The new, new counterculture

The new, new counterculture is shifting our focus

From dialectical to cooperative

From material to spiritual

From critical to creative

From confrontational to compassionate

The new, new counterculture does not forget the old ways, but rather incorporates them into a greater whole.

How have you experienced the new, new counterculture in your work and in your life?

Leader: Sun or Nebula?

When I left my job as an executive director, I went from being a sun — albeit of a microscopic universe — to a nebula. I thought I would feel liberated, but I felt a bit lost at times. Through entrepreneurship, I am loving the freedom of creative expression and learning to honor the accompanying mysteries and complexities of life. In my nebula heart, all things are possible.

My Coloring Book

Professors have often criticized my writing by reminding me that I need to unpack ideas. My writing tends to be dense, leading to grey, shaded areas that await discovery and illumination.

I like to think of this blog as my coloring book. I present a framework of ideas which you can color in using the palette of your thoughts, experience, and emotions. Each rendering is unique, yet united by a common understanding. Your picture adds new dimension to mine.

I welcome your questions to clarify what I mean, but I also love to see your interpretations and extrapolations of the ideas in The Activist’s Muse. I would like this blog to be a dialogue resulting in a community mural of progressive social change.


A dar, not yet a DAR

Despite being heavily recruited by my vulture like (but very sweet) relatives for the past 15+ years, I have declined an open invitation to join the Daughters of the American Revolution. My resistance to joining, along with repeated requests, had led me to evaluate the reasons that compel me to join an organization. Before investing my time and money in a community group, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Does this organization align with my values?
  • Does this organization align with my personal priorities?
  • Will participating in this organization help me accomplish something that is important to me?
  • Will I enjoy the company of other members/volunteers?
  • Is the organization ethical and does it act with integrity?
  • Will I be able to make a meaningful contribution?
  • Will I be able to change policies, processes, etc. within the organization that do not fully resonate with what I know to be true and good?
  • Will participation contribute to my legacy?

It is that last question, one that has only come up for me since reaching a certain age, that is leading me in the direction of more seriously considering joining. The DAR is very important to my family, and it is a part of who I am.  For now, I am keeping my options open.

Rainy Day Leadership

Clouds would make excellent leaders. They emerge as a response to the environment, yet they become their own thing. They are always changing shape and transforming in substance. They float over the broad landscape without hovering or attaching. They know when to pour rain, when to shield the harsh rays of the sun, when to emit a bolt of lightning, and when to dissipate.

Slipping through the Cracks

I was recently visiting a local organization at which a membership card must be scanned upon entering the building. I walked in at the same time as a Latin@ family who were stopped at the entrance and carefully checked one by one. I slipped by in my high heels, skirt, and white skin and made my way to the room where I was giving a presentation without question. I’m white; I’m invisible; I’m background noise.

The Unlearning Organization

In the unlearning organization, everything we have ever taken for granted is questioned, dissected, or discarded. Our knowledge, assumptions, and beliefs are in motion.

In the unlearning organization, there are no bad ideas and mistakes are inevitable. There is continual creativity, ingenuity, and risk.

In the unlearning organization, there is limitless possibility. People are liberated from the past, from the future, and most importantly from themselves.

In the unlearning organization, satisfaction and complacency are unknown. The ultimate goal is to fully experience the joy of each moment as it unfolds.

Changemaker Chat: Dr. Dietrich Fischer

Dr. Dietrich Fischer is the academic director of the World Peace Academy in Switzerland. When we asked him to participate in a changemaker chat, he very humbly replied that he would prefer to share information about the work of others who have brought about remarkable change. What follows is his remarks to students in the Master of Advanced Studies in Peace and Conflict Transformation at the beginning of this trimester.

Dear students and colleagues,

Welcome to our third trimester!

The former German Chancellor Willy Brandt once said, “Peace is not everything, but without peace, everything is nothing.” Therefore, peace is probably the most important subject we can study. Thank you for studying peace!

I am sure you will make important contributions to help build a better, more peaceful world. Here are some examples of what individuals have been able to contribute to peace.


