Editor’s Note: Language is one of the most significant elements of any culture. If a language goes extinct, the culture will go extinct within a few generations. Languages are not just a way of communicating, they represent a worldview. Relation to the natural world is a clear example. In the English language, natural elements are referred by a neutral gender pronoun, “it.” It is not a coincidence that the same pronoun is used to refer to inanimate or nonliving beings. On the other hand, many cultures (both indigenous and nonindigenous) refer to natural elements with a gendered pronoun, similar to the ones used to refer to a person. For anyone who is a part of the culture, the language that they learn shapes how they view natural elements. An English speaking child is more likely to view nature as inanimate, compared to a child whose language ascribes personhood to nature. In the following essay, Mankh explores the origin of the language and its relation to our worldview.
Upside Down Ox Houses and Indigenous Place-Based Languages
“And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:26
What if Indigenous languages hold some of the keys to rectifying climate chaos, habitat destruction and the overall insatiable global commerce structure aka “dominion over…,” while English and other alphabetized languages are part of the problem, in fact they have been encouraging an upside down approach for approximately 4000 years?
Nowadays you can hear people comment how the world seems inverted, topsy-turvy, upside down. What if the roots of that go back to the alphabet. I have good reason to think that is at least part of the conundrum because the letter A is based on the picture of an Ox head, but upside down; at one point sideways, too, but eventually upside down.
Livestock are domesticated animals and one aspect of that domestication is that Ox are often castrated male cattle. “Oxen are thought to have first been harnessed and put to work around 4000 BC.” Estimates are that the alphabet began to take shape around 2000 BC, but of course the lettering system was based on previous experiences and lifestyles put into picture forms which then became the AlphaBet (Greek, Alpha Beta), otherwise known as Ox House, or more accurately, Upside Down Ox House.
“House” is from “B” representing an enclosed structure. The ancient Egyptian “reed-house” B gives a sense of organic architecture and Hebrew includes the nuances “container” or “vessel” – “the created world is meant to house within it the spiritual.” Yet the prevalent association with B is House. On your way to work, perhaps you drive by a temple Beth-El or “House of God.” The “B” from “House” is not upside down (though the Etruscans had it facing the opposite way) and has various spellings/pronunciations, including: Bayit, Beith, Bet, Beth, Beh, or Vet. Picture of Hebrew “Beith” ―
The AlphaBet is based on phonetic abstractions which have shaped the minds and thinking patterns of people worldwide. “An alphabet, being the most abstract form of writing, enhances left-brain values the most.” And more than that, “The alphabet-people’s god became indisputably male and he would become disconnected from things of the earth. He was abstract, nowhere, and yet everywhere at once.”
“It is no mere coincidence that the first book written in an alphabet is the Old Testament.” ~ Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus The Goddess (1998)
While doing research for this article, the only possibility I found as to when and why the Ox shape became inverted was when the alphabet was being adapted from Phoenician to Greek and perhaps “the adapter didn’t seem to be certain of the orientation of the letters, because several were rotated or inverted,” also, changes with regard to “sound, name, letter shape and order.” Regardless of why it happened, this essay is putting forth that what the inversion represents rings true because the civilizations that followed have proved it so: The inverted Ox represents domestication and the ensuing dominion over “every creeping thing” ― which, by the way, reads as the precursor to the US Empire’s “full spectrum dominance.”
As a side note, mathematics got the Ox angle correct, but interpretations are up for grabs. “The ∀ symbol may look like the familiar capital ‘A’ written upside down, but in mathematics (specifically in predicate calculus), the ∀ is a logic symbol or universal quantifier. You can use it in place of ‘for all.’”
Speaking of universal quantifiers, along with the monetization of language (the first cuneiform wedges recorded transactions) was the religiosity, which when both of those (commerce and religion) merged with the mechanical, made for a world change comparable to the computer/Internet about 500 years later. The confluence of Gutenberg’s press, beginning circa 1450s, and Columbus’ commericalized colonization crusade, beginning 1492, cannot be overlooked. Along with Columbus on the boat came The Book aka Bible and the eventual franchising of religious concepts which have converted much of the world with the Word of God and the barrel of a gun, both foreign concepts to the Original Inhabitants of Turtle Island and Indigenous Peoples elsewhere.
And the book became a product to sell. The letters traveled, while Indigenous place-based languages stayed (you can guess it), where they’re at.
If you consider the upside down Ox as domesticated and the House as the modern emblem of success (think billionaires with more than one, or the goal of the average American to comfortably maintain one), then it becomes clearer how AlphaBet has and continues to shape people’s priorities as well as societal behavior patterns. Ownership of domesticated land and property is the key ingredient of predatory, colonized, commercial wealth. And domesticated cattle became the, ahem, cash cow of the fast-food industry.
Gutenberg’s press fostered a mechanical way of thinking and behaving, an assembly line of movable type promoting a book consciousness, the production format of which Henry Ford and then McDonald’s would ‘master’ ― the essence of the modern American lifestyle, faster and cheaper, a perfect storm of on-the-go religious colonialism mixed with corporate and state backing, or what I call “drive-thru theofascism.” The more recent propulsion of technology, gadgets, and AI (Artificial Intelligence) has exacerbated all that.
Now, flip all that upside down for the Indigenous perspective. Or for trying to navigate both the natural world and the mechanical world, be aware that excessive mechanical-ness dulls spontaneity, the ability to think for one’s self, and embrace the fact (yes, the fact) that plants and all manner of beings have spirit.
Some years ago on TV I saw a documentary, of which the title now escapes me, and it cited one of the roots of modern English as Frisian, a West Germanic language. What stood out to me was the following which I made note of – the language reflected the following characteristics: warlike; adventurous; greedy; religiosity/Christendom. If that’s not the essence of colonialism and empire, what is?
So the language of adventure that sought its jollies through warring, greed and enforced religion is at least some of the reason for our current troubles. In the film was mentioned a rather poetic phrase, “bone-house”… for “body,” yet many a con man has been known to have a smooth tongue.
