Transcription of Starhawk Interview with Sustainable World Radio - Fall 2016
Jill Cloutier: Starhawk's newest book is City of Refuge, a sequel to the perenially popular bestseller The Fifth Sacred Thing. Starhawk divides her time between her communal home in San Francisco, and her more rural piece of land in Sonoma County, California.
Welcome to Sustainable World Radio, Starhawk!
Starhawk: Hi, it's great to be on!
Jill Cloutier: Great to talk with you.
Sounds like you're doing a lot of permaculture design and restorative work on your land in western Sonoma. Can we just start with you telling us a bit about some of the things you're doing there on the land that you're excited about to share with the listeners?
Starhawk: Sure, one of the things I'm really excited about these days is the potential for using soil and using permaculture as a way to adapt to and help mitigate climate change. We can actually pull carbon out of the atmosphere the way that nature has done it for hundreds of millions of years - by using plants and using soil biology to take that carbon and take it out of the air and put it in the ground where it's hummus, it's soil-organic carbon.
So, we've been looking at our ranch as a model of many different ways of doing this. One of the ways, of course, is by planting trees and perenials and keeping the ground covered. We're lucky to have forest here that we can manage sustainably, but we've also been planting food forests and looking at ways that we can grow food - again, using perenial systems and not having to constantly dig up the ground and expose all that wonderful living soil to the air.
So, one of my favorite experiments that's been going on is a fall color food forest. I wanted a touch of New England in California, so I've got persimmons and pears and other fruit trees that have a beautiful color in the fall, and underplanted them with blueberries and aronia which also have beautiful fall color, and below that I have a cianothus - california wild lilac - particular variety called "diamond heights" that's very gated with beautiful yellows and golds. In a food forest, you're thinking about creating different layers, so that you're using all of the space. Just like a regular forest has overstory trees, and understory, and bushes and ground cover...we can use all that space and plant it with things that actually give us yields that provide for our human needs as well as the needs of the system.
We have another food forest we're starting to develop that's based on Chinese medicinal herbs. We have a mediterranean food forest with olives underplanted with things like lavender that we distill for essential oils and lavender water, and rosemary and other mediterranean plants.
And then we've also been doing a system of grazing, with sheep and goats. It was developed by a guy named Allen Savory. He calls it holistic management planned grazing. He was a ranger in Zimbabwe and saw the land deteriorating and spent years and years struggling to understand why the land was degrading. And they thought "oh, it's overgrazing," so they took the animals off and the land degraded more quickly. Finally, what he realized was that grasslands need grazers. They co-evolved with big herds of grazers, and predators.
So that the predators keep the herd bunched together for protection, they churn it up with their hooves, they poop and pee all over it and fertilize it, and then they move on. And what that does is it tramples down the grasses and gets them in contact with the soil, fertilizes them, and then gives the grass time to recover. So, mimicing that by moving animals in small spaces and moving them often so they graze an area hard and then move on to another area quickly, that can mimic that kind of action and can help restore and regenerate grasslands and sequester carbon.
Finally, we've also been experimenting with biochar, and taking some of the waste products of forest management -- the thinning we do in order to keep down the fire danger -- burning that wood or burning even cardboard or waste paper, creates a kind of charcoal that's like a living habitat for microorganisms, it's like a hotel.
And you fill that hotel with beneficial microorganisms, by mixing it with compost or compost tea, and then when you bury it in the soil it creates a rich stock of soil-organic carbon and life that can help maintain soil fertility and help also maintain its water-holding capacities for a long, long time.
So, those are some of the things we've been experimenting with. And I just love it.
Jill Cloutier: I don't know why you go anywhere else! I'd just stay home. People would say, "We used to see Starhawk travelling internationally, but now she's got berries to pick." Ah, it must be hard to leave, it sounds gorgeous.
And it must be great to be able to put into practice all the things we talk about in permaculture.
Starhawk: Yes, it is really a true gift to be able to do that.
