Friday, November 07, 2008

Making a Grass Roots Movement, NOW!

This has been an incredible week! In Portland, within a half and hour after the polls closed on Tuesday, voters began loudly celebrating the election of Barak Obama. As a 42 year old woman, I can say that I have never seen an election night like this. With cars honking, people screaming, and assorted fireworks here and there--- it was livelier than any New Year's eves I can remember (indeed, livelier than most 4th of Julys-- possible exception of The Bicentennial), too. The relief and joy felt by so many in this country was palpable. I know that I, for one, am very happy that for the first time in 8 years, we will have a leader that can not only speak in full sentences, but that he does so most eloquently, and in a tone that sounds strong, open and welcoming-- which is a blessed change from the disjointed sneering phrases of W.

Obama ran on the idea of Hope and Change. He spoke of a new America that honored fairness. Our challenge is to now build on that momentum to actually craft what that change looks like, and to push like hell in that direction. This can be a truly profound transformation, if, and only if, we take this opportunity to coalesce a broad based grass roots movement. We must bring together a groundswell of support, not for any particular candidate, but to address the issue of economic justice at home--- calling for an immediate reversal of the massive redistribution wealth that has been ongoing since Reagan, and has accelerated dangerously in the last month. We must reinvigorate a movement that demands peace and diplomacy in our foreign policy, not endless wars propagated with a might-makes-right mentality. We must come together to loudly demand environmental sustainability, not as a green washing campaign, but as deep we take up the challenge of essentially changing our country's relationship to resource exploitation, and thinking ahead for about our impact on generations to come. It is imperative that we work together to demand the restoration of our constitutional rights-- ending spying on activists, and the demonization of dissent; to put an end to torture and to bring back a healthy habeas corpus; and there is so much more. As Norman Solomon notes in his article, A Mandate for Spreading the Wealth:

Obama and his activist base won a mandate for strong government action on behalf of economic fairness. But since election night, countless pundits and politicians have somberly warned the president-elect to govern from "the center." Presumably, such governance would preclude doing much to spread the wealth. Before that sort of conventional wisdom further hardens like political cement, national discussions should highlight options for moving toward a more egalitarian society.

I was not a big Obama supporter-- I can't turn a blind eye to the fact that he wants to continue our war in Afghanistan, and talks of "clean coal". I felt that the McKinney / Clemente ticket most represented my concerns, and had good plans to address them. Indeed, this is the first time I have ever convinced myself to vote not my conscience, but to choose based on my fear of the worser evil (I admit it, the thought of a Palin theocracy scared the bejeebus out of me). I have huge concern about his statements regarding adding heat to the fighting in Afghanistan, if he does this, I will be complicit in that murderous act (along with the rest of you that voted for him), so let's act now, together, and quickly, while this opening exists to push, push, PUSH Obama to take right action. Let's become to hard to ignore. This is where we begin to do the hard work of holding this new administration accountable to usher in the changes we want to see.

I am still adjusting to the idea of a country without W. Given how bad things have gotten, it will take a bit to remember what it was like to live in a country where dissent is an expected by-product of our democratic process in a "free" and diverse land, as opposed to being subjected to "If your not fer us, your agin us," tough guy talk. May this country not fall back into cynicism and apathy, because while Obama might not have all of the answers himself, working together in solidarity, we can supply him with some. And through our continued involvement, we will demand right action to move our country in a good direction. It's just that it will take all of us working together to be heard over corporate interests, and over some of his appointments (excuse me what? %?!?!*&$ Rahm Emanuel?!?!?!?).

This is the opening that many have been waiting for. Let's jump on through, together.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Gathering of Dead -- The Wheel Turns

I threw a little gathering at my place last Friday. All of my guests were dead. I made my Dad a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I made tea for my Gran, my Aunts Bett & Alice, and for my Uncle Jack. My old comrade Jan got a glass of port. Everyone got wheatmeal digestive biscuits, apples, and chocolate, and by Gran's request, soft boiled eggs. Of course, not wanting to be species-ist, my partner broke out some fine catnip for my old furry friend Newton. These loved ones, now dead, are invited and welcomed back into my home and life, along with a growing list of friends: Judi, Jasper, Jim, Bruce, to be honored, loved,and to renew our connections. That's what Samhain, Celtic New Year, or Halloween, is all about. A time to eat, drink, and connect again with our beloved dead. A time to renew our connection in the long chain of life, knowing that, in our turn, we too will pass, and new generations carry on the mantel of life on this plane.

On Saturday, I went to a concert wherein the dead were formally invited to come and dance. Jason Webley and Vagabond Opera combined their musical genius and put on a fabulous show. But that was only a part of the evening. At the side of the dance floor was a beautiful altar for the dead, with candles, food, flowers, pictures, skulls-a-plenty, and much love. Folks were encouraged to go to the altar and converse, play with, write notes to, or in some way interact with the dead / death / transformation. A large paper mache skull was on hand to receive notes of affirmation and the like; collecting the notes for a ritual following the concert.

As the music stopped, a procession started--- following Webley, who held aloft a very large paper mache tomato, a couple of hundred people created a joyous parade down the street and around the block about midnight. Celebrants shook rattles made of plastic bottles and coins, blessing and strengthening our connections, with ourselves, each other, and the dead. We ended up back at the venue, with a little fire made ready in a steel cart, decorated with skeletons and skulls; gathering 'round while the large skull with our collected notes inside was put on the flames. Smoke began to pour out of the hole cut in for the third eye. As the energy built, the flames engulfed the skull and the sky opened, and for a moment, there was an absolute downpour. When I have shared this story with a couple of friends well familiar with the ways of ritual, they told me that in their traditions that downpour is a sign of prayers being accepted by the spirits-- it certainly felt that way to me at the time. Three young women danced around the flames as we stood adding our energies to the affirmations going up in smoke. Shortly thereafter, a large fire truck and two cop cars stopped by, and a very nervous house manager ran about telling everyone "It was a great evening but everyone has to leave NOW!" It's hard to be a pagan in the city.

But of course, this isn't really a pagan thing. It's just stopping to note that at this time in our yearly cycle the veil between the worlds grows thinnest. Many cultures recognize this. You don't have to be a believer, just walk out amongst the fall leaves, feel the air on your face, and listen to the night-- and feel. There are other realities pressing against each other like soap bubbles-- and now the walls of that bubble are quite thin.

So much of American mainstream culture is really twisted up when it comes to death. It is, forgive the pun, morbidly afraid of it, and dictates that polite company avoids the subject at all costs. Part of this terror comes from the fear of separation-- of loss. It becomes a catch-22, since we are taught fear it, we want no reminders of it, and we abandon our dead, which reinforces that separation. This is so very different from the cultures that accept that death and life are inherently intertwined. Now we are on this side, and sometime we will be on the other, never really knowing when that transition will take us through. I have spent some time recently contemplating this, following the sudden death of a man that was becoming a friend. Paradoxically, I find that I appreciate life all the more when I work on accepting death.

And the wheel of the year turns--- in the Celtic traditions, the God is dead, and awaits rebirth on Winter's Solstice. It is the dark of the year, a time to go deep inside and vision what we need to do for ourselves and the world in the times ahead. This is the time of creating that seed / those visions. Oh, and a time to remember the dead, and to feast together, remember our families, ancestors, friends, and celebrate the connections that weave together this world.