Another linguistic reference to cattle and war is found in the Sanskrit, gáviṣṭi (गविष्टि) translated as “desire for more cows, desire for battle.” The only way one can desire for more cows is if they are domesticated. You can desire wild Ox, but to own them or go to war so as to control more of those four-leggeds indicates they are no longer wild.
Did faster language predict fast-food?
“The eye that can read is immediately caught by advertising and propaganda.” ~ Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D., The Rape of the Mind (1956)
Perhaps the seeds of fast-talkers and fast-food were baked into the language. Several examples of how languages became faster, turning into a kind of shorthand, give a clue as to how people may have been conditioned to talk faster, and eventually fast-food on-the-go, a reflection of industrialized assembly line speed with humans as active parts of the machine.“The invention of papyrus as a writing material gave the Egyptians a quicker way to record information than carving into stone.” & “Hieratics eventually gave way to demotic, an even faster way for Egyptians to write.”
From thirty years of sporadically studying and doing brush calligraphy of ancient Chinese pictographs, I have learned that the pictograph for Sun was originally a circle with a wavy line in the center (Large Seal – Ta Chuan, 1122-256 BC), which then morphed into a a circle with a dot in the center (Small Seal – Hsia Chuan, 221-207 BC). But then with Clerical Style – Li Shu, 207 BC-588 AD, a small rectangle with a horizontal line. I suspect this, too, made for speedier communications, though the following alludes to other factors at work:
The Clerical Style “evolved from the late Warring States period” and “The Warring States period was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation.”
Has not much changed since then? As with the above mentioned flavors of cuneiform baked transactions and Frisian war adventures, there appear similarities with the evolution of the Chinese ‘script.’ As to the most current form of “consolidation” along with warfare and bureaucracy, “The largest shareholder of 88% of the companies on S&P 500 is either State Street, Vanguard or BlackRock. And you can see their influence in defense contracts.“
While it’s tricky to pin down, a general progression of peoples and places that contributed to making the current AlphaBet is as follows: Egyptian, Ugaritic/Semitic > Sinai > Palestine and Phoenician > Greek > Etruscans > Latin/Roman and Slavic. The Latin/Roman dominates to this day, as English is made of some 60% Latin-based words. A significant layer of that is the influence of the Roman empire that lingers under the radar in our AlphaBetic consciousness. But more than that, it lingers in the US legal system and echoes the Old Testament, which, as mentioned above, was “the first book written in an alphabet.”
As explained by Peter d’Errico, who has “been involved with Indigenous peoples’ legal issues for more than fifty years”: “The sovereignty claim of ‘Christian discovery’ underpins the entire edifice of US laws regarding Indigenous land rights. It is a US claim of ‘title’ and ‘dominion’ over Indigenous lands. ‘Christian discovery’ necessarily underlies ‘LandBack’ campaigns because the doctrine is embedded in US property law. See Johnson v. McIntosh (1823).”
The language effects the legal system which effects the way in which we relate – or don’t – with the Earth.
Much of humanity doesn’t relate with Earth because of the concept of property and having been domesticated. The word “domestic” has roots mentioning “house, lord, property,” from “domo-” which is also the root of “dominate.”
“Depends on what you look at obviously / But even more it depends on the way that you see” ~ Bruce Cockburn, from “Child of the Wind”
AlphaBet was also a precursor (no pun intended) for the current screen-fixated world, as the AlphaBet is a veneer of the actual environment/land, because the letters are phonetic representations, the pictures of each which you have to study to learn. But how many people who talk, talk, talk actually know the basis for what they are saying? How many people literally connect the language with the land and activities in their immediate environment? Indigenous Peoples do:
“These Indigenous languages that are more at risk than ever — that will be almost extinct at the end of the century — are the most powerful languages, they speak of quantum physics and how to communicate with Mother Earth, and you can’t find them in libraries or on your computers, you have to live them.”
~ Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Cheyenne River Lakota), from keynote talk at the COP 24 Climate Summit, Katowice, Poland, December 2018
Instead of looking at an Ox, the AlphaBet trained people to see an A, as nowadays the screens train people to more so see images of the natural world rather than caring for the actual landscape! And while one could argue that various incidents of deforestation happened in time before AlphaBet, it’s helpful to remember that AlphaBet is a condensed product of those already existing cultures.
Breaking the yoke of the Upside Down Ox House
While reading the excellent book Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science (2022) by Jessica Hernandez, PhD, the phrase “place-based” stood out to me. So I considered a flavor of that: The Inuit/Iñupiat identify many types of snow, and probably ice; according to a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) friend, there are numerous types of Hawaiian rain or ua; the title of the book If You’ve Forgotten the Names of Clouds, You’ve Lost Your Way by Russell Means and Bayard Johnson tells me that the Lakota identify numerous types of clouds; a key aspect of Japanese haiku is kigo or season-word, a poetic-scientific format for identifying a specific time or moment of a season. The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson and Penny Harter identifies sixteen for cherry blossoms, including: “hana no hagoshi – [moon] through [cherry-] blossom petals” and “rakka – fallen [cherry] blossoms.”
I am not qualified to speak for Indigenous Peoples about their languages, but the gist I glean is that when a People have been in a place long enough to study and deeply experience that place in detail, the language, as well as the songs, reflect that – holding keys for the maintenance and sustainability of the place; the land speaks to the People and the People speak back to the land. This rootedness is the opposite (does that count as upside down?) of the AlphaBet that traveled in boats and made its way around the globe, and has been and continues to be an instrumental part of colonization and commercialization.
When a People have place-based knowledge and longstanding experience, those People are voted most unlikely to behave with “dominion over,” rather deep relationship with all the beings there and traveling through there, and whether those relationships are based on survival or love or both, they are still deep relationships. In my little suburban patio/backyard there’s a so-called weed that spreads and takes over; most people remove the plant. One spring into summer I let it grow and then one day I noticed a sparrow nibbling on and thoroughly enjoying something about the tiny clusters of miniscule pink flowers. I learned that those plants are called Pennsylvania Smartweed, yet I’d bet there’s a Native/Indigenous name because, for one, “The Menominee used [and probably still do] this plant to treat hemorrhage, and to aid in post-partum healing.”
