Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Rush of Wings...

Late yesterday afternoon, as I was coming back to the house after feeding the chickens their afternoon treat of mixed corn, a strange sound was added to the background noise of country life. As well as birdsong and the screech of jays in the oaks, a distant tractor and the barking of a dog on a neighbouring hillside, suddenly there was a sound like rushing water, or the wind in in storm-tossed branches. Yet it hasn't rained for over a week, and the breeze was only light. It was neither water nor wind. I knew exactly what it was, and my heart lifted.

Further up the hill, a couple of fields away, a huge flock of starlings was gathering in preparation to fly off to their roost for the night. Some years they regularly fly right over the house. Other years I see them only from a distance, or catch a glimpse of a swirling flock as I'm driving home from work. A few years back a great cloud of them descended into the garden, and since then I have watched the winter skies avidly in hope of seeing them. This winter I have seen them regularly, but mostly at a distance, so now I craned my neck expectantly.

The flock didn't come any closer to the house, but through the bare winter bones of the hedge I could see more birds flying in to join the assembly. Every so often the noise level would suddenly dip for a brief moment before the whole flock lifted off in practise flight before regrouping on the ground or the tall trees at the field's edge. This happened several times, until triggered by some signal imperceptible to me, they were ready. The sound dropped for a moment and then the entire flock swept into the sky with a huge rush of wings, awe-inspiring even from a distance. They whirled in a morphing cloud like one great organism, and were off.

I stood spellbound for a moment as the magic faded and normality returned. Then, murmuring a blessing to the beautiful flock on their journey, I returned to the house. Time for me to light the fire, start the evening meal and prepare my own roost for the night.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Millions Marching, One Billion Rising!

Video: One Billion Rising! Flashmob in Carmarthen 14/02/2013

"Another common, unspoken assumption is that spirituality is about calm and peace, and conflict is unspiritual. Which of course makes it hard to integrate the spiritual with the political, which is all about conflict.
In New Age circles, a common slogan is that "What you resist, persists." Truly spiritual people are never supposed to be confrontational or adversarial — that would be perpetuating an unevolved, "us-them" dualism.
I don't know from what spiritual tradition the "what you resist, persists" slogan originated, but I often want to ask those who blithely repeat it, "What's your evidence?" When it is so patently obvious that what you don't resist persists like hell and spreads all over the place. In fact, good, strong, solid resistance may be the only thing that stands between us and hell. Hitler didn't persist because of the Resistance — he succeeded in taking over Germany and murdering millions because not enough people resisted."

- Starhawk

Ten years ago today, along with millions of other people I was marching against the Iraq war. According to Wikipedia, "Sources vary in their estimations of the number of participants involved. According to BBC News, between six and ten million people took part in protests in up to sixty countries over the weekend of the 15th and 16th; other estimates range from eight million to thirty million." I marched in London alongside friends from the British Reclaiming community. Along the way we sang, and danced, and chalked hearts on the pavements. Although the day was grey and cold and the wind blowing off the river Thames was icy, the energy of the march was amazing. It is incredible to be among so many other human beings, all with one shared intention, one passionately held belief.

Many people who have never attended a demonstration seem horrified by the very idea. I am certain this is due to the impression given by the media that such events are inevitably filled with extremists, thugs and stone-throwing anarchists; hotbeds of violence and wanton destruction. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The demonstrations I have been on, from my first way back in the '90s (against the Criminal Justice Bill 1994, which amongst other things criminalised what were previously civil offences in an attempt to stifle road protesters and hunt saboteurs), have been without exception good-humoured, fun and friendly. I'm not saying there was no trouble or arrests at any of them, but I personally have never seen any negative behaviour at all. At any large gathering of people it is inevitable that a small minority will act up, or even go along with the express intention of causing trouble. Yet it is this small minority that gets all the press coverage and attention and gives a totally misleading impression of the event and most people's experience of it.

Yesterday, across the world, millions of women (and men) joined the 'One Billion Rising' initiative in joyful flashmobs, dancing to protest violence against women, and stating that we will not stand for this! (the word "billion" refers to the statistic that 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime - about one billion). From Africa to Asia to the Americas to Europe to Australasia, women gathered and danced, in some places risking their very lives to do so. Even in my local town of Carmarthen, women - including some of my friends - gathered and danced. Unfortunately I couldn't join them, which I'm really sad about! It looks like it was an amazing event, and it makes me feel so proud and so moved.

We have more power than we allow ourselves to believe. We are creating the future with every choice we make, every moment of every day. And when we join with others, when we tap into what Starhawk calls 'Power-With'* (as opposed to the more usual model of 'Power-Over') we tap into something truly world-changing.

Political demonstrations rarely change the world overnight. They don't always achieve their aim - an estimated 10 million marched against the Iraq war and still Bush and Blair went to war. And yet, these events have power. In the immediacy of the march, or the occupation, or the dance against violence, we feel our connection to each other. We know that we are not alone in feeling passionate about this issue. That gives us strength and courage. We meet like-minded souls, we make connections and forge bonds. We let those in power know that this is an issue that really matters, that come the next election, their jobs are on the line. Someone told me that for every letter protesting an issue, the powers that be know that 10 more people feel the same way, but haven't bothered to put pen to paper. How many more then, for every person who makes the effort to travel to a demo or a sit-in? In some instances, a demonstration can become a revolution. This is why protest is stifled, this is why they publish the photos of bricks being thrown at windows. They don't want you there. If demonstrating didn't make a difference, why would they care if you marched or danced or chained yourself to a railing? Standing up and being counted, changing minds does change the world. Gandhi knew it. Martin Luther King knew it. Rachel Corrie knew it, Julia 'Butterfly' Hill knew it, the Pankhursts knew it. Code Pink know it, the Occupy! movement know it, UK Uncut know it, Reclaim the Streets know it, One Billion Rising! know it.

You can make a difference. We all can. Claim your power-with!

P.S. See also this.

* Starhawk's Definitions of 'Power-Over' and 'Power-With'
Power-Over sees the world as an object, made up of many separate, isolated parts that have no intrinsic life, awareness or value. Human beings have no inherent worth; value must be earned or granted. Power-Over motivates by fear, violence or threat of violence.
Power-With sees the world as a pattern of relationships, but its interest is in how that pattern can be shaped, moulded, shifted. It values beings, forces, and people according to how they affect others and according to a history based on experience. 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Brigid Poetry Festival 2013

Once again, it is time for the annual Brigid Poetry Festival. You can find details here. This is my contribution for this year, a poem by Wendell Berry that I love.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.