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Frank Coughlin: The Humility of Love: A Lesson from Chiapas

By Frank Coughlin, Deep Green Resistance New York
Humility. An important word you rarely hear in our culture anymore. Our culture seems to be going in the opposite direction, everything with a superlative. Everything bigger, faster, better, stronger. Everything new, shiny, pretty, expensive. But never humble. “Dude, love that car. It’s so humble.” Yeah, you never hear that.

Politically on the left, in the “fight” as we call it, we’re just as guilty. We have a tendency towards ego, self-righteousness, hyper-individualism. We want our movements to be better, stronger, bigger. We want the big social “pop-off”, the “sexy” revolution, perhaps our face on the next generation’s t-shirts. But we never ask for humility. As we near what most scientists predict to be “climate catastrophe”, I’ve been thinking a lot about humility. I recently was able to travel to Chiapas, Mexico to learn about the Zapatista movement. I was there for a month, working with various groups in a human rights capacity. While I was there to provide some type of service, I left with a profound respect for a true revolutionary humility. This essay is not designed to be a complete history of the Zapatista movement, but perhaps it can provide some context.

The Zapatistas are an indigenous movement based in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. The name is derived from Emiliano Zapata, who led the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, which lasted approximately from 1910-1920. Zapata’s main rallying cry was “land and liberty”, exemplifying the sentiments of the many indigenous populations who supported and formed his army. The modern-day Zapatistas declare themselves the ideological heirs to these struggles, again representing many indigenous struggles in southern Mexico. While the Zapatistas became public in 1994, as their name implies, their struggle is the culmination of decades of struggle. Many of the mestizos (non-indigenous) organizers came from the revolutionary student struggles of the 60s and 70s in Mexico’s larger cities. In 1983, many of these organizers, along with their indigenous counterparts, who represented decades of indigenous organizing in the jungles of Mexico, formed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

From 1983 to their dramatic declaration of war against the Mexican government in 1994, the EZLN formed and trained a secret army under the cover of the Lacandon Jungle. After a decade of organizing and training in the context of extreme poverty, an army of indigenous peasants, led by a mix of mestizos and indigenous leaders, surprised the world by storming five major towns in Chiapas. They chose the early morning hours of January 1st, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The connection with NAFTA was intentional because the destructive neoliberal policies inherent in the agreement were viewed as a death sentence to indigenous livelihoods. They used old guns, machetes, and sticks to take over government buildings, release prisoners from the San Cristobal jail, and make their first announcement, The First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle. With most wearing the now signature pasamontañas over their faces, they declared war on the Mexican government, saying:

We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism, then to promulgate our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil, and later the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz denied us the just application of the Reform laws and the people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us. We have been denied the most elemental preparation so they can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. They don’t care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace nor justice for ourselves and our children.

But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH…

We, the men and women, full and free, are conscious that the war that we have declared is our last resort, but also a just one. The dictators are applying an undeclared genocidal war against our people for many years. Therefore we ask for your participation, your decision to support this plan that struggles for work, land, housing, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. We declare that we will not stop fighting until the basic demands of our people have been met by forming a government of our country that is free and democratic.

Very true to the words of Zapata, that it is “better to die on your feet than live on your knees”, the EZLN fighters engaged in a self-described suicide against the Mexican government. As Subcommandante Marcos, now known as Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, the public face of the EZLN, stated, “If I am living on borrowed time, it is because we thought that we would go to the world above on the first of January. When I arrived at the second day, and the following, it was all extra.”1

What followed was a war of government repression. The quiet mountain towns of Chiapas were flooded with advanced military equipment and troops. A twelve-day battle ensued, with rebel retreats and civilian massacres, finally ending with a cease-fire. Following this “peace agreement”, the EZLN no longer offensively attacked, but refused to lay down their arms. The government engaged in raids, attacks on civilian populations, and initiated a paramilitary war. Formal peace accords, known as the San Andres Accords, were signed between the government and the EZLN leadership in February of 1996. They addressed some of the root causes of the rebellion, such as indigenous autonomy and legal protections for indigenous rights. While signed in 1996, the agreements did not make it to the Mexican congress until 2000. There they were gutted, removing key principles as signed by the EZLN, such as the right of indigenous autonomy. Much has been written on the history of the EZLN after the failure of the peace accords, including the march to Mexico City, as well as the EZLN’s attempts at fostering a larger social movement force. The EZLN released their “Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle”, which highlights their call to the Mexican and international populations to work to ”find agreement between those of us who are simple and humble and, together, we will organize all over the country and reach agreement in our struggles, which are alone right now, separated from each other, and we will find something like a program that has what we all want, and a plan for how we are going to achieve the realization of that program…”

