The Darwin Variant, and/or Love of the Fittest

The chaos grows and grows, everything around us faltering, falling. Who do we need to be and who are we becoming?

Once I was in a room with Margaret Wheatley, one of the people whose thinking on emergence and complexity helped me understand emergent strategy. I (or someone else) asked how we bring down massive systems through small, complex organizing. She said, essentially, that systems that are top heavy will inevitably collapse from their own imbalanced weight.

How do we survive these falling systems? Especially when many of them need to fall? How do we prepare for the opportunities in collapse?

I am thinking about that in this era of Covid, climate catastrophe, natural and unnatural disasters (this week there are wildfires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and disaster capitalism feeding off of all of it), cultural shifts, and long-term war consequences from indigenous struggles locally in the U.S. to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s all connected – decisions made from a competitive, supremacist, dominant mindset lead to top heavy economies and infrastructures, which inevitably collapse, leaving the survivors to contend with the detritus of empire.

Much of the crisis now feels out of our hands – even to me as a fairly connected radical movement person, most days it feels like a series of unstoppable events, to which I can offer prayer and donations, witness and attention. There are so many frontlines, each equally important to the soldiers in that particular battle. Stepping back to see it whole, there’s definitely the sense that we are trying to hold back tsunamis by plugging a million holes in a dam.

I realize that this sense of total pending and unfolding disaster is all over my Covid responses, thoughts and interactions. I am writing to face this disastrous feeling within me, to see if I can center a different perspective down in myself.

As both an antiwar and climate activist, I remember the devastation I felt when I first realized we weren’t going to be able to stop the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. People were not going to sustain direct action, they were still going to pay their taxes towards the war, and be satisfied with resistance in the form of liberal punditry that changed nothing. This week we leave behind another nation long violated, knowing it will be eaten alive. It has taken so long to say, with humility, we lost a war we should never have been fighting.

With the climate catastrophe, I realized in my gut that we weren’t going to pivot our nation, our states, our towns to be in a just transition, not in time. Organizers inch forward proposals of survival and boundary, documentation and data, the responses much smaller and slower than the pending crises demand. We are up against capitalism, which feels so big, has so many heads. It is all so daunting. It is still the right work. But how do we make it matter? How do we meet the moment?

It could feel reasonable to give up the fight, all the fights, in light of this overwhelming comprehension of our species in its limitations. But then we are also in a period of massive cultural shift around race, anti-Blackness, rape and patriarchy. Systems designed to allow the total violence and control of those given power through a mythical supremacy are suddenly exposed down to the blueprint. Again, that labor of exposure is largely done by organizers who cleared space for the truth to be told with calls of Black Lives Matter and Me Too. We are rejecting these systems of harm in policy, action, and interpersonal encounters.

It’s all crumbling, concurrently. We are living through both the devastating fall of systems that guarantee life, and the necessary fall of systems that uphold violence.

So then Covid enters, stage right. It’s fast moving, wreaking havoc along the fault lines of existing vulnerabilities – those struggling to piece together enough inside of these multiple intersecting crises are hustling, hungry, taking risks to go to work, trying to survive eviction and exposure. Nations who let collective thinking lead are responding intelligently, and then there’s us.

Since the beginning, Covid has asked one thing of us: act collectively. First, the collective actions were maintaining the social distance of breath, hand washing, wearing masks. Then it was staying home unless you were an essential worker. And quarantining if you were sick. Then quarantining even if you were not sick. Doing work and community through virtual connections. And then, most recently, it’s been getting a vaccine that reduces the hospitalizations and deaths of those exposed to the virus. I cannot truly comprehend how many people have died as we figured out the necessary actions to take together. And now people are dying because we struggle to take collective actions.

To be fair, we are also in a period of peak socialized distrust. The divisions between us are dangerous and near total – we look to divergent news sources, have different conversations, suspect different aspects of government (from police to politicians to scientists) of wanting us surveilled, tracked, controlled or dead. Four years of a destructive and immature president did result in a wall, but not the border wall he threatened. The wall that now feels so solid in the U.S. is a cultural one that has deep roots and an ancient design, 3D printed hateful troll bricks stacked on top of colonial ruins.

Trying to be curious, to ask a question, to express a fear, to make a request, to assume a commonality – all of it quickly gets interpreted as building the division. Inside of this, on whatever side is for life moving towards life, I have been asking myself about boundaries, expectations, solidarity, and collective action. And love.

I now live by these words from my friend Prentis Hemphill, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Love. Not tolerate or survive, but love. When I speak these words, as reminder, as mantra, they give me hope that no one has to be disposable, cut off from that vast connectivity of love. It’s just a matter of distance.

I learned some time ago that not everyone was going to survive and see liberation, or right relationship with the earth, in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to be in vibrant, accountable communities in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to choose love. Not everyone was going to even be aware that they could want or need such interdependence. For so many people, it feels impossible to experience love, to give and receive that sacred extension of adoration, devotion, care, growth, belonging, loyalty and shared experience.

But with distance, perhaps even as far away as the moon, I can always see the species as lovable. I can see that everyone deserves that deep belonging which displaces greed and grasping. I can see us, young, beautiful, powerful, clumsy, tender, selfish – and generally lovable, like a rambunctious and curious child. Or sometimes lovable like the traumatized, neglected bully child who needs so much more love and attention to soften and trust and connect again.

With enough distance, I can love even those who, up close, hate me, or hate the earth, or hate anything different from them. I know “only love can conquer hate.” From far away I can see the haters of the world – those who hate nature, difference, complexity, freedom in others – in the grip of their own spiritual work, which is daunting, which devours from within. Knowing almost nothing of the mysteries of the universe, having only our own planet’s wisdom to learn from, I deduce that even the haters are processing something for the whole, though it may be something toxic, or something heading towards extinction.

