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May 30, 2007  

Social justice activists are fiercely independent leaders, highly adept at critical thinking. But we turn this on each other to our detriment. Saddened by Cindy Sheehan’s decision to resign as the face of the modern peace movement, I have provided several links to pieces that guide, advise and encourage us as we fight the good fight. 

By their very nature, people who question authority are highly adept at critical thinking, according to George Lakey. Unfortunately, and all too often, we wield this sword against each other.  This was part of Cindy Sheehan’s reason for resigning as the face of the modern peace movement, citing egos as one culprit. 

I don’t believe there is a lack of authority or leadership in our movement, as some have asserted. All of us, to be civically engaged, are natural leaders.  I believe this because the 10 or 20 million involved in social justice represent only 3-6% of the U.S. population. We speak our truth with tiny voices, compared to the deluge of misinformation in lamestream media and in public education.  

Activists are also fierce.  Paul Hawken asserts, “there is no other explanation for the raw courage and heart seen over and again in the people who march, speak, create, resist and build.” How else to describe our ability to withstand a tsunami of contrary public opinion?   

I agree with activist, Tom Oswald, who suggested that “we share a better than average understanding of how easily we can be exploited by leadership.”  Some of us are old enough to remember how the movements of the 60s and 70s were co-opted by system guards, who brought compromise and “working within” to the table, diluting progressive organizations into mere outlets for ordinary citizens to fund, but eventually trading away the gains of the 60s and 70s.  

The environmental movement comes to mind. In September 2004, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus wrote a scathing condemnation of eco-leadership (The Death of Environmentalism), resulting in a heated debate that became obscured by the second stolen presidential election a few months later. They take a look at environmentalism since the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” [1]

It is important to realize that Carson withstood incredible attacks for her work. As Time Magazine recounted in 1999:

“Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that she was unqualified to write such a book,”  according to Wiki. Carson did not have a PhD. Her 1962 book, however, prompted President Kennedy to order an investigation into the chemicals she discussed.  And, she is rightly called the mother of the modern environmental movement.  “Unqualified” is a term often used by neocons to discredit those who speak truth to power.  The facts are the facts, no matter who presents them.

Cindy Sheehan also expressed her complete disillusion with the Democratic Party for re-funding the oil wars.  Environmentalists share this disillusion.  In the Forward to “The Death of Environmentalism,” Peter Teague writes: 

“So long as the siren call of denial is met with the drone of policy expertise — and the fantasy of technical fixes is left unchallenged — the public is … being misled.” 

Election integrity also shares this disillusion with the Democrats. Teague’s words apply just as readily to HR 811, and to election integrity as a whole.  HR 811 seeks to fix high tech election systems by enforcing a secret vote count.  Democracy demands observable, verifiable vote counts. As human beings, it is our inalienable right to determine who represents us in the governing of our public affairs.  It is not up to experts. 

Those who fully comprehend that the only viable election system is one that allows for observable votes, counted by ordinary citizens, are wholly unimpressed with the Democratic Party’s embrace of corporate-owned computerized election systems that only experts can comprehend.   

Advocates of civil liberties are likewise disillusioned with the Democratic Party. Those who treasure the U.S. Constitution are horrified that Democrats voted to pass the un-Patriot Act, voted for torture and for the elimination of habeas corpus.   

Clearly, compromise with the Corporate Party (Republi-Dems) leads us into chains of slavery, no matter how much money a U.S. citizen makes (for as long as your job isn’t outsourced).  For those tens of millions of us living in poverty, there is no room left for compromise. 

I am deeply saddened by Cindy Sheehan’s decision, although I completely understand it. More than once I’ve wanted to quit because of all the infighting that occurs in our movement.  From my very first email, as the newly elected Chair of the Research & Investigations Committee, of the newly formed J30 Coalition (Jan. 30, 2005), I’ve been verbally attacked. 

More recently, a few local activists promised to “destroy” my reputation, or declared me responsible for some failed event (in which I was not even involved), or impugned my integrity.  I’ve been gagged for positing a minority opinion.  I’ve been lied to, lied about and threatened.

If it is merely ego – some activist is threatened by another’s moment of shine – we can see the effect of our jealousy when someone as popular as Sheehan throws in the towel. 

When infighting becomes unbearable, I play Michael Franti’s “See You in the Light.”  The relevant passage is: 

“Vampires gather ’round me, angling to take a bite.

They want to drink my blood of courage, and try to take away my fight.

But no, no, no, they can’t do that for one truth I learned in life.

You wanna scare away the vampires?  You simply guide them into the light.” 

In other words, expose them.  I don’t mean engage in mud-slinging; I mean state your truth as Sheehan did when she honestly described her reasons for resigning.  Maybe she’ll take a much-needed break and return to the fray at some future date.   

Cynthia McKinney is another leader who has endured innumerable attacks, having her Congressional career stolen right out from under her by these electronic voting systems. (See her film, American Blackout.)  I can easily believe that she feels discouraged, at times, just like the rest of us.  Here’s a recent article she wrote on Memorial Day, applauding the leaders who have gone before us.

It is times like these when I thumb thru Paul Rogat Loeb’s The Impossible Will Take a Little While, drinking in the wisdom and encouragement offered by 50 different social justice activists. One wisdom I employ often is to do that which energizes me and brings me joy; and avoid people and things that drain me.  I turn off my phone and focus on my work.

I hope Hawken is correct that “something earth-changing is afoot” and I agree that our leaderless movement is really comprised of several million leaders, each working for some tiny portion of positive change.   

Leaders, we need to celebrate each other, if our dream for a better world will have any chance of being realized.  This is not a competition; not only is the American dream of Democracy at issue, but the very survival of Planet Earth is at stake.




[1]  2007 is the centennial of Rachel Carson’s birth. The Rachel Carson Homestead Association (www.RachelCarsonHomestead.org) is planning four major events throughout the year including a May 27 birthday party and sustainable feast at her birthplace and home in Springdale, Pennsylvania. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, Massachusetts, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, Maryland, is hosting the exhibit “Awakening Nature’s Voice”, a national Carson centennial event from May to November 30, 2007.