In 2003, the EZLN released a statement that began the process of radically restructuring the Zapatista communities with the development of autonomous municipalities, called caracoles (conch shell). The name caracole was picked because as Marcos once explained, the conch shell was used to “summon the community” as well as an “aid to hear the most distant words”. The caracoles and their respective “councils of good government” (as opposed to the “bad government” of Mexico) were designed to organize the rebel municipalities as well as to push forward the original mandate of indigenous autonomy. With the failure of the San Andres accords, the Zapatistas openly decided that they would follow the word of the accords that they had signed, regardless of the Mexican government’s policy. In line with their mandate to “lead by obeying”, the EZLN, the armed aspect of the Zapatistas, separated themselves from the work of the civil society and abdicated control of the Zapatista movement to the caracoles.

The objective was “to create — with, by, and for the communities — organizations of resistance that are at once connected, coordinated and self-governing, which enable them to improve their capacity to make a different world possible. At the same time, the project postulates that, as far as possible, the communities and the peoples should immediately put into practice the alternative life that they seek, in order to gain experience. They should not wait until they have more power to do this. “What has occurred in the past decade is that the Zapatistas have put the original demand for indigenous autonomy into practice by creating autonomous governments, health systems, economic systems, and educational systems. In doing so, they have stayed true to the ideals of “leading from below” and a rejection of the ideal to overtake state power. They have “constructed a world in which they have realized their own vision of freedom and autonomy, and continue to fight for a world in which other worlds are possible.”

Their fight is very much alive today, more than twenty years after its first public appearance. My recent visit was to the Oventik caracole, located in the Zona Alta region. Myself and three others were sent as human rights observers with El Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas (Fray Bartolome de Las Casa Human Rights Center) to the small community of Huitepec, immediately north of the mountain town of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Here the community is placed in charge of protecting the large Zapatista reserve of Huitepec from loggers, poachers, and government forces. As observers, our task was to accompany the Zapatista families on their daily walks through the 100+ acre reserve, keep track of any intrusions on the autonomous land, and document any infractions. We lived in a simple house, with a fire to cook on and wood panels for sleeping. There was no running water, minimal electricity, and no forms of electronic communication, even with the close proximity to the town of San Cristobal.

Through these eyes we learned of the daily struggle of the Zapatistas. The community consisted of eight Zapatista families. Originally fifteen families, many of them had left Zapatismo to suffer against poverty with the “bad” government. The families who stayed as Zapatistas were indigenous to the area, having struggled to protect the land long before the Zapatista’s uprising in 1994. The families lived in poverty, dividing their time between protecting the reserve, growing flowers for sale in San Cristobal, and working their rented fields two hours away. Their days started with the sunrise and often ended long after the sun had set. Their hands were strong and their walk through the mountains fast, evidence of a lifetime of hard labor. They told us of life before the uprising, coming to Zapatismo, their struggles with inner council decisions, and their hopes for the future.

We bombarded them with questions, testing the theories of the Zapatistas we had read in books and working to understand the structure of their autonomy. Most spoke Spanish fluently, but outside of our conversations, they spoke their indigenous language. Often times, long questions were answered with a pause and then a “Si!,” only to find out later that much had been lost in translation. The Zapatistas taught us to recognize medicinal plants on our walks, how to cut firewood, helped our dying cooking fires, and shared tea and sweet bread with us. For much of our time together we sat in silence, staring at the fire, each unsure of what to say to people from such different cultures. We, the foreigners, sat in silence in the reserve, lost in our thoughts, struggling to understand the lessons in front of us.

Fortunately, there was little work to be done in our role as human rights observers. As the families stated, most of the repressive tactics of the “bad” government in that area have been rare in recent years. Paramilitary and military forces still affect Zapatista communities, as evidenced by the assassination of José Luis López, known as “Galeano” to the community, a prominent teacher in the caracole of La Realidad in May of 2014. In addition, a week prior to our arrival, paramilitary forces had forcibly displaced 72 Zapatista families from the San Manuel community.

