Aerial Art Action against oil drilling off the Portuguese coast, produced by John Quigley, during the "Defend the Sacred" gathering in Tamera, Portugal, 2017 (photo by Ludwig Schramm)
In late 2017, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a dramatic “warning to humanity” over biodiversity loss due to overconsumption of resources. They agreed that if we continue “business as usual,” we'll shortly approach a point where it will be too late to shift our apocalyptic trajectory; worldwide ecosystem collapse will be inevitable.
In its compulsion for unending growth, capitalism has developed a vampiric mechanism of planetary proportions, sucking the lifeblood out of the Earth's body. In its addiction to mining, oil drilling, deforestation, the exploitation of billions of lives and the mental enslavement of humanity, today's global economic system precisely embodies Wetiko, an Algonquin word for “cannibalism” that illustrates the insanity we've fallen prey to. Wetiko is the psycho-spiritual “disease of the white man” which makes amnesiacs of us – our natural sense of basic interdependence with other beings is obliterated and replaced with an addictive focus on personal short-term profit.
Through an insidious history of colonization, genocide and imperialism, the Wetiko virus has gradually infected (nearly) all of humanity, brainwashing us into a mode of thought that proclaims that “the Earth is a dead exploitable resource,” “animals and plants have no soul,” “life is a game of competition and fight,” “love always ends in disaster,” “either we kill our enemies or they will kill us,” “we will be punished for our mistakes” and so on. Under the spell of this subconscious conditioning, we are sleepwalking towards an abyss, lacking the psychological and spiritual capacities needed to make sense of and respond to the crisis we're facing. With our collective survival on the line, we need a wholly different vision of ourselves and our relation to the living world that's able to awaken our primordial love for life and our desire to serve it without reservation. Only with a unifying narrative that addresses the human disconnection at the root of our global crisis will the many social, political and ecological movements converge into a relevant power for global system change.
The Seeds of Standing Rock
What is sacred? It might seem cynical to speak about something “sacred” after millennia of unspeakable atrocities committed in its name. Yet, living in a civilization that has defiled virtually everything, emptied this world of meaning and processed it into commodities, our longing for the sacred might, after all, be the crucial guide out of our dead end.
When about 30 members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe confronted the fossil fuel industry and the U.S. government, setting up a camp at their burial ground which was to be bulldozed for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, they did so to “defend the sacred.” Ladonna Bravebull Allard, founder of the Sacred Stone Camp affirms, “We stood up because we had no other choice. Water is life. If there's no water, we will die.”
Such “sacred activism” comes as a deep re-membering: We are of this Earth. There is no salvation outside of it. Patriarchal religions told of some out-of-Earth entity making covenants with exceptional people and asking us to renounce this world. Yet the original covenant of all people is with the Earth and is therefore of an Earthly, sensual nature. Activism doesn't become “sacred” merely because it works “on behalf of” something sacred; but by recognizing, honoring, embodying and celebrating the inherent sacredness of all that lives – which isn't anywhere beyond this world, but right here. Sacred activism challenges us to make a choice at every moment, to decide for life, for solidarity and for trust despite the temptation of an overwhelming field of fear, greed and hatred. It was this clear orientation that fueled the resistance at Standing Rock – and drew in people from all directions to join it. Representatives of over 300 Indigenous cultures, black bloc anarchists, environmentalists, spiritual seekers and over 2500 army veterans banded together beyond their usual ideological divisions, because they were united by something more fundamental than ideologies – a shared spiritual center.
Standing Rock inspired similar resistances globally. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota People, writes in February 2018, “People all over the world are now beginning to understand that [water] is a living spirit: it can heal when you pray with it and die if you do not respect it. (...) Standing Rock has marked the beginning of an international movement that will continue to work peacefully, purposefully, and tirelessly for the protection of water along all areas of poisonous oil pipelines and across all of Mother Earth.”
Around the world, movements are arising towards decentralizing power, culture and economies, leaving the mega-systems of nation states and globalized corporations behind and building a society based on autonomous regions in which people can reclaim their sovereignty while caring for each other and the Earth again. There are remarkable movements in the Global South, such as the Indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico, the Rojava revolution in the Kurdish zones of northern Syria, the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, peace communities, such as San José de Apartadó in Colombia and many more. In the Global North, we see a revival of socialist ideals and the emergence of municipalism.
