Publications / Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture

What About Us–the Earth’s People?

Introduction by Starling Childs

Charles “Chuck” Turner is a board member of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. It’s an honor for me to introduce him. Ever since his graduation from Harvard in 1963 he has been active in the greater Boston area. Chuck has worked in communities and neighborhoods of Roxbury, where he has sought to empower workers to use their skills and their labor to effect positive change and create new industries supporting the local and regional communities. He has been part of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative to repair the broken-down parts of Roxbury and restore vital and livable urban villages. Using the model of the community land trust, the Initiative has recaptured vacant and abandoned parts of the urban landscape, rebuilding and restoring communities to meet human needs: affordable housing, better schools, community gardens, green spaces and parks, and new local businesses that provide employment.

Chuck has also served as an education director for the Industrial Cooperative Association, now known as the ICA Group, which initiates employee-owned cooperatives and promotes community-based projects. Using proven business strategies such as employee stock-ownership programs, he has helped workers acquire—and maintain—businesses from owners who are either retiring or closing down the business, which in turn has inspired other worker-owned businesses to emerge.

Since 2000 Chuck has served as a Boston city councilor representing Roxbury, Dorchester, South End, and parts of the Fenway. He epitomizes the type of politician so desperately needed to preserve our democracy. Once in office, he organized community roundtables to listen to his constituents’ needs and hopes for change and betterment of their lives. These District 7 roundtables informed Chuck about the legislative agenda he wanted to set and led to yet another initiative called More Than a Paycheck, which encouraged unemployed workers to consider forming an organization to advocate for change that would be beneficial to all unemployed workers.

In closing I can’t do better than to repeat the description that Schumacher Center staff member Michael Gordon sent around in his call to today’s lectures: “Charles Turner is a powerful advocate for a racially, socially, and economically just society. He believes that no one should suffer an unfair burden, be confronted with a limited number of options, or be shut out of decisions that most directly affect his or her own life.”

It’s always a pleasure to come back to the Berkshires, which have been a meaningful part of my life. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city right across the Ohio River from Kentucky and geographically a valley. It was exciting to come to New England in the late 1950s to go to college. After the first year I was looking for work for the summer (I had worked on a river boat for a couple of years and as a day-camp leader), and I saw an advertisement for a job at the Music Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts. I spent the summer of my nineteenth year there, and it was a thrilling experience, in terms of music and dance and drama as well as interaction with the Berkshires and the new environment so different from where I grew up.

In the 1980s, while I was with the Industrial Cooperative Association, I came back to the Berkshires to work with Susan Witt and Bob Swan at the Schumacher Center to help them with a worker cooperative they had started.

Another link to the Berkshires is that three of my heroes are connected to this area. Some years ago I saw a sign on the road just outside South Egremont saying that the last battle of the Revolutionary War, Shay’s Rebellion, was fought there in 1785, Although the war officially ended with the United States victory in 1783, it was American soldiers marching on American veterans/farmers that ended the revolutionary era. This I think is a particularly fitting distinction since Shay’s Rebellion led to the illegal calling of the Constitutional Convention that put the final nail in the coffin of the American Revolution—won ultimately not by the people of this country but by “White Males of Property,” who were the only ones who could vote under the new Constitution. The irony is that the second President of the Confederacy, who governed between the end of the War and the Constitutional Convention, John Hansen, would not have been able to vote under the Constitution because he was a black man. I believe he died before it was ratified.  If you don’t know about Daniel Shay and why he and his fellow farmers were marching on Boston from the countryside to which they had returned from the war, then you should read about him because his story speaks to the contradictions we’re struggling with today.

W. E. B. Dubois, another pivotal figure in the development of human understanding in this country, was born just down the road. And in Great Barrington there is a Waldorf School, modeled on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner helps us understand the evolution of human consciousness. I think his writings and reflections have tremendous relevance, both in terms of how to set up educational institutions and in terms of the nature of human beings and of the universe and our relationship as human beings to it. He helps us see ourselves not only as the crown of creation but also as an essential part of the natural environment and therefore deserving of respect, appreciation, and nurturing.


