Change comes in waves, like the ocean, like sound, or ripples on a lake. Sometimes it’s all action – Occupy, the Arab Spring, the summer of 1968. Sometimes it feels like nothing’s happening, nothing’s ever going to happen, no matter how hard you try. Or even that things are slipping backwards – like the sea sucking sand from under your toes.
Take a step back though and it’s easier to see the overall direction of change. Our movement has been building since the ‘60’s when it swept across Africa and Asia as a torrent of national liberation struggles. Then came a second wave in the late ‘80s as the Berlin Wall fell and Apartheid came crashing down.
As the movement grew it started to find a new way of being. It took on the non-violence of Gandhi and King together with the mass mobilisations of Occupy and the Street Movements that flooded city Squares in the summer of 2011.
A movement needs mantras. Phrases that capture its spirit, focus its energy, help it concentrate on the task at hand. Our movement, which Naomi Klein calls the Movement of Movements, is no exception. As I move around, rubbing shoulders with Everyday Activists from across the world, I hear certain phrases repeated again and again.
1. The Revolution is Love
Deep in the soul of the movement we recognise that how we go about this revolution more and more reflects the world we want to create. It’s no good pretending that means and ends are separate or that we can put off our principles until the day after tomorrow. No. We have discovered that we can act ourselves into the new world, here and now.
And because love is the driving force behind life, abundance, creation, the revolution is motivated by love. It embodies love. And there is no-one who is immune from giving or receiving love. Only love has the power to overcome the hatred and aggression of a system intent on destroying life itself – the kind of tough love that supports an addict into recovery.
2. We are Nature Protecting Itself
Witnessing the devastation wrought on the planet by an economic system that is out of control, we are moved to protect the world we love. At the same time we steadfastly refuse to adopt the notion of separation. Seeing humanity as separate and apart from nature is what allows the system to destroy the planet without a second thought. If we were “people” standing up to protect “nature” we would still be separate from it. No. We are nature’s immune system. One part of nature acting collaboratively to protect the whole.
This is something we have learnt form the Indigenous peoples who have been at the forefront of environmental protection since the advent of colonialism. From Chipko to Standing Rock and Idle No More, Indigenous movements, often led by women are protecting eco-systems and offering a glimpse of a life in harmony with the natural world. The rest of us are learning to re-indigenise ourselves, taking on the task of coming back into unity with the land, the water, the air. Anti-fracking groups in England are now seeing themselves as Protectors rather than protesters. This is our way to honour age old wisdom and decolonise ourselves, our lives and our shared movement.
3. We are the Secret World Government
When Charles Eisenstein first uttered these words at the New Story Summit in 2014 he named a deep truth. We are the new world government in waiting, a decentralised, human scale, earth-regenerating, life affirming, love-filled government. It would be government by the people for the people except that it is reaching further afield to embrace the vibrant living planet that holds us. Governance of Gaia by Gaia.
Those we see as having power are in reality constrained by the system they are part of. They have become functionaries in a corrupt and dehumanising system. They are only powerful for as long as we are mesmerised by the shadow of power they exhibit. Who wants that kind of power?
We know we have the power to build the new world, from the ground up. One act of kindness at a time. One relationship, one home, one street, one community at a time. This is the power of global transformation. The deeper its roots, the longer it will persist.
4. The Times Are Urgent. We Must Slow Down.
Attributed to African Elders this proverb reminds us that a clear head and an open heart are needed in times of chaos. The Movement understands this. It knows intuitively that its actions should not add to the chaos and turbulence. It understands that this mind-set of urgency and haste is part of the problem and so cannot be part of the solution.
Of course this creates an internal tension. A creative tension. We want to act. We know the importance of holding the line, standing firm, standing up for what’s right. We also know that stillness brings new answers and a resolve of steel. It is out of stillness that the most grounded, compassionate and transformational actions arise.
But this is a self-aware movement. It has come to the conclusion that the dichotomy between spirituality and activism is false. So we approach our world-changing mission with the same centeredness we apply to yoga or music, tai chi, or painting.
