During the Gold Rush, it often happened that a European-American man would marry a Native woman. When pine nut season came around, she might ask her husband to gather some. Let's say that he was a kind and thoughtful husband, who loved and wanted to please her. But he was ignorant of the ways of her people and no longer young, daring, nor patient enough to climb the trees and shake the branches. Instead, he would simply cut down a pine tree.
When pines were plentiful and settlers were few, this might seem like a rational thing to do. At first, in fact, it might create an enormous sense of abundance and prosperity. The woman might have more pine nuts than she'd ever had before--for a while. Bit in time, if this practice continued, the pines would be gone along with the pine nuts.
We are going to Washington D.C., this week because we see the globalized, corporatized economy cutting down pines all around us. In the United States, we are surrounded by an illusory abundance that creates great wealth for a few, but our economy is that of the clearcut, destroying resources we should be cherishing.Globally, poverty and hunger deepen as corporate profits rise. Almost two billion people worldwide live in abject poverty. The lives, the cultures, and the lands of indigenous people are being destroyed in the name of development as surely as the pine trees were cut by the settlers.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are major architects of this situation. In the 70's, they loaned money to Third World countries for massive projects that enriched political elites and multinational corporations while providing little for the less privileged.
In the 80's, when many countries could not repay those loans, the World Bank and IMF pushed them deeper into the cycle of debt with "structural adjustment" programs that forced countries to refocus their economies on exports and debt repayment instead of food and goods to meet their own needs. Poor countries were made to reduce spending on education and health care in order to continue paying billions of dollars in interest to wealthy countries. UNICEF and the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa figures show that six million children under the age of five die each year as a result of these policies.
In the developed world, we feast among the fallen pines with a growing sense of uneasiness. We have seen the health of our own communities and economies compromised as job after job is lost to lands where pay is negligible and health and environmental standards unenforced. We see family farms lost, ancient forests cut down, wild lands and open spaces paved. The interests of transnational corporations undermine our democracy and widen the chasms of wealth and power that more and more divide us.
We are going to Washington this week to say that this system is wrong. It is unjust, unbalanced, unsustainable, and it causes untold suffering. We cannot challenge these institutions through our government because our democratic institutions are corrupted by the interests of corporate wealth. We have no recourse but the streets, no alternative but action.
The World Bank, IMF, the World Trade Organization, and the system they represent will not change from any one action. But they will change when we all begin to ask dangerous questions. Some of us will ask these questions loudly in the streets of Washington. But all of us can begin to ask these:
Are the people who produce the tools of my trade, my food, clothing and luxuries paid a living wage? Are their health and safety protected? Are their children well educated? Can they afford to buy the products they produce? What is the true cost of this work, this product, this toy, to the soil? The water? The air? The complex and irreplaceable habitats of this earth? The health of our communities? Who pays that cost, and in what coin? Money? Cancer? Extinction? Who profits?
If we face these questions, we can begin to build an economy of true abundance. The sustainability and stability of our increasingly global economy can only come from wealth widely and fairly shared. An economy of true abundance will favor the small and diverse over the monolithic corporations and will insist on the preservation and recycling of resources. The health of that system will be measured in the health of our communities, our soil, water, air, and the habitats of the earth's diverse creatures. It will be seen in the pride of workers who can afford to buy what they produce, whose children are free to learn, whose lives include leisure, beauty, and freedom. And it will be the source of a global creativity that may enrich all of our lives in ways we cannot foresee.
If we cherish the pines, they will produce nuts that we can enjoy now and in future generations. If we continue to cut them down, we soon will have no more.
A feminist, peace activist, and author, Starhawk travels widely giving lectures and workshops that draw on her 25 years of research and experience in the Goddess movement. For more information, see her website.