The sacralization of the Earth, of Life
By Rafael Jesús González
In solidarity with the worldwide movement to achieve “a whole Earth capable of supporting all life” through social justice and non-violent means, we publish this guest editorial by a noted Chicano poet and peace activist.
Family, friends, colleagues, fellow activists for Earth-Justice-Peace
The weekend of May 19-21, 2016, I attended a Nonviolent Strategy Summit with the Albert Einstein Institution focused on Climate Change. There was so much of value (much of it ineffable) that we shared and explored, but in trying to determine a “Grand Strategy” the one thing that I found of utmost importance was articulating and arriving at a consensus of the “Grand Vision,” goal to which any “Grand Strategy” must be subservient: a whole (entire, healthy, integral) Earth capable of supporting all life.
This is our Grand Vision and our hope though the Earth is already compromised so by our myopic vision and toxic values that our future is bleak. Our utter disregard for our “inanimate” relations (the waters, the soil, the minerals) except as “resources” for our consumption has already caused the extinction of many of our animal brother and sister species, many species of our plant relations. And many of our human brothers and sisters throughout the Earth are even now suffering greatly from the effects of “climate change” (droughts, hurricanes, floods) and there is much more suffering to come.
So we must hold two simultaneous visions, one “Grand” vision of our hopes and dreams for which we must strive, and a clear vision of the disasters and suffering we face now and will have to soon increasingly face. Hence our “Grand Strategy” must be two-fold: 1) to mitigate “climate change” and heal the Earth and 2) to prepare ourselves to deal with the disasters that we now face and are yet to come. I state the obvious, but perhaps the obvious must be said for us to truly own it, such as putting a “Grand Vision” into words.
One thing that struck me at our gathering, something so obviously taken for granted that unified us all, patent in our faces, our demeanors, in everything we said, our very presence, and upon which our “Grand Vision” itself is rooted, was not once said during the entire day of our deliberations: love — love of life above all else.
Because our task is huge beyond imagining we must be very clear of what motivates and empowers us to undertake it. The task, enormous beyond measure, is to foment and realize a world-wide revolution, a revolution of consciousness, of the mind and of the heart that transcends nation, race, ethnicity, gender, language itself.
And the Grand Vision for the Earth must include the demands for Climate Justice, for Justice in every aspect (racial, ethnic, gender, etc.) without which there can be no peace.
Granted that all aspects in a strategy of nonviolent struggle as presented to us are to be engaged simultaneously, in my assessment, the foremost is that of propaganda. Suspect term in light of its coinage and its past use as it is, it is defined as information to propagate (transmit, disseminate, promote) a particular point of view or cause — win hearts and minds.
I cannot imagine a more firm, solid, irrefutable base on which to base such a world-wide revolution of which I speak than love of life. Not life as an abstraction, but the concrete experience of the Earth in all its exquisite (as well as terrifying) forms. Is this not the very root of divinity we humans imagine? This is what the indigenous cultures, which the Western world with its hunger for wealth and its imperialistic drive have brought to the brink of extinction if not already made extinct, can teach us. Our task is nothing less that the sacralization of the Earth, of Life. That is the revolution that we must propagate.
We must change, convert the dominant culture on a huge scale and to do this we must recruit and engage the most powerful agents of cultural change, the artists: the poets, the musicians, the dancers, the painters, the sculptors, all. Nothing is worth propagating if it is not rooted in love, informed by beauty and joy. If life is devoid of beauty and joy, what is there in it to love? Let us be very clear in our premises and base our strategies according.
To propagate a belief and a cause we need symbols and signs, flags to identify and unite us. Obvious in western history are the Star of David, the Cross (in hoc signo vinces), the Nazi swastika, the Stars & Stripes (not to mention the myriad logos on which corporations spend millions to sell their “goods.”) Several folk at the summit said that our various organizations confronting “climate change” need a common symbol or symbols to unify, identify us in our common cause. And our common cause is social change, our common cause is Justice and Peace for all.
I put forward then and do so now the “Universal Earth-Justice-Peace flag” that adorned the podium at the summit as fit symbol of all our struggles for Justice, for Peace, for the well-being of the Earth:
Since, as some at the summit said, the stories behind symbols are important, here is its history:
In 1982 I took a leave of absence from my teaching at Laney College, Oakland to work with the Livermore Action Group to organize the International Day of Nuclear Disarmament. One of the issues we had to work out was setting the date for the international actions that were to take place throughout the world. As you might imagine, it was not easy to find agreement, but Starhawk (of her many books, I recommend her futuristic novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, which is in the process of being made into a movie) whom I met at the time, and I were adamant that the day had to be a universal world-wide holy day free of national, political, religious, partisan overtones. It had to be a holy day set by the Earth itself in her movement around the Sun and that meant either one of the equinoxes or one of the solstices. After long discussions (with the consensus process you may imagine how long it took), the date was set for the Summer Solstice, June 21, 1983.
A logo for the day of action was needed, one who’s meaning embraced the issues involved, and whose meaning was immediately clear and went beyond language, nationality, political bias, etc. The logo accepted by the organizers was the image of the Earth, superimposed upon the Sun and spanned by the wings of Peace. It was this logo (with many variations of design) that went around the world for the 1st International Day of Nuclear Disarmament.
