As the unfortunate reality of media hype and the 24 hour news cycle wears on, and our social media feeds replace the inspirational millions of young people and allies who marched this past weekend with the latest, dumbest distraction, and destruction out of the White House, I think it important to understand the not so glamorous part of sustaining a movement that happens behind the scenes… often without any media attention. The young people of Parkland and their allies, like the young people of Ferguson before them, have shown how their relentless energy can indeed be focused as well as disciplined. The burning question for movements is always one of sustainability. Can this energy continue to be focused towards true transformation of the status quo? If so, what will it take to ensure this?
One local lesson that I am continually inspired by is the work of Safe Ag Safe Schools (SASS). As I continue to deepen my involvement with this energized organization and their campaign to reform and ultimately end pesticide use in and around our schools and communities, I gain better understanding of how to move these demands through the local landscape of bureaucracy. One recent example is this recent school board resolution unanimously adopted by Greenfield Union School District. School board meetings and the resolutions that the public often force from them are a familiar battleground to my experience organizing youth. It is here where the people with power to most directly affect our realities as teachers and students can be confronted.
In working with SASS, I have also come to realize that the local work they have been doing has far reaching implications. If communities can continue to organize and put in place policies, resolutions, strong advisory boards, and even politicians committed to people rather than corporations… we can wield a power as great if not greater than those of the elite one percent that are indeed themselves organizing an all out assault on everything from the environment, to health care, education, Veteran’s affairs, and of course… militarized warfare.
Like the youth that galvanize these movements, adult allies need to utilize our ability to navigate these systems of power to help clear the way for our youth. We need to be as vocal as they are in our own arenas, as parents, professionals, and caring community members. Together we can help sustain our young people as they prepare to gear up for the fights ahead.
Yesterday morning’s #superbluebloodmoon was awe-inspiring for those of you up early enough on the west coast to witness this celestial event. I felt blessed to have this otherworldly scene greet me first thing as I opened my front door at a quarter to six. As I pulled up to the gym parking lot, a little later than I would’ve liked, I was compelled to suspend my routine (albeit it very new… as in 2 weeks new) start time. I sat in the back of my car, just staring at the eclipsed moon, in all its darkened red glory. I felt a little silly as people passed by me, some already having been productive in their personal fitness and some rushing towards whatever physical health goals they had previously established, while I sat dressed to work out and instead gazed at the sky. The shyness quickly turned into shock and then sadness. One person saw me gazing and stopped just long enough to ask me. “What is this all about?” I responded as a matter of fact, but this seemingly innocent inquiry really got me thinking about the crisis of our modern relationship with our surroundings.
No doubt living back in the Monterey Bay region has reawakened a sort of environmentalism that has been lying semi-dormant for a long while. This is after all the area where I put my finger on the brand of educational and spiritual training I felt most drawn to. I have also been prompted reexamine what exactly I mean when I say “environmentalism” by some pretty profound writings of Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain fame. His collection of essays entitled Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essayshas been helping me survive the massive onslaught of “bad” news in the past year. But in reality its been several years if not decades since the roots of extreme global capitalism have taken shape, forming a type of global consciousness (or lack thereof) devoid of any true connection to land and environment. This is what became clearer to me early Wednesday morning. How could anyone witnessing this eerie celestial event not pause to question and reassess their position in the “grand scheme” of things? Even if only for a moment, a break in one’s gait long enough to view the sky through eyes of wonder. How would our ancient human ancestors have viewed this gigantic blood-red sphere, hovering above, so differently than every other day? How would they have rearranged the sublunary events of their day to accept a larger, profound, and more universal one?
I wondered about this and other questions as I stared into the early morning sky. I also took a few pictures, with the intent of sharing. I soon laughed at the silliness of this, not the instinct to share this with others like friends and family whom I texted despite the hour to see if they were fortunate enough to be awake and experience this, but the absurdity of trying to ‘capture’ this amazing image with my phone camera. I walked away in awe and also distress.
Admittedly I have not been the best optimist of late. I have real concerns about the state of just about everything in the world. From the state of our own nation, to geopolitical realities that are unfolding, humanitarian crises, and the ever-growing threat of nuclear war. But at the center of my pessimism is the absolute realization that we are not, by and large, not making this world a better place. And I don’t just mean for people. There are many who would argue, even quite successfully that we have. I mean making the world better for all life. And I think there are also just as many (hopefully more) that could counter the argument of unlimited growth and progress leading to better qualities of life by recognizing that those processes that we engage in the name of progress are actually the main drivers of death.
