The Case for Mass Civil Disruption and Resistance: The story of how 15 intentional communities and experiments came together to form a national coalition to defend life, come hell or high water

France --- Forest with Sun Behind --- Image by © Ocean/Corbis

Now I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair, with a love so vast and shattered, it will reach you everywhere.” —Leonard Cohen

The first question we must ask is: Why? Why is it time for mass civil resistance? As you read this, many of us are building strawbale structures on lands stolen generations ago from indigenous people; 64 people own more wealth than the poorest half of the planet (3½ billion people!); 90 percent of the planet’s fish populations are gone; and 150 species will go extinct today—a rate 1,000 times higher than Earth’s natural background rate. Forest fires rage across huge swathes of our taiga, temperate, and tropical forests every year; the US has more people incarcerated than any other country on Earth—the majority of those unjustly incarcerated being people of color; Donald Trump has a chance to become the next president.

If we glance forward just 30 years, our future outlook is shocking and unbelievable. The United Nations estimates that, due to carbonic acidification and rising temperatures (both driven by burning fossil fuels), there will be no fish in the oceans by 2048, over one-quarter of humanity will be displaced or dead due to sea level rise, war, and violent weather; there will be 50 percent less fresh water available; and significant portions of the Earth will be uninhabitable due to extreme temperatures.

People of color, indigenous people, and other oppressed and marginalized people will be most impacted by all of this—a double injustice because they are the least responsible for the environmental and social breakdown we face. Murder, genocide, slavery, mass incarceration, rape, and untold other atrocities have been heaped upon Native Americans and people of color for hundreds of years, and these abuses continue today. The ancestors of America’s white majority stole 1.5 billion acres of land from Native Americans and claimed it for themselves between the years of 1736-1887. The unpaid wages of the forced labor of US slaves from the period of 1776-1865 would today equal, by recent estimates, up to $14 trillion. Privilege, inheritance, land, and resources have come from theft. It is this same privilege that has us biding our time in ecovillages, sanctuaries, and permaculture centers.

One of the shared world views of this new coalition is that all oppressions are one and the same. There will be no life-sustaining society without massive atonement, reparations, and healing. There will be no heart-unity between all peoples without the end of extraction industry and the pillage of the Earth, cultures, species, and ecosystems that humbly and majestically sustain all of us. Katy Chandler, of Be the Change in Reno, Nevada and a member of our new coalition, wonders: “What if the earth cannot be restored until the captives are set free? What if the captives cannot be set free until the earth is restored?”

With our hearts attuned to these and other devastating questions, members of 15 projects gathered for several days in April at the Possibility Alliance and Peace and Permaculture Center in rural Missouri. The wisdom of Dominic Barter, “You must feel the world to be changed by it,” guided our broken hearts to find one another and to try to collectively respond to this crisis in new, powerful, and creative ways. In the words of Naomi Klein, we feel “There is just enough time left for the impossible.”

Part One: “No problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein

Questions we must ask: How do we respond to our current crisis in a way that does not reinforce or recreate the crisis? How do we develop a new consciousness? Where lies a consciousness beyond white supremacy, patriarchy, and lifestyles that contribute to theft and ruination? What is that consciousness like, which transcends repeat cycles of shame and denial, and develops self-honesty hand in hand with self-esteem and self-love? Can we embody a consciousness that leads us to wholeness? We will need all of our gifts and capacities for what lies ahead. As Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi says, “Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

We have decided, for better or worse, that the path to this expanded consciousness is described in an archetypal map, previously sketched by the civil rights/freedom movement, India’s independence movement, and many other groups and movements. Joanna Macy describes the map in The Work that Reconnects.

In three parts, the course consists of:

1. Holding actions in the defense of life (nonviolent direct action);

2. Transforming the foundations of our common life (creating a life-enhancing society);

3. Fundamental shift in perceptions and values (self-transformation).

Joanna Macy and Molly Brown give our moment in time on Earth a name: “The Great Turning.” The Great Turning is a shift as major as the Agrarian Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, is going to be intentional and deliberate, and must happen within a few years. The archetypal map urges us to embody all three actions into our lives, knowing that all three support and reinforce one another. Our coalition refers to this map as Integral Nonviolence, and everyone in the coalition is committed to trying to embody the world we wish to live in.

Part Two: “The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.” —Sri Nisargadatta

Who or what will this coalition be serving? The coalition hopes to serve the converging movement of all movements seeking to address and confront the crises of our world. The Movement of Movements is manifesting as a decentralized, spontaneous global uprising of resistance; it is confronting on all sides the extractive, exploitative, and oppressive industrial-economic-military-academic-complex.

We are reaching out to, building trust with, and—when requested—serving women, people of color, and indigenous peoples who are part of this emerging movement. Taking honest account of the limitations of our perspective, we sense that white-led environmental efforts to confront climate change are coming up short of addressing, at its roots, the racism, sexism, and gender coercion, economic inequality, theft, genocide, privilege, addiction, and belief in industrial technology that are fundamental to the agents of climatic destruction. We trust that, to truly serve, our thus-far predominantly white coalition must go out and deeply listen to those people, cultures, and species most oppressed. It is from this respectful attunement, we believe, that we will begin to hear answers to all these questions.