Today I’d like to give you a sense of what I have done in my life and why. I’ll touch on that briefly because it puts what I am going to say into the context of my own life experience. I’ll share with you my reflections as an elected official who finds himself in a situation where government at the local, state, and national levels is not particularly concerned with creating a positive quality of life for the people he represents or, for that matter, for the majority of people in this country. Asking people to support me so that I could become part of a government that doesn’t function the way it ought to raises the question of whether I should even have tried to become part of it, and if so, what am I going to do about it? I’ll also share with you the ways in which I’m trying to bridge what I see as the contradiction between government as it is and as it should be. Finally, I want to present my view of how the local issues we’re dealing with in Boston relate to how we create a sane society on a global basis and to the whole question of creating on the earth a respect for the environment, which of course includes human beings. I hope to raise some issues that stimulate you to think about my perspective and how it relates to your perspective.

In terms of my background as an African-American, I came from a family that didn’t have great wealth, but we never went hungry, and I never felt deprived in a material sense. In fact, I was born into a privileged position. We had status in terms of educational achievements. Members of my family had proven themselves highly capable in the educational field.  My brother was a certified genius, at the age of sixteen the youngest graduate of the University of Cincinnati, and before that my mother, at age eighteen, had been its youngest graduate, so we were a family that had demonstrated our ability—much to the chagrin, I think, of Cincinnati’s white population.

My family instilled in my brother and me the understanding that even though we had a certain status, our accomplishments both individually and as a family were built on centuries of struggle on the part of the African-American people who had sacrificed many aspects of their being, even their lives, to lay a foundation from which we could move forward. It was constantly emphasized that because we were receiving much, we had a responsibility to give back. As descendants of a captive people and still excluded from the framework of democracy—this was the 1940s and 1950s—we had a responsibility not just to consider our own lives but to advance the cause of our people, whom I initially defined as African-Americans. As I grew in experience and awareness, I began to realize that African-Americans are one part of the whole human family that is beset by a number of serious dilemmas and obstacles.

This appreciation led me to become an activist after I graduated from college. I became involved in tenant organizing, anti-racist organizing, organizing for school change, demonstrating for jobs, etc. I’m a Gemini, and those of you who take an interest in the relationship of the stars to our lives know that Gemini’s have inquiring minds and are always coming up with new ideas and seeking new challenges. Fortunately, throughout my life I’ve had the benefit of being able to devote my time and energy to ways of liberating my people and, as an organizer, to fusing our energies for the creation of new realities that would bring fulfillment to those who are involved in the present struggle as well as for future generations.

By 1999, when I was 59 years old, we had a mayor in Boston who was putting resources into the development of the black and Latino community, which other mayors hadn’t done in as focused and conscious a way. The price he demanded, however, was that people support his perspective as well as his programs, and a reluctance to do so would result in withdrawal of those resources. And so when my city councilman decided not to run, my wife and I talked it over and decided that this was an opportunity to extend my organizing and explore to what extent the office of city councilor could be used as a mechanism to encourage people to stand up, recognize what the problems are, and organize around confronting issues of concern.  Even though I ran against a person who worked for the mayor and was supported by him, I won the election.

I represent a district that is approximately 70 percent black, 10 percent Latino, 5 percent Cape Verdean, and 15 percent white. It’s a poor area, although the whites have an income level significantly higher than that of the majority of the people of color. The median income for people of color in the district for a family of four is about $25,000 a year; for a family of four in Boston it’s about $35,000 and about $80,000 for the region. Obviously we are at the low end of the economic spectrum.

During the past eight years I have been encouraging people to bring their issues before the city council, and I have been working on pieces of legislation to provide citizens with relief and benefit. I think there have been a number of significant accomplishments: for example, we were able to pass local legislation protecting the rights of those who are incarcerated and providing former prisoners with fairer treatment in the workplace. Nonetheless, this year when I was considering how best to organize a campaign for re-election to the city council, I had to ask myself whether another two-year term was the most appropriate use of my time.