A six year old Canadian boy, Ryan Hreljac, saw on television that there are people in the world who die from thirst, or because their water is contaminated. He was so concerned that he asked his parents to give him extra chores and pay for it, so that he could raise money to send to the organization “WaterCan”, a pun where the meaning of “Can” may be like in “beer can”, or in “Canada”, or in “you can do it.” By sending out emails to everyone he knew, asking for contributions, and asking people to forward the request to those they know, he raised 800,000 Canadian dollars. He made those funds available for drilling water wells in areas without safe drinking water, saving many lives. If a young boy can do this, what can we accomplish?


Randy Kehler, who later became national coordinator of the Nuclear Freeze movement in the United States, was drafted into the Army in the early 1970s to go fight in Vietnam. Like many others, he refused to serve and was sentenced to jail. But unlike many others, he did more than that. Before beginning his jail sentence, he toured the United States, speaking out against the war on university campuses, in churches and to peace organizations. He had no idea whether this would make any difference, but his conscience demanded that he try to do whatever he could.

In one of his audiences was Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon analyst and co‑author of the “Pentagon Papers,” the secret history of the Vietnam war. He had become increasingly disillusioned with the way the United States fought the war, and had begun to doubt its justification. But he said that what finally persuaded him to do something was hearing Randy Kehler speak. Here was a young man willing to go to jail for his conviction that the war was immoral. So Ellsberg secretly made four sets of photocopies of the 7,000 page report, and left them anonymously in boxes in front of the offices of the New York Times, the Washington Post and two other major national newspapers. When editors read the reports, they realized that they contain so many accurate facts that they could not have been forgeries by someone outside of the government, and they began to publish them. President Nixon ordered them to halt publication, but the US Supreme Court ruled that prior restraint violated the first amendment of the US constitution guaranteeing free speech. When people read that they had been deceived all these years by their own government, and that the United States was not winning the war, they began to oppose it in large numbers. That forced President Nixon to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1973, and led to an end of the war in 1975.

At the right moment, one more snowflake can break the branch of a tree. Even if our efforts don’t show any immediate result, whatever we do makes it easier for others who follow to complete our work.


A soft‑spoken, retired Quaker couple from Troy, New York, took a crucial step that led to the complete abolition of Haiti’s army, which in 1991 had violently overthrown the democratically elected government of President Aristide and arbitrarily arrested, tortured and murdered many Haitian citizens.

In 1994, Sue and Marvin Clark from Troy, New York, founded a small NGO, “Global Demilitarization.” In February 1995 they were able to meet in New York with Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former President of Costa Rica, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the war in Nicaragua. They asked him what country he thought might be the next to follow Costa Rica’s example, which had abolished its military in 1949.

Arias suggested Haiti, since most Haitians saw their army as threatening their personal security rather than protecting them from foreign aggression. From informal conversations with many ordinary Haitians, he estimated that about 80 percent wished the army were abolished. He was disappointed that nobody seemed to pay attention to his observations, but was convinced that if an internationally recognized polling firm could confirm his impressions, the world would notice. But that would cost about $20,000, and he did not have that money.

When Sue and Marvin Clark heard this, they wrote to all their friends and friends of friends, sending out about thousand letters, explaining this opportunity and asking for donations. Within a few weeks, they raised $27,000 and sent it to the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, and soon the poll was conducted.

At a news conference in Port‑au‑Prince on April 28, 1995, Oscar Arias could announce that 62 percent of the Haitian people wished to abolish the army, and only 12 percent wished to keep it, with the rest expressing no opinion. When President Aristide heard this, he stepped to the microphone and spontaneously announced, in front of the assembled military leadership, that given the clear wish of the majority of his people, he herewith declared the army abolished!

The international media almost totally ignored this important event. But when President Aristide was asked on a nationally televised interview in the United States after the election of his successor what he considered his greatest achievement during his term in office, he said abolishing the Haitian military.

It is impressive how much difference the efforts of individuals can make. Not even the U.S. Navy was able to abolish Haiti’s army. When President Clinton sent the navy in 1994 to land in Port-au-Prince and help restore the democratically elected government, it turned around in the face of a violent demonstration on the landing peer by a small group of backers of the military dictatorship. Who would have thought that two individuals, without power or wealth, would succeed in helping abolish the Haitian military, simply by talking to the right people and taking the right action at the right time. We can all take courage and hope from this. If we have a dream and pursue it step by step, never giving up, we can ultimately reach it.

After their initial success, Sue and Marvin have launched a campaign to dismantle all nuclear weapons, enlisting a support group of several hundred peace activists who send monthly appeals to the heads of nuclear states to give our children the gift of life instead of the threat of a nuclear holocaust.