Outside the Upside Down Ox House grows a weed to eradicate; for the place-based Native Peoples there thrives a plant-medicine. And therein is at least one of the keys to rectifying an inverted worldview too-often seen through an AlphaBetic mind-frame.
More upside down examples:
“The buffalo is first domesticated somewhere in the near-tropical regions of Asia.” The Plains Indians buffalo was wild and revered. But then:
“In 1800 there were around 60 million buffalo in North America; however, that would drastically change over the next century, changing the lives of the Plains Indians. This is partly due to individual hunters looking to make a profit on the buffalo hides, the government starving the population of the Plains Indians by killing off their primary food source, and the coming of the railroads. The buffalo, like the Indian, was in the pathway of civilization.”
Another upside down:
Man has evolved and progressed from a cave man to his/her/etc. current advanced and ever-advancing status. But then again:
“Because we humans arrived last in this world, we are the ‘younger brothers’ of the other creatures and therefore have to learn everything from them.” ~ Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Lakota)
AlphaBetic technology and spirituality
Now that this essay has properly dissed the AlphaBet, a few comments about its usefulness. What a technological marvel! From twenty-six letters come a daily stream of news and articles along with the seemingly relentless publishing of books, (however, a modern form of deforestation but are e-books any better? Think e-waste dump sites). As a writer and avid reader I can’t help but appreciate the letters and books yet I’ve also come to realize their limitations.
Another aspect needing mention is a kind of eye of the needle of consciousness, as for example in Hebrew, the letters can have sacred sounds and can serve as gateways to other than physical dimensions; the Hebraic Aleph connects the above with the below, as the letter shows. In this case the original Ox horns were somehow rearranged.
Because the core of my path is mystical Kaballah in which the Ox is one of four sacred tetramorphs – in Hebrew the Chioth ha Qodesh (“holy living creatures”) – along with the Eagle, Lion, and Human Being, I had to reconcile this with the aforementioned domesticated Ox. My educated guess, based on how things have played out for some 4000 to 6000 years, is that: In a purer form, the Ox represents patience and productive hard work, and is a provider of many things (akin to how the buffalo has provided for the Plains Indians). However, the Ox’s domestication, castration, and AlphaBetic inversion has morphed into such modern horrors as mega-corporate, agri-business, mono-culture, so-called farming, and concentration camp treatment of animals for consumption.
In an impatient world where lazy entrepreneurs and slave-drivers seek maximum profit from the cheapest labor, I’m sticking with my inner, wild, not castrated, Ox. This Ox, however, is not restricted to being an Ox because the form of hard-worker can be a Buffalo, Horse, Dog, Goat, and so forth.
Although I’m stuck with AlphaBetic English as my main form of verbal expression, I strive to go beyond that barrier, getting glimpses of another perspective as seen through Indigenous and other languages. Because direct experiences often go beyond words, I pay more attention to music, laughter, love, physical exercise, ecstatic states of being, quiet contemplations, to name a few.
In my book Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest, which addresses topics related to this essay, I encourage people to:
“Go through the eye of the needle,
go through the empty spaces in the A and B,
move beyond the framework
the gatepost outlines of the letters,
every day move through the mumbo-jumbo,
the trickster spells entangling the mind and emotions,
the propaganda and lies,
move through someone else’s word of God,
move through someone else’s letter of the law,
move through someone else’s hierarchy of A to F to Z
unravel the bandages of your mummified consciousness…”
Because it is clear to me that Indigenous languages are essential for the well-being of the Nations and Peoples that know and speak them, and essential for the well-being of the Earth and us all, I close this essay with a quote, albeit in English, by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), from her well-known book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants ―
“To be native to a place we must learn to speak its language.”
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) writes, small press publishes, and is the author of 17 books. He travels a holistic mystic Kaballah-rooted pathway staying in touch with Turtle Island and the cycles of the Seasons. His website:
Photo by Isaac Chou on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: It is not enough to consider short-term productivity when we talk about restoration of the natural world. It is imperative that we talk about how the landscape will be in the future, hundreds, maybe thousands, of years from today. Only then will we be talking about true sustainability, or about true restoration.
By Austin Pearsons
Our actions today determine our options tomorrow. This is as good a time as any to ask ourselves hard questions. To look around, to look inward. How are our choices impacting future generations? What will be our legacy? Will the children of tomorrow benefit from our actions today? Will our grandchildren thank us for our dedication and foresight? Our grandchildren’s grandchildren? Will there be abundance or will there be scarcity? The answer hinges on us in the present.
Many of our cultural predecessors practiced the seven generation principle or something like it. They recognized that the conditions we inherit in this lifetime have been determined by the actions of those who came before us; from seven generations ago until now. They acknowledged that the decisions made today reach far into the future; affecting those yet unborn for seven generations (there are many interpretations). Today we are imperiled by widespread pollution, water contamination, chronic inflammatory diseases, global pandemics, escalating rates of deforestation, extinction and biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and collapsing fish stocks, massive uncontrollable wildfires, insect and diseases outbreaks decimating forests, loss of soil fertility paralyzing our global agricultural systems, food insecurity, sea level rise, climate chaos, flooding, drought, inflation, debt, war, and on and on and on. This is the legacy of our ancestors which we have inherited. I often wonder if we will last seven generations more.
If we are to secure a livable future for the generations to come, we must adjust our way of thinking, acting, and being. The solutions to the crises we face are less complex than we are often led to believe. Let’s break it down. Pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change are our big problems to solve. In solving them, we can address every related problem of our time (governmental corruption, corporate greed, and media collusion are beyond the scope of this analysis).