Jill Cloutier: Starhawk you've had - and this is for people who aren't familiar with your work - you've had a very well-established career as a writer and teacher for earth-centered spirituality. How did you end up becoming a permaculture practitioner and teacher?
Starhawk: Well, I had been writing and teaching about earth-based spirituality for decades, and about the pagan roots in europe and the middle east that were really centered with the land, and where the sacred was seen often as the goddess and that principle of bringing life into the world and respecting that life.
Then when I discovered permaculture in the late 80's - I had a friend who'd taken a design course - and I was fascinated with it. I started reading about it and learning about it, and it seemed like permaculture was like the how-to part of the earth being sacred. The practical application of the spiritual practice.
So, I took a design course with Penny Livingston-Stark in '96 or '97 and after that I was hooked.
Jill Cloutier: And now you are a well-known permaculture teacher and designer yourself, which is exciting. And I think your book, which I read probably fifteen years ago, the Fifth Sacred Thing, really embodied a lot of permaculture principles and ethics in the book. It was the first novel to do so, I think.
Starhawk: When I wrote The Fifth Sacred Thing, I was really looking at the idea of how do we create a future that we might want to live in? And, uh, in the book, Northern California has come through times of environmental and social meltdown and created a culture that's balanced, that's in harmony with nature, that's based on respect for the four sacred things--for earth, and air and fire and water and I was very influenced by some of the ideas of permaculture, even though I didn't know nearly as much about it then as I do now.
And of course in the book also Southern CA has gone the opposite direction and become militarist and racist and brutal. So the book really centers on the story of when the southlands invade the north and how do people respond to violence without becoming what you're fighting against.
Jill Cloutier: And y'know, your book has become a memory for me because through the years I will think--"oh, I remember in Starhawk's book that this happened and it happened" --it's now happening in real time, in real life and it's a little scary being in Santa Barbara.
S: In some ways I think that the book is more relevant now than it was when it came out. And also one of the wonderful things is that--we have an audiobook that has just come out of the Fifth Sacred Thing so now people can actually get in that format and hear it and maybe people who read it years ago might enjoy actually hearing it in a different way and hearing the characters come alive
Jill Cloutier: And you recently wrote the sequel to the Fifth Sacred Thing as well.
S: That's right--the sequel is called city of Refuge and it takes the story the next step--what happens when the people from the north recognize that they actually need to go down and liberate the southlands. And--How do you liberate people who've really forgotten what freedom and liberation and balance actually look like and feel like?
Jill Cloutier: That's a great question. For those--and we'll get back to the books, too--but for those who are listening who don't know what permaculture is, I'd love to get your definition of permaculture.
S: I always say Permaculture is a system of ecological design that mimics how nature works in order to meet our human needs while regenerating the environment around us.
Jill Cloutier: That's wonderful.
S: And I also always really love Patrick Whitefield's definition; he said Permaculture is the art of designing beneficial relationships.
Jill Cloutier: That's great--it's very succinct and sums it up and we'll get into social permaculture in a little bit. Starhawk, I've read a lot of your articles and you say that there is no more vital work that we can do right now than to heal our damaged work and learn the skills necessary to do so. Can you tell us about that? What skills do you see as most needed right now and how can we get them?
S: Well, Obviously there are practical skills that are really helpful right now. Everything from natural building to gardening and farming and planting and seed saving, food growing, soil building--all of those things that we teach in permaculture design courses. But I think some of the key skills are, in a way, kind of, um, more subtle than that. I feel like we have to shift not just what we do but also our consciousness and our understanding of the world we live in.
And I think that's where permaculture is a powerful lens that is very very much aligned with a spiritual practice and traditions that I've always done. We're really looking at shifting our worldview
from seeing the world as a set of isolated objects to be exploited to understanding the world as a web of relationships--as a living system. Y'know, In permaculture that's the art part of it and that's where I think that it's different from just organic farming or gardening--it's not just saying "OK, I want to grow tomatoes, what do I need to feed them with," it's "I want to grow tomatoes as a yield--what's the other things I can grow that will support that." Where can I put that tomato plant where it might serve more than one function
what variety of tomatoes might I plant that might add a little bit more diversity into the system and Penny Livingston-Stark says this is not rocket science. it's a thousand times more complicated.
