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Political Activism
"First Mother and the Rainbow Children"
by Anne Cameron
From Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, edited by Judith Plant, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989

"Toward an Ecofeminist Spirituality"
by Charlene Spretnak
From Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, edited by Judith Plant, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Readings Were Discussed: August 4, 1991
Present: Bonnie S., Colleen M., Catherine C., Betsy D., Cathleen M., Miranda H., and Lisa B.

To what extent should ecofeminists patiently and politely midwife others to deeper levels of consciousness? Is analysis always useful, or is intellectual inquiry an armchair, middle class privilege and substitution for grassroots action?

These questions were provoked by a passage in Anne Cameron's essay in which she relates a telephone conversation she had with a middle class white woman she met at an environmental festival. The woman wanted to "get involved in some environmental issues" and to spend a few days or a week with Cameron to "discuss various options." With undisguised scorn, Cameron scolded the woman "to stop wasting her time and mine. To stop dithering and get involved." Cameron suggested some worthwhile activities, but was impatient and irritated with "endless discussion" in lieu of "immediate action."

Most of us were appalled by Cameron's condescending and judgmental behavior toward the woman. Cameron demonstrated little understanding of or respect for the process of attaining consciousness. As Amilcar Cabral, the African freedom fighter, once said "Nobody is born a revolutionary." Influenced by Charlene Spretnak's essay, one woman felt that it is not so important where one is on the continuum, but rather that one is on it. Cameron admitted that the woman was "offended" and "hurt." Why would she alienate a potential ally? In failing to walk her talk, Cameron treated the woman with a disdain generally exhibited by those in power.

When is "righteous rage" appropriate and when is it counterproductive? Several women empathized with Cameron's attitude toward indecisive do-gooders who can't seem to get activated when to someone like Cameron the tasks are "absolutely obvious." One woman suggested that Cameron's frustration may be due to the burden of psychic pain many of us carry as a result of our deep cognizance of the endangered state of our species and the planet. Often overfunctioning, we sometimes project animosity onto all those who are underfunctioning, psychically or otherwise. Perhaps we can take our cue from Mary Daly who writes of a New Cognitive Minority of women who can "bear the memories, learn from them, and open the way for change."

We concluded that Cameron's anger seemed largely directed at middle class (white) privilege. While many working class people and/or people of color are struggling simply to survive "primary emergencies," the middle class, she accuses, meditates on problems ad infinitum. She has a point. It was acknowledged that if environmental and ecofeminist values are to remain/become relevant to liberation struggles, direct action is imperative. Women felt that the thinking and the doing should receive equal priority. Ecofeminist activist Connie Salamone further advocates "commonness," her expression to describe a down-to-Gaia approach to address ecological concerns in ways that "my mother could understand."

We also discussed Cameron's contention that the term ecofeminism is an "insult" to women, coined to solicit male approval. One woman countered that men opposed to feminism are not going to be any more placated by the word ecofeminism. Are there, though, differences between feminism and ecofeminism? Is ecofeminism conceptually new, or, as Cameron believes, is it unnecessary, if not redundant? All of us felt that feminism has never been monolithic, and that it is myopic to presume one's own version of feminism represents any authentic interpretation. There is liberal feminism, socialist feminism, radical feminism, postfeminism, etc. None of these feminisms completely articulate the multifarious strands of ecofeminism.

Some women felt that mainstream feminists view acceptance in the existing patriarchal system as a goal in and of itself. Through inclusion, the argument goes, feminists believe they can reform and humanize the system. Although ecofeminists also participate in "crisis management" struggles for women's rights and needs within patriarchy, ecofeminist work and philosophy are more informed by Ynestra King's classic declaration, "We don't want a piece of your rotten, carcinogenic pie." A mainstream feminist, for example, would demand an equal right to participate in all levels of military operations; an ecofeminist would never enlist in an organization predicated on domination, violent aggression, and wanton death. Women concluded that ecofeminism is definitely different from feminism, and that there is most certainly a need to further its development.

Comments in Retrospect: Where’s The Spiritual?
By Cathleen and Colleen McGuire, April 1996

Anne Cameron wrote "The feminist movement has long believed and lived ‘the personal is political, the political is personal,’ and now we have learned that the spiritual is an integral part of both personal and political." Cameron’s quote would seemingly have made a fitting jumping off point in the study group for a discussion on spirituality. Perhaps more striking is the short shrift given to Charlene Spretnak’s thoughtful presentation on the subject.

We selected the essays by Cameron and Spretnak specifically because they both addressed spirituality. And yet, we ignored that intended theme and ended up writing a newsletter overwhelmingly political in content. (If we recall, issues of a spiritual nature may not have even been brought up in the study group.) How did we pass up such a perfect occasion to explore the interrelationship between politics and spirituality, a dynamic so integral to ecofeminism?

This missed opportunity was probably a barometer of our own development at the time this seventh session of the study group met. Our motivation for founding EVE and promoting ecofeminism was politically inspired. Gradually, however, as the two of us immersed ourselves in the essence of ecofeminism, we began to recognize the necessity for a spiritual dimension to politics. Many activists realize this; others either do not or choose not to. For us, this revelation came through our engagement with ecofeminism.

Although baptized as Roman Catholics, we were both catechism drop-outs by the time we turned eleven. At that tender age we intrinsically knew that Judeo-Christianity was not for us. For years we perceived organized religion as synonymous with spirituality. Throughout our lives we remained by and large disinterested in—and at times even hostile to—the monotheistic worship of a male, authoritarian, hierarchical godhead. Our long-standing agnostic (if not atheistic) outlook is typical in many leftist circles. While we had initially gravitated to ecofeminism for its political wisdom, increasingly its alternative approaches to spirituality, particularly earth-based spirituality and women’s spirituality, became apparent to us. Within four months after writing the above newsletter, a growing understanding of the interconnection between politics and spirituality led Cathleen to conceive EVE’s slogan: For a Spiritual Politic and a Political Spirituality.

Although we missed the boat on directly addressing the spiritual in this particular newsletter, we now find it interesting that we indirectly intuited this element by zeroing in on Cameron’s crabby behavior toward a budding activist. In the newsletter we dealt with her attitude as a political issue, but in looking back we recognize implicit spiritual undertones in the group’s discussion. The EVE women faulted Cameron for an "I’m right, you’re wrong. I win, you lose" posture. Such judgmentalism impedes communication, community, and communion, and undermines an ethic of unconditional love. All activists (ourselves included) need to learn to critique without criticizing and engage without judging. Truth be told, in hindsight we realize that Cameron’s judgmentalism was matched by ours of her.

The Dalai Lama’s ability to balance the political with the spiritual is instructive. The Chinese government has militarily occupied his country since the 1950s, continues to torture and murder Tibetans, and violates their human rights by, for example, having destroyed over 2,500 of their ancient, sacred monasteries, leaving a mere sixteen intact today. Despite China’s heinous policies, the Dalai Lama continues to express a deep love for all Chinese people while engaging in principled political struggle to free Tibet from Chinese imperialism.

Another issue relating to spiritual concerns occurs when political activists talk down to their audience. Consciousness raisers are tempted to lecture or become impatient with people whose political beliefs derive from mere gut opinion—often colored by prime time propaganda. In an interview, ecofeminist writer and scholar Carol Adams implied one reason for this tendency by activists when she stated, "The person with the least amount of information sets the level of discourse." Perhaps frustration and impatience can be tempered if activists (ourselves included) integrated their political approach with spiritual insights from nature, as the following passage illustrates:

"When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as ‘rootless and stemless.’ We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is."
(From The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy W. Gallwey, New York: Random House, 1974, p. 29)

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