As I look back on my experience, I am forced to place it in the context of what we on the left are doing here in the US and I think back to the humility of the experience. The backdrop of the experience was always in the context of the severe poverty the community struggled against. The families cleaned their ripped clothes as best they could, walked for hours in the jungle in plastic, tired shoes, and spoke of their struggle to place food in their stomachs. They told us of the newborn who had died a few weeks prior to our arrival. They softly commented on the lack of rain in their fields, which meant that no crops had grown. When asked what they would do, they shrugged their shoulders, stared off into the horizon, and quietly said “I don’t know.”

One of the elders (names intentionally left out for security reasons) told us of what he felt for the future. He told us that little by little, more and more Zapatistas are asking the EZLN to take up arms again. He felt they were at a similar social situation as they were in 1993, prior to the uprising. And then he said something that truly humbled me. He said, “we love this land, and if we’re going to die anyway, it would be better to die fighting.” His face was filled with a distant look, touched by sadness, but also of determination. And then there was silence. No theories, no Che t-shirts, no rhyming slogans. No quotes, no chest thumping, no sectarianism. Just the honesty of someone who has nothing left to lose and everything to gain. In that moment, I was gifted the glimpse of the true humility of revolutionary thought. Here was a man who has struggled to survive his entire life. He fights in the way he knows how. He has a simple house and wears the same tucked in dirty dress shirt. He works in the fields as well as the communal government. He knows that the fight he and his community face are against massive transnational corporations who wish to extract the precious resources underneath his ancestral land. He knows that they will hire the government, paramilitary forces, and the police to intimidate and coerce him into submission, likely killing him and his family if he refuses. He lives in an area of the world that has been described as one of the most affected by climate change. And because of this climate change, a force that he did not cause, his children will not have food for the winter. He does not talk of Facebook posts, of petitioning politicians, of symbolic protests. There is no mention of hashtags, things going “viral”, “working with the police”, buying organic, fad diets, or identity politics. There are no self-congratulatory emails after symbolic protests. He doesn’t say anything about “being the change,” “finding himself,” or engaging in a never-ending debate on the use of violence versus non-violence. He simply states “we are part of this land and we will die to protect it,” and then continues walking.

I find myself thinking about that community as I re-enter the world of activism here in New York City. We are bombarded with the temptations of an insane and immoral culture of consumption. As I write this, young black men are being assassinated by police officers, inequality is at an all-time high, the newspapers are filled with “Fashion Week” events, and people are camping out in front of the Apple store for their new Iphones. On the left, communities are organizing around every type of campaign, with a growing focus on climate change. While there is some great grassroots work being done, even in the insanity of New York City, I can’t help but see the lack of humility that exists in our progressive communities. I include myself in this critique, and write as a member of the Left.

Our conversations are dominated with rhetoric and sectarianism. We talk in the language of books and posts, not in material experiences. We speak of “developing” the third world, as though our complicity in a globally destructive system of capitalism is somehow as invisible as we would like to believe. We use our politically correct language and speak of our “individual oppression”. We wait for perfection, for the “revolution”, wearing our “radical” clothes, speaking our “radical” talk in our “radical” spaces that are devoid of any connection to the material world. And at the end of the day, the destruction around us, the destruction that we are complicit in, continues. Something that has embedded itself in my thoughts this past year is exemplified by two quotes.

One is a quote by Che Guevara, in which he says, “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” The second is a lyric by the group “The Last Poets”, where they proclaim, “Speak not of revolution until you are willing to eat rats to survive, come the Revolution.” Quite different ideas, and yet, as I return to the craziness of New York City, I see how similar they are. Revolution is a term often thrown about without a clear definition. Some people see revolution in the context of an armed uprising of oppressed peoples, others, like the CEOs of Chevrolet, see revolution in terms of their new car line. Others see a “revolution of ideas” transforming the world. For the Zapatistas, it is based in the “radical” idea that the poor of the world should be allowed to live, and to live in a way that fits their needs. They fight for their right to healthy food, clean water, and a life in commune with their land. It is an ideal filled with love, but a specific love of their land, of themselves, and of their larger community. They fight for their land not based in some abstract rejection of destruction of beautiful places, but from a sense of connectedness. They are part of the land they live on, and to allow its destruction is to concede their destruction. They have shown that they are willing to sacrifice, be it the little comforts of life they have, their liberty, or their life itself.

