Monthly Archives: January 2022

How a Battle for a Piece of Forest in Nova Scotia Echoes the Global War for Our Biosphere

2021 was a year that few would want to relive. Mounting climate change fueled catastrophes dominated much of the news around the world. Here in Canada, it was no different. Fires and record heat decimated large swaths of land in British Columbia and Alberta. Then the floods came. Decades of clearcutting old growth forests have led to a seemingly never-ending stream of disasters. In years to come, this existential crisis will only grow. But there is nothing natural about these disasters. This is just one part of a global attack on our biosphere for the profit of a few.

In Nova Scotia, where I live, vital ecosystems have been under attack by extractive or exploitative industries for decades. We recently won a hard-fought battle to stop the development of a precious piece of land on the eastern shore of the province. Owl’s Head is a small, but biodiverse sanctuary that was slated for decimation to make way for a golf course. A deal was set in motion behind closed doors between the Liberal government at the time and a wealthy American couple who own land adjacent to the reserve. After massive public outcry, organising, protests and an election, the proposal was withdrawn.

Unlike most of Canada with its vast boreal range, Nova Scotia is primarily dominated by Acadian forests. These woodlands are home to endangered animals like moose, wood turtles, and pine martens. They are also coveted by forest industries for their pulp. Westfor, a billion-dollar consortium that represents the interests of 13 logging mills, has been responsible for a stepped-up effort at extracting and clearcutting on crown lands. These lands, that should belong first to the Indigenous Mi’kmaq and the people who live in these important and ever threatened places, have been intimidated by this influential and powerful company. Following centuries of colonial settler expropriation, they have carved up enormous sections of the province for the profit of a few and at the expense of rural communities and countless species, many of which are critically endangered.

For several weeks, forest protectors from Extinction Rebellion Mi’kmak’i/Nova Scotia, including the tireless Mi’kmaq activist elder, Darlene Gilbert, have endured the bitter cold to stop the clearcutting of one of the last remnants of forests in this rural part of Annapolis County. This is an area that has suffered greatly from clear cuts erasing enormous swaths of woodlands essential for moose and other wildlife for food and as a natural shelter from the winter’s cold and the summer’s heat. Their commitment to the land and to the future, echoes that of other water and land protectors around the planet, from Wet’suwet’en to the Niger Delta to the Amazon. Every battle is a stand against the relentless war being waged against the earth.

We are all witness to a ruthless and thoroughly stupid war against the biosphere we all depend upon for life wherever we may live. Indeed, we are living in a crucial era for fighting for and protecting what remains before it is too late. To be sure, it is a daunting challenge. But the victory of Owl’s Head should serve as an encouragement. And just a few years ago in this same province, a company called Alton Gas from Alberta was determined to store fracked gas in underground salt caverns and dump toxic brine into the Shubenacadie River, decimating the 13,000 year long ancestral fishing area of the Mi’kmaq people. It withdrew after sustained protest. These battles can be won, but we must unite to fight them, and we must do it now before the madness of ecocide ends with the finality of extinction.

Kenn Orphan, January 2022

*Photo is of a Nova Scotian forest by Kenn Orphan.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

There is Room in the Tent for Everyone

When I was in college, I had the privilege of doing an internship in Los Angeles that was connected to a vibrant inner-city church. While I was there, I was introduced to some of the most radical leftist politics I’ve ever known. It was in this setting that I saw vibrant programs for the working class and for youth being implemented by Black churches. It is also where I learned about Liberation Theology, a Christian movement that was transforming communities all over Latin America at the time as a direct challenge to capitalism and American imperialism.

During my time there, we gave sanctuary to several refugees from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The people I encountered astounded me in their simple, but profoundly loving commitment to both God and to defeating social and economic injustice. These were the victims of Ronald Reagan’s (and then later Bush Sr. and Jr. and Bill Clinton’s) war against “communism” in Central America. Thanks to US-supported violent juntas, death squads and economic policies that carved up entire nations for corporate profit, they were forced to flee their land and come to the very empire that was the source of their misery.

And through all this torment and brutality, they maintained a grace and countenance that seemed otherworldly. I had the opportunity to talk with several of them for hours about their lives, their faith and the hopes they had for their families. I was struck by how they seamlessly they blended Catholicism and Indigenous Mayan spirituality and how it informed the way they held reverence for the earth and how they conducted their lives. Justice and solidarity appeared to be something that came from their spirituality. It was paramount to all of them. And this spirituality was interwoven into the very fabric of their day to day interactions.

Years later, I found myself at a leftist conference in Boston where most of the attendees happened to be white, middle-class and male. I was in shock as one after another felt it was their duty to disparage people who held any kind of religious faith or spirituality. One speaker said people who held spiritual beliefs suffered from a delusional disorder and magical thinking. Another said religion should be banned. And yet another stood out in his disdain for leftists who believed in God. “There is no room for superstitious people in this movement.” When I objected in a respectful manner, I received stony silence and a couple jeers from the audience. But after the conference a few people came to me and expressed gratitude for expressing what they secretly agreed with. Over the years I have found this same disdain for people who hold spiritual beliefs among other leftist or progressive people and groups. Unsurprisingly, most of them have been white and of Western background.

