12 June 2019
23 February 2017
Foreword by Bill Ayers for new book Cooperative Games for a Cooperative World
In Cooperative Games for a Cooperative World, Dada Maheshvarananda offers an accessible, hands-on practice to reach toward that possible world. It’s an easy book to plunge into head first, and it’s a book that allows each and all of us to prepare for that more harmonious place. Think of it as a book of cooperative calisthenics, little exercises to prepare us for the huge changes that are essential to our survival on this earth.
What does it mean to be human today? Where are we on the clock of the universe? What does this political and social moment demand of us? How shall we live?
These are the substantial questions that are illuminated through the small activities and joyful games on display here. Dada Maheshvarananda does not run from the big issues facing us; rather, he engages them every day. His is the view from a grain of sand, the universe illuminated in a single moment of a child’s laughter. He simply shows up and begins, and it becomes quickly and dazzlingly clear that we belong together, that we are one another’s bounty, and we are one another’s responsibility.
Dada Maheshvarananda invites readers to play games, but these games unlock the magnitude: we begin to imagine the future we would like for the generations to come; we unleash our spiritual and social imaginations. We are playing games, and so we turn to the children and grandchildren, and we think of the grandchildren’s grandchildren. We note that a co-invented and dramatically extended family, at its evolving best, can be a small-scale model of a mini-society driven by norms of equality and reciprocity, a sense of shared community in which people care about and for one another. Mutual respect, recognition of differences, including distinct capacities and interests and needs, shared wealth, cooperation, attempts to account for and correct all chance/accidental disadvantages, and so on—from each according to what he or she is capable of, and to each according to need. Everybody in, nobody out.
In our pursuit of a world powered by love and reaching toward joy and justice, we find that imagination is our most formidable and unyielding ally—our common asset, an endowment to each one of us and the indispensable weapon of the powerless. Yes, the powerful—the casino capitalists and the predatory financiers, the banksters and their hedge-fund homies—control the massive military-industrial complex, the sophisticated surveillance systems, the prison cells, and the organized propaganda. These are on constant display as if to remind us every minute that there is no hope of a world without the instruments of death and oppression, while we have only our minds, our desires, our dreams—and one another. And, yes, in a traditional conflict we are finished before we start. But it’s also true that there’s no power on earth stronger than the imagination unleashed and the collective human soul on fire. Imagination is indispensable because it “ignites the slow fuse of possibility,” as Emily Dickinson wrote. More process than product, more stance than conclusion, engaging the imagination involves the dynamic work of igniting that fuse, mapping the world as it really is, and then purposely stepping outside and leaning toward a possible world. In an irregular struggle that pits our free imaginations against the stillborn and stunted imaginations of the war-makers and the mercenaries, we can win.
When we choose life, we leap into the whirlwind with courage and hope. Hope is a choice, after all—our collective antidote to cynicism and despair. It’s the capacity to notice or invent alternatives, and then to do something about it, to get busy in projects of repair. Choosing hopefulness is holding out the possibility of change. Hope is never a matter of sitting down and waiting patiently; hope is nourished in action, and it assumes that we are—each and all of us—incomplete as human beings. We have things to do, mountains to climb, problems to solve, injuries to heal. We can choose to see life as infused with the capacity to cherish happiness, to respect evidence and argument and reason, to uphold integrity, to share and cooperate, and to imagine a world more loving, more peaceful, more joyous, and more just than the one we were given—and we should. Of course we live in dark times, and some of us inhabit even darker places, and, yes, we act mostly in the dark. But we are never freer than when we shake ourselves and refuse to see the situation or the world before us as the absolute end of the matter.
We must announce through our lives and our work and our play that a new world is in the making. We can create a community of agitators and transform this corner of the world into a place that we want to inhabit. We can identify ourselves as citizens of a country that does not yet exist and has no map, and become that new nation’s pioneers and cartographers—and through our cooperative actions bring a more assertive and vibrant public into being.
