Starhawk: Moving Forward after 911


Richard Moore

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Date: Fri, 02 Nov 2001 11:22:44 -0800
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From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Starhawk: Moving Forward after 911

This is a truly excellent piece---interesting, entertaining,
and useful---for thinking about the Global Justice Movement.

 Only Poetry Can Address Grief:
 Moving Forward after 911
 By Starhawk

In the middle of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence march in
Washington DC last month, I found myself nose to nose with a
line of police attempting to push the crowd back.  I was
facing an angry but very short policewoman so in my case it
was actually nightstick to bosom. "Get back, get back!" she
was shouting, but our line was not giving ground.  I
explained to her, calmly and I thought, quite reasonably,
that we were not going to get back, because there was
nowhere for us to go. I think of that moment now as a
metaphor for where what I like to call the Global Justice
movement is today.  We are facing an array of forces telling
us to get back, to disperse, to leave the scene.  The forces
of the state, the media, all the powers that support global
corporate capitalism would like to see us go away.

But we have nowhere to go.

We have nowhere to go because the conditions we have been
fighting have not gone away.  The disparity between rich and
poor has not grown less, the attempts of the corporate
powers to consolidate their hegemony have not ceased, the
environment has not miraculously repaired itself, and our
economic and social systems have not suddenly become
sustainable.   We're on the Titanic; our efforts to turn the
course of the ship have just been hijacked, and we're
churning full steam ahead into the iceberg.

We don't have the luxury of defraying action to a more
favorable moment.  We need the movement to keep moving
forward. How do we do that in the face of increased
repression and much potential public opposition?

I.  Stand our ground:

First, we don't panic, and we stand our ground.  Fear is
running rampant at the moment, and every effort is being
made by the authorities to increase and play upon that fear.
 While the general public may fear more terrorist attacks,
we in the movement are equally or more afraid of what our
governments may do in restricting civil liberties and
targeting dissent.  But either way, fear is the authorities'
greatest weapon of social control.  When we are in a state
of fear, we're not taking in information, we're unable to
clearly see or assess a situation, and we make bad
decisions.  We're more easily controlled.

We can learn to recognize fear, in our own bodies, in our
meetings, in our interactions.  When fear is present, just
stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and consciously set
it aside.  Then ask, 'What would we do in this situation if
we weren't afraid?'  From that perspective, we can make
choices based on reasonable caution but also on vision.

II.  Acknowledge the grief:

911 threw us as collectively into a deep well of grief.  We
have had to face the awful power of death to intrude on our
lives, to sear us with pain and loss, to reorder all our
priorities and disrupt all our plans, to remind us that we
walk the world in vulnerable, mortal flesh.

The political task that faces us is to speak to the depth of
that grief, not to gloss it over or trivialize it or use it
to further stale agendas.  If we simply shout at people over
bullhorns, recycling the politics, the slogans, the language
of the sixties, we will fail.  The movement we need to build
now, the potential for transformation that might arise out
of this tragedy, must speak to the heart of the pain we
share across political lines.

A great hole torn has been torn out of the heart of the
world.  What we need now is not to close over the wound, but
to dare to stare more deeply into it.

To comprehend that grief, we must look at the possibility
that it was present within us before the 11th, that the
violence and death of that day released a flood tide of
latent mourning.  On one level, yes, we mourned for the
victims and their families, for the destruction of familiar
places and the disruption of the patterns of our lives.  But
on a deeper level, perhaps many of us were already mourning,
consciously or not, the lack of connection and community in
the society that built those towers, the separation from
nature that they embodied, the diminishment of the wild, the
closing off of possibilities and the narrowing of our life
spaces.  This frozen grief, transmuted into rage, has fueled
our movements, but we are not the only ones to feel it.

With the grief also comes a fear more profound than even the
terror caused by the attack itself.  For those towers
represented human triumph over nature.  Larger than life,
built to be unburnable, they were the Titanic of our day. 
For them to burn and fall so quickly means that the whole
superstructure we depend upon to mitigate nature and assure
our comfort and safety could fall.  And without it most of
us do not know how to survive.

We know, in our bones, that our technologies and economies
are unsustainable, that nature is stronger than we are, that
we cannot tamper with the very life systems of the earth
without costs, and that we are creating such despair in the
world that it must inevitably crack open, weep and rage. 
The towers falling were an icon of an upcoming reckoning we
dread but secretly anticipate.