S: It is; it exercises a part of the brain that in the beginning is hard to do! Cause we're not taught in schools at all to think holistically
S: That's right. And the other set of skills I think we need are the human relationship skills-the skills of getting along with one another in groups, of resolving conflict, of communicating clearly with one another, of really understanding how we can create groups and organizations that are truly welcoming to people, so we can show up in the fully diversity of who they are; and the skills of organizing, because I think that in a way, y'know--the plants are the easy part.
Jill Cloutier: It's true, I love my yacon plant. I get along much better with that.
(laughing) they don't talk back
Jill Cloutier: (laughing) they're always grateful when you pay them attention
S: That's true; sometimes they sulk and die; but you know and then they become compost!
Jill Cloutier: Exactly. You know I love what you wrote, I think it was in your blog post--you said "I think we could have changed the world ten times over if we didn't have to work with other people! Those Irritating, self-righteous and controlling people." And for me, being in my Permaculture Design Course & PDC, it was really a horrible realization to realize I was one of them! I was like, oh god, people feel the same way about me as I do about them. It really is difficult. So tell us--you've been working with groups for decades. Not only in permaculture but in politics and spirituality--tell us a bit about social permaculture and how we can apply that to this challenge of working with other people.
S: Well, social permaculture looks at the art of designing relationships--beneficial relationships and says how do we actually design our groups and organizations to further beneficial relationships and
what are the skills and tools of communication that we need, and conflict resolution in order to maintain and nourish those relationships.
So you can look at a group maybe where there's toxic behavior going on and you can say "oh those are bad people, get rid of them. those are the people who are always gossiping behind other peoples' backs." But you take a step back and take a permaculture lens and permaculture--if we have a pest in a garden, we don't just say "nuke the pest," we say "what's going on in the garden that's favoring the pest and creating conditions where it can thrive, how do we change those conditions?" So in a group, are there conditions in the group that are actually encouraging this behavior? Can we redesign the group to discourage it? Can we maybe actually design in some explicit agreements about how we deal with conflict, if we have a conflict with another person? Maybe people are gossiping because there's no actual place to give feedback or critique or express their dissatisfaction openly. How do we create a container for that and then challenge people to change those negative patterns?
Jill Cloutier: In your work, in your lifetime of work, is--has working with groups been one of the most challenging parts?
S: Oh absolutely(laughing) because as I said they involve other people.
Jill Cloutier: So give us, if you wouldn't mind, give us another example of how how permaculture ethics and principles can helps us grow through conflict & work together--I think, when you said the example of people gossiping often happens when people feel disempowered.
Starhawk: Yes, you know, I think that you know there’s a concept again in ecology in the need for periodic disturbance. In grasslands you need the disturbance of those animal hooves. To trample down the grass and get it in contact with the soil so it can actually compost and so that the new grass can emerge. And I think that if we understand that in groups we need actual conflict. Conflict is not a negative thing, it simply means we have different ideas different visions, different priorities. And again, once of our permaculture principles is that diversity creates resilience. So that if we can embrace diversity we can say okay conflict doesn’t mean good versus evil, we’ve gotta trample these people, it might mean , these are a variety of perspectives that we need to integrate. Might mean, this group needs a little disturbance a little shaking up. Maybe we’re too much in a rut in the way we do things , maybe we need to shift ad do things in a different way.
Jill Cloutier: I can see that. And so are there any other methods that you use that you would like to share with listeners today about dealing with conflict in groups?
