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Author Paul Hawken on “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming”

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Environmentalist Paul Hawken has come out with a new book, “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.” Hawken is a best-selling author and one of the leading architects and proponents of corporate environmental reform. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses.” The music and words of Utah Phillips. That’s one of the quotes environmentalist Paul Hawken uses in his new book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. Paul Hawken is a best-selling author, one of the leading architects and proponents of corporate environmental reform, joining me now in the firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

PAUL HAWKEN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: That quote from Utah Phillips heads up a chapter called “We Interrupt this Program,” which I think is very much what Blessed Unrest is about.

PAUL HAWKEN: It actually starts a chapter called “We Interrupt this Empire.”

AMY GOODMAN: Rather, “We Interrupt this Empire.”

PAUL HAWKEN: Which is what the empire would like to do to your program, actually. And it’s really about the rights of business or how business, basically, rights are unquestioned and continue to be sort of dominant in this world. The whole book really is about a rise of a movement that is a shift between a world created by and for privilege to a world created by community, and it details the rise of over one million organizations in the world who address civil liberties, social justice and the environment. And even though they’re atomized and there’s many of them and they don’t seem connected, due to modern technology — cell, texting, Internet — they’re starting to intertwine, morph and come together in ways that is making it much more powerful than it has been before.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you call it Blessed Unrest?

PAUL HAWKEN: There was a wonderful quote from Martha Graham, and she was with Agnes de Mille, and they’re both choreographers, of course, and Agnes de Mille was just really devastated by one of her shows, which had won awards on Broadway and then collapsed six months later. And she was bemoaning her fate to Martha Graham, and Martha Graham turned to her and said, “You know, we’re artists, and we’re never dissatisfied. There is this queer dissatisfaction that makes us march and makes us more alive than the other, this blessed unrest.” And so, to me, it was a term that had arms big enough to hold this vast and complex and diverse movement that is trying to restore justice and the environment in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about a turning point being the anti-corporate globalization movement and Seattle, the Battle of Seattle.

PAUL HAWKEN: Well, it was for me. Before that, I had been interested in counting the number of actors — that is to say, the number of organizations in the world that existed — and was so doing. In Seattle, I went there, and you were there. I remember meeting you. And I was there not to write. I was there actually just to sit my butt on the street and did so. And when I left, I went back to Washington, D.C., to give a talk, and I read the Post and The New York and L.A. Times, and I was just appalled at the coverage. The people writing about it weren’t even there — Tom Friedman. They were writing about it from New York. And so, I wrote a piece called “N30.”

AMY GOODMAN: N30, November 30th.

PAUL HAWKEN: Yeah, November 30. And what I was saying is that basically the economic fundamentalism had been belled — you know, the cat of economic fundamentalism had been belled in Seattle. In other words, you could no longer, from that point on, move or go anywhere in the world without being, in a sense, addressed by the missing stakeholders to a very anti-democratic process.

But in the process of researching it, what I discovered was that the organizational methodology used, which so frustrated the sheriff’s department, the King County Sheriff’s Department, and the Seattle police, was really a Mayan organizational scheme that had been first used in the encuentras in ’92 in Quito, Ecuador, when the First Peoples of North, Meso- and South America had first met since the conquest. And I realized that not only was this movement large, but there was these very interesting connections occurring across border, across culture, spreading around the world, in terms of how to, in a sense, address power.

AMY GOODMAN: That time, the Battle of Seattle, was under the Clinton era. He had to come in, fly in, in the middle of the night, because of the massive unrest. His trade rep, Charlene Barshefsky, holed up in the hotel, but even she couldn’t get away from the tear gas that was coming under her door.


AMY GOODMAN: This was the Clinton era.

PAUL HAWKEN: Exactly. There’s an irony to this, which I haven’t told, because I had forgotten. I was on [inaudible], and they were talking and said, “Oh, the last time we saw you was when you came into our offices shivering, because you were all wet and you had been pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed.” And I said, “Yeah, I remember that.” And what happened is, I stripped my clothes, I went into the shower, took a shower, found somebody’s T-shirt, put a towel on, and the phone rang. And it was President Clinton. And he called to ask what he should say the next day when he came into town. And I was going, “alalalalalala,” because pepper spray just — it freezes you, actually. It makes you so cold. And it was so interesting for him to come in, because that was really the end of this fantasy that he and Charlene Barshefsky had about American dominance. I mean, it was over in one day.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you tell him he should say, and did he follow your directions?

PAUL HAWKEN: I told him to not pander, that he has been pandering; that he should tell the truth; and the fact is that it was a flawed process, and a flawed process needed to be rethought, and if it wasn’t rethought, then this is going to repeat itself again and again; and that to do what his minions were doing, which is to somehow marginalize and to assign or ascribe to the motivations of the people who were acting on the street, that somehow they were, in Tom Friedman’s words, you know, sort of blue-eyed activists getting their 1960s fix, was really a vast misreading of the unrest that existed in the world against trade policy.

AMY GOODMAN: But wasn’t it more than words? I mean, President Clinton, Vice President Gore, they were the ones that championed NAFTA. They were the ones that really, with their strong-arm tactics in Congress, a Congress that would not have passed NAFTA, but offering them everything they could to their districts, ultimately won this tremendous battle for their version of what should happen with trade. So WTO followed that and, I think, built the movement.

PAUL HAWKEN: Very much so, and it was a part of a larger Democratic Party strategy to become a centrist party that brought in business interests and therefore would marginalize Republicans. And we saw how well that worked.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about President Bush and where he has taken this, the Clinton administration laying the groundwork, and Bush taking off from there?

