At the end of March, I had the privilege of attending the Deep Democracy Workshop with Riki Ott. The workshop was an incredibly valuable opportunity to learn more about community organizing and social, political and environmental activism. Riki has a lot of experience organizing communities, and played an integral role in organizing communities to help deal with the vast environmental devastation caused by both the Exxon Valdez and BP Gulf Coast Oil Spills. She is both inspiringly motivated and full of energy, and works hard to bring about positive change.
During the workshop, many different issues and movements were discussed, as well as tactics and models of social movements that could be utilized to affect change. Among the topics discussed were the Occupy Wall Street and corresponding Occupy movements within the states and around the globe. Riki was highly enthusiastic about the revolutionary potential of the Occupy movement, as well as its peaceful, decentralized and diverse nature.
Riki also talked about the Transition Town Movement, which has also been spreading quite widely lately. Transition Towns are taking initiative and rebuilding their local economies, focusing on sustainability, interdependence and autonomy. Some Transition Towns have even gone so far as to draft their own Bill of Rights, oftentimes rejecting corporate personhood and proclaiming that sovereignty is for human beings, not corporate social constructs.
In terms of tactics, Riki was very adamant that peaceful coordination and nonviolence were key to creating movements with significant impacts. She argued that nonviolence gives movements a moral advantage and also brings new people into the movement. Nevertheless, she was equally adamant that civil disobedience is necessary to bringing about change, so long as it stays nonviolent. When injustice is law, it becomes a moral imperative that we disobey it. She gave the example of the Civil Rights movement, and tactics such as the sit-ins at lunch counters, even students peacefully getting attacked by police and dogs. By allowing themselves to be attacked and victimized by these unjust laws, people brought attention to the shockingly cruel nature of laws perpetuated by the state and civil authorities. Even the Transition Towns drafting their own Bill of Rights were a form of civil disobedience, as they are technically illegal and not recognized by the state.
Along with stressing nonviolent action, Riki also emphasized the importance of not only revolution but evolution. In other words, rather than just tearing down or reacting to systems and structures that perpetuate injustice, we need to have a vision of what we hope to replace them with. In other words, movements shouldn’t get too caught up in what they want to fight against, but what kinds of positive goals they hope to accomplish. She explained her opinion that times of great crisis, such as we seem to be experiencing now, also bring about the most potential for positive change and creative opportunity. Over all, one of the most powerful and encouraging messages she had to offer was the revolutionary power of creative and constructive thinking.
At the end of the day, we organized ourselves into two groups and created new teams to tackle issues in our community. We formed a committee to create a Free Health Care Clinic for LaPlata County Citizens in need, as well as a campaign to help bring more local foods into Fort Lewis and other schools in the area. We came up with a coherent action plan to help us solidify our goals and obstacles and to get these projects rolling. Hopefully these new initiatives will blossom into full-scale community programs, and we can implement our positive visions for the community.
Overall, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to attend this workshop. I took a lot from it, especially a new sense of enthusiasm for evolution and revolution, and it gave me hope to see so many other people passionate about creating change in the community.
~ Randy Newkirk