“Cars are bourgeois and trucks are proletarian.” An analysis of the truck-driver’s strike and diesel crisis in Brazil.
From Mirna Wabi-Sabi
You can hear this article read by the author here:
In high school, I failed an economics class. Now, 11 years later, I look back at that situation as symbolic of the capitalist indoctrination in the public school system.
The assignment was to develop a business plan. It was 2007, so most students came up with online businesses that could maximize profits by not having storefront rent draining money.
My idea was a bike sharing system integrated with the metro, where people paid a small fee monthly or yearly for unlimited access. The goal was to make cars obsolete, improve personal health and urban life standards (by minimizing all kinds of pollution, and death).
The class voted against the plan because it would definitely not be profitable. In fact, it might drain money with people breaking or stealing bikes. What I didn’t know at the time was that I wasn’t in an economics class, I was in a Capitalist economics class, because in “America” there was no other type.
Unlike everything else in high school, I actually got invested in this project. Public transport was awesome to me. Taking the bus alone made me feel free, in control, and in harmony with my surroundings. The metro pulsates through the city, and gives life to the urban organism. Adding public bikes to the mix would be next level awesomeness (I even made a cheesy youtube video).
Cars, on the other hand, are the embodiment of capitalism, and its sickening properties. Those that make us forget that we are a part of a community, of nature, and trick us into believing it’s possible (and desirable) to be at the driver’s seat of personal property, crushing everything on the way (the planet and everything on it). Even people’s temperament gets toxic in traffic.
Six years after receiving my memorable failing grade, my mom sent me a picture of herself on a Citi Bike (in New York) with the caption “Look, your idea”. Now these bike stations are in several major cities, I’ve just signed up to the one in the city where I live for 3 dollars a month.
A community owned not-for-profit initiative sounds pretty anti-capitalist, so how come are they all sporting Bank logos?
Because, as activists of React or Die have put it, we’ve become minimally content with symbolic gestures of generosity by Capitalists and the State; pacifying and trapping those with the slightest inclination for dissatisfaction with the system.
“We do not trade our pains as cheap merchandise from the colonial period, we do not bargain for crumbs.” –Winnie Mandela Tribute
There is a difference between smashing a capitalist state, and helping capitalist institutions improve. This here might be a third option. Neither revolution nor reform: revitalization. Or what urbanists call: make-up (in this case for tourists).
If we were to paint these Bank Bikes white (covering the logos) and keep them always unlocked, they would be outlawed and reduced to a teenage vandal art project (Provos).
This week, the streets had the post-apocalyptic vibe you would expect from any tasteful Sci-fi pilot. The grim atmosphere of scarcity, and the controlled anxiety of people becoming aware that things have not yet turned into the Walking Dead- but might next week.
Lines for gas are growing around the few places that still have it, people praying at gas stations, some flights are not taking off, there are almost no fresh vegetables at supermarkets, the few street markets left are 7 times more expensive than usual, the T.V. is fuming with sensational stories about medicine not arriving at hospitals, people who “might” die and right-wing propaganda…
Indignation is widespread. While the left blames Temer’s failure at managing inflation and protecting people from Petrobras’ price fluctuation, the right blames the truck-drivers for not prioritizing the people who need food and medicine over their own “profits”. Of course the truck-drivers that get no wage readjustments based on the outrageous price spike are pissed, and so is anyone else who just wants to drive to work.
A place like Brazil, with such abundance of food and oil resources, not having enough for its own people reveals the catastrophic potential of the global Capitalist system. The middle class can’t imagine going to work by bus or bike, and had to be reminded of how supermarkets are stocked and the true power of workers.
These workers on strike are not representing any political party, no grand scheme coordinated by politicians on election year. This is a fairly mild wake up call, reminding us of how fragile the (in)balance of power is, and how our relationship with foreign markets is not in the best interest of the masses.
“A good pricing policy for fossil fuels should have two focuses.First, encourage biomass fuels and discourage fossil. Second, make a division between individual fuel and cargo fuel and public transportation, discouraging the former.” –Caio Almendra
Unfortunately, individual fuel is still a priority in many people’s minds, and most of the the upper and middle classes have not learned to respect truck-drivers. Things will have to get a lot worse before we wake up to the reality of our daily exploitation and submission to foreign currency.
“Development” is often reduced to road building. The higher the number and quality of roads, the more advanced and modern a place is; meaning, car and cash flows go hand in hand. This is not only an issue of class struggle and Capitalism, it’s about White Supremacy as well. We must not underestimate the affect this aspect of Capitalist development has on Indigenous and Quilombist communities.
Our Western lifestyle and backward politics make their way of life virtually impossible. Roads in particular play a major part in suffocating Indigenous and Quilombist land.
A leading figure of the Quilombo Quingoma told me she hates it when massive groups of motorcycles and random cars drive through their territory, and that paving roads is not good for their horses. Suburban “development” surrounding their land is directly connected to their lack of agency towards the preservation of the forest, and therefore the resources they need for autonomy.
Colonialism (and capitalism) have lead to the Western belief that being of the land is “less developed” than being on the land. The concept of ownership lead us to stop seeing ourselves as a part of our environment, to becoming people on or in property. That’s why the American dream is reduced to owning land of your own, and by doing that earning true freedom (meritocracy).
The tribal concept predates this capitalist concept, and it’s no surprise that after so many years of racism in the field of anthropology, that the term has had the derogatory connotation of underdevelopment.
The “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” shows well the ways in which the tone of anthropological research of tribal behavior is deeply problematic (Eurocentric). The Othering of Navies shows our inability to look at ourselves as ritualistic, and utterly nonsensical in our own behavior.
“While much of the [Nacirema] people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labors and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity.” -Horace Miner
The way we deal with our property is savage. The way we treat each other is horrific. Honestly, we have enough ways to kill, torture and enslave to make anthropophagy look honorable and humane. Still, somehow an incredible amount of people have the audacity to look at Natives as underdeveloped, just because their lives don’t revolve around screens, cars and money the way ours do.
If there is one thing we can do, in this seemingly helpless situation, is to unlearn what has been taught to us about order and progress, and learn what it really means to be a “developing” Nation.
is site editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.
“This era of mass consumerism… is imperilling the ways we breathe”
From Lorna Smithers
“We need to remember that our very breathing is to drink our mother’s milk – the air – made for us by countless microbial brothers and sisters in the sea and soil, and by the plant beings with whom we share the great land surfaces of our mother’s lustrous sphere.”
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Respiration (from spirare ‘breath’ and re ‘again’) is participation.
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Lungs. Two. Right and left. Each enclosed in a pleural sack in the thoracic cavity of the chest. Primary bronchus, secondary bronchi, tertiary bronchi, terminal bronchiole. In the alveoli, ‘little cavities’, across the blood-air barrier, gas exchange takes place.
Breathe in: oxygen 21%, carbon dioxide 0.04%. Breathe out: oxygen 16%, carbon dioxide 4.4%. 6 carbon glucose, oxidised, forms carbon dioxide. Product: ATP (adenosine triphosphate) ‘the molecular unit of currency of intracellular energy transfer’. The spark of all life.
Birds have lungs plus cervical, clavicular, abdominal, and thoracic air sacs. Hollow-boned they are light as balloons, breathing in, breathing out. Then there are the lungless. Through tiny holes in the abdomen called spiracles leading to trachea, insects fill their air sacs, breathing in, breathing out. Earthworms and amphibians breathe in and out through their moist skins. Fish breathe water in through their gulpy mouths then out through their gapey gills.
Plants breathe through their leaves. By daylight they photosynthesise. Stomata breathe carbon dioxide. It mixes with water. The green lions of chlorophyll work their magic by sunlight. Oxygen is released. From glucose the magical hum and buzz of ATP. At night they respire glucose and oxygen back to carbon dioxide and water. 10 times more oxygen is produced than used.
Underground, fungi breathe the air of the soil through thread-like hyphae that mass as mycelia. They respire aerobically (with oxygen) or anaerobically (without oxygen), changing glucose to ATP (it’s all about ATP!), ethanol, carbon dioxide, and water. This old, old, metabolic pathway dates back to the days before oxygen ruled our breath and is also utilised by microbes. The hidden ones of the deep, single-celled, or living colonies, breathe through their single cell walls in ancient ways – acetogenesis, methanogenesis – to gain the blessed ATP.
To live we must not only breathe, but consume. Life lives on death. And this human animal consumes not only to create ATP, but for warmth, light, housing, transport, pleasure. Some say it began with fire, others with farming, others with writing, others with machines, others that it originated deep within human cells in the power plants of mitochondria – the Anthropocene.
The spark of this era of mass consumption has become a funeral pyre fanned by the winds of greed. Its smoke is imperilling the ways we breathe. Fire triangle: oxygen, fuel, heat. Smoke from carbons and hydrocarbons is composed of water, carbon dioxide, countless other fumes.
Smoke inhalation damages the lungs through burning, tissue irritation, oxygen starvation (asphyxiation). In 1952, 4000 people died in the Great Smog of London. Great smogs hang over Delhi, Baghdad, Beijing, Los Angeles, Rome. Asthma, lung cancer, COPD, leukemia, pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, weakening of lung function, difficulties breathing in and out.
Carbon dioxide levels rising, increasing greenhouse effect, raising temperatures. The forests, cut down, cannot help. The peat bogs, drained off, cannot help. The oceans acidifying cannot help. We are choking those who breathe with us, who are dropping like canaries in coal mines.
Who would dare to douse the fires? Throttle the exhausts? Get locked out of the factories for good?
Those who inspire. Those who burn with inspiration, ysbrydoliaeth, rooted in spirit, ysbryd. The breath of the universe, the breath of our human and non-human ancestors, the breath of the gods. Those who not only consume but give and offer those gifted breaths back before expiring.
Inspired ones! Burn with me! Breathe with me! Breathing in, breathing out, with the lunged and lungless creatures with skin, fur, feathers, shells, scales, leaves, hyphae, the single-celled.
All one breath.
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Respiration (from spirare ‘breath’ and re ‘again’) is participation.
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Lorna Smithers is a poet, author, awenydd, and Brythonic polytheist. She is currently exploring how our ancient British myths relate to our environmental and political crises and dreaming new stories. As a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn, she seeks to reweave the ways between the worlds. She has published two books: Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, and edited A Beautiful Resistance. She blogs at Signposts in the Mist.
“In their sharing to me and my sharing to my grand-daughter (or another heart-friend) we can recreate the right dialogue between ourselves and Earth, ourselves and our tiny household where we are rooted.”
From Judith O’Grady
It’s nearly Spring in Canada!
My son and I garden together—- he is interested in vegetables, I am interested in herbals and wildlife support. First thing every Spring is starting plants from seed. Lot of tomatoes (11 kinds this year); many, many Sunflowers because the squirrels eat them as soon as we plant them. But for me the challenge is planting and re-planting the things that don’t germinate well or that don’t grow well—- I can get Ephedra to come up but I’ve never gotten it to grow over a couple of inches; I can’t get Roseroot to germinate (this year I’m buying plants as well); I keep putting in Foxglove but it hasn’t overwintered yet…..
I’m growing Northern Medicinals and they can be hard. But after you have Oregano all over the place (it spreads, I give it away, it spreads), Thyme in between the stones in the path, Parsley overwintering, and Basil every year in the tomato tubs it’s the next challenge. And there’s a purpose to it; medicinal herbal preparations used to be what we had and they may be that again. I’ve made teas and dried kitchen herbs for years and now I’m feeling ready to try extracts and elixirs. And Magical Preparations from folklore:
This could be viewed as a raised bed with strawberries backed by huge invasive weeds.
Or it might be Mullen behind the strawberries: used by settlers as toilet paper, excellent for smudge, contributing to lung comfort, and the base of ‘Witches Candles’.
So I grow it or, more exactly, keep it in where it pops up. It’s a biennial, like Parsley, meaning that it grows the first year as leaves and the second it makes seeds. Mullen stalks are very tall, flower yellow in progression, and then dry out.