We here in the Left in the US talk about the issues of the world ad nauseum. We pontificate from afar on theories of oppression, revolutionary histories, and daily incidences of state violence. We speak of climate change as something in the future. But so often we are removed from the materiality of the oppression. Climate change is not something in the future, but rather it is something that is killing 1,000 children per day, roughly 400,000 people per year. Scientists are now saying that the species extinction rate is 1,000 times the natural background extinction rate, with some estimates at 200 species a day, because of climate change. Black men are being killed at a rate of one every 28 hours in the US. One in three women globally will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. There are more global slaves than ever in human history, with the average cost of a slave being $90. It is estimated that there is dioxin, one of the most horrific chemicals we have created and a known carcinogen, in every mother’s breast milk. We read about “solidarity” with the oppressed and work for “justice”. We speak of “loving the land” and wanting to “protect” nature. But how can we say we “love” these people/places/things when the actions we take to protect them have been proven to be wholly ineffective and stand no chance of achieving our stated goals?

We are told to focus on small lifestyle reforms, petitioning politicians who have shown that they do not listen to us, and relying on a regulatory system that is fundamentally corrupt. We are bombarded with baseless utopian visions of a “sustainable world”, complete with solar panels, wind turbines, abundance, and peace. But these are false visions, meant to distract us. Our entire world infrastructure is based in an extractive, destructive process, without which our first world way of life is entirely impossible. Everything from the global wars, increasing poverty, the police state, and climate change are built around this foundational injustice. These injustices are inherent and are not “reformable”. If it were our child being slaughtered to mine the rare earth minerals necessary for our technology, would we perhaps have a different view of our smartphone? If our land were being irradiated by runoff from solar panel factories, would we think differently about green energy? If our brother was murdered by a police officer to protect a system of racial oppression, would we be OK with just posting articles on Facebook about police brutality? If paramilitaries were going to murder our family to gain access to timber, would we engage in discussions on the justifications for pacifism?

In the face of the horrific statistics of our dying planet, we need a radically different tactic. We need a radical humility. As an example, just to temper the slaughter of the 400,000 human beings being killed by climate change would require a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That means no more industrial food production, no more travel, no more development of green energy, no electricity, no internet, no police state, and I’m sorry to say, no fucking iPhone 6. Tell me how our movements even touch on the reality of our current situation? I think that for the majority of the Left in the “developed world”, if we truly had love as our foundation, our actions would have much more humility.

For me, this is what Che is speaking to. Those who truly want to change the world need to base their reality in a reality of love. It is love, with all its beauty and romanticism, but also with its inherent responsibility, that powers those who are willing to sacrifice. With that love comes a loss of self and the beginning of humility. Most of us here in the global north who fight for global justice must learn this humility. We, as a whole, are more privileged than any other population has ever been in human history. History has shown that we will not give up this privilege. We will not “eat rats” voluntarily, no matter how radical we may think we are. These things can only be taken from us. If we truly want a world of justice, we must understand this fact and accept the humility to forget ourselves.

The Zapatistas, like almost all indigenous movements, have at the base of their revolution a love of the land. By losing themselves into the larger struggle of the land, they allow the land to teach them how to struggle. But their fight is not our fight. They demand us to return to our cultures and fight. Because what will ultimately kill the Zapatistas will not be the Mexican government. It will be the Mexican government, hired by transnational corporations coming from the US and Canada, who will build dams, extract mineral resources, and create “free-trade zones” so that we can continue to enjoy our material comforts. Until we lose our identity-based politics, and allow ourselves to learn from those who are being oppressed by our lifestyle, we will never achieve the justice we think we desire. Author Drew Dellinger writes in a poem entitled “Angels and Ancestors”: “I pray to be a conduit. An angel once told me, ‘The only way to walk through fire…become fire.’”

If we work for justice, let us embrace this humility and allow ourselves to be led by those who know. Let us become fire. And perhaps in that way, we will be ready to eat rats.

DIY Resistance: Develop a Sense of Urgency

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

shawnee-indian-tecumsehWe are losing badly. The dominant culture is destroying what is left of the world and, right now, our resistance is simply ineffective. I cannot pretend to know exactly how we’re going to turn things around and stop the madness. But, I do believe we must develop a profound sense of urgency.

Wherever we look we’re met with the horror that should produce the necessary urgency. Look to the oceans and you’ll find that the coral reefs are dying. Zooplankton, forming the base of the oceanic food chain, have declined 70% over the last 40 years.

Look to the climate and you’ll find we’re boiling the world to death. Even mainstream scientists are predicting a 6 degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures by the end of the century.