With that guidance, I have been earnestly asking myself: what is the distance at which I can love those who choose individual freedom over collective care in the short-term, at the cost of a future? Those who choose to go unmasked? Those who still don’t wash their hands? Those who breathe and cough too close to me? Those who have access to and capacity for the vaccine and choose not to take it?

This year has been a brutal and necessary reminder that control and manipulation don’t work, for anyone involved. I have had to practice self-awareness of my own controlling nature, I have had to soften my grip on a fearful future narrative and return to the humility of the present. I am not in control of any choices or boundaries but my own. I cannot manipulate others into collective action, into choosing life, not even with all my best words. I can only be vulnerable, I can only live into my own values, I can only invite others to join me, and to teach me.

Collective action is still made up of individual choices, which is the beauty and bane of our species. Especially in the colonized capitalist borders of the U.S. Even in the face of policy and punishment, the American way is to choose individual thinking and action under pressure, to fight for superiority on any hill. This focus on dominance over the living rather than partnership with life is how we have racism, rape culture, climate catastrophe, economic disparity, war and disease all in rampant disaster states at the same time.

It is perpetually disgusting to contend with the reality that these disasters benefit a bloated elite. And too many of us participate in our small scale versions of their individualistic and hoarding worldview, thinking we are better than each other and the earth, deserve unlimited resources and access, and should never have to adapt to protect others.

This is humanity at our worst. How will we change?

At a certain point, even if collective action feels far away, there has to be an awareness of the pattern. We have to develop the systemic intuition to sense that the same glitch is present throughout all the systems. Thinking that your choices only impact you or those you immediately know – that you needn’t be concerned with or accountable for the results – is supremacist thinking at the root. It gets packaged as freedom and independence, but we are not individual entities. Humans, like all of nature, live within systems of relationship and resource. Our freedom is relational. Individualist supremacy is a delusional concept, perhaps safely enjoyed as fantasy but not to be applied as common practice. One way to see all of the current crises is as a single delusional wildfire consuming time and space.

What do we do though? How do we practice another way inside so much crisis?

I have a very small circle of beloveds now. Covid required me to get clear about who I absolutely had to be in contact with, who I would invest my time in arguing boundaries with, who I would risk my life to go see. Relative to the number of people I’ve met, the number of people I’ve marched with and for, the number of people on the side of justice and liberation who populate this earth…it turns out there’s a tiny handful that I can actually hold onto. And I now believe my work is to be a good member of the human flock with that small number. Yes, I can still sing out my birdsong to the whole forest. But I move in community, in relationships that are visionary and loving at the root.

I light candles every day around my hope that the distance at which I can love most people in this era isn’t that mortal boundary between life and death.

Covid keeps adapting, like a shepherd herding us as a group through the one gate that leads forward. When we think we alone can run off and stop attending to the whole, a variant emerges to gather us back groupward. The idea of being herded generates such resistance in me, “WE ARE NOT SHEEP!”, “I AM NOT A COW!” (“imspecialimspecialimspecial”)…and yet, are these not also sacred and communal creatures from whom I can learn? In this moment, perhaps theirs is the wisdom we need. Can we adapt to be herd, to be meek, to belong, to move together, to be humble together? Or maybe it’s more simple, more literal: can we be satisfied in a smaller range of physical space? Can we be satisfied inside of necessary boundaries?

It’s quite clear that one activity that keeps the majority of people safe and, coincidentally?, has a positive impact on the planet, is to stay home, stay still, travel less, reduce each personal footprint towards a collective reduction of negative impact. Perhaps variants like Delta will come every time we attempt to return to a normal that the planet cannot sustain.

I heard someone call it the Darwin variant and I can’t stop thinking about that.

The first waves of Covid deaths were our loved ones and strangers who didn’t know what it was. Then those who knew the name and symptoms but didn’t stand a chance. Then those who didn’t realize or trust just how dangerous it was. Now we are seventeen months into the official global pandemic, playing chicken. Most of those who are getting sick and dying in the U.S. now are doing so as a result of choosing not to believe in Covid, in its viral nature, or in the benefits and safety of the vaccine; or those who think they are beyond the reach of guidelines; or those most susceptible to misinformation from unverified sources; or those unable to avoid interaction with others caught up in denial or misinformation, tragically including our precious babies.

They all still expect and need care.

I feel empathy for those who don’t trust the government, even as I feel my own righteous distrust. What’s been helping me in this moment is how much I love the divine work of science. I believe that the sacred force that designed hummingbirds and eagles and the symbiosis of bees and flowers and the desalination of the ocean through vapor and rain also moves through the minds of our scientists. I feel a primal longing for more people to trust in the curiosity-based practice of science. I feel a political need for science to be decoupled from big pharma, which feels so close to how I need movements to be decoupled from big philanthropy. But currently it’s all the same tangled rope of innovation and struggle and funding to which we cling over an apocalyptic abyss. I am not trying to be dramatic here, I’m just being with what is.

Charles Darwin was a scientist whose writing explored many concepts, including one from Herbert Spencer: ‘survival of the fittest.’ The concept reverberates into moments like this. The common misinterpretation is that it means survival of the most physically fit, an ableist view. I’m sure you, like me, have seen able-bodied people argue against Covid safety protocols by saying those with strong immune systems will survive. Many of those I’ve seen take this stance have gone on learn through sickness or loss that that’s not how Covid, or any of our other current apocalyptic conditions, actually work.

I was reminded recently (in public) that Darwin’s own writing points to ‘fittest’ meaning those most adaptive and collectively oriented, those most suited to the immediate conditions. Our immediate conditions are chaotic, frightening, fast-changing and inevitable. What is grossly imbalanced is teetering and falling. What is wildly anti-planet and inhumane is exposed and falling. What is cruel and violent and unfair and ridiculous, it’s all falling.

