Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupational Hazards on the Path to Massive, Non-Violent Evolution

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

Occupational Hazards on the Path to Massive, Non-Violent Evolution

By Richard Power

This is a note to the Occupiers. From a committed evolutionary, who has survived many decades in this wilderness and carries the timeline within him like an illuminated manuscript.

Occupy your heart. With love. Occupy your mind. With truth. Occupy your streets. With conscience and courage.

Beware of arrogance. (The "New Left" got old fast). Beware of naivety. (You have almost nothing in common with "Tea-baggers" or Libertarians.) Beware of resentment. (Do not scorn the broader progressive movement. You could be the tip of the spearhead, but there is no spear without a shaft.) Beware of bitterness. (Winter is descending. Spring may lead elsewhere. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, and yet he still emerged a peacemaker.)

Establish the proper context.

Education, employment, healthcare and retirement are human rights, as established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948 The "Occupy" phenomenon is an acknowledgement that what we have in the U.S.A. today is a human rights crisis, not a fight over political ideologies.

Rely on the simplest of messages.

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.

If it were true that money were speech then the logical conclusion would be that some people (e.g., billionaires, millionaires, and the imaginary "corporate persons" they hide behind) have a right to far more speech than the rest of the population, which is of course absurd and contrary to not only the First Amendment, and the Bill of Rights as a whole, but also to the Declaration of Independence: i.e., all are "created equal."

Corporations are not people, but they do control the world.

147 companies control 40% of the total economic value of all transnational corporations; and 45 out of the top 50 of those 147 companies are in the financial sector. (See Catherine McLean, It’s True, Bankers Really Do Control the World: Study, Globe and Mall, 10-25-11)

The class war started with the Reagan counter-revolution.

The wealthy one percent of the US population saw its average after-tax household income grow by 275% between 1979 and 2007. During that period, the middle class' average after-tax household income grew only 40%, and poorest 20%'s average after-tax household income grew only 18%. (See Agence France Press, US Income Disparity, Economic Anxiety Grow: Studies, 10-26-11)

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

Meanwhile, no attempt to overcome the oligarchy's grip on our political and economic systems will succeed unless it includes moving urgently and radically away from fossil fuels and deep into green power. And even if the oligarchy could be beaten back without a 21st Century energy model, the celebration would be short-lived.

The window to limit global warming to less than two degrees C is closing so fast it can be measured in months, a new scientific analysis revealed Sunday. Without putting the brakes on carbon emissions very soon, large parts of Africa, most of Russia and northern China will be two degrees C warmer in less than 10 years. Canada and Alaska will soon follow, the regional study shows. Stephen Leahy, Durban May Be Last Chance to Stabilize Climate Under Two Degrees, IPS, 10-24-11

Hundreds of millions of people may be trapped in inhospitable environments as they attempt to flee from the effects of global warming, worsening the likely death toll from severe changes to the climate, a UK government committee has found. Refugees forced to leave their homes because of floods, droughts, storms, heatwaves and other effects of climate change are likely to be one of the biggest visible effects of the warming that scientists warn will result from the untrammelled use of fossil fuels, according to the UK government's Foresight group, part of the Office for Science. Fiona Harvey, Climate change could trap hundreds of millions in disaster areas, report claims, Guardian, 10-20-11

Don't make the mistake of Beltwayistan, Infotainmentstan, the Zombie Cult formerly known as the Republican Party, and yes, even most of the progressive movement, i.e., pretending that the Climate Crisis is just another issue. It is not. The Climate Crisis, and the numerous sustainability meltdowns interwoven with it (e.g., water, food security, population, ocean acidification, mass extinction of species) pose the gravest threat of all. indeed, it is both our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity.

There is no time left to waste, and there will be no place left to hide.

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

Countdown with Keith Olbermann (Current TV): Adam Knight of Occupy Nashville (10-28-11)

Do you know why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love? Go to for the answer.

Richard Power is the author of seven books, including Between Shadow and Night: The Singularity in Anticipation of Itself and True North on the Pathless Path: Towards a 21st Century Yoga. He writes and speaks on security, risk, human rights and sustainability, and has delivered executive briefings and led training in over 40 countries. He blogs at and

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

Particle and Wave

The gods and goddesses do not exist as "separate entities." Nor do the avatars. Nor do you and I. The gods and goddesses are like vortices. You and I are like fractals. The avatars are fractals morphing into vortices.

There is no "above" or "below" or even "within." All are the dance of particle and wave, all are the revelation of the Matrix.

This era into which we enter now demands great courage, great love, great laughter, great patience, great strength, great cleverness, great silence, and great song.

You have access to inexhaustible resources of all that will be demanded of you, otherwise you would not be here now.

-- Richard Power

Invincible and Inexhaustible

Human ignorance is pervasive and unassailable.

It can only be overthrown from within, by the cultivation of a quiet mind and an open heart.

Each time human ignorance is thus overthrown from within the microcosm, the macrocosm shifts deeper into itself, deeper into its core, infusing the circumference with greater love, greater truth, greater beauty, and thus more microcosms are uplifted into glimpses of the innermost reality and its exaltation in every particle and all waves.

