I went to the climate march in New York City last week. This was on Friday, September 20, connecting with a massive strike and protest happening all over the world on the same day. My friend Attila had just flown in from Portland, Oregon, and the sprawling scene all over downtown Manhattan was so packed it took us hours to find each other in the crowd.
It was an amazing day. We marched from Foley Square down Broadway past City Hall with a young, energetic, angry crowd — so young, in fact, that when we marched past Zuccotti Park I sensed that most people around me didn’t know that this had been the historic site of Occupy Wall Street only eight years before. A whole lot of stuff went down at Zuccotti Park in 2011. Two blocks later we marched past Wall Street itself, and I thought about how we need to occupy it again, and this time refuse to leave.
Down at Battery Park, we heard many inspiring speeches from young climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, the inspired 16-year-old from Sweden who had kicked off this particular protest movement only a year earlier by sitting in front of a government building in Stockholm with a sign demanding attention to climate change.
Onstage at Battery Park, Greta Thunberg spoke with simple clarity and purpose. As she briefly explained what this global movement is about, her voice calm and confident, the entire rambunctious and overheated crowd hushed itself so we could hear every word.
I later learned that this bright teenage activist is the daughter of an opera singer, and maybe this helps explain her talent for communication. Her words fell over this crowd like a moment of clarity, a message of simple reality. Our addiction to fossil fuels and financial profit has become toxic and is destroying our planet; we need to address this problem at the global level, and we must make ourselves heard until this happens.
I’ve been protesting a long time, and this gives me some perspective to consider the crisis the world is in right now, which mirrors the crisis my country is in right now. I was a kid during the Nixon administration, and I remember how our nation reeled from the realization that the Vietnam War was an immoral disaster, an immense and evil fiasco. Once a nation loses a major war, a leadership crisis within the defeated government inevitably begins. A leadership crisis often takes the form of a constitutional crisis, and I’m sure that this is why Watergate happened. (It’s typical to blame the folly of the Watergate scandal on the flawed personality of Richard Nixon, but I have been arguing for some years now that this shallow pyschobiographical interpretation dodges the real lesson of the Watergate scandal: our entire government was culpable for the Vietnam War, and when we lost the war something in our government had to break. Watergate is what broke.)
I was a kid then, but I sure do remember the mood in the air. Watergate felt like Greek tragedy, when the cathartic death takes place (the fall of President Nixon, our Oedipus, our Agamemnon) and the society begins to heal. This is not to say that USA could ever heal itself from the horror and guilt of the death and destruction the Vietnam War caused. But it seemed to me that our nation was unified in adjusting to the fall, in accepting what had changed, and in looking forward to a transformative future.
Today, there is no unified nation known as the United States of America, and indeed it seems to me that the USA is rotten to the core, eaten alive by greedy hedge fund managers, a toxic force all over the world. Corrupt capitalism and racism and sexism and voter suppression and income inequality have ripped apart our social fabric. It doesn’t feel like there’s any fabric left at all.
The Nixon debacle felt like Greek tragedy. The Trump debacle, pathetically, feels more like Eugene Ionesco’s satirical masterpiece Rhinoceros, in which a few woke souls watch in sardonic horror as their friends and neighbors transform into gross, insensible beasts.
Even worse, the disaster of Trumpism resembles the bad Ayn Rand novel in all our nightmares. I was prescient years ago when I put a lot of effort into critiquing the serious philosophy behind the Ayn Rand movement — the “greed is good” ideology that connects Ronald Reagan to Paul Ryan to Donald Trump. We once had intense debates here on Litkicks about the meaning of Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy. Today, we see in the Trump regime the actual results of the Ayn Rand worldview put into practice. And we smell its stench.
Well, moments of clarity sometimes fall fast upon each other. In the past week, here in the country that claims me as a citizen, the movement to impeach Trump has happily taken on new momentum. I welcome this. I am sure we need to impeach not only Trump but Pence, Barr, Miller, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas, DeVos and Mnuchin. We also need to reinvent USA as an actual democracy and get rid of the money-soaked two-party system that delivers steady profits to corporations while ignoring us, the people.