And the persisting question for me is, what is the work of love in all this falling? Can love help us be the fittest our species has been?

I have sought to offer and experience all kinds of love throughout my life. I have learned that I can love people who will still choose to leave me, to risk their lives, and I will feel grief. I have been learning that there is the big collective massive love I feel for all that lives, and then the tangible offer of love as an energy, resource and commitment which I can only give to those with whom I am in a mutual, consensual and aligned relationship.

I find it hard to love those who hate science, and hate me…not impossible, at least in the big picture setting. But working to actively love those who hate me is immense labor, and if I am honest with myself, it’s generally not something I’m even interested in cultivating in the irreplaceable hours of my remaining life.

Because my love feels rooted not just in myself, but in myself as a fragment of the miraculous natural world, I notice the patterns of hate at the interpersonal, interspecies and global level. There is an undeniable overlap between this resistance to science and the resistance to wear a mask, socially distance and/or vaccinate, in spite of data that affirms the life saving impacts of each choice. And all of that overlaps with the resistance to do right by the earth. The resistance to move beyond capitalism to economic models that allow shared abundance. And the resistance to give up patriarchy and white sociopathy. And national supremacy.

How do I love this vast diversity of human beings, beloved and stranger, who are currently toxic to our collective survival?

I only see one way. If I define love as the willful extension towards spiritual growth that bell hooks and M. Scott Peck told me about, then when I come across all this resistance to the miraculous and collective aspects of our species, I willfully extend my energy towards the necessary and inevitable growth evidenced by that resistance.

It liberates my love to see the resistance to science and nature and interdependence as a cry for help, a sign of how important it is that we grow our capacity to act as collective beings. And, as is my practice, when I can see where that edge of growth is, I seek it in myself. Where in my own life do I still persist in actions that presuppose my importance and supremacy, rather than accept my small role in our collective existence?

I have begun to feel gratitude inside my Covid grief. It’s the result of thinking collectively, even trying to think as a cell or atom of this planetary existence, awkward as that may sound. Even as I despair at the deaths of those who didn’t have a chance to choose, and those who did not survive their risks, I have to acknowledge what else I sense here…at a certain point we have to consider that Covid might be aligned with the earth, of the universe, designed to get us to fight for ourselves, love ourselves as collective beings, love ourselves enough to set and hold boundaries that serve more than our individual wants and needs.

Can I surrender the recent-normal for the present need? Can I commit to practicing a new and limited present-normal for the sake of a species-future? Can I listen more deeply to the earth, to the patterns? Can I keep finding the space to feel for direction within the chaos?

It’s so complicated.

It is much easier for me to love those who want collective human life to continue, in right relationship to the planet. But perhaps that’s evolution moving in me, perhaps this is a sacred attention, a ‘love of the fittest?’

Even now, as I write this, I still love people who choose themselves over the collective every time. And, I’m noticing, every day they feel further and further away. Or I do.

Seeing the pattern of life unfolding inside the destruction and chaos, I keep bringing my attention to it. I despair and then seek laughter, seek the community of others who feel afraid but keep working to connect. I relinquish being right for being present. I don’t deny reality as I find my place in the present moment and try to be of the fittest in constantly changing conditions.

I don’t wait for perfection or magic, I participate in the mundane work of staying alive. I keep my distance, wash my hands, wear my mask, carry my vaccine card. I get tested at every possibility of Covid. If something gets through my mask, if a variant finds me in spite of my best effort, it won’t be for lack of trying to live. If the vaccine works for most people who get it, but somehow not for me, I accept my role in the collective story.

And in my life I keep writing, keep working to shift myself out of the center of anything. I shift my practices one at a time away from capitalist socialization that says I need to be the best at something to deserve a quality life. I redistribute attention, time, donate money…and ask for help.

I am rooting myself amongst people who are learning to think and act together, as pairs, small groups, communities. We ask each other more questions, about what we are choosing to practice and why. We know so much more about each other’s lives and patterns than ever before. We process our inevitable risk-taking with each other because we are imperfect, and we long for each other. We are raising children inside these unclear, ever-shifting boundaries, and we are moving our resources around amongst us to get through. Sometimes we find that in the light of all this new transparency, we aren’t as compatible as we thought. It’s OK. We let each other go on different paths through the adventure, and root with the people on our path.

So are these answers, these small breaths in the maelstrom?

Small circles rooted in love.
Relinquishing control and offering love.
Mundane practices as acts of love.

Humility in the face of the unknown is self-love.
Seeing and shaping the whole, not as a million overwhelming waves, but as a sea – this is collective love.
Living in generosity and gratitude, every day, is living love.
Being nature, is being love.

It certainly feels like love is the way.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

And this may or may not fit in this piece of thinking and writing, but love is asking me to mention that I am centering pleasure even now, within the small circle. We are a pleasure flock, comforting each other, cheering each other on towards our best lives even today in these conditions. Pleasure connects us to ourselves and each other, to the aliveness at the funeral, to the blessing in the crisis, to the sweet new life pushing green up through the sludge.

We who are not yet dead are responsible for living fully, without regrets, with deep reverence for the wide range of emotion in the human experience. I look for the pleasure of home, of rooting and nesting, of growing things, of moving slowly, of being honest, of writing, of cooking, of dancing, of gratitude, of love. Every single day I dose myself with pleasures small and large, knowing that as it all falls apart, so much is growing; knowing that within myself and my circle I am seeding a path towards a future in which feeling and growing pleasure and aliveness and delight, in relationship to each other and our abundant and perfect planet, is our central focus.