One thing we’ve learnt along the way is that what you resist persists. What you embrace transforms. Which brings us to another dilemma. If we oppose the empire, we become the empire. Or to be slightly more accurate, we enter into a dynamic that gives it life and energy. Something tells us to stop fighting and try a different approach.
Erica Chenoweth’s work on non-violence and non-cooperation gives credence to the strategies pioneered by Gandhi and King. Consistently across recent history it is non-violent strategies that have toppled repressive regimes. Remarkably she also found that it takes a surprisingly small number of dedicated, persistent activists to mobilise an entire population.
The Movement is full of folk who understand this dynamic. Pancho Ramos Stierle is one of them – a veteran of the Occupy movement in Oakland who was arrested while on a silent meditation protest. Pancho has a theory that of every ten revolutionary actions, nine should be about creating the world we want to live in:
Sometimes the most radical thing to do in a polluted violence-based system, is to be still. The mud settles to the bottom and we then have a clearer vision about our next steps… If we disobey with compassion and love in our hearts and minds, if we spend 90 per cent of our energy creating the alternatives of a just, free, and liberated world we will discover the joy to rebel against an imposed fear. (From Yes! Magazine.)
5. Change Begins at the Margins
Permaculture teaches us that change does not happen at the centre. The core is the most stable part of a system. Change happens at the furthest reaches where outside influences come to bear, where diversity mingles and creativity flourishes.
The revolution will not storm the citadels of power. It tried that in the 20th Century and didn’t much like the results. Instead it is growing in the wonderful, fertile actions of those who have abandoned the mainstream in favour of the experiment of prefigurative living.
The revolution is a living growing ecosystem. It’s made up of the many and varied ways people around the world are putting into practice their wildest dreams of the good life. Like all healthy eco-systems it will grow and expand until it reaches a tipping point. The decaying remnants of zombie capitalism will be swallowed up and composted by the regenerative power of revolutionary yearning.
6. Everyone is a Teacher
This mantra is the great leveller. It sees that everyone is of value and reminds me that I am always ready to learn and grow. If I see everyone as a teacher I become curious about them and open to lessons I did not expect.
Unlike past revolutions this one is the conscious liberation of the entire human race – not any single class or nation. This means integrating everyone into a single human family. No easy task for sure, especially during the transition when some will hold franticly to outmoded and dying ideologies. Fundamentalists will reveal themselves around every corner, even the ones we thought led to friendly streets.
How do we integrate things that we dislike or distrust? By asking questions: What is it like to walk in your shoes? What is this person who I see as an oppressor telling me about what’s still needed to unite humanity? In what way is this person who annoys me a mirror held up to my face? What can they still teach me about my own rough edges, my shadow? And how can the movement be broadened to include their needs? After all, conflict is merely a human need that’s going unmet. What human need do they represent? How can we make an ally of our former “enemies”?
There are no opponents. Only teachers and allies-in-waiting.
7. We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
No-one else is going to do this for us. We are the activists we need. And the spiritual leaders. The healers, permaculturalists, farmers, carers, lovers and best friends. It’s all here, all ready and all moving steadily in the right direction.
Let me give the next-to-last word to the un-named Hopi elder who first uttered this mantra:
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for.
And so to the poetry:
To love is to touch a tender place
at the heart of this pulsing mass
we call Universe
and feel it in my fingers
on the face of a child and
in the soil that forms my path.
It is to offer ourselves to greater gods:
truth, beauty, service,
glimpsed in the eyes of another.
To love is to abandon the fortress of I
and head for the fields and forests of doubt
where we lose ourselves
in pursuit of each others’ perfection.
Then one day
we hear a call from beyond the hills
and realize we are ready.
We are empty
somehow good enough.
Those at my side
will hold me to the best version of who we are.
We watch as the world turns its face to the sun
glancing back to see if we’ll follow.
In this moment
we remember why we were born
and why we would die for this.
Chris Taylor splits his time between writing and developing the next generation of grounded activists. He lives in the UK and tweets (not very frequently) at https://twitter.com/chrisltaylor63.