Why the environmental and social justice movements must come together
Reverend Deborah L. Johnson and author-entrepreneur Paul Hawken met about six months ago and realized they had a lot in common.
“We resonated a lot,” recalls Johnson, founder of Inner Light Ministries in Soquel. “I was particularly moved by Paul’s involvement in the civil rights movement. Most people know him as an environmentalist but he was a journalist during that time. I thought our voices combined could bring a unique perspective in helping the more progressive types come together.”
The pair decided to collaborate on events that would focus on building synergies between the environmental and social justice movements. Titled For the Planet & Her People, the events will take place Friday, Oct. 11 and Saturday, Oct. 12 at Inner Light Center.
“The most important thing for us to understand is mutuality and interdependence,” Johnson tells GT. “Too much activism happens in a fragmented, isolated way. It’s as though we’re reinventing the wheel all the time.”
Hawken, who is based in Northern California, agrees that modern dualistic thinking is a root of the environmental and social disruptions the world is now experiencing.
“We fail to see that we are life,” he says. “I use the body and how it’s organized [as an analogy]: there is no one in charge of the human body and it works magnificently. If there was someone in charge it would probably die very quickly.”
In his 2007 book “Blessed Unrest,” Hawken highlights qualities he sees as propelling the current worldwide movements for indigenous rights, environmental health, and social justice as organic, non-authoritarian, self-organized and fiercely independent.
“The idea that we’ll somehow solve this if we can just get the right leader is not true,” Hawken says. “All change happens, in the beginning, from small seeds and aggregates upwards. It doesn’t start from the top. The only changes that start from the top have been destructive ones: war and imperialism.”
Johnson, who is known for her social justice activism as well as her faith leadership, brings a spiritual perspective to the issues at hand.
“Human beings engage in environmental devastation or social denigration when we forget that we are all fundamentally part of each other and that we all belong to the planet, [and] when we don’t know that we treat the planet and people as resources to be exploited,” she says. “MLK Jr. used to say that any country that spends more on war than on social uplift is moving toward spiritual bankruptcy.”
As an example of the detrimental effects of the disconnect between self and other, both Johnson and Hawken point to the secret government spying programs revealed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden over the past two months.
”When we don’t perceive our connection to others, we engage in these kinds of activities,” says Johnson. “It’s run by fear, power and greed. There’s a sense of hierarchy and people feeling like they need to dominate.”
This sort of government activity is emblematic of what happens at the end of empire, adds Hawken.
“[An] empire needs to concentrate power and control and whatever exposes that is a threat to empire,” he says. “The only silver lining—besides the courage of those three individuals [whistleblowers Snowden, Bradley Manning, and Julian Assange]—is that it’s a sign of empire fraying at the edges.”
He recalls these famous words from W.B. Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
“Centers never hold when they concentrate and history has shown no exception to this fact,” he says. “Whatever lingering nostalgia we have about democracy was forsaken a long time ago. Washington is the epitome of dysfunctionality and is not owned by the people; it’s owned by the corporations.”
One vital link between the movements for environmental health and social justice are the planet’s indigenous people, he says. Indeed, it’s often the indigene who are on the front lines confronting corporate and state domination to protect traditional living.
“Indigenous people never made that separation between self and nature,” reflects Hawken. “There isn’t any syntax for it in their native languages. There isn’t a way to say it because it doesn’t exist. That understanding is a knowledge that we must go back to. There’s a transcendent love that arises when someone understands that there is no separation between one’s self and the other, whether that other is a tree, a child, a culture, a forest or a river. This awareness brings forth a very different way of being present in the world and one acts differently. This does have an extraordinary history and is a realm that is arising very powerfully right now.”
Join Rev. Deborah L. Johnson and Paul Hawken at For The Planet & Her People on Friday, Oct. 11, 7 to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Inner Light Center, 5630 Soquel Drive. Tickets are $70 for both events ($50 students) including an organic lunch on Saturday. Single day passes are also available for Friday: $20 ($15 students) and Saturday: $50 ($35 students) at innerlightministries.com. Childcare is available by request: 465–9090 ext. 213.
Photo: Raymond Baltar