Look to the animals and you’ll find 50% of all species disappearing. Look to the forests and you’ll find between 8 and 16 billion trees being cut down a year.

It’s as if the dominant culture sees the future and is holding the most macabre going-out-of-business sale imaginable complete with the advertisement “Everything must go.”

The statistics I include here are tiny snapshots of the immensity of the problem. The eradication of life in the oceans will be devastating for all of us. Climate change will cook the rich and poor alike. All humans need the oxygen lost through deforestation. So, why is it that more of us are not dropping everything to join the resistance? While we feel the tremors in the foundations of life on earth threatening to bury us all in ash and rubble, why are so many still hesitating to fight for their own survival?

***

 One answer is privilege. As a white heterosexual man, I am a member of the most privileged class the world has ever known. I know how powerful the seductions of privilege can be. So much is given to me through the dumb luck of my genetic heritage. The gifts are maintained through a Faustian bargain requiring that I remain willing to deny the suffering of others and silent about the total collapse forming the devil’s due.

What gifts have I been given? I am given an almost total freedom from fear of rape. I am given a choice in religions where patriarchal gods reassure me that the world was made for me. I am given so-called natural resources to use for my civilized progress. I am given women’s bodies to use for my sexual satisfaction. I am given serenity in the knowledge that – whenever I choose to give up this resistance business – I can fade back into my privileged status. I am given the confidence that comes with looking like the most powerful men in the world.

Worst of all, I am given a version of history and a vision of the future that says things have always been – and will always be – this way. Only, we know that things have not always been this way. We know that a civilized, patriarchal violation imperative is destroying the world for everyone – men, women, and non-humans alike.

In the previous installments of this Do-It-Yourself: Resistance series, I wrote that my path to resistance involved falling in love with the world, developing empathy for all forms of life, and then learning to manage the grief that affects the heart made vulnerable by love and empathy. Love and empathy demonstrate that it is my responsibility as a white heterosexual man to step beyond the comfortable walls of my privilege and into the chilly, but star-filled night where our brothers and sisters dwell in reality. Our brothers and sisters are in mortal danger.

Privilege encourages complacency. For the privileged engaged in resistance, privilege gives the sense that there is still time. Privilege allows us time to engage in things like “spiritual preparation” or “finding myself” or “getting my shit together.” Thousands of species are extinct. 100 more went extinct today. 95% of American old growth forests are gone. 250 trees are cut down a second around the world. Millions of women have survived rape. One in four will be raped in her lifetime. Another one in four will fend off rape attempts.

We must develop a profound sense of urgency to stem this destructive tide. The time given to us by privilege is an illusion. There is no time for oppressed peoples and endangered species. We are in the middle of the fastest mass extinction event the world has ever seen.

Feel that for a moment. Test your heart’s ability to conceive the desperation bound to extinction. Whole species are gone. Whole nations of beings are removed from the world. Whole strands in the web of life have dissolved. Forever. If our resistance is going to be effective, we must act decisively and we must act now.

***

We are losing badly. The good news is the oppressed are fighting back.

The Unist’ot’en Clan of the grassroots Wet’suwet’en maintain a camp physically in the path of proposed pipelines routes over their unceded traditional territories in so-called British Columbia.

Lakota Sioux warriors vow they will be dead or in prison before they allow the Keystone XL pipeline to pass over their lands.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger River Delta (MEND) is engaged in armed militant resistance to genocide and ecocide in Nigeria warning the oil industry to “Leave our land or die in it.”

The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) states enough is enough and declares war on the Mexican state.

Sharks continue their attacks on underwater cables and have caused widespread disruptions of internet service.

The common thread tying these resistance groups is an honest acceptance of the urgency facing us. Resisters have been begging us for urgency for centuries. Things keep getting worse because not enough of us are answering their calls.

The EZLN’s Declaration of War recognized, “…we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace nor justice for ourselves and our children” before characterizing their declaration as “our last hope.” When will we internalize the EZLN’s truth that hope is in its dying throes?

Olowan Martinez said about the Lakota resistance to pipelines, “When they get rid of the Lakota, the earth isn’t too far behind. Our people believe the Lakota is the earth.” When will we see ourselves as the earth and love ourselves enough to fight for our own survival?

