Sunday, April 18, 2010

Do You Understand the Power of the Pebble People? For Benazir Bhutto on Earth Day, with Help from Alice Walker, Yoko Ono and Bill McKibben

BILL McKIBBEN: ... the trouble is that what we’re dealing with, Amy, is not a debate between China and the US or between Republicans and Democrats, fundamentally; it’s a debate between human beings and physics and chemistry. And physics and chemistry don’t suspend their operations just because we’re in an economic rough patch. We’ve got to get our carbon emissions down, and fast, and we’ve got to help the rest of the world do the same thing. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez Interview Bill McKibben on Democracy Now!, 4-15-10

ALICE WALKER: ... things can be so horrible that people lose the ability to talk about them. And I had this happen when I was in college, actually, when I learned that the King of Belgium had decided that if the Africans in the Belgian Congo could not fulfill their rubber quota that he had imposed on them, he could order their hands to be chopped off ... But if we don’t speak, then there’s more of it, and more people suffer. So it’s a call to overcoming speechlessness ... Alice Walker on Overcoming Speechlessness: : A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel, Democracy Now!, 4-13-10

Benazir Bhutto in Karachi (AFP Photo/Amir Qureshi, Copyright AFP/Corbis)

In the old days, gurus sat and meditated day and night. That was pretty powerful. But we live in a different world. Time is so precious to us now. A million kids can be killed in one second as we are wondering what to do. So we can’t just sit and meditate. We should IMAGINE PEACE day and night, as we go about our daily lives ... Send your message through the internet of how you love life and why ... if you did that for three months you will see the difference in your life and even a difference in our planet. Thus, we will be making a quiet revolution together. Yoko Ono, A Quiet Revolution, 4-16-10

Do You Understand the Power of the Pebble People? For Benazir Bhutto on Earth Day, with Help from Alice Walker, Yoko Ono and Bill McKibben

By Richard Power

Do understand the power of a pebble? Can you count to 350 in the arithmetic of survival? Can you locate the Congo on the map of human suffering?

It is an extraordinary time to be alive. Embrace it.

Here is a look back at the week behind us, and the week ahead; of course, it is also a look at the decade behind us, and the decade we have just begun. The three times, i.e., past, present and future, have never seemed more transparent, and less linear.

The story of how the eruption of an Icelandic volcano has impacted air travel and the economy of Europe is a humbling reminder of the awesome and inhuman power of the Goddess, i.e., Gaia, Kali, Pele, that Nameless One with Countless Names.

She is not our friend. She is not caring for us alone; She is caring only for the Web itself, of which we are but a strand (albeit one that threatens to strangle the whole)

Millions of stranded travellers face further air chaos as the volcanic ash from Iceland that has closed most of Europe's airspace continues to spread.
An estimated three-quarters of flights were cancelled on Saturday. About 20 countries closed their airspace - some have extended flight bans into Monday.
Scientists say the Icelandic volcano activity shows no sign of abating.
BBC, 3-18-10

There was also further corroboration that, as I have written before, climatologists and geophysicists are going to have a lot to discuss as the planetary changes accelerate:

A thaw of Iceland's ice caps in coming decades caused by climate change may trigger more volcanic eruptions by removing a vast weight and freeing magma from deep below ground, scientists said on Friday. Reuters, 4-16-10

For years, I have been blogging about the Climate Crisis, human rights crises in Darfur, Burma and the Congo, the inter-dependence of human rights and sustainability, and how security, sustainability and spirituality intersect in the 21st Century. The truth and timeliness of these preoccupations has never been more acutely obvious -- at least for those, as I say, with eyes to hear and ears to see.

Two recently released reports, one from the U.N. on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the other from Oxfam on sexual violence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) underscore how horrifically we have failed to live up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The only surprising element in the report on Bhutto’s assassination is how unequivocal it is about this outrage facilitated (if not perpetrated directly) by our so-called “strong allies” in what I have come to call the “war IN, OF and FOR terror.”

Security arrangements by Pakistan’s federal and local authorities to protect assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were “fatally insufficient and ineffective” and subsequent investigations into her death were prejudiced and involved a whitewash, an independent United Nations inquiry reported today ...
“A range of Government officials failed profoundly …
“Particularly inexcusable was the Government’s failure to direct provincial authorities to provide Ms. Bhutto the same stringent and specific security measures it ordered on 22 October 2007 for two other former prime ministers who belonged to the main political party supporting General Musharraf” …
“This discriminatory treatment is profoundly troubling given the devastating attempt on her life only three days earlier and the specific threats against her which were being tracked by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency) …
Turning to the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Commission found that police actions and omissions, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation … “The Commission believes that the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms. Bhutto’s assassination were, in most cases, deliberate,” it declared.
UN report on Bhutto murder finds Pakistani officials ‘failed profoundly’, UN News Centre, 4-15-10

So who killed Benazir Bhutto? Was it al-Qaeda, Taliban or elements within Pakistani military and intelligence? The answer is “All of the above.”

