|To learn that the most practical thing in life is to be idealistic is an enormous gift. –Godfrey Reggio|
If Life Wins There Will Be No Losers
You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller
In recent years there’s been a global awakening to the momentous choice humanity now faces: do we cling to the old system and choose extinction, or create a new system that grants us a future worth living?
Movements such as Standing Rock, Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future are giving voice to the widespread longing for a tenable alternative to capitalism – our urgent need for new, regenerative ways of living: systems of life that use clean renewable energy, restore ecosystems, and re-position human beings as nurturers of social networks that enable us to be caretakers for the Earth.
In Fridays for Future, the weekly youth strikes kick-started by Greta Thunberg’s solo action of protest, a new generation are questioning the apathy of the societies they’ve been born into, marching under the slogan “System Change, Not Climate Change.” They are loudly demanding that we wake up, pull ourselves back from the brink of catastrophe, and put our energies into co-creating a system of life that can avert climate disaster.
The success of Extinction Rebellion, “a revolution of love, deep ecology and radical transformation,” is partly due to the ways in which their vision of building such a regenerative culture guides their methods of organization. It was the integrity of their commitment to nonviolence and the functioning support systems that emerged among members that made it so difficult for the police to make arrests during the recent ten days of protest in the UK.
Those who thronged the streets were nourished by the actions they took part in, which were creative and joyful. This led to results, with the UK Parliament declaring a climate emergency. It remains to be seen whether this will really influence decision-making in the UK, but it’s further proof that nonviolent action sustained by networks of real solidarity can create change.
Standing Rock set a precedent for this form of holistic activism. It was one of the most diverse mass political gatherings in history, hosting such historic scenes as US army veterans asking forgiveness from Native American elders. Its unique power to gather together Indigenous peoples, environmentalists, spiritual seekers and ordinary Americans was a tribute to the depth of intention at its core – people took a stand for life itself, for the water, for the sanctity of the Earth. It showed how a global cry of outrage can be transformed into a healing convergence for life.
Although President Trump’s executive order to go ahead with the pipeline was eventually passed and the camp violently evicted, the story did not end there. Resistance continues at Standing Rock, and its example has inspired many other water protectors to stand up in movements around the world. But how can we create a worldwide and permanent shift to regeneration in every sphere of life?
What could a regenerative culture look like?
In 2017, when members of the Tamera Peace Research and Education Center in Portugal heard about the resistance at Standing Rock, they accompanied the protest with prayer and reached out to its leaders in solidarity. This exchange led to the initiation of the annual “Defend the Sacred” gatherings, which foster a network of exchange and support among activists, ecologists, technologists and Indigenous leaders who share the vision of creating a regenerative cultural model as a response to the global crisis.
Tamera is an attempt by Europeans to restore community as the foundation of life, with the vision of seeding a network of such decentralized autonomous centers (known as Healing Biotopes) right across the world. Creating solidarity between diverse movements and projects requires deep investigation of the human trauma that so often creates conflict and derails attempts at unification. This is why Defend the Sacred gatherings focus on healing trauma through consciousness work, community building, truth, and transparency. The goal is to create bonds of trust among people that are so strong that external forces will no longer be able to break them.
The leaders of the gatherings know that we can’t create a regenerative culture solely by trying to ‘smash capitalism.’ Instead, we need to understand and heal the underlying disease that generates all such systems of oppression. This disease can be described as the Western sickness of separation from life, or “wetiko,” as it was named by the North American Algonquin people. Martin Winiecki (the gatherings’ co-convenor) describes it like this:
“‘Wetiko,’ literally ‘cannibalism,’ was the word used by the Indigenous peoples to describe the disease of white invaders. It translates as the alienated human soul, no longer connected to an inner life force and so feeding on the energy of other beings.”
Wetiko is the psychic mechanism that keeps us trapped in the illusion that we exist separately from everything else. Within the isolated selfish ego, the pursuit of maximum personal gain appears to be the goal and meaning of life. Coupled with the chronic inability to feel compassion for the lives of other beings, violence, exploitation and oppression are not only justified, but appear logical and rational. If we resist only the external effects of wetiko, maybe we can win a victory here or there, but we can’t overcome the system as a whole because this ‘opponent’ also sits within ourselves. It is from within that we constantly feed and support this monstrous system.
An important part of healing wetiko relates to healing our interracial wounds. It’s significant that Defend the Sacred was initiated in Portugal – the place from where so many perpetrators of genocide and slavery in the Americas and Africa set out. A new path towards a nonviolent future will emerge from creating spaces where we can acknowledge our violent past and gain insight about what we have done as a collective. Such spaces offer the possibility of finally stepping out of the futile pattern of oppression, guilt and blame.
Tangible visions of the future.
In a recent co-written book, Defend the Sacred: If Life Wins, There Will Be No Losers, participants in the gatherings offer a mosaic of short essays that present their shared vision, along with many different ways to put it into practice. These include ending fossil fuel dependence, healing natural water cycles in cooperation with ecosystems and animals, transforming economic structures from systems of extraction to systems of giving, re-centering the voice of the feminine, creating a planetary network of solidarity and compassion, and anchoring everything in spiritual connection with the Earth as a living organism.
Supporting the transition away from fossil fuels, some members of the group are developing decentralized alternative technologies based on solar energy, while others are creating open source blueprints that enable people without specialist knowledge to construct simple plastic recycling machines all over the world.
Continuing the work of Standing Rock, the last two gatherings focused on thwarting oil drilling threats in Portugal, and each included an aerial art action in which participants used their bodies to form giant images alongside messages to “Stop the Drilling.” These actions strengthened the growing resistance in Portugal to fossil fuel extraction, which won a significant victory in October 2018 when the oil companies involved announced that they were voluntarily withdrawing all plans to extract oil in the country.
The group is also working on an approach to climate change that goes beyond the mechanical question of carbon reduction or balancing inputs and outputs, to one that views the Earth as a living whole whose ‘organs’ all need to be intact for life to flourish. A key part of this approach is the widespread restoration of ecosystems through creating Water Retention Landscapes (a method of sculpting the land to help it absorb and retain rainwater where it naturally falls). Such landscapes heal natural water cycles, which in turn can rebalance the climate and protect forests from the increasing risk of wildfires.
Another central aspect of the group’s work is to create social systems that both support the revival of feminine power and reestablish a basis of mutual support between the masculine and the feminine. Since overcoming patriarchy cannot be achieved by simply demanding change, this means creating forms of human co-existence that do not replicate patriarchal structures, but, as Monique Wilson puts it (another contributor to the book and coordinator of One Billion Rising), instead allow women to rediscover solidarity and “remember their abilities to heal, to teach, to create and to lead.”
Imagine what would happen if all the separate movements for climate justice, racial justice, ending sexual violence and developing new forms of economy could unite around a shared spiritual center, just as they did at Standing Rock. Imagine if, drawn together by their love of life and their commitment to protecting our home, the Earth, they could come together to articulate a shared vision for a future that is more compelling to people than remaining in the current broken system. This is what our planet needs now.
To join this year’s Defend the Sacred gathering from August 16–19, please click here.
For more information on our new book, Defend the Sacred: If Life Wins, There Will Be No Losers, please click here.
This article originally appeared in the Transformation section of OpenDemocracy. It is republished here with permission. Ruth Gordon, originally from England, is a student at Tamera, a peace research and education center in Portugal, and a musician.