I cannot claim to be a global expert so I will stick to what we can do right here in Appalachia which can, in fact, go a long way towards resolving global challenges. It is worth noting that Appalachia is the largest temperate deciduous forest on earth, among the most biodiverse regions on the continent of North America (and the world). A resilient forest that once stretched, nearly unbroken, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean, from the Gulf of Mexico to Quebec. The chestnuts, chinquapins, oaks, hickories, walnuts, hazels, maples, countless species of berries and tree fruits, roots, herbs, fish and game provided abundant proteins, carbohydrates, fats, sugars, nutrients, and medicines to the indigenous peoples who were inseparable co-creators of the forests. Some peoples supplemented their diets with diverse varieties of corn, beans and squash (and other cultivated crops) as well. They did this all without factories, steel, internal combustion engines, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, plastics, fossil fuels, electricity, or the internet. The picture I am painting is of a landscape unfragmented by cities, suburbia, fences, and roads, where water was clean enough to drink, where ancient trees freely gave hundreds, often thousands, of pounds of food to any and all year after year for centuries on end with no need to fertilize, till, spray, or tax – all while improving soil fertility, sequestering carbon and protecting water quality. Food was always close at hand: no need to ship it from California, Mexico, Indonesia or Brazil. Medicine was freely available to those who were sick. Clothing, canoes, string, sealant and shoes grew on trees, in wetlands and fields – even walked about on four legs. The forests were chemists and cooks, providers of heat, they built homes, insulated, and illuminated them too. When I consider these things, I question the wisdom of our current paradigm.
The way we practice agriculture today is the leading cause of biodiversity loss, deforestation, topsoil erosion, and the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses globally. The methods are efficient by some standards and the food produced is calorically rich, perhaps, but nutritionally poor and loaded with poison. It causes us innumerable health problems such as food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes. Agriculture, as practiced today separates us from the land, from our food, and causes hopeless dependence on the very systems that are exploiting and polluting our bodies, watersheds, ecosystems, and the planet. Conventional agriculture decreases the genetic diversity of our crop species and decreases the diversity of food that we have access to. If we wanted to stop eating roundup-ready genetically modified corn, soy, and rice, most of us would starve. We argue incessantly over jobs, and obsess over our fitness regimes, but if we took a shovel and a hoe and planted our lawns with food, we would be healthy, wealthy, and wise in no time. If we planted them with chestnuts and cherries, pecans and persimmons, our grandchildren might not face the problems we do.
Locally we farm hay, grains like corn and wheat, and cows on our most productive lands – lands that once supported thousands of plants and animals per acre. The productivity of our local agriculture declines over time as soil fertility washes downslope. Why not apply the principles of regenerative / restoration agriculture, agroecology, or closely related permaculture? The benefits of replacing conventional agriculture with diverse perennial polycultures have been demonstrated all over the world, often in more challenging conditions than those encountered here in Appalachia? Millions now replicate successful strategies worked out by indigenous peoples everywhere and described by: Yeoman, Fukuoka, Mollison, Holmgren, Shepard, Smith, Holzer, Gotsch, and so many more. There are countless documented approaches to growing food that are vastly more productive and resilient than industrial agriculture. If we applied these principles instead, we could grow more (and more nutritionally dense) food per acre, with less inputs, and labor that decreases over time while yields simultaneously increase. Intact forests would sequester carbon while feeding people, improving soil fertility, cleaning our waters and decreasing the forest fragmentation which endangers the irreplaceable biodiversity that defines Appalachia. Most importantly, by reconciling our relation to the land, we take responsibility for the future that our grandchildren will inherit, giving them a chance to prosper in what seems an uncertain and perilous future.
Our forestry paradigm is an extension of industrial agriculture. While it has (arguably) been changing for the better it still looks at forests in terms of dollars and board-feet. More troublesome yet, the benefits from cutting the trees of Appalachia’s forests don’t remain in the area, but line the pockets of far away lumber barons who ship it to distant markets where they have already exhausted their forests. Each timber harvest releases carbon into the atmosphere and disrupts the complex web of life in the soil, exposing it to erosive forces, reducing forest biodiversity above and below ground, and introducing invasive species. Mature forests are more species rich and resilient than those that grow back after logging. Ancient trees are critical genetic banks who carry the wisdom to survive changing climate, insect and disease pressures and who transfer those abilities to future generations. They also support more species of birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, fungi, and other plants, produce more food and sequester more carbon than younger trees. It is now known that old trees nurture the young and the weak through the mycorrhizal network that connects the entire forest. When we harvest the biggest and healthiest trees in the forest, we destroy the communication and support network that is hidden below ground. Should we not revere the old giants of the forest who have been here longer than us? Should we not offer the wonderment and spiritual presence of old-growth forests to future generations? Should we not learn from their teachings of generosity, reciprocity, persistence, intra- and inter-species cooperation for the good of the whole – for intergenerational prosperity? There is great wisdom in the soil, in the forest community, and if we are wise we will pay close attention.
If you believe that there is a better way, I assure you that you’re right. If you feel powerless to do anything about it, you are not alone, but you are incorrect. We can all make small adjustments to our lifestyles, paying attention to the choices we make each day. Collectively, such actions can make a difference, but it will not be enough if we do not affect larger systems change. There is much we can do to protect what little remains and to restore what has been lost, but we must come together. We must take responsibility for the future, we must shift our perspective, we must collaborate. This human-centered, narcissistic, capitalistic, punitive, infinite growth paradigm that we have inherited is unsustainable, unethical, and unintelligent. I believe that we have the capacity to do good work for the benefit of the whole. But first, we need to shift our consciousness to an ecocentric worldview that removes humans from the hierarchy and places us in a circle with the rest of life on earth. If you agree, let’s get to work. Together we can achieve what is impossible alone.
We are a diverse group of people in every season of life with different skills and assets that are significantly greater than the sum of parts. Linked by a common past and future – like an old-growth forest – ancient mother-trees carry wisdom, access deep water and scarce resources that the young, weak, and sick need to survive. They share through an unseen network so that when the storm brings down the tallest tree, others are prepared to take their place. The individual lives on through others so long as the forest remains intact. So it shall be with us, the visionaries and change-makers. We who give freely of ourselves to ensure that tomorrow is more abundant than today.