Turn out all the lights and ignite a small candle in any corner of the room. That little light held aloft anywhere challenges the darkness everywhere. One candle. We can always do something, and something is where we begin. The tools are everywhere—humor and art, games and stories, protest and spectacle, the quiet, patient intervention and the angry, urgent thrust—and the rhythm is always the same: we open our eyes and look unblinkingly at the immense and dynamic world we find before us; we allow ourselves to be astonished by the beauty and horrified at the suffering all around us; we organize ourselves, link hands with others, dive in, speak up, and act out. We doubt that our efforts have made the important difference we’d hoped for, and so we rethink, recalibrate, look again, and dive in once more.
Start playing cooperative games!
Bill Ayers is a social justice organizer and activist, a teacher and former Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author or editor of 30 books about teaching, social justice, urban school reform, and children in trouble with the law. He has published two memoirs, Fugitive Days and Public Enemy, and his most recent book is Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto.
26 March 2015
Hugo Chávez Rewrote the Textbook for Social Change: Activists should learn from both his successes and failures
From an impoverished family, Hugo Chávez joined the army for a chance to play baseball, but soon came to love the service that gave the opportunity for advancement to anyone based on hard work and performance. Disgusted by the corruption, censorship and human rights abuses of the Venezuelan government, the young officer started a secret organization in the military, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement-200 (MBR-200), to overthrow the dictatorship. As one of the most popular teachers in the Venezuelan Military Academy, he recruited young officers for ten years. Caught red-handed twice and brought before a tribunal for subversion, Chávez managed to brazenly talk his way out of the charges both times. He was so successful that by the time he led a coup d’état in 1992 to overthrow President Carlos Andrés Pérez, he had 130 officers and nearly 900 soldiers under his command, approximately ten percent of the Venezuelan military.
Though the rebels came within a few meters of capturing Pérez, they failed. The military high command arrested Chávez and ordered him to tell the rest of his men to lay down their arms. Wearing his military uniform and red paratrooper beret, this unknown lieutenant-colonel was put in front of live television cameras for 72 seconds so that he could order all his men to surrender. What he said electrified the nation. Invoking the liberation hero Simón Bolívar, Chávez assumed full responsibility for the failure, which almost no Venezuelan leader had ever done before. Then he said that the objectives of this movement were not achieved "for now". As he went to prison, he had suddenly become a national hero to millions who realized that these soldiers were not hungry for power, rather they were risking their lives to save their country. A group of 62 retired generals ran full-page advertisements in newspapers attacking the government and supporting the coup leaders. In his cell Chávez began receiving hundreds of letters a week from supporters.
After two years all the coup leaders received amnesty, and Chávez started a four-year electoral campaign for president. He ignored the existing political parties and formed his own. Until voting day, he was discounted by political analysts because everyone they polled lived in the rich parts of Caracas; they didn't grasp that Chávez was effectively campaigning in the poor barrios and villages, organizing the silent masses that had always been ignored. When he assumed office at the beginning of 1999, he formed a commission to write a new constitution that was open to all suggestions; a group of Proutists also submitted our proposals. The new constitution, approved in a national referendum, is one of the most progressive in the world, guaranteeing many more human rights, including free education up to tertiary level, free quality health care, access to a clean environment, and the right of indigenous peoples and other minorities to uphold their traditional cultures, religions, and languages.
The "Dutch Disease" is a term used by economists to describe how manufacturing and agriculture fall if a country gets a huge influx of money from petroleum sales, resulting in a stronger currency due to the exchange rate. For fifty years oil has made Venezuela the richest country in Latin America, but the poor people saw very little of that wealth. Chávez coined a slogan, “Venezuela now is for everyone,” that symbolized his use of petroleum wealth to help the poor. Many social welfare missions were begun, including subsidized food stores and free kitchens, free health care, educational programs, and the building of more than 700,000 houses for the homeless.
The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access. The mortality rate for children under five years of age, which according to the World Health Organization is one of the best indicators of overall health in society, has fallen by 33 percent in Venezuela since 1999 (from 22.1 to 14.9 deaths per thousand live births in 2013).