Finally, the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh in his “Plea to the Choctaws and Chickasaws” to fight the Americans in the spring of 1811 issued warnings that have never been more true. Tecumseh said, “Think not…that you can remain passive and indifferent to the common danger and escape the common fate. Your people, too, will soon be as falling leaves and scattering clouds before their blighting breath. You, too, will be driven away from your native land and ancient domains as leaves are driven before the wintry storms.” When will we recognize our common danger and common fate?

For too long, too many have refused to develop the urgency we need to resist effectively. Resist, and resist now. Tecumseh’s warning will come true for all of us if we delay. It is time we refuse to be leaves in the storm.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

DIY Resistance: Recover Empathy

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

The dominant culture kills our ability to empathize. Faucets deliver water over great distances silencing the voices of rivers. Super-markets place meat on chilled display shelves hiding the sacred ceremonial relationship between hunter and prey. Pornography produces orgasms without mutual vulnerability.

Sockeye salmon swimming upstream

Sockeye salmon swimming upstream

One way empathy is killed is through alienation. The comforts of civilization alienate us from our ancient roles as members of natural communities. Electric lights drown out the stars. Asphalt divorces our feet from the soil. Walls block the caresses of the summer breeze. The hole we’ve burned in the sky forces us to wear UV-resistant sunglasses dulling the vibrant colors of the day.

Another way empathy is killed is through the entitlement that follows this alienation. Living too long in a system that allows us to eat plants without ever seeing where they were grown, that gives us computers without ever seeing where their metals were mined, and that gives us clothing sewn by children in boiling warehouses we will never visit encourages us to forget.

Psychologist R.D. Laing explains the process brilliantly, “If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.” If Jill reminds Jack of the migratory songbirds killed everyday by cell phone towers, Jack might encourage Jill to forget by simply denying this is true. He might forbid Jill to mention the birds in his presence. Or, a more effective means to encourage Jill to forget is to convince her not to worry about the birds because we deserve cell phones. We have every right to communicate with anyone in the world wherever they are whenever we want. And, those birds are just birds, after all.

***

Consider the war being waged on women by men. How is it possible that men who are given their very lives by women can wage this war? How is it possible that men many of whom claim to love women can perpetuate this violence?

The first answer is the loss of empathy.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that 1 out of 3 women have suffered rape or attempted rape worldwide. (http://www.nsvrc.org/publications/fact-sheets/worldwide-sexual-assault-statistics) Every 17 minutes a woman is raped according to the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Another Canadian survey by DeKeserdy and Kelly reports that four out of five female undergraduates have been victims of violence in a dating relationship.

Meanwhile, the porn industry makes more money than Hollywood. (http://stoppornculture.org/about/about-the-issue/facts-and-figures-2/) A 2007 report by Bridges and Wosnitzer “Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography: A content analysis update” appearing in the International Communication Association is enlightening. Bridges and Wosnitzer report 88.2% of the top rated scenes contain aggressive acts. In 70% of these scenes, a man is the aggressor, and 94% of the time the act is directed towards a woman. Open-hand slapping occurs in 41.1% of the scenes.

Pornography is both an expression of and a leading cause for the destruction of empathy. When sex is mediated through a television or computer screen the viewer’s sexual satisfaction is alienated from its beautiful expression in true mutuality. Sex, in the real world, involves the building up of trust between partners. Sex, in the real world, involves the truly magical experience where lovers offer their vulnerabilities in order to share in one another’s bodies.

When sexual satisfaction can be ordered up by placing a DVD into a player or clicking on a link, feelings of entitlement grow. Just like Jack and Jill from Laing’s example, when Jill reminds Jack that pornography is not real, that the bodies of women do not look like that, that acting out the scenes depicted bring her no pleasure, Jack can ignore Jill and gain his orgasms through porn at the expense of the bodies of women he will never have a true relationship with. Jack can point to the prevalence of porn to argue that porn must be natural and undermine Jill. Or, Jack can emulate the men getting off in his favorite scenes and explain to Jill that men are entitled to these actions. We can hear Jack saying, “Look, babe, this is just how it is.”

Jill’s experience is negated for Jack’s entitlement. Jack’s empathy dies.

***

In the first installment of my “Do-It-Yourself: Resistance” series, I wrote that the first step towards a life devoted to saving what is left of the world is to fall in love. The next step is to recover empathy.

Too many in this dominant culture have lost or ignore their ability to feel the suffering of others. Civilization is based on the domination of others. Our comforts depend on the exploitation of others. Laborers are sweating, suffocating, and dying in mines that bring us the metals for our phones, computers, and solar panels. Children are starving due to policies such as the debts imposed on colonized nations by imperial instruments like World Bank. Leatherback sea turtles are critically endangered due to the pollution of the seas.