Love is invincible and inexhaustible. It can only be defeated from within, by choosing to live some lesser truth.

-- Richard Power

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, MoveOn, 2012, Tuvalu and Why Lao-Tzu Went Beyond the Wall

The problem is that it interferes with the most profitable industry the world has ever seen. Exxon made more money last year than in the history of money. And it doesn't take much in politics to stop things from happening. Their only goal is to delay action. It took 20 years to work round the delaying efforts of the tobacco industry. And the tobacco industry is a mere pimple on the butt of the oil industry. It is the most profitable enterprise that humans have every engaged in. Bill McKibben on tar sands, Obama, geoengineering and population growth, Guardian, 10-6-11

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And we are trashing the natural world ... The task of our time is to turn this round ... What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. Naomi A. Klein, The fight against climate change is down to us – the 99%, Guardian, 10-7-11

Occupy Wall Street, MoveOn, 2012, Tuvalu and Why Lao-Tzu Went Beyond the Wall

By Richard Power

Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching has exercised a profound influence over my life. Lately I have been contemplating a legend concerning the circumstances under which the ancient sage wrote it down.

Lao-Tzu was a keeper of the Imperial Library. He looked around him, and saw that government corruption was pervasive and the social order was disintegrating, and so he slipped away and headed for the mountains. But a a sentry at the guard post recognized the great sage, and realized that the old man was not going to leave a trail; so he compelled Lao-Tzu to write down his philosophy, which he did, in the equivalent of two thousand or so words.

Lao-Tzu did not leave the imperial city for his own survival. Nor did Lao-Tzu leave because he feared some adversary or another. Lao-Tzu lived from a perspective beyond both of these small frames.

So I have been wondering if perhaps Lao-Tzu left because he could not bare to hear how the good would defeat itself.

Do Not Allow POTUS' Failure to Lead to Enable Your Own

Consider these two unfortunate glimpses into the character of some players in the Shakespearian drama of the coming election:

During the speech [to the Congressional Black Caucus], Obama struck somewhat of an authoritative tone to the audience. “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” he said. “Shake it off. Stop complaining. Stop grumblin’. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We have work to do.” Obama to CBC awards crowd: ‘Stop complaining’ Raw Story, 9-25-11

POTUS' comments to the CBC were arrogant, insulting, but worst of all, STUPID.

"Take off your bedroom slippers, and put on your marching boots," seriously, POTUS? Madison, Wisconsin went marching. Where were you? Moving the Planet went marching. Where were you been? Occupy Wall Street went marching. Where were you? Tars Sands Action marched to your house, but you weren't home. Where were you? Playing golf with Boehner? Oh, sorry, Martha's Vineyard. Well, they will be back in November.

A few weeks after the CBC speech, while POTUS was speechifying at the ceremonial opening of a stone monument on the mall, Dr. Cornel West was offering a flesh and blood celebration of MLK's legacy by being arrested in an act of non-violent protest.

Dr. Cornel West climbed on the steps of the Supreme Court and denounced court decisions that have produced money-based elections that empower corporations. Dr. West was holding a sign that said ‘Poverty is the Greatest Violence of All.’ He was arrested because holding political signs on the Supreme Court steps is illegal.” Cornel West arrested protesting at Supreme Court, Raw Story, 10-16-11

POTUS, it is a lovely stroll from the Mall to the steps of SCOTUS, but it is a very long way to the beating heart of this movement from the corner you and your advisers painted you into.

(Nor is Dr. West the only prominent person who has felt the pulse of this moment. Read this remarkable story from Naomi Wolf: How I was arrested at Occupy Wall Street. Arresting a middle-aged writer in an evening gown for peaceable conduct is a far cry from when America was a free republic, Guardian, 10-19-11)

Well, of course, POTUS' CBC speech was just before Labor Day. POTUS was feeling the heat and perhaps looking to set-up a scapegoat in case his re-election chances started to crater. (Of course, he wouldn't think to pin the blame on Emmanuel, Axelrod, Geithner or Holder. Yes, all men.) He is singing a different tune now.

But that's because at least until winter descends, the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon has seized the narrative. So it is this phenomenon's chance to show whether it will lead or limit, whether it will embrace or exclude. Which will it choose?

Ah, consider this ...

Top MoveOn leaders/executives are all over national television speaking for the movement. fully appreciate the help and support of MoveOn, but the MSM is clearly using them as the spokespeople for OWS. This is an blatant attempt to fracture the 99% into a Democratic Party organization. The leadership of MoveON are Democratic Party operatives. they are divide and conquer pawns. For years they ignored Wall Street protests to keep complete focus on the Republicans, in favor of Goldman’s Obama and Wall Street’s Democratic leadership. If anyone at Move On or Daily Kos would like to have a public debate about these comments, we invite it. Move On Tries to Take Over Occupy Wall Street Protests, Washington Blog, 10-14-11

So was David DeGraw just having a bad day, or is this arrogant, insulting and worse yet STUPID statement a warning sign of a fatal blind spot in the vision of those behind Occupy Wall Street?