To go back to the situation Majora Carter talked about this morning: In 1973, the year when punitive drug laws were passed, there were half a million people of all races in federal prisons, state prisons, county jails, and local jails. Today there are two million. Two million people imprisoned in this country. One million African-American, about half a million Latino and Asian, and half a million white. The federal and state agencies that deal with the problem of drugs coming into the city of Boston are not able to stop the flow. Representatives of the Boston police department have acknowledged at public hearings that the department does not have the capability to stop the flow. They are as frustrated as we elected officials are. As soon as dealers are arrested, there are others to take their place.

I think there is a causal connection between our drug policy and the number of people in jail, but that’s too big a topic to go into here. The point I want to make is that a federal census in the city of Boston last year indicated that there are 11,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of school and out of work, but some of us believe that 11,000 is an undercount because 1500 to 2000 young people have dropped out of school each year for the past five years. In addition there are no entry-level jobs for them because their fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles are taking the jobs that normally they would be taking. Neither are there entry- level jobs for a large number of those who do graduate from high school. As a result, there are thousands and thousands of young people, the majority of whom are persons of color, wandering the streets. Obviously that’s going to cause serious problems.

The city council refused to support an initiative proposed by the four councilors of color to do a major hiring of street workers who would go into the community and work with these young people to help them establish a focus and a direction for their lives. Instead, the mayor and administration increased the police force, which now numbers 2000 plus, whereas the number of street workers in Boston is about 35. So we have probably 16,000 young people out of school and out of work, with 35 street workers and a police force of 2000 to deal with the crisis. Despite the rhetoric on the part of city officials that the problems resulting from unemployment won’t be solved by police action, the city is funding the hiring of more police.


When I was confronting the question of whether I should run for office again, my thought was that throughout my life my defining philosophy has been that we as human beings have an untapped reservoir of creative potential. As an organizer my job was always to help people decide what they wanted to do and then help them unlock their powers of creativity in order to do it. As an elected official working within a governmental system that has no commitment to dealing with the problems being faced by the working-class and underclass people in my district and even in districts that are predominantly white, it was important for me to go back to my roots and say to those I was representing, particularly African-American people, that we’ve come too far as a people to allow the disinterest of government to be the framework for what is almost a self-inflicted genocide.

Strong words, but when you look at the statistics, you’ll see that we have about 75 deaths a year, primarily of people of color, in a city of half a million. Our people are killing each other, our children are killing each other. When you think about it, that is not a logical response, but it’s the kind of response you find when people feel that no one cares about them, that they’re alone, that they are facing obstacles they can’t deal with. While we as a community need to consider what we can do collectively, we also have to look at the fact that if you live in an environment that for centuries has said to you and your ancestors that you’re not worth anything, it can’t help but affect you.

We talk about the regeneration of the earth and the protection of the environment, but I also have to think about the regeneration of the human beings in my district and look for strategies to help them understand that they are not the images they see of themselves on TV. When a Nobel scientist wonders whether people of African descent have the same intellectual capabilities as whites, that too creates a false image. In addition, not only do the women in our community carry the double burden of being black and being female, they are subject to the attitude of black men who imitate white men when they say, “You don’t deserve equal pay because you’re only a woman.”

All of these factors contribute to a poor self-image for people of color, which makes it hard for them to care about others. If they can’t value the quality of their own life, then they can’t value the quality of the lives of their neighbors. And so it seemed essential to me to infuse into the politics of our district an awareness that we can’t just sit around and wait for government to come to its senses. As I have pointed out many times, if black people in the South and their allies had waited for government to abolish segregation, we’d still be waiting. Why would a Dixiecrat-controlled Congress eliminate legal segregation if it wasn’t for the fact that people had the courage to work for change? I have said to people in my district that they shouldn’t let themselves be paralyzed by the fact that those who have power and who control the institutions of government are not concerning themselves with people’s needs. They should realize that we have the capability to stand up and do something for ourselves. And so I’ve developed a seven-point plan for economic growth and resurrection.


