There isn’t a day that I sink down, old bones protesting (and, let’s face it; there isn’t a day that I don’t), to sit at my altar and call Columbia, remembering her toes in bodegas and her fingernails along the river, that I don’t also know that where I live is mostly famous as a place of the fallen. A place made sacred by their loss.
A woman who makes her living fighting with words, I lay down every night and wake up every morning upon Earth dedicated to those who fought with their bodies. My dearest neighbor shows up at every Arlington funeral to insure that no widow will ever bury her husband alone. She does what I’m not at all brave enough to do, but I send her energy every day.
I’ve always had a problem with stories and films that rely upon Goddess ex Machina for the solution to the conflict between the peaceful, planet-loving, tree people and the forces of mechanistic warfare.
One of the most egregious recent examples was the movie Avatar, which, while I loved it for its perfect imagery of the connection between people and planet, basically threw up its hands and said, “And here, a miracle occurs,” by pretending that the Planet will, at some point, get fed up with the corporate users of machines and intervene on behalf of Her children.
Which, you know, is really quite dangerous because it causes us to look for help from a source that is never, in that manner, going to provide it. Mamma Gaia has been here a long time, allowing one wave of mechanistic death after another (the side with the better technology always winning, just ask the Picts, or the Native Americans, or the people who live in the rainforest) and, if She were going to intervene, I kind of think that She’d have put her finger on Mr. Truman’s elbow and, well, She didn’t.
But our irrational belief that She will, surely, surely, this time, intervene (and win!) allows us off the hook; it allows us to avoid deciding whether and to what extent we really are committed to, for example, spending our resources on education and clean energy instead of on, for example, weapons.
And the questions are only going to get more complicated: what does spending money on defense even mean when wars are likely to be fought in cyberspace, bringing down “the enemy’s” electric grid or water purification systems? Or weather satellites? Or CDC computers that would predict the next outbreak of swine flu, or HIV/Aids, or Black Death?
I’m thinking about all of this based on a conversation that I had today with some lovely and brilliant folks at lunch. We were talking about the advance video for The Fifth Sacred Thing and discussing how, in that story, San Francisco decides to spend its effort and energy on food, and clean energy, and housing, instead of arms. And, then, as has pretty much been the pattern throughout history, those who have spent their money on arms look around, see all that bounty that they — having spent their money on arms — don’t have, and decide to invade and take.
And the residents of San Francisco have to decide what to do.
And, honestly, although the book doesn’t say it, San Francisco had decided years ago when they spent the tiny tears inside the cells of their their muscles (the ones that make you sore the next morning, when lactic acid floods your cells, the cells in the muscles that you used to plant seeds), and the food that powered their planting arms, and the water in their cisterns — on food. On making sure that every child had a home. On a transportation system that was both beautiful and clean. Because if you spend even a few months on those things, you’ll fall behind in the arms race; the corporate armies will build armour, and heat-sensing devices, and cyber-grenades that will destroy you, even if, at the last minute, you decide that they were right about how the world works and you must arm up.
And the amazing thing about Starhawk‘s Fifth Sacred Thing, is that the book doesn’t depend on Goddess ex Machina. It’s clear in the book that, whichever choice San Francisco makes, people are going to suffer and die.
And I think that’s the big mistake that we make when considering non-violent responses to violence. We want to say that we can’t choose non-violence because, if we make that choice, people will die. But we somehow blank out the alternative. Because it should be, but isn’t always, clear that, if we concede that the corporate armies are right and so we’ll meet violence with violence, then, well, people will also die. Including people on our side. People will die whenever a corporate army meets a people who have invested in life.
I want to say that again: People will die whenever a corporate army meets a people who have invested in life.
That choice was made by the corporate army in a way that we have a difficult time acknowledging. They made the choice. It’s going to have consequences we don’t like. That’s what living inside a web entails; it means that choices that we didn’t make will impact us. But that’s not due to choosing life over arms. That’s simply the result of living inside a world of webs — something out of which we don’t have the chance to opt.
Today, we did a ritual for peace and, near the end, centuries and centuries (pun intended) of soldiers showed up to the priestess delivering the meditation and said, “Don’t forget us; we’re already very sad. Don’t forget us.” And, so, she didn’t. She brought into our meditation for peace all the soldiers who, over all the millenia, have had to do horrible things to other people and who have had horrible things done to them. Soldiers who said to themselves that they were protecting us lambs, who felt that they faced what we didn’t want to face in order to guard our boundaries, to stand firm for our innocence, to stand between us and those who want the water in our cisterns.
In The Fifth Sacred Thing, San Francisco’s answer is: “There is a place for you at our table.”
I admit that I don’t know how that works with a Weyerhauser, who says that it needs every single twig and scrap of bark from our forests. I don’t know how it works with an Enron, who wants to “commeditize” water, and oxygen, and soil. I don’t know how it works with a Monsanto, who wants, after thousands of years, to make it illegal for honeybees to mutate to avoid its poisons or for farmers to collect the seed of the plants that they’ve grown. How does, “There is a place for you at our table,” work with people who are happy to sit down at your table, snatch your plate, and bash you over the head with your own crockery?
OTOH, I refuse to become like Monsanto/the Army of the Stewards/the Tea Party.
On Memorial Day, I will honor all who had no better option than to show up and fight. And I will honor and invoke all who fought for better options. There will be flags on my porch for both. Flags for the warriors. Flags for the pacifists.
There are markers at Arlington, my landbase, the place I have to ground within, for those who fought in our wars. I will never be be able to ground without knowing them. I cannot ground that I do not ground inside patriarcy.
I want to quit paying what it takes to be a mother/daughter/granddaughter of a man/woman buried in Arlingotn. I want to give what it costs to pay for another diplomat, peacemaker, person who works for peace.
May it be so for you.