Starhawk: one thing I like to teach groups is first to look at the different between text and subtext in what we say. The text is the words and the subtext is everything else we say. The tone, the implications, the subtle grammatical construction. So you can say something like “we need to talk” that could mean “wow im so excited, Jill, you’re doing permaculture, I’m doing permaculture, we need to talk!” or it could mean “you have just done something absolutely horrible and I need to confront you about it and we need to talk." And if we’re having a conversation, we intuitively understand that, but oftentimes when we get into trouble in groups is when we don’t understand the subtext of what we’re saying. I teach a lot of the social permaculture with Pandora Thomas and we do a lot of teaching around diversity and groups. And sometimes in a group, someone will say to Pandora, who’s African-American, like “oh I’m so glad someone of your kind is here!”
Jill Cloutier: [groans] ugh
Starhawk: and completely unaware that the subtext of that means “your people don’t really belong here.”
Jill Cloutier: mmhmm, mhmm
Starhawk: “This really isn’t your group, this is our space that you have entered.” Um, there’s also the difference between impact and intent. You know I may say something again, with the most benevolent intent. Again like ”oh I’m so glad someone like you has finally showed up to this group.” And my intent might be to praise and be welcoming. But my impact might actually be tremendously hurtful, and reinforcing that sense that this is not your space and you don’t really belong here. And I think we have to learn, I’ve had to learn this as a writer, cause often in writing, your impact will be very different than your intent, and it’s very hard to see, when you’re the one putting those words together, how someone else is gonna receive them. So I try to encourage groups to be thinking about a group as a learning environment. Where we might get feedback on what we’ve done and it’s not to say “you’re a terrible person for doing this” but "hey, here’s something you can learn, here’s a new way of looking at something, that you might not have actually been able to see before” and that’s part of the value of having diversity in group, is really having those multiple perspectives.
Jill Cloutier: and really permaculture and the environmental movement has been criticized as being very rich, ya know, for rich people who can afford the food at whole foods, and how do we create the conditions for diversity, not only in race but also in economic and all areas? How do we create the conditions for diversity in all groups?
Starhawk: I think inherent in permaculture is that understanding that we need to create a world of social justice and economic equality. The third principle, the one of fair share, of returning the surplus into the system, and sharing the surplus, to me, is very counter to our current capitalist system where we see wealth and power being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Um, some of the ways we do that in earth activist training, is that we offer many work trade opportunities, we offer diversity scholarships for people of color , and differently abled people, and that has both radically increased that kind of diversity in our groups, but I’ve just come back from a northern California north American permaculture convergence. And it was really heartening to see how much more diversity there was in that gathering that I remember seeing just a few years ago. Um, and , also I felt proud that many people were graduates of earth activist training.
Jill Cloutier: aww
Starhawk: There were people giving workshops and people giving presentations. Uh, on panels, and organizing panels, that has come thru our program. And I think that we can have an impact on that if we decide that we’re gonna go about it, and we’re gonna be conscious about it , and we’re gonna do it with integrity, we’re gonna do it by inviting people in at the organizing level not just calling someone up at the last minute and saying “hey, can you bring some Black people?”
Jill Cloutier: mmhmm, you know and monocrops really don’t do well [chuckles]
Jill Cloutier: not only monocrops of crops but of people, it doesn’t - it’s not strong.
Starhawk: we live in a very diverse world right now, and often times the people who are really on the front lines of environmental struggles are people of color, indigenous people, just like we see right now at Standing Rock in north Dakota, where indigenous people have stood up and taken the lead in resisting this pipeline and calling us to understand that water is life and water is sacred. So in order to support those struggles effectively, we need leaders from those communities and we need to find way of offering and sharing some of the insights and tools we have in permaculture with the communities that represent the real diversity of the world that we live in.
Jill Cloutier: if you’re trying to design for beneficial relationships, you really have to have an understanding of other cultures in order not to offend people and, to be able to communicate effectively.
Starhawk: yeah, there’s something I call “normatitis”
Jill Cloutier: [laughs]
Starhawk: sort of, a , the unconscious assumption that the norms in the group that you come from are the human norms, and everything else is sort of, divergent. And that gets in our way when we’re working with people across cultures and across many forms of differences. We have to understand that different groups might have different norms and some of them might actually be helpful or illuminating or enriching, rather than simply seeing them as defective.