The movement we need to build now must speak to the full
weight of the loss, of the fear, and yet hold out hope.  We
must admit the existence of great forces of chaos and
uncertainty, and yet maintain that out of chaos can come
destruction, but also creativity.

III.  Develop a new political language:

Faced with the profundity of loss, with the stark reality of
death, we find words inadequate.  "What do I say to someone
who just lost his brother in the towers?" a hard core New
York activist asks me. "How do I talk to him?"

The language of abstraction doesn't work.  Ideology doesn't
work. Judgment and hectoring and shaming and blaming cannot
truly touch the depth of that loss. Only poetry can address
grief. Only words that convey what we can see and smell and
taste and touch of life, can move us.

To do that we need to forge a new language of both the word
and the deed.  We on the Left can be as devoted to certain
words and political forms as any Catholic was ever attached
to the Latin Mass. We incant "imperialism" or
"anti-capitalist" or "non-violence" or even "peace" with an
almost religious fervor, as if the words alone could strike
blows in the struggle.

Those words are useful, and meaningful.  But they're like
the cliché that the bad poet turns to.  They are the easy
first answer that relieves us of the work of real

Lately I'm hearing some of my most political friends say, "I
can't go to another rally.  I can't stand hearing one more
person tell me in angry tones what the answers are."

What if we stopped in the middle of our rallies and said,
"But you know, these issues are complex, and many of us have
mixed feelings, and let's take some time for all the people
here to talk to each other instead of listening to more

If we could admit to some of our own ambiguities, we might
also find that we are closer than we think to that supposed
overwhelming majority of war supporters, who in reality may
have deeply mixed feelings of their own.

IV.  Propose our own alternative to Bush's war:

Defining the September attacks as an act of war rather than
a criminal act has only dignified the perpetrators.  Going
to war has turned us into Bin Laden's recruiting agency,
rapidly alienating the entire Muslim world.  Bombing
Afghanistan has made us look like thugs to the Muslim world,
(and to everyone else with a heart and sense) and bred
thousands of new potential ready-to-die enemies.  The
bombing, by preventing relief trucks from delivering serious
food supplies before winter, now threatens to impose
starvation on up to seven million Afghanis.

In spite of what the polls and the media tell us, I don't
necessarily believe that the bulk of the U.S. population is
frothing at the mouth with eagerness for Afghani blood. The
phrase I keep hearing is a plaintive "We need to do
something."   Bush's program is the only one laid out for
us.  The attacks are real, and devastating; simply calling
for 'peace' and singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
does not address their seriousness.  If we oppose Bush's
war, we need a clear alternative.

Diplomacy does not mean weakness.  It means being smarter
than the opposition, not just better armed.  Diplomacy also
does not mean simply issuing ultimatums backed by bombs.  It
means actually understanding something of the culture of the
people you're negotiating with.  It means actually
negotiating, offering a carrot as well as a stick, being
willing to let the other side come out with something less
than total humiliation.  If the goal of the war is truly to
get Bin Laden, well, the Taliban just offered to deliver him
to a third country.

This could be a moment to switch our policy, to negotiate,
to work with and strengthen international institutions and
the U.N., to begin to deliver massive and meaningful
humanitarian aid to the region.  Any or all of those acts
would increase our long term security far more than our
present course.

V.  Expose the real aims of the war:

We have about as much chance of doing any of the above as I
have of being offered a post in the current Administration. 
All the indications are that Bush wants a war, to establish
U.S. hegemony in Central Asia and the East, to forestall an
Asian alliance that might oppose our vested interests with
interests of their own, to take control of rich oil
resources of Central Asia and provide a safe passage for an
oil pipeline across Afghanistan, to deflect from the
illegitimacy of his own presidency, to implement the entire
right wing agenda.  We need to continue educating the public
about those aims and about the real consequences of the war.
 To do that, we need to talk to people-not just at rallies
and teach-ins, but in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our
schools, on the bus, in the street, on talk shows, with our
families.  It can be easier to march into a line of riot
cops than to voice an unpopular opinion where we live, but
we've got to do it and to learn to do it calmly and

And while we're talking about the war, we need to make the
connections to the broader issues we were working on before
the eleventh of September.  The war can be an opening to
challenge racism, and to spotlight the U.S.'s historic role
of training, arming, and supporting terrorists-including Bin
Laden and the Taliban in previous years. In an age of
terrorism, does an economy entirely dependent on oil-based
long distance transport really make sense? (Especially as it
didn't make sense before, but never mind that.) The Anthrax
scares are a perfect opportunity to push for true domestic
security in the form of a well-funded, functioning public
health system, availability of hospital beds and medical
care, support for local food producers, development of
alternative energy resources, etc.  The right wing has used
the attacks and the war to justify their agenda, but with a
little political jujitsu we can redraw their picture of

VI.  Develop our vision:

Despair breeds fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.