PAUL HAWKEN: Well, what can you say about an administration that is basically proto-fascist? I mean, essentially what we’re seeing with Blessed Unrest, what it really represents is that this rise of nongovernmental organizations — and we do, again, talk about these organizations, these social benefit organizations, in the negative — nonprofits, nongovernmental — but on the nongovernmental side, there is a nongovernment. It’s in Washington, D.C. And the rise of NGOs is to address the vacuum of leadership that exists in the world that cannot and is not addressing the salient issues of our time, which is war, which is water, which is poverty, which is climate change, which is economic inequality, and all the suffering and harm that follows from that. So the rise of NGOs is really a direct comment on the collapse of the legitimacy and the effectiveness of governments all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue of communicating with people around the world, how this movement that you call in the subtitle “the largest movement in the world” came into being, and why no one saw it coming?

PAUL HAWKEN: Well, one of the things we’ve done at my institute is we’ve created a website called wiserearth.org precisely to create, in a sense, an information commons for this unnamed movement that is also the fastest-growing movement in the world, and where you can put in your organization profiles, events and so forth, and a website, Democracy Now! or any other, can sit right on top of the data and pull it up, so that we’re trying to create more or less something that feeds these NGOs and the ability for them to recognize, contact, connect and collaborate or coalesce in different ways. That is missing right now.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a chapter called — do you pronounce it “Indigene”?

PAUL HAWKEN: Indigene, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about it.

PAUL HAWKEN: Well, I spent years reading about indigenous literature, not the literature that they wrote, so much as the literature that we wrote, and to try to bridge, if you will, the gap between the Anglo or the Western understanding of indigenous culture and ours. And one of the things that really fascinated me was really the Yamana people in Patagonia and Terra del Fuego that have been studied and killed and bothered by so many people for so long. And this is a Neolithic tribe that went naked, had seal blubber on, that was considered to be bestial by Drake, and Darwin was so appalled by them that he considered them to be the lowest form of human life.

And lo and behold, somebody came there and did a dictionary and found out that these primitive people had a vocabulary — one couple had a vocabulary that exceeded Shakespeare’s by 50 percent, that they knew 30,000 words, which is almost close to Japanese, that they had more verbs than English, and that in this language, which was made into a dictionary, which is in the British library, is this exquisite language of place, this exquisite language of local science, where cosmology and women’s issues and science and culture are all finely integrated into one vocabulary, one set of words, and where they had metaphors for depression, which is a crab molting its shell, but it hasn’t come off yet — this exquisite, beautiful language.

And I use that as a way to talk about the fact that there’s 5,000 indigenous cultures now that are sitting on the last remaining sanctuaries of uranium, of coal, of oil, of timber, of water, and that there is an enormous move now by corporations — and I list the corporations — who are basically by disobeying the law, by corrupting governments, by paying off people, by creating false plebiscites, are going into these sanctuaries to exploit resources.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Hawken, you come to this from an unusual vantage point, both as an outsider and an insider. You’re an entrepreneur. You’re a consultant for corporations, from Monsanto on. What perspective do you have on these companies, as you say, looking at what they’re doing now? You’ve talked to — I mean, you have President Clinton calling you. You’re sitting with the CEOs.

PAUL HAWKEN: Well, with respect to Monsanto, they asked me what to do, and I told them what to do, and they didn’t do it. And I said —

AMY GOODMAN: Which was what?

PAUL HAWKEN: Don’t do GMOs. Just disaster. And so, I wouldn’t call it a consultant so much as an opinion, advice, and they didn’t take it. But in terms of CEOs, I do know them. And what I do know, in the last 20 months — I don’t know why they call me, because I’m very outspoken in my criticism. So for them to call me means that they’re desperate. And in the last 20 to 24 months, the conversations have changed, which is, it used to be they would call and say, “How do we get this monkey off our back? How do we deal with this problem?” Now, they’re calling and saying, “What do we do about the problem?” “We” means we, it means everybody. It doesn’t mean the corporation. It means we have a problem, and there is that recognition now. And that is a big sea change.

I think it’s been brought about by Katrina and climate change. I think the Gore movie made it OK to talk about it. I don’t think it was the cause so much as it legitimized it as a conversational thing that, you know, white charismatic vertebrates could have in conferences with other CEOs. But I do think that there is a real change, that that is, they can see the whites of the eyes of the enemy, and the enemy is themselves. And “themselves” is their business practices, carbon, how the supply chains, what they make, how they make it, and the future. And there is an awakening here.

AMY GOODMAN: You say there will be no Berlin Wall moment.

PAUL HAWKEN: Absolutely not. We had this fantasy that somehow the powers that be can meet somewhere, agree, sign something, and that it’s all going to change. But the forces that have been unleashed, the feedback loops in the environment, require participation from everybody in the world in order to make a change that’s going to be effective. And we certainly need the participation of corporations, but that in itself is not enough. It’s going to take all of us. I mean, it’s going to be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives in this century, and we just have to cop to that.

And that means two things: We can either separate, become more violent, we can, you know, shrink into our bastions of ignorance, or like what we do in an emergency, in an accident, is really reach out to other and open ourselves up other and realize that the distinctions we make about what separates us are really unimportant, and what unites us are values which are universal and common and have existed here for thousands of years.

AMY GOODMAN: You head today from New York to the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. I want to thank you very much for being with us, Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, author. His new book is called Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. Thanks for joining us.

PAUL HAWKEN: Thank you.

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