The planet is dying. Quickly. And many of us want to save Mother Earth before she slips into a terminal coma — many but nowhere near enough. Yet our voices are loud and we demand change — and change doesn’t come. At least, not the real, sweeping change that would solve the problem. We have no fundamental plan to eradicate fossil electricity generation, even in highly-developed countries where this should have been a no-brainer decades ago. We have no mandated plan to replace gas-burning vehicles with electric ones in a specific future and continue to allow manufacturers to decide what to build rather than assigning them a goal of 100% non-oil-consuming vehicles in a decade. We don’t have even the loosest plan to shift from single-use plastics as the norm in manufacturing to a requirement for plastic recyclability. We are facing a global food crisis yet we still have no plan to impose a non-animal, sustainable food system in even one country. And we allow our schools to teach our children outdated curriculums that don’t focus on real current problems, leaving them apathetic and disconnected from possible solutions.
Yelling and screaming about a problem never fixed anything. Don’t believe me? Ask Ghandi what gets things done. A show of force is just a play without a stage. Protesting doesn’t work. It never has. It could, though. People are looking at demonstrations as the solution to the problem, though, not as the precursor. If you ask for something people don’t want to give you, not only will they say no, they’ll encourage you to continue to waste your time asking, knowing they’ll never have to give it to you unless you take it — and if you keep asking, you’ll never think to take it.
If you want change, you can’t ask for change. You can’t demand change. You have to live change. The more someone yells at you to change, the more defensive you’ll become and the more you’ll argue and fight back. And the louder and more frightening things get, the more most people will seek comfort in the normal, the status quo. There’s a reason that in periods of the most severe trauma the world has ever seen, tradition trumps ethics every time. World War 2 saw the bright beacon of liberal peace that was the United States sentence untold numbers of people of Japanese descent to camps in the name of traditional values. The Cold War saw the repression of academic liberals seeking equality and peaceful existence because tradition demanded fighting rather than accepting that both sides had it wrong, that neither capitalist greed nor state-driven Marxism-Leninism were the answer.
Democracy doesn’t work. The majority never wants real change. And the majority will never willingly give up their privilege of oppression. It’s silly to imagine there could ever be a society that’s not hopelessly divided with factions fighting and people being sentenced to lives of misery if you let people choose a collective destiny like that.
So what’s the value of demonstration? What’s the purpose of protest? It’s a wake up call and a warmup act on the stage of government. But it’s only useful if we make it very clear that we’re not asking government to act or change. We’re not asking people to get out there and vote. We’re asking people to get out there and force change. For protest to be useful to make sweeping, permanent social changes like the ones that could actually save our species from untold suffering and likely extinction in the face of global disaster, it must not remain in the streets, a simple demand in raised voices and waved signs. It must in no uncertain terms shift from popular action to popular revolution. Revolution has been in America a sacred ideal — the birth of the nation and the freedom it promised but has more and more failed to deliver was premised on eliminating a government that didn’t have the people’s happiness and safety in mind. Do we have a government that is working for what the people want or for what the people need, because these two things are almost never the same thing.
The answer may begin with demonstrations and protests. Peaceful civil disobedience can stop a pipeline and turn a waterfront industrial complex into a park. It can free a political prisoner and save the lives of children being overrun by a violent government. But we’re not just aiming to fix the desperate problems that occur today, are we? Please ask yourself if the government will ever be prepared to enact the sweeping societal changes, in other words, to make people angry and unhappy in the short term, truly and extremely angry and unhappy in many cases, to shift to renewable energy, eliminate fossil fuels, mandate animal-free food supplies and recyclable-only plastics? Revolution doesn’t have to be violent. It doesn’t have to be bloody. And it doesn’t have to be the result of grasping and emotion. We could truly have a mindful revolution. But we can’t keep asking for change.
We must take it.
(This article was originally posted to the Spring Waters Community, here.)
(Photograph by Sarah Trummer)