A world of truly shared abundance would be a safer world.

The policies of global corporate capitalism have not brought
us that world.  They've been tried-and found wanting.  We
need to replace them with our own vision.

The global justice movement has often been accused of not
knowing what it wants.  In reality, we know clearly the
broad outlines of what we want even though we have a
multiplicity of ideas of how to get there.  I can lay it out
for you in five short paragraphs:

We want enterprises to be rooted in communities and
responsible to communities and to future generations.  We
want producers to be accountable for the true social and
ecological costs of what they produce.

We say there is a commons that needs to be protected, that
there are resources that are too vital to life, too precious
or sacred to be exploited for the profit of the few,
including those things that sustain life:  water,
traditional lands and productive farmland, the collective
heritage of ecological and genetic diversity, the earth's
climate, the habitats of rare species and of endangered
human cultures, sacred places, and our collective cultural
and intellectual knowledge.

We say that those who labor are entitled, as a bare minimum,
to safety, to just compensation that allows for life, hope
and dignity, and to have the power to determine the
conditions of their work.

We say that as humans we have a collective responsibility
for the well being of others, that life is fraught with
uncertainty, bad luck, injury, disease, and loss, and that
we need to help each other bear those losses, provide
generously and graciously the means for all to have food,
clothing, shelter, health care, education, and the
possibility to realize their dreams and aspirations.  Only
then will we have true security.

We say that democracy means people having a voice in the
decisions that affect them, including economic decisions.

VII.  Develop our strategy:

We might begin by acknowledging that we have had a highly
successful strategy for the past two years.  Since Seattle,
what we've done is to oppose every summit, as a means of
focusing attention on the institutions of globalization that
were functioning essentially in secret, and delegitimizing
them.  Systems fall when they hit a crisis of legitimacy,
when they can no longer inspire faith and command
compliance.  Our strategy should continue to work toward
creating that crisis for the institutions of global
corporate capitalism.  In the meantime, in spite of all
appearances the government may already be creating that
crisis for itself.  For ultimately, nothing delegitimizes a
government faster than not being able to provide for the
physical or economic security of its people.

Now our strategy needs to broaden and become more complex.

Contest the summits when and where we can, but perhaps with
some new tactics that clearly embody the alternatives we

Turn more of our attention to local organizing, bringing the
global issues home and making organizing and activism an
ongoing, sustained process.  And find ways to make that
process as juicy and exciting as some of the big, global

Find ways to link local issues and actions regionally and

Start to build the alternatives:  alternative economic
enterprises on new models, directly democratic systems of
governance such as neighborhood or watershed councils or
town meetings, everything from alternative energy
co-operatives to community gardens to local currencies. 
Look for ways to let those alternatives delegitimize the
status quo.

VIII.  Organize openly:

In times of increasing repression, the strongest way to
resist is not to hide, but to become even more open in our
organizing and our communications.  The more out there we
are, the harder we'll be to brand as terrorists.  The more
faces they photograph at rallies and marches, the less
meaningful any single face will be.  The more information
they collect, the less they'll be able to collate, analyze
and make sense of it all.  And if they read my email-they're
welcome to read my email.  Somebody ought to, and I don't
have time to read it all myself.  Maybe I could pay one of
them a small extra fee to sort it for me and send me a
summary of the high points.

Security culture either has to be so good you can outspook
the CIA, or it simply makes you look like you have something
to hide and attracts the attention of the authorities.  And
it makes it extremely difficult to mobilize, educate and
inspire people.  Yes, there are actions that depend on
surprise, but with a little cleverness we can figure out how
to do that in a basically open setting.  "And tonight, each
affinity group spoke receives a sealed envelope-open it at
five A.M. tomorrow and it will give you two alternative
beginning points for your march.  Flip a coin to decide
which one to go to"

IX.  Make our actions count:

Political action may well become more costly in the next
months and years.  That simply means we need to be more
clear and thoughtful in planning and carrying out our
actions.  Most of us are willing to take risks in this work
and to make sacrifices if necessary, but no one wants to
sacrifice for something meaningless or stupid.  We can no
longer afford vaguely planned, ill considered actions that
don't accomplish anything-and believe me, I've done more
than my fair share of them.

