Berit Westby: Thoughts on Contemporary Activism


THOUGHTS ON CONTEMPORARY ACTIVISM – MY VISION AND PROCESS.

by Berit Westby, Norway-USA

Where are we going?

We have to reclaim our history, and thus who we are.

Our current world glamorizes domination and power. In the time of goddesses rather than gods, the world worshipped fertility and creation, proving that humans are not violent by nature – as we have been taught. What I wish to see is a partnership society where resources are used to build up, instead of to tear down. Where love is not shameful, hate and violence is. I want a world where each individual’s autonomy is respected and each individual is given basic sustenance as a birth-right, to free them to pursue their talents and dreams, and ultimately serve the best interests of society at large, as it continually changes to fit our own evolving selves.

How will we get there?

Awakening has been taking place all along, and because of our ability to communicate and share ideas via electronic means, the spreading of ideas has increased astronomically, bringing with it opportunities for unity that bring hope and promise. The flip side is that governments have been using the same means to spread their brain wash and propaganda so that independent thinking has become more difficult. I currently work in a nursing home, and I have noticed that of those people who still are mentally clear, those in their late 80s and in their 90s, are often much more open-minded and broad-thinking than those younger than them. These were people who grew up with only a radio for mass communication. Identifying and eradicating our own brain wash has started, and needs to continue. Part of this process is retrieving our own history which has been rewritten to suit the powers, with all its nationalism and separation of peoples. We have to liberate ourselves from those notions that keep us enslaved, and I believe it is happening. It is met with derision from authorities and people who cling to the comfort of accepting things as they are, and we cannot let that dissuade us.

How did I go from being a traditional house-wife to an activist?

Many events contributed, but I will talk about two major eye-openers. The first was the Seattle WTO protests. I was a homemaker in Colorado at the time, and reacted to the one-sided coverage of the protest – with much criticism and mockery of the demonstrators, and no word on what their message was. Later I found an article by Paul Hawken (http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/PaulHawken.html), with a first-person account of the event which gave me the full story from the demonstrators’ side of things, including the police abuse. From then on I realized that the media could not be relied upon to tell the truth … and that the police were not there to protect people.

Another personal awakening came after 9/11 – when I saw people willing to blindly start relying upon Bush, despite having been opponents of him before that day, and comply with going to war on another country based on circumstantial evidence (at best). That is when I started standing with Women in Black, just to be in the presence of other people who also found war to be an unacceptable solution to 9/11. I stood with them for about four years, one hour a week, in silence – all of us dressed in black. This was in Boulder, Colorado and most people showed us their support by honking their car horns, yelling words of encouragement, and some gave us water. A Buddhist monk joined us for several weeks one summer, adding a chant to our silence, which we all appreciated. He looked interesting in his bright yellow wraps, contrasting with our mourning black.

I have participated in many demonstrations large and small, including inspiring ones and a few disappointing ones as well. They are mostly therapeutic on a personal level, and they do serve to educate bystanders and let many of them know they are not alone in their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

A couple of examples of activism anyone can do:

While working in Boulder I spent my break along a well-used path every day, and I started bringing a pre-prepared hot-pink cardboard doll every day, hanging it up with a quote, a website, a news-item, or a picture on a branch of one of the trees. I got much positive feedback from appreciative people, but some were angry and tore them down. I would put up a new one and clean up the old if they were on the ground. They started tearing up the dolls into small bits and pieces, and I carefully collected every piece so nobody could claim my dolls were littering the place. Then my opponent(s) figured out where I worked and started moving the doll from the branch to my building, hanging it outside my workplace. This too I would remove. Then they called the police, and an officer showed up at my office to ask me to stop hanging the dolls up as they were an eye-sore, or littering. I then asked for permission to use chalk on the cemented path. The police, after some convincing on the basis of first amendment rights, and the understanding that chalk – unlike paint – is washed away by rain, reluctantly agreed to allow me that. Unlike the dolls, which I prepared at home, I now had to spend time writing my quotes on the path. Somebody spent much time trying to erase my messages – with their shoes evidently, but now it was more difficult to remove my messages, so it had its advantages.

I also did a one-time stint in Denver, on my own. I wore an orange jumpsuit (that looked like prison attire) to work, and on my lunch hour I walked through the main mall (16th Street Mall) with an added No Torture button prominently displayed. Walking down and back up the whole mall, only one person talked to me and acknowledged what I was doing, and his accent and looks indicated he was of Middle-Eastern origin. The rest carefully averted their eyes and ignored me, which took some doing because it was a bright orange color, and everybody else was dressed in professional drab (my opinion…).

So my point is, there are things you can do on your own, even if you are not a high-profile person or a public speaker. And though the effects are not measurable, at least you will know that when things were going wrong in this world, you made an effort to oppose it (and you can tell your grandchildren…).

Okkuper Stortinget in Oslo

Although I live in Hokksund, and taking the train to Oslo is expensive, this was one event I did not want to miss. This is a movement that started on Wall Street, and has grown to include thousands, – if not millions – of people by now, so it is extremely important to support it in order to make sure that the growth continues. It is the closest I have seen to revolution thus far, and the natural continuation of awakening is revolution, even as it happens simultaneously. Occupy Oslo was not a large event, but considering there has been very little media coverage of the Occupy movement, this is not surprising. The important aspect is that it was arranged, quality people showed up, information and inspiration was shared, and connections were made between people. That is a great start!

Although the repeating of each speaker in lieu of a real microphone is a bit cumbersome, I do see several positive aspects to it:

  • No preparation is needed – making spontaneous events possible.

  • No dependence on electricity – independence gives flexibility.

  • Cohesion of the group – participation includes everybody and unites.

  • It has become a trademark of the occupy movement, so it’s COOL.

The premise is that we do not sit with all the answers, that being equal, we will discuss and make decisions by consensus. The concept of «99%» resonates with people in a superior way to «democracy», which has unquestioningly been used as an excuse to occupy countries in the name of spreading it. The biggest flaw – even with a working democracy – is that large minorities have no say in it. The Occupy movement seeks to identify such flaws in our system, while coming up with ideas and values to replace them.

Why revolution?

The reason I use the word «revolution» is because our current system is so rotten to the core that it cannot possibly be saved or fixed from within, but has to be discarded and replaced in its entirety. It is an audacious undertaking, but it is one that many of us are committed to – knowing full well that it will be a process of trial and error.

Be strong! We are many … and they are few.


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4 comments

  1. Lovely! The world could certainly use more people like yourself. Things are rapidly changing and more activists are born everyday. it looks like things are taking a positive turn and great things are about to happen. Every day I’m thankful for every moment that I encounter someone like you!

    • Thank you Tedesa, and I believe you are right that more people become activists every day. We all need to be part of the change.

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