NORTHAMPTON — Leverett peace activist Paula Green says that rather than dwelling on habits that “solidify rage, hatred and alienation,” those caught in despair and fear in the aftermath of last month’s presidential election, “need to learn what we can from the catastrophe.”
Green, who has worked around the world to try to heal the effects of social and political conflicts and build means of reconciliation, told a Traprock Peace Center gathering of about 100 people recently, “Our communities, our country and our world need our concentrated determination to protect, resist and follow what musician/activist Harry Belafonte calls our ‘rebellious hearts.’ We have a long history of nonviolence to draw upon as we engage in acts of resistance in these next years.”
Franklin County voters chose Democrat Hillary Clinton at nearly 62 percent to nearly 30 percent for Donald Trump. In Hampshire County, Clinton won nearly 58 percent of the vote to Trump’s greater than 36 percent.
Speaking to a gathering of about 100 people from around Franklin and Hampshire counties on “Despair to Empowerment in Our Watershed Moment,” Green took solace in Trump’s election having disrupted our “business-as-usual” path, which “has no rational approach to addressing the fundamental threats of militarism, resource depletion, global population and migration, rising inequality, and environmental calamities, each problem feeding on and exacerbating the other to produce devastation and chaos. Business as usual allows our resources to go into defending ourselves with extravagant military budgets and increasingly militarized policing. Perhaps it has taken the election of Trump to realize that the industrial growth society is bankrupt.” ‘The Great Unraveling’
Green, founder and director emeritus of the Karuna Center for Peace-building in Amherst, drew on her experiences in the former Yugoslavia, where she worked after the fall of dictator Slobodan Milosevic, in describing what writer Joanna Macy has called “The Great Unraveling.”
“Systems lose their coherence; institutions decline in legitimacy and fall apart; functioning organizations become erratic and disrupted; the climate behaves menacingly,” summarized Green. “Infrastructures collapse. Social norms crumble. People on the margins feel squeezed out. Borders close as fears multiply and compassion weakens. We watch overloaded rafts collapsing in the Mediterranean Sea and children drowning on the shores of Europe. The European Union, a great project of the post WWII realignment, begins to disintegrate.”
She added, “Cries of pain are heard everywhere from the Trump and Brexit voters whose lives feel unpromising to the ISIS fighters expressing their own experiences of despair and hopelessness.”
In fact, Green noted, “Despite their horrifying methods, there are connections between ISIS fighters, and our and Europe’s discontented voters. In our countries and theirs, unjust political and economic structures have marginalized large swaths of the population, leaving disempowered victims who then turn on each other.”
A former Pakistani student of Green’s from the School of International Training’s Conflict Transformation Across Cultures program, who now devotes her life to deprogramming current and potential ISIS fighters and their families, reports that “Despair and alienation drive their choices, just as they determine our election outcomes,” according to Green.
With many voters in this country so desperate that one in five admitting to pollsters they voted for Trump even though they believed him unqualified, Green said, “The large numbers of white working-class people who cast their protest vote for Trump will experience crushing disappointments and predictable rage as they feel once again tossed under the bus. Using the age-old tools of pitting marginalized groups against each other, the incoming administration will maneuver and coax their supporters to vent their frustration at scapegoats,” much as she saw in the former Yugoslavia.
“Milosevic, an opportunist demagogue, rose up by cleverly appealing to the grievances of one ethnic group in the region, promising them status, prosperity and glory. Demonizing all the other ethnic and religious groups, especially the Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims, he slowly tightened the noose, inciting and baiting his followers toward committing plunder, murder, and war crimes. The parallels are chilling; the lessons are clear.”
She warned, “We need to be prepared and present, ready to respond to escalating levels of divisiveness and race baiting. We, and our progressive politicians, must especially expand our reach to address the concerns for economic security and self-respect of those voters who will find themselves once again disappointed. We will have to cultivate allies in unlikely places within our own society.” Actions for the future
Green said there is a need for “holding actions (to) demonstrate our resistance to the further degradation of life and environment” but also for creating food co-ops, solar and wind farms, as well as affordable housing, sanctuary programs and other new systems.
But there’s also a need, she said, for “shifting our consciousness toward a full understanding of our interconnectedness and interdependence,” in what Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela of South Africa called ubuntu: “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. A person is a person through other people. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other.”
Rather than falling into the “us” versus “them” trap, Green calls for the need to widen our circle of inclusion, with understanding and respect for one another — especially in this time prone to exclusion and disrespect.
“How are we going to end polarization while we are polarized?” she asked. “How do we un-polarize from the people we want to blame and hate for this electoral disaster? How do we disarm ourselves from our own attitudes and prejudices? How do we do the inner work of self-transformation and simultaneously extend ourselves outward to organize and resist, which we absolutely must do?”
You can reach Richie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org
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