The first discussion in this year’s Regenerative Activism series was centred around the importance of Radical Imagination, questioning whether neoliberalism has eroded our imagination and discussing strategies to transform this. Whilst revolutionary change may involve the exhilaration of throwing off the imaginative shackles, it also means forging transformative visions and practices to make new realities stick. The collapse of toxic narratives and harmful ideologies can offer a sense of liberation and peace, but it can also leave us feeling disorientated and directionless. In this context, how do we go about sustaining visions to guide us onto a path to something better?
To investigate the roots of the environmental turmoil we face today, we must re-examine the Nature/Human dichotomy that has shaped political and social thought for the past two centuries. Our current economic systems of domination have removed humans from the web of life and stripped nature of its spirit, rendering it available for commodification and exploitation. To engage with environmental activism is an invitation to dismantle the rifts that separate humans from the living world.
To cultivate a more compassionate culture that is devoid of divisions and binaries, we must work cohesively with those whose views align with the sacredness of nature. The stability of life is at risk for all life forms on our planet; the stakes are high and the need to sustain a clear vision is imperative. Farhana Yamin, an environmental lawyer and climate justice activist, is encouraged that the UN Secretary General speaks in the language of social movements, expressing urgency and desperation, and indicating that it is not those engaging in non-violent civil disobedience who are seen as extremists, but rather those who are continuing business-as-usual. For they are acting against science and against humanity.
This type of dialogue needs to happen not only at a global level, driven by organizations such as the UN, but at a community level too. Farhana raised the example of Extinction Rebellion’s protest and subsequent shutdown of Waterloo Bridge in London. The take-over restricted any traffic from crossing the bridge, so rather than congested with the usual sight of buses and cars, the central reservation was lined with a forest of trees and plants, creating an abundant landscape for humans, insects, and birds to enjoy. The bridge was transformed into a communal city garden, unravelling the nature/human divide that currently fills our city spaces and demonstrating the need for interconnectedness with nature.
In another imaginative initiative, The Climate Social Justice hub took over an empty shop on Camden High Street in London and opened a pop-up shop where nothing was for sale. Everything on offer was available through people gifting creative actions, such as cooking meals from surplus produce, providing hot drinks and hosting seminars and webinars. A fantastic way to demonstrate the capitalist system we operate within is not the only system available, and through disrupting the social norm within our communities we can forge new visions and embody new realities.
Visions for a peaceful future
Peace-pilgrim, life-long activist and former monk Satish Kumar shared his wisdom in this session, highlighting how peace activism and ecological activism go hand-in-hand. Peace activism works at three levels, first, you must be at peace with yourself. You are a microcosm of macrocosm, so you can’t create peace in the world until you are at peace within.
Secondly, finding peace with other people is vital. We must unpick our exclusionary thinking, such as narrow nationalism, narrow religious thinking and narrow political thinking and refrain from getting attached to labels and categories that foster divisions. Instead, celebrate diversity whilst recognising the whole planet is our common home. The way to peace is to recognize that ultimately love is our religion.
Thirdly, nature is our true nationality. Nation, Native and Nature come from the same root word – natal – which means birth. Nature is not separate from us, it is not ‘out there’ but within us. The destruction of nature is the destruction of ourselves.
On the topic of radical vision, Satish highlights how all great revolutions begin on the fringes of the political spectrum, not the centre. Martin Luther King did not start in the White House, nor Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi. Radical activism must come from a place of love in order to thrive, otherwise equal anxieties, anger and fear will arise. Martin Luther King was the embodiment of love, generosity, and compassion, and yet he was radical. Herein lies the sustaining power of activism - we act not out of fear, but out of love - love for Earth, for nature, for humanity, for culture.
Love is the driving force of non-violent activism. To protest out of love is to protect what is good in our society. As gravity holds all the material things together, love holds all the non-material things together – our idealism, our movements, our spirituality, our humanity. That is the transformative power of love – it drives the regenerative activism which creates new energy within us.