Jill Cloutier: and going back to the pipeline , I can see how it’s like, it’s like this need to want to help and wanting to know the right way to do it, it’s tough sometimes.
Starhawk: mmhmm, yes. I think you know, there’s an art to learning how to stand in support of people without taking over, without making yourself the center of the story. Uh, I often think about that, you know, the story of lord of the rings, which has always been one of my favorites. In that story, Frodo is the protagonist, he’s the one who is carrying the ring. He’s the one who the story centers around. He’s not the most powerful figure in the book, he’s not the one who has the magic or who has the physical strength, he’s got all theses other people that are amazing characters like Gandalf the wizard and you know Boromir the warrior, and Legolas the elf, but they all are in support of him as the protagonist. And I think when we go into another community we have to remember, we’re not the one carrying the ring. We might have great support to offer, we might be a wizard, or we might be the rightful king returning, but we are not the one carrying the ring. And if we can step back and say, okay, someone else is carrying the ring, and I can be in my power, but I’m in my power in that support role. Then I think we can show up and help in a good way.
Jill Cloutier: Some of the most powerful and effective people I know have been able to step back and support.
Starhawk: yes. I actually think it’s part of the art of leadership, realizing that if you’re an empowering leader, your job is not always to set every direction or to say every brilliant thing, but sometimes to listen for the brilliant idea that might be coming out of somebody else and help amplify it, bring it forward, make it visible.
Jill Cloutier: Now, in permaculture and ecological design we talk a lot about biomimicry and mimicking nature. Are there any examples in nature of group cooperation that can serve as models to us?
Starhawk: I think there are many examples. We now know that actually the very cells in our body are actually cooperative. They began when some primal bacteria tried to eat another primal bacteria. Instead of destroying it, they fused. So the mitochondria in our cells are actually of a different DNA line than the rest of our cells. They’re remnants of that early collaboration. Our bodies are cooperatives.
Jill Cloutier: I love that! My inner co-op. [Laughter].
Starhawk: We have more bacteria cells in our body than we do human cells. Without that collaboration, we wouldn’t even exist. Then you’ll see things, like in a forest. The trees in the forest are linked underground by mycorrhizal fungi that are like webs of fungal cells that form an underground network and actually extend the reach of the tree roots, and allow them to take in more water, more nutrients, more phosphorous. They link tree to tree. They’ve done experiments with radioactive isotopes and found that trees in the forest actually feed their young in these webs. Trees living in the sunlight will feed trees growing in the shade. Even trees of different species. I think nature is full of examples of deep cooperation.
Jill Cloutier: [32:50] That gives me hope. Starhawk, is there anything else you want to add about social permaculture and working in groups? Just so people know, your twelfth book is called The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups. If people are interested in that, they can find your books and that book in particular online. I think your website is starhawk.org.
Starhawk: That’s right. We do a number of social permaculture courses and retreats throughout the year (we’ll be doing one I think probably when people are listening to this podcast). I’ll also be speaking about it in Santa Barbara on October 2, and they can check my website or earthactivisttraining.org for upcoming social permaculture and facilitation and group leadership trainings.
Jill Cloutier: That’s wonderful. How does the Earth Activist Training differ from a traditional Permaculture Design Course?
Starhawk: We teach standard PDC material so that if you take one of our 2 week residential courses, you do get a Permaculture Design Certificate. But we teach it with a grounding in Spirit. So we begin every day with some ritual, some ceremony, some meditation to orient us for the day. We often do things like take people into a trance journey into soil biology before we talk about it from the more left brain, scientific view. We also have this focus on social permaculture and organizing and activism. How do we take this out, organize around it, and change not just what you grow in your garden, but how we set policy around agriculture and gardens and energy systems and urban design and planning, all of these things that are so important, so vital right now in our world.
Jill Cloutier: [35:07] It really sounds like a perfect blend, a melding of all of your work.