Bluntly, simply, my friend, deserves more respect (even though they pull their punches occasionally), so does the Daily Kos, and it is both a strategic blunder and a tactical blunder not to welcome them. Paraphrasing what Thom Hartmann told a listener this a.m., don't worry about them changing you, you change them.

The message you must bring is that the time for incremental change has passed; it is a luxury we can no longer afford, it is now or never. And yet, at the same time, understand that whatever government is elected in 2012 will be corporatist. If it is a "D" dominated government, it will be susceptible to pressure, if it is an "R" dominated government, it will be as if blind, deaf and dumb to our petitioning, and it will bury what is left of our democratic institutions.

IF the people who had voted in 2008 had not stayed home in 2010, thousands of more jobs would have been saved (because a "D" Congress would have moved BEFORE the initial stimulus ran out, and millions of more jobs would be on the way (because a "D" Congress would have passed Obama's current jobs bill); furthermore, POTUS would not have been able to allow the Bush tax cut extension, nor would he have been in a position to start babbling about "austerity"and giving everybody "hair-cuts." There would be no "Super Committee" now. And whether or not those who didn't vote in 2010 are sleeping in a park tonight as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, they are just as responsible for our current circumstances as the most disingenuous of corporatist "Democrats."

Anyone who did not vote against the Zombie Cult in 2010 has not taken personal responsibility. It is not POTUS' failure that led you not to vote, it is you who allowed POTUS' failure to enable your own.

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

I have no doubt that these remarks will lead to some "unsubscribes." Unfortunate, but so be it.

I support Occupy Wall Street, and I urge them to relentlessly, NON-VIOLENTLY confront the whole of Beltwayistan, Infotainmentstan, the Chamber of Horrors and the rest of the corrupted edifice, as some of us have been doing for over a decade, in our own ways, and at a high price. But to nurture a movement, you must expand your heart and mind enough to reach beyond your differences with those who stand along side of you and are facing in the same direction you are. To flow in a true, deep, history-bending movement, you must be able to operate in multiple dimensions at once.

I am not an Obama apologist. I have excoriated POTUS for his failure to lead on economic crisis, on healthcare reform, on the Climate Crisis, on Darfur, on accountability for Bush-Cheney, Goldman Sachs, BP and others. NEVERTHELESS, in 2012 I will also vote for the "D" candidates and against the candidates of the Zombie Cult formerly known as the Republican Party at every level, including the Presidency of the U.S.

From my perspective, anyone who does not embrace both of these positions is attempting to make progress with one hand while undoing it with the other.

The alternative is unthinkable.

Consider these three statements from the top three candidates for the Zombie Cult nomination:

Republican presidential candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry said Tuesday that "it's time for us to have a serious discussion about defunding the United Nations." CBS, 10-18-11

Mitt Romney came to the state with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation and said he wants to allow home foreclosures to "hit the bottom" to help the housing industry recover. AP, 10-19-11

Herman Cain recently criticized the Occupy Wall Street protesters, saying, "Don't blame Wall Street. Don't blame the big banks. If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself." At Tuesday night's CNN debate, Cain stood by his comments -- to loud cheers from the audience. "I still stand by my statement," he said. Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, 1-18-11

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

If you don't know the difference between a Sotomayor and a Roberts or a Kagan and an Alito than you don't know the difference between Bush v. Gore and an election or the difference between Citizens United and the First Amendment.

George W. Bush was not elected President of the U.S. in 2001 (or 2004).

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.

2 + 2 = 4.

Meanwhile ...

Can You Die of Thirst While You Are Drowning?

Although I have written to you about the Climate Crisis, day after day, month after month, year after year, I have mentioned very little about the plight of the small island nations. Why? Because I know the mentality of the decision-makers, and of the public that hides behind them: just as China's crimes against Tibet are tolerated for the sake of trade, and Karthoum's crimes against Darfur are tolerated for the sake of the insane war IN OF and BY terror, the loss of the small islands nations will be tolerated for the sake of fossil fuel industry profits and the deep denial required to sustain them.

But this story is such a poignant example of the bitter, paradoxical nature of this planetary emergency that far too few of us (right OR left) have come to grips with, I must cite it here:

The drought in the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, which declared a state of emergency this month because of a severe shortage of fresh water, is likely to last until January, the government says. Tuvalu normally receives 8-16 inches of rainfall each month but hasn't had significant rain in six months ... Amid its water shortages, the tiny archipelago of nine islands, with a combined land mass of just 10 square miles, also faces being inundated by rising sea levels linked to climate change. Tuvalu grapples with drought , UPI, 10-18-11

Yes, Tuvalu, an island nature facing near-future extinction from rising sea levels, due to human-induced runaway climate change, is currently facing crippling drought, due to human-induced runaway climate change ...

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

And then, of course, there is the story of what it going on in Thailand.

