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The Commons
Voices / Viewpoint

How do we come together for a long emergency?

Only by actually behaving as the peaceful, free, and socially just people we aspire to be do we create the alternative to the corrupt world represented by our president.

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and author of Resilience and Resistance: Building Sustainable Communities for a Post Oil Age (2015, Green Writers Press).

Originally published in The Commons issue #436 (Wednesday, November 29, 2017). This story appeared on page D1.



While locating a silver lining in the election of Donald Trump is challenging indeed, at least one promising development has resulted from this otherwise unfortunate event.

This is the emergence of citizen protest and resistance to the administration’s corporate coup — and the patriarchal, racist culture that supports it.

As hopeful as this is, however, resistance alone is not enough to bring about the basic changes we need.

Notwithstanding its necessity when faced with threats to our lives and well-being, resistance is otherwise frankly counterproductive over the long haul — even a liability when it fails to transcend its limitations to become part of a more-fundamental movement of personal and social transformation.

We live in an apocalyptic time. Confronted with such existential threats as climate catastrophe, incipient fascism, nuclear holocaust, economic collapse, war without end, white supremacy, class warfare, the rape culture, the opioid plague, and so on, we cannot simply fix these and other symptoms of a dying civilization with a law or a new president. Rather, they represent the reality behind a way of life that is rapidly spiraling into collapse.

We require something more basic.

Resistance can only wage defensive struggles against some of the specific outrages of the dominant paradigm of greed, hatred, and violence. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, however, thus failing to address the question that begs asking about the people we are and the values of our daily lives that enable a society of this kind to exist in the first place.

* * *

To honestly face this question, resistance needs to become transformative, a revolution of everyday life. It must be centered in a commitment to and consistent practice of the heart-based values that are inherent in at least most of us, however unevenly and infrequently expressed.

Only by actually behaving as the peaceful, free, and socially just people we aspire to be do we create the alternative to the corrupt world represented by our president. This is transformative resistance.

As a confrontational and adversarial mode of activism, resistance alone does not call forth these values. Its oppositional nature all too often brings out the kind of mean-spirited behaviors that we usually deplore, thus exacerbating, rather than healing, societal divides.

Despite our legitimate grievances, conventional resistance invariably mires us in its politics, where efforts to protect and defend ourselves degenerate into the unwholesome behaviors of power struggles.

Characteristically expressed with self-righteous rage, conventional resistance renders dubious the possibility of engaging with the other in a righteous manner. Rather than compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation — essential qualities of a values-based practice, but especially so with an entity we’ve designated as the “enemy” — resistance can very easily become its ego-driven, zero-sum opposite.

Worse yet, we make the oppressive other responsible for our lives when we demand that they do what we want them to do for us. We need to empower ourselves, instead, by assuming responsibility for our lives. Yes, by all means, we must stand up and defend ourselves when this is necessary; but we can’t allow resistance to supplant creating the positive alternative that only we can do for ourselves.

* * *

How do we do this?

First, we need to come together with kindred souls. Whether we call ourselves a tribe, affinity group, or resilience circle, the members provide essential support for one another and for our efforts to act in a values-grounded way.

Our vision is not so much to destroy the old normal (that’s happening by itself) as it is to craft a new normal of kindness and generosity, moral courage and personal integrity, and — most of all — unconditional love.

In such a group, we are committed to having one another’s back, and being there for one another. The group is well-versed in non-violent direct action and emergency preparedness to defend and protect.

Together, we develop the knowledge and skills we need to provide for our basic needs over the long emergency. We become a culture of mutual aid.

Though a tight group, we would not be an exclusive body; membership is open, participation is fluid, and we are accessible to and active participants in the life of the larger community, especially through our service to others.

* * *

Essentially, these groups are exemplars of the sustainable, resilient communities we require to both survive and thrive in the face of a world collapsing all around us.

Our living example prefigures the desired society, embodying the kind of values-based community that we require in the age of Anthropogenic Armageddon.

A second essential quality is to increasingly withdraw our dependency on and participation in the corporate death culture we’re so intimately a part of. Much can be said about what this involves — e.g., reducing our addiction to consumerism, mass entertainment, and fossil fuels, while living a more simple, self-sufficient, face-to-face existence. Challenging? No question. But this essential quality is doable when at the same time we are creating the proactive, community-based alternative.

Finally, though second to none, we need to come home to Mother, to transcend the millennia-long divide that has allowed us to exploit and abuse Her: to embrace nature as a long absent member of the Family.

Only by accepting our interconnectedness and mutual dependency can we begin to grieve what we’ve already lost, to heal the separation between the human and the more-than-human world, and to come to terms with the sacredness of life whose violation is at the heart of our dilemma.

Together with creating the life-affirming community and reducing our participation in corporate America, this reintegration with life (and, hence, with ourselves as a whole living being) is what transformative resistance to the world of Trump is all about.

It makes possible the life we’re seeking.

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