There. It is long, but I have shifted myself from despairing overwhelm back to visionary center. It is a gift that I can only fulfill my own small destiny, follow the instructions that are clearest to me, move with my own consecrated choreography. When I feel completely lost, I can focus each day on being kind, being generous, and being honest. I light candles for all I cannot carry, and then move into the present moment with only my love. As everything crumbles above and around us, it is still true that the most strategic move is the ever changing dance of love.

we are the movement generation

wow!

as often happens, i am writing to you in a state of amazement. i just finished the first weekend of the movement generation summer strategic retreats – this weekend was laying out the entirety of our ecological crises, all the stuff i have suspected and felt but didn’t have all the information to back it up. it’s so much worse than i thought, but it really is a transformational and (dareisay) revolutionary comprehension that comes out of having this information, knowing what’s actually happening and knowing what the false solutions are, so that we can be on the right path. the next weekend (in october) will be more about the real solutions we need right now, and what’s already happening.

i took 31 pages of notes, so this is going to be a pretty long post, but i will make it as readable as possible and PLEASE take the time to learn this information and pass it on! i am going to try and capture the key things here – my notes are a jumble of readings, facts, sentiments, a-ha moments, to do lists. hopefully it informs your life and work in some way, though i know it’s hard to capture a live experience in a report back. i’ll do my best.

we were at the occidental arts and ecology center, a gorgeous intentional community which was actually the location of the ‘our power’ action camp that helped to birth the indigenous people’s power project at ruckus. magical, beautiful, education place.

the information was given to us in 5 categories: waste and toxins, water, food and agriculture, climate and energy, and biocultural diversity. we then touched on control mythologies and false solutions, which i will save for a follow-up blog.

readings/things to watch:
Original Instructions, Melissa Nelson
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (and everything else she’s written)
– Battlestar Galactica
– watch Fresh (documentary on great food systems)
– read Funny Weather

    overview and key terms:

biocyde: death to biology (death to the natural biological growth in an area)
edge: transitions between rivers and land, or different ecosystems.
interior: deep within ecosystems, where an ecosystem is most fully realized (larger predators!)
ecosystem: an entire interdependent system (forest, ocean, HUMAN)

first of all, this age of cars, dvd players, tons of materials, flying all over the place is brief, and peaking. we have been thinking in terms of endless resources – we need to think in terms of being resilient.

fact: you can trace nutrient loss over the last 150 years in california as a result of salmon not making it all the way up to the sierras. their cycle is to go out into the ocean, eat up and get full of rich ocean nutrients, then swim up the rivers to the sierras where they reproduce and then die, leaving all those nutrients there. they used to fill the rivers to such a degree that folks would say you could walk across their backs. when they don’t make it, it depletes the nutrients in that whole region – they are like a 50 pound bag of marine nutrient fertilizer. they aren’t the victim of overfishing, they are the victim of shifting environments which add silt and toxins to the water and make it impossible for them to get up into the sierras.

an example of current non-resilience: the urban southwest. tuscon, phoenix, las vegas, los angeles – once oil can’t pump water to these cities, they will depopulate. what does this mean for organizers on the ground in those places, and the campaigns and victories we’ve been working towards?

fact: we are much more connected than we know – caribbean asthma rates are growing because the size of the sahara is larger and more dust is being picked up and carried by wind across the atlantic. once the glaciers of greenland melts, san francisco, oakland, berkeley and richmond will all be underwater.

fact: the earth has been through many cycles of destruction, and has the capacity to heal – the earth will heal. we are the ones in danger. we are in crisis because we have endangered the earth cycles we depend on.

it’s deeper than pure capitalism – it’s the entire primacy of constant growth. “if the world economy grows at a rate of 3-5% a year from now until 2050 {this is a conservative growth rate for us at this point}, we will have consumed the same amount of resources during that period as we’ve consumed since we started walking on two legs.” – george m…hmm – can’t read that note, i’ll find out and come back to fill it in.

indigenous traditional cultures worldwide have the knowledge of how to care for the places they are in. the thing to understand is that imperialism (constant growth of a nation beyond borders, dirty word folks don’t like to hear but NEED to understand) is based on control…the kind of control that requires erasing the people and traditions in a place in order to implement ownership and a belief system that is better for those in power than it is for people and/or land.

we need to learn to live within the earth’s capacity.

we have to transition to being post-carbon.

we have to begin to think in terms of prosperity, not growth.

it is time to practice cooperative lifestyles and values, collective well being. we’ll need facilitators, mediators, healers, folks who can repair things, folks who create strong systems, folks who are glue in a community.

“we need to grow from a me-centered society to a we-centered society.” – michelle, MG

    WASTE AND TOXINS

gopal and carla (literally two of the wisest, most amazing people i have ever met, and mid-generation members of the ruckus network as well) from MG broke all this down for us:

first, some info on waste!

economy (think home economics) means the management of home and relationship to space/place.

the path of our economy moves from extraction –> production –> distribution –> consumption –> disposal.

we are taught to only see the distribution and consumption parts of it…buy it packaged at wal-mart, take it home and use it, toss in the garbage and it goes ‘away’. we need to be aware of the whole process and the impact it is having on our ecology.

definitions: a long chain exchange is when products come from far away, when we don’t see where the food comes from, who grew it, who packaged it, or where the waste goes when we’re done. a short chain exchange is when the product is local, and we have a direct relationship with the grower, and the waste stays as a part of our local system.

horribly embarrassing moment (not sure how to rank this with the burger king wrapper in my car on the ride home OR the ant infestation in my car on the way to this retreat {i didn’t even know ants COULD infest a car? don’t leave a granola snack in the middle console} OR the two tickets i got trying to get to the retreat on time): we had to own up to how many laptops we have had and i have had an embarrassing 5 laptops since my first job.

but it was designed that way! we learned about “Moore’s Law,” created by Gordon Moore (a father of modern computing), which says “every 18-20 months, computing capacity will either double in speed or drop in price. everything is thus planned ahead and rolled out in 2-3 year computer cycles, endlessly getting faster, smaller and cheaper.”