When Johan Galtung, widely recognized as the founder of the academic discipline of peace research, founded the first International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959, he and his colleagues sent copies of their working papers regularly to about 400 social science institutes around the world, including the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow. They received acknowledgements from many places, but never heard anything from IMEMO. It was as if the papers disappeared in a black hole, leaving no trace. Despite of this lack of feedback, the members of the Oslo team persistently kept sending their papers on alternative approaches to peace, security, development to IMEMO throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1982, Johan Galtung attended a conference at IMEMO. During a break, the librarian took him to the back of the library, opened a locked room, opened a locked cabinet inside the room, and showed him a pile of papers. Here was the entire collection of papers that he and his friends had been sending over the years. The “black hole” had been identified. Surprisingly, the papers were worn out from having passed through many hands, edges bent and torn, with portions underlined and numerous notes in the margins.

In 1991, Vladimir Petrovsky, then Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, came to see Johan Galtung in Oslo and said, “I really wanted to tell you once how grateful we were for all your papers that you kept sending us, even though we could never respond. During the Brezhnev era, I was part of a group of young scholars at IMEMO who met frequently to discuss new ideas, and we studied your books and papers intensively, among others. We knew that our system needed reform, and that the time for change was coming, but we had no clear ideas what form those reforms should take. You provided us with valuable new concepts and concrete ideas how to proceed. And you were neither Marxist nor anti-Marxist.”

The end of the Cold War has many sources, but new ideas developed by Western peace movements‑‑on human rights, economic and political participation, nonviolent conflict resolution, security based on mutual cooperation instead of threats and confrontation, conversion of military industries to civilian use, and nonoffensive defense‑‑which seeped into the former Soviet Union through various discrete channels and apparently found receptive ears, have played an important role.

Can individuals make a difference for the course of history, or are their efforts insignificant compared to major trends, like the movement of a single molecule in the wind? It is clear that if a situation is not ripe for change, if nobody wants to hear new proposals, one individual can make little difference. But if people are unhappy with their present conditions and search for new ways, a good idea, persuasively argued, can go a long way. Yet even when an opportunity for major change arises, someone must seize it or it may be missed. Similarly, if one plants a fruit tree in the desert, it will die. But even in the most fertile soil, under the best climatic conditions, only weeds may grow unless we plant something better. And we never know for sure whether an apparent desert may not hide fertile ground just below the surface, in which one seed can over time give rise to a whole forest. Even if we do not see the results of our efforts for peace immediately, we should not give up, because they may bear fruit some day in unexpected ways.


In 1835, Lloyd Garrison, the publisher of the anti‑slavery gazette “The Liberator”, spoke on the Boston Commons against slavery. He was arrested by the police‑‑to protect his life‑‑ because an angry mob was ready to lynch him. He was secretly moved out of the city at night in an enclosed horse coach. But he continued to fight against slavery, and 30 years later, it was indeed abolished in the United States by President Lincoln.

The Quakers played a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery. Groups of Quakers traveled from town to town in the United States to preach against slavery, and they did not leave a town until at least one person had converted to their cause. In the end, their patience paid off.

When we see the billions spent for weapons today and the pittance available to work for peace, it is easy to despair. But the people who fought for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century did not even have any foundations to apply to. They made personal sacrifices and took risks, while the slave traders and slave owners accumulated huge fortunes. Yet the anti‑slavery movement prevailed in the end, because it had a just cause. For the same reason, the global peace movement will one day prevail over those who profit from war.


Rufus Jones (1863-1948), an American Quaker, who helped found the American Friends Service Committee in 1917, went to England after World War I to help with the reconstruction. He noticed that there were large areas of public land around many cities, which remained uncultivated. He persuaded city governments to divide this land into small parcels and lend them to unemployed people so that they could grow vegetables to feed their own families and earn a modest income from selling what they could spare. One unemployed man was daunted by the task, but worked hard all summer, clearing the land from shrubs and thorns, fertilizing the soil, planting various vegetables, watering them regularly and removing weeds. He earned a rich crop in the fall. Rufus Jones said to him, “Is it not marvelous what God and you have done here together?” The man said, “Well, yes, but you should have seen it when God had it all to himself.”

Unless we do good work, it is not going to happen by itself!

As the anthropologist Margaret Mead has said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”