Starhawk: Yes, and I’ve also been doing some organizing in the permaculture world, especially around climate change, because I feel that we have important solutions and perspectives to bring. Last year at the International Permaculture Convergence in England, we actually adopted a Climate Change Statement, that you can find on the website at permacultureclimatechange.org. That’s been signed on to now by hundreds of different groups, that outlines the permacultural approach to dealing with climate change. We’re continuing to organize to help train people and develop the resources that we need to bring forth these solutions, which are based in regenerative systems, based in the ways we can actually regenerate our landscapes and our ecosystems on a large scale.
Jill Cloutier: [36:17] That’s great, I didn’t know about that site, I’ll look that up. One question I had for you: I know a lot of people who say, “Once I’m together, I’ll work to change the world.” What do you think about that, and do you think that getting out and working for social justice is as important as self-work? How have you dealt with that balance?
Starhawk: I don’t see that there’s a difference. You work on yourself in the course of working on the world. It’s not like a, first one, then the other—because working on the world is part of how you grow and develop and challenge yourself as a human being. If you wait to perfect yourself, you’ll never get there. [They both laugh.] Nobody’s perfect. I’m not, so clearly nobody else is! [More laughter].
Jill Cloutier: That’s funny, it reminds me of a dream I had in my early 20s, there was a big calamity, I think it was a plane crash, and my good friend who was a college professor and activist, said, “We have to go help!” and she ran out. I was brushing my hair in the mirror, washing my face, “I have to get ready!” I realized in the dream, by the time I got there, it was over. It is interesting, it’s important to act, and it’s also important to be centered and work on yourself, but I think also outer action and inner—I mean, being in a group is a lot more challenging sometimes than meditating for hours.
Starhawk: [38:00] Yes, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself sometimes by the conflict that erupts in a group than by hours of peaceful meditation. [Laughter].
Jill Cloutier: With the plants, who don’t talk back!
Starhawk: That’s right [chuckles].
Jill Cloutier: Writing is a big part of your life. You won a prestigious award in college, you’ve written thirteen books… Where does your inspiration come from? Are you just constantly writing, to have written thirteen books?
Starhawk: When I have time… My inspiration I would say comes from many places.
[38:43] Sometimes it comes from really feeling pushed to grapple with a problem, or share experience. When I wrote The Empowerment Manual, it really came out of seeing all of these different groups I’d been working with—permaculture groups, political groups, spiritual groups, living collectives—struggling around the same issues of conflict and communication. Wanting to put together both what I’d learned and what other people had learned, because I felt like if we could get our groups to function more effectively, than it was going to impact every single thing we were doing.
When I wrote The Fifth Sacred Thing, originally, it came out of that question. I had been writing about the transition from matriarchal cultures to patriarchy back in the early roots of civilization in Europe and the Middle East. I felt more and more like that transition came out of war, and people’s response to war, the impact that war and conquest had on cultures. That patriarchy in a sense was an adaptation to a culture of war, created a kind of ideology, that encouragement to allow themselves to be used as soldiers and weapons, and women to be prizes of war—it was a very different shift from what had gone on before. [40:33]
So, thinking about the question "Well, what could have been different?" How could a culture respond to an invasion without either just being conquered, or transforming themselves into something that's a mirror of the conquering culture?
And I think a question like that which has no clear, simple answer often is exciting to work with in fiction. Because then the characters take on aspects of that question, and then they take on a life of their own. And the story is built around it, so you're sort of wrestling with it in a different way.
Jill Cloutier: I did read that you said the question that began your new novel was "How do we create a new world when people are so damaged by the old?" Did you come up with any answers?
Starhawk: I came up with many characters! And they're each dealing with it. There's Madrone who's the healer, who's a powerful healer, who's always dealing with the question of where to draw the lines between giving away everything I am to others and holding on to some core of myself.