fact: coltan is a key material in small electronics, and 80% of it comes from the democratic republic of the congo. the current count is 5.4 million fatalities since 1998 by war that is funded and escalated by transnational corporations who benefit from instability in the region.

fact: copper is mined in 1 mile deep exposed tracks. when minerals at that depth are exposed to oxygen (which would never be exposed to oxygen without our interference), it changes them chemically into toxins which can drain into the water.

fact: most factories for electronic manufacturing are in the pearl river valley in china, where the impacts of the toxins are showing up in women’s reproductive systems. particularly dangerous are reproductive toxins, which effect the hormones, and can feminize a population {reducing the number of male births}, and increase miscarriages.

another impact is the use of water. intel is based in albuquerque, and uses 3-4 million gallons of water A DAY from the single fresh water source in the region.

fact: 10% minimum of all waste ends up in the ocean in huge swirling plastic floating garbage piles the size of texas. plastic takes like a billion (not really, just 100 THOUSAND) years to break down, and it doesn’t actually break down to organic materials, just smaller and smaller bits that eventually become part of the food source for ocean dwelling creatures, and those of us who eat them, or eat animals who eat them.

now, disposal paths for electronics lead to landfills or recycling centers (though it’s not unusual for folks to place monitors on the street and just hope someone picks it up. whistle casually if you’ve done this). at the recycling center it is shipped to china, nigeria, malaysia or a u.s. prison where the parts are dismantled for potential reuse. prisons are the number one place where recycled electronics are sent in the u.s. and dismantling is, you guessed it, toxifying for the people doing it.

speaking of toxins!

history lesson: a major increase/introduction of chemicals into our world occurred right after world war ii. about 100 thousand new chemical combinations were introduced to the world at that time – leftovers from war efforts, used for weapons (or gas chamber gases being turned into pesticides!) and now needing a way to be repackaged and used (and profitable) in peace time.

fact: only 10% of these chemicals have ever been tested for environmental impact…we are the guinea pigs.

some science type stuff: most chemicals have the potential to be toxic or non-toxic, depending on how they are bonded with other chemicals. there are relationships that exist in nature that are brilliant, where the chemicals can serve a positive function. however, when tampered with, combined in the wrong ways, or exposed to new elements, they can become toxic.

examples:

a. brominated flame retardants (found in blankets, clothing). this is a family of chemicals based in bromine which can interrupt or interfere with the endocrine (hormones) in our system {leading to feminization of an entire species, tracked by lowering testosterone levels}. think of endocrine disrupters as tiny estrogen pills. the number one place where this chemical family is found is in children’s freakin’ pajamas – that means directly on their skin!! this is what happens when we think of solutions without thinking of whole people on the receiving end. 🙁

b. thallates. thallic acid is a toxic chemical compound that is combined with plastics to make them softer, more flexible, more durable. these are found in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills (THAT YOU SWALLOW), glue, lubricants, and (super sad) sex toys! and food products!! thallates don’t make a true bond with the plastics, after a while they “off-gas” (literally transform into or release gas in the air – think of the smell in the $1 store and imagine that inside of you). luckily, these are being phased out.

this whole system of extracting materials from the ground in unsustainable ways, producing them with unjust practices that put out high levels of pollutants, distributing them thousands of miles away, selling to consumers in tons of packaging, and then being whisked away to be disposed of in horrific ways – this is called a resource intensive production system…aka – RIP!

we did an exercise where we had cut outs of people to represent the communities we work with, and we had to place them along the RIP path. it was deep to see who was impacted by extraction – indigenous communities who are displaced from their land. participants talked about how their folks work in production factories and are impacted by pollution near production sites (for instance, the chevron refinery in richmond which we are doing an action on August 15th!). we placed our communities as the employees of distribution sites such as wal-mart, and of course all of our communities are trained to be active consumers – we believe what we are sold! and when it’s all said and done, the waste is dumped into landfills in our communities.

after this first presentation we were all shaken and devastated. and we’d only just begun.

    WATER

our presenter was a delightfully brilliant dude named brock. this presentation had a few more solutions in it, and overall reminded me of the beauty of water – water as us, water in us. here are some of the stand out parts of this presentation:

it would be more appropriate to call this planet water, as opposed to planet earth. water is the unique life force here. the water we have is all the water we ever have had or will have. we get an allowance. of all the water on the planet, only 1% of it is freshwater. of that, we have already polluted half. FAIL.

our water system is solar driven (yay sun!). the sun warms up the ocean, lifting water up as gas, which freezes into glaciers of ice and then melts down into rivers, streams, lakes, ponds…fresh water. its a totally natural, cyclical, desalination process.

science stuff: water is a polar molecule, featuring a positive in oxygen and a negative in hydrogen. it’s sticky – it can stick to other water molecules. it can be a solid, liquid or a gas. (AWESOME! nothing else does this!) water cools in its transition from solid to liquid, and liquid to gas.

brock showed us images of water patterns present in brains, capillaries, lungs, streams, clouds. water is an “elucidator of flow” wherein form follows function. the sun and the moon move water around the world, leading to high tides two times a day. water and earth are in a constant dialogue. humans are impacted by these waves too – isn’t that nice?

so…where do we fit into that larger dialogue? every living thing is mostly water. our existence is carbon/sun based, but water moves everything. for our lives – air security comes first, water security comes second, and food security comes third.

