tale of personal empowerment, there are a few glaring flaws. Only one man has this power, and everyone else is saved only through his grace. Other characters, from Lois Lane to Jimmy Olsen to the nameless citizens of Metropolis, can only plead for Superman’s aid and bask in his glory when he single-handedly saves the day. Therefore, the story of Superman (as it exists so far) doesn’t usually offer us a model for how the people at large can find a similar sense of empowerment and heroism.

Moviegoers who are too meek to embrace their inner Superman are stuck in a perpetual Clark Kent role – looking outside of themselves for a Superman to save the day, and never even realizing the tremendous power that lies just beneath their own mask. And even worse, moviegoers with inflated egos may take Superman’s sense of power too far, feeling that it’s their personal mission in life to dictate and dominate rather than listen and serve. (Let’s face it – we’ve all met the real life equivalent of General Zod, and he’s really just a dark mirror of what Superman could be on a bad day.)

In a nation like ours that is already sliding deeper into fascism, this sort of lone superhero tale presents a very real risk of reinforcing some people’s belief that the USA is a global superhero/superpower/savior that holds all of the power and carries the heavy burden of solving all of the world’s problems. This very belief is leading many otherwise upstanding citizens to fall into line behind policies and practices that ultimately do more harm than good. But at the same time, Superman’s deep appeal to our sense of personal empowerment can just as easily be used to turn people AWAY from fascism. If we truly take to heart the message of using our power to help and server others, and combine this with a good dose of critical thinking, then Superman’s story can become a tale that inspires us to revolutionary action. Lex Luthor and/or General Zod becomes a stand-in for every authoritarian who tries to enrich themself at the expense of the people and the land, and the Superman fan becomes a heroic champion of revolutionary principles such as freedom, true grassroots democracy, ecological integrity, and so on.

On some level, I’m still a Superman fan simply because the original motion picture and other TV incarnations were such an inspiration to me during my childhood. Out of all of the masculine archetypes out there in pop culture, he was really the only one who truly appealed to me on such a deep gut level. Along with some real-life heroes, and a few other fictional characters such as the Avatar, Superman truly inspired me to believe that I should be a good person, and that I had the power within to do so. As early as preschool, when other kids were saying that they wanted to be doctors, firefighters, or astronauts, I was saying that I wanted to be Superman. And now, as I set about the task of serving my community and my planet in whatever ways possible, I can feel the echoes of that Superman archetype in my life today, even after so many other more developed and epic tales have come to my attention. This is why I write about Superman again now, and why I probably will continue to write about him for the rest of my life.

But on another level, I’m a Superman fan because I can still feel the tremendous relevance that he has for the people of this culture and all who are touched by it. Positive masculine role models are hard to come by in this culture, and Superman is almost certainly both the most prevalent and the most positive heroic archetype out there for the men in our society. If we continue to embrace him as our own, in spite of certain serious critiques that we may have, then we will ensure that he won’t simply be used by the corporate media as a tool for promoting their own nefarious agendas.

Once I finish my two current writing projects, I intend to write a novel about Superman. In the meantime, it’s been thoroughly enjoyable to see his return to the silver screen – and to a renewed place of prominence in my life, and the lives of those around me.

If you have any thoughts or feelings to share on the subject, I’d love to hear them… in the meantime, it’s almost 6 pm on a Sunday, so it’s time for me to go up, up, and away to a Big Muddy Independent Media Center meeting. (And yes, I do find it amusing and ironic that a Superman fan such as myself is working on media issues and occassionally acting as an independent reporter. Am I a mild-mannered reporter like Clark Kent? Surely, the real Clark/Superman/Kal-El would feel ethically inclined to drop out of the corporate Daily Planet scene and join the IMC movement…)

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treesonG si eman yM

(: …gnoseerT wodahs dna sdrawkcab klat ot ekil I dna ,treesonG si eman yM

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The Adventurous Media Conference

A few weeks ago, I traveled with some friends to the annual Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio. I probably would’ve had more extensive notes about the conference if I’d written this blog entry sooner… 🙂 But hey… that’s life, eh? Before those memories get too foggy, I’d like to share my reports and reflections about the experience.

First of all, I always love a good road trip. Don’t get me wrong, though – Southern Illinois is great, and I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life here. But every once in a while, when there’s something important going on in a faraway land like Ohio, I like to hit the road and go where the spirit moves me. And if I can share the journey with a small group of fellow travelers, then that’s even better!

