Shea Howell – National Council of Elders and Young Activists -Opening Comments

Opening Comments

National Council of Elders and Young Activists

October 7, 2021

By Shea Howell

The move from the 20th to the 21st Century is marked by one of the greatest transformations in human evolution.  As Grace Lee Boggs often said,  “We are living in the midst of a transformation, on a scale that rarely happens in human evolution, as great as the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture and from agriculture to industry.”

Sometimes this moment is called the Great Turning, the shifting of paradigms, an earth shift.

Vincent Harding called it the birthing of a new world, others see it as the fulfillment of ancient prophesies.

At this moment on the clock of the world, as Grace would say, it is marked by three inter-related crises.

The first is the ecological crisis. Today the  fate of much of the life on the planet is in peril. Countless species, including humans, face extinction.

The second is the economic crisis. Here the divisions between the haves and the have nots is growing wider every day. Access to the basic elements of life are increasingly concentrated in smaller and smaller numbers of people who are mostly, white, representing old colonial powers.

The third is the crisis of Governance. How we make decisions about our collective and interdependent lives is dominated by small elites, protecting power and privilege. It is sometimes called a  crisis in democracy, or described as the rise of the authoritarian state, but it represents the profound challenges of to create methods of decision making that reflect the needs of people and the planet.

With each of these  crises, it is clear that the institutions that emerged in the 20th century, and that many of us helped shape in more human directions,  are incapable of resolving these crises in the 21st Century. Often their attempts to do so only make things worse.

So, we are at the point, as Dr. King said, “The future neither certain nor assured.”

What is sure is that something new emerging, and the question in front of us is: Will it be better or worse than this present moment or our darkest past?

Responses to these interlocking crises emerged in 21st Century with new energy. We have witnessed the World Social Forums, Occupy Wall Street, Indigenous leadership in protection of people and the earth,  the Sunrise movement, the  Movement for Black lives,  an expanded queer consciousness, Me Too, mutual aid, and pro-democracy movements globally.

All of these are drawing on the energies and imaginations of young people. As it was in 20th Century, young people are critically important in propelling us toward positive, progressive changes.

At same time, the  forces protecting the of old ways of power and privilege have also become increasingly dangerous,  better organized, and more sophisticated. They have created effective

Propaganda methods and have destroyed the idea of a collective, shared reality. They are establishing domination over public authority in courts, state legislatures, think tanks, universities and media.They are intensifying this domination through control of police and military powers, becoming more violent. This violence is often mechanized, automated, and far reaching,  capable of forms of control and surveillance that intrudes into every aspect of life.

They are wielding this violence against emerging movements. They launch campaigns to delegitimize and destabilize movements to destroy movements and individuals in them.

As Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro says, “People know that when a mule is dying, it is at its most dangerous. It kicks the hardest.” Some of use on this call know all too well what those kicks feel like.  We are witnessing this all around us.

For those of us who have experienced the long contours of this shifting time,  we want to say to you younger activists that this is most dangerous moment we have seen in our lifetimes, it is the most difficult time we have experienced.

It is a time that requires something new from all of us. It  requires careful thinking, conscious strategies, critical connections, new systems of care and collective responses, new ways of building trust, and new forms of collective actions.

We see this gathering  as a space to hold conversation about this time, what each of us is seeing unfolding, and what we think needs to be done.

I wish we could be on the porch together at Haley Farm, sitting in those rocking chairs, recalling all of those men, women, and queer folks who are our ancestors and we could call on them for their wisdom and courage. But, for now, is this space we have to explore together. Let us begin.