Photo by Abigail Ducote on Unsplash
Editor’s note: Lierre Keith, co founder of DGR, is going to be in London for two events. On April 1, she’s going to be a part of a Women’s Rights Conference along with a number of other feminists. On April 2, she is going to give a talk on Bright Green Lies, followed by a screening of the documentary and Q&A.
What is to be Done? Women’s Rights Conference
A hybrid conference (up to 150 of us in real life and lots more online) in London on Saturday 1st April 2023, 9am-5pm near Old St tube or Barbican tube. Women’s Declaration International invites you to a day of speeches, workshops, networking, internet livestream link to global sisters and hopefully fun. If you would like to attend, help plan, organize, volunteer on the day, run sessions, etc, please email email@example.com or fill in this form https://forms.gle/bFLntzbBzrm4zd6M8
We will livestream the whole thing, so you can participate online too.You can use the normal FQT attendee login so if you are registered for FQT you are registered and need to do nothing further. If not go to womensdeclaration.com and register for Feminist Question Time and you will get a Zoom link the week before.
With four rooms, a garden and a coffee area, the speakers/workshop leaders include: Sheila Jeffreys, Lierre Keith , Zuleyka Valentin Arroyo, Kaïla Atarou Manfah, Christina Ellingsen, Julia Long, Amparo Domingo, Kate Coleman, Stephanie Davies-Arai, Amber Alt, Paula Boulton, Maureen O’Hara, Marian Rutigliano, Lynne Harne, Emma Thomas, Sally Wainwright, Louise Somerville, Jan Williams, Kelly Frost, Kate Graham, Alison Jenner, Lynn Alderson, Shannon from HearSheHearShe, Jo Brew and many more!
The theme is What is to be done, so talks and workshops will focus on what we should do next.
After the day, we have booked a quiet room at a pub where we can sit and chat, plus go downstairs to buy food and drink.
In order for WDI to break even (& hopefully increase our war chest), we need all of us to support the event both financially (by buying tickets, and donating funds) and also through volunteer activities (in preparation, day of, and cleanup).
You can buy tickets for the in person event here. Register for the online event here.
From Living Planet to Necrosphere: In the Time of Patriarchy’s Endgame
Lierre Keith – writer, radical feminist, food activist, and environmentalist will be in London Sunday, April 2nd for this highly anticipated talk. This will be followed by a screening of Bright Green Lies and a Q and A with the people behind it.
More and more environmentalists are starting to question whether not just fossil fuels, but also so-called ‘green energy’, could pose a potentially serious threat to our environment and to what remains of our already threatened species and biodiversity.
With praise from world-renowned author and campaigner Vandana Shiva (anti-GMO activist and President of Navdanya International), Jeff Gibbs (director of Planet of the Humans, available to watch here for free) and Chris Hedges (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of America: The Farewell Tour), Bright Green Lies and its accompanying documentary film dig further into this issue, exploring whether our dependence on fossil fuels can really be replaced with a new form of industry that calls itself green.
Join us for the event with our expert panel:
- Lierre Keith – writer, radical feminist, and food activist
- Julia Barnes – Bright Green Lies filmmaker and award-winning documentary maker
- Derrick Jensen (author of the Bright Green Lies book, activist and named one of Utne Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World”)
This illuminating film “dismantles the illusion of ‘green’ technology in breathtaking, comprehensive detail, revealing a fantasy that must perish if there is to be any hope of preserving what remains of life on Earth. From solar panels to wind turbines, from LED light bulbs to electric cars, no green fantasy escapes Jensen, Keith, and Wilbert’s revealing peek behind the green curtain. Bright Green Lies is a must-read for all who cherish life on Earth.”
—Jeff Gibbs, writer, director, and producer of the film Planet of the Humans
Copies of the film on DVD will be available for purchase, alongside copies of the book which Lierre may sign for you.
Note: This is an in-person event. Please register on this Eventbrite link.
Banner by “File:Lierre Keith.png” by Deep Green Resistance is licensed under CC BY 3.0.
Editor’s note: In Atlanta City, local people are protesting a proposed police training facility. The project includes a mock metropolis, and is proposed to be built on the lands of Weelaunee Forest. Protestors have camped in the Forest. Clashes with the police led to one being killed over a month ago. This article discusses different aspects of the Cop City.
By Ray Acheson / Counterpunch
In September 2021, the Atlanta City Council passed legislation to build a $90 million police training facility, despite overwhelming opposition from the Atlanta community. The compound would include a mock city complete with houses, a school, a gas station, a bank, and a community centre; it would also feature a Black Hawk landing pad, shooting ranges, and a bomb testing site.
At 85 acres, it would be the largest police training facility in the United States. If constructed, it will be a rehearsal space for cops from all over the country and the world to practice urban warfighting with the latest military technologies.
Cop City—euphemistically and offensively called a “Public Safety Training Center” by its proponents—carries within it a confluence of catastrophes, including police brutality, militarism, racism, environmental damage, gentrification, and corporate profiteering.
Police forces in the United States have always been militarised. There is a perpetual pipeline between the US military and police forces in terms of equipment and personnel. But more than that, both institutions seek domination and control over populations that are not part of, or act in opposition to, the political and economic elite.
The US police, which began as “slave patrols” to capture enslaved Black people escaping plantations, have white supremacy and capitalist interests embedded in their function. Regardless of diversity, training, or other reforms, the police seek to cage or control those perceived as a threat to the country’s racialised, capitalist order. The US military, meanwhile, asserts itself as a global police force to enforce this same order abroad. Its pursuit of a “national security state” and “full spectrum dominance” guide its actions in seeking to dominate the world.
The US military already trains militarised forces globally. Its infamous School of the Americas is one example, and its but the US military runs training operations for police and soldiers around the world. US police also already participate in military trainings, including with the Israel Defense Forces. As an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace notes, “The exchanges refine and enhance the militarization rooted in American policing with Israeli tactics and technology of occupation and apartheid that are being tested on Palestinians on a daily basis.”