We are also trying to open up to hear the voices of nonhuman species and ecosystems that are also being destroyed and oppressed. During the gathering, we held an all-night vigil in the woods, accompanied by barred owls, coyotes, evening bats, gray tree frogs, and each other’s silence. Many prayed, meditated, listened, opened, and struggled from dusk till dawn, sitting on an unraveling planet, hoping to hear Creation’s wisdom.

Part Three: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.” —James Baldwin

How do we enact a grassroots movement for reparations and atonement to begin healing our history of genocide and theft?

Two women reported to the gathering, having just returned from a Black Lives Matter action in Minneapolis with support from the Catholic Worker movement. The first important challenge we received to our risk-it-all impulse was that the Black Lives Matter movement is interested in not risking lives; it is interested in the protection and preservation of lives.

We were shown that we must really present ourselves on the actual battlefronts of racism and oppression, on the terms of the oppressed, rather than our presumed affinity with their struggle, if we want to truly embody solidarity and build trust. During the action in Minneapolis, a black man walked by as a white woman was being arrested for her participation. He said, “God is smiling today. Whites are getting arrested over the murder of a black man, after hundreds of years of white silence and oppression. Amen.”

How do we support one another to take bigger risks on behalf of our families, all peoples, and life? Heavy with grief, we agreed that the best permaculture design was not going to save us, and could even very easily contribute to further inequality, privilege, and unequal access to resources. If the world becomes untenable for humans and many other species, will you be able to look your child in the eyes and say, in all honesty, that you tried everything, risked everything, to prevent it? Most of us gathered realized we were not able to say “yes” to that question, to our heartbreaking dismay. We are called to do it all: tend gardens and confront our privilege; ride bikes and launch massive disruptions; turn off the electricity and go to jail; heal our spiritual wounds and restore what has been stolen; reckon with our calamity at every level.

Part Four: “Don’t forget love, it will bring all the madness you need to unfurl yourself across the universe.” —Mirabai

How do we make all of these visions, conversations, and ideas tangible for all peoples and all of life? On day eight part of the coalition headed to St. Louis to participate in a direct action led by Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. M.O.R.E. invited elders from the Hopi and Navajo Nations to participate in a joint action against Peabody Coal. Peabody Coal has been occupying and extracting from Navajo and Hopi lands for decades, leaving watersheds, soil, and ecosystems destroyed. The first action of our coalition was to offer ourselves for red-level risk during this direct action: an imperfect and incomplete offering from a predominantly white coalition, to show up and risk on behalf of Native American and African American Justice—but a beginning.

Another group from the coalition headed to Des Moines, Iowa to train with members of the Lakota Sioux to learn about and hopefully contribute to the ongoing resistance to the Bakken pipeline—a pipeline being engineered to go under rivers, streams, and waterways. Other coalition members joined a 10-day peace march with Voices for Creative Nonviolence ending in Iowa at a supermax prison being built to include over 1700 cells for solitary confinement—considered torture by the UN and Amnesty International. Still others joined the Break Free actions to shut down fossil fuel infrastructure, which included blocking coal trains and using over 1,000 kayaks to obstruct an oil tanker. I believe that only through action do we become; thus our coalition moved out into the world becoming something real. Imperfect, but real.

Epilogue: “Have wings that feared ever touched the sun? I was born when all I once feared—I could love.” —Rabi’a

As I conclude this essay the train sways from side to side. I am headed to a SWARM training led by Carlos Servada of the Cosecha movement to learn about the power of decentralized movements and organizations. We go to listen, to be disrupted, to be changed.

The Indigenous Women of the Americas, in their Treaty Compact of 2015, ask all of us to:
● commit nonviolent acts of civil disobedience where destruction is occurring until it is stopped.
● continue these acts until “business as usual” is halted and life on Mother Earth is safe for generations to come.

These courageous women ask much more than this in their challenging and inspiring cry for action and justice. How can we get everyone in the communities movement to respond to this call? What does it mean for the rest of the western world if the communities movement does not respond—a movement which extols such values as justice, equality, and peace?

Everywhere we turn people are wrestling with this crisis. The Movement of Movements is reaching out into many communities, like our own, and drawing us out of our old, progressive lives, to take extraordinary risks and roles in this final opportunity to defend life. What shall become of this coalition I do not know. I can say that each new day I get closer to being able to look into the eyes of my two daughters and say I tried everything, I risked everything for this beautiful world and for you.

If you are interested in learning more, joining a direct action, attending trainings involved in the coalition, call or write The Possibility Alliance, 28408 Frontier Ln., La Plata MO 63549; 660-332-4094.

Most of the statistics in this article are from The Gandhian Iceberg: A Manifesto for the Great Turning by Chris Moore-Backman.

Ethan Hughes likes to listen to the songs of frogs in northeastern Missouri. He enjoys collecting magic pebbles in the creek beds with his two daughters Isla and Etta. He hopes to participate in the Nation’s largest mass arrest in history with his family. His wife Sarah has a very loud laugh that he cherishes and hopes to use as a secret nonviolent weapon to make the police smile.

One Reply to “The Case for Mass Civil Disruption and Resistance: The story of how 15 intentional communities and experiments came together to form a national coalition to defend life, come hell or high water”


What an inspiring and helpful essay! Thankyou Ethan Hughes!

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