And it is not that death is necessarily supposed to lead to pessimism. We all are supposed to die. All life leads naturally to death. It is the obsession with staving off the natural declines and deaths of everything in favor of a false philosophy of infinite growth and wealth that eats at my soul daily. Knowing that this philosophy drives most everyone in the modern world, including myself to live in ways that are murderous to everything that is actually sustaining to our lives. And the cognitive dissonance is so real, that it has taken those of us who feel a drive to “save” our planet from the unnatural destruction of our own making to a place where we are dependant on the human solutions of technology and innovation, the ironic drivers of this destruction. Kingsnorth pulls at this idea throughout his entire book of essays but utilizes the soul-stirring words of mystic poet Rumi to really drive home a much-needed paradigm shift.
“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion; bewilderment is intuition.” – Rumi
In my attempts to heed this advice and combat this pessimism before it devolves into permanent paralysis and inaction, I have recommitted to some key principles in my life. The first is to get out in nature and be a part of it. This has developed into a sacred and spiritual Sunday outing where our family explores the wonders of the wild and untamed world, recognizing our very small but important place in it. This may even turn into a more disciplined practice of something I used to enjoy many hours of in my youth, nature journaling. My wife recently stumbled upon this dandy of an idea, suggesting that we even consider taking his class as a family!
The second thing I have dedicated energy and time to is involving myself with a local organization working on a very important social and environmental issue, specifically in our local region. Salinas being the salad bowl of the world, industrial agriculture has bestowed both the blessings and the curses of mass food production. Pesticide use as a “reasonable” byproduct has long been questioned and challenged in the region, as far back as Cesar Chavez’s work with the UFW. It still is today. A local community organization called Safe Ag Safe Schools, a part of Californians for Pesticide Reform, is leading the charge to help change regulatory policy of pesticide use near and around schools. After attending one meeting, I was energized to continue to deepen my involvement with this dedicated group of people. From banning chlorpyrifos to eliminating the use of Round Up on school campuses, there is still so much work to be done with regards to challenging the ill and often catastrophic impact of our modern-day food systems.
These are the things that have helped me to begin reintegrating my spirit into this land again. That and being able to spend more time with family and friends. And even though there are many moments where things feel hopeless and strange, there are still many more moments to embrace the grandeur of where we are and what is actually possible… when one invests in bewilderment.
It has been awhile since I have written a book report. What used to be the bane of my existence in elementary and middle school English classes. I realize now why, having always enjoyed reading but never fully embracing the reporting out on what you read. Partly because the book report models I was forced to use never really prompted me with an inquiry of any depth and meaning. They were summaries of plot and never really asked for critical literary analysis or personal meaning making. But more than that they were assigned at such a rapid rate that they rarely gave a student a chance to digest, reflect, or contemplate any deeper meaning. A reflection of our consumptive educational models set to the Reaganomics era of the 80s I guess.
I half joked with teachers in welcoming them back from summer break to begin our fourth year of the Augustus Hawkins Schools for Community Action startup adventure, that I had finally finished a book for the first time in years (I’ve started quite a few) and was very excited about the connections I saw to our small schools missions and the curricular direction of educating young people towards a sense or urgent agency, critical thinking, problem solving revolutionaries. And what better project to tackle than climate change?
Hence my book report on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Climate vs. Capitalism. I’ve been reflecting on this very powerful read since I concluded it the day before school started. I’ve had the time to process and connect some of the ideas in the book with my own ways of thinking about parenthood, teaching, organizing, and just living as an individual human being connected to so many other individuals and systems that are continually facing the threat of true violence at the levels of extinction; permanently altering all ways of life that have come before us, before now.
I began this book on a plane ride to Denver, attending a conference engaging in similar dialogue. Writing this post at 40,000 ft. and having the imagery to support some of the walk aways from the book helped to inspire a semi comprehensive share out of this very important piece of writing.
