Another Oak Falls

A few months ago, I wrote about a tree friend of mine that had been cut down on Oak Street. Alas, I found out recently that another of my favorite tree friends has fallen — this time, the one on Campus Lake that I call Leaning Oak.

Some people may think it’s silly for a human like me to call a tree their friend, or to mourn the death of a tree. To these people, I say that you should sit at the base of a tree for a while and see if you feel any differently.

When I sit at the base of a tree, or climb up in a tree’s branches, I find a peace inside of myself that I rarely find anywhere else. Whether you think it’s genetics, or ancestral memory, or some combination of the two, I believe it’s only natural for former tree-dwelling primates such as ourselves to form close and personal connections with the trees, and with all of the plants and animals of the living ecosystems that we call home.

Leaning Oak was almost certainly the tree that I’ve known the longest. At some point early on in my college years, I encountered this peculiar specimen during one of my many walks around Campus Lake here in Carbondale. From the looks of it, this tree had originally grown up much like any of its siblings on the same bank. However, unlike its siblings, this particular tree had laid its roots down very close to the shore.

Was the tree planted so close to the edge by some reckless human? Did it wander there as an acorn, driven by a sense of adventure to explore the boundaries of its earthy home? Or was its placement a random combination of wind, gravity, and other natural forces?

We may never know the answers to these questions. In any case, once the tree had laid down its roots, its fate may have been sealed. For at some unknown point in the life of this tree, a great cataclysm occured. I wasn’t there to witness it, but judging by the results, I can only imagine that a combination of erosion and the tree’s own growth lead to a partial collapse of the shore.

By the time I walked Campus Lake for the first time, this tree had fallen on its side. It leaned out over the lake, almost parallel to the water, with its roots still clinging to the eroded shore. At first glance, its position seemed quite precarious… but after years of occassional visits, I became convinced of just how strong and stable this tree really was.

Leaning Oak meant a lot of things to me at a lot of different times in my life. Sometimes, it was a refuge — a place to go when I felt alone, or afraid, or in need of a renewed connection with the Earth. Other times, it was a source of connection — a place to bring friends and loved ones who I felt would enjoy playing on a tree above the water, or at least enjoy watching me do the same. Other times still, it was food for thought — a place to contemplate the meaning of life, and death, and perseverance, and the connections among the elements.

Most of all, though, this tree was a friend. I see the trees as our elders, and this was a tree who listened and spoke to me on many occassions. And now, through some unknown final act, Leaning Oak is gone.

I first discovered the disappearance of Leaning Oak months ago, when I took a friend out there at night for a visit. For a moment, I thought that I must surely just be missing the tree in the dark. But the path was so familiar that I could have walked it blindfolded — and once I saw the large chunks of gravel lining the shore, I knew that someone had done work to prevent erosion in the spot where Leaning Oak had once stood.

That night was a curious night unto itself, so I didn’t have a chance then to honor the Leaning Oak’s passing. A few days ago, though, I took the time to walk out to Campus Lake specifically to pay my respects for one last time.

It was really good to make it out onto Campus Lake. On some level, that place feels more like an urban park to me than like a wooded lake, with its asphalt paths and abundant evidence of human habitation. However, Leaning Oak was one of the first places where I truly started to see beyond the false dichotomy between humanity and nature… and sure enough, as I sat on that shore, I felt a deeper connection to the Earth and the natural world than I had in months.

I felt sad… almost surprisingly so. I knew that this day would come eventually, even though Leaning Oak’s branches budded with new life every year… but somehow, I always thought that this fateful day would come much later, perhaps even after I had passed on. Something of the character of that side of the lake has been lost… another tree fallen to erosion, just as so many tres in the rest of the world have fallen to an erosion of a different sort.

But really, on another level, I felt almost happy. Surely, it must have been a struggle to stay on that shore… and now, however its final days had unfolded, this tree had found its peace. As I watched the many ripples on the face of the water, I felt a tremendous sense of peace… one tree was gone, but the water still flowed, and the wind still blew, and the wheel of life continued to turn. I felt myself shifting into my forest consciousness, even with so many buildings and roads and people criss-crossing this wounded landscape.

I don’t feel that my time with Leaning Oak can be distilled into any single lesson… but as I looked out on those waters, I knew in my heart that I had learned a great deal since the day, not so long ago, when a young man named Justin had anxiously stepped out onto that Leaning Oak to sit above the lake and look for a moment’s peace.