Will this challenge to Trumpism be a step in the right direction? Will it make any difference at all? Can we actually impeach the fear, stupidity and craven greed that lies deep within the human soul? Of course we can’t, but we need to block the Trump regime’s access to power in every way we can. Sometimes I do feel a sense of shared idealism buried under all of us. Sometimes I hear from deep within myself a quiet stirring of optimism and wisdom. We can fight for what’s right, we can do better. Sometimes I have moments of clarity.
Okay, well. I better have some moments of clarity because I’m off to Ireland in a few days to take part in a conference of antiwar activists, World Beyond War’s #NoWar2019.
This will be my third WBW annual conference. Two years ago we met in Washington DC, last year in Toronto, and this is our first time in Europe. If you can come, please do! I’ll be there posting to social media, livestreaming on our Facebook page, moderating a workshop review and, most importantly for me personally, spending time with other peace activists from all over the world who have felt the same calling I have felt to challenge the world’s trajectory towards brainless self-destruction. As I mentioned in a recent staff spotlight for this organization, I believe that peace activism is the most philosophically baffling and societally alienating of all the good causes on earth. This is exactly why I am drawn to this kind of activism. I don’t bother with easy moral challenges.
I’m really proud of the World BEYOND War monthly podcast series I began producing earlier this year. The last three episodes have felt especially powerful to me.
Episode 8 (“Educating for Peace)” was a surprise for me, and probably also for my regular co-host Greta Zarro, because our plan was to talk about the book A Global Security System which Tony Jenkins, Patrick Hiller and Kozue Akibayashi all contributed to. But these three guests also happen to be peace educators, and the great thing about podcast conversations is that they can go off in any direction. We spent an hour in a serious discussion of what it means to work in peace research or education or science, and I really learned a lot. You will too — give it a listen!
Episode 7 (“War and Environment”) asks a question that was very much on my mind during the climate strike protest in New York City. Environmental activism and antiwar activism should be seen as identical causes. We are against death, waste and destruction; we are for sane and sustainable government. But why is it sometimes so hard to build bridges between the antiwar movement and the environmental movement? Two dedicated and hardworking environmental activists, Alex Beauchamp and Ashik Siddique, join Greta and myself to address this question.
Episode 6 (“Fiction and Activism”) is very special to me because it reunites me with a good friend who I have interviewed many times before, the great novelist Roxana Robinson, whose most recent book is Dawson’s Fall. I asked Roxana if she knew any other novelists who might be interested in discussing the topic of war and peace on our podcast, and she suggested Dawn Tripp, author of several excellent books including Georgia, a powerful and surprising novel about the artist Georgia O’Keefe. The conversation in this hour really connected with some of the topics I think about a lot. I hope we’ll be doing more episodes like this in the future.
There will also be a new episode of my Lost Music podcast coming soon! I was hoping to launch yet another Literary Kicks podcast this summer, because podcasting is really fun and pleases my compulsive urge for creative novelty. But I was honestly just too freaking busy. Sorry! You can always follow me on Twitter if you want to hear more of what I’ve got to say, and I will be announcing all my future podcast episodes there, along with lots of other stuff I’m usually going on about.
Dear friends, this blog post is dedicated to three poets who died since the previous time I got around to writing a Litkicks blog post.
Steve Cannon was a big part of New York City’s poetry scene since forever. He died in July at the age of 84.
Steve Dalachinsky was a personal friend and a very sweet, smart guy. Most people in the New York City poetry scene were shocked when his wife Yuko Utomo suddenly reported his death. This is what I wrote on Litkicks Facebook after I heard the news.
Finally, fare thee well to one of the greatest lyricists of all time, Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead. How I loved Robert Hunter! I’ll cite the lyrics to the song ‘Dire Wolf’ as one of many examples of his perfect way with words. And indeed next week I am off to Fennario myself. But I’ll close this blog post with a different Robert Hunter quote, from the weary road tune “Truckin'”.
Love to Steve and Steve and Robert from Literary Kicks, and to all of us. Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.
“Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street
Chicago, New York, Detroit and it’s all in the same street
your typical city involved in a typical daydream
hang it up and see what tomorrow brings …”