What should I be doing instead of this?
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Courage and Creativity

By Stephanie Dunlap · December 12th, 2007 · There But For Grace

Take this pill. It makes what you do matter. It guarantees results. No side effects. No drug rep hiding behind me ready to stab you with his free pen and inflamed copays. Michael Moore isn't here; he's at McDonald's getting supersized.

The pill guarantees that whatever cause or movement your activism supports will prevail. You win.

So will you take it? Good. That's good.

Now that you're guaranteed success, what will you do?

´ ´ ´

I got tired. After 2 1/2 years of covering politics, issues, grassroots movements and protests for CityBeat, I felt disheartened.

It started to burrow into me after the 2004 election. I remember waking up the morning after and being furious at Sen. John Kerry for conceding. But what could he do?

The election of 2000 was stolen good and unfair. The inherent fraud of our election systems and the electoral college notwithstanding, in 2004 Kerry just plain lost.

How could he? How could anyone still support the war we visited upon Iraq? How can anyone still?

In the fall of 2004, I covered protests at the National Republican Convention in New York City. Police shepherded us along and finally funneled us into a closed corral. When we got restless in those pens, our friendly gendarmes trotted out horses and riot gear to shoo us away.

In the fall of 2005, I covered an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C. Police mapped out the protest route so that we couldn't get too close to the White House; those who disobeyed were arrested and carted off.

I have no idea what either of those massive protests really accomplished. I think they did something, proving that on the smallest level every action counts.

But those in power seemed unmoved. Things only got worse, and worse again. Now we learn that Iran isn't a threat but that the CIA has been destroying its torture tapes.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati's soon-to-be-only remaining daily newspaper continues to obscure major corporate conflicts of interest and to publish Peter Bronson's palaver while circulating internal memos encouraging its reporters to write to a fourth-grade reading level.

At what point does the unbelievable finally become untenable?

"If I gave you a pill to convince you that everything will be OK, would that draw forth from you the greatest courage and creativity?" Joanna Macy asked an overflowing crowd at Xavier University on Dec. 7. "Drop that need. There are no guarantees in life."

Macy is a Buddhist environmental activist who thinks our generation is on the fringe of humanity's third great revolution. The first revolution was our emergence from the Neolithic period into civilization; the second was the Industrial Revolution.

Like contractions, these revolutions are coming ever more quickly and fiercely. Some call this third revolution the Ecological Revolution or the Sustainability Revolution. Macy calls it the Great Turning.

She says our "industrial growth society," solely interested in the exponential growth of corporate profits, is out of control. We can all feel the spiraling.

"Our bodies are more aware of this than our brains," Macy said. "We are living on a trajectory that cannot be sustained. Any system that tires to maximize a single variable will automatically go out of whack."

As I watched Macy, I wondered how many doomsday preachers have offered doses of reproach and promise to rooms filled with alarmed people since that first revolution came around.

Macy shone with hope that I don't feel. But I think my withdrawal from direct activism and political involvement has led me to cultivate deeper relationships.

I now work on building something small, safe and healthy in the middle of these systems that I've given up trying -- for now -- to change.

Some of my friends agree. They count disappearing bees, wait for the Mayan calendar to end in 2012 and hope that our calamities, instead of abating, will just snowball and bring on the apocalypse already.

Macy hopes that when the fall comes the industrial growth society will collapse as gently as possible. "A soft landing," she called it.

Her vision of this Great Turning has three dimensions. The first includes the holding actions meant to affect a gentle letdown: the protests, the resistance and the rescue operations that try to slow the destruction created by the industrial growth complex.

This first dimension is the most exhausting of the three, Macy said, because failure follows an unremitting need to raise energy and money.

Yes, I thought. Exhausting.

Her second dimension is the new ways, whose creation takes inventiveness. I recognized these, too: the community currency movement, Peter Block's conversations, the Enright Ridge EcoVillage.

"Grow the vision of the new within the shell of the old," Macy said. "Let the old atrophy around you."

And the third dimension is humanity's shift from a "stuff-based" view of reality to a relational view of reality, she said.

That will mean collectively swallowing the "biggest bite out of the tree of knowledge we've taken in 3,000 years," Macy said.

When we split the atom, she said, all we found was how to break matter apart. How do we put what matters back together? And how do we sustain the energy to do it?

At the end of her talk, while Macy offered advice and poems for "how to work for the earth and not go crazy," she shone with hope and fortitude I realized I no longer let myself feel.

Do I need a pill first? Do you?

Cincinnati, what keeps your activism going? Please tell me.

CONTACT STEPHANIE DUNLAP: letters@citybeat.com. Her column appears here the second issue of each month.


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