I have other things to talk about too… news in my life, and news that may go beyond my own little bubble. But I’ll leave that for another entry… perhaps even another day. In the meantime, let me close this entry by thanking Leaning Oak for our time together. And if you’ve never hung out with the trees before, now is as good of a time as any to start!

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I envision a world…

A lot of people complain about the problems in today’s world. Not a lot of people spend their time articulating their own comprehensive vision for how the world could and should be if we’d live up to the best of our human potential. Since my last entry pretty much raged about how we should do something positive and revolutionary, I’ve decided to re-articulate some of the general principles or practices I have in mind when I talk about revolution.

To be honest, I’ve been fending off depression and despair all day today. I’m broke, I’m tired, I’m alone, and none of those are going to change tonight. But tomorrow is another day, with a few clear glimmers of hope on the horizon. And now that I’m actually sitting down and writing this entry, I can feel my spirits lifting at the prospect of actually talking about a lot of what I truly value in life.

I could try to weave this all into some sort of complex theoretical structure, but that tends to get boring sometimes, even for ME… 🙂 So I’d rather just talk about it, point by point.

You may find some of these points offensive or objectionable. You may find some of them silly. You may find some of them pointless. But hopefully we can agree to disagree, because I’m sure that we have SOMETHING in common, and we can work together on whatever that something may be.

Therefore, let me say that I feel that the world would be a better place, and our deepest human potentials would be realized, if many or all of the following came to pass:

* Free Cooperation. This is an overarching theme of all of these points. I believe that as individuals, we have the right to be completely free – and as members of the human community, we have a responsibility to cooperate with others rather than inhibiting their freedom by exploiting or harming them. Basically, I have infinite personal freedom, and my infinite personal freedom ends where any harm to others begins.

* Permaculture. We need to stop destroying our planet’s living systems. The only way to do this in the long-term is by working in harmony with ecological principles rather than against them. On one level, it’s simply a no brainer requirement for our continued survival. Play by the rules of life, or the game is over. On another level, it’s an ethical question – do I respect other life, or do I exploit and destroy it?

* Gender, Sex, and Sexuality. This ties together feminism, queer theory, and other related perspectives on gender. Gender is our personal or cultural identity – our sense of who we are, whether it be purely internal or socially constructed, with terms such as “masculine” or “feminine” or “manly” or “girly.” Sex is our biology – male, female, intersex. Sexuality is our desired sexual activity – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and beyond. Most of the issues we face here fall under the “free” portion of free cooperation. People must be free to embrace whatever gender identity, biological sex, and sexuality they feel defines them. This includes many things such as gay marriage, cross dressing, nudism/naturism, polyamory, and beyond. These can be seen as separate issues, but I see them all as freedom issues. People should have limitless freedom to express themselves in these ways, as long as they’re not interfering with your freedom to express your own gender, sex, and sexuality. If any of the above is against your moral beliefs, then don’t practice it – but stay the fuck out of the way of people’s free right to do so for themselves. [And while you’re at it, ask your deity of choice why he’s so eager to control people’s sexuality.] If you want practical details about how this would translate into law and policy, ask me.

* Science and Consciousness. I won’t really get into this one right now, but I believe that human consciousness is the most powerful force for powerful transformation that currently exists on this planet. I believe that there is so much left unexplored that still needs to be explored. Instead of spending billions on developing weapons or smearing competing politicians, we should be funding programs such as research into energy healing [see below] and advanced human cognition.

* Health and Wellness. Sickness is probably inevitable – but I’ll be bold and say that 90+% of illness that exists today could be cured in a single generation if we simply chose to (A) live differently and (B) dismantle economic and political structures that keep people in poverty. Complimentary and alternative therapies have the power to treat and prevent so many human illnesses that it’s absurd for us to continue ignoring them. The best cure to diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many emotional/mental health disorders is prevention – and that would be possible for the majority of people if we simply took the knowledge that we already have and applied it across the board. Preventable sickness is destructive of our freedom; therefore, any corporation or government that stands in the way of public health is an enemy of freedom and must be dealt with accordingly. This includes marketing corporations, media corporations, junk food distributors, fast food chains, governments that embrace anti-poor and anti-health-care policies, and others. In a better world, we would make it infinitely easier for people to be healthy than it is currently. They would still be free to choose otherwise, of course… but at least they would understand their options, and have access to the best health information and services available.