I collect them up and cut the tops into manageable pieces, smacking the little black seeds out of the stalks as I do.
A dedicated thrift-store frying pan to melt the collected candle ends in and coat the outsides of the stalks et voilà! Witch candles as referenced in lore.
I always find this delightful—- I read about something, I look into it, I try it out……. then when it works I feel the broken chain between me and my ancestral past clicking back into being, connecting me to an awareness and skill-set which is now mine (tiny bit by tiny bit) and I can use and then pass on for myself.
The same sequence follows for other things. I read about yesteryear’s children looking forward to drinking ‘Elderflower Cordial’ in the Spring. I prepare (for ‘prepare’ read ‘pick off the bugs’) and soak the flowers, follow the old-timey recipe, and taste history.
The old lore works—- the handsome guy who plays the standing harp puts in a special request for the ‘Auntie Night-Mare’ tea because it really helps him to get to sleep.
I work out how to send someone ‘Two Sleep’ after the Farmer’s Market closes for the season.
After a while I have to explain that Camomile has to be picked and dried as it flowers, scrap by scrap, and that the year’s production of Camomile is finite. Camomile can also teach you that startling difference between ‘edible’ and ‘palatable’— don’t put a flower in your mouth because you can drink the tea.
The nice older couple ask if I’m planning anything new because they’ve already drank all the different selections; we plan out a blend based on their
At the end of growing season last year I made Purple Basil vinegar with success and (in a different time frame) found an all-glass, good sized, double boiler in the thrift store. The Horehound came back gang-busters for its second summer (that plant family with the square stems, pretty reliable) and I want to make Horehound cough drops —- it is historical and doesn’t seem like it will be too hard as a start.
Also Arnica and Calendula ointment….. then Boneset and Comfrey (don’t eat those, readers)—- I could paint the ointment on a Mullen leaf, fold it over, and have a ready-made bruise dressing.
Gradually as my Grand-daughter grows up I will become more skilled and I may finally grow Ephedra and Roseroot with success. There’s no end of things to find find out and try and there are many Cunning Wort-Doctors more knowledgeable and proficient than myself to learn from. In their sharing to me and my sharing to my grand-daughter (or another heart-friend) we can recreate the right dialogue between ourselves and Earth, ourselves and our tiny household where we are rooted.
If she’s interested or if there’s someone else who wants the undertaking and if the World doesn’t end by fire or plague she can, since she will know where everything is in the yard and how to make the things, hopefully trade Medicinals for food.
is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).
“To join our essence and consciousness with the world was once the common inheritance of humanity. Now, it can only be found in the hinterland, the lands beyond. Beyond techno-industrial society. For what is there to join with in concrete and steel?”
From Ramon Elani
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
In the House of Cold Rain there is mirth and joy. The children sing and dance and gambol among the violets. The smell of lilacs is heavy about the place. Bread is baked in the bright oven and old stories are told. The pots and pans in the kitchen are of black iron. There are but few things within those wooden walls that might frighten the household spirits. Any number of cats mysteriously peer out from shadowy corners, grey with cobwebs. A broken staircase leads down beneath the house, where there is naught but black dirt, from whence come the songs and whispers of the Fair Folk. The garden is thick and overgrown with cabbages and potatoes. Visitors are welcome, though perhaps regarded with a touch of suspicion and the hounds howl always. Moss creeps up slowly from the ground, washing over gnarled apple trees like a wave from the sea and dripping from the roof. A cairn of stones stands beneath an old white pine. And it always rains. Merwin’s “old house in the dawn rain.” And the world is still burning. Or perhaps it burned down entirely long ago and we live among the ashes, unknowing.
The House of Cold Rain sits within a defile between two hills. A roaring brook lies beside it, singing and moaning and shrieking. The rain trickles down the slopes in rivulets. From the top of the hill, crowned with an old stone wall, the valley opens up beneath. Mist rises from the piney woods and drifts and dances. It is a place of strength and a high place. It is a tower and refuge from the world. This tower is build of loving charms and songs of peace and silence, rather than stalwart bricks or stone. But a tower nonetheless. For there is a great horror upon the land and I would protect my family and any others who seek shelter within these walls. A place of peace in a broken world. And not by human hands can the world be remade and restored. There is no shame in turning away from the world. It is no surprise that the sages of all people fled from the world, to live out their days among the spirits of the forests and mountains.
Even in the month of May, when all is bright and green, the House of Cold Rain lies under shadow and mists that hide. Even in May, when the Druids light the goodly fire and guide the cattle to pasture and singe their tails with the Sun God’s flame. When the spirits of the dead come a’ night to seek their ancient homes and at the House of Cold Rain are they fed and appeased with gifts and libations are poured. When primrose is cast about the threshold, to keep the Fair Folk at bay in their merry-making. When the White Heifer stands upon the mountain and the Sun shall not burn her and the Moon shall bestow kisses upon her. When the ruddy maidens sing:
“Yarrow, yarrow, yarrow, I bid thee good morrow, And tell me before to-morrow Who my true love shall be.”
For it is known that in the Maying month the Fair Folk are strong in their power and roam abroad the land. And I shall place garlands of marigold over the door and around the necks of my wife and daughter, for I know well that Fionnbharr stirs from his rath and searches for comely women to snatch away to his halls beneath the hills.
Alas, Fionnbharr, cursed to sit in his crystal court and remember forever the lost glory of his people. Time diminishes all, true enough and even the gods themselves have retreated to hidden places. So remember, Fionnbharr, remember the stature and greatness of the Children of Danu. Remember the coming from the Four Cities of the North, remember the spells and charms that brought them to regain their inheritance, in fire, smoke, and the sword. Remember, Fionbharr, how the Children strode with long, vigorous steps and slew their enemies until the earth was sticky and black with blood and mounds of the fallen blotted out the sun. So fight your little battles, Fionnbharr, only that you may recall the thrill of the blood. And neglect your golden haired Queen for the fleeting pleasures of mortal flesh. Your Queen who is arraigned in dew drops and sweeps the ground with her golden hair. And sing, above all, sing those songs of loss and remembrance so sweetly and painfully that any who hear shall have nothing but madness and death for the rest of his days. Sit in the violet twilight and remember, Fionnbhar.
Cast out of the world and scornful of modernity and it’s hatred for all things slow, dark, and messy, the Fair Folk retreat deeper and deeper in the wilderness. There are few places left that have not been touched by the contagion of techno-industrial society and it’s dreadful mechanistic logic. So the Fair Folk remain in their palaces of gold and pearl, deep beneath the earth. What is there left for them in the world? A world forever haunted by the specter of causality. The Children of Danu once burned their ships so they could never return to the Four Cities of the North. So too, the Fair Folk now seal themselves within the realms of grove and glen and hillock. And I seal myself in the solitude of the House of Cold Rain.
On the hill above the House of Cold Rain, I put the salve upon my eyes and watch the Fair Folk dance under the moon. Of reason and modern, they know nothing. Theirs is a world animated by intuition and instinct. Madness is the price, but then again, do we not have our own madness borne from rationality and overmuch technology? And though the Fair Folk are doomed in their souls for they have no hope of life eternal, as Osian once said to Saint Patrick, “if there is no fighting and drinking in heaven and my kinfolk are not welcome for being pagans, then what need have I of heaven?” So if the old gods have been chased out of the world by the spirit of modernity and its accusations of superstition, then I will welcome them into my heart. And I will walk nine times around Fionbharr’s rath at midnight and drink his wine and eat bread. Primrose and marigold notwithstanding.
As Carl Jung wrote, “Civilized man…is in danger of losing all contact with the world of instinct—a danger that is still further increased by his living an urban existence in what seems to be a purely manmade environment.” The march of techno-industrial society is inexorable. It will continue until it destroys itself and much else along with it. Jung saw this clearly even in the early 20th century. When he was forty-eight, he went to the shores of Lake Zurich and built a stone tower by hand. He pumped water from the well, chopped wood for the fire, and read by candlelight. The rooms were simple and bare and smelled of “smoke and grits, and occasionally of wine and smoked bacon.” Here, he felt, his ancestors would be honored and his own wound would be healed. The spirits shun the cities and the works of man. Jung knew that only in his tower at Bollingen could the covenant be restored. He longed to see humanity fleeing from the cities and returning to the wild world, of “terminals deserted, the streets deserted, a great peace descend upon us.” The vital world of intuition remains and we bear its mark. But each day that we remain in society, the mark fades and our connection to the spirits weakens. It was in the Bollingen tower that Jung dreamed that he stood beside an ancient chief: “We both know that at last the great event has occurred: the primeval boar, a gigantic mythological beast, has finally been hunted down and killed.” The Promethean, Apollonian impulse of techno-industrial society has finally succeeded in its horrifying task: it has killed the beast, at last.
At the Bollingen tower Jung found the primeval self, the intuitive self restored at revitalized. If there is hope for the world, it lies in the ancient spark within our hearts. The tiny whisper that calls out to the trees and the hills. The small door that opens into a universe without end inside of us. So too did Jung find himself stripped of his fragile, misguided ego and dissolved into the living world around him. There are few errors more profound in the modern perspective than the horrifying notion that consciousness is limited to humanity. All things have their consciousness, not merely living creatures. The landscape itself is conscious. And just as important is the recognition that our own consciousness is constituted precisely by the interplay with the consciousness of the cosmos. As a species alone, we are nothing. This is precisely what Jung found at Bollingen. He writes, “here is space for the spaceless kingdom of the world’s and the psyche’s hinterland.” To join our essence and consciousness with the world was once the common inheritance of humanity. Now, it can only be found in the hinterland, the lands beyond. Beyond techno-industrial society. For what is there to join with in concrete and steel?
In 1950 Jung built a stone monument at Bollingen, beside his tower. Having ordered a shipment of stones to build a wall around his garden, Jung found that the cornerstone had been measured incorrectly and was a large cube rather than a triangle. The mason was about to take the stone away but, as Jung writes, the stone called out to him, spoke to him and in that moment he knew he must have it. As we will see in what follows, there is something in the task of hewing stone, building with stone , communing with stones that connects us profoundly to the world beyond, the world of the cosmos. There is a intelligence in all things that may express itself to us, if we have the power to listen. At Bollingen, Jung reconnected himself to the animated universe and to the spirits of the past. He writes,
my ancestors’ souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.
This sense of a “greater family” extends beyond the individuals and communities that make up our own personal history. Like Jung’s collective unconscious, our lineage stretches back to the birth of the cosmos itself. We contain within us the memories of dying stars and galaxies uncountable. In the swampy regions of psyche, the memories of the dinosaurs are alive. The Fair Folk are there too, dancing in the moonlight. But there is no room for ancestors and spirits in the world of techno-industrial society. We must create a physical place for them, as well as an inner place. They need silence, for their voices are hard to hear from centuries of being unused. Or rather, they have shouted themselves hoarse because we have not listened for so long.
It was at his tower, among his stones and solitude, that Jung developed his rhizomatic metaphor, which has since inspired so many great thinkers, most notably, of course, Gilles Delueze and Felix Guattari:
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.
It is no surprise that this idea came to him in that setting. Far away from the techno-industrial world we can perceive the eternal world. As the walls of our own little, determinate, particular, historically constituted identities fracture and crumble, we perceive the self that is present in all things. We are bonded to the cycles of death and rebirth. The true nature of time, which is to say its cyclical nature, becomes clear. The techno-industrial world denies this. It postulates time as ruthlessly linear, hurtling toward perfection. Though we all know that the only place it will lead us to is doom.
Around the same time that Jung was building his stone tower by hand on the shores of Lake Zurich, another stone tower was being built by hand, thousands of miles away, upon the edge of the abyss, at the very end of the world. This tower was built by American poet Robinson Jeffers. After the conclusion of World War I, Jeffers purchased a piece of land on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Carmel, California. There, in 1919, Jeffers built a stone cottage called ‘Tor House’ for his wife Una and went on to construct a stone tower adjacent to the cottage, which he named ‘Hawk Tower.’ Like Jung, Jeffers found discovered something within himself through the process of working with stone. In fact, scholar Tim Hunt goes so far as to describe masonry as Jeffers “other lifework.” The work inspired his poetry and features largely in many of his most famous poems. His first major book was only published during the final phases of construction.