First off I was impacted greatly by Klein’s framing of the entire book around her experiences and struggles as mother, sharing a solidarity with Mother Nature that I could never fully realize as a man, but have on numerous occasion attempted to relate to, a communion with and within nature that helps me understand the deep interconnection and pure magic of the life giving and sustaining force we are all part of on this planet. Her honest, personal reflection and cathartic sharing of the insights of multiple miscarriages resonated with me as well, having similar experiences with my wife. Thinking about what mothers go through, as I fly towards Portland to reunite with my pregnant wife and daughters (who took this same trip days before by themselves… Imagine that scene for a moment; single pregnant mother with two toddlers navigating LAX) and looking down at the islands, farmland, oil rigs, wildfires and ocean… The power of Naomi Klein’s words settled in a little more.
Klein begins with honest admittance of her own denial to face the reality of climate change head on, and articulates the moments of clarity and transformation that led to her book with a refreshing and very relatable view. She breaks down the psychology behind all of our collective denial in the Global North/West through a blistering and critically comprehensive unpacking of the history of our global economic model and its current day presence as the largest obstacle the planet’s life systems have ever faced.
Her chapters on billionaires and their disingenuous claims of environmental heroism and hope, juxtaposed with chapters on the environmental movements own complicity and direct involvement with life extinguishing capitalistic practices painted the clearest picture I’ve come across, showing in one volume the interconnected ways humans are involved in our own demise. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the Nature Conservancy star in these instructive and enraging sections.
Her chapters on debunking the mythology of quick and easy solutions to the biggest problem our species and all others have ever contemplated also extends to a dialogical confrontation of scientific and technological world views that continue the western centric cultural model of dominance over people and places not western and rich. Her exposure of geo-engineering projects to “dim the sun” offer sobering look at the power of our “most powerful and talented” minds examining the problem from the wrong end of the equation and proposing grandiose solutions left unscrutinized by any percentage of the populist worth deeming their ideas “peer” or people reviewed.
It’s worth the wait of the last chapters to feel, as I did, thru the disillusionment and despair, a growing sense of rage mixed with hope. Both feelings were present from the beginning. Klein’s thoughtful ethnographic style research and storytelling puts the voices of indigenous communities and the most hard core climate activists front and center. Entire chapters are dedicated to the clear message that there are many (way more than we think) people dedicated to the daily war against corporations hell bent on ignoring or actively lying about their destruction of our planet in the pursuit of profits. She offers many examples of how this daily war is waged, from the revisiting and utilizing of treaties signed by generations past, to the divestment strategies of educational institutions, to the direct tactics of native communities and climate activists engaged in an all out “Blockadea” movement (while I was in Portland, the repelling Greenpeace activists were in the middle of their direct action to block Shell from sending their ice breaker to the Arctic… they were forced to move by the time I had left) to disrupt the supply and distribution chains of energy multinationals. She takes this contemporary hope and harkens to the history; the great and revolutionary struggles of the abolition movement in the face of a global system of human slavery, making it very clear that despite not having a precedent of human resistance on the scale that will undoubtedly be needed to make the necessary changes in time to avoid catastrophic global impact, abolitionism was the closest thing to a mass mobilization and resistance worldwide. If we are to have a chance to slow down the warming climate and all its consequences, both projected and unforeseen, then we MUST engage this type of defiance, refusing to accept that the current corporate and capitalistic model is the only way to live… for it is surely not.
This is easier said, obviously, than done… particularly for us in the global north. Yet it is a parameter for the continued global life systems that are under such stress, many of which are unable to adapt to the changing climate in time to avoid collapse. And what is clear at the conclusion of this must read book is the notion that if we are to rise to the greatest challenge to ever face humanity, we will have to change everything… but perhaps more comprehendible and less daunting is to realize that we will have to change… ourselves. The universal inevitability, we have the potential to do always. My hope is that we do this using our “response” ability rather than blind reaction. And that we do this in time.
There aren’t many things that irritate me more than false fire alarms. Except for real fires set in school by some youngsters that don’t understand the bigger pictures of safety, respect, etc. Not that I did when I was younger but that’s a post for a different time.
So I was annoyed for sure when the entire school had to engage in a real fire drill at the end of the day at the end of long week. Upon arriving to the field at my designated spot, I showed little patience for my students as they attempted to frolic on the field. They did not and we were one of the few classes seated in their designated area before the next wave of pandemonium hit.
As the screaming and yelling crowd grew closer, so did the sound and speed at which they were approaching my class. Until an all out stampede of students AND teachers started running and screaming for their lives… From the SWARM of BEES circling the crowd!