Thailand Suffers Most Expensive Flood in History, Destroying More Than 10% of Rice Farms in World’s Top Exporter, Climate Progress, 10-14-11


Ah, someone answered ... with courage and clarity of mind from the floor of the U.S. Senate ...

Another name to scrawl on the wall of heroes; that invisible memorial to those who work, with urgency, to bring MASSIVE NON-VIOLENT EVOLUTION to our world. Perhaps the names on that wall will be the beginning of something new; perhaps they will be all that is left of something that is lost.

Mr. President, I am here to speak about what is currently an unpopular topic in this town. It has become no longer politically correct in certain circles in Washington to speak about climate change or carbon pollution or how carbon pollution is causing our climate to change. This is a peculiar condition of Washington. If you go out into, say, our military and intelligence communities, they understand and are planning for the effects of carbon pollution on climate change. They see it as a national security risk. If you go out into our nonpolluting business and financial communities, they see this as a real and important problem. And, of course, it goes without saying our scientific community is all over this concern. But as I said, Washington is a peculiar place, and here it is getting very little traction. Here in Washington we feel the dark hand of the polluters tapping so many shoulders. And where there is power and money behind that dark hand, therefore, a lot of attention is paid to that little tap on the shoulder. What we overlook is that nature — God’s Earth — is also tapping us all on the shoulder, with messages we ignore at our peril. We ignore the messages of nature of God’s Earthand we ignore the laws of nature of God’s Earth at our very grave peril. Senator Whitehouse’s Must-See Climate Speech: “We Ignore the Laws of Nature of God’s Earth at Our Very Grave Peril” Climate Progress, 10-19-11

Occupy San Francisco, 2011, Photo Credit: Richard Power

Do you know why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love? Go to for the answer.

Bill McKibben at Occupy Wall Street Rally 10/8/2011

Richard Power is the author of seven books, including Between Shadow and Night: The Singularity in Anticipation of Itself and True North on the Pathless Path: Towards a 21st Century Yoga. He writes and speaks on security, risk, human rights and sustainability, and has delivered executive briefings and led training in over 40 countries. He blogs at and

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Burning Man 2011: Primal Culture and Core Civilization as a Moveable Feast

All photo credits in this post: Richard Power/Burning Man 2011

[NOTE: I am honored that this piece is cross-posted at Buzzflash/Truthout (See Burning Man 2011: Primal Culture and Core Civilization as a Moveable Feast). Buzzflash/Truthout is one of the great bastions of alternative, progressive media in the USA. Furthermore, I am delighted that the publishing of this piece is concurrent with the phenomena known as Occupy Wall Street; because before this planetary crisis (economic, political and environmental) is over, citizens will likely be called on not only to occupy symbolically important squares and parks within their cities, but indeed to move whole cities. -- Richard Power]

Burning Man 2011: Primal Culture and Core Civilization as a Moveable Feast

By Richard Power

Burning Man isn’t what you think it is. Well, OK, Burning Man is more than you think it is. Much more. There is a powerful, new narrative developing within the legend of Burning Man, one that moves beyond Black Rock City and into the daily lives of some dedicated Burners. What is this new narrative? And what does it offer those working to overcome the challenges of this troubled era?
To answer these questions, I visited the offices of the Burning Man Project, on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, conducted numerous interviews, and yes, drove up into the Nevada desert to immerse myself in Burning Man 2011.

Ethos and Pathos
As 50,000 burners headed to Black Rock City, the National Guard was airlifting food and water to the citizens of thirteen Vermont towns cut-off for days, without electricity or potable water, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. (NYT, 9-1-11) With four months to go in 2011, the U.S.A. has experienced a record 10 weather disasters causing at least $1 billion each in damages. (AP, 9-3-11)
As 50,000 burners headed to Black Rock City, James Hansen, the NASA’s leading climate scientist was getting himself arrested outside the White House, in an act of civil disobedience aimed at urging President Obama to block the XL tar sands oil pipeline. Hansen says that the project would translate into “game over” for the climate upon which human civilization has been predicated for millennia. (Climate Progress, 6-25-11) Shouldn’t NASA’s leading climate scientist be inside the White House advising the President, rather than outside the White House, with thousands of other citizens, trying to get the President’s attention?
Within the dominant culture of “the default world” (a term many burners use to refer to the world beyond Black Rock City), the cable news networks recently offered 24 hour coverage of Hurricane Irene as it hit NYC, but did not mention climate change once; similarly, earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama dared not even mention it once in his 2011 State of the Union address.
Friends, we are on our own.
So what is the Burning Man ethos? What does it speak to the pathos of our time? What does it offer us at this perilous crossroads?
Do you remember the 1985 Australian film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? Max, portrayed by Mel Gibson, comes to Bartertown, which is run on energy drawn from pig feces, and ruled over by the ruthless and beautiful Aunt Entity, portrayed by Tina Turner. The dystopian premise behind this and the other films in the Mad Max series is that our obsession with oil, and our refusal to develop alternate fuel resources, would lead to the collapse of civilization. It is does not require much of a stretch of the imagination to envision a dystopian post-Climate-collapse world, similar in its environmental harshness and its social barbarism. But what if, instead of a cruel world-view predicated on brute force and self-survival, we approached the collapse of it all as a call for a synergy of self-reliance and collectivity? What if we approached the collapse as a celebration of life instead of a fight to the death?