Frameworks for transformation
The more we ground ourselves in love and connection, the more we are empowered to show up in the world. Brooke Lavelle represents Courage of Care, a project with a mission to build a loving, just and liberated world by offering a framework that encourages us to reorient ourselves within a more compassionate worldview. The Courage of Care model is inherently deconstructive and reconstructive. By dismantling the conditioning that drives false separation, we can rebuild new ways of being that help us align with care, love, and counter oppression. The framework is broken down into five pillars and follows the acronym RISE.
(R)eveal truths: R stands for revealing the truth and is the starting point for the deconstructive dimension of the model. It’s a way of surfacing the systems of domination, such as white supremacy and capitalism that have contributed to the current planetary crisis. This pillar is a way of understanding at an embodied level the ways in which we’ve all been shaped by these systems of oppression in different ways, based on our location, social hierarchy, context, and histories.
(I)nvest in healing: Given the urgency of the ecological crisis and widespread social injustice we face today, many people segue immediately from identifying a problem to swift action. However, it’s imperative we pause, take stock, and tend to the traumas and ruptures in our interpersonal relationships, movements and work. Otherwise, it’s likely we’ll bake old habits into new systems.
(S)ense alternatives: Sensing alternatives not only refers to envisaging a potential future reality, but also sensing what’s already here in our armoury. By exploring other systems and ideas that exist alongside our current worldview, we can reshape reality and encompass alternate modes of being.
(E)mbodying commitments: This final pillar is about recognising that it is one thing to have a vision, and another to commit to practicing that vision in relationship and community. We’re not on a linear trajectory of a fixed vision, so this section encourages us to develop capacity for adaptation, both collectively and individually.
The balance of optimism and pessimism when forging and sustaining vision
In our current climate of near social collapse, widespread ecological degradation, ocean acidification and rapid climate change, it’s understandable that pessimism arises alongside optimism for change and it’s important to find ways to balance these shifting complexities. Though this is of course relative as somebody’s optimism might be someone else’s pessimism, but in general, acceptance for where we’re at, along with flexibility and adaptability are helpful modes of thinking. Zack Walsh highlights that we’re going through a very historic period in our civilization – we are witnessing the modern capitalist paradigm collapse under its own weight, after years of deeply unsustainable exponential growth. We are now at a bell curve, moving toward unavoidable systemic breakdown.
This process won’t happen overnight and may take decades. Through collapse we can find opportunities to reorganise society, starting with decreasing consumption in the global North and improving livelihoods in the global South. We must transcend the current capitalist system and participate in building an alternative system based on sustainability, such as a commons-based economy, which over the course of history has always sustained marginalised populations or people in crisis. From a historical perspective, we’ve seen this pattern multiple times: periods of growth – lead to ecological collapse – and a period of reorganisation ensues. As a civilization, we are now in the period of reorganisation, we have exceeded capacity and to get back to a point of stability, we must provide power and resources to communities and redistribute and regenerate accordingly.
In times of instability and grave uncertainty, the timeline for action is so compressed that we must take an all-hands-on-deck approach to forge and practice alternate visions for the future. Sustaining such a radical transformation will take courage, struggle, and commitment. First, we must disentangle ourselves from oppressive systems of domination that are rife within our society, such as white supremacy, colonialism, and dualistic attitudes toward nature. Then, it’s about creating meaning and purpose (away from consumption and production) and building communities based on mutual aid and collaboration, allowing for periods of rest and reflection. By aligning under new conceptual frameworks, we can build, forge, and sustain a vision for a society based on interconnectedness, compassion, love, and care.
Hickel, J (2021) Less is More.
Graeber, D (2015) Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and The Secret Joys of Bureaucracy.
Yamin, F (2019). Pop up shop doesn’t cost the Earth. Camden New Journal. https://www.camdennewjournal.co.uk/article/pop-up-shop-doesnt-cost-the-earth.
Extinction Rebellion. Photo Story, Trees on Waterloo Bridge. https://extinctionrebellion.uk/2020/04/19/photo-story-getting-the-trees-onto-waterloo-bridge/.