* Race. Let’s face it — racism is dumb, and racists need to stop their idiotic discrimination and race wars. I reject “white supremacy” and openly speak out against racism of all kinds. I also openly support movements such as the Black Power movement and Indigenous Rights movement where cultural groups that have traditionally been targeted by racists seek to establish and celebrate their own identity and power independent of white authority or other racist authority. I understand that people can be really fond of their own cultures, and that they may like embracing those cultures. Sometimes, this is a great way to celebrate diversity. But sometimes, cultural identity movements lead people to think that their Culture and/or Race is Superior to all others. Well, that’s frankly just baloney, and it’s usually just an excuse for people in power to get more power. We’re all individuals, and trying to put people down because of their “race” is both absurd and horrific. In a better world, we’ll see each person as an individual, and each culture will be celebrated and explored rather than being used as a tool for division and domination.

* Ability. People should be honored and respected for who they are and what they can do, not discriminated against because of what they supposedly can’t do. Granted, some jobs require some physical or mental abilities that an individual may not have. But if there’s any way for them to do the same tasks in their own way, then they should be treated equally and fairly. In a better world, everyone would be supported in doing what they choose to do, and not viewed through the lens of an ability that they may not possess.

* Economics and Class. This is where the “cooperation” aspect of free cooperation comes into play. I believe in a social economy, which means I believe that we should secure our survival and make major economic decisions through social cooperation rather than competition. I don’t believe that we can own the land any more than we can own the water or the air. And I don’t believe that having The State own everything is much better than having The Corporation own everything. We need to think of ownership itself differently than we do now… which can get pretty complex, but not nearly as convoluted as the global banking system that exists today. [Currency speculation? Futures markets? How much cocaine are those jokers on Wall Street snorting in order to believe that such things actually make real-world sense?]

* Worker’s Rights. This relates strongly to the above. Many of the people who make your clothes, make and serve your food, and so on were not paid a living wage for their work. Some of them may live in terrible conditions and suffer abuse in the workplace because their employer is trying to maximize profit. Take the time to learn about where your products come from, whether they be food or clothes or electronics or beyond. Choose to support Fair Trade and other programs that ensure that your products are made by people who are duly compensated for their work. In a better world, the workers themselves would run the workplace, thus ensuring that they were treated fairly.

* Non-Violence and Peace. I’m not a complete pacifist. If you walk into my home and attempt to harm me or my loved ones, I will stop you with whatever force is necessary. But there’s a big difference between personal self-defense and the political mass violence of war. War is an organized campaign of violence that has no place in a sane world. We won’t end it by blowing people up… we’ll only end it by swaying the hearts and minds of the world into acceptance of peace as a core value. And if anyone thinks that we can only sway hearts and minds through the use of violence, then I understand and honor their perspective, but insist that there are other ways which I would be willing to discuss at length.

* Animal Rights. Animals are living beings, many if not all of whom can feel and suffer much like we do. I’ve currently fallen back on eating dairy products because it’s the only way I’ve found at my disposal to maintain body mass while I tend to my adrenal health concerns. But I do still advocate veganism for people who are open to it, and more humane food and clothing options for the people who insist on animal products. Unless your dairy and meat foods specifically say that the animals were free-range and humanely treated, you can be sure that animals suffered greatly to bring you your meal. In a better world, animal product use would be greatly diminished, and animal suffering as it exists in factory farms and similar places would be eliminated. If you want to eat an animal, you can either hunt it yourself or get it from someone who treated it as humanely as possible. [And dairy equals meat, at least in today’s factory farm system. If you’re eating from most dairy sources, animals are dying for your food. Ask me for details if you don’t believe me.]

This has been an incredibly long message for a blog entry…but what’s ironic is that this is all only the tip of the iceberg. Each of these issues has greater depth, and there are more issues left untouched. BUT… to make a long story short, let me sum it up in a single sentence:

I envision a world of free cooperation; a world where permaculture guides our design of living systems; where people of all genders, sexes, and sexualities are free to discover and be who they truly are; where we explore human consciousness to the fullest of its potential; where we are healthier and happier through the benefits of holistic health practices; where we celebrate our ethnic diversity rather than seeing it as a division; where people of all abilities are honored for what they can do instead of limited by what they can’t; where cooperation rather than competition is the basis of our economy; where the workers of the world share fully in the fruits of their own labor; where peace and non-violence are our greatest goal in resolving conflicts; and where all other beings on this planet are seen as valuable and treated with respect and compassion.

