Sunday, August 17, 2008

Starhawk, Political Theorist

Starhawk wears many hats. She is first and foremost a witch and one of the founders of the Reclaiming Tradition. She is also an activist, a writer (on a large number of topics as well as a fiction writer--and I reviewed her books The Fifth Sacred Thing and Walking to Mercury in my July 14th post on Utopian Novels), a permaculturist, a teacher/trainer (on topics as varied as her writings), and a political thinker. It's her work in the last category that I want to look at in this post.

Although her politics are sprinkled through most of her books, they're often mixed with a good dose of witchcraft and pagan spirituality. The two of her books that are primarily political are Truth or Dare and Webs of Power. I am going to use this post to talk about these books.

Truth or Dare is a book about patriarchy and power. She begins with a controversial feminist analysis of history. In it she shows the steps by which the patriarchy was built. Using this framework, she then gives a step by step method of undoing patriarchy.

There is almost too much in this book. It is overflowing with tools and techniques, games and activities and exercises, stories and rituals and spells. While I finally did read it from cover to cover (and it's not an easy read), for years I just used it as a sourcebook.

Some of the useful ideas in Truth or Dare include: types of power ("power-over," referring to domination and control; "power-from-within," meaning personal ability and spiritual integrity; and "power-with," pertaining to social power or influence among equals), the masks of power and patriarchy (she names them the Judge, the Conqueror, the Censor, the Master of Servants, and the Orderer), and the types of leadership roles in that happen in groups (Crows, who take an overview of what is going on in the group; Snakes, who keep watch on the underbelly of feelings and emotions; Graces, who are welcoming and help a group expand; Dragons, who are protective and guard the boundaries of the group; and Spiders, who provide a center for a group and help keep it woven together--the book contains questions for each type of leader to think about). There is a lot more.

Where Truth or Dare provides a consistent, well-written (if hard to read) formulation, Webs of Power is a wide-ranging (but, paradoxically, easier to read) collection of Starhawk's political writings. While Truth focused on power and patriarchy, the focus of Webs is on corporate globalization and the anti-globalization movement. Starhawk begins Webs of Power with an introduction to the global justice movement and her place in it, and follows this with a globalization glossary entitled 'Alphabet Soup'. The rest of the book is divided into two sections, 'Actions' and 'Visions'.

'Actions' is a sort of history, written as it happened, of global justice protests beginning with the battle for Seattle, going through protests in Prague, Brazil (actually mostly attending workshops at the first World Social Forum and preparing for a protest in Argentina), Quebec, and Genoa, and culminating in preparations for a protest of the International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington, DC, which was derailed by the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. She ends this section with her thoughts about organizing in the wake of that destruction.

'Visions' is more direct political theory. I have already quoted from her essay on economic strategy is my post on Participatory Economics and Economic Theory (July 8th). She writes another essay here questioning the violence vs. nonviolence dicotomy and examining thoughts from some of the antiauthoritarian positions that question dogmatic nonviolence. She also looks at diversity and what stops movements from being diverse--as well as the issue of Cultural Appropriation. She looks at nature and earth centered politics, not just in the US but in Brazil (the Movimiento Sim Terre--her spelling; aka Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra or MST). She talks about Direct Democracy and nonhierarchical structure.

In Webs of Power, Starhawk deals with how reformist movements and revolutionary movements can support each other and makes it clear that there is room for both. She talks about how we can live the new world we are building while opposing the forces destroying it. She embodies the motto of the World Social Forum: "Another World is Possible".

Quote of the day: "Another world is also necessary, for this one is unjust, unsustainable, and unsafe. It's up to us to envision, fight for, and create that world, a world of freedom, real justice, balance, and shared abundance, a world woven in a new design." - Starhawk
Word (or phrase) of the day: Bodhicitta
Hero(es) of the day: Victor Jara

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