Cop City would be part of this cycle of exporting and importing violence in preparation for suppression of dissent as the world burns. The creation of this kind of compound is an escalation in the violence against those who are marginalised by the state, as well as an attack on the planet’s well-being.
In addition to the extreme carbon footprint of US militarism, Cop City would actively destroy wetlands and forest. Its construction would result in bulldozing a large part of the Weelaunee Forest, otherwise known as the South River Forest. This land is essential for environmental well-being, especially as the climate crisis worsens.
Stop Cop City forest defenders explain, “The wetlands within the forest help to mitigate the risk of dangerous flooding, and provide breeding grounds for amphibians and migration sites for wading birds…. Over 150 species call the Weelaunee Forest home, including river otters and white-tailed deer and Carolina wrens and salamanders.”
Furthermore, “The extensive tree canopy keeps the surrounding areas cooler (something hugely important as the risk of fatal heatwaves grows with each passing year), captures and stores carbon dioxide from the air, and acts as a natural filter that mitigates air pollution.” The forest’s canopy is already diminishing. Cop City would raze many acres more.
In addition to the environmental destruction, Cop City also imposes further racialised violence upon land that has seen more than its share of pain.
The proposed site for Cop City is in a majority Black area of DeKalb County, on land that was once stolen from Muscogee-Creek people, that was then used as a plantation during slavery, and then as a prison form where incarcerated, mostly Black, people were forced to work on projects for the city of Atlanta.
Building a massive police facility where police will be trained to use military equipment and urban warfighting techniques in a predominantly Black area is a nightmare for residents, especially in the midst of relentless police brutality against Black and other communities of colour across the United States.
But part of the interest in the site for this project is likely precisely because it is in a predominantly Black neighbourhood. The construction of projects like this are often tied to gentrification. As Atlanta has been tapped to host games in the 2026 World Cup and is seeking to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, being able to offer the “security” afforded by a heavily-militarised police force is meant as a selling point.
Cop City has significant backing from the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is a private-public partnership and a major player in local politics. The Nation reports, “Its executive board is a veritable who’s who of corporate power and inherited wealth. Last year, the foundation expended large sums of its donors’ money lobbying for police expansion.”
The Foundation has leveraged its corporate backers—from Delta Airlines to the Waffle House—to raise two-thirds of the costs of constructing Cop City. The other third will be paid for by taxpayers. The Foundation has also relied upon the captured local media to manufacture consent for the project. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the city’s so-called paper of record, is owned by Cox Enterprises. The CEO of Cox Enterprises is Alex Taylor, who is leading the fundraising drive for Cop City. Thus, the paper of record has only ever recorded the support for Cop City from corporate elites.
Organising to Stop Cop City
Organisers in Atlanta have opposed Cop City since the beginning. They signed petitions, engaged in protest, and contributed 17 hours’ worth of commentary to public hearings at City Hall. After the plans for Cop City were approved, an even broader movement formed to defend the forest against destruction. Some have taken up residence in the forest while others have continued organising against the corporate backers across the country.
In December 2022, a joint police task force violently arrested six forest defenders and charged them with “domestic terrorism”. Then, on 18 January 2023, Georgia State Police marched into the forest and killed a nonviolent forest defender, Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán. The circumstances of this police killing of a climate activist are highly suspicious, as no body camera footage is available and the police have refused to release the names of the officers involved. An independent autopsy has confirmed that police shot Tort thirteen times. Since then, over ten more individuals have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, despite the fact that they are only accused with trespassing.
Tort’s killing comes on the heels of the most lethal year on record for police killing civilians. It marks the first known killing of an environmental activist by police in the United States. As noted in The Nation, the policing of protests is “structurally skewed in favor of the police—and, according to multiple studies, systematically biased against Black Lives Matter and the political left.”
On 31 January 2023, the Mayor of Atlanta announced that the permits have been approved to begin destruction of the forest. Police are preparing to do another sweep against forest defenders. On 6 February, heavily armed police raided the forest to clear it out and escort accompanied construction workers—at the same time that Tortuguita’s family held a press conference demanding answers for their killing.
But Cop City is not an inevitability; organisers are clear that it can—and must—be stopped. They explain that the mayor can cancel the lease, and they urge City Council to pass an ordinance doing so. The contractors and the corporate backers could be compelled to pull out of the projects.
How to take action
In their book Rehearsals for Living, Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson write about living in ways we want the world to be, such as through mutual aid and relationality. Cop City is the antithesis to this. It is a space for cops to rehearse militarised oppression and violence.
This will impact all our movements. Whether you are working on climate change, police violence, economic or social justice, racial justice, housing rights, disarmament and demilitarisation, etc., the training grounds at Cop City are meant to oppress you. Stopping Cop City is not just the responsibility of those living in Atlanta. All our struggles for a livable world are bound up in this struggle.
There are many ways to take action to Stop Cop City, including:
* Sign the Stop Cop City Solidarity Statement;
* Contact Mayor Dickens and the City Council and tell them to Stop Cop City and cancel the lease of forest land to the Atlanta Police Foundation;
* Contact Board Members of Atlanta Police Foundation and demand that they denounce Cop City and leave the APF Board;
* Contact the contractors and subcontractors working on Cop City and tell them to pull out of the project (there has been some success with this already, showing that it’s an extremely useful technique to stigmatise work on this facility);
* Donate to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to help bail out arrested protesters and fund the legal effort to challenge the repression of this movement; and
* Organise or join an event for the Global Week of Solidarity from 19–26 February 2023.
Resources for more information
Stop Cop City Action Toolkit
Stop Cop City Solidarity
Defend the Atlanta Forest
Atlanta Community Press Collective
Kelly Hayes, “The Death of a Forest Defender at ‘Stop Cop City’,” Movement Memos: A Truthout Podcast, 26 January 2023
Hannah Riley and Micah Herskind, “Atlanta’s ‘Cop City’ Is Putting Policing Before the Climate,” Teen Vogue, 30 January 2023
Michah Herskind, “Cop City and the Prison Industrial Complex in Atlanta,” Mainline, 7 February 2022
This piece first appeared at WILPF.