Long sentence, eh? Leave it to a philosopher-poet to try to pack all of that into a single sentence… 😉 But seriously… that should give some small inkling of what I believe, and why I believe it’s important. Just talking about it all is more than enough to fill me with renewed energy even at 1:33 in the morning… I really want these good things and more to happen, and I’m willing to work toward these goals, even if I will never see the fruits of such labor in this lifetime. [Freedom of religion, too… I’ll put that one in the next list, eh?]

It’s a long road ahead. Sadly, I’d say that on most fronts described ahead, we have a ton of work ahead of us. But the good news is that we stand on the shoulders of giants who have struggled to further these revolutionary causes since time immemorial. All that remains for us is to finish the job, if we so choose…

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this message, I’m truly impressed. 🙂 Let me know what you think about all of this… and don’t pull any punches here! Let me know how you REALLY feel…

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Plans Within Plans

Dune's Muad'Dib Leads Fremen: This is an image from the movie Dune that I found floating around on the Internet. I used it in the Plans Within Plans entry in my Song of the Trees blog.I watched Children of Dune recently, and I couldn’t help but draw a connection between the classic Dune phrase “plans within plans” and my understanding of what’s going on in the real world right now.

What does this phrase mean? Plans within plans… puzzles within puzzles… layers of plotting and strategizing stacked within one another, like layers of an onion that peel away to reveal yet another miniature onion at their center. Reality is extremely complex… therefore, it should come as no surprise that human social structures, and any efforts to control or modify them, are also extremely complex.

I live here in the United States, in a lovely place called Southern Illinois, in a college town named Carbondale. This is where my story of plans within plans starts.

On the surface, everything is fine… people go to school, go to work, spend time together on the weekends, and do their best to live out the American dream. But this is only the dry, lifeless exterior of the onion — a layer that is easily peeled away. Beneath it lies layer after layer of human drama, with Carbondale being a single point on the surface of this very stinky and tear-jerking onion.

I can see it all so clearly… with each passing day, I discover another layer of the onion. In our personal lives, each of us has a hidden depth that most of us haven’t explored… in our communities, there are problems that we ignore, or deny, or simply overlook… in our nations, there are power struggles from the grassroots to the upper echelons, as people all struggle to secure more money, more power, more meaning.

Even in a place with such a surface level of material abundance and social order, there’s a terrible storm brewing… the technologies of social, economic, political, and ecological control are sweeping across the landscape, devouring more and more of the Earth’s flesh that gives us life. Even as this machine gone mad drives the global climate out of balance, it also wreaks havoc with our inner landscape, teaching us that we can only derive our sense of personal empowerment and freedom through external sources like rampant consumption and subservience to hierarchies of authority.

And amidst it all, there are plans within plans… plots within plots… puzzles within puzzles. The Democrats struggle against the Republicans, even as both parties are controlled to an increasing degree by elite private interests… the Greens push to establish a viable third party that may bring us back from the brink of destruction… the odd mix of Neo-Cons and Dominionists who dominate the global economy and U.S. government openly wage cultural warfare at home and abroad in the service of their ends… the rag-tag alliances of radicals and revolutionaries wage their own counter-cultural war to promote their social and ecological values… and beneath it all, epic mythological tales are unfolding in the collective unconscious as all of humanity struggles to make sense of its existence here on Earth.

On some days, I just go about my daily business and act like I believe the consensus reality that has been drawn over our eyes to conceal the truth. I go to work, I go to meetings, I watch movies and TV, I eat my favorite snacks, I hang out with friends, and I just try to get by as best as I can. But on other days, I feel like I’ve taken too much spice… I walk alone in the world, looking and listening and feeling, observing the ebb and flow of broader energy pathways playing out in all details great and small of our everyday lives. I watch TV, and see more than TV… I listen to music, and hear more than music… I talk to friends and strangers, and see more than just individuals… I recognize myself as a grain of sand blowing in the wind, or a drop of water flowing to the sea. I watch as plans within plans unfold, with many people struggling in many ways to shape the destiny of themselves, their communities, their societies, their planet, and beyond.

Today started as one of the “consensus reality” days, but it’s ending as one of the “awakening” days. I don’t even know what exactly to DO about all of this… but I know that I must do SOMETHING! No matter how big or small my contribution may be… I must contribute SOMETHING to the effort for creating a better world.

