The irony that this – the first blog post I’ve written in 18 months – has a similar theme to the last one does not escape me! In truth, since my journey has been one of stepping out of that place of living small in an attempt to avoid censure or disapproval of others, it’s probably not surprising.
Last weekend I had the great gift of joining about 1000 women (and a handful of brave men!) at Marianne Williamson’s event – Sister Giant: Women, Non-Violence and Birthing a New American Politics. As a woman who has since June been a Resident Alien of the USA, I had lots at stake and lots to learn, and what a rich environment in which to do so!
This gathering was neither an angry nor helpless protest against the status quo. Through a variety of presentations by herself and others Marianne called us from any place of distraction or feeling of being emotionally paralysed by the sometimes vicious, often disrespectful, almost always attackingly adversarial way of politics evident in the recently completed elections in the USA, into the notion of a holistic politics.
Taking Ghandi’s idea that politics should be sacred and engage the whole of who we are, Marianne invited us to go deep together, turning love into a broad-scale political force. And this was not just a nice, feel-good idea. On Saturday we were presented with some of the dark secrets that hadn’t been addressed during the election campaign – child poverty, the incarceration rate, and Citizens United. This was part of the difficult-to-hear education for me.
Shannon Daley Harris of the Children’s Defense Fund told us of the 16.1 million kids in the US (that’s 1 in 5) who live in poverty. Poverty means a family of 4 existing on $24,000 annually. Her organization rates politicians on how they vote on pieces of legislation that improve the lives of children. The painful truth is that this year there were no such policies – they could only rate those who voted against 4 policies that would have hurt children further. “Justice,” Shannon reminded us “is what love looks like in public.”
As Marianne pointed out the poor in the US have often been demonized over the last years. Are there poor who have taken advantage of the system? Yes, but that’s the shadow of the group, NOT the identity of everyone in the group. And ALL groups have a shadow element.
Lisa Bloom highlighted the false dichotomy that is so often raised in these challenging financial times – should we cut social services or increase taxes? I was blown away to learn about the multi-billion dollar prison system that’s rarely spoken of because people are afraid to be seen as ‘soft on crime’. The truth is that today, non-violent offenders make up 60% of the prison population in the US, which currently incarcerates more people than any other country. If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.
Nationwide, spending on prisons has risen 6 times faster than spending on higher education! To return to the rate of incarceration in the 1970s four out of five people behind bars today would need to be released.
In addition, the CDF report on America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline points to the stark current reality -at the intersection of poverty and race in the US, Black boys are at a one in three lifetime risk of going to jail, and Latino boys at a one in six lifetime risk of the same fate.
While perhaps not as immediately gut wrenching, the challenges presented by a system which through the Super PACs (who, independently of the campaigns, spent close to $1Billion – to me an obscene ‘waste’ of money – during the recent election) were the third issue addressed. Adam Winkler, a UCLA Law Faculty member and specialist in American constitutional law took us on a walk through the history of the evolution of Citizens United. As a new resident this was fascinating.
And though the good news seems to be that this spending didn’t seem to influence the outcome of this particular election, the impact this kind of spending might have in smaller elections calls us all to pay attention – speaking out and voting in ways that feel true, so that democracy does not become something for the rich and powerful, but for ‘we the people’.
For me personally, there were two transformative moments. One was the quietly powerful invitation by Charlene Spretnak for us to stand and speak from a place of deep confidence in our innate feminine perception, analysis and vision of the relational reality that ‘is’, and for what is possible when we embrace and co-create systems in alignment with this reality. This struck a deep chord in me that was amplified by Jean Houston’s call to be open and responsive to the entelechy – the divine self within us that is our higher guidance system – by which we can feel held, and guided as we navigate the path to which we are drawn. This hero’s journey is explored in Jean’s new book The Wizard of Us. Charlene’s book Relational Reality is also available.
The other presentation that was hugely inspiring for me, and I’d love to see replicated in many places was offered by a group of women from Oklahoma representing an organization called Sally’s List. Their mission is to recruit and train progressive women to run for the Oklahoma state legislature. This was born out of the realization that women do not instinctively feel qualified to seek elected office, and running for office is often not a decision they come to on their own. However, when actively recruited, educated and supported in the campaign process, they’re more likely to become candidates.
The truth is that studies show when women run for office, they win in equal numbers to men. So we have fewer women in office not because people don’t want to vote for women, but because there just aren’t enough female candidates for whom to vote! And having more women representatives does make a difference! A study quoted in a recent NY Times article found “once women made up 60 to 80 percent or more of a group, they spoke as much as men, raised the needs of the vulnerable and argued for redistribution (and influenced the rhetoric of their male counterparts). They also encountered fewer hostile interruptions.” Our support and sponsorship of each other DOES make a difference!
To be clear, I did NOT come away from this weekend in any way feeling drawn to run for public office! But I AM way more aware of, and willing to speak to paint a picture of possibility, and support those campaigning for these issues crucial to moving our society, and indeed our planet, in the direction where compassion not money is the bottom line.
I am committed to enacting a vision of a world in which it is no longer true that those of us who love are speaking so softly our voices are not heard. O want to be part of co-creating a world where the end is inherent in the means. This is work that matters – and for me is worth doing, whatever the outcome.