We can clearly perceive Jeffers belief in an animate cosmos in poems such as “To the Rock that will be a Cornerstone of the House.” Mirroring Jung’s own private conversation with a cornerstone at Bollingen, Jeffers addresses the stone thus:
You have been dissevered from humanity
And only known the stubble squirrels and the headland rabbits
Or the long-fetlocked plowhorses
Breaking the hilltop in December, sea-gulls following.
Screaming in the black furrow; no one
Touched you with love, the gray hawk and the red hawk touched yourself
Where now my hand lies. So I have brought you
Wine and white milk and honey for the hundred years of famine
And the hundred cold ages of sea-wind.
Through his poetry, Jeffers devoted himself to the stones and the cliffs and crags of his refuge, evoking them as models for the beauty and violence of the cosmos. Entrenched in the human world, Jeffers argues, the universe becomes nothing more than a reflection of ourselves. We see our own smallness, our own weakness, our own ugliness radiated throughout the cosmos. In order to escape this apocalyptic solipsism, Jeffers urged a reconnection with the non-human world. A reckoning with the vast powers and forces of the world. But precisely in seeing how small we truly are, and in recognizing how awe-inspiring the non-human world is, lies our hope for rediscovering ourselves as kin to the world. Techno-industrial society makes a titan of humanity, only to make us worthless and alone. The brutality and transcendent beauty of the wild world makes us small but in that we find our redemptive unity. This fundamental belief, which Jeffers described as ‘inhumanism,’ is defined in the poem “Double Axe,” as “a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to notman; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the trans-human magnificence.” This shift requires a necessary detachment from the human world, from techno-industrialism, and from the entire constellation of moral and conceptual apparatus that we have inherited from centuries of disconnection with the wild world.
While Jeffers built his stone tower, he was visited every day by a single hawk that came and perched on the stones. On the day he finished the tower, the hawk disappeared. Like the stones, the hawk became a symbol for Jeffers. Of the hawk, Jeffers writes,
I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,
But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Life with calm death.
Rejecting the monotheistic religions as well as human society, Jeffers posits the hawk and urges us to follow its path. High above the human world, the hawk does not see our struggles. It burns with the light of creation and finds its unity in the indifference of the world. The hawk perceives the death that it is inherent in life and remains unconcerned. Contrast this to the vanity of techno-industrial society, which views death as the ultimate enemy to be resisted by any means. For Jeffers, the wild world conveys much of what Jung saw from his tower at Bollingen, the permanence that underlies all change and flux. Humanity, and techno-industrial society even more so, is a passing thing that lives, decays, and dies in its time. There is no force that could make it otherwise. And yet, the our society seems devoted to the idea that we stand equal or perhaps beyond the natural world in force and durability. Jeffers reminds himself and us that the stone tower he builds will outlast him by generations. And the cliffs upon which it is built will outlast the house by millennia. And the sea will outlast the cliffs for countless aeons.
Living in the midst of human society we are deafened by countless voices. Competing morals and ideologies, each promising an eternal answer. And yet each hungering for the blood of the other. The world we live in is not the world. All the rationality and cleverness of modernity comes to nothing. For Jung, the path away from this world depended upon perceiving and awakening the dormant memories of the old ways, the gods and spirits. For Jeffers, the illusions of society are burst apart by the majesty of the wild world:
I believe that the beauty and nothing else is what
Things are formed for. Certainly the world
Was not constructed for happiness nor love nor wisdom. No, not for pain,
Hatred and folly. All these
Have their seasons; and in the long year they balance each other, they
Cancel out. But the beauty stands.
In the dark woods and upon the craggy mountaintops, we stand in the immanent power of that beauty. To live apart from human society is to live among the undying things and to find a fragment of ourselves among them. We are not exempt from the beauty that Jeffers describes. But we forget the source of that beauty: it is not derived from what makes us human, it is precisely derived from the parts of us that are not human. The parts of us that can hear the voices of the stones. The parts of us that hear haunting songs drifting over hill and valley. The parts of us that awaken suddenly on moonlit nights and frantically look toward the meadow at the edge of the woods.
In the end, for all his urging us to abandon society to itself and even turn away from ourselves as human, Jeffers’ vision is not a pessimistic one. Like Jung, for whom the turn away from the modern world facilitated a resurrection of banished demons and a healing of a wounded humanity, Jeffers argued that in detaching ourselves from a rigid and poisonous conception of what it means to be human, we discover a strength within us that can endure the agonizing flux of history. The horrors of the world are no less horrifying but we can be made to be much more resilient than we are. The late poem “Carmel Point” perfectly illustrates this hopeful quality in Jeffers’ thought:
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it.
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rock-heads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff. — As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
The world burns and the ruins gather in piles all around us. There are those who criticize quietism and the desire to escape. In answer to them I will paraphrase the great Ursula Le Guin: What’s wrong with escaping? What else should a prisoner seek to do?
Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England.
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“You, reading this essay: you are an ark.”
From Asa West
From a car window, California fuchsia might look like just another ornamental flower. A few bright spatters of red along the parkway, surrounded by the kinds of no-fuss shrubs installed by landlords and people who spend most of their time indoors. Compared to the exotic species like hibiscus or ficus, species that simulate lush tropical landscapes, California Fuchsia might even look rather scraggly and small. Is it the type of plant a driver will notice at all? Maybe people appreciate the showy little tube-shaped flowers, or maybe it’s not impressive enough to warrant a glance.
But you don’t get California fuchsia’s whole story from the window of a car.
Epilobium Canum ssp Canum, native to the California Floristic Province, is an integral member of foothill and coastal ecosystems from Oregon to Mexico. If you suspect that the size and shape of the flowers would be the perfect size for a hummingbird’s beak, then you’d be right: it’s a favored flower of several species of hummingbirds, along with the white-lined sphinx moth, the giant swallowtail butterfly, and the California dogface. What’s more, California fuschia also has a long and beneficial relationship to humans; it’s historically been used by the Chumash as a vulnerary herb, healing wounds in the same way that calendula has been used by Europeans.
Speaking of vulnerary herbs, did you know that yarrow is a California native plant? The feathery plant with the corymb inflorescences, a favorite of #WitchesOfInstagram, grows around the world and may have been propagated by ancient settlers and explorers. Gardeners savvy to its healing properties will eschew the brightly colored cultivars and look for Achillea Millefolium, with its plain white flowers that work well in salves and attract butterflies and bees. But, like California fuschia, yarrow can look pretty plain compared to all the exotics.
In fact, that supposed plainness is why so many native plant communities have been obliterated by developers fixated on turning California into a hybrid of England and Hawaii. You can buy a white sage smudge at Whole Foods to go with your essential oils and appropriated dream catchers, but when you pass real live white sage on the street, it looks like a vaguely pretty but rather uninteresting background shrub. The elder tree (ssp. cerulea) is summer deciduous in California and looks dead during the hottest months. The seedheads of sages and buckwheat turn brown after flowering. The authors of California Native Plants for the Garden are stark in their description of the colonization of California: “Compared to the rich greens, bright flowers, and bold textures of subtropical species,” they write, “the natives must have seemed dull and gray.”
How sad, that a shallow and limited idea of beauty can lead to the deaths of entire ecosystems.
Last spring, my husband and I scoured Los Angeles for a new place to live. Our options were limited, especially since we had one kid and another on the way, but I found a listing for a two bedroom condo in Koreatown from which the commute to our jobs on the west side wouldn’t be too catastrophic. (Nine miles, only an hour each way, not too shabby by L.A. standards). We went to look at the place and found it had a back door, and outside were two neglected alleyways and a cramped ficus tree. My daughter promptly tried to climb the tree while I wandered the alleys to look at the soil, which was compacted and rocky and covered in garbage. The land was hurting, its surface a raw abrasion, and I knew as I felt the quiet weight of a geis settle onto me that this was where we would live. The spirits of this place had been waiting goodness knows how long for someone, anyone, to come and stick up for them.
After we moved in, I set about getting permission to clean up the alleys, install a small container garden, and plant some drought-tolerant natives. The backlash was immediate. Two neighbors dismissed new plants as against the rules and thus self-evidently bad, citing decades-old regulations in the building’s covenant. Another got upset and tried to get the building manager to shut me down, calling plants a fire hazard (although it was unclear how plants were a fire hazard when a path littered with junk apparently wasn’t). The status quo bias was formidable: anything perceived as unruly or out of the ordinary was attacked like a virus. I couldn’t make sense of it. I still can’t. Is this the same bias that makes people resist renewable energy and doggedly support capitalism, even as it sucks away their resources and erodes their lives?
If only, I found myself thinking, my neighbors could have heard Lili Singer speak.
My husband and I had taken one of Lili’s gardening classes at the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit in the San Gabriel Valley that propagates native plants. He and I had sat with 30 other gardeners in a little classroom with no AC, taking notes as Lili described plant communities and design principles. For the most part I happily geeked out over wildflowers and sages and coast live oaks, but at one point, the class suddenly turned profound.
Gardeners and conservationists preserve these native species, Lili told us, not to keep them on life support for all of eternity, but in the hopes that someday they’ll be able to flourish on their own again. “California fauna evolved alongside these specific plants, and they need these plants to survive,” she said. “If you save the plants, you’re also saving the insects, and the birds that eat the insects, and the animals that eat the birds. You’re saving whole ecosystems. Your backyard can be an ark.”
She was referring to Noah’s ark, of course, but stories of devastating floods can be found in mythologies all over the world, a specter of annihilation that haunts our collective psyche, a warning whispered by the gods. In the Epic of Gilgamesh,* a group of gods decide to destroy the world, but Ea, “the cleverest of the gods,” warns Noah’s predecessor Utnapishtim:
Reed fence, reed fence, listen to my words.
[Utnapishtim,] King of Shuruppak, quickly, quickly
Tear down your house and build a giant ship,
Leave your possessions, save your life….
Then gather and take aboard the ship
Examples of every living creature.
In this version, the gods are not unanimous in their decision to destroy humanity; in fact, they quickly come to regret it, “cower[ing] by the palace wall, like dogs” to escape the rising water. To me, this version feels truer to our experience of climate change than the Noah myth, in which the instigator of the flood decides which humans are virtuous enough to survive. If climate change were a punishment, then the corporations, lobbyists, and politicians responsible, rather than the most vulnerable and innocent among us, would be hit the hardest. Indeed, we can almost see the 1% in Gilgamesh’s council of gods: foolishly believing themselves to be above destruction, deciding that the world is theirs to destroy and all its lives theirs to take, only too late realizing that they, too, are vulnerable.
I thought about just going ahead and planting the plants, even doing it in secret to avoid getting fined, but after I experimented with a little flower bed and someone kicked it to pieces, I realized my neighbors were not above simply tearing up anything mysterious they found. The sickness plaguing our land isn’t just physical. A dark and troubling thing happens to people’s minds when they live long enough under capitalism. They begin to hold life itself in contempt, seeing any other organisms not as partners and companions, but as competitors and threats. They view the new family down the hall with suspicion and anxiety, ready to attack if property values sag. They grow used to monocultures and conformity and balk at the sight of an unruly hedge. They forget how to be a community; one neighbor plays loud music at 3 a.m. and shrugs at the thought that it might bother people, while other neighbors call the police instead of knocking on his door. There are literal floods happening, yes–and droughts and famines and hurricanes and wildfires–but we’re drowning in something else, too.
We can be arks, I found myself thinking after the class. On the first full moon after we moved in, I brought my ritual supplies to the roof of the building to perform my first esbat in our new home. Not for the first time, I found a part of myself preparing to instruct my daughters in witchcraft when they come of age (if they want it, of course). This is how you’ll explain the compass, a little voice said as I conjured the quarter spirits. This is how you’ll teach scrying, it murmured as I closed my right eye and gazed at the moon in my bowl of water. Then I thought: I am an ark. My body, my mind, my knowledge, the traditions and wisdom I’ve stored up inside me. I carry them through the years so that I can pass them on, and so that their recipients can pass them on, and so forth until the calamity has passed.