There's Bird who's the musician turned guerilla fighter who's struggling hard to recover from the trauma of what he's experienced. And how do I put my music in service to a better world, and how do I fight when I've decided that I'm not going to pick up a gun? What can I do instead?
And then there's River, who's one of the soldiers in the Fifth Sacred Thing who defected to the North, and who's literally been bred and raised to be nothing but a weapon and a tool. And his struggle is "How do I become a real person? How do I become a human when I was never intended to be?"
There's also Cress, who in the Fifth Sacred Thing was a hothead and always calling for armed resistance, who actually takes an army down to liberate the Southlands with River in City of Refuge. And Cress is actually part of the water council, he's a hydrological engineer and a permaculture-trained person, and he's wrestling with this question of what violence actually looks like when he's doing it. And this greater and greater pull he has of being tired of the fighting.
At one point he says all he really wanted was the land and shovel to sculpt it into an open hand cupped to receive water.
Jill Cloutier: Oh, that's gorgeous!
Starhawk: I do think I've elevated permaculture water harvesting to new heights of dramatic tragedy.
Jill Cloutier: <laughs> It's so great, you are really getting the information out there in multiple streams, it's just wonderful.
Starhawk: Well, I'm doing my best. And I'm excited now that the Fifth Sacred Thing is available as an audiobook. Because again, from a permacultural point of view where we're always stacking functions, a good audiobook is a great thing to do while you're wrestling with your drip irrigation system and trying to get those little pieces to fit into each other! <laughs>
Jill Cloutier: And my older friend is going to love it. She doesn't read that much anymore, so it's great!
Jill Cloutier: In The Fifth Sacred Thing, you write: "There's a place at our table if you care to join us." And that's what the northerners are telling the invaders. And this time of divisive energy, especially in the US political scene, do you still feel this is true? That there is a place at the table for everyone?
Starhawk: I think it's a way we can again shift this culture of adversaries, of good versus evil, and start to say "How do we find places of common ground and places of collaboration?"
I do think there are things we have to say no to. I do think there are times we need to stand up and stop something that's destructive, and identify that certain people's interests are not the same as ours. That they're not our lovely-dovey friends. I think again, at Standing Rock, we see such a powerful example of people standing up and saying no to the pipeline, but doing it in a way that includes spirit, includes the recognition of the sacred. Where their message is not "We hate these people." Their message is "Water is life." And we have to protect it.
Jill Cloutier: And I had a revelation about this in my twenties, and I think you write a lot about this, which is being for something and not just against something.
Starhawk: I think our "no" is always stronger when we know what our "yes" is. And that's another place where I think permaculture is so powerful. We've done a lot of mobilizations and demonstrations around global justice issues, and we'd say, "If we're all going to get together and have a camp, can we bring permaculture into it?" Can we set up greywater systems, can we model things that are solutions to these problems even in the moment that we're standing up and saying no.
Jill Cloutier: Yes, I think it's much more effective.
Starhawk: And it's much more satisfying.
It's hard to do political work when it's always "no to this," "no to that." Standing up and often getting beaten down and getting arrested and being at the heart of those conflicts, it can really wear you down after awhile. So finding a way where you can say, "Yes, now we're planting the alternatives, we're planting the food forests that will demonstrate how we can grow food in healthy ways."
Jill Cloutier: And your piece of land is actually: "Here are some solutions."
Jill Cloutier: And is there anything else you'd like to say about your books? And where can people find your books? I assume it's starhawk.org, and I think there's also a website for The Fifth Sacred Thing.
Starhawk: Yes, they can find my books on my website, also available on amazon and audible and itunes is the audiobook. You can also find my books at independent bookstores, or ask them to order them. It's always nice to support them when you can.
You can also find earth activist trainings at earthactivisttraining.org.
We have a website thefifthsacredthing.com that we set up in order to bring The Fifth Sacred Thing to the screen.
My facebook is starhawkauthor and twitter is #starhawk72.
Jill Cloutier: It's the day after fall equinox, and we're all united - no matter all of our differences - we are united by natural cycles all around the world. Do you have any thoughts to share about this time of change?