How would those destroying the planet act if they suffered from the lung ailments suffered by miners? How would those destroying the planet act if it were their screaming from the pangs of hunger? How would those destroying the planet act if they went to eat their dinner only to discover they were consuming a plastic bag too late to prevent the plastic bag from catching in their throats?

It is difficult to recover our empathy because the dominant culture encourages us so strongly to forget with television, with drugs, with pornography, but it is imperative that we cut into our hearts to regain the connections that have always been there. Resistance would become much stronger if more of us truly felt the suffering surrounding us.

Go outside. Let the wind play with your hair. Let the sun warm your skin. Take your sunglasses off and admire the vibrancy surrounding you. Watch the pattern of bumblebees in a camas field. Watch bear cubs wrestle in fireweed. Ask their mother what she needs for her family. And, listen.

Ask your lover to come with you outside. Ask your lover who she is. Ask him to tell you his dreams. Ask her what she wants, what makes her feel good. And, listen.

Look up at the stars. Watch them dance across the space between. Let their light pierce you. Ask them what they want. And, listen.

After listening, act. Act with everything you’ve got because you share in the emotions of those around you.

***

On Monday, August 4, 2014 while I’ve been working on this piece, the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond overwhelmed its dam and released 10 billion liters of polluted water and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand into the Hazeltine Creek near Likely, British Columbia. Over the past year, the Imperial Metals Corporation dumped 326 tons of nickel, 400 tons of arsenic, 177 tons of lead, and 18,400 tons of copper into the pond. The spill is depositing this waste through the entire Quesnel and Cariboo river systems. With the sockeye salmon beginning their annual runs up the rivers, this disaster could not come at a worse time.

I have heard many people express hope that maybe – finally – this is the disaster that will wake the world up to the seriousness of the world’s crisis. I remember many people expressing the same hope after the BP Gulf Oil Spill. I remember many people expressing the same hope after Fukushima. But, here we are again.

Have you ever seen the sockeye run up a river? Have you ever seen the brilliant flashes of their bright bodies in a cold current? Have you heard the rivers singing joyous greetings songs to announce the sockeyes’ arrival?

Can you see the poison seeping over the dam and down the channels? Can you taste bitter metals in your water? Can you hear the sockeye weeping?

If you can’t, when will you? If you can, what are you going to do about it?

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

From Unist’ot’en Camp: What Does Solidarity Look Like?

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Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who originally published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Each night Unist’ot’en Clan spokeswoman, Freda Huson, and her husband Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Toghestiy fall asleep on their traditional land not knowing whether the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are going to storm their bridge in the depths of night.

Each winter, when Freda and Toghestiy ride their snowmobiles down forestry roads to bring in supplies, to hunt, or to check their traplines, they don’t know whether they will find piles of felled trees maliciously dragged across their paths.

Each time Freda and Toghestiy leave their territory for a few days they don’t know if they will return to find another attack in an old tradition of cowardly arson perpetrated by hostile settlers on Wet’suwet’en territories leaving smoking embers where their cabin once stood.

I ponder this as I sit in a workshop with other settlers during the 6-day Unist’ot’en Action Camp – a series of workshops hosted on the traditional territories of the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to promote strategic planning and co-ordination in the struggle against the spread of fossil fuel pipelines. This particular workshop is designed as a discussion to promote understanding about how settlers can work in better solidarity with indigenous peoples struggling to protect their homes and carrying out their responsibilities to the land.

Most of the ideas discussed revolve around decolonizing our hearts and minds to learn to see the role non-indigenous peoples are playing in the genocidal processes threatening the survival of indigenous peoples. Some of the ideas involve material support for indigenous peoples engaged in front line resistance like the Unist’ot’en. A few even suggest that settlers become physically present next to indigenous peoples on the front lines.

But, I am troubled. We have skipped something. What exactly do we mean by “solidarity?”

***
A common scene from my life as a public defender shows me – a white man in a suit and tie – sitting next to a shackled African, Chicana, or indigenous mother in a courtroom. In front of us sits a judge – an older white man in black robes. Across from us sits the prosecutor – another white man in a suit. Directly behind us, where he is felt more than seen, stands a big white man in the brown uniform of a sheriff’s deputy. He has a gun on one hip, a taser on the other, and the keys to my client’s shackles on a loop on his belt.