You, reading this essay: you are an ark. The god Ea whispers to you through the reeds. What are you carrying that’s worth saving? What do you hold that must be protected and sheltered until conditions are right for it to fly free? Your devotions to the old gods and your knowledge of the Ways? Your friendship with the good folk? Your gateways through the hedge? The mass-produced books on Paganism, as lovely and important as some of them are, are not living knowledge. The written word kills the witchcraft. What’s alive lives in your body, and nowhere else.
Happily, I eked out the majority board approval I needed to plant my natives. I bought my seedlings–some fuchsia and sagebrush and golden currant and blue-eyed grass and elder, plus some California poppy and baby blue eyes seeds, and a compact Cleveland sage that wouldn’t tolerate the clay but might do all right in a pot–and, after a good rain, put them all in. I was afraid the soil was just too bad for them to thrive, but as I dug, I noticed it was teaming with earthworms. The land was impatient to be healed.
Gardening might seem to some like a paltry, even indulgent form of activism when Nazis are killing people in the streets. But the nurturing of threatened species requires radical hope–which Jonathan Lear defines as hope that “is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is,” and which Junot Diaz says “is not so much something you have but something you practice.” There’s a chance, and not a small one, that someone will kill all my native plants after I move away; after all, people all over Southern California are still hard at work tearing up natives to replace them with sod and concrete. But the act of planting keeps despair at bay. Perhaps one of my plants will release one seed that will fly somewhere safe and carry the species forward. Besides, liberation becomes easier to imagine when you get a tiny glimpse of what lies on the other side. Your body remembers a future with gardens, and that promise propels you to action.
After I put the plants in, I tamped the moist soil down and made the berms and offered each plant a little breastmilk to welcome it. I went inside and fed my children. My husband and I hope to move out of the city in a few years, to a place near a forest where I can tend a real garden instead of an alley, but my geis puts me firmly in this place until these plants are established and the birds and insects have learned of their presence. I hope that when I leave, the spirits will be able to protect these plants, or at least that status quo bias will work in their favor. I hope this patch of land will be a sturdy ark, sailing patiently towards a time when riotous, joyful life will thrive again.
*Translation by Stephen Mitchell
Asa West is a sliding-scale tarot reader blending traditional witchcraft with earth-based Judaism. Her writing has appeared in Witches and Pagans Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and other outlets, and you can find her at tarotbyasa.com and instagram.com/tarotbyasa.
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“I want to live a savage life, Of bared teeth and beauty and love.”
From Twm Gwynne
I want a life of simple wants;
Simplicity isn’t much to ask.
I’m not big on lofty goals
(other than changing the world).
I want room to stretch –
To stretch out my
I want room to stretch my arms and shoulders
Wide enough to hold the sun.
I want lungs full of air that tastes like air,
Like trees and streams and stones,
Like fighting and sweating and fucking,
Like seeing and hearing and touching.
Like life and death.
I want hands rougher than they are;
Black with dirt, thick with vital heat.
Skilled hands, wise hands,
Marked with signs and scars
Of a life fully lived.
I want knees that stoop to touch the soil
To plant a seed,
And never know the bend of deference.
I want feet that track out lost paths through venerated groves,
Through eternal grandeur,
And never demand a neck upon which to rest.
I want to walk through giants;
Full of secrets.
To touch their bark and know their life,
Their runes, their place.
To whisper among mountains
And chant with gods by firelight.
I want a hall, a house, a hearth,
Gathered friends that grin and laugh;
Those close to my heart,
With them I’ll share some dear-bought mead,
And gentler drinks.
My folk is all folk,
And I’ll skin the one who says a skin can tell you anything;
I’ll stretch his hide over my shield,
In our hall,
Where the only meat is pig
(the kind that drives in squad cars),
Where rapists are eunuchs before they’re dead.
I want to be a walking fire
That burns and so is burned.
Full of courage and of action,
Whose words are proved by deeds.
I want to live a savage life,
Of bared teeth and beauty and love.
I want to live a filling life,
Of building and growing and laughing.
I want to live this life,
With all the pain thus far,
I’ll defend it, and live it,
Until, at the last,
I find a place where I can pass
With no regrets.
Eater of wild things, denier of stricture, communiser, poet, gardener, casual rambler – in essence, an anarchist in pursuit of the freest life he can grip. More of his writing can be found at his blog, Among Thorns, and at the radical poetry project he contributes to, Night Forest Cell of Radical Poets.
April was Indigenous Month in Brazil. This article reports on the Leadership of Indigenous Women conference in Salvador, and explores the personal and communal journey of indigenous women through generations.
You can hear this article read by the author here. (For those with dyslexia, visual impairments, or multitasking needs.)
The Leadership of Indigenous Women
Indigenous peoples are often seen as “protectors of the forest” when they lift up a mirror to Western Civilization, revealing how capitalism and industrialization lead to climate change. But if we look beyond ourselves, we can see that their livelihoods have been at stake much before it became clear to us that ours is as well. Rapacious hunting and fishing is making the land scarce, which is unsustainable for us, and devastating for them. This devastation has lead Indigenous women to fight to reclaim land, not just the right to use whatever is left of the land’s resources after governments privatize and industries extract. And they fight at any cost.
It’s clear now as much as ever, after the coup, Lula’s imprisonment, attempts to privatize Latin America’s largest electricity company (and consequently Brazil’s largest river), that the Government is not an ally. “Politicians don’t represent us” (Nádia). They (and the military) are not to be believed, because it’s clear that “what they say they will do to help doesn’t happen, they’re only after votes”. Many politicians only show up to collect information, and even family members sometimes turn people in (intentionally or unintentionally). The fight for territory doesn’t need the government. The auto-demarcation of land shows the political strength of the movement, and most importantly the spiritual strength of the people.
“If you don’t feel capable of speaking about yourself, how can you speak for the other? If we don’t speak, we won’t be heard. The abuse of the woman needs to be spoken by the woman! Otherwise there won’t be any change. That’s why we assume the responsibility of militancy, without weekends or holidays.” (Rosimere)
Husbands also can’t represent their wives, they must represent themselves because if they don’t speak up, they are not heard. There is power in denunciation; without it, there are no rights. On the other hand, with denunciation comes persecution. Coming out of invisibility means a whole new set of threats. “Whites want to keep getting richer, so they kill us.” (anonymous) Which is why massacres happen with impunity. If the cops or the military don’t remove tribes from privatized land, landlords will “by the bullet”. And if they don’t kill, they burn their homes and all their things.
“To lead requires courage because we are hunted down like animals.” (Flávia)
The Guarani-Kaiowá territory in Mato Grosso do Sul is home to a tribes that have recently endured egregious acts of violence. Flávia, a 21 year old Indigenous leader, has witnessed a type of police brutality unimaginable to most people. The militarized police force invaded her community, where she lives with her 6 year old son, shooting, leaving many injured and one dead (2016 Caarapó). She says with tears in her eyes that her son is no longer afraid of guns, and that for generations natives grow up in fear without knowing that what they endure is oppression.
“I had to overcome the fear of death, and now I’m prepared to die because I know I’ll die doing something worthwhile.” (Rosimere)
The trans-generational trauma, together with the violence that is still happening today, leads to complex existential obstacles. Among Native youth in particular, demoralization leads to high suicide rates. Some Government programs arrange for psychologists to go to the communities, but according to Nádia Akauá they are not the solution. They will not help people because they have no spirituality, and to Natives prayer is the strongest weapon against demoralization. Many of them go because it’s easy money and they have a curiosity for the “exotic”. These psychologists come from academia, not speaking their language literally, culturally or spiritually.
“The community should decide who comes in and who doesn’t, not some government issued program.” (Nádia)
Hope comes through prayer, which is why spirituality is a driving force of the Indigenous resistance movement. To be able to call yourself Indigenous and practice rituals is in itself a victory. It’s important to preserve and vocalize Indigenous identity, especially after being harshly prevented from doing so in the past. “If we said we were Native, we died” (The Female Cacique/Chief of the Abaeté tribe). During the dictatorship in the 60’s, there were concentration camps for natives. Today, calling oneself Indigenous can still be death sentence. So, in many ways this fight is simply for the right to exist.
The Legacy of Indigenous Women
When Brazil was invaded (not“discovered”), there were virtually no European women, so the vast majority of the Brazilian population has come to be from the violent miscegenation between white men and women of color. The fact that our ancestors were violated is something that affects us today, and is a trauma that is passed down to us. There is no recorded history of these Indigenous women; for hundreds of years they have had no voice. All we hear and reproduce is the memory of the white European men who violated them. So we had no chance to heal.
Not allowing indigenous people to speak for themselves has been a successful and despicable way to instill in society the white supremacist ideology we are still struggling with today. For instance, only last year the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam hosted and exhibition of works by a Dutch colonial artist called Frans Post. He continued to paint Brazilian landscapes well after his visit to Brazil (in the mid 1600’s) because they “sold very well“- while “not a single animal or plant study from his hand [is] known”. In other words, he was painting fantasy, and he isn’t the only Dutch artist in museums today who did that.
“[Albert] Eckhout’s depictions were presented, at the time, as “curiosities”, but would end up influencing not to a small degree, the ethnological gaze and anthropological perspectives toward Brazil’s indigenous peoples up to the present day.” (Adone Agnolin)
To the left is an indigenous woman with chopped body parts and dangerous wild animals, intending to represent the savagery of indigenous peoples in Dutch occupied Brazil. This is nothow Natives practiced anthropophagy. To the right we have a “domesticated” mestizo man with European-style clothes and firearm. The twisted white European gaze, while still widely considered objective, has for hundreds of years misrepresented the culture and traditions of native peoples, while violently silencing the people they supposedly represent.
These are examples of capitalism sprouting from patriarchal colonialism, and forming the symbiosis of white supremacy, sexism, and the “free” market that we live in today.
The way to keep the legacy of Native ancestors alive is to rescue the memory of the mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers. Listening, learning, practicing, and sharing keep the identity alive. Indigenous identity is preserved through practice and tradition, not through DNA. Government authorities, however, often use DNA as a tactic to discredit Indigenous leaders, undermine their movements, turn Native people against each other, and bend the law in their favor.
Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, for instance, has had her mixed black ancestry used as a threat against her by several authority figures. That doesn’t even come close to interfering with her commitment to the movement of Indigenous resistance, and to her upbringing, ancestors and traditions. If anything were to happen to her, the whole world will speak her name and her voice will not be silenced like those of the women who came before her.
“My grandmother used to tell me: ‘This land is not ours, we were forced to choose between coming here and dying.’” (Flávia)
Indigenous women were taken by force from their land and moved into camps. Or they were put to work as maids in the homes of military officers and Christian leaders until they were 30 or so. When they aged and were no longer considered valuable as cheap labor, they were left without homes or jobs, and faced discrimination even in their own tribes when they went back. When Brazilians marginalize these Indigenous women, it also means marginalizing a significant part of themselves.
Brazilian families tend to not value their Indigenous ancestry, there is so much colorism that it makes it hard to look for our roots and to preserve our identity. I, personally, decided to rescue the memory of my ancestor by ritualizing my life. This doesn’t mean I’m going to move in with a tribe and start painting myself. It means I practice daily rituals that connect me with my ancestor, by listening, learning and healing in ways that are just not possible through Western medicine and therapies. We can all benefit from destroying a little bit of the white supremacy in the world by decolonizing ourselves.
is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.
Abril foi o Mês Indígena. Este artigo relata a conferência Liderança de Mulheres Indígenas em Salvador, e explora a jornada pessoal e comunitária das mulheres indígenas pelas gerações.
