TAOSENOS: What to Do Now?

By: Bill Whaley
12 November, 2016

Local, State, National

Each citizen must decide whether or not she or he can actively participate in the political process or hightail it for the hills. While reading the current edition of The New York Review of Books, I was struck by scholar Eliot Weinberger’s translations of Chinese poetry and his summaries:

Confucianism taught that when the government is bad, one should head for the hills. (Taoism taught that, regardless of government, one should head for the hills.)

Certainly, numerous residents of greater Taos County embody the life style and beliefs of the above. When the ancient Roman stoics were rejected from office, they retired to the countryside and became farmers, wrote letters that became memoirs and a literary legacy. Most of us have already arrived at the decision. We live in a high mountain valley adjacent to the desert in an isolated patch of America.

The great Montaigne retreated to his tower to write but consistently got dragged back into the Protestant/Catholic wars or emerged from time to time as Magistrate in Bordeaux or advised a prince on how to become a king in France. We are social beings by instinct no matter our yen for solipsism and the quiet life. Life has a way of invading our neighborhoods.

We Taosenos may not be self-sufficient in terms of earning a living or agriculture aqui en Taos. Still, culturally and geographically, even if we live marginal economic lives, spiritually we are rich. Like the monks who sequestered themselves in remote monasteries between the demise of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance, we must nurture the spirit and culture that is the antidote to a rather unpleasant reality in the American nation-state.

But to make Taos a kinder and gentler place, we need to elect community leaders who recognize the invaluable lessons learned from the historic indigenous cultures at Taos Pueblo and from the Spanish immigrants, who settled and survived in the area. Too, the artists and spiritualists, who fled mainstream America for the solitude and a place to work have set an example.

The founders of the community, the residents of Taos Pueblo represent a culture that has survived thousands of years by both maintaining traditional values and accommodating changes in a changing world. They keep their heads down but rise up and speak when necessary, hence the stunning victory in 1970, the “Battle for Blue Lake.” As the singer says you’ve got to know when to hold’em and when to fold’em.

In terms of political activism, my friend Sally Howell used to say, “Don’t bellyache if you don’t participate.” Too many Taosenos only pay attention once every four years but politics happens every day. And Charity or caritas begins at home. The current community leaders are betting the bank on human beings as economic functionaries in contrast to recognizing Taosenos as moral and existentially imaginative beings. In this traditionally fraught democracy, we must remind the itinerant professionals at Town Hall, at the County, at the Coop that “they know not of what they speak.” If they can’t hear us, we must throw the rascals out.

Still, we must acknowledge and be grateful that the state of New Mexico turned blue in the presidential campaign. More importantly the state legislature turned both houses blue. We’ve got to take state legislatures back from ALEC (American Legislative Council), the Koch Brothers sponsored spear that leads to gerrymandering the U.S. House of Representatives.

Further we have to take back the local, state, and national democratic parties. The current democratic party has turned its back on its historic roots: local people, the working class, a fair deal for all regardless of race, gender, creed, economic status. The proposed Trump presidency threatens the rule of law, equitable laws of economics, and the physical laws that affect the natural world. Our very home on Mother Earth is threatened by economic man’s exploitation of the planet. Still the Tribe stands tall at Standing Rock.

The current demonstrations in the street and the vile racist reactionaries, whether perpetrated by cops and white nationalists or expressed with guns or graffiti have not yet reached the critical level we saw in the sixties. Then the Chicago cops rioted and the ghettos burst into flame, anti-war marchers were beaten and the dogs in Selma were set upon civil rights demonstrators.

As MLK suggested in The Birmingham Letter, we must think, engage in introspection, and act: justice delayed is no justice at all. Our freedom is threatened. Nationally, we need to push Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, serious comedians and artists like Michael Moore to continue, “speaking truth to power.” You can’t just watch TV or blither on social media. Reading and thinking is part of the price of freedom.

For the revolution will be fought in the streets, the halls of congress, at home and in the neighborhoods. Pick your battles, keep your head down, and give no quarter. The darker spirit of America is on the march. Say to yourself as Jesus said to Satan: “Get thee behind me.” Sing “Hallelujah” like Leonard Cohen.

For Socrates, Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, JFK, MLK, and RFK did not die in vain but as reminders of our duty to each other. Then there’s Muhammad Ali, the perfect foil to prejudice and political injustice. He survived the bricks and arrows of fortune as a secular saint and defined the strategy of today: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!”

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