Starhawk: Well, the equinox is a time when day and night are in balance. Dark and light, all those forces, are in balance. I think it's a good time to think about balance, the balance of nature and also - in terms of conflict resolution - realizing that so much of nature is not about either/or, this/that, it's really about a dynamic balance between the two, and a rhythm.
We're not saying "Day is good and night is evil," because we know that we need both of them, and that is part of the whole cycle of the earth. The earth -- if we get rid of one of them, the earth would stop turning, and that would be a bad thing!
So, maybe if we can look at our conflicts in the same way, and say "OK there's gotta be a balance between my vision of what this group will be and someone else's, maybe it's not a matter of me conquering that, but how do we incorporate both of them in a way that is dynamic and moving and changing?"
Jill Cloutier: And if we could think of things in that way, I could see how that could lessen a lot of the conflict we find ourselves in.
Jill Cloutier: Now, is there anything else you want to share with our listeners today that I didn't ask you?
Starhawk: We're doing our next Earth Activist Training in Northern California January 7th-21st, and we're always fundraising to ensure we can extend diversity scholarships. But it's a wonderful experience, we'd love to have listeners come. Just to say, there's a lot of great work being done out there.
I always like to give a shout to Eric Tonesmeyer's new book, "The Carbon Farming Solution," which I think is just an absolutely brilliant way of collecting so much of the data around sequestering carbon into the soil and all the different methods and all the different studies about it. It's a pricey book, and it's well-worth every penny.
Jill Cloutier: I get so excited talking about carbon farming and different permaculture practices we can use to help heal the world, and the regeneration and mycoremediation and all of these things -- I'm so excited and inspired...and at the same time: climate change, water shortages, and people suffering...do you have any practices that help you reconcile the two?
Starhawk: You know, for me, I think part of our personal practice in these times has to be just staying sane. Not getting sucked into the fear and the anxiety, and not getting oblivious to the danger. For me, I try to spend some time every day just sitting in nature. Watching, listening, observing, doing a grounding practice to bring myself into a state where I can be present in the natural world, and not just obsessed about what's going on in my internal world or with elections or whatever.
I really recommend to permaculturists that you make it a personal practice to actually give yourself some time each day just being in nature. Even if that's just five minutes in your backyard.
Jill Cloutier: Or here in the city, just standing near a tree.
Starhawk: Yeah. Or looking up at the sky and watching the pigeons when you're at the bus stop. There's always nature around. And that's what helps to feed us.
And the last thing I have to say to people in these times is: Get out there and vote, everybody! This is a really crucial election, and I'm a very strong supporter of Hilary Clinton right now, not just because of the devastating possibility of getting Donald Trump in, but also because of her policies - especially her domestic policies - are exactly what we need as permaculturists to have a base to organize around.
She's a person who actually understands that climate change is happening. And she's somebody who's been really good on policies around women, around people of color, around discrimination...it's a time when we can't afford to let an outright bigot have control of the government. We need a strong response that says we want a world of social justice.
And I know people are like "I don't like this policy, I don't like this or like that, or I don't trust her."
You know, politicians don't exist for us to actually be their buddies. I think I identify with her as a strong women who's not by nature charismatic. It isn't about who you'd like to have a beer with. It's whether the wide diversity of your friends are going to be able to walk down the street without getting shot.
Jill Cloutier: Yeah, we don't know if the table is big enough for Donald Trump's hair.
Starhawk: Saying "There's a place for you at our table" - the other part of that is "If you will choose to join us." If you will choose to stop your destructive patterns and come be part of a different collaboration, we welcome you.
That doesn't mean we don't say absolutely no to big destruction.
Jill Cloutier: Thanks, I really appreciate your time today.
Starhawk: Thank you.
<transcript notes: interview was followed by some station identification information>
This transcript was created by Marissa Hernandez-Evans, Z Behlen, Eliot LeFiend and Iridaea at the request of Virginia Beach.