Power, Leverage, Will

Text from a speech at Seattle University, 2018.

We live in an age of planetary civil war. We inhabit a deeply damaged landscape and exhibit a fractured psyche to match. We’ve broken a covenant with life. We wage war on the planet itself and on each other.

We must renew the covenant. But how? The word covenant stems from a Latin verb meaning to come together. Within the problem, we find the solution. We must come together in connectivity, interdependence, and solidarity if we are to choose life.

I turn to the words of John Berger for inspiration. He wrote, “The fact that the world’s tyrants are ex-territorial explains the extent of their overseeing power. Yet it also indicates a coming weakness. They operate in cyberspace and they lodge in guarded condominiums. They have no knowledge of the surrounding earth. Furthermore, they dismiss such knowledge as superficial, not profound. Only extracted resources count. They cannot listen to the earth. On the ground they are blind. In the local, they are lost. Effective acts of sustained resistance will be embedded in the local, near and far.”

The problem contains the solution. Local action circumvents global power by being rooted in place. We seize their weakness as our leverage point. We have freedom to move on the ground, and, therefore, we must know our community intimately. We must live rooted in the health of the land. Nature, culture, and health are interdependent. We will not have healthy communities in an unhealthy ecosystem. Art plays a vital role in revealing these connections, in imagining new ways of life, and inspiring us to act.

Five years ago, I began an experiment to unite art, ecology, and gift giving. I call it hypha, inspired by underground fungal networks. A network’s strength lies in decentralization and sharing. With hypha, I collaborate with friends to propagate plants, make art, and give it all away to strangers. A gift inspires reciprocity; it’s an offering that grows in abundance only if it is kept in motion. I consider knowledge a gift to be shared.

For example, the Pacific Northwest shares many natural gifts with us; this place abounds with medicinal plants. If I share a plant and my knowledge of its use and propagation with you, while adding art that celebrates this plant’s specialness, I believe that you will care for this plant and share it further. With each gift, hypha plants a seed of empowerment to explore and protect our local ecosystem while connecting you to others doing the same.

This may seem a small thing, but the implications and possibilities are profound. In a few short years, I have given thousands of plants to hundreds of people while talking about art, gifts, and sharing knowledge. All around Seattle, I’ve met committed, passionate people working to support their communities. Networked together, we can work collectively to confront and circumvent global power structures that destroy our communities for corporate profit.

Analyzing political movements, Jonathan Smucker wrote, “[To demand] something from the powerful- [to make] them do something- requires a political force behind it. We have to take responsibility to construct such a force. Otherwise we are just shouting at the wind. Our problem is one of power, leverage, and will.”

I take these words to heart and contemplate each problem. Power, Leverage, Will.

Through art we search for knowledge. Art inspires people to feel and to act; art cultivates our will. Local action is our leverage point. Locally, our actions have the greatest potential for success. Individually, we have little power against global systems. Collective action provides a stronger and more effective strategy for change.

I believe art and collective, local action provide meaningful, strategic resistance to global power. I also believe we can move beyond resistance to repair our broken communities and renew our covenant with life. To do this, we must ask what, “what can we offer and how can we show up for one another?” I ask you to gather your gifts and share them with others. We need each and every one of you.