Imagine peace.

Remember, just as it is ALWAYS a bad omen when the leaders who won an election are denied office, as with Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma in 1990, and with Al Gore in the USA in 2000; it is ALWAYS a bad omen when leaders are murdered in order to change the course of a country’s future, as in the USA in 1963 and 1968, as with Rabin in Israel in 1995.

Consider what has happened to Burma, Israel and the USA since those murders, and then ponder the future of nuclear-tipped Pakistan.

Imagine peace.

Nor are there any surprises in Oxfam’s report on the crimes against humanity in the Congo, and that should be profoundly disturbing to us all:

In South Kivu, sexual violence is pervasive, affecting women of all ages, ethnicities and marital statuses. Women are attacked everywhere, even in the privacy of their own homes. The sexual assaults are ruthless, with horrific reports of gang rape, sexual slavery, genital trauma, forced rape between victims and rape in the presence of family members. Sexual violence survivors often witness the torture and murder of their children and spouses. … These findings imply a normalization of rape among the civilian population, suggesting the erosion of all constructive social mechanisms that ought to protect civilians from sexual violence.
Key recommendations
To the Congolese government and the international community must:
* Ensure that quality care is available for women in all areas, in order to save lives and preserve quality of life;
* Work to reduce sexual violence linked to military action;
* Build on the legal/justice initiatives taken to date, particularly the law on sexual violence and the government’s announcement of “zero tolerance” for crimes against civilians by its armed forces;
* Ensure that their protective deployments are tailored to local realities.
No the World is Without Me, Oxfam, 4-15-10

Imagine peace.

The USA of course is increasing the size of its military footprint in Africa. (See Clinton Sprinkles US Military Aid Across Africa and The Pentagon's New Africa Command Raises Suspicions About US Motives) And China, too, seems so very concerned about the continent’s future. (See Confucianism at large in Africa) And yet, all of this beneficence does not seem to translate into any relief from suffering in the Congo or the Sudan, has it?

Ah yes, well, in that interview with Democracy Now about her new book, Overcoming Speechlessness, Alice Walker provided some background:

ALICE WALKER: I was in eastern Congo, and I met some women who were survivors of enslavement and sexual abuse that was so horrendous that it was a challenge to even hear it and even to see some of the damage …
AMY GOODMAN: You began, though, by talking about Rwanda, and then you trace the violence to Congo. Talk about Rwanda.
ALICE WALKER: Yes. Well, in Rwanda, because of the killing of so many Tutsis by the Hutu and the—really a slaughter—
AMY GOODMAN: And you trace it back. You go all the way—
ALICE WALKER: Well, I went all the way back to, again, those Belgians, the Belgians, and before them, the Germans. They came into the Congo, and they decided that the Tutsi people, because they had larger skulls, were more like Europeans, and so they should be in charge of the Hutu people, whose skulls apparently were not as large. Anyway, they instigated this rule of one clan by the other, even though these people had been fairly peaceful living together for centuries. And after they had done this, finally, after many years of domination, a century or so, they left. But they left the Hutu in charge of the Tutsi. And so, eventually, the hatred that had been building over a long, long period erupted into genocide.
And so, I had heard about this awful thing that the Hutu Interahamwe people had killed 800,000 of the Tutsi people. And that again was so awful, I couldn’t really entirely let myself feel what it must be like to actually have your body hacked away from you, which is what happened to all of those people. But eventually, I needed to go there, and so I did. And what I found was, you know, that the Rwandan people have done a wonderful job of memorializing what happened, and they have also elected more women to help run the country than almost anywhere else.
But on the other hand, the soldiers and the murderers, a lot of them, just went into the Congo.
Alice Walker on Overcoming Speechlessness: : A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel, Democracy Now!, 4-13-10

Imagine peace.

Meanwhile, the Climate Crisis continues to deepen, engulfing more and more of the planet:

Brazilian authorities evacuated thousands of shantytown residents Sunday so their houses could be demolished after heavy rains that killed 224 people last week threatened further landslides. Agence France Press, 4-11-10

A huge glacier breaks off and plunges into a lake in Peru, causing a 75-foot tsunami wave that sweeps away at least three people and destroys a water processing plant.MSNBC, 4-13-10

The most up-to-date study of temperatures in India, from 1901 to 2007, has found that while it’s getting warmer across regions and seasons, night temperatures have been rising significantly in almost all parts of the country. The rise in night temperatures — 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade since 1970, according to the study — could have potentially adverse impact on yields of cereal crops like rice. Times of India, 4-12-10

Climate change and the probability that a current water shortage would worsen may make constantly bickering neighbours, India and Pakistan, take a closer look at a 50-year-old treaty under which they share rivers originating from the Himalayas. IPS, 4-13-10

And in another recent Democracy Now! interview, Bill McKibben of talked about his new book, Eaarth (not a typo).