1. Organize the Unemployed.
We’ve been working for more than two years to organize the unemployed. You know, what’s always been puzzling to me is that as organizers we organize people around health care, education, housing—name a problem and there’s a group being organized around that problem. That’s as it should be, but we don’t organize the unemployed. Isn’t that amazing? Even the unions and the labor movement don’t organize the unemployed, they organize the employed. This is a big problem. We didn’t know what to expect as we began to organize the unemployed, and as it turned out we were able to connect with a number of unemployed workers. That outreach resulted in the formation of an organizing group two years ago. This past spring a thousand people from our community appeared at the State House demanding change in the laws relating to those who have criminal backgrounds, laws that we find discriminatory and oppressive.

We succeeded in building an organization that motivated the unemployed to stand up for themselves, but that alone is not enough. We have to move to the next stage of creating economic vehicles that the unemployed can begin to develop. We’re starting a temporary worker agency (staffing agency) that will be controlled by an organization of the unemployed, the Boston Workers’ Alliance. Why? Because we need a mechanism through which we can place our workers, many of whom have no job experience. We are fortunate in having the assistance of the Industrial Cooperative Association, which has established similar agencies in three other cities. Also, we’ve been exploring the development of worker cooperatives, businesses that unemployed workers can start up for themselves.

As people of African-American descent, a major aspect of our relationship to this country over the past four hundred years has been, initially, the theft of our labor and for the past two hundred years exploitation and discrimination. The work that Majora Carter and Van Jones and others are doing to help us become part of the green job movement and get our share of those jobs is tremendously important, but we mustn’t lose sight of the reality that not only black and Latino workers but white workers as well have been at a disadvantage. If we want a society that brings people of color and whites together, it’s crucial to make the creation of jobs, and green jobs in particular, a high priority in the transformation of our economy. A similar need exists in rural areas and in those towns where factories have moved away and the people left behind are struggling. The policies of this country have never been focused on building an economy that works for all the people. In fact, workers in this country have the least protection in the Western world in terms of worker rights.

A poet friend, Bob Walthall, calls America an Anachronism Motivated by an Economic Reasoning more Injurious than Cancer and AIDS in a human body. Why is it more injurious? Because if as a country we are not willing to recognize our human responsibility to be stewards of the earth, including its people, and our responsibility to one another, we continue to function as a cancerous growth destroying not only ourselves but also our environment, the planet. Cancer is a growth that devours its surroundings, and if we’re going to treat that kind of disease within the human body politic, we have to begin with those who are most affected by it, the unemployed.


2. Conduct a census of the unemployed.
We are lied to by the government about the unemployment rate. You will hear probably once a week that unemployment is somewhere around 5 percent. That includes the people who are still looking for work within six months after they became unemployed, but after six months they are no longer counted. You heard Majora say that 25 percent of the people in her community are unemployed, but I’ll bet that the statistics for New York State and for the federal government are between 4 and 6 percent. Why aren’t the unemployed counted? Because public officials do not want us to think about the extent of unemployment in this country. If you’re in denial about a problem, you can never deal with it effectively. If government doesn’t tell us how many people are really unemployed, how can it address the need to construct an economy that works for all? We as citizens need to take responsibility for grasping the nature of the problem.


3. Develop a mentorship program for dropouts.
Of the 16,000 children wandering the streets of Boston, approximately 75 percent are of color. Because neither the school department nor the mayor has answers to this crisis, we are taking it upon ourselves and organizing to reach out to those children. We have four organizations in the community that have joined forces and made a commitment to work together to recruit volunteers who will go into the streets and build relationships with our young people. Jobs are of course important, but if there are children who feel that nobody cares about them, nobody’s listening, nobody is concerned about what’s happening to them, how will we get them to take advantage of the opportunities that are available?

