While lunching recently with my friend Connie, she told me that she was starting a vegetable garden. This was intriguing news because Connie had lived her eighty some years without the slightest inclination to do more than pop a few bulbs in the front yard. Then in sotto voice she added that she was calling it the F**k Bush garden. I laughed, then spent the rest of the week wondering how planting a vegetable garden was the equivalent of thumbing one's nose at the Bush regime. I e-mailed her my question. Connie explained that since the current administration was so pro greed and pro consumerism and so against the environment, any act of simplicity and getting back to the earth was a gesture of protest.
I had heard other stories of people deciding to make life-altering decisions in their anger at the re-election of Bush. Me included. Everything from putting up solar panels to buying a Prius. This focused, angry, slightly desperate impetus was inspiring people to step out of their routine. Authors, who might otherwise make much more money with their next novel, were becoming pamphleteers, describing our destructive foreign policy and passionately urging the reader to stop US. empire building as if our very outrage might make a difference. Hollywood actors were narrating PBS documentaries about the degradation of the planet due to human activity, laying the fate of the future at the viewer's feet. Taken together, these actions had the makings of a movement, a Resistance movement.
A Resistance movement evoked a long-term commitment, a quiet action in defiance of a powerful, controlling government that no longer had the common good in mind. At the Green Festival the weekend after Bush was re-elected, we went to hear Derek Jensen, a writer, a speaker and a peer. He pointed out that the Jews who were, statistically, most likely to survive the Nazi occupation, were the ones who were already fighting, already resisting. He explained how an occupying regime succeeds by persuading the populace that it is in their best interest not to resist. That sounded familiar - "we must go to war with Iraq in order to be safe from terrorists "we must fix social security because otherwise there won't be any money left for all of you". And not to mention "we must drill in Alaska so the US can be less dependant on oil in the Middle East."
"We are so busy pretending that we have hope," Derek Jensen pointed out, "False hopes bind us to unbelievable situations. Hope is a longing for a future over which we have no agency"
That last phrase kept ringing in my mind - "over which we have no agency". Did that mean I could have agency - a hand in our future, but I had to eradicate hope from my thoughts? Wasn't hope right up there with aligning oneself with the forces of love, a way to be open to a favorable outcome from the beneficent universe? After a while, I began to see what he meant - that hope was a passive activity that made me feel like a victim with no recourse, but to lie there and take it, hoping my persecutor would be in a better mood tomorrow. Seen this way hope was a sort of wishful thinking - a refusal to see that things were as bad as they were. But to give up hope meant that all was lost. Or did it? Once hope was eliminated from my thoughts I was left with my anger at these few powerful men who would rob the earth and the rest of us of all her gifts for the sake of profit.
What role could we take in the face of this imbalance? Corporations have enlisted our unwitting collaboration by calling us the only thing they will allow us to be - consumers. Despite what has been said of the power of the mighty consumer and how companies will quake in their boots at the mere thought of a consumer boycott, the role limits us to voting with our dollars, to thinking in terms of spending. I no longer wanted to talk about what consumers want. Want, want, want, want, want! Were we just insatiable appetites strapped into high chairs screaming for more?
Recently Jared Diamond has been repeatedly quoted from his new book Collapse. He asks the question "what was going on the mind of the person who cut down the last tree on Easter Island". When I heard the Easter Island story in my sustainable living group and the thriving civilization that built these impressive sculptures only to fall into decline once all the rope producing trees had been cut down and the last nut eaten, what I wanted to know was what's with the Big Heads? And more to the point what was our Big Head? I prepared a presentation. I announced to my sustainable living group that we did indeed have a Big Head. It was called the Stock Market. I pulled out my copy of Investor's Business Daily and pointed out the rhetoric devoted to the pursuit of profit. "These people will eat their own children" I insisted. They looked at me like I was touched, but it was perfectly clear to me what would be going on in the mind of the person who cuts down the last tree or rather the person who ordered the cutting. He was writing his report to the company stockholders.
In times of uncertainty there are plenty of prophets on all sides. We have heard how the story of the End Times and Armageddon has inspired the ranks of the Christian Right to believe the strangest concoction of rubbish this side of The Twilight Zone. Yet they are doing something productive. They are trying to overcome their fear. Fear has sold Americans everything from duct tape to the war in Iraq. Fear, my meditation teacher pointed out was the underlying emotion of hope. Okay then, so hope was indeed a false prophet and so was faith, whether it was faith that God would save us (after purging all the sinners in the end times) or faith that the Market would win out and the balance of supply and demand be restored to all good consumers everywhere. Without hope and faith how would we keep from falling into despair?
Resistance was, at least, heaps better than despair. My choices now had a purpose beyond my own borders. Every time I drove the Sparrow or took public transportation, I was defying Bush. Every act of non-consumption counted. Every vegetable planted, every letter to the editor, every progressive book I read. Even if I was preaching to the converted I was giving sustenance to the movement. I was only doing my thing, but I was also aspiring to a new paradigm, not the one that was driving the planet into the ground.
Cracks in the regime were beginning to show. Take gas prices. People might rationalize that the high prices were a matter of the Market not having caught up with demand, but the fact that people were looking at their consumption was undermining the regime. Sales of SUVs falling, GM taking a billion dollar loss in the last quarter. Soon Republicans would be buying Prius's. The car itself would change them because the radical feature of the Prius is that the gage tells the driver exactly how many miles per gallon she is getting. Rarely does anything in our consuming life tell us how much we are consuming. Just measuring our consumption could be an act of defiance because it naturally leads to frugality. And frugality was the last thing corporations wanted to see.
When I wrote my post-petroleum piece I watched the paper waiting to see if they would cover peak oil. The phrase appeared in a business section headline speculating that Chevron was betting on peak oil to increase its profits. Peak oil itself was considered a controversial concept said the writer. I'd heard that before with global warming and popped off a letter to the editor just to let them know readers weren't fooled. They printed it verbatim.
Meanwhile in the blogosphere the topic was reaching a fever pitch (people even made charts graphing the increase in mention of peak oil). One writer, a geek rocker by the looks of him, had done some extensive research on the subject and using rather inflammatory language, had browbeaten his readers into slogging through the information and passing it around. "This may be the most important thing you read," he wrote as he urged his readers to cut consumption of oil and oil products. A comment from one of his readers said, "I'm 18 and I'm accepting the fact that I won't reach the age of 40." Sheesh, I used to think the same thing when I was young, but by my own hand, not from global catastrophe. These young people were ripe for a resistance movement. They were willing to see what was coming. Wouldn't it be just a short jump for them to pledge to live differently from the start?
Last night I dreamed that I was carpooling and in that dreamscape way of things, I realized we were driving through a shopping mall and next to the food court was a car dealership. Sensing an opportunity I stood up through the sunroof and called out "Give us high mileage cars." A cashier at the Mrs. Field's counter took up the call. "Yeah, give us high mileage cars," she shouted and soon everyone had joined in. Even my dreams were getting into the act.
Would words be enough to call this resistance movement into existence? It was worth a try.