Editor’s note: None of the events are being organized by DGR. We stand in solidarity and encourage our readers to get involved in these if possible.
Kangaroo: A love-hate story (Film Screening)
Kangaroo reveals Australia’s relationship with its beloved icon, uncovering disturbing scenes behind the largest mass destruction of wildlife in the world. Using investigative techniques such as interviews, citizen footage, and research, Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story shows how the kangaroo meat industry and the Australian government put profits ahead of animal welfare, native species protection and the environment. In addition, farmers who are guided by misinformation and profit take whatever steps they deem necessary to eradicate the species.
A free community screening presented by Woolgoolga Regional Community Gardens and Kangaroo Advocate Yurpia McCafferty, at 6pm (AEST) Tuesday 7th March, on 79 Scarborough St, Woolgoolga. You can find out more about the event here.
Violence Against Rural Indigenous Women: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, and the United States
Throughout the Western Hemisphere, indigenous women and girls suffer extreme and disparate levels of gender-based violence. For those living in rural and remote communities on their own indigenous lands, these problems are even more pronounced. Our event will feature a panel of indigenous women from Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, and the United States, who will discuss how violations of indigenous peoples’ land rights and right to self-government expose their women and girls to racial discrimination, gender-based violence, and other human rights violations and how living in rural communities intensifies these problems.
The webinar will happen on March 8, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. (EST).
Black Summer Vigil
This online and offline event is being organized in the three-year anniversary memorial for the three billion animals who died in the Australian bush fires. The event will bring together stories from first responders across wildlife rescue, rural fire service, photojournalism, Aboriginal custodianship, veterinary medicine, ecology, and more. Speakers include:
- Greg Mullins, Former Commissioner, Fire and Rescue NSW; Climate Councillor and founder, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action. Greg warned Australia’s then–Prime Minister in April 2019 that a bushfire catastrophe was coming. He pleaded for support and was ignored, then risked his life dealing with the ramifications on the ground.
- Internationally recognised ecologist and WWF board member, Professor Christopher Dickman oversaw the work calculating the animal deaths from Black Summer. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Dickman already wore the heavy task of being an ecologist during the sixth mass extinction, in the country that has the worst rate of mammalian extinction in the world. On 8 January 2020 media around the world shared his finding that Black Summer fires had killed one billion animals. Sadly, the fires continued for two more months, and his team’s final count was three billion. This does not include invertebrates: it is estimated 240 trillion beetles, moths, spiders, yabbies and other invertebrates died in the fires.
- Coming up from the South Coast, owner of Wild2Free Kangaroo Sanctuary Rae Harvey, as seen in The Bond and The Fire. She is in the sad position of having personally known and cared for a number of Black Summer’s victims: many of the orphaned joeys she cared for were killed in the fires. (She nearly died herself too.) For three years, she has been unable to even speak their names. Now, for the first time, she will tell the story of the joeys she lost.
- Cultural burning practitioner and Southern NSW Regional Coordinator with Firesticks Alliance, Djiringanj-Yuin Custodian Dan Morgan. Dan practises using Aboriginal knowledge to heal Country. He has worked for 18 years with the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service and is on the board of management for the Biamanga National Park, a sacred area home to the last surviving koalas on the NSW south coast – which was partly destroyed by the fires of Black Summer.
- Head of Programs & Disaster Response at Humane Society International (HSI) Evan Quartermain, who was one of the first responders on Kangaroo Island where nearly 40% of the island burnt at high severity.
The physical event will happen in Camperdown Memorial Rest Park (Sydney) at 2pm Sunday 2 April 2023 (AEST). You can also attend it online. You can find more information here.
Banner Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash
Editor’s note: Less than five years ago in Ireland, a woman getting an abortion could get a longer sentence than her rapist. That changed with a referendum in 2018, where the people of Ireland voted for abortion rights. The following article is written by one of the organizers of the Yes campaign: a campaign that reached out to people leading up to the referendum to get them to vote Yes for abortion rights. IN this piece, Clodagh Schofield describes her experiences with using powerful conversations as a tactic in the campaign.
As social beings, we tend to be reluctant to voice our opinions if we believe that those around us would get uncomfortable because of it. It might be because we think others don’t agree with us, or simply because the topic is an awkward one (like abortion). Voicing our opinions in such situations can be a small, yet powerful, way to start a discussion on a topic. It can lead to an exchange of ideas and people beginning to understand each other’s perspectives. Sometimes, it can also be part of a wider strategy to influence public opinion.
While DGR does not believe that changing public opinion in itself can lead to a cultural shift required to save the world, we do believe it is an important part of our movement. It is also a tactic that you can use with the people around you which requires relatively less time and energy and a higher amount of courage. Let us know if you have started uncomfortable conversations around you, and the effects you observed.
By Clodagh Schofield/Commons Library
Overturning the abortion ban in Ireland meant equipping people to share their stories and spark conversations with their friends and family.
In Ireland on May 25, 2018, the Yes campaign to repeal the nation’s 8th Amendment abortion ban won after receiving nearly two-thirds of the over 2.1 million votes cast.
The victory resulted in part from people across the country having hard conversations about abortion. Let’s take a look at how the campaign helped start and support the tough talks needed to shift perceptions about deeply held values.
In Ireland’s landslide win for abortion rights, a long-silent majority appeared to vote Yes. The Yes vote also won decisively in rural counties thought to be the heartland of the No campaign. Why?
After the vote, 39% of people polled about what changed their minds to Yes cited a conversation with family or friends. Thousands of people with traumatic abortion experiences broke their silence and inspired others to speak up.
But it wasn’t by accident that people across Ireland had these difficult conversations over tea, at sporting events on the weekend, in the car, after school and online. In fact, when polled in January, four and a half months before the vote, over half of voters said they would be too uncomfortable to talk about abortion with people in their lives.
