BY MADONNA HAMEL
As the year comes to a close I find myself mulling over a script I wrote for a documentary that I never made, about the year 1968. The year of the Tet Offensive, Prague Spring, Paris general strike, student shootings in Mexico, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and of my hero Martin Luther King. Fifty years later I wonder: “what have we gleaned from our past, save the first are still first and last are still bloody last!” (to quote one my own characters in Mother’s Apron.)
I was ten when King was shot. But I can still recall the replay of his “dream” speech in Washington, and his introduction as “the moral leader of our nation”. Forty years ago, thanks to the depth of Alan Geutel, my producer at CBC’s now-defunct ‘Dispatches’, I went to Memphis to ask the question: who is the next MLK? Fifty years later I’m still asking myself, as so many do, who is the moral leader/voice/conscience/prophet of our present time? Because I want to carve out time in my day to listen to that voice, not fritter the hours away in Vapidland, the morass of social media and huckster emails, while citizen’s freedoms gets strangled into domination in new and more pervasive ways.
Who will is the next prophet-leader? There are many voices already out there. But having just returned from a story-telling conference of Indigenous Elders and Knowledge-keepers, I know who we need and who I want. The next leader is courageous enough to put moral conscience and a sense of values back into the conversation. Has nothing to lose. Is comfortable and confident and at home living simply and moving at a humane pace. They cannot be bought by corporations, their dreams are not to become a CEO or among the richest in the world.
They will spot bs not because they are another bs-er, but because they can intuit sincerity the way they can intuit shifts in mood and weather; they listen to the slow-breaking news of the subtle world. They don’t claim to “support” communities: they live in them, they belong to them. They use community services like libraries and drop-in centres and they take buses to get there, mixing with humanity. They go to potlucks, too. And visit older friends in retirement homes and hospitals, where they play cards and tell stories.
They will be disturbed by and take note of the return to “jocular contempt for women”, (as Chris Hedges calls it), and mean-spirited dismissive jabs directed at youth and the poor. And they don’t laugh nervously, along with the bullies who choose to laugh for reasons I can only assume have to do with wanting to be liked or to keep a high-profile job or because, in their squished little hearts, they think the same thoughts.
The next prophet-leader will understand, like King did, that when one group suffers we all suffer. Will live by sharing and is not seduced by riches and property, and is even suspicious of the reasons for compulsive acquisition of both. And while we’re on the subject of seduction- the next moral leader will not be seduced by the gift of women’s bodies as perks or benefits. Nor will be possessed of a need to be liked by the boys. Will be beyond the exhausting project of making oneself desirable according to the critera of a culture that allows women to be powerful if that power takes the shape of an exposed, alluring, accessible body.
The next leader will come from a tradition that is still practiced, not just preached. A tradition that listens to Spirit, is grounded in dirt and connects to both through ritual. A tradition that perceives the sacred in all beings- from the server at the coffee shop to the dandelions breaking through the pavement in the parking lot, from the boulders resting in open fields to the snowy owl sitting on the prairie fence-post, to the pigeon perched on the statue-head of the dead politician in some capital city. A culture that prays, dances, and acknowledges Creation.
The next leader will not belong to a boys club, a ‘gentlemens’ club, a millionaires club, or a pimp’s crib. Nor will they belong to a fraternity or sorority. Nor to a church that believes in wining-souls-to-our-side or burning-in hell. Nor to a star-system that replaces principles with personalities in the name of fame and celebrity. Nor to a machine that forges a relationship with the public based on “any news is good news” if it gets people to tune in. Will not belong to any club where membership has its privileges. Will not hang out in clubs and bars where booze and drugs take the edge off of life, and bodies are consumed as easily as after-dinner mints. And will not feel deprived by, may even feel gratitude for, their non-membership in any of the above-mentioned clubs.
Will not be impressed by risky behaviour as a means for street cred. Will not seek a reputation as a mofo or a bad-ass or a SOB, or any other tough guy muscle-bound moniker. Will, granted, be another human, so will fail often (MLK was a ladies’ man). But will be kept humble and held accountable by their fellows and their families. Who will be ready for the role because they have spent a lifetime growing into it. Who will welcome the insight and wisdom that age brings and be surrounded by others with the same welcoming demeanour. Who will have an inclusive sense of humour with a tinge of gentle self-teasing, and a healthy serving of observation of the absurd.
Will be, given all the considerable criteria be Indigenous. And an elder. And a woman.