I’m reminded of an old Paolo Friere quote:

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

As someone who strives to be an empathic and compassionate person, I’m not quick to share my anger with the world or act in a way that challenges other people’s chosen goals and directions in life. I long for peace, and my longing for peace makes me very hesitant to add to the conflict in the world. But sometimes in the pursuit of peace, we must actively challenge the warmakers so that the inherent harm of their actions may be revealed. On the surface, it seems that this challenge is creating conflict… but really, this sort of challenge is simply bringing pre-existing conflict to the surface so that it can be resolved. It’s a “healing crisis”, if you will… unpleasant, perhaps, but necessary, like when a person raises a fever in order to fight off an infection, or vomits to expel poison from their digestive track.

What we need now more than anything is a healing crisis. There’s a sickness on the rise… a sickness in the hearts of our people, and a sickness in the many lands that we call home. It’s the sickness of oppression… the sickness of war… the sickness of ecocide… the sickness of fundamentalism and fascism, spreading from heart to heart and nation to nation like a plague. If we pretend that everything’s okay, then our hearts and our lands will be laid to waste by this sickness… but if we spark a healing crisis, then we may still have time to heal before the global ecology and economy both collapse all around us in a rather unfortunate and downright apocalyptic manner.

We must be healers… we must be agents of change… we must be revolutionaries. In the past, we’ve simply waited for rulers or heroes to solve these problems for us… and when the right leader arose, we flocked behind them, adding our power to theirs so that they might find the strength to create the needed changes. But that won’t work anymore… we’re handing our power to the wrong people, and the only way to fix what’s ailing us is to reclaim that power for ourselves and use it in a free and cooperative manner to create a new society amidst the ashes of the old.

How do we do it, then? This is something I’ve seen on the horizon for years now… but it’s bearing down on us faster than I realized, and so many people of conscience seem to be caught without a plan of action. We see that something’s wrong… we know that something has to be done… but what do we do?

We must reclaim our power — our power as individuals, our power as communities, our power as whole societies. It’s time to raise energy — material energy, personal energy, social energy, embodied energy — in the service of our beliefs. We need to live our lives with more passion AND more discipline than we ever have before. We need to delve deep into our hearts to find what it is that we truly desire, then leap outward into the world to make that desire manifest no matter what obstacles stand in our way.

As long as we sit around complaining about what the people in power are doing, we’ll always be powerless. But once we discover our positive inner vision for a better life, and unite with others in free cooperation to pursue that vision, then we will have a shared power that no force on this planet can contain.

As always, there are plans within plans, and I believe that the recent victory of the Democrats is on some level just part of a broader plan to reinforce the destructive two-party system. But on the flip side, just because it’s part of a plan within a plan doesn’t mean that there’s not something genuine underlying it. We revolutionaries can also have our own plans within plans… we can point out that the Democrat victory is hollow, yet use it as a foothold to push for far more revolutionary change than the Democrat leadership is calling for.

Dissidence and dissatisfaction are on the rise… and the Democrat conquest of House and Senate is a clear indication that the people of the United States are dissatisfied with the machinations of the Bush administration. Now, while the system is destabilized by a swing from one party to the other, we can seize the moment and demonstrate that what we truly need more than any hollow Democrat victory is a genuine revolution.

We can talk about revolution all day, though, and nobody will listen. Or if they listen, they won’t act. Or even if they act, they won’t step outside of their comfort zone in response to mere talk. If we really want a revolution in this country, what we need is action.

I’m not just talking about mass demonstrations here. Those still have a role to play… but ultimately, the true power lies in “micro-macro demonstrations” — actions which demonstrate our principles and our vision on both a local/individual level and on a regional/global level.

We need to take bold, decisive action that will make our beloved friends and allies in the Green Party look like a bunch of stuffy conservatives. We need to start revolutionary culture collectives that will use performance art, creative arts, media activism, and strategic direct action to actively encourage the flourishing of a growing culture that embodies our social and ecological values. We need to amass the material resources — houses, land, businesses, finances — that will be necessary to enact sweeping changes in the social, economic, political, ecological, and psychological landscape of our society.

Most of all, we need to truly believe in our hearts and minds that our shared visions for an ecological society of free cooperation can — AND MUST — become a reality in our lifetimes. Once we’ve come to feel the power of this belief in every cell of our body, we must take action to make our vision a reality.

Vision becomes passion, which becomes will, which becomes action, which creates reality. Through our vision, through our passion, through our will, we must act now to create the world of our dreams. This has always been the case… but now, that fact has become especially clear to me, and especially important to all of us as we stand on the verge of a time of tremendous change.