The Yes campaign helped people start and maintain conversations, modeled positive values-based talk that didn’t play into the opposition’s messaging frame and ran a grassroots effort that gave people agency over their conversations.
The campaign also recognised the value of each person. In Ireland, where abortion has been banned since the 8th Amendment was passed in 1983, everyone has a story about abortion. When it comes time to vote, a person needs just one story to change or affirm how they mark the ballot.
I worked on the Yes campaign and see valuable lessons in sparking difficult conversations for campaigners working elsewhere in the world on issues that, like the Ireland abortion referendum, are steeped in centuries-old mixes of institutions, politics and values.
Help people start conversations in diverse ways
It’s not easy to talk about abortion on a personal level. Different people need different prompts and various levels of support.
Groups used a variety of approaches to help people start conversations. Amnesty International partnered with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, and asked members to pledge to have conversations with those around them on itstime.ie (unfortunately the site is now retired). Local groups of the official Yes campaign held some amazing conversation cafes. My favourite tactic was so simple: the Abortion Rights Campaign produced badges for supporters which read “Talk to me about Repeal.”
At Uplift, we ran a number of different campaigns to encourage people to start conversations. We also equipped people to have effective and meaningful conversations.
Early in the campaign, we ran an online conversations training on Crowdcast. We focused on using stories and values based communication to approach undecided voters. We followed up conversations with a microsite, letstalkrepeal.ie [Link not working 27 April, 2022]. Engagement with these resources was strong. Feedback was also good. The program provided an accessible low bar ask for people who supported Yes and wanted to step up but not into leadership roles.
We launched Mobilisr [link not found 29 April 2022], a peer-to-peer messaging program, in the run up to the vote. People used it to get in touch with their Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram contacts to either start a conversation about abortion care, or ask them to get out and vote. People were slow to start using Mobilisr but activity picked up once users had used the tool at least once.
By 25 May, the app converted extremely well – especially as users could select as many people in their contacts as they chose to send a prefilled but customisable message. Lightweight and adaptable, this tool shows huge promise for starting conversations with users outside of a campaign’s existing reach.
We segmented lists into people who were a Yes vote, people voting No, and undecided voters. Strong pro-choice members were recruited to have conversations with undecided voters. One volunteer trained and supported a team of “e-Repealers” who offered undecided people the opportunity to have a conversation via email using Freshdesk. Though at times a little rough and ready, this program was entirely volunteer run. The program fostered earnest and often complicated discussions between very different people.
Focus on your values and vision, not the opposition’s framing
Campaigning was organised locally but most Yes groups used messaging focused on care, compassion and change.
At Uplift we worked with Anat Shenker-Osorio to develop messaging. We talked about abortion as a part of healthcare and shared stories of individuals instead of speaking of women collectively. We also shared a vision of the society where everyone has the freedom to decide whether and when to become a parent.
The tone of the Yes campaign paved the way for powerful conversations between people on an issue that’s historically untouchable. Even the No campaign acknowledged that Yes campaign messaging grounded the debate and prevented it from becoming as toxic as it could have been.
Empower people with campaign ownership
The Abortion Rights Campaign, one of three partners in the official Yes campaign, is an unashamedly radical organisation with no paid staff and a flat structure. Local groups have a strong sense of campaign ownership built through years of distributed community organising and grassroots fundraising.
But a campaign with few paid staff still needs leaders. The referendum campaign facilitated opportunities for people to step in, learn and take on campaign roles. The challenge was in finding lightweight, scalable and impactful ways to connect and resource them.
A voter only needs one story in mind to vote Yes
In the end, the aim of the Yes campaign was to make space for brave people to talk about their abortion care experiences in a country that banned abortion. We also created a situation in which those stories would have power.
Together4Yes and campaigning NGOs like Uplift and Amnesty International targeted personal story video ads on social media. We gave particular weight to stories of “hard cases.” These included people who were pregnant as a result of incest or sexual assault and cases of fatal foetal abnormality. These stories were so powerful with undecided voters that the No campaign tried to do a double-take in the final week and argue for a compromise that would enable abortion in those cases.
In Her Shoes, a volunteer-run Facebook page, is a great example of how people created a way for others to share personal stories. The format was simple. People sent in their story with a picture of their shoes. Posted anonymously, these stories went viral again and again. It became possible for people to feel surrounded by anonymous women, wearing Vans, sandals, runners and heels, who’ve kept their struggle secret from those around them for years.
By far the most powerful story of the referendum campaign was that of the late Savita Halappanavar. Savita’s parents shared their daughter’s story in one of the most watched videos of the campaign. In it, they called on the people of Ireland to remember their daughter and vote Yes.
Halappanavar had a septic miscarriage and was denied a requested abortion in a hospital when it was determined that her life was not sufficiently threatened. She died shortly thereafter. Eight percent of Yes voters polled by Irish national broadcaster RTE said they voted yes because of Savita.
In the same poll, 43% of Yes voters said people’s personal stories in the media convinced them. 34% cited experiences of people they knew. Creating safe and respectful platforms with reach for these stories was crucial to the success of the Yes campaign, and gave people the tools they needed to talk to those around them.
A people-powered catharsis
As a woman living in Ireland, knowing that this fight was won by the people around me makes me feel that broken trust is now mending. Reflecting on the campaign, many have said that the country is changed forever: stories have come to light that will never be hidden again. In listening, and acting compassionately, we’ve gone through a catharsis.
As an organiser, this campaign taught me that it’s valuable to pick moments when people are passionate and ready to act. As important is providing tools for people to follow through on that passion by connecting with people around them: family, friends and social networks.
People power, properly organised and resourced, can beat a huge budget and Cambridge Analytica style dark ads. More on that later.
The online conversation training by Uplift can be replayed in Crowdcast.
Featured image: A mural outside the Bernard Shaw Pub in Portobello, Dublin depicting Savita Halappanavar by Zcbeaton via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)