I emphasize the issue of self-image because it’s not enough to have job programs and to provide opportunities. If we are truly concerned about the regeneration of the members of our community, if we are truly concerned about convincing them, particularly our youth, that they are not the stereotypes projected by the media and others and that they have within them the capacity for unlimited change, then we have to engage with them around the question of who they are.

Although I focus on children of color, there are many white children in that same situation. It’s interesting that city officials don’t talk much about drug statistics. Of the 145 people who killed themselves with drug overdoses in 2004, 90 were white and the majority of those were teens. One of the effects of gentrification, if there isn’t a policy of development that includes all segments of society, is that the children who see their friends and families being forced out of the neighborhood begin to see themselves as worthless. If people who move in live in fancy houses and have fancy cars, those who don’t have similar material goods feel less than adequate, and they will react in negative ways. So I see the high number of suicides among white children in Boston as a negative response to the gentrification; however, they are killing themselves rather than one another.


4. Negotiate with the construction trades industry.
Probably hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on construction in our community over the next ten years because of all the abandoned property. Knocking down so many vacant buildings has left vast spaces, and now that the downtown is developed, developers are coming for the land in our communities. This offers tremendous opportunity for careers in construction, for jobs that pay well, but traditionally the unions have kept those jobs primarily for white workers. We are saying that if we’re to gain any benefit, then we have to organize ourselves to make sure we get a fair share of the work that’s going to be done in our community.


5. Integrate workers from our community into large companies.
I’m thinking here of companies such as Nstar and other utilities and large businesses. Rutgers University did a study in 1999 that examined federal contracts and concluded that Boston and Philadelphia had the worst records in terms of discrimination in the workplace. So as we consider the problems we’re facing in Boston, in particular with our youth, it’s not just a matter of strategies and of jobs being shipped overseas or changes in the industry; we’re also contending with the attitudes of people in corporations who historically have seen to bringing whites into the workplace before people of color, regardless of similar qualifications.


6. Promote small-business development.
This is also the mission of the Schumacher Center. For example, its local currency, called BerkShares, addresses the whole question of how to develop a local business economy so that jobs can be sustained over time. Obviously, any strategy focusing on development includes development of small businesses.


7. Promote commitment to what we call the peace and prosperity pledge.
The pledge has a number of aspects that we need to consider as we help people think about who they are. There are four parts, the first of which is to make a commitment to lead a life of nonviolence. The guiding principle is to do no harm. For a people who have been subjected to violence during the time we’ve been in this country, the whole question of nonviolence and doing no harm is not just a tactical political strategy, it’s a healing remedy. If we’re going to heal ourselves from the effects of the various kinds of violence that continue to be perpetrated, then we have to find ways to move out in the world so we’re not just reflecting the violence that has been done to us but are now walking a different path that enables us to be a repository of positive energy.

The second commitment of the Pledge is to encourage mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional self-development. On the temple of the Delphic oracle in ancient Greece were the words, Know Thyself. The American educational system is structured in a way that makes it difficult for people to really understand who they are as human beings. Why would the administrators and teachers, who are trying to control people and make them operate within the system, want those they’re trying to control to see themselves as beings with unlimited potential? If you believe you have unlimited potential, you aren’t willing to accept the boxes people put you into. I think we have to challenge ourselves on a very personal basis to understand who we are and then come to appreciate ourselves as we are. Then our children can begin to appreciate themselves too. If they see us as having low and limited expectations of both ourselves and them, how can we expect them to be any different?

The third commitment is to build a solid economy. We have in our communities an economy that is linked to profits from the drug trade. Joe Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy family, built his financial base through rum running and the profits that came from being a rum smuggler during Prohibition. From a moral standpoint the reality is that there are many white families who have risen to high stature on the basis of drug profits. What I am particularly concerned about in my community is the effect of drug trading by young people, the violence and destruction that give the police an invitation to come and take away large numbers of young people, who are then put in jail for years. When they are released, they are told they can’t get a job because they have a criminal record. So finding strategies for self and family that enable us to build an economy that works for all has to be key.