We should never carry out an action that involves
significant risks, unless the following five points are

1.  We know what our intention is-are we trying to raise
public awareness, delegitimize an institution, influence an
individual, end an immediate wrong?

2.  We have a clear objective and know what it is--are we
trying to close down a meeting, deliver a petition, pressure
an official to meet with us, provide a service?  What are we
trying to communicate, to whom, and how?  What would victory
look like?

3.  We make sure the acts we take, the symbols we use, the
focus we choose and the tactics we use reflect our
intentions and objectives. We resist the temptation to do
extraneous things that might detract from our focus.

4.  We have an exit strategy.  How are we going to end the
action? How are we going to get out once we get in?

5.  We have ongoing support lined up for afterwards-legal,
medical, political support, people willing to offer
solidarity if needed.

X.  Use tactics that fit the new strategy and situation:

All of us are rethinking our tactics in the light of the
current situation.  We often argue tactics on the grounds of
morality-is it right or wrong, violent or nonviolent, to
throw a tear gas canister back into a line of police?  To
break a window?  We might do better to ask, "Do these
particular tactics support our goals and objectives," and
"Are they actually working?"

Those who advocate highly confrontational tactics, such as
property damage and fighting the cops, are generally trying
to strike blows against the system.  But at the moment, the
system has been struck harder than we could have imagined,
and is reeling toward fascism, not liberation.  In the
present climate, such tactics are most likely to backfire
and confirm the system's legitimacy.

Many classic nonviolent tactics are designed to heighten the
contrast between us and them, to claim the high moral ground
and point out the violence of the system.  But many of those
tactics no longer function in the same way. Static, passive
tactics become boring and disempowering.  Symbolic,
cross-the-line arrests don't seem to impress the public with
our nobility and dedication any more, even when they are
noticed at all.  Mass arrests may be used to justify police
violence, even when the arrestees were completely peaceful. 
When the police cooperate in making the arrest easy and low
risk, the process confirms rather than challenges the power
of the state.  When they don't, even symbolic actions are
costing heavily in jail time or probation.  The price may
well be worth it, but there's only so many times in a
lifetime we can pay it, so our choices need to be thoughtful
and strategic.

We need a new vocabulary of tactics, that can be empowering,
visionary, confrontational without reading as
proto-terrorist, and that work toward a crisis of legitimacy
for the system.  We also need tactics and actions that
prefigure the world we want to create, but that do so in a
way that has some edge and bite to it.

Here are a few we are already using that could be further

Mobile, fluid street tactics:  Groups like Art and
Revolution, Reclaim the Streets, the Pink Blocs of Prague
and Genoa and the Living River in Quebec have brought art,
dance, drums, creativity and mobility to street actions, and
developed mobile and fluid street tactics.  Such actions are
focused not on getting arrested (although that may be a
consequence of the actions) nor on confrontations with the
cops, but on accomplishing an objective: claiming a space
and redefining it; disrupting business as usual, etc., while
embodying the joy of the revolution we are trying to make.
In Toronto on October 16, snake dancing columns of people
managed to disrupt the financial district in spite of a very
tense police presence.  The Pink Bloc has snake danced
through police lines.  The Pagan Cluster in Quebec City and
DC was able to perform street rituals in the midst of
dangerous situations, in ways that allowed participation by
people with widely varying needs around safety.  The Fogtown
Action Avengers in San Francisco combined an open, public
ritual which distracted the police from a surprise
disruption of the stock exchange carried out by an affinity
group dressed as Robin Hood.

Claiming space:  Reclaim the Streets takes an intersection,
moves in a sound system and couches, and throws a party.  A
Temporary Autonomous Zone is a space we take over and then
exemplify the world we want to live in, with free food,
healing, popular education, a Truly Free Market where goods
are given away or traded, workshops, conversations, sports,

Street services and alternative services:  Groups like Food
Not Bombs have been directly feeding the homeless for
decades.  One of the most successful direct actions I've
ever been involved with was a group called Prevention Point
that pioneered street based needle exchanges for drug users
to prevent the spread of AIDS.  In DC in September, during
the Anti-Capitalist Convergence's Temporary Autonomous Zone
and during the Sunday peace march rally, the Pagan Cluster
set up an Emotional Healing Space that offered informal
counseling, massage, food, water and hands-on healing.  The
IndyMedia Centers provide alternative news coverage and a
powerful challenge to corporate media.  The medical and
legal services we provide during an action could be
expanded.  Guerilla gardeners could be mobilized in new
ways.  Imagine a convergence that left a community
transformed by community gardens, with toxic sites healing,
worm farms thriving, and streets lined with fruit trees.

