Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Apologies and Advice: A Letter to Younger Activists

by Michael N. Nagler

Let's get the apology over with first. Like everyone in my generation (those who lived through the upheavals of the sixties), I feel dreadful about the world we're leaving you. I myself don't plan on leaving it soon, but we had the chance to leave you a much better springboard, and we failed.

In July, 2005 Michael Lerner and I (with the help of many others) mounted the first Spiritual Activism Conference on the Berkeley campus. I went up on the roof of the Student Union Building to hang out with the lively youth contingent. As I watched and listened, I was able to identify six things that my peers and I had gotten wrong when, forty-one years earlier, we had agitated for free speech on the plaza below:

  • We felt alienated, if not betrayed by the older generation. Our defiant motto was "Don't trust anyone over thirty," which was fine with me until January 20, 1967, when I crossed into exile. This motto deprived us of much wisdom.
  • We had no relationship with the earth and, in some cases, with anything material.
  • We saw life and our situation as a simple political struggle, quoting Marx, though few ever read him. People with a spiritual view (like myself) were severely mistrusted. Somewhere in the mid-seventies this changed, though tensions remain.
  • We thought things had to be big and hierarchical to have influence. Though numbers still seduce us, we now recognize that hierarchy itself is part of the problem.
  • We knew next to nothing about nonviolence. There is still far to go here, but nonviolent groups are starting to pass their best practices on to other revolutionaries -- a qualitative and welcome change.
  • We thought (conveniently enough) that having sex was a revolutionary act. I think we still have a good bit to learn about the uses of sexual energy, but at least young people no longer confuse the act itself with political change.

Building on these observations, I would urge today's activists to make global warming the number one priority for the entire movement. Resolve to rebalance the planet in the next few years. But resolve to do so with nonviolence and in a way that permanently gets to the problem's root.

Concentrating on global warming does not mean dropping everything else, but it means only doing things that have at least an indirect tie-in to climate disruption, and understanding the connection so that we can make strategic decisions about when to do what. Going to the root means building on the discovery of spirituality, for as Vandana Shiva said, "If you get rid of the pollution in the human mind they will get rid of the pollution in the environment." If enough people come to suspect that happiness is not something outside us, something to buy, but something lurking in our own consciousness, we will have made a profound change that can be built on to develop into our desired world.

God bless all of you.

Michael Nagler is professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, founder and president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence Education (, and author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future.

His articles in Tikkun include "Response to Paul Lewis," November/December 2007; and "Conference on Spiritual Activism ," November/December 2005.

Source Citation: Nagler, Michael N. 2011. Apologies and Advice: A Letter to Younger Activists. Tikkun 26(1): 58

tags: Activism, Civil Rights Movement, Climate Change, Spirituality  
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