“we are bipedal sacks of saline solution.” – brock

“water is the primary measure of how we live on the land.” – luna leopold

loved this: evian = naive. hopefully you know this already, but bottled water is wholly unregulated, and is 2000-3000 times the cost of tap water, which IS regulated. what water companies understand is that whoever owns and sells water controls life.

so right now, the planet is trying to cool down from the CO2 (carbon) blanket we have been building around it, hence we see the changing of glacier ice to water and water to gas. because of these changes, within 75 years our california water source (mt. shasta) will be liquid…not regenerating and melting to give us fresh water in a natural cycle. thirsty = dead. 🙁

definition: we learned the term positive feedback loop – so basically a change that directly speeds up future changes. for instance, sun bounces off of white solid mass, but gets swallowed by dark liquid. the more the glaciers melt, the more dark water there is, the less cooling bouncing off of solids, the faster the glaciers melt.

boss move: china did a water grab when it got tibet and the himalayas – tons of fresh water.

one quote we were given is that “you can’t protect what you don’t understand.”

but now that we understood more, brock showed us some beautiful solutions!

the main solution is to live within your “watershed”. a watershed is basically the entire water system from glaciers atop mountains down to the deltas where the water reaches the ocean. so – how do we repattern life around a watershed?

we have to shift from a “drain age” to a “retain age”. right now good fresh water drains off our roofs into gutters into pipes into lakes or the ocean. (folks say they don’t want to interact with rain water cuz there’s so much pollution – brock said: “try breathing”) is we retained water from our roofs in catchment systems (like they do in bermuda, for instance) so each home/building was water sufficient, that would be a major shift. water would drain from our roofs into containers where it could be naturally filtered, and then we could use it to water gardens, do laundry, flush toilets, take showers. we could run the water through bio-filters – gardens with fungus in there that would snip the hydro carbon bond and clean the water right up.

parking lots could be redesigned so that water runs off into natural growth areas on the side as opposed to down a drain in the center. in seattle they are redesigning streets to redirect water in ways that greens the neighborhood, supports gardening, and slows down the run-off, saving more water. in LA, treepeople have created water catchment systems under lawns that can actually meet all the needs for a block of homes. in china there were examples of setting up gardened walkways down the center of toxic urban waterways, and the plant systems literally detoxifying the water! we could have fog catchers to catch and drain fresh water!!

in our homes, put a 5 gallon bucket in the shower while the water heats up, or in the sink while laundry water is draining, and use that to flush the toilet! another super easy move to make a toilet more efficient is to put a closed container of water into the toilet. then, you save 6 or 8 or 16 oz of water each time the toilet is flushed.

we used a composting toilet there, like we do at ruckus camps. these things are mindblowing when you start to realize that all the money spent on fertilizers is a total marketing of stuff we produce naturally. our poop – yes poop! – can become a wonderful rich fertilizer, improved by us eating healthy whole organic diets. again not something we should be shipping away to massive processing units.

he even showed these urinal composting things that were basically garbage bins with a urinal on the side. diluting the urine 10 to 1 creates a great fertilizer. i’m not there yet, lol, but EVERYthing has a purpose.

this session ended on a very inspiring, wholistic note.

    “the earth is a living thing – you have to give it love.” – the greening of cuba

that evening we watched ‘the greening of cuba’ (order a copy: 800 274 7826). amazing story of how when the world turned it’s back on cuba, cuba became a increasingly super innovative agrarian society extremely fast. i was deeply reminded of detroit, and wondered if we can ever hope to reach that level of change without total crisis.

    FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

michelle from movement generation led us on this journey, starting with what food is: land, community, culture, health, meaningful work, life

facts:
– less than 1% of the u.s. population are farmers…there are more prisoners than farmers. farmers were 1/3rd of our population in 1930.
– most of the world’s farmers are women!
– the world has 1 billion farmers to feed 6 billion people.
– people in the u.s. spend less of our total resources than anyone else in the world on food, about 12%. the cost for that cheap food is that our health problems are on the rise from over exposure to corn, soy, processed food and livestock grown in unhealthy conditions. cheap food leads to less bio-cultural diversity, less water, more climate change, and tons of waste and toxins (many from growing food where it’s not supposed to be).
– breast milk is the first place where most of us, and our children, interact with the primary toxins of our lives (that said, its still the healthier more natural option than formula, if it is an option for you).

here’s a devastating food system process that’s in place in the u.s. right now: imagine illinois, iowa…all that corn. 92% of the corn grown in this country is from genetically modified seed already!! these require tons of water and synthetic pesticides (only sold by the same folks who sell you the genetically modified seeds). toxins from this genetic corn production seep into the mouth of the mississippi. the majority of this corn (99%) is grown to feed all the livestock animals that are “grown” along the mississippi in little cages. these animals poop out the genetically modified, processed corn toxins which leach into soil and water and continue down into the gulf coast delta area. all of that has created a moving deadzone in the gulf where the chemical combination has killed every living thing; the bottom dwellers (shrimp, catfish) die from toxins, and then everything else that eats them either dies or has to go elsewhere to eat. everything IS connected.

(the reminder throughout all of this is that there are solutions, that the earth can revive from this, there are things we can do…)

more facts:
– only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the desired pest. 99.9% are just out there hitting non-target creatures, such as bees (our pollinators, a creature fundamental to our survival) or frogs (disappearing, or being born with extra legs).
– 16-19K farmers in India have been committing suicide every year because their debts are so high after seeding and planting genetically modified monocrops* (like wheat in the punjab) which destroyed their land for other crops, and they have no option out of their contracts with the seed seller.

