Tomorrow's guest sermon for church . . .
When I offered to speak here, I was planning to talk about my work on the Tar Sands Action where I, along with 1,252 other citizens, was arrested in front of the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. I was planning to tell you all about the pipeline, the Tar Sands, and what it’s like to get arrested for a sit-in in Washington DC. And I will get to some of that . . .
But something’s happened between then and now that I think is far more interesting and far more important and certainly more surprising. A revolution of sorts started: Occupy Wall Street. As I was sitting at home last night and rewriting and rewriting what I was going to say today, I was watching the Livestream showing tens of thousands of peaceful protesters in Times Square and it really struck me that that’s what this is: it’s an attempt at a nonviolent revolution: a call for a fundamental reordering of the power structure of the country.
husband and I visited Liberty Plaza in NYC two Saturdays ago and I’m heading back to wall street tonight. I’ve been helping as as one of the librarians for the People’s Library at OWS, though I’ve mostly worked with the blog and the email account since I haven’t been there in two weeks. It’s time consuming, but I think I’m making a valuable contribution to a very worthy cause.
The background story for OWS is simple: On Sept. 17th, for what must be 500th time since the recession started, a group of young people called for a protest. Their plan was to gather on Wall Street, pitch some tents, and stay until the police hauled them off in handcuffs. They hoped the action would spark others to join them and to #occupy their own cities. I don’t think the organizers had any idea just how well timed their protest was. There are now over 1,000 sister protests across the country, they have had five very large and very successful and completely peaceful, at least on the part of the protesters, marches in NYC. Other cities have also had huge marches: many thousands marched in Boston, Chicago, and Portland, Or alone. Indianapolis had over a thousand marchers last week.
There have been complaints in the media and even from other activists that OWS has vague demands, that they don’t know what they want or how to get it. The problem is that that problem is too big. There is no demand, and no one to address a demand to who could possibly begin to solve the problems we’re facing. That’s why I think this movement is the best hope we’ve got and by far the most important thing going on right now. The fact is we don’t need policy changes, we don’t need new leadership, we don’t even need a new government. We need a new conscienceness. A new way of living on the Earth and with each other. And this movement is the best hope on the horizon.
What I’ve told family and friends who have asked me why I got arrested, why I went to wall street, and why I have kept working with the movement is that I believe that my responsibility to my children is to hand them a world with a healthy democracy, a healthy economy, and a healthy environment. Right now, we have none of those things.
I know everyone here knows the things I’m about to say, and I almost cut this part out, but then I thought to myself, “What would Emily dio? Would Emily be content to say, “the world has problems and then move on to the positive stuff?” I don;t think she would. I think she thought, and I know I think, that there is value in taking a few moments to really think about the world as it is, to consider the scope of our problems. Bill McKibben, the environmental writer and activist, calls what we’re about to do “walking through the valley”. I think that’s a good phrase for it. Walking through the Valley is hard, but if we don’t walk through it, we can’t understand the roots of this new movement and why this kind of transformation that is so urgently needed. If we don’t walk through the valley at least occasionally we end up living in a delusional bubble of our own fantasies and dreams. Refusing to walk through the valley allows us to paper over the holes that we see in our field of moral vision. As a culture we don’t have a place and time to think about these things and so we don’t often do it collectively. We’re in denial. Big time. And denial is a dangerous place to be. By any measure we are on course for a terrible catastrophe. And if we don’t look ahead and force ourselves to see the rocky shore we’re about to crash into, we have no chance of plotting a better course.
As UU’s we support democracy, we support equity and compassion, and we support peace, liberty, and justice for all. But I think we all understand that we live in a country with a government that engages in flagrant and open corruption as a matter of course. Our democracy is shattered and what remains of our government , what hasn’t been dismantled over the past thirty years, has been corrupted by the powerful. Leaving aside the horrors of our overseas empire, the wars, the drone attacks, the naked and transparent drive to control the oil that is our country’s lifeblood. Looking just at our domestic failures, since we don’t have all day, we can see how this government has been corrupted into little else than a tool of the elite. The legislative branch funds its elections with money donated by wealthy people, and by corporations and institutions owned and operated by wealthy people who want to buy influence. When we talk about corruption in the the executive branch, we call it regulatory capture and the revolving door. The same people who work for the very industries that need regulating move freely from government service to lucrative private jobs in the industry they were supposedly regulating. When we strip away the euphemisms, it is obvious that this is flat out corruption. The highest court we have has approved a court decision that ruled that money is the same as speech. The rule of law has been shoved aside and replaced by rule by the powerful, of the powerful, and for the powerful. We’re trapped in a vicious cycle, one described by political scientists Theda Skocpol and Lawrence Jacobs: the cycle goes like this: the rich have more money, so they use that money to buy political power, then, with their political power, they promote and pass policies that give them more money, which they use to buy more power. And so on. Ad infinitum .
At the same time, while our democracy is being dismantled by the wealthy, we’ve been seeped in a perverse economic ideology. An ideology that proclaims that economic growth is the most important thing in the world. That, if we could just manage to grow more, to get bigger, to make more money, all of our problems would be solved. It’s the ideology behind the claim that rich countries can afford to care about the environment, while failing to acknowledge that we have shown that care by outsourcing our dirtiest production to the poorest countries and doing so on the back of our working class. It’s that ideology that is behind the claim that no matter what, we must always prop up the banks, no matter the cost. I don;t know if you read about it, but a bank CEO from Europe just this weekend called for a bailout of 2 trillion dollars for the European banking industry. Because without it, you see, we can’t have growth. We might even have economic contraction. Without growth, you see, we might have to take a moment and examine how we’ve distributed the enormous amount of wealth we’ve extracted from the planet and that we’ve created with our machines and our labor. Without growth, we might have to take a moment to reconsider the idea that the pinnacle of human happiness is owning the newest gadget or having a fancier car than our neighbors. As our economy is currently structured, growth is a requirement for success, without growth companies risk becoming outpaced and out bid by their competitors.
