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Culture Change e-Letter #91       

Activists and hipsters without territory or a plan

part 1: the problem

part 2: the solution

by Jan Lundberg 


There exists today almost no social movement of a kind that leads human industrial society into a new, safe direction.  This may be because (1) the anti-war movement, for example, offers little to the public in terms of a vision of sustainable living, and (2) the likely participants and leaders of a vanguard have no territory.  The missing ingredient for the nascent movement, or diffuse base of activists and culture changers, is cohesion.  Enough cohesion can create Virtual Territory as a physical network for the cultural revolution.  Such a movement could make headway in replacing the systematic destruction of our biosphere by the mushrooming population of people, cars, etc.  Just waiting for the effects of peak oil is counter-indicated.

Part 1: the movement and the individual come up short

Do you wonder about the efficacy of all those educated (or self-educated) hipsters out there who ache for a more sensible and just world?  Is their mental state and general health conducive to succeeding at their well-intended activism and utilizing their relevant art?  How can a disturbed urban denizen -- up against the brutal economy, surrounded by machines and people who are not living as if they are in a community -- maintain a productive life with a high level of awareness?  

These questions would not be so crucial if the movement to create a new culture of sustainability were making clear headway already. This is not the case, but help may be on the way.  Social movements may not have appreciable impact prior to the likely crash in petroleum consumption.  As mentioned in many a Culture Change column, a market-aggravated, historic crisis of supply will probably help bring about and hasten the crash.  However, this essay -- with an ear to the ground -- sketches out a strategy that visualizes a regrouping of what is today a diffuse movement (or partially linked movements).  Perhaps a more cohesive movement could start now to do such things as use energy sensibly and restructure social relations toward rediscovered mutual aid and cooperation.  This column speculates on the additional glue needed for the aforementioned cohesion.

If we acknowledge that we are too separated and alienated to do enough good or do well enough for ourselves, even though we have much knowledge and historical perspective, then what is the problem?  It may be simply one of strategy.  This essay presents a strategy that transcends and remedies the over-stressed, time-constrained and often wacked out aspect of the activist population.  There are enough smart and informed people, but they don't use the right combination of power, tools and resources -- all of which are at hand.

Without recounting all the good projects and ways of sustainability that have been presented and practiced -- albeit almost in a vacuum and unbeknownst to the mainstream -- let us recap these essential ways as including: organic/permaculture gardening and farming, bartering, local economics, and eliminating waste such as the use of paper and plastic items we can do without.  Other elements of sustainability include using human, animal and other forms of renewable energy for essential uses, i.e., not powering every household for modern appliances that replace labor or titillate the idle mind with electronic entertainment.  

The missing ingredient for more cohesion of the sustainability movement may simply be territory.  Although perhaps all the land on the planet has been seized by the commercial class in recent centuries, territory can be "created."  Although almost every uprising of the common people has been defeated and their land and independence lost, it is a new day today.  

In light of this, and realizing a sizable amount of territory is not about to be gained or turned over to truly sustainable-living visionaries, a reasonable substitute may be created.  Enough strategic cohesion can create Virtual Territory, or a network for the cultural revolution that's needed to replace the systematic destruction of our biosphere.

Finer and finer understanding of "the problem," such as rephrasing the dilemma for our all too populous species in this age of deforestation and fossil-fuel disaster, has been a substitute, in effect, for real action.  What can sweep all this hand-wringing and intellectual posturing away is a simple movement to slash pollution by consuming much less.  

However, the movement and the philosophy cannot be so circumscribed, as the ethic of cutting consumption has not gotten very far since the first Earth Day three and a half decades ago.  There needs to be a redefinition of what is now the too disjointed sustainable living/environmental and peace movements. 

The anti-war movement today

Leaders of the mini movements today, such as the anti-war movement, appear to have severely limited vision as a matter of policy or narrow mindedness.  The fact that some protests have large turnouts is not proof of effectiveness that could make history.  These days the protests are shrinking and are too seldom to indicate a rising tide.  Socioeconomic conditions that people are subjected to already, without seeing many body bags coming back from Iraq, are sufficiently dire to warrant wide interest and mass action.  

As to specific positions, it may be all well and good for the anti-war movement to always hammer on the Israeli oppression against Palestinians, and to connect the needs of working people to the need to stop the waste of war.  However, what's implied with this particular limited program is the notion of continuing the system of working for bosses and corporations.  Meanwhile, the anti-war movement is not making it possible to stop paying one's taxes for the Pentagon and all the road building (=war on nature).  Protesting an aspect of the status quo (war) does little in itself to eliminate war now or in the long run.  

The recent protests of March 19, on the two-year anniversary of the Iraq War, did not truly grab the nation by the throat and demand action on the ongoing genocide and repression in Iraq.  While it is true that a message that says "stop driving" may not go over well with most people, there needs to be an integration of the environmental/energy aspect of war, other than to rail about "war for oil." 

