The American conscience has been in a long decay, spiraling toward a nihilism exhibited through patterns of self-destructive behavior. With rare exception, those who once represented the moral force of society – politicians, religious leaders, academics, journalists, and even leaders of so-called progressive movements – can no longer combat the pervasive influence of a consumption based society propped up by imperial threat, violence, and rapacious greed. As “We, the People,” bear the financial burdens of pathological wars on terror and corporate irresponsibility, the poor of the earth cry out.
The environmental destruction – for nearly two months oil has gushed into the Gulf because of BP’s government-endorsed “error” – has reached epic proportions. And once again, it is the poor and the marginalized – those not welcome or unheard in the halls of power and privilege – who will suffer the most: people of color, the uneducated, the developing world, the winged and four-legged creatures, the hills, the water. The mountains of Appalachia are being blown up with amounts of TNT comparable to the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Over 500 of the world’s oldest mountains in one of the most diverse bioregions have been blown up. They are gone forever. It has been five years since Hurricane Katrina and now the people of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast residents are faced with devastated shorelines and economies. And yet where are the voices of outrage? Where are the people and the mass action? Who is denouncing our insatiable appetite for oil and coal that kills the very Earth that gives us our life?
We will not win the war we are waging against the Earth as we seek to conquer and control all of its resources. We can fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and de-stabilize countries like Iraq and Pakistan to secure access to oil-rich areas. Even as we outspend the all the combined military budgets of the world, we cannot outspend, overthrow, or even intimidate the Earth. We will lose. We may think we are winning, and in the short-term it might even appear that way. But there will come a time when the peoples of the Earth, probably from a country with nuclear weapons and a capitalist ethos, will make the world an inhabitable place. The Earth, over time, with the incredible resiliency of creation that can be observed by just watching the emergence of a Sequoia tree or a mustard plant from the tiniest of seeds, will go on. Its people may not.
What is needed is a revolution. This is not a call to arms. It is a call to the heart. Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and communities known for its hospitality to the poor and its pacifism, proclaimed that “what is needed is a revolution of the heart.” It is a revolution that begins with each one of us, but not in isolation. The revolution of the heart takes place in community. And it is only through being in community that the revolutionary vision that Dr. King called for – the radical transformation of values as he denounced the giant triplets of “racism, militarism, and consumerism” – can be embraced and waged. And this revolution is already underway. It is happening on the margins, in oppressed communities, in the abandoned places of Empire like Detroit and Philadelphia, on the borders, the inner cities and the rural farming towns. All over this country, people are coming together to build community. The state has abandoned them. The promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are virtues extended to the proud and the rich, not the humble and the poor. But it is in the humble and simple work of local family farmers committed to organic production practices and land stewardship that true life, liberty and happiness is found.
The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) in Minnesota is a widening community of small-scale, organic farmers committed to building an educated and capable network of regional farmers and resisting policy that promotes an industrial, oil-based agribusiness model. Communities are emerging that are transforming the way people see the world. It is giving birth to imagination and a moral formation in a lifestyle that considers the land ethic, as Aldo Leopold referred to it. In Appalachia, hope springs eternal from communities like Coal River Mountain Watch that, through education, organization, and research, are advocating for sustainable environmental and economic alternatives to mountaintop removal such as the Coal River Wind project. Other communities like Climate Ground Zero that engage in nonviolent direct action to stop mountaintop removal exhibit tremendous courage in a society built on fear and show a willingness to suffer persecution, arrest and jail for being the voice of the mountains.
It is in places like LSP, Coal River Mountain Watch and Climate Ground Zero that the American conscience is being forged in the burning fire and struggle for social change. The communities that are built consist of strong-willed, principled individuals who have the capacity to make moral judgments and discern a course of right action. They are not distracted or dissuaded – although they are at times disillusioned and often depressed – by the empty promises of corporate-backed politicians. But the resiliency of these American people, closely connected to the life of the Earth, is what will save the people from the self-destructive war abroad in search of oil and at home in search of coal. There are many ways to resist what are termed the works of war, of which include the destroying crops and land and contaminating water. The alternative models that the aforementioned communities promote ween us from our dependency on a broken, violent system toward one of communion and sustainability.
In an epoch such as ours, where postmodern skepticism runs deep of authority figures and leaders of any sort, the force for moral transformation will not come from the likes of Day or King (we’ve seen where the Obama hope has left us). Instead our hope is in the bottom, in the communities on the margins doing the work themselves. Leaders already exist in these networks and will continue to emerge. But it is in community that we will be propelled into the revolution of the heart and our conscientization needed for peace, social change, and ecological justice.
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