* (immediate footnote!) monocropping is a huge dangerous practice – growing one crop in land which ends up wiping out native species and displacing the people who know what to grow on the land (you learn by being on the land for generations – most of us in the room have been stolen from the land we knew, or that land has been stolen from us).

back to facts:
– average person in the u.s. uses 2000 liters of oil to supply their food. that’s a lot. (also learned that average u.s. citizen uses over 130 gallons of water a day, while there are folks in the world getting by on 2 gallons a day.)
– current agricultural practices contribute 20% of the total global climate change impacts.
– the crisis is not some time in the future, people are already dying because of climate changes impacting weather, pests, water. to survive, the planet needs diversity – rotating crops, protecting and nourishing the soil.
– 40-50% of the world’s land is used for agriculture, and 30% for livestock.
– we rely on 8 crops for 75% of the world’s food!
– the danger of monocropping can be seen in the irish potato famine. the irish were only growing 2 kinds of potatoes – when one was wiped out, there were no other options.
– genetically modified foods are also so cheap that they outsell local organic food in markets like oaxaca, where corn is originally from. sadly, once you sign a contract to buy genetically modified seed, you are locked into agreements such as not saving the seed, but buying it again the following year. the monocropping damages the soil and ecosystem such that it’s hard to switch off of the genetically modified crops. monsanto is the seed selling demon company – they have actually sued farmers on neighboring farms because genetically modified monsanto seed caught on the wind and mixed with the neighboring farm’s crop!

my thought at this point was: we want crops, not crap.

two particularly dangerous areas to watch are agri-fuels (also called biofuels) and the scramble to buy up land. redirecting land use from growing food for people to growing food for cars leads to situations where people are lined up for subsidized cooking oil while tons of resources from their area are shipped away for cars. in small local use, biofuels that are gathered from waste can be a good thing, but scale it up and it’s quickly anti-human.

the international scramble for land means that huge areas in africa, the middle east, south korea and elsewhere are being bought to grow genetically modified foods…it’s a new colonialism.

thinking comparatively: a single patty burger sold for a buck in the u.s. equals the entire grain and protein needs of three people in india.

it’s like this: we’re now in a situation where there are people working on two second timers on sandwich assembly lines to make sandwiches for starbucks. everyone is seeing one small part of a massive system that is not serving our health.

even how our health is assessed is not a complete picture – science can be flipped to mislead us. a whole health assessment that covers a much broader spectrum of nutrients than the FDA leads us to choices that are better for people and the planet.

so what needs to happen?

in a nutshell: we need to shift from being cogs in a wheel to feed others –> to being in communities where we feed ourselves. it’s not a situation of going back to old ways, but rather taking back practices and land that we are all from and having healing relationships with land. we need to make the social relationships of food transparent – who grows it, who harvests it, who packs it, who transports it, who cooks it. we are kept in the dark about the whole process of our food.

we need to blend rural understanding of food/economy/ecology into urban solutions (like Detroit has begun to do!).

this was the first part of the presentations where i started crying. the way all these systems have been developed without us and against us is so overwhelming.

i hope you’re still reading, i know this is long, but this is information we need in order to start making better choices in all aspects of our lives as individuals, organizations, communities, families.

CLIMATE/ENERGY

jason and gopal hit us with this one-two punch.

first things first, global warming is the wrong term for this moment. climate change even suggests something more incremental than what we are facing. climate disruption or chaos is more accurate.

we’ll be talking about greenhouse gases – the gases that create the atmospheric blanket over our heads. carbon is 1st of these heat trapping gases. they showed us this effect with an aluminum style hat – once you put it on, the heat on your head has no where to go and your body starts to sweat to cool off. the planet is doing that.

important fact: there is a 40-70 year lag effect in the temperature increase of the planet. the skyrocketing impacts we’ve measured recently are the results of our lifestyle in the 1960s. compare the pollutants and energy use of the 60s to now to get a sense of the future we have set in motion.

feel this: consider that every 20 years (even with the kyoto protocol in place for the last 10 years) we have doubled the entire fossil fuel consumption of known history. like…all use from the ice age till the 1940s is one number. that total number doubled by 1960. that total number doubled by 1980. and so forth.

peak oil is often mentioned, but peak oil won’t stop our destruction of ourselves…its not the end of oil, just the peak, the moment when what we have to use starts to decrease.

we can see the atmospheric impact of our actions every single year.

just like us, climate science is nonlinear and unpredictable. there isn’t a clear 1-1 cause and effect, most of the effects are exponential.

earlier we talked about positive feedback loops. the melting was one example – the greenland glacier now dumps enough fresh water into the ocean each day to provide all the water needs of london or ny.

another piece to understand in this equation is tipping points. a tipping point is a point of runaway change. it’s the moment when you no longer have to push a ball up the hill cause it has tipped over the top and is racing downhill. it will eventually find a new stability, but the rush may not be survivable.

we appear to have reached a tipping point in glacier arctic ice – watching a quick slide show from 1979 to 2007 shows the rapid increase of melting and near disappearance of summer (permanent) ice. this disrupts migratory paths for land and sea animals, many of which are the primary food source for people.

another example is the permafrost – the frozen tundra of siberia is melting. under this is tons of methane gas, which, if released, would lead to a quick, abrupt impact. there would be no recovery from this sort of impact, only rebalance and new life. after the ice age, we were the new life form, for instance – it was catastrophic for the major species of that time. this would be a catastrophic tipping point for humanity.

another amazing thing about earth: earth is designed to store excess carbon, naturally (we call these spaces carbon sinks) – that’s what oil and coal are! we have decided to disrupt that storage process, which is supposed to keep the atmosphere in balance, and go get that exact carbon and release it into the atmosphere. THIS IS SO NOT A SMART MOVE. other carbon sinks are the ocean, forests – forests are like lungs for the planet. the loss of forests is another tipping point to watch.

we were reminded again here that life and the planet will survive. it is human survival that we are discussing. uplifting reminder?

we did an amazing exercise at this point, where we each chose a person, people, or animal to represent, and get into a circle. gopal read off a variety of climate impacts, and we had to step forward if our person/animal was impacted. i was a fox – foxes have showed up repeatedly in my life at key moments and i feel them. we all ended up squished in the center. this was so sad – everyone was so deeply impacted.

but then we had to reach across the circle and grab two different hands. this turned us into a giant knot. our task was then to – still holding on – unknot ourselves. we did so quickly.

knowledge is power. change is possible.