Por Mirna Wabi-Sabi
A Liderança de Mulheres Indígenas
Os povos indígenas são frequentemente vistos como “protetores da floresta” quando levantam um espelho para a civilização ocidental, revelando como o capitalismo e a industrialização resultou em aquecimento global. Mas se olharmos além de nós mesmos, veremos que a sobrevivência e bem estar deste povo já estava seriamente ameaçada muito antes de ficar claro para nós que a nossa existência também está. A caça e a pesca predatória tornam a terra escassa, o que é insustentável para nós e devastador para eles e elas. Essa devastação ambiental e cultural levou as mulheres indígenas a lutar para recuperar a terra, não apenas o direito de usar o que resta dos recursos da terra depois que o governo privatiza e indústrias extraem. E elas lutam a qualquer custo.
Está claro, como sempre esteve, após o golpe, a prisão de Lula, tentativas de privatizar a maior companhia de eletricidade da América Latina (e consequentemente o Rio Sāo Francisco), que o governo não é um aliado. “Políticos não nos representam” (Nádia). Não podemos acreditar no governo e no exército, porque é claro que “o que eles dizem que vão fazer para ajudar não acontece, estão apenas atraz de votos”. Muitos políticos só aparecem para coletar informações, e até mesmo membros da família às vezes entregam nativos (intencionalmente ou não).
A luta pelo território não precisa do governo. A auto-demarcação da terra mostra a força política do movimento e a força espiritual do povo.
“Se você não se sente capaz de falar sobre si mesmo, como pode falar pelo outro? Se não falarmos, não seremos ouvidas. O abuso da mulher precisa ser falado pela mulher! Caso contrário, não haverá nenhuma mudança. É por isso que assumimos a responsabilidade da militância, sem fins de semana ou feriados.” (Rosimere)
Maridos também não podem representar suas esposas, elas devem representar a si mesmas, porque se não falam, não são ouvidas. Existe poder na denúncia; sem isso, não há direitos. Por outro lado, com a denúncia vem a perseguição. Sair da invisibilidade significa todo um novo conjunto de ameaças. “Os brancos querem continuar enriquecendo, então nos matam.” (anônimo) É por isso que massacres acontecem com impunidade. Se os policiais ou militares não “removem” aldeias de terras, os proprietários se sentem no direito de “remover a bala”. E se não matam, queimam as casas e as coisas.
“Liderar requer coragem porque somos caçadas como animais.” (Flávia)
O território Guarani-Kaiowá, no Mato Grosso do Sul, abriga aldeias que recentemente sofreram horríveis atos de violência. Flávia, uma líder indígena de 21 anos, testemunhou extrema brutalidade policial. A polícia invadiu sua comunidade, onde mora com seu filho de 6 anos, atirando, deixando muitos feridos e um morto (Caarapó 2016). Ela diz com lágrimas nos olhos que seu filho não tem mais medo de armas, e que por gerações Nativos crescem com medo sem saber que o sofrem é opressão.
“Eu tive que superar o medo da morte, e agora estou preparada para morrer, porque sei que vou morrer fazendo algo que vale a pena.” (Rosimere)
O trauma transgeracional, junto com a violência contemporânea, resulta em complexos obstáculos existenciais. Entre os jovens nativos, em particular, a desmoralização leva a altas taxas de suicídio. Alguns programas do governo mandam psicólogos às comunidades, mas, segundo Nádia Akauá, isso não é a solução. Eles não ajudam os Nativos e as Nativas porque não têm espiritualidade, e para eles e elas a oração é a arma mais forte contra a desmoralização. Muitos participam do programa porque é dinheiro fácil e brancos têm uma curiosidade pelo “exótico”. Esses psicólogos vêm da academia, não falando a língua da comunidade literalmente, culturalmente ou espiritualmente.
“A comunidade tem que decidir quem entra e quem não entra, não um programa qualquer do governo.” (Nádia)
A esperança vem através da oração, e é por isso que a espiritualidade é uma força motriz do movimento de resistência indígena. Ser capaz de se chamar indígena e praticar rituais é em si uma vitória. É importante preservar e vocalizar a identidade indígena, especialmente depois de ser duramente impedidos de fazê-lo no passado. “Se a gente falasse que era indígena, morria” (A Cacique Abaeté). Durante a ditadura nos anos 60, havia campos de concentração para nativos. Hoje, se afirmar como indígena ainda pode ser uma sentença de morte. Então, em muitos aspectos, essa luta é simplesmente pelo direito de existir.
O Legado das Mulheres Indígenas
Quando o Brasil foi invadido (não “descoberto”), praticamente não havia mulheres européias, então a grande maioria da população brasileira veio a ser da miscigenação violenta entre homens brancos e mulheres de cor. O fato de nossas ancestrais terem sido violentadas é algo que nos afeta hoje em dia, e é um trauma transmitido a nós. Há pouquíssima históra registrada dessas mulheres indígenas; por centenas de anos elas não tiveram voz. Tudo o que ouvimos e reproduzimos é a memória dos homens europeus brancos que as violaram. Então não tivemos chance de sarar.
Não permitir os povos indígenas de falar por si mesmos tem sido uma maneira bem-sucedida e desprezível de incutir na sociedade a ideologia da supremacia branca, contra qual ainda estamos lutando hoje. Por exemplo, apenas no ano passado, o Rijksmuseum de Amsterdã exibiu obras de um artista colonial holandês chamado Frans Post. Ele continuou a pintar paisagens brasileiras bem depois de sua visita ao Brasil (em meados do século 17), porque “vendiam muito bem” – enquanto “nem um único estudo de animal ou planta de sua mão é conhecido”. Em outras palavras, ele estava pintando fantasias, e ele não é o único artista holandês em museus de hoje que fez isso.
“As pinturas de [Albert] Eckhout foram apresentadas, na época, como “curiosidades”, mas acabariam influenciando, não a um pequeno grau, o olhar etnológico e as perspectivas antropológicas em relação aos povos indígenas do Brasil até os dias atuais.” (Adone Agnolin)
À esquerda está uma indígena com partes de um corpo picado e animais selvagens perigosos, que pretende representar a selvageria dos povos indígenas na região Braseila ocupada pelos holandeses. Não é assim que os nativos praticavam a antropofagia. À direita, temos um homem mestiço “domesticado” com roupas de estilo europeu e arma de fogo. O olhar branco Europeu distorcido, apesar de ainda ser amplamente considerado objetivo, por centenas de anos deturpou a cultura e as tradições dos povos Indígenas, violentamente silenciando as pessoas que supostamente representava.
Estes são exemplos do capitalismo brotando do colonialismo patriarcal, e formando a simbiose entre a supremacia branca, o sexismo, e o mercado “livre” em que vivemos hoje.
Uma maneira de manter vivo o legado de ancestrais Nativos é resgatar a memória das mães, avós, bisavós e trisavós. Ouvir, aprender, praticar e compartilhar mantém a identidade viva. A identidade indígena é preservada através da prática e da tradição, não só através do DNA. As autoridades governamentais, no entanto, muitas vezes usam o DNA como uma tática para desacreditar líderes indígenas, minar seus movimentos, transformar os povos indígenas uns contra os outros, e reverter a lei a seu favor.
Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, por exemplo, teve sua descendência negra usada como uma ameaça contra ela por várias figuras de autoridade. Isso nem chega perto de interferir em seu compromisso com o movimento da resistência indígena, e com sua relação com sua criação, ancestrais e tradições. Se alguma coisa lhe acontecer, o mundo inteiro falará seu nome e sua voz não será silenciada como as das mulheres que vieram antes dela.
“Minha avó me disse: ‘Essa terra não é nossa, fomos forçadas a escolher entre vir aqui e morrer.'” (Flávia)
Mulheres indígenas foram retiradas à força de suas terras e transferidas para os campos. Ou foram colocadas para trabalhar como empregadas domésticas nas casas de oficiais militares e líderes cristãos até por volta dos 30 anos de idade. Quando envelheciam, e não eram mais consideradas valiosas como mão-de-obra barata, ficavam sem moradia ou emprego e enfrentavam discriminação até mesmo quando voltavam pra suas próprias aldeias. Quando brasileiros marginalizam mulheres indígenas, isso também significa marginalizar uma parte significante de nós mesmos.
As famílias brasileiras tendem a não valorizar sua ancestralidade indígena, há tanto colorismo que dificulta a busca à nossas raízes e a preservação de nossa identidade. Eu, pessoalmente, decidi resgatar a memória da minha ancestral pela investigação histórica e pela ritualização minha vida. Isso não significa que eu vou me mudar pra uma aldeia e começar a me pintar. Significa que pratico rituais diários que me conectam com minha ancestral, ouvindo, aprendendo e me curando de maneiras que não são possíveis através da medicina e das terapias ocidentais. Todos e todas nós nos beneficiaremos da descolinização e da destruição da supremacia branca no mundo.
é editora de Gods&Radicals, e escreve sobre anti-colonialismo e anti-capitalismo.
“Our dark night of the soul seems endless. Yet it’s something that must be faced. It’s the duty of each of us to look into our bins, follow the garbage trucks to their destinations, behold the alchemy of waste.”
From Lorna Smithers
‘Alchemy… the medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir.’
Oxford English Dictionary
I. Prima Materia
Waste. Billions of tonnes of plastic in our oceans and many more billions of industrial, commercial, and household materials filling landfills trawled by rag pickers rescuing the best of our excesses. It’s our dirty not-so-secret, a source of guilt and shame, one of the primary banes of the 21st century.
It’s what remains when the golden profits have been siphoned off. As end and beginning it is the khmi, ‘black earth’, at the root of khēmia which gives us alchemy, the prima materia. Its slow decomposition, the nigredo, ‘blackening’, is our shadow made real, our long dark night of the soul. It’s the domain of Afagddu, ‘Utter Darkness’, Ceridwen’s ugly son, who did not taste the universal elixir.
Long before there were human alchemists the earth was dealing with waste through alchemical processes. The oil from which we make the plastics which plague us today was formed from the burial of dead animals and plants on the bottom of the sea through diagenesis (chemical reaction, compaction, microbial action) and catagenesis (thermal degradation) during the Carboniferous period.
Humanity’s manipulation of alchemy by fractionating and cracking the hydrocarbons in crude oil to make petroleum for fuel and produce plastics by polymerisation has birthed ingenious creations which are useful whilst in use but dangerous when discarded because they take so long to decay.
Because plastics are not biodegradable plastic bags can take 1000 years to decompose, sanitary towels and nappies 500 – 800 years, and plastic bottles 450 years. Out at sea, plastics are photograded by the sun’s UV rays breaking down the polymeric chains turning big pieces into lots of tiny pieces.
Microplastics: ‘rayon, lyocell, ramie, nylon, polyethylene, polyamide, and polyvinyls such as polyvinyl chloride or PVC’ have been found 11 kilometres down in the guts of crustaceans who are eaten by fish who are eaten by sea birds (and humans) contaminating the food chain with deadly consequences.
Our dark night of the soul seems endless. Yet it’s something that must be faced. It’s the duty of each of us to look into our bins, follow the garbage trucks to their destinations, behold the alchemy of waste.
II. My Waste – An Account
I live in Penwortham, Lancashire, in North West England, where the average person produces 412kg of waste a year. In 2016/2017 Lancashire’s recycling and composting rate was 45.6% (England’s average was 44.9%). 37.4% of general waste went to landfill and 12% to energy from waste.
Lancashire’s recycling is taken to the Global Renewables Recycling Centre in Farington where it is ‘weighed, checked for contamination and is then processed through GRL’s sophisticated sorting equipment’. It is then sent to a variety of ‘alchemists’ to be transmuted into recycled materials.
Glass greater than 25mm goes to Refresco in Cheshire who send it to manufacturers to be melted down in a furnace and made into glass bottles and jars. Mixed glass smaller than 25mm is taken by Greener Futures in Blackpool to be made into aggregate or used in filtration systems. The smallest pieces go to JA Jackson Recycling in Preston to be processed into filler for roads and stone.
