A Moment in Human History

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"The earth is a living being and a conscious presence. And she wants us to survive."

You've said that the anti-war movement "has to be a peace and justice movement." How is our justice different from the justice that George Bush is calling for?

Justice is something that restores a balance. It's not just about revenge - it means you have to address the causes of violence. We live in a world that's tremendously unjust and getting more so all the time - economically, socially, politically.

We have a system right now that doesn't allow people to have a voice in some of the major decisions that affect us. We've got this political system where you vote but then you go to your work and the boss gets to make the rules and that's somehow still a democracy. It's not a democracy if somebody else can make decisions that take away your livelihood or your right to safety in the workplace.

Democracy has to include the economy, otherwise it's just window dressing.

In the United States, the prime value is profit and everything else is a side dish. Democracy has to include the prime area that we actually live in and work in, which is the economy.

It's not a just world if 400 billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest 40 per cent of the population. It's not a just world if every individual doesn't have the opportunity to develop their maximum creativity and contributions to society. It's not a just system if the United States is funding the Colombian military, which works hand-in-hand with the death squads there. And it's not a just system if we don't admit that the [Central Intelligence Agency] trained and funded [Osama] bin Laden in the first place.

The United States has to take a look at [its] role as global terrorists. And that's going to be an extremely unpopular position to take at this moment, but I think that it's got to be said. We [Americans] have to actually look at the reality of what we as a country have been doing. I don't look forward to making that case to the American people. It's hard - it's like telling someone their mother is an abuser.

And we have to actually look at Israel's assassination of political leaders of the Palestinian opposition - that's terrorism. Israel came so close to potential for peace and they shafted it with provocative acts, like Sharon's, that set off anther Intifada. We can't have peace in that area of the world unless there's a measure of justice for Palestinians.

As a Jew, I don't look forward to making that case either. I was raised in the 1950s, when Israel was the great beautiful dream that made up for all of the horrors and suffering and genocide of the Holocaust. It's really very hard for American Jews to wake up from that dream and realize what a nightmare it has become.

So if the United States is going to start throwing around the word justice, then we've got to look at justice in the larger sense.

How can the anti-globalization movement help build a peace movement?

We have to find a balance between holding on to our radical agenda - which for many people is much more radical than they have grasped - and being open to working with, dialoguing with and educating those people.

People on the Left have a tendency to judge the people who are less radical than we are, to scorn their middle-class bourgeois values. It would be a wonderful moment in human history if we could get beyond that and understand that it's our job as activists not to put people down because they aren't radical enough, but to figure out how we can actually motivate them.

It might be a good moment for us to start a different kind of dialogue than we usually have. Where we go out and ask people how these issues impact them and what their hopes and fears are rather than just immediately telling them what we think they should know and think and feel and what risks they ought to take.

There is tremendous hope for building this movement. There are a lot of people out there who don't want to be bombing women and children in Afghanistan.

Once the U.S. troops get ground casualties, we're going to see public opinion start shifting. People don't get what a war really is. They haven't got it that the nice kid in the navy suit on the front page of the newspaper is going to end up shot and dead. Once that starts happening, then it becomes real. Then the patriotic rhetoric peels away and something different takes it place.

What are some of the lessons from previous anti-war movements?

I think we made some bad mistakes in our anti-war organizing in the Vietnam era. We really attacked and vilified the people in the military and that was a mistake. They got drafted, they got caught up in the patriotic rhetoric. They were 18 years old, what did they know? They got sent to a situation that was incredibly traumatic and then came home to people spitting on them.

And we didn't ask ourselves what base of support we had for the actions that we took. Especially during the later period, when things got more and more radical and groups went into the politics of despair - small radical cells doing things that were more in the nature of armed struggle rather than peaceful demonstration. If you don't have the base of support for it, then essentially it's counterproductive, it pushes people away and it creates a tremendous backlash.

There are a lot of lessons that we've learned since Vietnam, too. We didn't really have a feminist movement yet, we were beginning to have a Black-power movement and the first inklings of a gay liberation movement. So our organizing didn't reflect any of those insights about diversity and a feminist analysis of war.

Hopefully we can draw on some of those lessons and not have to relearn them all. Maybe we're at the point where we can build strong coalitions that understand the struggle against this war is a struggle against racism. And it has to involve a feminist of analysis of this macho syndrome.

What role do you think magical energy plays?

At this point I have to believe it plays some kind of role, or else we might just crawl in a hole. Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will. The images that we hold in our mind and the energies that we put out do have an impact on the consciousness around us. We can help to shape that by the energies that we put out consciously, by the intentions that we hold and by the words that we use.

It's especially powerful if we're out there taking the action ourselves: doing it on both the outer and inner level. The other thing is that the magic and the ritual can really help sustain our spirits, and that's something we all really need right now.

I have a deep faith that there is a great creative force in the universe that is ultimately stronger then the forces of violence, and that if we align ourselves with that creative force, then we have that energy to draw on. The earth is a living being and a conscious presence. And she wants us to survive.

You went to New York. What did you see there?

When I was in New York last Sunday, we did a little healing ritual as close as we could to the site. It was like a pillar of smoke had replaced those buildings. It was oddly beautiful - you could feel all the spirits in that smoke, and that they were ok. They had an entire country of people praying, sending them energy, grieving for them and helping to send them over to wherever they need to go. I felt like I could hear them say, "Don't use our death as a weapon."


Starhawk is an American peace activist and feminist who combines activism and earth-based spirituality. She has been active in the anti-globalization movement providing direct action training for demonstrations in Seattle, Prague, Washington D.C., Quebec City and Genoa. Starhawk is the author of the bestseller The Spiral Dance. Her writings about the anti-globalization movement are available at www.starhawk.org.

She was in Toronto last week and spoke about the recent tragedy in the United States at a St. Lawrence Centre Forum attended by 450 people.

"The events on September 11 were horrible and insupportable in any way. They can't be defended and they can't be excused. But these events don't come out of a vacuum - they come out of a world that is polarized between rich and poor. We can't address the issue of terrorism if we don't address the issues that drive people to terrorism," she told the audience. "And the issues that the anti-globalization movement was working on didn't go away after September 11, if anything, there is more urgency now."

Erin George is an activist with Toronto Mobilization for Global Justice and a freelance writer.

Further Reading

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