Popular education:  One of the values of mass convergences
has been the education and training we've been able to
provide for each other, from teach-ins on the global economy
to climbing instruction. Almost every Summit has had its
CounterSummit.  Most of these have followed the rough format
of an academic conference, with presenters talking to an
audience or facilitating a discussion.  But many more
interactive and creative ways of teaching and learning could
be brought into them: role plays, story-telling circles,
councils.  We could hold a giant simulation of a meeting,
with people role playing delegations and grappling with the
issues on the table, but from the starting point of our own

People are hungry to talk about the war, about their fears
and beliefs and opinions. The Zapatistas give us the example
of the Consulta-a process of going out to the people to both
listen to concerns and mobilize. We might halt the speeches
at a rally for ten minutes to let people talk to each other.
 Or do away with the speeches altogether, and instead ask
groups to facilitate smaller-group discussions on their
issues and tactics, run short training sessions, offer games
or dances or rituals.  And we could develop ways to create
instant Public Conversations as actions and as education. 
Caravans can bring discussion and education out of the urban
centers, and could embody alternative energies and
possibilities, running their vehicles on vegetable oil,
bringing solar panels to power sound systems.

These are just a few ideas that can stimulate our thinking
and awaken our creativity.

XI.  Renew our spirits:

These are hard times.  Many of us have been working
intensely for a long time and are now seeing the possibility
of our hard won political gains being swept away.  Fear and
loss surround us, and many forces are at work trying to make
us feel isolated, marginalized and disempowered.  At best,
the work ahead of us seems overwhelming.

If we are going to sustain this work and regain our
momentum, we need to allow ourselves time to rest, to go to
those places we are working so hard to save and be open to
their beauty, to receive support and love from the
communities we are working for.  We need to nurture our
relationships with each other, to offer not just political
solidarity but personal warmth and caring.  Death and loss
rearrange our priorities, teach us how much we need each
other, and make it easier to drop some of the petty things
that interfere with our true connections.

Many activists mistrust religion and spirituality, often for
good reasons.  But each of us is in this work because
something is sacred to us-sacred in the sense that it means
more than our comfort or convenience, that it determines all
of our other values, that we are willing to risk ourselves
in its service.  It might not be a God, Goddess or deity,
but rather a belief in freedom, the feeling we get when we
stand under a redwood tree or watch a bird winging across
the sky, a commitment to truth or to a child.  Whatever it
is, it can feed and nurture us as well.  For activists who
have some form of identified spiritual practice, now is a
good time to seriously practice it.  For those who don't, it
might still be worth taking time to ask yourself, "Why do I
do this work?  What is most important to me?  What does feed

The answer might be grand and noble, or it might be small
and ordinary, hip hop or sidewalk chalk.  Whatever it is,
make it a priority.  Do it daily, if you can, or at least
regularly.  Bring it into actions with you.  Let it renew
your energy when you're down. We need you in this struggle
for the long haul, and taking care of yourself is a way of
preserving one of the movement's precious resources.

The goal of terrorists, whether of the freelance or the
state variety, is to fill all our mental and emotional space
with fear, rage, powerlessness and despair, to cut us off
from the sources of life and hope.  Violence and fear can
make us shut down to the things and beings that we love. 
When we do, we wither and die.  When we consciously open
ourselves to the beauty of the world, when we choose to love
another tenuous and fragile being, we commit an act of
liberation as courageous and radical as any foray into the
tear gas.

There is nowhere left to go, but forward.  If we hold onto
hope and vision, if we dare to walk with courage and to act
in the service of what we love, the barriers holding us back
will give way, as the police eventually did in our
Washington march.  The new road is unmarked and unmapped. 
It feels unfamiliar, but exhilarating; dangerous, but free. 
We were born to blaze this trail, and the great powers of
life and creativity march with us toward a viable future.

 copyright  c Starhawk 2001
(This copyright notice protects me, as this piece will be
published in Spring '02  in a collection of my writings
called Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising.   But
please feel free to forward this, reprint it, translate it,
post it or reproduce it for nonprofit uses.)

  Academic / Activist Call for Justice and Peace:

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Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
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