There have been great advances in education from 1999 to the present. Pre-school enrollment rose from 43.4 to 70.7 percent; primary attendance from 85 to 92.2 percent; and secondary from 47.7 to 75.1 percent. Meanwhile higher education enrollment has increased from under 900,000 students to almost 2.5 million; UNESCO now ranks Venezuela 5th highest in the world in university matriculation rate.
These and more social programs won the hearts of the masses, so that by December, 2012, his coalition had won 16 out of 17 national elections due to successful consciousness-raising and politicization among the masses.
Unfortunately, while Chávez successfully redistributed wealth and reduced inequality, his economic policies caused the productive sectors of the economy to decline. Though there was a big imbalance in the economy even before he was elected, with petroleum emphasized at the expense of everything else, this trend increased during the Chávez presidency.
Some of the major policy mistakes were:
1. Maintaining strict currency controls that led to an overvalued currency. While this was done to insure that goods were cheap, and it worked for some time, it made imported goods much cheaper than anything that could be produced locally. These currency controls were probably the most damaging mistake, because they destroyed the foundation of the local economy, hurting both industry and agriculture. Oil money was used to import even essential food products.
2. Strict currency controls created opportunities for high level corruption. As the official exchange rate was always lower than the parallel market rate, importation permits became an invitation to make a huge profit from the difference. Government officials who granted these permits could make enormous amounts in bribes. Whereas corruption is an old problem throughout Latin America and the world, it has spread in all areas of government, and become one of the biggest problems of the country. This year, a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that Venezuelans were among the top Swiss clients of HSBC, holding more than $14.8 billion in secret accounts, more than any other country except Switzerland and the UK.
3. The government subsidizes gasoline, selling it for only US$0.02 per liter. Since this is significantly less than the actual cost of extraction, refining and transport, the government is paying for every liter that is sold. More than 40 percent the gasoline sold in Venezuela is smuggled to neighboring countries, creating another very lucrative source of corruption.
4. Following the Marxist model of rigid price controls for all essential items has meant that neither Venezuelan private businesses nor even cooperatives can afford to produce basic necessities. With inflation at more than 60 percent per year, fixed price controls have forced many manufacturers and retail businesses into crisis and, in many cases, failure. Chávez took over companies that he considered were making excess profits, but the newly nationalized enterprises were not managed effectively. As a result many of the nationalized companies became liabilities to the government rather than assets.
5. From 2002 to 2006, the government actively promoted cooperatives. However, due to a lack of training in managerial skills and insufficient access to finance, as well as the very difficult business climate, more than two-thirds of the more than 200,000 registered co-ops failed. After that Chávez withdrew support for them, and instead promoted “socialist enterprises” that the government owned and controlled.
These economic failures provided the opposition with an opportunity to attack the social and redistributive policies of Chávez, when in fact they were not to blame for the failure. Had the proper economic policies been put in place, Chávez’s social reforms would have worked well.
The capitalist-led opposition attempted a military overthrow of Chávez in 2002 with U.S. government knowledge and support; two days later the masses and the military united and brought him back from the island naval base where he was held prisoner. After that, Chávez became much more strident in his rhetoric about class warfare against the oligarchy, calling them “squalids.” He announced that he was committed to “the elimination of capitalism” and to “socialism for the twenty-first century.” Socialist and military values have influenced the masses to a great extent in terms of participatory democracy, grassroots communal councils, frequent military parades, the new national police force and other initiatives.
The U.S. press regularly condemns "human rights abuses" and "the corruption of democracy" in Venezuela. However, none of the incidents are comparable to Mexico, where human rights workers and journalists are regularly murdered, or to Colombia where more trade unionists are killed than anywhere else; still the United States gives both these countries huge amounts of financial aid, including military and police funding and weapons. The Carter Center, after observing several elections in Venezuela, along with delegations from the European Union and the Organization of American States, has publicly declared that the country has the "freest and fairest elections in the Americas."
On March 9, 2015 President Barak Obama declared “a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” What threat could Venezuela possibly hold for the greatest military power on earth?
It is the threat of a good example. If a country replaces free market capitalism with a socialist economic system, and people’s living standards improve, it would send a signal all over the world that an alternative exists to the economic, political and military domination of the United States.
