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Posts Tagged ‘activism’

It was like a battle.  That was the first thing that came to my mind.  In the middle of the abandoned-dirt-plot turned fairground, people dressed in saris and dhotis and a few camera-handed tourists pressed into a ring.  At its edge, people balanced on their tiptoes and fathers with toddlers on their shoulders lifted up their chins for a better look.  All eyes were fixed on the drummers.  Lined up four men across and four men back, they wore their leg-length drums at their hip, hanging from a sash across their shoulders.  The drumsticks were curved back at the ends from hitting tight animalskin at full muscle force again and again.  You could see it on their faces, and in the sweat that poured down their chests and soaked into their white rib necked vests.  They were warriors.  Their battle was in their beat- aggressive and competitive, but contained and controlled.  Their purpose was in their eyes and in the quick flash of a smile; they were there to have fun.

The elephant festival happens once every year, and the drummers always lead the march before the elephants.  Hardly like a conventional American balustraded parade, the elephant march went through Varkala’s streets with an air of controlled chaos.  When the drummers stopped, people pressed in around them.  When they started marching again, some people randomly joined the parade followed behind them.  This was a religious festival, including a procession of floats with statues of Hindu gods, but it easily could have been Saint Ubaldo in Jessup or the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village.  Regardless of culture or religion or reason, the energy felt the same.

Now this may seem like I’m getting totally off topic here, but stay with me.  I’ve gotten into the habit of reading the Indian newspapers every morning.  Just like the rest of the world, India’s media is focused on covering ‘the Economic Crisis,’ usually in the light of what the U.S. is doing.  Despite an editorial love of Obama, it’s not American citizens who have won recent praise.  It’s the French.  An editorial in The Hindu this morning praised French citizens who took to the streets on March 19th in protest of their government’s shady response to financial woes.  I won’t rehash the details, because I wasn’t there.  It was well covered in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

While the French are being praised for standing up against bad policy, on the next page of The Hindu is an op-ed from The New York Times.  It’s Paul Krugman’s piece about Obama’s Bush-esque, sure to fail (according to him) bank bailout plan.  As the world is looking us with patient expectation, wondering what our new president will do differently, maybe now’s the time for us to make sure that he does it right.  I’m not saying that we should emulate the French, but maybe we can learn from them.  And perhaps a mixing of Indian and French is the way for us to go.  We can tap into that energy that comes from mass gatherings–whether it’s a parade of elephants, Saint Ubaldo, or crazy costumed New Yorkers–and attach a message to it.  Parades and festivals are not foreign to us.  The idea of protesting doesn’t have to be scary.  Read about the issues, get your stance straight, and then figure out what to do next. The point is to do something.  Or at the very least start talking about what we need to do.

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A shared vision

One of the best things about being here at Auroville is all of the interesting people that I’m meeting.  Today I was hanging out at La Terrace (the place that feeds my espresso addiction) and started to talk to my friend Diana from Germany about the evil of globalization, how we both hated Starbucks, etc etc.  We complained about lack of youth activism for a little while, and compared how the U.S. addresses the problem versus how Germany does.  Eventually we got to the place where all conversations like this tend to lead, to the point of,  “Yeah, globalization (or global warming, or hyperconsumption, or whatever else) is horrible.  But what can we really do about it?” 

But then Diana started to talk about how she wanted to open up a restuarant in the city in Germany where she was raised.  It would serve food grown on farms surrounding the city and be a place where people have healthy, delecious meals without having to worry about whether they were contributing to water pollution from pesticides or to global warming from transporting the food halfway across the world.  As soon as Diana started to talk about the restauraunt, she lit up.  The sighs against the impossibility of facing huge social problems were long forgotten as she started to explain the type of food she wants to serve and how she’d let local artists display their work there.  She never said that this would be her way of fighting globalization.  While she was talking about it, it didn’t even sound like a fight. 

It was great for me to hear her talk about this, because it reminded me why I’m so interested in ecovillages.  A lot of people assume that it’s impossible to do anything about the things that they know are wrong with the world.  But maybe we’re assuming we have to fight when fighting isn’t called for.  The first step is figuring out where you fit into the picture.  For Diana, it’s providing people with local food.  For one of my roommates, it’s designing ”eco-friendly” clothes.  For someone else it could be converting their car to biodiesel, or putting solar panels on their roof.  We can shape the world that we live in, but first we have to imagine it.

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