In a meeting of International ANSWER last year at its DC headquarters, it was made clear to me that the hierarchy wanted no speakers at rallies that linked driving cars to the problem of war in Iraq -- the reason given by the top ANSWER leadership was that some potential protesters might not drive to the protest if the prospective protesters knew that an anti-gasoline-consumption message was being linked to "stop the war now" (the main purpose and principal vision of the anti-war leadership).  We can say that sustainable living, e.g., not driving because it helps perpetuate war for oil, is shut out of the anti-war rallies and other organizing by the top activists.  

Other views that have not been allowed on ANSWER's podium of events include the 9-11 Truth Movement.  The argument is made that the anti-war movement must be the largest possible "coalition" which would not be possible if inclusion was made for those who believe 9-11 was permitted or even perpetrated in part by the the White House.  Did Michael Ruppert speak at an anti-war rally?  He is one of the only national commentators and authors who addresses both 9-11 and oil issues.

It used to be that the anti-war movement, say in 1968, was about shutting down the whole war machine.  Here in Berkeley there were two well known radical communes then, The Red Family and The Berkeley Commune.  These homes and networks amounted to territory, and could have been replicated elsewhere to expand territory.  One participant of one of those communes reports that the main reason these communes were short-lived is that federal government agents harassed and intimidated them.  That would be hard to do in future if there were many communes (or whatever variation of household), and they were not miscast as antisocial.

Part II, The solution: creating territory together

There is almost no social movement of a kind that leads human industrial society into a new direction.  This may be because the likely participants and leaders of a vanguard have no territory. 

In all past conflicts and disputes between peoples prior to western civilization's conquest, opponents had their own land or territory in which they lived and operated.  From their territory they could offer an alternative to their opposition or wage war. 

In today's modern world, all fenced or paved, the acquisition or taking of territory is vital for the success of a real opposition if it is to have a chance at survival and victory.  This presupposes, perhaps, that a peaceful revolution or mass awakening into ecological consciousness is impossible under current ruling conditions.  Indeed, "the market" only continues to expand its hegemony and empire.  The global market economy appears about to flatten out or shrink, perhaps due to inflation caused by energy costs, but we don't know at this time. 

The new territory 

The likely members of the new culture are bound to be wacked out (spiritually or mentally imbalanced) when they are packed together in cities like rats in a cage.  Overpopulation has its effects, even if it is not the Nazi Babylon that John Trudell spoke of in his poetry-blues.

I told Mike Ruppert, after he quoted from my recent peak oil article (Culture Change Letter #87): "Although it won't stop peak oil, there are things to do to prepare oneself in case of survival and in order to offer models of sustainability once the dust settles."

In the absence of territory, the equivalent of it needs to be created or discovered.  The people trying to live a different way than the moneyed paradigm have to have a place where they can forage for food, medicine and materials for clothing and housing.  In such a place people can be productive, cooperative and meet their needs for survival. From this territory where they are safe they can mount offensives (peaceful too) and expand their territory, at the expense of the Greed Society and its Army of the Rich. 

Without territory, a real opposition wishing to mount a challenge and be victorious has to improvise and use guerilla tactics.  This does not mean car bombs or anything of the sort; after all, a real alternative to the violence of the dominant system has to present a peaceful and positive image and program.  The improvisation and tactics to which I refer are about successfully living in harmony with like-minded others, engaging in local cooperative economics that are felt beyond the immediate community.  And every dollar denied to the megacorporations means starving the beast.  The effects could be huge if just enough new cars were not purchased (see Culture Change Letter #89).  

The territory for this activity already exists.  However, the territory is often hidden or withheld.  People are not aware of where their friendly bases might be, nor who among them, even in their midst, has something to offer.  Simple solidarity and spreading the word, without needing to sacrifice more, can do wonders for building a movement.  These days we are still separated and not unified.  This essay tries to show that this obstacle can be overcome.  Admittedly, it is hard today to find any land or housing where the alternative social vanguard can be supported.  But, if this were a priority, such land and housing would be found to exist overnight in sufficient amount of "territory."  We are not in need of, say, 33% of the houses that could be communal and practicing sustainable living; perhaps only 5% might be enough. 

Obstacles of the unhip minds 

The typical activist is just another struggling member of society facing unprecedented stress and probable hardship (financial or emotional or disease-wise).  We are all subject to an ever present media bombardment.  A non-activist can be a very aware citizen who for one reason or another is not very active.  Or, perhaps the "non-activist" is doing good work on an unusual level, or is helping others "only" one-on-one.  Despite people's good intentions and their admirable knowledge, their mental, spiritual and emotional state can be "tweaked" due to stress and lack of support.  As the Santana song goes, "I ain't got nobody... that I can depend on."   It wouldn't be so tough if we had pristine nature or at least some open, common space around us.

