Three Ways of Regrowing Democracy Despite an Anti-Democratic US Government
This Shalom Report is the first part of two. I will address how we can renew and reawaken democracy in America and address the climate crisis by democratically ending the top-down oligarchic rule that is being imposed on us by the Trump-Bannon government.
One major element in this oligarchy is Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas –- the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs of our generation, bringing Plagues upon humanity and Earth like the Pharaoh of old.
I will be sharing ideas on three modes of change: Resist, Rethink, & Recreate.
Resist: The People’s Climate March/ Movement/ Shabbat in Washington DC and around the country on April 29;
Rethink: Drawing on Martin Luther King’s most prophetc sermon, 50 years ago, to help us reexamine our assumptions about how to protect and advance democracy despite pressure from an anti-democratic national government; and
Recreate: proposals for local action to empower grass-roots face-to-face communities to regrow life-giving democracy from the ground up.
But first I want to start from a real live joyful demonstration in which I took part this past Tuesday morning in downtown Philadelphia.
About 200 people gathered to support the Sioux Nation at Standing Rock. The demonstration demanded that Wells Fargo Bank stop financing the companies that are pushing the Dakota Oil Access Pipe Line across sacred Sioux territory, endangering the waters of the Missouri River, and intensifying the burning of the fossil fuels that are burning our common home, our Mother Earth.
We sang. We chanted. We waved banners. We schmoozed. We shared hot coffee on a cold day. Some of us were in our 20s, some in our 80s. There were children in strollers and elders using walkers.
One of the oft-repeated chants was, “Water is Life!” honoring the Water Protectors from the Sioux Nation who had taken this as their sacred chant. I found myself adding a Jewish second line to the chant:
Water is Life;
Oil is Treyf!
(In case your grandma did not scatter Yiddish words around the household like delicious cookies, the word "treyf" means un-kosher.)
One response to the Trump-Bannon presidency has been a flowering of energy. On just that one week in Philadelphia, there was a whole array of possible vigils, sit-ins, rallies, marches. Why did I choose to take part in the action supporting Standing Rock?
Because Standing Rock bundles into one focus three dangers to American society that Martin Luther King 50 years ago called "triplets": Racism, Materialism, Militarism.
The crisis at Standing Rock began out of Materialism run amok: the greed of Big Oil corporations willing for the sake of their enormous profits to destroy the planetary web of life that nurtures all humanity.
When the pipeline companies first proposed to run their pipeline close to the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, the city objected because it feared the poisoning of its air and water. So the pipeline companies shifted their plan to run the pipes through the territory of the Sioux Nation, thinking that the Native community could be subjugated while the all-white city of Bismarck could not. So Racism came into the process.
But the Sioux nation was able to call forth allies who brought their bodies from all across North America to stand at Standing Rock against the pipeline. The response of Big Oil and its political allies was to use militarized police force to atrociously attack the Water Protectors. And so Militarism, the third of the triplets, arrived.
Indeed, the necessary permit for running the oil pipeline under the Missouri River had to come from the Army Corps of Engineers. After public pressure to stop the pipeline grew and grew, President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, suspended the permit to await an environmental impact statement. But when Donald Trump became president, he ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to move ahead without undertaking the legally required environmental impact statement. Once again, the triplet Militarism enforced the Materialism and the Racism imposed by Big Oil.
Why did Dr. King use the word "triplets"? Why not "three," or "triad"? What distinguishes "triplets" is that biological triplets share large amounts of DNA. The DNA that is shared by the triplets Racism, Militarism, and Materialism is their insistence on domination, subjugation, asserting greater power to control another.
Aiming our demonstration to demand that Wells Fargo Bank end its financial support for the Dakota Pipeline acted in favor of democracy, self-government, empowerment of the disempowered.
It looked beyond the police forces and the oppressive state government of North Dakota to the domineering Materialism of one of our most powerful national banks. Wells Fargo had already shown its true colors by corruptly inventing millions of fake credit-card accounts to bilk millions of Americans, and all across the country Wells Fargo was being called out.
Our demonstration hinted toward doing what Dr. King called for in the same prophetic sermon on April 4, 1967 -- the sermon he called “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” He looked indeed beyond Vietnam. He called for "a radical revolution of values” in American society, away from a society that values things to create a society that values people.
What our demonstration did not do was to take the step that Dr. King both called for and enacted in his life: To embody in the present some aspect of the future Beloved Community in which he, and we, hope to live. Challenge Wells Fargo: embody what?
What would it mean to do that? What could and should we be doing in this moment of American and planetary crisis, facing a government that is beginning the process of shattering democracy and devastating the Earth, elevating Racism, Militarism, and Materialism into the domineering reality of our lives?
[This line of thought will be continued with specific examples of possible actions in Part II. We invite your resoonses in the comments section below.]