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Bill, in terms of your proposals for solutions, you—in your book, you don’t focus so much on governmental or top-down solutions. What are some of the—what are some of the key ingredients of how the world’s population can reverse this trend?
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, reversing the trend is hard—impossible, in fact. We’re not going to stop global warming. We can keep it from getting worse than it has to get. For that to happen, Juan, we need things to happen at two levels. One is the governmental, national and global. We need a stiff price on carbon, one that reflects the damage it does in the atmosphere, that will reorient our economy in the direction of renewable energy instead of fossil fuel. But we’re also going to need, because we have a new planet, a new set of habits for inhabiting it successfully.
Our fundamental habit for the last couple of hundred years has been to assume that growth is going to solve every problem that we face. I think now we’ve fundamentally reached the limits to growth that people started talking about fifty years ago. When you melt the Arctic, that’s not a good sign. So we’re going to need, instead, to start focusing on security, on stability, on resilience, on figuring out how to allow communities to thrive, even on a tough planet. And I think that that has a lot to do with decentralization, with scaling down, with spreading out, with building food systems and energy systems that aren’t too big to fail, that are small enough and stable enough to succeed ...
This year, on October 10th, we’re organizing what we’re calling a global work party. There will be thousands upon thousands of communities around the world where people will be putting of solar panels or digging community gardens, not because we think that we’re going to solve this problem one project at a time—we are not—but because we want to send a message finally to our leaders: get to work ...
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez Interview Bill McKibben on Democracy Now!, 4-15-10

All of it may seem overwhelming, and hopeless, but it is neither.

It is, as I said at the beginning of this post, an extraordinary time to be alive; but we have to embrace it, and know how to hold it while letting it go.

In a recent speech for Oxford University, Yoko Ono simply and powerfully articulated just how to perform this feat:

Just do what you can do. Nothing more.
By that, you will be starting the wheels of goodness to turn.
Something especially wonderful was told to me just recently. Two scientists who were researching the effect of waves in the ocean for two years, came to the conclusion that the smallest stimulus to the water be it a drop of a pebble, or a child splashing the water at the shore, affects the whole ocean, each time. Well, I thought we do affect each other on land, but I hadn’t realized that that was true in the ocean as well! What a blessing! Nature is making things so easy for us!
So now I call ourselves the small pebble people. Send small pebbles to the world. Don’t make big splashes with large stones. That will attract people and the wrong people as well. Our quiet revolution will not make announcements, but one day will be accepted by all people as the norm of life. The human race has done that with many things. Like we wanted to fly, and invented aeroplanes. We wanted to see the other side of the moon, and we have. This time, we want to heal our planet, and bring peace to this world. We will ... So we’ll just keep dropping small pebbles. Together. That’s how we will change the world. We change, and the world changes. Have trust in what you can do. Have trust in how fast we can change our world for the better. Why? Because we have to.
Yoko Ono, A Quiet Revolution, 4-16-10

Earth Day 2010 will be observed on 4-22-10. It will be used for hypocrisy and hyperbole as much as for action and awareness. But none of that matters; all that matters is what you do with it. And what you do with it is as simple as how you are in your heart and mind on that day, and on the day before it, and on the day after it.

Remember, too, that human rights and sustainability are utterly inter-dependent; we cannot achieve one without the other. Nor can anyone anywhere truly rely on human rights or sustainability until everyone everywhere can rely on it.

It is not too late.

Imagine. Act. Do. Be.

Whatever happens, remember the love at the throbbing heart of the universe and reflect that love from within your molten core.

We are the pebble people.

In what is becoming the hippest environment meeting of the year, presidents, politicians, intellectuals, scientists and Hollywood stars will join more than 15,000 indigenous people and thousands of grass roots groups from more than 100 countries to debate climate change in one of the world's poorest nations. Guardian, 4-14-01

To learn more about the Congo -- read Who Pays the Price? Raped for Technology at A Safe World for Women, and go to the Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo, and Ben Affleck's Eastern Congo Initiative

For the Words of Power Climate Crisis Updates Archive, click here.

Have you met Al Gore at the Wall yet?

I encourage you to find out why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love: go to or Google "Bill McKibben" for the answer.

Richard Power's True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality is available from

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available from

Visit Richard Power author's page at

Alice Walker, Benazir Bhutto, Bill McKibben,Yoko Ono, , , Sustainability