It’s a task far too big for any leaders or heroes to accomplish… there will be no vanguard, no central coordinating committee that forms a unified vision for the rising revolution. But that’s a good thing, because we seek to create a world in which each of us is a leader, and none of us are leaders. And finally, in this very generation, we will realize that the only way to do that is for each of us to take up the very personal and very political task of reclaiming our individual and collective power.

I could go into more detail about how I think the particulars will unfold… but that’s more than enough for today. In the meantime, if you take anything from this blog entry, let it be the knowledge that you have a powerful role to play in the changes that are happening all around us. There’s no being neutral here… letting yourself remain captivated by the “status quo” / “apathy” / “consensus reality” is an act of support for the forces that define and control that framework. And simply by breaking free of that frame — by thinking for yourself, discovering your passion, talking with your loved ones about all of this, and struggling to find your own unique place in the coming changes — you are joining in the timeless struggle for the creation of a better world.

The choice is yours… if you have any thoughts to share about it, let me know. In the meantime, I’m going to go get some sleep…

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Breaking the Spell

In 1999, the WTO protests in Seattle sparked a whole new wave of mass demonstrations and radical activism in the U.S. Really, the anti-globalization movement had been on the rise for years in other countries around the globe. But on those fateful days in Seattle, the slumbering giant of radical action was reawakened on the streets of America.

In the ensuing months and years, many different commentaries and documentaries emerged about the significance of those events in Seattle. One of these was a cult classic called “Break the Spell” that was embraced by many militant young dissidents for its focus on themes such as police violence and property destructions as a means of insurgent revolutionary action.

I’m not going to examine the movie itself. That would be too easy… 🙂 Instead, I’m going to examine the overall theme of “breaking the spell” – its strengths, its failures, and the future as I see it.

A lot of people who see property destruction at demonstrations don’t understand it. What’s the point of smashing a window, or setting a dumpster on fire? In some cases, these are purely tactical actions that are meant to interfere with police efforts at crowd control, or cause financial harm to an offensive organization. But in other cases, they are attempts at communication – what some would call propaganda of the deed, or what others might call militant performance art.

What are such people trying to communicate? Well, since I’ve never smashed a Starbucks window, I can’t answer this question with any certainty. But since I’ve often contemplated smashing a Starbucks window, and since I’ve spoken with people who have engaged in political property destruction, I feel pretty confident speaking on the subject.

One of the primary goals of such actions may be to “break the spell.” What spell, you ask? The spell of whatever the person is opposing – Capitalism, or Corporate Dominance, or Western Imperialism, or Babylon, or Consensus Reality, or the Matrix. Whatever language you may use to describe the world today, it’s clear that some people have much more power than others, and it’s clear that certain institutions are used to serve that imbalance of power. Especially in “post-industrial” societies such as our own, the people in power create an elaborate façade that holds this power in place.

There’s tremendous inequity and injustice in the world, and tremendous physical, social, economic, psychological, and ecological violence occurring all around us. And yet, the people in power “cast a spell” to conceal this violence. They make flashy TV shows for us to watch, shiny toys for us to play with, and dazzling storefronts for us to shop in, all as a distraction from the harm that is often perpetuated by those very same media conglomerates, manufacturers, and merchants. Since everything looks so nice and shiny, the casual observer walking into a Wal-Mart, or a McDonald’s, or a Starbucks has no way of knowing that anything is wrong. They walk in, get their products, and walk back out in perfect peace and comfort. This allows them to remain either completely oblivious to the harm of the system, or at least completely at ease in pretending that the violence in the world is far removed from their lives.

This façade of corporate beauty and tranquility is a spell – a conscious effort to create an illusion that manipulates the hearts and minds of the people shopping there. The goal of property destruction, then, is often to “break the spell” – to shatter that illusion of comfort and tranquility – as a way of communicating to the people that something is deeply and inherently wrong with the system.

Sometimes this “break the spell” approach works. Corporations work very hard to create a sense of “brand identity” in our minds, so much so that we see their corporation as having a personality and identity of its own. Since that personality exists in many places simultaneously, it seems so powerful and enduring – perhaps even more real to us than our own personalities, or the personalities of the people we know and love. It all seems so spectacular – and then, a black-clad figure emerges from a haze of teargas and lobs a brick at the face of the corporation. That single brick tumbles through air, as if in slow motion, and kisses the glass. The corporate logo shatters with a shrill squeal of breaking glass, tumbling to the concrete as the brick knocks the products on display into disarray. If only for a moment, the spell has been broken. The supposed “brand identity” of the corporation dissolves into a pile of broken glass, and people come to question the underlying system that is no longer hidden behind a shiny corporate logo.