Welcome Home
Burning Man is held in northern Nevada, on the Playa of the Black Rock Desert, a remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Lahontan.
The Playa is a wasteland, and as such it is an apt venue for these musings. After all, deforestation is one of the major contributing factors to human-induced Climate Crisis; and desertification is one of its major impacts. Both are advancing rapidly, and on a global scale.
At the entrance gate to Burning Man, a security officer took my ticket and inspected my car for contraband, and greeted me with a heart-felt “Welcome home” and a genuine embrace.
There is powerful magic and deep meaning in greeting 50,000 people in this manner. To be welcomed “home” into a nomad city on the desolation of the Playa. Yes, the truth is that culture and civilization if they are to survive must be a moveable feast, and as the movers of that feast, we must be adaptive, adventurous, expansive and inclusive. The Playa itself greeted me with an intense sand storm that led to several white-outs on the long drive from the entrance gate into Black Rock City.

A Zone of Freedom
At Burning Man, 50,000 people come together to build a city and life in it for a week, and then disband again. A month or so before Burning Man there is no sign of it on the Playa; a week or so after it, there is no trace of it left behind.
But in the course of that brief time, many burners report transformative experiences that re-define their life-journeys, and they return again and again to deepen the process. How is this possible?
What happens at Burning Man is that a zone of freedom is established; but it is not a platitudinous freedom, it is willful, conscious freedom: a freedom from routine and inhibition, a freedom for creative expression and self-discovery. On the Playa, there is both personal responsibility (not only to take care of oneself but to be part of the whole) and a radical acceptance (something more than tolerance) of the creative expression and self-discovery of others; and there is space for self-elected ambassadors of a range of human interests from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the sacred to the blasphemous, from the beauteous to the obscene, and every combination thereof.
Asked about her “biggest life lesson learned” from the Burning Man experience, Marian Goodell, Burning Man’s Director of Business and Communications (one of the principle figures in its growth and success over the years) responded: “The power of creativity to change the way you feel about yourself and the way you interact with other people. And through that I learned about the importance of finding ways to communicate and connect with people, because once we do, there is a lot we can do together.”

Truth is Not Written on Stone Tablets
The framework of this Zone of Freedom is best epitomized in Burning Man’s Ten Principles:
• Radical Inclusion

• Gifting

• Decommodification

• Radical Self-reliance

• Radical Self-expression

• Communal Effort

• Civic Responsibility

• Leaving No Trace

• Participation
• Immediacy
The “Ten Principles” are meant to be “descriptive, not prescriptive,” as Burning Man founder Larry Harvey remarked at a Playa press conference.
They evolved organically, from the nature of the shared experience, and they serve to describe the community to itself.
For Ria Megnin, burner, and freelance journalist, the “Ten Principles” are “what makes Burning Man stand out.”
“This is not a bunch of happy hippies or random ravers playing around with sparklies,” Ria told me, “this is an organization of people who know how to Get Stuff Done … we're able to return to the default world with a new sense of empowerment and possibility … it’s about making the world tangibly, lastingly better for each other and for future generations.”
In a pre-Playa interview, Goddell recounted the origins of the document.
“The group grew bigger and the questions grew more and more imposing … it became clear that there were certain types of questions that were coming from these regional contacts, as they were trying to develop their communities … guidance on a party or a gathering, and also some questions that grew up around personal dramas … [Larry] went to Mazatlan for a holiday [in 2004], having digested all of the exasperation that Andie Grace and I had been delivering to him … and he came back with this document, and Andie and I swooned, it was nine bullet points, and we teased him, ‘Well, gee, Larry, why would you not want ten.’ So he disappeared and came back a day later and had added a tenth, which he said was he favorite, although I can’t remember which one it was, he has played with the sequence a bit since …”
Burning Man’s "Ten Principles" shares a fundamental realization with the philosophy of anarchism: truth is not written on stone tablets, it evolves organically from the human heart/mind through direct experience.
Anarchy is misunderstood as a political ideology. It is not nihilism. "Conventional wisdom" (which I translate into "convenient cliche") projects the image of a masked bomb-throwing provocateur as the prototypical anarchist, but actually the face of Noam Chomsky would be more representative.
“As I understand the term ‘anarchism,’ it is based on the hope (in our state of ignorance, we cannot go beyond that),” Chomsky has said, “that core elements of human nature include sentiments of solidarity, mutual support, sympathy, concern for others, and so on.”
During the grim first decade of the 21st Century, I dived deeply into the history of the Spanish Civil War, looking for lessons learned and unlearned; I re-read George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Arturo Barea for a cross-section of bold, direct perspectives. One common theme in all that I read was that among the diverse factions within the popular front that stood against Franco and the Fascists, the anarchists were the most trustworthy, the most efficient, the fiercest, and yes, the most well-organized.