U.S. corporations have been making tremendous profits from their business in Venezuela for decades; now, according to Reuters, 40 of them, all members of the S&P 500, together face a total loss of at least $11 billion due to currency restrictions and the devaluation of the Venezuelan currency.
The U.S. government has openly funded $90 million to Venezuelan opposition parties since 2000 with the pretext of "promoting democracy". Of course the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has also covertly funded strikes and economic sabotage, armed proxy armies, and assassinated heads of state. The list of U.S. interventions includes Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Congo, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua, Granada, Chile, Panama, Brazil, Ghana, Greece, Uruguay, Angola, Jamaica, the Philippines, Honduras, Fiji, Surinam, Guyana, South Yemen, Chad, Bolivia, Peru, Algeria, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti.
What are the lessons that Hugo Chávez taught us about social change? First that a radical anti-capitalist message can resonate with the poor even though it may alienate the rich―the radical parties Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece have succeeded with this approach. Second, that after 500 years of European descendants heading all the governments of Latin American, it is possible for people of color like Chávez, Lula de Silva of Brazil, and Evo Morales of Bolívia, to usher in Leftist governments. Third, that it is possible to mobilize the poor to win elections, and by creating social programs that benefit them, to do it again and again. Fourth, that by strengthening ties with other countries of the Global South, it is possible to forge new alliances and new institutions independent of the United States, such as Telesur TV, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and the Bank of the South. Fifth, these new alliances can provide enough strength to successfully stand up to the might of the United States and win.
We should learn from Chávez’s mistakes as well. Good political policies and poverty reduction are not substitutes for sound economic policies. Both are necessary to have a long term impact.
Chávez also failed to effectively tackle corruption; violent crime rose to dangerous levels during his rule, as well. In his constant preoccupation with votes, he turned a blind eye to evidence of corruption by some influential party leaders; if he had courageously launched popular educational campaigns about ethics in every level of school and in the popular media, and if he had denounced and punished wrongdoers, ending impunity, he would have actually strengthened the Bolivarian Revolution.
Another disappointment is that Chávez did not encourage constructive criticism by his followers, nor did he open channels for respectful dialogue and listening to complaints with members of the opposition; a more inclusive stand, like the Occupy slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” could have won the allegiance of many good people among the middle class.
Otto van Bismarck said, “Politics is the art of the possible.” For activists around the world, Hugo Chávez dramatically showed the possibilities of changing a society within a short period. Activists have a lot to learn from Hugo Chávez, both from what he got right and from what he got wrong.
Dada Maheshvarananda is yogic monk, activist and writer. He is the director of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and website www.priven.org.
17 November 2014
The Hero's Journey and the Spiritual Path
Campbell (1904-1987) studied myths, religions, and narratives from around the world. His famous advice, “Follow your bliss”, came from the phrase satcitananda in the ancient Upanishads, which translates as “being, consciousness, bliss”, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence. Campbell said he wasn’t sure about “being” and “consciousness”, but he could understand “bliss”! He taught many years at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, at that time an all-women’s institution. He always told his graduating students, “Whatever you do, don’t do what Daddy says, because he is only interested in your security. If you bargain away your life for security now, you will never find your bliss.”
08 July 2014
Letter to Korean Readers of "After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action", to be published this month
In recent history the Korean people have suffered terribly from the effects of three ideologies: fascist imperialism, communism and capitalism. Whereas the effects of the first two are obvious, the third, capitalism, is a little more insidious. You live in what many would consider to be a very successful society, the world's 12th largest economy. And yet, consumerism, selfishness and greed are clearly infecting every society including Korea. According to Forbes magazine, at the time of this writing, South Korea has 27 billionaires, each with a wealth ranging from 1 to 13 billion dollars, and 10 of the world's largest 500 corporations. Sadly, poverty and inequality continue to plague Korea. Capitalism works well for some people, but not for everyone.
Capitalism has permitted chaebol to dominate the economy while giving little power to common people. The heavy concentration of population and resources in greater Seoul weakens the rest of the country. Greed has engendered cronyism and patronage.