The problem with growth, of course, is that we live on a finite planet. How many read the Limits to Growth back in the ‘70’s? The authors were correct. There is now good independent evidence that demonstrates that we are on the path described as business as usual, the path that leads straight to a catastrophic population and well being collapse in the middle of the 21st century. By almost every measure our natural environment is failing. Fisheries are in decline, forests are dying and being clear cut at an increasing rate, biodiversity is plummeting. But most of all, the most urgent threat we’re facing is carbon pollution. We’ve increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by 40% since the industrial revolution. Scientists report that the weather instability we’re seeing, especially in the arctic and in the increased rain and snow falls, are a direct result of mucking about with the carbon cycle. We’ve managed to destablize the systems that kept us afloat, the systems that we all depend on so profoundly for food, for water, for the most basic needs of human existence. The reality of our time, the horrific fact that we all have to come to terms with, is that our ancestors made a mistake. They had no way of knowing what they were doing, but when they started burning coal and then oil, they set in motion a series of events that have led to an unterraforming, that have led to a situation where people are now faced with having to figure out how to replace these fuels and restabilize the carbon cycle. I don;t think it is possible to overstate the urgency of this task--there is now ample evidence that the most recent IPCC report understated both the severity of the impacts and the speed with which those impacts would be felt. Climate change is coming harder and faster than anyone imagined.
I don’t want to turn you all towards hedonism, I don’t want to give the impression that we don;t have any hope and that all is lost. It’s not. If we’re lucky, and I think we might be, Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupations are going to be successful in affecting real change. But it’s still early days. We’re just at the beginning, in this country at least, of what must ultimately be a successful transformation of the human soul. We have to learn, as we’ve had to learn many times in our past, that human societies must be based in on love. The kind of love Martin Luther King and Jesus preached about. Agape. Brotherly love. Inherent worth and dignity of all people. Equality, Liberty, Fraternity. There are as many way to talk about that love as there are societies and eras. As a culture, we wandered too far toward Hobbes’s war of all against all and it’s time to pull ourselves back from the brink. And that starts with the timeless dictum to love thy neighbor as thyself.
Loving thy neighbor as thyself means that we need to get to work. And quickly. Our moral order is out of balance and we need to unite to right it. The loss of our democracy, of a way to make a right living, of our natural environment lend an urgency that our culture, even our species, hasn’t experienced before. How do we affect change of this magnitude? How can we bend ourselves back toward justice? I think history has shown that we have one effective tactic available to us: nonviolent direct action.
Nonviolent direct action is rooted in a place of spiritual and moral strength. It is a demonstration of that strength and a demonstration of our unity. We are blessed to have a strong history of the practice of nonviolent resistance in our society, though it has been suppressed and excised from our schools. The writings and speeches of our great nonviolent activists have been sanitized so that they would hardly recognize themselves reflected in the school books of today.
Nonviolence gives us power. It gives us the power to force the corporate state to show itself, to show its true nature as an oppressor of human liberty and a destroyer of justice. There can be no more powerful sight on the news, on the internet, and flowing through social media than the sight of our young people, young people peacefully exercising the right of assembly, being attacked by the agents of the state in service of their corporate lords. Did you hear that just two weeks ago JP Morgan donated 4.6 million dollars to the NYPD. Apropos of nothing in particular, of course. The can be no more powerful sight than the sight of a peaceful demonstrator weeping at the threshold of a JP Morgan Chase bank, the bank, that foreclosed on his mother while the police arrest him. There can be no more powerful sight than that of a peaceful young woman brutally attacked by an officer with mace. Or a legal observer run over and then beaten by the police with clubs.
Nonviolence gives us power. It gives us the power to practice love, and practicing love is important. It gives us the power to resist tyranny while keeping our own hearts and our own hands clean and pure. We are on the side of justice and we are on the side of right. That is the source of our power, of our legitamacy. To harm another, to attack instead of love, is to undermine ourselves. Nonviolence allows forgiveness of those who have transgressed against us. It allows those who have gone astray to be welcomed back with open arms. It allows a healing of the social fabric that makes up the great tapestry of being.
Our power derives from love. And nonviolent resistance is always an act of love. An act of love for our fellow countrymen and women. An act of love for our great nation and all the nations of the world. An act of love for creation and all beings within it.
Nonviolence is an act of redemption, it is an act of purification for a people who have allowed our government and our system of commerce to rain down terror on this Earth and her people. Nonviolence on the part of citizens of this empire is an act of power and righteousness on behalf of the helpless, of the oppressed, of those who have suffered that the wealthy among us might sate their unquenchable greed.
The time has come to bring the great wheel, the great machine, of modern life to a halt. The time has come to use our bodies, our minds, and our souls to remake the world for our future and for our children’s future. I’m going to close with a quote from a Martin Luther King, who fought the good fight of his time and whose descendants have spoken up in support of #occupy, “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late."
This is our time. This is our turn. Let’s seize it while the moment is ripe.