What can be said of any political movement that is exclusionary simply based on whether a person holds religious or spiritual beliefs or not? Without a doubt, there is a grave danger posed by fundamentalist or extremist religious ideologies throughout the world. In the States, that danger is apparent in the evangelical war on science, women’s reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights. And the same can be said of other nations where religious authoritarianism has joined with far right or even fascist elements. We should be critical of religious or spiritual ideas, especially when those ideas pose a direct threat to a certain community or group of people in society, when they are at odds with public health, or when they deny things that are scientifically proven like climate change. This is what a vibrant democracy does. But to lump all religious or spiritual people into that close minded or repressive segment of society is intellectually lazy and lacking in any curiosity, interest or respect for the lived lives of billions of people.

That so many white, atheist leftists of the Global North want to build solidarity with a Global South where most hold religious or spiritual beliefs is telling. This is not to say that it cannot happen. It can. There are many instances of secular people joining with religious people in a common cause. But it requires a measure of mutual respect. If it is stuck in a kind of superior attitude it is destined to fail. Like so many European and American Christian missionaries in the last few centuries, many of these leftists feel it is their duty to enlighten and evangelize the supposed “primitive tribes” with the glory of Western atheism. It is a goal dripping with conceit and the bloody remnants of cultural imperialism.

It is time to jettison this kind of arrogance and recognize that many religious or spiritually minded people have been at the forefront of movements against war, poverty, capitalism, racism, misogyny, ecocide and a host of other societal injustices. Father Daniel Berrigan, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, Sister Megan Rice, Thich Nhất Hạnh, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Bishop Desmond Tutu, there have been countless voices among people of faith decrying and struggling against oppression in all its forms.

Today they continue to be on the frontline of mass movements that have all too often been abandoned by secular Westerners. In the Amazon and in Wet’suwet’en, Indigenous people are drawing on their cultural and spiritual traditions to fight the ruthless war being waged on the biosphere by despotic governments and soulless corporations. They believe that the earth is alive with the spirits of our ancestors and that the earth itself is a living being. In the Middle east, Muslims are reclaiming the message of Islam from those who have twisted it for oppressive purposes. Across the States, in defiance of xenophobic policies, churches continue to provide sanctuary for undocumented people. In Israel/Palestine, Rabbis are planting olive trees and trying to protect Palestinian homes from demolition by Israeli forces.

As we enter what looks like a very dark age for humanity, with climate catastrophes mounting, poverty and economic disparity growing and endless war rampaging throughout the Global South, the time for exclusivity is outdated and dangerous. Spirituality and religion are part of the human story. As history demonstrates, they can be used to advance evil. But they can also be powerful tools for solidarity and for reconnecting with an ever besieged biosphere. In this vital and existential struggle against brutality, economic oppression, war and ecocide, there is room in the tent for everyone, religious and not, spiritual and secular alike.

Kenn Orphan, January 2022

*Image is “Cristo de la Liberacion” (Christ of the Liberation) by Maximino Cerezo Barredo

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

The Language of Violence and Avoiding a Potential Reign of Terror

On May 22, 1856, Preston Brooks, a Democrat from South Carolina, beat Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, with a walking cane on the floor of the US Senate. Brooks was a pro-slavery lawyer with a history of violent altercations. Sumner was an outspoken and passionate abolitionist.

That day, Brooks hit Sumner as he sat writing at a desk. The blows held such force that it snapped his cane into several pieces. He continued to beat him with the part of the cane that had a golden head. Sumner was nearly killed in the attack and the Senate floor was drenched in his blood. He would not be able to return to the Senate for three years due to debilitating injuries and chronic pain that would be with him for the rest of his life. Brooks was arrested and tried, but he only had to pay $300 and received no jail time. Many historians and scholars believe that this incident played a large role in the lead up to the American Civil War.

There were several other incidents like this one in the Capitol over the years. Several assassination attempts. Some coup attempts, most notably the one that targeted Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the notorious “Business Plot.” And some might say that these attacks were examples of threats to “American democracy.” But one would have to accept that the United States was a democracy in the first place.

At the point in history when the Sumner attack took place, only white men could vote. Some states still barred white men who did not own land from voting. In fact, voting rights were decided almost entirely state to state. Some states which had previously granted women and some free Black men the right to vote would often end up taking that right away with discriminatory laws, policies or intimidation.

In short, the US was never a democracy in any true sense. And thanks to a dictatorship of corporate money that has elevated the wealthiest people to near total power, it still isn’t. But regardless of supposed threats to democracy or not, the attack on Sumner was a significant event that led to the breakdown of civil discourse. Just over five years later, the fledgling republic was plunged into unspeakable horror in a war that lasted four years and has repercussions to this day.

Many people today think of civil wars as being between the regions of a country. North vs South. East vs West. This is rarely true. Over the course of the 20th century and into our present time, civil wars have been generally fought city to city, town to town, house to house. There are no clean battles on green fields where future re-enactments can be performed by adults dressed up in costumes. No amount of sentimental romanticism can sponge away its blood or brutality. They are full of horror, disease, mass graves, agony and despair. And no sane person would ever entertain fomenting one.

Today, there are some scholars and historians who are pointing to the possibility of another civil war, or at least a civil conflict in the US. Either way, the result would be nothing short of terrifying. A year ago, Donald Trump’s actions put the entire world on alert. His play at seizing the seat of American power through lies and the incitement of violence were nearly achieved. And he isn’t done trying.

The attack on Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate should serve as an object lesson in how delicate the arrangement of power can be. Violence has always been employed by the brute when they are unable to engage in rational, civil discourse. It is the language of fascism. And if we are not careful, it can usher in a reign of terror that can cause untold misery, yet has been all to common throughout human history.

Kenn Orphan January, 2022

*Photograph is of Preston Brooks (left) and Charles Sumner (right).

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!