Friday, April 29, 2005

Culture, Rebellion, and the New Paradigm

(published in The New People, Pittsburgh, PA, October 2003)

Culture, Rebellion, and the New Paradigm

by e b bortz

“we must all live our lives
always feeling
always thinking
the moment has arrived”
tracy chapman

I look at the world through green-tinted glasses. With that, there’s a tendency to attribute the unparalleled growth of grassroots democracy movements occurring across the continents with the growth and initiative of Green Parties throughout the world. Often, this analysis is correct. The world peace movement, particularly in Europe, had the street and parliamentary power to actually turn their respective governments away from involvement in the war on Iraq. A growing environmental consciousness coupled with the oil/resource plundering of Africa, Asia, and Latin America has given rise to numerous fledgling indigenous Green Parties on these continents as well.

But even if the leading role of the Green Party is not evident, the green-tinted glasses still hold a powerful, some would say prophetic, vision of a world that is valid, at least in a personal sense. Deep down, in the body of world cultures, I need to believe that a new consciousness of interdependence and living co-existence of all beings, animal and plant, is taking form. This new consciousness is objectively in direct contradiction to the wars, nationalism, resource plundering, environmental and human obliteration that engulfs our global reality at this time. Didn’t this new consciousness have something to do with the global grassroots opposition to the war in Iraq?

We stand in a crossroads that has many paths; certainly not defined by the Bush doctrine “for us or against us” model tailored by fear and empire building. Nor is there just one path of opposition to war and empire that is being expressed in the confluence of ideas. There are many streams of rebellion. What activists must think through is, what kind of world are we truly envisioning? Which leads us back to this new consciousness of interdependence and living co-existence based on nonviolence, cooperation, and sustainability. Nonviolence is not just good strategy and tactics for a movement, but is in fact, fundamental to a radically different premise for life on the planet. Maybe it’s our saving grace from a world bent on self-destruction.

Many social scientists, from both the right and the left, will argue that nonviolence is just ‘pie in the sky’. It’s not ‘practical’. It’s against ‘human nature’. Which maybe brings us back again to these green-tinted glasses...what hope does a global progressive social change movement have if it doesn’t express the best of our nature and potential? Practical experience and details always need to be developed, but I would find it unconscionable if the highest and boldest goals of a new world were not built on the most radical of all notions: nonviolence.

Just before the war in Iraq “officially” began, a small group of conscientious objectors (COs) and supporters in Pittsburgh got together in the hopes of helping local people in the reserves and active military ranks through the arduous CO process of the United States military. In a period of about six weeks, we were able to assist two individuals in their particular processes, which ultimately resulted in success of their objectives. These two individuals (one young man and one young woman) came separately to the group and to their decisions from their own consciences, quite separate from the world of peace activism. I think this is significant in light of the short time frame of the “official” war. With the occupation, more soldiers and their families have spoken out, many realizing through this de-humanizing experience in Iraq, that they too, are conscientious objectors to war.

Proof again perhaps, that a small group of people with an unwavering holistic vision of nonviolence can make a difference.

The culture in the United States is indeed in an upheaval, driven by fear and hollow nationalism. The Dixie Chicks’ popularity of the Bruce Robison song “Travelin’ Soldier” was enough, along with some casual comments about GW Bush, to get them banned on at least one Pittsburgh radio station. Part of “Travelin’ Soldier” goes like this:

“A man said folks would you bow your heads for a list of local Vietnam dead /
Crying all alone under the stands was a piccolo player in the marching band
And one name read and nobody really cared /
but a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair...”

Evidently, even sadness is no longer permitted in the new war culture.

But I think it is incorrect to conclude that the cultural message of global war-plunder is all-consuming and impenetrable.

With every twisted, dehumanized rationalization for war and occupation in Iraq from the media corporatists of the extreme right to the neo-liberal, another thousand folks find something else to watch, read, listen to, or do. I admit this might be just another green-tinted assumption. The point however, is that these small quantitative changes in peoples’ attitudes are not usually recognized until a qualitative shift in consciousness (often reflected in dramatic electoral upsets) takes place.

Staying true to the message, the vision, and building upon the small practical and moral victories as they come, keeps us all feeling and thinking.
e b bortz’s poetry and writing has appeared in numerous publications.
Comments are welcome at ebbortz at

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