That’s the theory, anyway – and I must admit that it has a certain aesthetic appeal to me. For the right audience, it works brilliantly, demonstrating that the corporation’s brand identity is a façade that often masks very harmful business practices and contributes to the overall inequity of our society and planet.

But for the wrong audience – which is the majority of the U.S. population – this form of action does absolutely nothing to break the spell. In fact, it can be turned around into a means of reinforcing the spell! The glass is broken – and yet, it is quickly replaced. The corporation has been publicly shamed – and yet, the people doing the shaming are painted as violent and irrational. In the end, the corporation may be elevated several notches – its enduring power proven by its quick recovery from such vandalism, and its status as innocent victim proclaimed by all of its supporters (and a few moderate opponents as well).

Property destruction, then, is not a terribly effective means of “breaking the spell.” Non-violent mass demonstrations are significantly more effective – but even they have not yet captured the imagination of the majority of the population in the U.S. How, then can we break the spell in a way that is both in harmony with our goals and strategically effective in achieving them?

I was hoping you’d ask me that!

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. In fact, I don’t think that anyone has all of the answers. But what I do have is questions – the very questions that may help us to develop more effective means of breaking the spell.

My first question is this: who is our target audience?

Really, I feel that WE are our first and foremost target audience. The people in power have spent trillions of dollars to control us psychologically, socially, economically, and ecologically. How much of that control do we still have internalized in our psyches and our relationships? Before we go around trying to liberate other people from the controlling effects of our society, we first need to liberate ourselves. How do we do this? That’s a good question! I think it varies for each individual and group that’s asking the question. But really, it involves using a combination of consciousness-raising, narrative storytelling, group brainstorming, and direct action. These and other related tactics can cleanse our consciousness of any lingering baggage and demonstrate to us in a very real and compelling way that another world is indeed possible, right here and right now.

Once we’ve started on that, though, we can’t stop there. So who’s next? Ideally, I would see this as our allies in our community – the more moderate individuals who sympathize with some of our critiques, but disagree with others, or are too wrapped up in their own concerns and obligations to focus on taking their own radical action. In order to help them to “break the spell,” we need to understand their perspective and supply them with the tools for changing that perspective. What cultural symbols or ideas speak most powerfully to them? How are these symbols tied into the existing system? How could they possibly be tied into a more equitable, just, peace-loving, and ecologically harmonious system? Maybe for them, our tremendous passion for revolutionary change can only be conveyed on a sleek new website, with shiny pastel colors and flashing “green consumerism” banner ads, coded in the language of flowers, and butterflies, and rainbows, and maybe occasional snippets of slightly dark humor. It may or may not be our first choice in aesthetics – but as long as we’re “breaking the spell” of domination and manipulation by the people in power, do the aesthetic details really matter?

Eventually, we really will have to reach out to people whose perspectives are very different from ours – the people we may currently see as opponents. We’ll have to find ways to “break the spell” for them too. I have ideas about how to do that – but there’ll be plenty of time for that later. In the meantime, our focus is on ourselves and our allies.

How do we go about this work? How do we shift our own consciousness, and the consciousness of our allies, away from the controlling influences of the people in power, and into the new creative expressions of our own reclaimed power?

Good question! To be honest, I don’t really have any answers yet. But at least I’ve raised the right questions, eh? My only suggestion on this final parting point is that we gather together, in groups large and small, to discuss and act on this question. Really, I feel that it’s going to take a combination of many strategies and tactics, including but not limited to street theatre, radical study groups, creative arts, media activism, and beyond. The goal is not only to expel the unwanted influence in our lives, but also to create positive and independent alternatives. Because really, if our thoughts are dominated by fears of black-clad storm troopers and corporate tycoons walking the halls of power, and that’s what all of our songs and stories and dances and actions are about, then we are simply lending power to those archetypes. Instead – once we’ve taken fair time to call out and critique what we oppose – it is essential that we focus as much of our attention and energy as possible on the world that we long to create. Only then, with our heart’s positive visions held clearly in our minds, will be finally be able to take action to “break the spell.”

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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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