Textiles are delivered to I & G Cohen Ltd in Salford or Wilcox Textile Reclaimers in Bilston who sort and grade it. Used clothing is exported to Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia to be sold. I was shocked but not surprised to hear that the ‘crème grade’ items are sent to Eastern Europe and ‘a Tropical mix grade’ to Africa, demonstrating a distinctive social hierarchy with the Western Europeans who discard the clothes at the top, Eastern Europeans in the middle, and Africans at the bottom. Ripped or blemished items are baled up and sent to recycling centres to be made into cloths.
Plastic bottles are sent to Viridor in Skelmersdale where they are sorted into streams of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) then ‘intensively washed and granulated to form new flakes or pellets of polymer which are than sold to be manufactured into new plastic products’. Film and rigid plastics go to Hanbury Plastics Recycling Ltd in Stoke-on-Trent and other plastics to JKN Polymers Ltd in Hull where they are turned into manhole foundations and cable troughs.
EMR in Manchester, Liverpool, and Salford take scrap metal, producing ‘over 100 grades of high quality recycled materials’. Cans go to Recycling Lives in Preston where they are baled and processed for remelt elsewhere in the UK then rolled into sheet material for new cans or steel products.
Paper and card goes to Saicur Natur UK in Manchester who process it into ‘plasterboard and other liners’.
Last year 303,000 tonnes of Lancashire’s waste was disposed of, primarily by landfill. LCC’s only current landfill contract is at Whinney Hill, Altham, in Hyndburn, which is owned by Suez (formerly Sita UK).
Whinney Hill started life as a quarry in the late 1800s and quarrying for sandstone and shale is ongoing. The application for ‘infilling’ ‘the existent and emergent void’ with ‘household, industrial, and commercial waste over a period of approximately forty years’ was put forward in 2005 (it had been used as landfill for inert waste prior to this). It covers 70 hectares of land and will be full by 2050.
Disposal in landfills is the least preferable form of management due to the waste of materials, loss of land, the risks of explosions and groundwater and air pollution, and generation of greenhouse gases.
Nevertheless, the alchemy of landfilling is fascinating by virtue of the ingenuity of both its human and non-human participants. Firstly a liner, usually of engineered clay plus a synthetic geomembrane, is laid down and covered with sand or gravel. Pipes are set in place to collect the leachate.
After trucks have dumped their load, track-type tractors spread the waste and landfill compactors with impressive steel teeth on huge metal wheels drive over it in a fourfold pass to compact it down. The ‘working face’ is covered each night with a layer of soil to control odours and deter ‘vectors’ (ie. rats).
Within days aerobic bacteria get to work breaking down the organic material by glycolysis, the citric acid cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation. Once the oxygen is used up anaerobic bacteria take over using hydrolysis, acidification, and acetogenesis. Methanogenic archaea complete the process by methanogenesis.
These activities release carbon dioxide, methane, and small amounts of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere. The latter were, no doubt, the source of ‘a horrible sour smell’ so bad local residents could not open their windows or put their washing out, resulting in legal action in 2012.
Methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times as strong as carbon dioxide in global warming potential and potentially explosive, is collected by gas wells and either flared off or used as a renewable energy source. The Whinney Hill site generated 3,686.00 MWh from landfill gas in October 2017 making £293,341.78.
Once a section of landfill is full it is capped with a liner and approximately 24 inches of soil and vegetation is planted. By 2050 Whinney Hill will have been landscaped and will probably become a nature reserve like many of the former landfill sites in my locality such as Carr Wood and Fishwick Bottoms.
Energy From Waste
In 2016/2017, Lancashire sent 36,000 tonnes of general waste to Viridor’s energy from waste facility at Runcorn. The plant was constructed in 2010 as a joint venture with INOVYN and burns up to 850,000 tonnes of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) per year.
Like landfill, energy to waste possesses its own alchemy. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is processed into RDF through the separation and removal of metals, glass, and stones, and by shredding. It is delivered by HGVs and freight trains, weighed, then unloaded down chutes into the main fuel bunker. The RDF is then fed into one of four combustion chambers and heated at 850°C. The heat is used to create steam, driving turbines to produce electricity.
The waste gases are treated by hydrated lime injection, activated carbon injection, and a bag filtration system. Viridor go to great lengths to show their facilities meet the Environment Agency standards for emissions of total organic carbon, hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen.
Oddly nothing is mentioned on the Viridor website about carbon dioxide emissions. The incineration of one tonne of MSW produces approximately one tonne of CO2. I haven’t been able to find any figures for RDF, but assuming the amounts are similar, Runcorn could emit up to 850,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. (In 2017, the UK emitted 381 million tonnes of CO2).
Friends of the Earth note ‘electricity-only incinerators emit 33 percent more fossil CO2 than gas power stations’ and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facilities like Runcorn ‘have similar efficiency to gas-fired plants’. Whilst superior to landfilling because methane emissions have a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide, they are not, as claimed, a form of ‘green energy’ or environmentally friendly.
Runcorn ‘generates up to 70MW of electricity and up to 51MW of heat for exclusive use by INOVYN’, a ‘premier chemical company’ belonging to the petrochemical firm INEOS. INEOS is the UK’s largest holder of fracking exploration licences and intends to use shale gas as feedstock in the manufacture of plastic and to power its plants.
INOVYN Chlorvinyls produce chlorine, chlorine derivatives, chlor alkali, general purpose vinyls (these include PVCs) and speciality vinyls. Some of their chlorine products, which include pesticides such as Dichlopropene, a chemical currently being phased out by the EU, are harmful to the environment. The manufacture of more plastic can only add to our problem.
It seems counter intuitive for Viridor to be fuelling this chemical giant until we see through their green guise to the centrality of capital. The government’s aim to divert waste from landfill to energy from waste is less rooted in concern about climate change than the potential to use our waste to fuel the economic growth of the industries increasing pollution. Another example is the VPI Immingham CHP plant, which generates up to 1,240 MW of electricity and 900t of steam per hour for the Humber and Lindsey oil refineries.
Not only do we pay local authorities to take our waste away, but polluting industries are profiting from it!
III. Gold or Black Earth?
My investigations have led to a deeper understanding of where my waste goes and the alchemical processes by which it is treated. Establishing an awareness of where each item I put into my green, blue, brown, and grey bins ends up, exactly what happens to it, and who profits from it, provides a much firmer foundation for ethical living and resisting exploitation than simply following instructions to refuse, reuse and recycle, and being bombarded with photos of dead sea creatures.
On a personal level I can make a small difference by composting most of my organic waste, recycling glass and some plastics, and using as few non-recyclable plastics as possible (not always easy when the only shops within walking distance still use plastic wrappers for meat and on some veg).
On a national level we are paralysed by a hypocritical government who make a big show of encouraging plastic free aisles in supermarkets and ending the exemption on small shops charging 5 pence per carrier bag, whilst pledging unprecedented support for the fossil fuel industry and making no effort to stop chemical plants manufacturing the non-recyclable plastics they claim to be concerned about.
The aim of alchemy is the transmutation of the prima materia into the universal elixir or, more tellingly, gold. The primacy of golden profits has led to the exploitation of the black earth – dug up, drilled out, transmuted. What cannot be made into gold has been discarded and become a legacy of poison.
Our long dark night of the soul can only get darker as the Gwions of thisworld continue to drink up the awen from the cauldrons of our modern alchemists and the rest of us are left with Afagddu in utter darkness with the poisoned fumes, slow leakage of leachate, and suffocation of our sea waters.
Yet, if we set aside the notion that life should be a progression from black earth to gold, our dark night might be seen as a revelation in itself and not a step on the way to the profits of the shiny-browed.
This I learnt when I sat with Afagddu and watched the RV Ocean Starr and her seventeen sister vessels trawling from east to west with their tow nets gathering data with bottles, buoys, fishing nets.
This I learn whenever I pick up litter from my local valley and walk on landfills. It might be learnt from any litter picker, rag picker, garbage man, driver of landfill compactors; gulls, rats, fungi, aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, methanogenic archaea; any guide to the alchemy of waste.
Akshat Rathi, ‘Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low’, Quartz, May 2017
Ben Chapman, ‘Conservatives pledge ‘unprecedented’ support for fossil fuels after receiving almost £400,000 from oil bosses’, The Independent, May 2017
Daniela Buckroithner, ‘Microbiology of Landfill Sites’, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Masters Thesis, (2015)
Friends of the Earth, ‘Dirty Truths: Incineration and Climate Change,’ 2006
Friends of the Earth, ‘Ineos, fracking and plastic’, 2017
Janice Lund (Waste Management Group, LCC), email communication, March 2017
L. Lebreton et al. ‘Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic’, Nature, March 2017
Russell Hutchinson (Waste & Transport Officer SRBC), email communication, March 2017.
Stephanie Pappas, ‘Plastic found in deepest living creatures’, Live Science, 2017
Tom Goulding, ‘Viridor to begin operations at Runcorn Efw’, Lets Recycle, 2014
‘Waste to Energy’, Wikipedia
‘Where does all my waste go?’, Preston City Council
‘Whinney Hill landfill smells: Accrington residents take legal action’, BBC News, 2012
Lorna Smithers is a poet, author, awenydd, and Brythonic polytheist. She is currently exploring how our ancient British myths relate to our environmental and political crises and dreaming new ones. As a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn, she seeks to reweave the ways between the worlds. She has published two books: Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, edited and co-edited A Beautiful Resistance, and blogs at ‘Signposts in the Mist’.
“We [White people] have no sense of shared identity with our neighbors, and no sense of shared purpose. We have no notion that our well-being is tied up with that of the people we live next to or share a building with. It is the ultimate in alienation. So much else flows from that.”
From Lisha Sterling
“Gooooooood morning, Water Protectors! This is not a vacation! We’ve got work to do, relatives! It’s time to pray! Get your čanupa! Get your bible! Get your sacred items and come to the sacred fire!”
– Morning wake up call over the loud speakers near the sacred fire at Očeti Šakówiŋ.
The night I rolled in to Standing Rock it was dark, and finding the right entrance to the camp where I wanted to go was confusing. It was all headlights and flashlights on a short strip of road, traffic coming up from the south, lots of people and cars but everything else was dark. Really, really dark. So I drove past Očeti Šakówiŋ, past Sičangu (Rosebud), and all the way to the town of Cannon Ball, then through the town, out the other side and back up to Sacred Stone camp. I didn’t see much of anything that night. I think it must have been overcast, because I don’t even remember the stars. Or maybe it was clear, but I was so tired from the 2 day drive and overwhelmed by just having arrived that I didn’t really see the sky.
The next morning, after breakfast, I drove back out through Cannon Ball, over to highway 1806, and north towards the other camps. Just before I got to Sičangu I crested the hill, and in the clear sunlight the sight of thousands of people camped in tents and tipis was awe inspiring. There are no words that can express that feeling. Joy. Excitement. A thrill at the hope all those tents and tipis represented. These are just approximations. I wish that I could take that feeling that wells up in my heart even at the memory of it and place it inside your heart so that you could experience it, too.
That feeling never went away. Even in the coldest and harshest part of the winter, even in the most stressful days of battle, the view of the camp was exhilarating.
You Are Not In The United States
One of the first lessons for anyone coming to camp who wasn’t Native was that Camp was not part of “America”. Camp was sovereign territory. Camp was on treaty land, run by the people of the Seven Council Fires, existing in the cultural ways of what the American government calls The Great Sioux Nation.
Each camp entrance had a security checkpoint. Signs by the entrance reminded people whose land they were entering and set out the clearest of ground rules:
No Weapons of Any Kind.
No Alcohol Or Drugs.
Not on you and not in you.
This Is A Peaceful Prayer Camp.
Each of the three camps were broken into smaller camps. I don’t know what the separate areas of Sacred Stone were called, or if they even had different names, but at Očeti there were camps with names like, “Oglala Camp,” “Southwest Camp,” “Red Warrior Camp,” “Cheyenne River Camp,” “Red Lightning,” and so on. The fact that life at camp was broken into these smaller camps was something utterly lost on most of the non-Natives who showed up.
