WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
…Personal change doesn’t equal social change.”
Then in 1865 he came up with a trick, pretending that he was fighting a Civil War to set us free—which wasn’t to set us free. He came up with another trick, that he was issuing an Emancipation Proclamation to set us free—which wasn’t to set us free. And then he also pretended that he was putting some amendments to the Constitution to set us free—which wasn’t to set us free. Later on, he came up with a Supreme Court decision which he said was to give us free access to better education—which wasn’t to do that. And then last year he came up with a bill that he called also to give us more freedom—which also wasn’t to do that.
Any man who will know the level of civilization that we started out on and came from, any man who knows the criminal deeds that were done to us by his people to bring us to the level that we’ve been on for the past three hundred years, knows he is so deceptive, so deceitful, so criminally deceitful, that it is almost beyond his nature or desire to come up with anything meaningful that will undo what has been done to us over the past three hundred years. It is absolutely necessary—anything that is done for us, has to be done by us.”
The belief that rejection of tradition and of history is a useful response to life is reflected in America’s amazing loss of memory concerning its origins in the matrix and context of Native America. America does not seem to remember that it derived its wealth, its values, its food, much of its medicine, and a large part of its “dream” from Native America. It is ignorant of the genesis of its culture in this Native American land, and that ignorance helps to perpetuate the long-standing European and Middle Eastern monotheistic, hierarchical, patriarchal cultures’ oppression of women, gays, and lesbians, people of color, working class, unemployed people, and the elderly. Hardly anyone in America speculates that the constitutional system of government might be as much a product of American Indian ideas and practices as of colonial American and Anglo-European revolutionary fervor.
Even though Indians are officially and informally ignored as intellectual movers and shapers in the United States, Britain, and Europe, they are peoples with ancient tenure on this soil. During the ages when tribal societies existed in the Americas largely untouched by patriarchal oppression, they developed elaborate systems of thought that included science, philosophy, and government based on a belief in the central importance of female energies, autonomy of individuals, cooperation, human dignity, human freedom, and egalitarian distribution of status, goods, and services. Respect for others, reverence for life, and as a by-product, pacifism as a way of life; importance of kinship ties in the customary ordering social interaction; a sense of the sacredness and mystery of existence; balance and harmony in relationships both sacred and secular were all features of life among the tribal confederacies and nations. And in,those that lived by the largest number of these principles, gynarchy was the norm rather than the exception. Those systems are as yet unmatched in any contemporary industrial, agrarian, or postindustrial society on earth.”
Initially—there’s a book called The Slave Trade by Spears, 1 in which it points out that one of the first slave ships to come here was piloted by an Englishman named John Hawkins, and John Hawkins’s ship was called Jesus, the good ship Jesus. This was the boat that was used—it’s in history—they used Jesus to bring them here. And they’ve been using him to keep you here, too.
When our people got here and found out what they had gotten into, they didn’t want to stay. Many of them started looking for that ship that brought them here. The slaves had an old spiritual which they sang: “Steal away to Jesus, steal away home.” You think that they were talking about some man that got hung on the cross two thousand years ago, whereas they were talking about a ship. They wanted to steal away and get on board that ship that was named Jesus, so that they could go back home on the mother continent, the African continent, where they had been tricked and brought from. But you’ve got poor Negroes today, who have been brainwashed, still sitting in church talking about stealing away to Jesus; they talk about going up yonder, dying, if they’re going somewhere. Showing you how your mind is all messed up. They were talking about a boat.
Or, they used to sing a song, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” They weren’t talking about that man that died supposedly on the cross, they were talking about a boat. “You can have this world”—this Western world, this evil, corrupt, run-down, low-down Western world—but give me Jesus the boat, [Applause] but give me the ship Jesus, so I can go back home where I’ll be among my own kind. This is what the spiritual came from. But they’ve got it in the church today, and that old dumb preacher has your and my—yes, dumb preacher—has your and my mind so messed up we think that Jesus is somebody that died on a cross, and we sit there foaming at the mouth talking about “you can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” And the man took all this world and gave you Jesus, and that’s all you’ve got is Jesus.”
We know that we, the Blacks, and not only we, the blacks, have been, and are, the victims of a system whose only fuel is greed, whose only god is profit. We know that the fruits of this system have been ignorance, despair, and death, and we know that the system is doomed because the world can no longer afford it—if, indeed, it ever could have. And we know that, for the perpetuation of this system, we have all been mercilessly brutalized, and have been told nothing but lies, lies about ourselves and our kinsmen and our past, and about love, life, and death, so that both soul and body have been bound in hell.
The enormous revolution in black consciousness which has occurred in your generation, my dear sister, means the beginning or the end of America. Some of us, white and Black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecendented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.
If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”