My client stares at the judge in a mix of horror and hatred as she is sentenced to prison for stealing from a supermarket to support her children or for lying to a police officer about her name because she had outstanding parking tickets and had to get the kids to school or for punching a cop when the latest in a long list of arbitrary stops by police officers finally caused something inside of her to snap.

As the judge announces how many days in jail my client will be spending, she reaches for my arm with tears in her eyes and asks, “Mr. Falk, won’t you do something?”

I cannot meet her gaze. I tell myself there’s nothing I can do. There’s no argument I can make to sway the judge. There’s no way to stop the sheriff’s deputy behind us from leading my client back down the long concrete tunnel connecting the courthouse and the city jail.

I try to comfort myself. What does she want me to do? Yell at the judge? Tackle the deputy? Spit on the prosecutor for his role in sending this mother to jail?

***
We gathered to sit on wooden benches arranged in a half-circle on a hot and sunny morning during the Unist’ot’en Action Camp to listen to two indigenous men speak about their experiences on the front lines of resistance. Each man had been shot at by police and soldiers, each man had served time in jail, and each man received utter respect from each individual listening.

The first man faced 7,7000 rounds fired by the RCMP at the Gustafsen Lake Stand-off in 1995 when a group of Original Peoples occupied a sacred site on a cattle ranch on unceded Canoe Creek First Nation land because the rancher tried to prevent their ceremonies. For his part at Gustafsen Lake, he was sentenced to five years in prison. During the Oka Crisis in 1990 when the town of Oka, Quebec sought to build a golf course over a Mohawk burial ground, the second man and his comrades blockaded several small British Columbian towns shutting down their local economies. He, too, was convicted and spent time in jail for his actions.

The second man said the blockades were carried out “in solidarity” with the resistors at Oka. This was the only time either of the men mentioned the word “solidarity.” They spoke of supporting resistance, praying for resistance, and helping with ceremonies. But, it was only when engaged in actions where co-resistors placed themselves in similarly dangerous situations that the term “solidarity” was used.

***
I got back from Unist’ot’en Camp earlier this afternoon and checked my email for the first time in days. My inbox was inundated by emails from various list serves proclaiming “Solidarity with Palestine!”

Meanwhile, in Gaza, occupying Israeli bulldozers are demolishing the homes of Palestinian families with suspected ties to Hamas while colonial Israeli bombs are indiscriminately falling on men, women, and children adding to the pile of dead numbered at well over 500 corpses and counting.

“That’s terrible, Will,” you may be thinking. “But what do you want me to do about it?”

Put yourself in Gaza right now. Dig a pit in your back yard, turn your ear anxiously to the sky, and keep the path to your back door clear, so that when you hear the hum of jets overhead you can sprint to your makeshift bomb shelter.

Look down the street for bull-dozers. When you spot one, grab the nearest bag in a panic, shove as much food into it as possible, scramble for some clean underwear, find your toothbrush, and sprint out the door without a look back for the nearest safe space.

Stand over the broken corpses of your children in the pile of dust and ashes that used to be their bedroom. Moan. Weep. Wail. When you wake up for the first time without crying, feel the anger burn through your chest and down your arms into your clinched fists. Ask yourself what you should do next.

Ask yourself: What does solidarity look like?

***
Maybe there really was nothing I could do to stop my clients from being hauled to jail in those courtrooms of my past. Unfortunately, I tried not to think about it too much. Placing myself in that vulnerable of a situation was too scary for me. If I argued too strongly, too fervently the judge could fine me. If I yelled at the prosecutor I could be held in contempt of court. If I spit on him, I certainly would be held in contempt of court. If I tried to stop the deputy, I would be tasered and taken to jail. I might even be shot during the scuffle and killed.

The truth is indigenous and other resistors are being dragged to jail, tasered, and even shot and killed every day on the front lines. And, they’ve been on the front lines for a very long time. I’ve realized that freedom from the vulnerabilities frontline resistors experience is a privilege and the maintenance of this privilege is leaving resistors isolated on front lines around the world.

It is time we understand exactly what solidarity looks like. Solidarity looks like the possibility of prison time. Solidarity looks like facing bullets and bombs. Solidarity looks like risking mental, spiritual, and physical health. Solidarity looks like placing our bodies on the front lines – strong shoulder to strong shoulder – next to our brothers and sisters who are already working so courageously to stop the destruction of the world.