That’s exactly what happened for this conference. Four of us from the Big Muddy IMC – Chris, Joe, Courtney, and I – piled into a car together for the long and arduous journey to the distant land of Ohio. Over the course of the next three and a half days, we would have quite an adventure!

The first part of the adventure was the trip itself. One of my favorite parts of a good road trip with friends is the amount of time we spend talking with each other. I got to talk about my two upcoming books and my unofficial plans for a third book once these two are finished. I also got to hear about everyone else’s thoughts about the upcoming conference, the media, politics, and life in general. Let’s face it – putting four independent thinkers in a little metal box together for twelve hours is bound to lead to some interesting conversation! And the music coming from the CD player was the perfect soundtrack for this eclectic conversation – a mix of Dead Prez, Celtic folk, Weird Al, and a dozen other random artists. Maybe this soundtrack was a part of what brought the weirdness down upon our wayward adventuring party…

The weirdness probably started in Indianapolis. We decided that part of the city’s “brand identity” must include burnt-out lights, because it seemed like every other sign or building had a light missing on it somewhere. Joe was at the helm, and we started looking for a place to eat. In spite of the fact that Joe had lived in this very area for years, we ended up wandering for a while as the streets baffled us with unexpected twists and turns. Finally, we settled on a rather unremarkable pizza chain, where we sat around eating pizza, watching the Daily Show, and talking.

Once we hit the road again, things went back to normal until we were well into Ohio. But somehow, popping in that Weird Al CD must have sent us into another space-time warp. We missed a turn somewhere near our destination and ended up in a corner of the Twilight Zone where the same highways cross each other at multiple points, leading to a maze of similar but distinct crossroads that baffled our mundane minds. Eventually, we doubled back to a point that we recognized and found our way to Bowling Green.

By the time we made it into town, late night was giving way to early morning. We weren’t able to find the place where we were supposed to stay for the night, and the conference registration wasn’t going to be open for a few more hours. A police officer pulled us over – but luckily, he just gave us a warning for the burnt-out taillight and directions to the place on campus that we thought we were looking for. Ultimately, though, we realized that we were just going to have to wait for conference registration to start. Since we didn’t have a place to sleep – or much time to sleep, for that matter – we decided to park in a nearby parking lot, spread out a few blankets in the grass, and lay down for a while.

Sadly, even this brief opportunity for sleep was denied us. As soon as we started falling asleep, a police car drove past, a mere ten feet from our spot in the grass. Luckily, they somehow didn’t see us, because they probably would have told us to stop loitering. (It’s a good thing that I know how to turn activists invisible, eh? 🙂 But their visit was enough to keep us awake a while longer – and soon, a train approached, ensuring that we wouldn’t get any sleep. So, we packed our things, walked over to the student center, and discovered that they were open a little early.

We had finally officially arrived on the scene.

The student center was very upscale and new-looking, with white and off-white halls accented at points by expanses of glass and clusters of pastel beams and pillars. The little corner of the center that we discovered first had a big screen plasma TV, a sleek Internet terminal, a few couches, and a little arcade. Even though it was still very early, Courtney and I decided to play in the arcade, while Chris used out the internet and Joe took a nap on a couch.

One of my favorite experiences of the morning was checking out a game called Dance Dance Revolution. I’d heard about it before, but never actually played it. Basically, you get to listen to loud, peppy, electronic-pop music and dance in step with the dance moves displayed on the giant screen. Courtney had played it before and did really good at it, but I’d never played it before and mostly just bombed, even on the beginner’s level. Even so, it was fun, and I vowed to check it out in Carbondale sometime.

Registration didn’t start for another hour, so we passed our time with a few video games, a bit of Internet use, a few chuckles at the sight of Ghana beating the U.S. at soccer, and some snacking and napping. Then, it was time for what we’d traveled all this way for: The Conference.

Friday’s workshops focused on various aspects of media literacy. What role does the mass media play in our lives? How do they use tactics such as advertising psychology, marketing research, etc. to define the debate on key issues and manipulate our very perception of reality? What can we do to understand and respond to this media dominance? Since none of us were new to the idea of media literacy, some of this information seemed a bit introductory. However, a few of the workshops gave us new ideas about how important it is to talk about media literacy. Not everyone is aware of the way that the mass media operates, so it’s often worth it to take the time to explain the basics of media literacy and offer interactive exercises so that people can discover the importance of these issues for themselves.