Johnny Aseron would ask people in the morning meeting or at some other meeting throughout the day, “What camp are you in?” and the answer from non-Native vistors was almost always, “Oh, we’re not in a camp. We’re just in a tent by ourselves.” This was rarely the first experience of culture clash that people would experience, but it was one that embodied all the other clashes. “Go back to your tent,” Johnny would tell the visitors, “then look around you. Figure out who is near by. Introduce yourselves and ask what camp they are in. Get permission to be where you are, and then make yourselves useful to your camp.”
“White people think that they are all individuals! They don’t even know what it means to be in a community!” Johnny would fume. And he was right.
We come from cities and towns where we never see our neighbors any more, where we don’t even know the people in our own apartment building. We travel through life completely oblivious to the people next door unless they play their music too loudly in the middle of the night. We have no sense of shared identity with our neighbors, and no sense of shared purpose. We have no notion that our well-being is tied up with that of the people we live next to or share a building with. It is the ultimate in alienation. So much else flows from that.
People showed up from all over the country certain that they could do something to help the camps, but few took the time to stop and listen before they told everyone what their great idea was. As a result, a lot of duplication of efforts happened between September and December, a lot of projects went off half-cocked, and so many things were started and then abandoned when the people who started them decided to go home.
Even some of the people who did take the time to listen as well as talk managed to cause consternation when they treated the space like it was Burning Man rather than the sacred ground of the meeting place of the Seven Council Fires. There was an incident in which some non-Native women declared that they were going to run a prayer circle and discussion group at the sacred fire. They hushed the men who were tending the fire and scolded them for speaking over the women. They were oblivious to the fact that the sacred fire is the men’s prerogative, and that a women’s prayer circle there was completely out of place. Men are the fire keepers. Women are the keepers of the water.
This was not the only incident, possibly not even the most egregious one, that angered the Native community for its complete lack of respect for Lakota culture. But those who stayed for the long haul learned how to live in better harmony with the local culture. White people learned to cook buffalo instead of quinoa. White women learned to stay away from the sacred fire on our moon time. White men learned to let Native men set the boundaries and decide what steps to take next. Some of us left camp as honorary Lakota. Some found themselves connected with and adopted by the Nation from the land where they make their home.
Sacred Ground and A Place of Prayer
The land where the camps were is sacred ground. Lakota tradition teaches us that many medicine men have put sacred medicine into the land where Očeti Šakówiŋ was. There were also burials in several areas within the camps’ boundaries and to the North of them. It was no coincidence that the movement to protect the water gained so much momentum from this place. The prayers spoken there carry extra weight.
I had heard this before I ever arrived at Standing Rock. I knew it in my bones once I got there.
On the night that I arrived at Sacred Stone, I walked down to the Cannonball river and talked to the spirits of the land and the ancestors there. That first night the spirits were not impressed with me. They gave me something of a cold shoulder. They were doubtful about my intentions, I think, and not terribly trusting. I’m not sure exactly how it is that I gained their trust, but it didn’t take long at all.
One thing that I do know is that prayers were answered for everyone at camp, and miracles were absolutely commonplace there. People would talk about it while sitting around a fire or standing in line at a kitchen. You need a thing. You pray for that thing. The thing shows up. Again and again and again. Need someone with a certain skill? Pray. Need a power inverter? Pray. Need to get in touch with someone but your phone doesn’t work at camp and neither does theirs? Pray.
In November I found myself at a laundromat in Mandan, about 50 minutes away once the checkpoint had turned into a roadblock and everyone had to drive around the long way between Standing Rock and the urban area to the north. There were no laundry facilities at camp, so nearly everyone went north to wash their clothes once every two weeks or maybe once a month. I met a White woman at the laundromat who was also staying at camp. She said that she really liked the environment at camp, but she was skeptical of the idea that prayer was going to do anything useful.
“You can’t stop a pipeline with prayer,” she told me.
“I don’t know if we will stop the pipeline, but you have to admit, prayer is doing something,” I pressed.
“No. I’m an atheist. I really don’t believe that prayer has any purpose.”
“But, wait, haven’t you noticed the weird things that happen? How things just magically seem to turn out just so? How people end up in the right place at just the right time? How things show up just when you need them?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that,” She admitted somewhat uncomfortably.
“Well, you don’t have to call that a miracle if you don’t want. You can put it into another cosmological framework if you choose. Call it a synchronicity. There are an awful lot of synchronicities happening. Where does that come from?”
She laughed, “Yeah, there sure are a lot of synchronicities. I have no idea where they come from.”
“Well, maybe you would think of it as some sort of as-yet-unexplained quantum phenomenon. Or maybe it’s just the Unknown. But that thing that makes the synchronicities come together, that’s what some of us call God.”
The Atheist White Lady agreed that it was possible to hold the idea that whether there was a God or not, something was certainly happening at camp. When I got back to camp, I shared that story, and from then on the term “Očeti Synchronicity” entered the collective lexicon of the folks I camped with.
The Ancestors Stood With Us
In early October I was standing between the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Media tent and the Water Protectors Legal Cooperative tent on top of Facebook Hill in Očeti Šakówiŋ. As I stood there smoking a cigarette and talking to one of the IEN volunteers, we saw a red car come speeding from the south on 1806 followed by a police car with it’s lights flashing. The car turned into the south entrance to camp and sped right past the guards. As soon as it entered camp it turned off its lights, but the police car continued in pursuit, lights still flashing. The red car disappeared into the camp, but the police car made it about ¾ of the way around the loop road through the south side of camp before it was surrounded by angry Water Protectors. People on the hill jumped into their cars and trucks and sped down towards the police car. Some of the vets who were camped north of Facebook Hill near the north entrance did the same.
From our perch atop the hill we could hear people yelling at the police officer inside his now stopped car. The situation was tense. There would be some yelling, and then silence, then yelling again.
I ran into the tents to inform people inside what was going on, and to tell my friend to get ready to grab his sleeping kid sprawled out in front of the wood stove and put them in my van. “If there are shots, we go. If more police show up we go. I’ll drive through the fence if we have to. We don’t want to be here if this gets ugly.” I went back outside and kept watch.
Eventually, the police car turned its flashing lights off and began to drive slowly around the rest of the loop road toward the north entrance. Another police car showed up and parked by the north entrance. I went inside to get my friends and go. We jumped in my van, and I drove straight for the south entrance. As we got there, more police cars were coming up 1806.
When we got to the south gate, one of the guards stepped up to stop me from leaving. “We’re on lock down,” he explained, “Someone just drove in to camp in a stolen car and there are police here.”
“It’s not us. We saw the whole thing from on top of the hill. I have a kid in the van. We need to get back to Sičangu. I need to keep the kid safe.” I told the guard. I don’t know why he let me through. They didn’t let anyone else out of camp. We were the only ones. But he let me go, and I pulled out of Očeti, drove south of the river onto undisputed Reservation territory and turned into the driveway of Sičangu camp.
“Sorry. No one in or out. We’re on lockdown.” The guard at Sičangu told me.
“I know. We were just at the Media tent. We have a kid in the van. I need to get ’em safely back to our camp.” The guard knew who we were, an advantage of living in the smaller camp at Rosebud. He nodded in ascent and let us through.
As we pulled into the back grove where we were camped, I gave my friend instructions, still functioning in emergency mode. “If they raid the camp tonight, come find me and the van. I’ll drive us out of here no matter what it takes. If you can’t get to the van, then run south towards the town. I’ll find you and pick you up.”
I need not have worried. When the police car had turned its lights off, the Akíčita (say: ah-KI-chi-tah, warriors) of Očeti Šakówiŋ had made an agreement with the police who happened to be a local Lakota from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The police would stay outside the camp while the Akíčita would search for the car thief and bring them to the police. They found the bad guys, a driver and two passengers. They also rescued a woman who got trapped in her tipi when the car had plowed into it. Miraculously, she only had minor injuries.
That night I had a dream that I was walking around the whole perimeter of Očeti Šakówiŋ camp with my brother who had died on December 25, 2015.
When I became aware that it was strange to be walking with my dead brother as if it were normal, he spoke up, “Phew! That was scary last night!!”
“Yeah it was.” We walked and the silence hung over us for a while.
“I’m so glad that you are here, though. If I were alive I’d be there with you.” He paused, “Well, I am here with you. Just not like that.”
I looked at him and nodded, “Yeah, I know.”
One day in October there was a 9am meeting unlike any other while I was at camp. It was in the army tent on Hunkpapa hill, before the days when morning meetings happened in the dome. Johnny Aseron was late, but some other elders came in to the tent and started the meeting off without him. As usual, sage was lit and passed around the circle of people gathered. An opening prayer was said, just like always. But instead of Johnny saying a few words and then going around the circle to hear from whoever wanted to speak, these elders stood at the focus of everyone’s attention.
One elder spoke of the terrible number of Water Protectors that had been arrested the day before. Another spoke of the people who had not stayed peaceful and had instead lit fires. There were agitators amongst the Water Protectors who said that peaceful protest was not enough. We needed to fight already, they said. This elder said that made no sense at all.
“Look at the power of the United States,” he said, “Do you think that we can defeat them? Of course not! If we use violence, they will come down on us with as much force as they need. They will not just arrest 40 people or a hundred people. They will come in here and kill us. We’ve lost enough of our people. We need to live and we need to fight smarter than that.”
I didn’t know it then, didn’t know who these men were, but I would find out later that these were men who had once been militants who had no compunction about using guns in their battles. They had aged since then, and wised up. They had watched revolutions in other countries and seen how they went down. They had contemplated their own history and realized that winning every battle was not enough to win the war. They had learned that violence was not going to give them the gains they wanted. Only prayer could do that.
One of the elders stood up to tell a story that I don’t think I will ever forget. “Back in the 80’s we were told to go to the Black Hills with our families to stop the mining. The elders told us then to go out and set up a camp. Build a sweat lodge and pray all day, every day. We wanted to fight, but they said, ‘No. This time you just go and pray.’ We did what the elders said. There were about 30 of us. My wife was there and my kids. Other families, too. We just prayed and went into sweat lodge every day. After we’d been there a while, one morning we wake up and we’re surrounded by White men on the hills overlooking the valley where we were camped. All these White men up there with their guns. Some of them were sheriff’s deputies, but there were also just guys from the area near there. They’d called up and said that anyone who had a gun should come down and stop us. So there they were, surrounding us. There was nothing we could do. They stood there with their guns pointed down at us, men, women and children. We thought for sure it was going to be a massacre. But no one shot a single bullet. We all stood there for a long time, until finally someone came to us to negotiate a deal, and then we left there.
“Well, you see, about ten years after that happened, I was telling the story at this place. You know, I’d travel and speak at places, and tell what happened there. And I told the story this one time, and after the whole thing was over, this one man comes up to me after to talk. It was a White man. He said, ‘I had to come here to tell you that I was one of those men up there with a gun pointed at you, and I’m sorry. I didn’t know back then, but I know now. I’m really sorry for what I did.’ and then he said, ‘but I have to tell you something, because you didn’t say anything about it in your story, and I don’t know if you even know. There’s a reason we didn’t shoot. When we looked down into that valley, we saw thousands of Indians and they were all armed. We all knew that if we shot, we’d all be dead. We didn’t see 30 people. We saw a valley full of Indians.’
“And so that’s how I know. Prayer works. The ancestors were with us that day. They stood with us, and those White men saw them.”
I feel pretty certain that the same thing happened at Standing Rock during the encampments. Not just once, but over and over again. The police were terrified of the Water Protectors. They told stories of Water Protectors with pipe bombs and tire irons and knives threatening them. None of those things ever happened. Some of that was surely just cops telling lies to justify their actions, but I heard cops talking with real fear in their voice on more than one occasion. Now, either they are such complete cowards that they make stuff up in their own heads – which considering the vast number of non-gun items that police have claimed were guns in the hands of Black men, we can’t ignore that possibility – or else, they really did see angry Native ancestors brandishing ghost weapons.