The day was a huge success as far as the number of actions and people involved went. At the Livermore National Nuclear Laboratory blockade alone, 1,000 of us were arrested for civil disobedience. At Santa Rita prison, a huge circus tent had to be set up for the arrested men; the women were crowded into a wing of the prison.)
Well, that was the first and last International Day of Nuclear Disarmament. We came out of jail and, exhausted from organizing demonstrations, the Livermore Action Group dwindled away. (Direct Action: An Historical Novel by Luke Hauser https://www.directaction.org/ is especially useful for the appendix including valuable material from the Livermore Action Group about organizing the world event.) No one else took on the gigantic task of organizing a second day, and the logo of the action was forgotten.
Then the summer of 2011, at the inception of the Occupy Movement, some veterans of the Livermore Action Group got together to organize demonstrations throughout the financial district of San Francisco that Summer Solstice (“Solstice in the Streets,” we called it) and the logo was resurrected.
For these actions, the logo was superimposed upon the international rainbow flag for peace that was flown throughout Europe and Latin America (as well as in the U.S.) just before and during the last war on Iraq. We called it the “Universal Earth-Justice-Peace flag.”
An artist friend, Joaquin Newman painted a huge, beautiful banner with the image of the flag and the words “Despierta/Awake,” which has been carried in many a demonstration since Summer Solstice 2011. (Joaquin was 14 years-old at the time of the International Day of Nuclear disarmament and the youngest member of Lifers, our affinity group.)
A group of activists (which includes many of you reading this) have become so associated with the banner, that people refer to our group as the “Despierta/Awake Contingent.”
We have wanted to have the flags made, but the expense was beyond what we could afford so we only have one. So we settled for having a button made, “healer’s badge” we call it, extrapolated from the flag.
Because the quantity of buttons that we have been able to afford has not been large, we have given the buttons to other activists for Justice, Peace, well-being of the Earth, healers throughout the world whom we meet wherever we find ourselves. People invariably respond to its beauty and ask, “What does it mean?” We always decline answering the question and ask, “What does it mean to you?”
We have not met a single person who did not know how to interpret it, no matter what their culture, their language; always they identify the Sun, the Earth, the bird of peace, and the rainbow (harmony in diversity, auspicious sign throughout the world.) We also tell them that if someone asks them to explain the badge’s meaning, not to give it, but instead ask for an interpretation from the receiver. We also ask that if they see someone else wearing the pin, ask how they came by it. Thus a connection is made, a net woven of folk sharing values: Earth-Justice-Peace.
There have been many stories related to the Earth-Justice-Peace healer’s badge, of which I share with you an e-mail received from someone who was in Paris for the climate talks in November. She wrote:
“A quick story: this morning we got mega hassled on the bus en route to cop21 for not paying. Like super agro crazy French guards yelling at us asking us for papers and surrounding us. They kept trying to charge us for not paying and we tried to explain we were with the UN delegation and we didn't understand the bus system. Finally I showed her the peace button and we explained in English and the crazy cop woman completely changed her energy, was begging us for forgiveness! I took off the button and gifted it to her. She kissed me and they let us go!!! The peace and justice button saved us!!!”
The power of symbols is enormous, especially those that transcend culture and language, especially those that are beautiful in themselves. I offer you this one as the logo or one of the logos to use in conjunction with those of our organizations to link and unite us in our movement to heal the Earth. The more widely that we use it, the more ubiquitous it becomes, the greater the impact visually and psychologically. Imagine if it appeared in all our marches and demonstrations and direct actions, not only here, but throughout the world: flags, banners, posters, billboards, fliers, t-shirts, incorporated by artists into their art, etc.
The flag, as I said, has been expensive for our group to have made, but the more flags ordered from a company, the more affordable they become. Groups could come together to place a large order and share the lower cost of having them made. As the demand increases and more flags are ordered, a company could be convinced to make the flag in large quantities and have it ready for sale to groups and individuals at a lower price (as it happens with the U.S. flag and such.)
The Earth-Justice-Peace flag and symbol are protected under a Creative Commons License so that anyone may use it as they like and no one may claim exclusive rights to it.
Our group had the pin/button/badge made by:
59 School Ground Road
Branford, CT 06405
Buying them in large quantities considerably lowers the cost. Groups coming together to buy them in large quantities and sell them at demonstrations and other events would be a good way to disseminate the image and raise funds for one’s organization.
Our task of healing the Earth and mitigating the suffering that climate change is causing and will increase to cause is huge, daunting. The task of bringing Justice to all, Peace to all is an essential part of the task. But not because of that must we lose hope. Let us undertake the task with heart, with joy, with beauty, and celebrate the Earth, all that she bears, Life, and each other. Let our struggle be a dance.
Rafael Jesús González of El Paso, Texas, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, is an internationally known poet and peace activist. He conducted the open ceremony of the International Tribunal of Conscience held last September in New York City. A professor of Creative Writing and Literature, he taught at the University of Oregon, Western State College of Colorado, Central Washington State University, the University of Texas El Paso, and Laney College, Oakland, where he founded the Mexican and Latin American Studies Department. Somos en escrito has also featured his book of poems, La Musa Lunática/The Lunatic Muse. Follow his blog at rjgonzalez.blogspot.com.