At some point on this first day, we eventually found our way to the community center where we’d be spending the next two nights. It almost reminded me of the Interfaith Center here in Carbondale because it was run collaboratively by several local Christian organizations and had a similar “living room” look and feel. But it also had the flavor of an anarchist crash pad, with a radical reading library upstairs, couches and offices on the ground floor, and a basement with extra floor space and a little kitchen. We had a few good discussions at night and in the morning while we were hanging out here, and I left a free copy of Revolution of One in their library.

On the second and third days, more of the radical critique and in-depth discussion of issues came into play. There were so many good workshops scheduled in conflict with each other that it was hard for us to decide among them. But more often than not, we split up into two, three, or even four separate workshops. I think that each of us took notes, and we all shared our thoughts on the workshops with each other during the breaks. All in all, I feel like we were a good, well-balanced, egalitarian affinity group. Each of us had our own distinct but related interests, and together, we formed a good team. We each just went to whichever workshop interested us the most, and I think that we all ended up feeling that the most important ground had been covered.

We learned some very valuable information through these workshops – information about media literacy, specific issues that aren’t represented well in the mass media, the importance of independent media, specific tech information, organizing strategies, fundraising ideas, techniques of investigative journalism, and more. But on some level, I feel that the information itself was only the tip of the iceberg. Really, our deepest reward for attending this conference was found in the experience itself – making connections with other activists, and being inspired and renewed in our own commitment to creating positive change.

For example… each of us made at least a few personal connections with activists from other cities. I met someone from Bloomington, Indiana who I’d seen a year earlier at one of my Revolution of One events. We all met Hannah from Prometheus Radio, who we’d heard from before over email and who appeared on Democracy Now! later that week to discuss issues of low power FM and net neutrality. It’s one thing to see such people on TV and the Internet and know that they exist in theory. It’s another thing entirely, though, to actually talk to them, take down their phone numbers and emails, make a personal connection, and discuss ideas that we can all bring home to our respective communities.

Another example was the poetry event that they had on one of the nights. We really need to work on developing a radical poetry scene here in Southern Illinois, because this poetry that we encountered in Bowling Green wasn’t just poetry – it was an EXPERIENCE. I could feel the poets tapping into profound personal experience and using it to channel the suffering, the rage, the love, the humanity, the vitality of whole groups of people and the very Earth beneath our feet. I know that some of my more atheistic friends may not like it when I use words like “magic” to describe such profound experiences – but what is it, if not magic, when you witness someone speaking truth so powerfully and deeply that everyone present is moved by the experience? I knew that I’d been in the presence of powerful magic, and I vowed to carry that sense of deep feeling, power, and poetry back to my work and life in Southern Illinois.

Finally, in addition to everything that I learned and experienced from the other people at the conference, it was an incredible joy simply to have a whole weekend to share with a few of my fellow revolutionaries. As we walked the halls and streets of Bowling Green, we had a myriad of fun, exciting, empowering and downright weird experiences together. I can’t speak for any of them, but I certainly felt like this conference brought us all a new sense of interconnection. The weekend gave us plenty of new ideas for our common work together back home, and it also brought us a greater sense that we were in this struggle together.

There’s a lot of work to do, and things in our community, our society, and our world are probably going to get much worse before they get much better. And now that we’re back in Carbondale, the usual distractions of work, school, bills, and other mundane drains are once again serving to challenge our focus on our shared commitment to creating positive change. But at least for one weekend, we were in The Zone together – and now, we’re left with a set of fresh new ideas, and a renewed motivation to make the best of them a reality.

So, those are probably the highlights of the trip for me. (Along with an extended detour into the Twilight Zone that I’ll be happy to tell you about if you’re into that sort of thing… 🙂 If you want more information though, I encourage you to ask Chris, Joe, Courtney, and me about our thoughts and experiences. And where’s a good place to find us? At the Big Muddy IMC meetings, of course! 🙂 Yes, the Big Muddy IMC is the place in Southern Illinois where many (though not all) of our new ideas will be put to the test. So if you’re in Southern Illinois, feel free to stop by the Big Muddy IMC on any Sunday at 6 pm for one of our meetings. I can’t promise that your experience will be as wild and wacky as one of our road trips… but you’re bound to learn something new, have a good time, make new connections, and find a dozen ways that you too can Be the Media.

After all… if we don’t Be the Media… if we don’t write our own articles, show our favorite movies, talk on our own community radio stations, etc.,.. then what will we be left with? Basically, we’ll be left with a world based on the ideas of Rupert Murdock and half a dozen other rich old white men just like him. If that’s the kind of world that you want to live in, then go ahead – sit back, relax, and flip on the Fox News Channel. But if you’re looking for something different… you know where to find us.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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