but enough of that hopeful stuff…ENERGY:

jason showed us all of the energy sources being developed in the world – crude oil, heavy oil (like the tar sands of canada), natural gas, coal, nuclear, solar, hydroelectric. currently, 12 countries own 90% of all the known oil in the world. the u.s. is either an ally, at war with, or in control of each of the other 11 nations.

the solutions at this point are to ramp down crude oil and coal fast – no new coal, oil or gas. stop extracting heavy oil, declare a moratorium on nuclear because the costs and potential weapon danger is so high, use some hydroelectric, and increase our end use efficiency (be smarter and more conservative with our energy use). we also need to explore the real possibilities of solar, wind, tidal, geothermal. additionally, we have to ramp down general consumption in the 1st world, think in terms of locally appropriate solutions, and demand that polluters pay the transition.

and we fundamentally recognize that these real solutions are not currently politically viable right now. that is our work.

the final piece of the puzzle was BIOCULTURAL DIVERSITY

my friend melissa nelson came to present this section. she is an amazing woman who is also developing a path around having a multi-racial background and a call towards reconciliation work. we met through the center for whole communities and i am always excited to see her.

she defined biocultural diversity as the diversity of life in all manifestations – biological, cultural, linguistic – within a complex socio-ecological adaptive system.

the key idea is that we are part of one living system. that system relies on diversity of indigenous knowledge systems and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) as well as cultural productions such as food, art, medicine, clothes, homes, etc.

she reminded us that our oral traditions carry memories from before the ice age, and then shared with us a quote from wade davis, that the “ethnosphere is more important than the biosphere, because without the ethnosphere we won’t know how to CARE for the biosphere.”

we have to pay attention to emergent properties, symbiosis and synergy – think of ourselves as entwined, entangled, braided, inextricably linked. the “whole is greater that the sum of it’s parts.” think of biocultural diversity like having a whole alphabet to write with from all experiences of the world – our full wisdom.

“the beauty of things was born before eyes, an heartbreaking beauty will last after there are hearts to break.” – robinson jeffers, poet.

melissa mentioned the puget sound canoe gathering which ruckus heard about during the localize this action camp on vashon island. very exciting relearning and practicing of known ways.

a great danger to us is “monocultures of the mind,” as vandana shiva says.

note: folks used to be more multi-lingual – knowing only one language is isolating, but not having a common language can make it hard to organize regionally, beyond borders. this is complex – how many languages do i know? 1.

there are lots of stories in the land that we have forgotten how to read – animals, their scat (poop!), storms, ancient writing, soil, clouds, stars.

melissa reminded us that old sayings have deep meaning if we try to understand them:

“walking the shoreline,” an old ojibwe saying, encompasses walking the literal line between water and land, also between movement and stillness, conscious and unconscious.

another saying, “the moon is in the sky,” means she will always be there.

it is hard to have to use the language of our colonizers to express liberatory ideas and ancient wisdom. but we all have wisdom, we are all from some place, and together, all of us have to learn again, and practice what david brower called CPR for the planet: “Conservation, Protection, Restoration”.

we have to change from seeing “resources” to seeing “relatives”. all our relations – the entire world as we know it. we are not moving backwards, but we are re-indigenizing, moving forward to new-old traditions and knowledge of how to live.

at this point i asked a question which always comes up for me – what about those of us who have been so displaced from our original location that we literally don’t know where we are from, don’t know our songs, our histories, our traditions?

melissa said, “you are fully you, and you are re-indigenizing every day.”

carla broke it down on such a deep level, which i had heard before but never with such an open heart: “your displacement and all that was taken from you, the systemic breakdown of the connection between you and your homeland, that IS your heritage. your ancestors were punished, silenced, displaced, sold, lost – that IS your indigenous experience.”

this was another point of grief, and mourning. it also opened up deep conversations with the other african and african-american folks there…”we weren’t kings and queens…we were farmers! just like everyone else!!” this was exciting, this placed us in the story of our unknown but present ancestors.

there was time to go out in nature and reflect on what our relationships were to the planet. in spite of tons of changes i have made, i wrote up a pretty devastating self-assessment that included deep explorations of my fear, the damage i do, my yearning for a better relationship, my learned classism around who has relationships to the earth and who doesn’t.

i landed, as i always do, on love. my love for the planet has inspired so many changes already, and i know more changes are coming. i feel that i am stardust, earth, water. to reclaim terminology, i feel that the earth is a brilliant symbiotic and beautiful, organic and logical technology, as am i – balanced systems to process matter, data, energy, spirit.

computers are a technology to support humanity thus far…are humans a technology to support the planet and be supported?

we can be. clearly we are in super glitch mode, which might even lead to a total meltdown of the mother-machine that we don’t survive. but love can give us the capacity to see the error of our ways, and humble ourselves to a new reality in which we get to do liberatory work, have meaningful roles, prosperity, health…

in order to do this we must understand the underlying assumptions that have allowed us to get this far. i want to write a whole separate blog on control mythologies (assumptions/stories we are taught which make us easier to control, like: Lincoln freed the slaves {no social movement, just benevolent leadership}, Christopher Columbus discovered America {it was barely inhabited, by people who didn’t deserve to have it, it was for us}, or the American Dream {keep working hard as an individual and you will accumulate material wealth and that will make you happy}) because it is so deep to name these and begin to release them and develop/remember creative mythologies, sustaining mythologies.

although the information was so devastating that i found myself several times sitting with someone else with tears in our eyes wondering why we even thought our small work could matter, i left the weekend feeling like i’d just gotten a massive upgrade in my capacity to envision and execute real solutions. i feel more committed than ever to deep transformation of myself, my family, my organization, my communities. i feel more committed than ever to measuring scale in terms of DEPTH and quantum leaps towards sustainability, rather than broad shallow reforms that slightly delay catastrophe.

we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…we are the movement generation!