A recent book in English by my friend, activist and scholar George Katsiaficas (assisted by his recently deceased wife, Shin Eun-jung), "Asia's Unknown Uprisings Volume 1: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century" (“May Spring” will publish the book in Korean in May 2015) explores the impact protest movements fighting dictatorships have had on Korea's society. From the Tonghak uprising, independence movement and anti-Japanese resistance, to the overthrow of Syngman Rhee, resistance to Park Chung-hee and Jeon Du-hwan, as well as student, labor, and feminist movements, these have all made profound changes in the collective consciousness.
The Gwangju Uprising, from May 18 to 27, 1980, is especially significant, as an example of how first students, and then hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, could unite in solidarity, compassion and cooperation.
This spirit of solidarity and cooperation symbolizes the way forward for Korea. And I believe that the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout) is a socio-economic model that can improve the quality of life for all Koreans. As a practical alternative to both communism and capitalism, I believe it has the potential to reunite the tragic political division of the Korean people.
The history of the cooperative movement in Korea has an inspiring list of accomplishments that we can learn from: the Poolmoo school's incubation of co-operatives starting in 1959, Blue Cross Medical Co-op, the Yangseo Co-op, the consumer cooperative movement (with a total membership today of half a million). The new “Framework law on cooperatives”, passed in 2011 with support from all political parties and government, is a significant step forward, allowing as few as five persons to easily form a co-op with legal protection. I am especially honored that this book is published by Hansalim, the largest grass-roots co-op in Korea with half a million members.
You have great treasures that are also great tools in this struggle: your beautiful language, culture and landscape. As I explain in this book, "our culture is our strength", for it unites people and gives them the strength to overcome the greatest obstacles. For example, your expression, "uri nara" (which means "our country"), is significant, because in Korean, unlike most other languages, the emphasis is on "our" and not "my" country. Your land, your society, belongs to everyone. And this is a fundamental idea of Prout: that the resources, the land, the water, the air belongs to everyone and we need to share it, not privatize it, for the welfare of all.
Though I do not speak Korean, I would be happy to hear your critical feedback and suggestions. Please write to me in English at email@example.com or in Korean via my translator and friend, Dada Cittarainjanananda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
17 March 2014
19 February 2014
Speaking Tour of USA
I'm now starting a four-week tour of the United States. My cellphone is: 336-567-6912. I'd love to meet or talk with you.
Fri 21 Feb Dudley, MA, Nichols College 3:45pm talk "Economic Democracy in Latin America and USA"
Sun 23 Feb New Brunswick, New Jersey, wedding of Ananda Mayii and Brahmadeva
Mon 24 Feb Washington, DC 8:55am and 10:20am American University yoga classes, Bethesda, MD 7pm Shanti Yoga Ashram presentation in Spanish "Democracia Económica en América Latina y EE.UU."
Tue 25 Feb Maryland, BCC High School Peace Studies classes at 7:25am, 8:30am, at Wilson High School 9:25am, at 1:10pm American University class
Wed 26 Feb Asheville, NC Warren Wilson College 7pm Cooperative Games workshop
Thu 27 Feb Asheville, NC, 4pm radio interview, 7pm talk at Skyland/Sth Buncombe Co. Library
Fri 28 Feb Asheville, NC 10am "Intro to Peace and Justice Studies" Warren Wilson College
Sat 1 Mar Asheville, NC 9am-5pm Cooperative Leadership Development seminar with Satya Tanner at Co-luminate, 69A Biltmore Ave
Sun 2 Mar Asheville, NC 3pm collective meditation
Mon 3 Mar Virgi college tour with Clark Webb
Tue 4 Mar Radford Universityudent Center (Bonnie Hall) 7-9pm "Using Meditation to Build a Cooperative World"
Wed 5 Mar Virginia colletour with Clark Webb
Th6 Mar Virginia college tour with Clark Webb
Fri 7 Mar Blacksburg, VA Virginia Tech 10 AM radio interview
Sat Mar Blacksburg, VA 10am-4pm SeminAkke's Yoga Place "Usineditation to Build a Corative World"
Sun 9 Mar Blacksburg, VA
Wed 12 Mar Chicago, 6pm Open invitation dinner party at the hoof Bill Ayers & Bernardine Dohrn, 1329 E. 50tt.
