That repair must, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, be based on “one absolute standard of human dignity.”25 That starts in a fierce loyalty to everyone’s physical boundaries and sexual integrity. It continues with food, shelter, and health care, and the firm knowledge that our basic needs are secure. And it opens out into a democracy where all people get an equal say in the decisions that affect them. That includes economic as well as political decisions. There’s no point in civic democracy if the economy is hierarchical and the rich can rule through wealth. People need a say in their material culture and their basic sustenance.
For most of our time on this planet, we had that. Even after the rise of civilization, there were many social, legal, and religious strictures that protected people and society from the accumulation of wealth. There exists an abundance of ideas on how to transform our communities away from domination and accumulation and toward justice and human rights. We don’t lack analysis or plans; the only thing missing is the decision to see them through.
We also need that new story that so many of the Transitioners prioritize. It’s important to recognize first that not everyone has lost their original story. There are indigenous peoples still holding on to theirs. According to Barbara Alice Mann,
The contrast between western patriarchal and Iroquoian matriarchal thought could not be more clear.… I do not think it is possible to examine the real impetus behind mother-right unless we walk boldly up to the spiritual underpinnings of its systems. By the same token, we cannot free ourselves of the serious damage of patriarchy, unless we appreciate where matriarchy’s spiritual allegiances lie.
The Iroquois are unapologetic about the fact that spirit informs and undergirds all our social, economic, and governmental structures. Every council of any honor begins with thanksgiving, that is, an energy-out broadcast, to make way for the energy in-gathering required by the One Good Mind of Consensus. When a council fails, people just assume that the faithkeeper who opened it did a poor job in the thanksgiving department. In a thanksgiving address, all the spirits of Blood and Breath (or Earth and Sky) are properly gathered and acknowledged, with the ultimate acknowledgment being that the One Good Mind of Consensus requires the active participation of not just an elite but everyone in the community. This is a foundational insight of all matriarchies.26
She describes a culture where “things happen by consultation, not by fiat,” based on a spiritual understanding of everyone’s participation in the cosmos rather than the “paranoid isolation” brought on by the temper tantrums of a sociopathic God. This is the difference between cultures of matriarchy and patriarchy, egalitarianism and domination, participation and power.
One institution that deserves serious consideration is a true people’s militia. Right now in the United States only the right wing is organizing itself into an armed force. In 2009, antigovernment militias, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the paramilitary arm of the Patriot movement,” grew threefold, from forty-two to 127.27 We should be putting weapons in the hands of people who believe in human rights and who are sworn to protect them, not in those of people who feel threatened because we have a black president. If jack-booted, racist, and increasingly paranoid thugs coalesce into an organized movement with its eye on political power, we don’t need to relive Germany in 1936 to know where it may end, especially as energy descent and economic decline continue. Contemporaneous with a people’s militia would be training in both the theory and practice of mass civil disobedience to reject illegitimate government or a coup if that comes to pass. Gene Sharp’s Civilian-Based Defense explains how this technique works with successful examples from history. His book is a curriculum that should be added to Transition Towns and other descent preparation initiatives.
But if the people with the worst values are the ones with the guns and the training, we may be very sorry. This is a dilemma with which progressives and radicals should be grappling. A large and honorable proportion of the left believes in nonviolence, a belief that for many reaches a spiritual calling. But societies through history and currently around the globe have degenerated into petty tyrannies with competing atrocities. Personal faith in the innate goodness of human beings is not enough of a deterrent or shield for me.
A true people’s militia would be sworn to uphold human rights, including women’s rights. The horrors of history include male sexual sadism on a mass scale. Women are afraid of men with guns for good reason. But rape is not inevitable. It’s a behavior that springs from specific social norms, norms that a culture of resistance can and must confront and counteract, whether or not we have a people’s militia. We need a zero tolerance policy for abuse, especially sexual abuse.
Military organizations, like any other culture, can promote rape or stop it. Throughout history, soldiers, especially mercenary soldiers, have often been granted the “right” to rape and plunder as part of their payment. Other militaries have taken strong stands against rape. Writes Jean Bethke Elshtain, “The Israeli army … are scrupulous in prohibiting their soldiers to rape. The British and United States armies, as well, have not been armies to whom rape was routinely ‘permitted,’ with officers looking the other way, although British and American soldiers have committed ‘opportunistic’ rapes. Even in the Vietnam War, where incidents of rape, torture and massacre emerged, raping was sporadic and opportunistic rather than routine.”28 The history of military atrocities against civilians is a history; it’s not universal, and it’s not inevitable. Elshtain continues, “War is not a freeform unleashing of violence; rather, fighting is constrained by considerations of war aims, strategies and permissible tactics. Were war simply an unbridled release of violence, wars would be even more destructive than they are.” Western nations, over hundreds of years, assembled an unwritten code of conduct for militaries, known as the “customary law of war,” which tried to limit the suffering of soldiers and to safeguard civilians. This was eventually codified into the Hague Convention Number IV of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949. These attempted to limit looting and property destruction and to protect noncombatants. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is very clear that rape is unacceptable, and even gets the finer points of how “consent” with an armed assailant is a pretty meaningless concept. Elshtain also notes that “[the] maximum punishment for rape is death. Thus, interestingly, rape is a capital offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, by contrast to most civilian legal codes.”
Getting the command structure to take rape and human rights abuses seriously is, of course, the next step. As Elshtain points out, “It is difficult to bring offenders to trial unless the leaders of the military forces are themselves determined to ferret out and punish tormentors of civilian populations. Needless to say, if the strategy is itself one of tormenting civilians, rapists are not going to be called before a bar of justice.”
It will be up to the founders and the officers of new communities to set the norms and to make those norms feminist from the beginning. The following would go a long way toward helping create a true people’s militia, and not just another organization of armed thugs to “trample the grass”—the women and girls who so often suffer when men fight for power.
1. Female officers. Women must be in positions of authority from the beginning, and their authority needs absolute respect from male officers.
2. Training curriculum that includes feminism, rape awareness, and abuse dynamics, and a code of conduct that emphasizes honorable character in protecting and defending human rights.
3. Zero tolerance for misogynist slurs, sexual harassment, and assault amongst all members.
4. Clear policies for reporting infringements and clear consequences.
5. Background checks to exclude batterers and sex offenders from the militia.
6. Severe consequences for any abuse of civilians.
A people’s militia could garner widespread support by following a model of community engagement, much as the Black Panthers grew through their free breakfast program. Besides basic activities like weapons training and military maneuvers, the militia could help the surrounding community with the kind of services that are always appreciated: delivering firewood to the elderly or fixing the roof of the grammar school. The idea of a militia will make some people uneasy, and respectful personal and community relationships would help overcome their reticence.