“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace”-Jimi Hendrix
Much to the dismay of thousands of concerned citizens, students, and teachers- Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, has announced roughly $300 million dollars in budget cuts, primarily in education. Clearly, this sort of decision deserves intense scrutiny, of which it has gotten its fair share. What it does not need, however, is a further polarization of our politics and more importantly our mindsets.
For this article to have any impact to you, the angry reader, one thing must be made clear: Scott Walker is not an evil person. Making that statement, in many socially liberal circles, would have me labeled a heretic. Conservative bashing has become somewhat of a favorite pastime for environmentally inclined people, and while there’s no shortage of great material, it takes away from the bigger picture.
Why do you not think Scott Walker is evil? Are you saying that you’re okay with him trashing the environment?! He didn’t even graduate college!!
Not wanting to condemn Mr. Walker as a person does not mean I condone his actions. His environmental record is deplorable, he is as shady of a politician as they come, and his cozy ties to industry are shamelessly flaunted in the face of millions struggling to make ends meet. Despite all this, hating him is not going to have any benefit. Had I been raised in the exact same environment, with the exact same predispositions, or in essence, the totality of his circumstance as Charles Eisenstein likes to say, I would be acting the same. This is not a favorable position.
The ‘us vs. them’ narrative runs so deep in our consciousness that as we march for peace and justice, we fail to truly implement them. Storming the governors yard does not do much to further the cause, and while it is well within our rights and may ‘soften the blow’ of the cuts, it’s not the most effective method. While we scream about the intense greed on display in his actions, we fail to realize that these actions are framed in the exact same way by republican counterparts.
To be clear, I am not advocating these cuts. If we were truly looking for ways to improve our spending, outrageous Congressional salaries and benefits, corporate tax breaks, and excessive defense spending would all be better places to start. That is not the reality of what occurred, so fighting to change what already has happened is an exercise in futility.
I recently attended a gathering in Madison for grassroots organizing to share and discuss tactics to stop the development of tar sands, fracking, and other dirty industries that have a hold in Wisconsin. When the conversation inevitably took a turn towards the infamous Koch brothers, I felt a bit of unease. A song manual from the protests earlier in the week was provided, and while paging through someone pointed out a jocular tune about the ‘evil enemy’ that was the Koch brothers. I expressed that I didn’t think calling them evil, even if in good fun, was going to do anything for our cause. It was only going to polarize us and leave no room for negotiation.
This attempt at empathy was mistaken for naivety and ignorance; clearly I didn’t know how bad these guys were. I was offered numerous statistics, given analogies and scenarios, and shown a video, as if seeing more of the destruction would rouse some anger and fuel my passion towards the enemy.
What I am essentially trying to say with that statement is not that we should meet in the middle with fracking, or any other dirty industries; they are destructive, phallic processes that have no place on this Earth in any future worth living. But the perpetrators of these actions are not themselves evil, despite being driven to take such malicious actions. We’ve been yelling at the Walkers and the Kochs of the world for years trying to shame them for their actions. What would happen if we instead tried to teach them to love what they were destroying?
Framing the Koch brothers, or any number of political adversaries, as ‘the bad guys’ is taking the easy way out. If there is a real enemy, it is judgment. Rather than trying to truly understand their situation, we have opted for a worldview that only includes people who agree with us and will come to “our side”. No one is perfect, and if our overall aim is a healthy, life-accommodating environment than that is what we must strive to emulate in all of our actions. This means that if we know the definition of love, we should act upon it. Love is the absence of judgment, and forgiveness is a sign of strength. When the aforementioned conversation continued, I got a surprising answer. I gave the person a hypothetical situation in which they were to decide the fate of the Koch brothers and their empire. With no strings attached and no limitations, this person was to decide what course of action would be taken with the Koch brothers. While I was happy that this person didn’t advocate for their deaths, what they did advocate was still more of the same. This person proposed we take away their business and shut down Koch industries. Those are two things that realistically would occur if this planet is to sustain life, but it begs a bigger question: Why is our first instinct to take?
This controlling mindset is of the very same variety that the Koch brothers handle their business, and if you will grant me that scale is ambiguous in such a vast universe, then the reason our ‘tactics’ have failed to work becomes all the more clear. Tactics are defined as the means or procedures used to achieve an end result. If our tactics are coming from a place of alienation and revenge, then the cycle will perpetuate. Conversely, tactics carried out in reverence and respect for the Earth and all of its inhabitants will not meet the same resistance.
To clarify, these ‘tactics’ are not black and white. I don’t mean to use my anecdote to say that the tar sands summit was a waste; it was an absolute blast and I felt graced to be in the presence of such a large group of caring and kind folks. One small side conversation did not take away from what was a crucial step in organizing to protect the rights to clean water and breathable air for millions of people. Moving forward, these actions are going to be increasingly important and I believe that doing away with the “us versus them” narrative is crucial to long-lasting change.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a coal with the intent to throw it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”. Our passionate and well-intentioned anger is not only largely ineffective, it takes away from our own happiness. If we are angry because we want to show people we care about the Earth, our egos are getting in the way; if we are angry because we don’t know what else to feel, then we our doing a disservice to the gift of life. Compassion puts you in the difficult position of recognizing that there is intense suffering in this world, but your compassion must include taking care of your own happiness. Yes you are going to be angered by things in this world, but letting these drive you to resentment and despair means you have already given up.