It's worth noting that this revolution is feminine in essence. Women are the heart of many of these movements. From Rojava to Chiapas, from Standing Rock to Barcelona, we're seeing the resurgence of feminine power fostering community, self-determination, healing and care for the Earth, shaking the foundations of patriarchal dominance.
How can this revolutionary impulse succeed? Trump defeated the Standing Rock movement, Erdogan is cracking down on Rojava and Colombian peace communities are severely threatened by paramilitaries. Running up against a globalized trillion-dollar economic, political and military system, every group and place resisting will face the same destiny as long as they remain on merely the local, regional or even national levels. The victory over capitalist globalization can, logically, only be global. In other words, either we form an unbreakable global alliance or we're bound to fail. Yet, in this struggle, failure is not an option.
Starting Point for a Global Alliance?
As I see it, a global alliance bringing together the many movements in the North and South, and mobilizing the many millions wanting radical change, could emerge around the following five shared thematic areas:
1) Fierce nonviolent resistance against the fossil fuel industry
Stopping the fossil fuel industry before it's too late is the first demand for our collective survival. As people stood up against the pipeline at Standing Rock, people must come together and stand up everywhere to both impede new fossil fuel projects and shut down existing ones. At the same time, let's increase the pressure on municipalities, countries, companies and banks to divest from fossil fuels and end subsidies. The divestment movement reached a historic milestone in the first days of 2018 when New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced his city would divest from fossil fuels and sue leading oil companies over climate change. Activist and author Naomi Klein, who assisted the announcement, comments that “What felt politically impossible yesterday suddenly seems possible.”
2) Transition to decentralized, clean energy and large-scale ecosystem restoration
Let's establish regenerative energy systems based on the inexhaustible sources of sun and wind. We must ensure the transition will be decentralized, instead of staying stuck in the corporate framework. Let’s organize to create a decentralized infrastructure for energy autonomous cities and regions.
Additionally, let's rehabilitate ecosystems worldwide, as desertification, droughts, wildfires and misery aren't only the results of carbon emissions but also of the destruction of ecosystems and natural water cycles. By creating systems of local rainwater retention, we no longer only need to adapt to climate change, we can actually restore and rebalance our destabilized climate.
There are powerful examples to follow, such as India's “Water Gandhi” Rajendra Singh and his NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh that mobilized villagers in Rajasthan to restore thousands of square kilometers of degraded land, through which they've revived several rivers, rebalanced rainfall, ended extreme weather events and secured an abundant self-sufficient water and food supply for about 100,000 people in less than 25 years. Following a New Water Paradigm, let's organize in communities united around watersheds for natural and decentralized water management wherever we live. “Rain for Climate,” a movement initiated by the Slovakian hydrologist Michal Kravčík, offers a corresponding global action plan.
3) Ethics of universal solidarity
To truly heal this planet, we need the power of community, which is much more than simply a political coalition. Whenever people come together around a shared goal and practice solidarity, they connect with a power greater than the sum of their individual efforts. Thus, they're unified and driven by meaning, trust and possibility, able to overcome any obstacle.
We must recognize the crucial role of community, not just as an accidental side effect of camps or occupations, but as a vital aspect of post-capitalist society and so consciously engage in building and maintaining it. Thereby, politics becomes a matter of social design, because the divisions we're suffering in our movements, most of the time, result from a lack of trust and solidarity among human beings. We all carry a wound that expresses itself as fear or anger, attack or retreat in one situation or the other. So far, this wound has mostly been more powerful than people's will for change. Systems of domination have prevailed by exploiting this human weakness, sowing discord among activists and setting them against each other.
A planetary community of sacred activists relies on living, breathing trust among its members. It will grow in power to the extent that we cultivate universal solidarity, truthful communication and mutual support. Instead of propagating moralistic heroism, let's create places of encounter and new forms of coexistence that will allow us to heal our wounds and rebuild trust.
4) Common focus on an emerging vision for humanity
The world seems ready for radical change. The majority of the population in the West no longer supports the dominant economic and political system and is turning away from it in what journalist Chris Hedges calls the “invisible revolution.” Recent years have seen massive outbreaks of public anger and longing for a different society. Yet, little has changed. According to the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, we're stuck in a state which most recognize as beyond insane, simply because no one can see a credible alternative.
