Creating the World Anew, Together-- Here and Now
This morning on Positively Revolting talk radio, I hosted a discussion on revolutionary spirit and radical social change. You can listen to the audio for that program here.
Remember, remember the fifth of November
The gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot
So goes the rhyme that commemorates the actions of Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605. Fawkes was part of a radical Catholic group, that was seeking to displace Protestant rule. In England, bonfires are lit on November 5th, and Guy Fawkes is still burnt in effigy, four hundred plus years after the original attempt.
Growing up with this story, this time of year always brings to mind the spirit of revolution. Fawkes' original goal of bringing back Catholic rule by killing the large number of Protestants gathered in Parliament that night, has little to do with the enigmatic gunpowder legend that was left behind. Indeed, after I'd heard this rhyme for years, I got around to asking my mother what the gunpowder treason was about, and she couldn't recall any detail, just that Guy Fawkes gets burnt in effigy because of his part in it, and the fireworks were fun. I recognize the irony of using the image of Guy Fawkes as a revolutionary hero of any kind-- I certainly don't believe that a return to Catholic rule was a good idea for advancing human rights, and I abhor any plan that uses mass execution as a means for social change, as his gunpowder plot certainly did. That said, his status falling enigmatically between villain and folk hero intrigues me, and there is a recent resurgence in Guy Fawkes awareness in the US due to a Guy Fawkes' mask wearing protagonist in Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, and the movie that derived from it twenty years later. As such, Fawkes image has become a popular symbol of revolt, and I'll go with that for the moment.
History is punctuated by attempts of revolt, some more successful than others. I'm left with the question of what sparks these events? Are they generally the result of intolerable conditions? What conditions are completely unacceptable, and what can actually be done to change those conditions? What causes some movements to catch fire, as it were, while others pass into the obscurity of history written by the victors.
I would argue that there are numerous conditions under which we live today, that are completely inhumane, unacceptable, and unsustainable. These conditions have become normalized to the point that many accept them as part of our miserable state, unaware that there are alternatives. Others may see that there are alternatives, but have turned towards cynicism, figuring that there isn't anything that can be done to improve our lot. Then there are those of us that dare to dream of other ways, and work to engage and enact them-- but how? Do we do it by creating strong leaders who will chart the course for the rest, putting down, vilifying, or fighting those that disagree with them? In short, recreating the very same conditions that have brought us here?
How can we create radical social change, without recreating a structure that invites oppression? In social change work can the end goals and the means to get there be at odds with one another? It is not possible to fight for peace, as A.J. Muste said, "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." So, how do we get over our essential socialization, steeped in hierarchy, to create a world where we embrace one another as equals, without regard to race, to gender, and where there is no class difference?
I would argue that the vehicle through which we seek change, must reflect that change throughout. In other words, when it comes to making meaningful contributions to creating a better world, they need be done in accordance with the values we seek, not the same values we are seeking to overcome. As we live in accordance with those new ideals, as we work them through our daily lives, we are actually doing the revolution. There is no need to wait for the great leap forward. We create the world through our thoughts and actions--- what if we brought our actions into more alignment with our values? We can live the revolution as daily practice, and in so doing, we can refine our ideals, explore new ways of organizing, and find joy in having meaningfully engaged the work of radical social change. If we think we have solutions to the serious problems of greed, unsustainability, hierarchy, and the like, it's important to ground these ideas in day to day life, giving them opportunity to develop.
I'm very proud of KBOO for courageously engaging in this work. Our program charter states that KBOO's inherent values are: peace, justice, democracy, human rights, multi-culturalism, environmentalism, freedom of expression, and social change. A few years ago, a group of members, volunteers, staff, and board members advocated for a change in policy and practice to reflect those values. We advocated for non-violent communication throughout the station, and community standards that emphasized respect for all involved. I am excited to engage these principles in my community work, connecting my daily work, and the work of KBOO, to the much larger goal of broad-based radical social change.
As often happens, the program ran out of time before listeners ran out of ideas--- so let's continue this discussion off-air, here. Let's engage in a bit of public discourse.
I'd love to hear what your experience has been, working with deep social change? How does "pragmatism" effect what we think we can do? How does one break through cynacism? How do ideologies get in our way? How do ideologies help us? How do we organize in non-hierarchical ways?
Your comments are most welcome.
I want to post the lyrics to CRASS' "Bloody Revolutions", which was the song I used to open this morning's program. I stand by my earlier statement that it is the best polemic in a song I've ever heard. Couldn't have said it better, myself:
You talk about your revolution, well, that's fine
But what are you going to be doing come the time?
Are you going to be the big man with the tommy-gun?
Will you talk of freedom when the blood begins to run?
Well, freedom has no value if violence is the price
Don't want your revolution, I want anarchy and peace
Chorus: You talk of over throwing power with violence as your tool
You speak of liberation and when the people rule
Well ain't it people rule right now, what difference would there be?
Just another set of bigots with their rifle-sights on me
But what about those people who don't want your new restrictions?
Those that disagree with you and have their own convictions?
You say thay've got it wrong because they don't agree with you
So when the revolution comes you'll have to run them through
Yet you say that revoution will bring freedom for us all
Well freedom just ain't freedom when your back's against the wall
Will you indoctrinate the masses to serve your new regime?
And simply do away with those whose views are too extreme?
Transportation details could be left to British rail
Where Zyklon B succeeded, North Sea Gas will fail
It's just the same old story of man destroying man
We've got to look for other answers to the problems of this land
Vive la revolution, people of the world unite
Stand up of courage, it's your job to fight
It all seems very easy, this revolution game
But when you start to really play things won't be quite the same
Your intellectual theories on how it's going to be
Don't seem to take into account the true reality
Cos the truth of what you're saying, as you sit there sipping beer
Is pain and death and suffering, but of course you wouldn't care
You're far too much of a man for that, if Mao did it so can you
What's the freedom of us all against the suffering of a few?
That's the kind of self-deception that killed ten million jews
Just the same false logic that all power-mongers use
So don't think you can fool me with your political tricks
Political lies, political lies, you can keep your politics
Government is government and all government is force
Left or right, or right or left, it takes the same old course
Oppression and restriction, regulation, rule of law
The seizure of that power is all your revolution's for
You romanticize your heroes, quote from Marx and Mao
Well their ideas of freedom are just oppression now
Nothing's changed for all the death that their ideas created
It's just the same fascistic games, but the rules aren't clearly stated
Nothing's really different cos all government's the same
They can call it freedom, but slavery is the game
There's nothing that you offer but a dream of last years hero
The truth of revolution, brother..................... is year zero
Love and Solidarity,