Thu 13 Mar Chicago, public talk
Fri 14 Mar Madison, WI
Sat 15 Madison, WI
Sun 16 Mar Terre Haute, IN Unitarian Church, evening talk on "Meditation & Yoga: Practicing Social Justice"
Mon 17 Mar Terre Haute, 6pm Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Tue 18 Mar Terre Haute, Indiana State University Human Rights Day speaker
Wed 19 Mar fly home to Venezuela
16 February 2014
Meeting with the President of Ireland
The military attache who showed us into the beautiful historic reception room set up with tea and coffee explained where I should stand and greet the president when he entered. When Niall asked him how long the meeting would last he said, "That completely depends on the president, but I would expect between 10-20 minutes." In fact the meeting lasted almost an hour.
The president had invited Ruairí McKiernan, a young social entrepreneur and self-described community troublemaker who had organized the Dalai Lama's visit to Ireland, to attend. After the photos were taken, the president asked the reception assistants to bring orange juice for me, and his attache to bring in his Prout books. The copy of After Capitalism that Niall had mailed him had several book markers.
He said, "I've marked up my copy a lot. I know Marcos Arruda who wrote the preface to After Capitalism. We met during the Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro when I was minister for the environment. We made a documentary together."
President Higgins repeated several times, "This book is remarkable. It needs wide circulation." He expressed his gratitude to "this wonderful person, Niall," who had sent it to him. He explained that he had tried to find Niall's telephone but it wasn't listed, so I joked that he wasn't as "efficient" as the NSA. Then he suddenly asked Niall, "Why haven't you made this book available to the public?" The president then suggested various publishers and trade union leaders that we should approach this week while I am here in Ireland.
The president opened his copy of the book and read to us one paragraph: "The International Monetary Fund in 2009 estimated the total value of the world’s economy to be US$70.21 trillion. And yet the total world derivatives market in the second half of 2009 has been estimated at about US$615 trillion, more than eight times the size of the entire global economy!" And now it is even more than that, he emphasized.
He felt the second Prout book that Niall had sent him, "Principles of a Balanced Economy" by Roar Bjonnes is also very good, but it's more a handbook for cooperativists.
He talked about the discourse on language, how it has been subverted by the neo-liberal agenda. He said that the media throughout Europe now talks about "the tax burden" as though it should be avoided completely, not that it is part of our social responsibility. He asked me, how to change the discourse of institutions? How to get this into the discourse?
His experiences in Nicaragua, and El Salvador, with international human rights delegations. He said he knew one woman who was killed. He later stood with the woman's grandmother at the Monument to Memory and Truth in El Salvador that has the names of 47,000 names of people who lost their lives during The Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992). Sadly, he said, the children who were refugees always made drawings of helicopters.
He said at the World Economic Forum that takes place each year in Davos, Switzerland, all the people "have ashes in their mouths". The politicians keep going, but they keep mouthing the same thing because they haven't got any vision.
I gave President Higgins a copy of "Notes and Recommendations on the Irish Economy" by the Institute for New Economic Futures (INEF -- see www.beyondtheeurocrisis.org). I explained that seven Proutist economists in different countries had contributed to this 13-page proposal how to make the Ireland more self-reliant and resilient to global financial crises. That 400,000 Irish, mostly young people, have left the country since the 2008 crisis looking for work in other countries is a tragedy.
He feels there is a great misunderstanding in Europe about Latin America.
He talked about the different religions that depend on their holy book and about the fatalism of India. I agreed that there are dogmas in both the West and the East that are divisive, and how spirituality, on the other hand, is all-inclusive.
He was very impressed about Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar and said, "Anyone who can fast for five years on only two cups of yoghurt a day must be very strong!"
After the hour passed with this charming conversation, President Higgins graciously apologized for taking so much of my time. When we said farewell, he embraced me.