The Playa as Anti-Museum
How many times a year can you escape to the museum to see the art imprisoned there? And when you do you typically pre-purchase a ticket, and wait on a long line to get in, only to be rushed through the exhibit.
Well, at Burning Man, huge, audacious art installations are spread across the Playa. After dark, they are illuminated by rainbow LEDs powered by a solar array. Night and day, throughout the event, these installations are caressed by billowing sand storms and circled ceaselessly by burners on bicycles and mutant vehicles (which are art works in and of themselves, duly registered with the BRC Department of Mutant Vehicles).
“At Burning Man, the art is so sensational that it draws people to gather together and share an experience of curiosity, awe and wonder,” Josie Schimke of the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) explained. “Visiting works of art becomes the highlight of one’s day, and social interactions, connections and inspirations naturally grow out of the experience.”
What if life affirming, psyche-stimulating art that invited interaction and empowered your own creative expression, or that of your children or your parents, were being created on your downtown boulevards, in your parks, and in the courtyards of your neighborhoods?
That’s what BRAF was established to fund in world beyond the Playa
“Every year’s crop of grantees astonishes us with their diversity, both in their chosen media and strategies of bringing art into their communities,” Schimke remarked, “Each project responds to a community’s culture, needs and environment in an innovative and unique way.”
The BRAF web site documents many examples of BRAF funded art projects.

Burn Down the Borders
At a café on Valencia in the Mission, several weeks prior to Burning Man 2011, I sat down with Carmen Mauk, Executive Director of Burners Without Borders.
“When Katrina happened, and we Burners got involved after Burning Man 2005, I said ‘Whoa…’ I had been working in human rights and with people in poverty my whole life. The creativity we brought to the Gulf Coast was completely different than the other groups who were there. We were taking debris from the surrounding areas and creating beautiful art, and inviting the community to do the same, and then burning it on Saturday night. We had not done it before in a disaster zone, but it was something we knew to do as a community, but we weren’t just doing it for us, it was Radical Inclusion … So in addition to a million dollars worth of debris removal and reconstruction work, we contributed a real sense of culture and community.”
Since Katrina, Burners Without Borders has been working on the ground in the aftermath of catastrophes in Peru, Haiti, Joplin, Missouri and elsewhere.
“What we try to do is fill in the gaps as an organization, or create a new organization when needed,” Mauk explained, “so that things that wouldn’t ordinarily happen can happen.”
But Burners Without Borders are limited to disaster relief efforts.
“A woman in Detroit, doxie (little “d”), was upset about the homeless situation, and noticed some marginalized people who didn’t seem to be getting services, and so rather than become like a social worker about it, and blame and fight, she just started to getting materials that they might need for harsh winters and putting them in backpacks. She is been going on three years now, and has an entire community that supports her, she has so many donations … the city loves it …”

The Sun Delivers a Sustainable Burn
Black Rock Solar is another example of how burners are taking the inner fire lit on the Playa and using it to energize and illuminate their communities (in this instance, quite literally).
“We installing solar for non-profits, and tribes, and schools in northern Nevada, and basically giving it away to them, charging them a very small portion of the actual cost, Patrick McCully, Executive Director of Black Rock Solar explained.
“We’re saving money for our clients, who are all worthy entities, and we’re sticking more clean energy on to the grid, and hopefully reducing carbon emissions. We are funded mainly with rebates from NV Energy.”
Like Burners Without Borders, Black Rock Solar sprung directly from the Playa.
“In 2007, the theme was the Green Man, so there was an attempt to green the festival, and there was a pretty sizable array donated to power the Man, recalled McCully, “you don’t want to leave it sitting out in the desert or in a shipping container somewhere …” So some burners installed the panels on a building in nearby Gerlach, and with the rebate, bought more panels for another array.
Meanwhile, back in Black Rock City, the drive to green Burning Man continues.
“We have both solar models out here on the Playa,” Marnee Benson, Deputy Director of Black RockSolar reported. “At the Snow Cone Solar camp, they have two large systems providing power to a grid they create for their camp mates, and in the Alternative Energy Zone (AEZ), it’s more that each camp has their own system [no generators allowed].”
But as Benson, who hosted a Sustainability Summit during Burning Man 2011, also noted, most camps are still using generators.
“Someone wanting to put solar panels on their RV is faced with similar decisions to someone wanting to put solar panels on their house [i.e., the cost]. I hope what we are doing out here on the Playa is helping them get over that initial hurtle.”

