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

earth note 55

release our literary wetlands
let the wild grasses sprout
wild rice peat root anchors
our faces
bouncing back off the water
leaving an imprint
on the sky

--- e b bortz

(published in Jawbone 1997)
(published in Three Rivers Bioneers, Oct 2010)
(published in earth notes and other poems, Least Bittern Books, 2015)

earth note 69

self-destructing bureaucratic statism
don't take my word for it
go ask those bone-dry dust farmers
in oklahoma and china
as they plow under another crop
monsanto says don't worry
soylent green genetically engineered chemical food groups
doesn't need sweet water
sewage sludge will do
dammit stop pissing on my vegetables

--- e b bortz

(published in split w*sky 6, 2001)

the windows

in your house
are only open
for very short intervals

if the air smells fresh
jump on through the opening

you can always pick yourself up
off the ground

only occasionally do i
practice what i preach
and this
i regret

--- e b bortz

(published in ptrint, 3 x 5, 2004)

earth note 37

the strip, pittsburgh

acid apron steam heat blanket
draping river basin
a crack on the thirty-first street bridge
shakes loose unclips my clip-less pedal delusion
street-unwise propensity to rant
at rusted machinery
crippled rolling mill appendages
bandaged round a river beaten through the ages
approximation chaos
a tongue licks inverted water droplets clean
perennials return to carry forth
our burden

--- e b bortz

(published in Ornamental Iron, Green Panda Press, 2003)

earth note 88

west park pittsburgh

a free ice rink on lake elizabeth
one of those perks for the northside
get it before global warming really sets in
let’s keep calling it lake elizabeth to confuse the enemy
the ice waits ‘til late january to be safe
but watch out
local authoritarians wanna bust you

after lake elizabeth in the early 1900s there was
asphalt puke
progress according to city fathers
and then when the basketball hoops became too popular
the bureaucrats had them taken down
so now we’re back to lake elizabeth where we have to
sneak our skates in
better on a moon-lit night
like we did in ‘69
a newly weds’ new year’s eve
hot shadows.....naked rebels

--- e b bortz

(published in Counterpunch, 2005)

it's no coincidence

that the hole
in the middle of our chest
where the breast bones meet
is a topless bottomless hole
curving up through the larynx
and out the mouth
an endless continuum
emotion osmosis dumping ground
a centrifugal storm
whirling in all the lost generations
stereotypes and vengeance
fear of compassion and warmth
a cold touch of broken
spitting out
unique to our species
base human

--- e b bortz

(published in 3 Tombs, 1998)

(published in earth notes and other poems, Least Bittern Books, 2015)

earth note 62

khanom, thailand

let me taste the early morning light
before smoky sunrise mix
distant yellows of a coconut plume
speak seductively sweet
swallowing my words
forgetting the murky river
a charge
coming through the shadows
from who knows where
a mother answers the child's question
in the teeter of teak stilts
a balance

--- e b bortz

(published in ArtCrimes #20, 2002)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

earth note 42

september is a cold river
dying and being born
that bloated highway outta town
of red maple shoulders
to cry on
valleys i wish i could sometimes forget
what brought me back
the mills were dead
(let them rest)
a brown spent monongahela
rolls over the wreckage to the ohio
a rusty railroad trestle picks up acid droplets
lets them eat the deep black primer
of aliquippa
broken ridges slip down to the river
the bass are steadily abandoning
and everywhere evergreens hang on cliffsides
more resilient than the rest of us

--- e b bortz

(published in Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, March 1998)
(published in Lummox Journal, Nov 2002)
(published in earth notes and other poems, Least Bittern Books, 2015)

earth note 66

round face like the sun
on a mountain path too crooked
to keep a straight face
your wire-rim eyes feel through the darkness
but insist
there is a better way
to carry out our karma fortunes
under one arm
and still use the other
to stop those fleeing
their eyes never seeing
the forest

--- e b bortz

(published in Whiskey Island #42, 2000)

(published in Mac's Turns a New Trick, Green Panda Press, Nov 2003)