The gradual mass acceptance of the loss of the commons, and the delusion that motor-vehicle-dominated space is a commons, contribute to unprecedented cases of various kinds of insanity, morbidity and death.  The problem of the commons and false commons is only one of the destabilizing weapons wielded over the population.  People imagine, as in the movie The Matrix, that the world is a normal and basically good place even as it is under the firm control of the authoritarian forces of reaction who maintain the status quo. 

Meanwhile, life as we know it is being annihilated by technology — resulting in a weaker race of genetically assaulted humans — and our own mass failure to respond to the lethal threat posed by the culture of The Market. 

"The Market" is not in the U.S. Constitution, nor is capitalism, nor is perpetual population growth either.  Yet these have an iron grip on society and all its members.  Movements such as the anti-war movement, and even the (funded) environmental movement, do not take such factors into consideration, and instead seem to be a bulwark of the status quo by offering a too mild critique and no actual alternative.

An opposition makes a clean break with the mistakes of the past and instead honors proven practices of life-giving wholeness. 

Home and the land

Every tribe and every nation had its territory.  Indigenous traditional people feel very close and tied to their land, and can barely imagine existing without it.  It could be said that the indigenous people do not think of the land as "theirs."  Also, some native Americans did not necessarily fall into the category of tribes, but lived for ten thousand years in what is now the U.S. as communities without authorities or hierarchy.  This should be of interest to anyone concerned about too much war and other problems posed by today's civilization.

It is significant that modern industrial people think of their home as not the land where they live, but instead an artificial box where consuming takes place in the privacy and "freedom" of usually someone else's property (landlord, bankers holding a mortgage). 

In the U.S. a home may rarely be kept past two generations anymore, as houses are sold and people move.  This has something to do with the elders being put out to pasture to die in nursing homes or hospitals.  Certainly, one no longer has distant ancestors who lived in the family home or on the piece of land. 

The practical effect of every home that practices cooperative and sustainable living is that of a small territorial zone of resistance and breeding ground of peaceful cultural revolution.  Such households are where citizens know (or are learning) that the real agenda of government is to serve the industrial and financial oligarchy.  When people support each other in such households, some members are able to be more active and go to protests or engage in other forms of community organizing.  Each yard and rooftop garden that helps defeat global corporatism and petroleum-domination is part of "the land" that a viable opposition movement can translate to territory, if we are imagining change on the order of a cultural revolution.

It may not take more than 15% of the population — should they live in such a way and cut their consumption of corporate "goods" — to bring down and replace the entire system of economic bondage to capitalistic employment, commuting, and paying strangers for essential rights such as local food and water.  Such an outcome is the desire of most anti-globalization activists, who noted with joy the ejection of Bechtel corporation from Bolivia when water privatization ran into clear opposition from everyday folks. 

The U.S. is just as colonized as any "Third World" country that has seen the moneymen invade and seize resources by paying off the local sell-outs.  In the U.S. it has been different, as cheap energy, goods and land from the vast, rich continent — stolen from the indigenous people — allowed a higher level of consumption for the many.  This has lasted to the present.  Many people today still imagine, though they be downtrodden, that hard work could allow one's private attainment of wealth and insulation from the streets of poverty.  As use of the once commonly held land by individual owners and communities was minimized in favor of accumulating paper money and title to various forms of property, the connection to the land by the average person decreased to the point of mostly disappearing.  Today the vocation of small farmer is statistically insignificant compared to the surviving sectors of the economy and demographic groups, according to the U.S. Census. 

The peaceful, cultural revolution, then, is to reverse the trend.  The people must reclaim the land and get in touch with nature and form communities again.  This was the intention of the hippies who went "back to the land" in northern California and elsewhere.  However, as long as there is petroleum and a system based on cash and property, there is no social change happening, and the lifestyle of the "back to the land" settler is almost indistinguishable from the old guard of "redneck" there since the native Americans were dispossessed.  However, many of the more progressive, newly arrived, formerly urban folk do strive to practice some sustainable ways, such as composting, and they anticipate an age not too far away without cheap energy and endless roads. 

Ecotopia, the love story novel by Ernest Callenbach, was about having territory.  It was secure territory and featured unique culture that emphasized the "American value" of the pursuit of happiness. 


None of the above has needed "left" or "right" labels.  There is a conservative aspect to wanting to see wide adoption of sustainable practices, except when they are "new" and would interrupt the consuming frenzy of the "conservative" citizen.  Fascism is a valid characterization of the corporate state, as traditionally defined, and need not be tied to conservatism.  Yet, the concept of "red, white and blue" may delude and mislead, or be useful.  So, in any attempt to create territory, the present flag and concept of the U.S.A. may or may not be set aside.  Breakaway "states" may emerge from bioregional habitation by peoples no longer identifying with distant U.S. states of today.  The alternative culture, or Ecotopia, is already around us today.


Spring equinox and March 24, 2005 -  Oakland, California

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