Red Lightening in the Desert
There is music everywhere at Burning Man, it blares 24x7, and merges with the sound of the burner multitude and a fleet of engines, into one glorious cacophony. Nevertheless, there are spaces steeped in silence and serenity.
For example, Red Lightening camp has a Medicine Wheel, with four tipis (north, south, east and west) and a sacred fire at its center, “holding energy and intention for the camp and the Red Lightening family.”
Ria Megnin, who belongs to Red Lightening, shared some background.
“What makes Red Lightning so unique is its focus on collective evolution and healing. Our programming is super-diverse, but all of our workshops support personal growth that connects us with community, Mama Gaia and the cosmos. We started with visions drawn from Plains Indians traditions about how to honor our planet and ourselves, woven with new visions of balancing and empowering the feminine and masculine powers in all of us.”
Out on the Esplanade, Samantha Sweetwater, founder of Dancing Freedom, is leading a journey in a canopied pavilion.
“Yesterday was Wednesday, we don’t know what that means anymore. Today is Thursday, in case you were wondering. Mid-burn. That means it is going to get juicy … We are about to work with medicine. The medicine is your biochemistry in motion. The medicine is our community in motion … This one blessed, profane, fucked up, perfect heart, how does it feel right now? These blessed, profane, fucked up, perfect fingers, hands, elbows, knees, genitals, bellies, shoulders, jaw-bones, how do they feel right now? Anchoring into the Earth, the mystery of this life is going to be our material …”

The Temple
In the beginning, there was the Man, and the powerful magic of burning him year after year. In that burning, great archetypal power is released, and great archetypal fear is banished. But the Man alone was not whole, not full, not balanced, there was something missing, and so the Temple came into being, and now each year, like the Man, it is built and then burned.
All around the Temple, there is an aura of sacredness; it is palpable in the atmosphere. It is burned the day after the Man. It turns the straight line of the arrow into a circle. It completes the ceremony. It is the Yin to the Yang, the Apollonian to the Dionysian, and it embodies the Divine Feminine.
Burning Man invested $80,000 in the 2011 Temple; $80,000 just to circumambulate it, use it as a crucible of memories, dreams, and losses, and then to burn it; a truly, profoundly communal experience of the sacred.

Leaning into Change
In 2007, James Hanusa was at his second Burning Man, and volunteering in Media Relations, telling the story of greening the Burn. (He described his first Burn as “the greatest party” he had ever experienced.) But it was at the Temple on that second year, that Hanusa had a transformative experience.
“I was alone, among 20,000 people who were silent in the middle of nowhere, offering respect to those that had passed on. Walking back from the Temple, in the dark, I heard a women crying behind me. She told me she had been honoring an addicted friend who had died. As his addiction worsened, he had continued to lose friends until she was the last person communicating with him. At that moment, something in my life opened up, and I understood, at the cellular level what I had often read about in books, the Buddhist concept of impermanence. Leaning into change became my mantra from that point forward.”
Today, Hanusa is responsible for New Initiatives at the Burning Man Project. These “New Initiatives” include an Economic Development & Civic Engagement program, partnership with the City of San Francisco to develop an Arts & Innovation Zone in the Market Street area, as well as a showcase for sustainability, technology, social enterprise and interactive urban art forms. Other partnerships in development include collaborations with neighbors in the Tenderloin, to work toward a cohesive community prepared for any disaster, a citizen-based, special forces group for disasters in other cities, and special plan for the city of San Francisco, involving a Burner-assisted disaster recovery.

Changing Culture
“When the economic collapse began, I was talking to my brother on the telephone,” said Larry Harvey at the Playa press conference, “and my brother said, ‘Larry, isn’t capitalism sort of a Ponzi scheme?’ The market system of course is almost cognate with civilization in many ways, but this notion that it is all predicated on endlessly increasing amounts of consumption doesn’t really work anymore, which makes for a paralyzing … we have just reached a state of cognitive dissonance. Everybody knows that almost everything we do is unsustainable now. If the Chinese consume at the rate that we have the world’s got a problem; the 21st Century is going to be about resource wars. One thing that could mitigate that is using the resources that inhere in communities, which can lead to remarkable economies … if you look at a theme camp and where they acquire their resources, projects out here tend to create these ever-enlarging gifting networks, and doing things that way it is possible to recycle, reuse, repurpose … I do not think the economic system is going to change until we change the culture that we have concocted in the last several decades, and in that way, I think what we are doing here is an inspiring model that could be applied as yet un-thought of ways …”

Time Travel
Approaching the Temple on my first night at Burning Man, I vividly remembered the Central Park Be-In on the night humankind walked on the Moon; that “giant step for [human]kind” was televised on a huge TV screen to our massive tribal gathering. I also was taken back to Jimi Hendrix playing the Star-Spangled Banner at dawn in Woodstock, as well as the wild magic of attempting to levitate the Pentagon two years earlier. It is not as if these memories had been buried in my psyche; but out on the Playa, I experienced them in a new way. There, it occurred to me that there was a continuity in all of these events, and that an evolutionary spiral was underway, and that although the thread sometimes seemed lost or broken, it never was or would be, and that one day (or night) hopefully sooner but probably later, the tapestry of a better, truer more humane society will be revealed. Meanwhile, primal culture (i.e., expressing, celebrating, sharing, loving, educating) and core civilization (i.e., food, water, shelter, clothing and security) would have to continue to be a moveable feast.