I had to laugh inside as I tried to maintain my professional demeanor, not inciting more panic and remembering that some students may be very allergic to bee stings. Luckily no one was injured. But it made for one of those clear reminders when all sides of nature, that of adolescence and swam intelligence, conspire to let you know… Your institutions? They exist at the frontier of our mercy. Have fun. Be safe.
While Americans complain about the price of gas, many other nations pay considerably more. If you look at some of the countries with the highest prices like Denmark, Germany and Norway for example, you might also notice that they have very strong economies, rate at the top of most development scales (personal well-being, economic well-being, environmental well-being), and are world leaders in renewable energy technologies. Theyâ€™ve realized that using taxes from the sale of gasoline 1) sends the right price signal to consumers: â€˜use less; use it efficientlyâ€™, 2) provides funds for the development of renewable energy (RE) technologies and RE markets. After all, renewable energy is clearly where the growth will be. Countries that understand this will have the strongest economies, based on growing technologies like RE, as opposed to countries like the US which are still stuck on maintaining old tech like low-mileage vehicles that burn dirty, finite resources. Thomas Friedman, in a recent OP-ED column, noting the Republican petrocheerleadersâ€™ exhortations of â€˜Drill, baby, drill!â€™, asks a good question:
â€˜Why would Republicans, the party of business, want to focus our country on breathing life into a 19th-century technology â€” fossil fuels â€” rather than giving birth to a 21st-century technology â€” renewable energy? As I have argued before, it reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution â€” on the eve of PCs and the Internet â€” is pounding the table for America to make more I.B.M. typewriters and carbon paper. â€˜Typewriters, baby, typewriters.â€™
It has been estimated that if Americans calculated the costs associated with foreign wars designed to secure â€˜cheapâ€™ oil, the actual costs, due to taxes spent on maintaining the military, are closer to $12 per gallon. But hardly anyone thinks of their tax return or how little they are getting for their money when theyâ€™re paying $4 at the pump. The war merchants would love to keep it that way. Some people are evil, just plain evil.
this is in regards to the NCLI legislation that i had written about earlier in a previous post. more money, in our society, too often means more legitimacy (especially when it comes to public financed bail outs of the private sector – don’t even get me started… just talk to bob barr)
yet i do believe in saying thank you, which is what i did when i learned that my congress people, at least the ones that represent the districts i am mostly concerned with (30th and 35th) voted for this legislation.
not as many students of color as i would like to see… maybe i should pull out my footage. but encouraging this news is, nonetheless…
This video takes a look at data, information, knowledge and wisdom. As mentioned in Did You Ever Wonder?, there is a lot of data being created and put online every day. What are we doing with it? Is it helping us make better decisions and live better lives? If not, why?
Some seem to think that we need more technology, smarter boards, faster chips, more data, more information, Web 3.0, hyper-connectivity, anytime/anywhere accessâ€¦
Maybe we do. But I donâ€™t think so.
Maybe we need our information from different sources at a slower rate, nested in context.
Are we ignoring those sources that have worked for millennia?
Maybe we need to figure out what we really want need and not let marketers decide for us. (After all, marketing is what is done when the product is no good. Edwin Land)
Maybe we need our information at a slower pace, so that we can digest it, separate the wheat from the chaff, and think about how to use it well (or discard it).
Maybe we need it as part of the whole, not disconnected.
Maybe we need more context, more purpose, more alignment.
Maybe we need more questions.
Jose Ortega y Gasset reminds us that to be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand.Jamie McKenzie points out that without strong questioning skills, information technologies contribute little to understanding or insight.
Are we asking students to wonder? To question? Or are we just asking them to tell us what was said? Are we asking them to consider the Big Questions, the ones that donâ€™t come from textbooks?
Are we asking them about the future? Are we questioning our cultureâ€™s ethos of more, bigger, faster?
â€˜We have contrived a high-technology, high-speed economy that is neither sustainable nor capable of sustaining what is best in human cultures.â€™ David Orr, The Nature of Design
â€˜We find a level of wisdom wherever people, knowledge, statements, actions and solutions arise from Bigger Picture understandings about Life to embrace more life than mere cleverness. Through wisdom, we can become vehicles or channels for lifeâ€™s urge towards health, mutual benefit and positive evolution.â€™From the Co-Intelligence Institute