I know the ancestors were there. Against all logic, I met some of them. In the days of late November when I slept in my van outside the Cannon Ball Rec Center after working late into the night alongside the Media team, I saw ghosts who were as real and as solid to my mind as any living person. The wind seemed to blow them my way, and they gathered around the van. Some pressed their faces against the windows to look inside. Some followed me into dreams. I was able to describe people who had died many years before to relatives of theirs at camp and at the Cannon Ball Rec Center. I should perhaps mention that I do not usually see ghosts. This was not a type of magick or medicine in my repertoire before those nights.
One night after the snows started I climbed into bed at the back of my van and snow began to fall on my head, blowing through a gap between the back door and the frame where the seal had shrunk away from age and cold. I climbed out of the van and went back inside the room in the rec center where the Media team worked. I fumed in frustration and exhaustion, and sat with John Bigelow, head of the Media team, for a bit to vent about how things weren’t working right on this thing and that thing and I felt so isolated and alienated and unsure of myself. (We didn’t know it then, but TigerSwan had been using infiltrators to intentionally create division between White people and Natives, and I’d been hit by some really cruel words about my not belonging there.) John reassured me and told me to talk to the ancestors. They’d tell me how to handle it.
After our talk, I climbed under a table to sleep on the floor. As I closed my eyes I prayed that the ancestors would speak to me and give me guidance. Just as I was falling asleep, one member of the Media team stuck a pillow under my head, and another put a blanket over me. And then I was in another place and time.
I dreamed that I was at a meeting with a number of chiefs from the past and some other Native elders from the past and the present. We were in a long lodge. We sat on pillows at a long table that was close to the ground. I sat on the corner at one end of the table listening to the conversations going on. When it seemed appropriate, I took part in the conversation. After a bit, the people at the table broke into lots of smaller conversations. I had a deep conversation with two men that were sitting right by me on the long side of the table and a man who sat down at the short side of the table next to me for a bit and then got up to take care of something else. Towards the end of the conversation the man right next to me said, “We’ve wanted to talk to you for a while, but we didn’t know how to get a hold of you.” I felt so pleased, so I said the most obvious thing of all, “Just a moment. I’ll give you my mobile number.” And then I woke up.
Every time I think about that dream it makes me laugh. I offered a 140 year dead Lakota chief my mobile number. Oof! John got a good laugh at my foolish offer, too, but said that it was a good sign that they wanted to talk. I needed to spend more time learning how to listen to the ancestors.
“I learned more about anti-capitalism in the short time we were there, than I had in decades of research. Theory vs practice.” – Karina B Hart
One of the things about camp that everyone noticed, whether they were there for a day or for months, whether they took the time to understand Lakota culture or not, was that none of the camps functioned like the outside world. No one worked for money at camp, but everyone worked. No one was homeless at camp. Everyone had food to eat. Everyone had clothes, batteries, cigarettes, matches, flashlights, and whatever other basic need they might have. Healthcare was free, and it included both Western medical care and an assortment of other modalities including herbal medicine, massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care.
If you needed almost anything, you only had to go to the tents where donations were sorted and distributed. If you were hungry, there were kitchens located all around the camps. As winter approached, there was a construction team that worked literally 24 hours a day building temporary housing for those who needed it and insulated floors for those who had sturdy tents or tipis that just needed a little extra protection. (It gets so cold in North Dakota that the ground freezes solid and if your sleeping bag is directly on the ground you can freeze before you wake up, even inside a heated tipi.) There was another team whose sole job was to construct wood stoves out of 50 gallon drums. The solar team that worked with me provided and/or repaired power systems at major locations throughout Očeti Šakówiŋ and Sičangu camps, including at the medical facilities, the dome, the restrooms, and at some of the larger insulated army tents that held a lot of people.
There were people at camp who complained that they never got what they needed. I will be honest and say that I don’t understand what happened in those cases. I wish I did, because it is something that all of us who were leading teams around camp worked hard to avoid. It was important to all of us to make sure that no one was left behind, especially Native families and elders. The medical team even sent out teams of medics to visit every single tent, tipi, and structure in all the camps to check on people, find out what they needed, and make sure that those who were unable to get to the donation tents or the medical yurts for whatever reason got whatever it was they needed.
Nearly everyone worked in some way that benefited either their local sub-camp or the camp as a whole. Some people were unable to do outside work because they were caring for their children, for elders, or they themselves were handicapped in some way. There were rumors of some people who didn’t work at all, but I never came across those people. I have no idea if this was just a TigerSwan-spread rumor or what. The only people that I know of that came and didn’t work were some of the “tourists” who came to camp for a weekend or a week and figured that since they’d brought donations they didn’t need to take part in any of the work. They could have been a burden, but I think that their work ethic was less of a concern than their general lack of respect for Lakota culture. But, then again, even among the “tourists”, most showed up and pitched in wherever they could.
There was so much to do. In an off-grid community, chopping wood becomes a vital job. In the winter, after the porta-potties were gone and we all started using the composting toilets, we needed two people per shift to work in each toilet tent to keep the wood stove burning, the sawdust bins full, and the composting toilets from overflowing. Every kitchen needed assistants for food preparation and clean up. The donation tents needed people to sort through things, pack up surplus to go out to reservation residents, and help Water Protectors find the things they needed. Each of the three camps needed security at the gates and walking through the camp 24 hours a day. The sacred fires required trained men to tend the fire round the clock in every kind of weather. The medical camp needed all sorts of non-medical support in addition to the healthcare work. The technology team needed network engineers who could drive a snowmobile up to “hop hill” outside of camp to fix our connection to the Internet if the wind, snowpack, or mystery computer gremlins cut us off. We also needed people who could program radios so that medics and security personnel could keep in contact throughout the area. A few tent or tipi fires occurred, and when they did every available hand was needed to put out the fire and make sure that everyone stayed safe. There was a school at Sacred Stone and another school at Očeti, so we needed teachers.
There was no top-down hierarchy that planned and managed everything. Instead it was more like herding cats. There was a volunteer desk near the main sacred fire in Očeti where people could sign up with their skills or find out what needs there were around camp. There were daily meetings for the representatives of sub-camps and work groups to discuss the work of the day, what they offered to others, and the needs they needed filled. Not everyone trying to run a project showed up to those, and not every camp had representatives at the meetings each morning. We did the best we could to keep things running as smoothly as we could. There were failures in communication, and failures to accomplish some of the things we wanted to accomplish, but all in all we did amazingly well.
Miraculously, there was not one single death in camp throughout the bitterly cold winter, though there was one death ten miles south in the parking lot at the Prairie Knights Casino when a man was working on his car in the snow and electrocuted himself in a freak accident.
All of this near utopia would not have been possible without the donations that flowed in from around the world. Some people would say that the need for donations proves that this sort of community life is impossible without people in the capitalist over-culture supporting it, but I would disagree strenuously. There was certainly a need for donations at the camps, but that need would have been far less if the camps had continued for a second or third year. If we could have grown our own food, we would not have needed food from outside. If we could have produced our our own clothing using traditional methods – whether Lakota or not – we would have needed fewer and fewer clothing donations over time. If we had stayed for more than a year we could also have begun to make things which could have been sold to people outside the camps so that the camp would have money available for those things which can’t be made from renewable and well-stewarted local resources. As it was, we had so many donations that we were able to ship truckloads of clothes and other items to communities on Native reservations in North Dakota, South Dakota and beyond.
The added bonus of all those surplus donations for camp is that children who had never had snow boots in their lives, despite living in a place where the temperature gets below -20F (-29C) and the snow can be several feet deep, got snow boots as well as warm gloves and jackets, toasty long underwear, and more. Some of the surplus warm weather gear from the summer and autumn was shipped onward to Water Protector camps in Florida. Other gear made its way to poor urban communities in places where it doesn’t get as cold as the Dakotas.
It’s true that the camps could not survive the first year without donations, and they probably would have continued to need some help in a second and third year, but those donations where investments in the better world that we would all like to build. They were transvestments of capital and other resources from the capitalist system into a gift-based system, and those transvestments did bring resources to more than just the camp community. Having now entered the gift economy, many of those donations will continue to circulate free of the capitalist system for a long time to come.
And that is one of the beautiful things about allying ourselves in the work of environmental protection and economic shift with indigenous communities like the Lakota. The Lakota have a rich tradition with the gift economy. The wopila is a cherished celebration of thanks in which a person, family, band, or tribe gives away as much as they possibly can. And so, the goodness keeps revolving, moving from hand to hand, staying put only when and where it is most needed.
A Place That Changed Lives
“I was there for such a brief little spurt of time and I still feel the loss in such a profound way. It changed me even though I was only there for mere days….” – Elizabeth Schindler
Standing Rock was a life changing event for a great many people. For some it was the experience of living in the flow of a gift economy where work is something you do out of love and where receiving is as important as giving. For others it was how Lakota culture seeped into their consciousness after months of living in that land and with that amazing community. For some it only took a few days for the vision of tipis standing on the plain to etch something indelible on their soul. For others it was the long fight on the frontlines, face to face with militarized law enforcement and mercenaries who brought tactics back from wars in the Middle East to oppress people right here in North America that changed their view of the world and their place in it. Standing Rock also changed me in dramatic ways that I’m still just beginning to understand.
The first and most obvious change in me was faith, or maybe I should say “belief”. I was first trained as a healer when I was just nine years old. The first cancer patient I ever worked with is still alive 37 years after she was told that she would be dead in less than three months. They had given up on chemo therapy and were just concentrating on palliative care. And yet, even after many more years and many more patients where I saw “miraculous” things flow from the use of those core healing techniques I learned as a child, I used to say that I didn’t really believe in any of it. I would do the work as I was taught, and results would happen, so it was obviously a real thing, but I would say that I didn’t believe in it any more than I believe that the sun is going to come up in the morning. I just knew that it worked, but I couldn’t say with certainty why or how, and I was never fully certain – definitely not as certain as that the sun would come up – that any good at all would come of my attempts to heal someone. And prayer? We all know that sometimes the answer to prayer is “No.” So, how can you believe in prayer if you don’t know what the outcome will be?
I blame that lack of belief on the dominant culture of the West. These spiritual things don’t fit into the scientific narrative, and so saying that they are real is the height of foolishness. Worse still, to say that I believe in such things can damage my reputation as a technologist. How can someone “believe” in science and also believe in such unscientific things as prayer and energy healing?
Očeti changed that for me. I saw the power of prayer over and over again, but I realize that wasn’t what changed the way I feel about belief or the sense of certainty I have now that wasn’t there before. The real change was wrought because for six months I lived in a community where that belief was normal and accepted and perfectly reasonable.
Standing Rock also gave me hope for the chance that we might be able to live in a different way again. For years I have longed to be able to live in a way which reflects my cosmology of infinite interconnectedness and universal sentience. For a prolonged period at Standing Rock there were over 10,000 people, and for a short while there were as many as 20,000 people, who were living as if we are all connected and every animal, every plant, even the soil and the water are our relatives. Occasionally I meet a person who feels the way that I do and I am inspired for a moment, energized to live my Truth more fully. But that energy can get snuffed out by the demands of the dominant culture. Standing Rock changed that for me.
Colonialist culture says that there is one right way to do things, and anything else is unworthy of respect. Standing Rock said that there are many Nations, many ways to be in the world, many ways to pray, and they all are worthy of respect.
Settler culture says that when I move into a new land I can simply replicate the culture and way of life from my old land without consideration of the realities of the new place or the culture of the people who lived there before me. Standing Rock said that the land has memory and long standing cultures exist the way that they do for good reason and we must listen and pay close attention if we wish to live well.
Extractivist culture says that there is no value in the Earth except what we can take from it and no value in humans except what they can produce. Standing Rock said that there is value in every human even if all they can do is sit in the path of a bulldozer, that there is value in the oil that stays in the ground, that there is value in clean water even if it only nurtures weeds and fish that we will never eat.
Standing Rock gave me and many other people another culture to cling to, a new extended family, and the strength of knowing that we all still have the fire of Očeti Šakówiŋ with us wherever we go.
Lisha Sterling is a crazy nomad woman who works on humanitarian technology, spending lots of time in low resource areas and disaster zones. She talks to plants, animals, gods and spirits. Some of them talk back.