Richard Power is the author of seven books, including Between Shadow and Night: The Singularity in Anticipation of Itself and True North on the Pathless Path: Towards a 21st Century Yoga. He writes and speaks on security, risk, human rights and sustainability, and has delivered executive briefings and led training in over 40 countries. He blogs at and

Burning Man 2011: Rites of Passage ~ The Temple of Transition Burn

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Wangari Maathai Occupies Wall Street

“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.” -- Wangari Maathai, Unbowed: A Memoir

Wangari Maathai Occupies Wall Street

By Richard Power

In degrading the environment, therefore, we degrade ourselves

I don't do obituaries. I don't read them, I don't write them, I don't post them. But the news that Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai had shucked the mortal coil hit me harder than any other death in a very long time; and I have not been able to move beyond it.

Since there is no U.S. mainstream news source worthy of telling her story, here is a brief excerpt from the BBC obit:

The Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977, has planted an estimated 45 million trees around Kenya. The straightforward environmental benefits of that would have been important enough on their own in a country whose population has grown more than 10-fold over the last century, creating huge pressure on land and water. But what made the movement more remarkable was that it was also conceived as a source of employment in rural areas, and a way to give new skills to women who regularly came second to men in terms of power, education, nutrition and much else. Wangari Maathai: Death of a visionary, BBC, 9-26-11

Of course, Wangari Maathai's powerful presence will live on, rising from the roots of the countless trees she planted, as well as countless more she inspired others to plant. The way to honor her memory is strive to save this planet from the impact of human ignorance, epitomized as it is by climate change denialism, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and other abominations.

You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them. The Passing of Nobelist Wangari Maathai: “You Cannot Protect the Environment Unless You Empower People” Climate Progress, 9-26-11

Likewise, you cannot empower people unless you protect the environment. Human rights and environmental security are interdependent. Maathai understood this. So does Gore. And they were the first and second to win the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to further environmental justice and security. The Climate Crisis, and the Sustainability Meltdown with which it is interwoven, are the greatest challenges of our age, they are both our greatest threats and our greatest opportunities.

In degrading the environment, therefore, we degrade ourselves. The reverse is also true. In the process of helping the earth to heal, we help ourselves. If we see the earth bleeding from the loss of topsoil, biodiversity, or drought and desertification, and if we help reclaim or save what is lost—for instance, through regeneration of degraded forests—the planet will help us in our self-healing and indeed survival. Wangari Maathai, Spiritual Environmentalism: Healing Ourselves by Replenishing the Earth, Yes! Magazine, 9-26-11

As One People, United, We Acknowledge the Reality

For several days and nights, I confess, it is as if I have been following Wangari Maathai's shroud step by step through the Bardo, as she planted tree after tree, down a long row into infinity ...

Meanwhile, in the world of light, sound and movement, the struggle for the victory of love and awareness raged on.

“I am so blessed to be here,” West said. “You got me spiritually break-dancing on the way here. Because when you bring folk together, of all colors, of all cultures, of all genders, of all sexual orientations the elite will tremble in their boots. And we will send a message that this is the U.S. Autumn, responding to the Arab Spring.” Cornel West at ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest: The elite will tremble, Raw Story, 9-27-11

Witnesses said they saw three stunned women collapse on the ground screaming after they were sprayed in the face ... "I saw a girl get slammed on the ground. I turned around and started screaming," said Chelsea Elliott, 25, from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, who said she was sprayed. "I turned around and a cop was coming ... we were on the sidewalk and we weren't doing anything illegal." Wall Street protesters cuffed, pepper-sprayed during 'inequality' march, N.Y. Daily News, 9-25-11

A new generation has gone to the scene of the crimes committed against our future. The time has come for all people of good will to give our full-throated backing to the young people of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Van Jones and Max Berger, Wall Street Protests: Which Side Are You On? Rebuild the Dream, 10-1-11'

Labor unions and liberal activist groups plan to throw their weight behind the “Occupy Wall Street” protest in New York City that has now lasted 13 straight days ... Among unions, the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United and Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 have said they will participate in the protest next Wednesday. The Working Families Party,, Make the Road New York, the Coalition for the Homeless, the Alliance for Quality Education, Community Voices Heard, United New York and Strong Economy For All also plan to support the demonstration.
Unions and liberal groups to join ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest, Raw Story, 9-29-11

A few hours prior to my posting this Words of Power, "New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square" issued its first statement. I include it here, in its entirety, in the hope that it not be lost in time. May these seedlings take root, and may a great forest break through the walls and floors of that tomb. The struggles for environmental justice and economic justice are utterly interdependent. You cannot achieve one without the other; and there will be no meaningful peace without achieving both.

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!
*These grievances are not all-inclusive.
First official statement from Occupy Wall Street, Daily Kos, 10-1-11
Cornel West on Occupy Wall Street: It’s the Makings of a U.S. Autumn Responding to the Arab Spring

Do you know why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love? Go to for the answer.

Richard Power's seventh book, Between Shadow and Night: The Singularity in Anticipation of Itself, is now available. Here are links to purchase it from, or from CreateSpace.