The necessary global shift begins by radically reimagining our civilization. If we have an authentic vision for a nonviolent and regenerative way of life, a culture of solidarity and trust, we’ll be able to midwife the global transition. This isn't anything we can make up; a true vision is something fundamentally different from a constructed idea, wishful fantasy or ideology. As we abandon the mainstream mentality of dominant culture, we also overcome the drought of creativity which blocks people from imagining an alternative. We recognize that our spirit is deeply creative and that we always carry vision – this is why we're alive. When a vision touches our heart and we allow it to guide our life, we're driven by our deepest purpose and have enormous energies at our disposal. Yet, we carry vision not only individually, but also collectively. As Ladonna Bravebull Allard of Standing Rock puts it, “The shared vision for humanity exists, whether we see it or not.” Our task is to become receptive for it, to see it, make it visible and activate it, using all means of communication, so that our collective imagination will no longer be driven by dreams of downfall, but elevated by the possibility of worldwide healing and unification.
5) A different principle of power
The fight between capitalism and those defending life is a power struggle. We need to seize power, but we need a different kind of power than the one usually deployed by revolutionaries. We have no chance of trying to overcome a globalized system of violence by constructing a counter-force through mass mobilization and fight alone. Many attempts to overthrow the dominant systems didn't originate from power, but powerlessness, because activists let themselves be corrupted by the fear and hatred those systems propagated.
Native American activist Winona LaDuke writes, “Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. (…) Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”
Despite terrible injuries, all life still automatically strives towards healing, regeneration and convergence, as this is necessary for its continuity. In nature, we find universal patterns at work, which operate according to what sociologist and futurist Dieter Duhm calls the “sacred matrix.” He writes:
The sacred matrix is the cosmic pattern which forms the basis for the organization of life. It steers the information and energies necessary for the evolution and maintenance of life. When the individual connects with this guidance, channels for healing open up. When humanity organizes itself in accordance with the sacred matrix, channels for global healing powers open up.
Beyond all alienation and division, there's something all beings have in common, something we all deeply love. This something carries no name and is beyond description, but it is what people of all ages have experienced as “sacred.” When the veil of separation falls, we face the animated, eternal and truly sacred character of existence. When people enter into this resonance, they experience healing, regeneration and convergence and often find themselves under great protection. Studying and learning to live according to the principles of sacred power will allow our movements to succeed in ways that previously looked impossible. The key to this power doesn't primarily lie in external activities and strategies, but in a conscious shift of the whole way we live, think, speak and act – from the matrix of fear and violence to the sacred matrix.
Utopia or Oblivion
Ultimately, our success will result from unprecedented collaboration between the different organs of the emerging global alliance. A key part of this is to establish experimental centers that concretely model post-capitalist societies on a small scale, developing social and ecological structures that invite in and no longer systematically block off the healing powers of life. Such centers (at Tamera, we call these “Healing Biotopes”) as well as still-existing Indigenous communities could provide all those wanting to step out of the current system with the necessary knowledge to create functioning communities of trust and cooperation.
More and more places could break out of the dominant system, creating autonomous regions, and so give rise to a new system based on a local sovereignty rooted in global interdependence. While social movements slow down the pace of destruction through their resistance, they could also restore ecosystems and implement the infrastructure for post-capitalism. Inventors could contribute new technologies to an ever-increasing number of regenerative communities and regions, donors could support them financially, journalists could provide the necessary public attention and allied progressive governments could create “free zones” for them to operate in. Guided by a shared global vision, an ever-increasing number of people would help birth a new era. Once a global alternative becomes realistic for a critical number of people, we would have created the conditions for the dominant system to implode and give way to a new one.
This is no longer only a dream. As dystopian scenarios become imminent, “utopia” remains as the only realistic way out. We mustn't forget that it has always been through existential necessity, vision, community and surrender to spirit that people have made the apparently impossible possible. Let's come together to build a world where creativity, cooperation and mutual support become the foundations of a sacred way of life.
Martin Winiecki is an activist, networker, writer and co-worker of the Tamera Peace Research & Education Center in Portugal, where he organizes the international activist gathering “Defend the Sacred.”