The fourth commitment is to work together to hold our leaders responsible for providing the resources we need to carry out the preceding commitments. They aren’t behaving appropriately now, but I believe that in the society we are on the verge of creating they can become our partners. This will happen only if we work together to make sure that our institutions reflect those values that honor us as human beings.
I urge you to read Rudolf Steiner’s An Outline of Occult Science. In that book he presents what I think is a profound argument: that we must look not only at the evolution of material form, as Darwin did, but also at the evolution of consciousness. Steiner argues that our experiences here on earth are designed to help us as beings who are part of the cosmos and that the purpose of life on earth is to develop our consciousness. As the earth evolves, consciousness moves from one level to another, which means that old ways of thinking die and new ones arise, enabling consciousness to evolve. I think we all know in our hearts that we are seeing the end of the era of consciousness that began to develop in 1492 when Isabella and Ferdinand financed Columbus’s voyage to the western world. These past 500 years have in fact been a period when the material environment has been explored and investigated, led by European thought. Now that cycle is coming to an end.

Other nations are looking to the United States for leadership, and the United States is leading them to hell. Why? Because at the end of every historical cycle you’ll see that the consciousness of the leaders of the old paradigm dwells on the past; they focus on moving societies backward, not forward—that’s why societies fall. They aren’t interested in bringing new ideas and new life to the fore because they’re at the end of a system. Leaders are trying to hold on to something that shouldn’t be held on to because it’s outlived the purpose that it was here to serve. This paradigm is ending, and it’s ending quickly. As an African-American, I have to say thank God!

I believe the new paradigm will be defined by the principles of Steiner’s anthroposophy and Blavatsky’s theosophy and the many writings on the Qabala. Their explorations of spiritual reality are preparing the intellectual ground for what could be called a spiritualization of consciousness. We’ve gone through the materialization of consciousness to the extent that this age has focused on human beings as material objects, the ultimate in the materialization of consciousness. Now we are on the brink of an age that will bring the opportunity for our consciousness to be spiritualized. What I mean by spiritualized is having the ability to understand the functioning of energy at a higher level than we have ever been able to before. Einstein helped us understand that material forms are an illusion: Whereas we see everything as material, the reality is that everything—including ourselves—is energy moving within an all-inclusive matrix. In Rudolf Steiner’s view, in this new age we’re going to have the responsibility, the challenge, and the opportunity to explore higher stages of energy.

We have within ourselves a connection to energy sources that enable us to change the world in ways we can’t yet conceive of. For example, we do not have to be dependent on the corporations for our sustenance and our survival; we have to be dependent on ourselves. I don’t think the environmental movement believes that corporations are going to save the earth. The environmental movement believes that we are going to save the earth through our consciousness and work. We need to have the same view in terms of ourselves—that is, it is insane for us to believe we have to be dependent on the corporations as the basis of our economic sustenance and our life, particularly for people of African-American descent. Those corporations have never been about that. They aren’t even about that for white people.

We have a lot of work to do as we move forward, but what is most essential, I believe, is that we deepen our understanding of the nature of reality, deepen our understanding of the nature of the human being. We have the seeds of confusion and misunderstanding within our thought framework because we have grown up and evolved in a society that wanted to make sure people of color didn’t dare to stand up and see themselves as human beings, that wanted to keep women in their place, that wanted workers to believe that if it weren’t for the corporate bosses they would be nothing. That’s what the old paradigm has depended upon.

Those of us who appreciate the importance of being stewards of the earth also have to develop an appreciation of our responsibility to create a global society, a sane global society, where we all are stewards of economic structures designed for the benefit of all and based on our awareness from a spiritual perspective that Martin Luther King’s statement that an injustice to one is an injustice to all is not mere rhetoric. It raises the question of how to find healing energy for a body politic that has been fixated on the idea that what is most important is what benefits me and mine instead of recognizing that we are all linked together with the earth. If the earth and the human race that is part of it are to be saved, we must expand our consciousness beyond a concern with self to a concern for the whole.

Question & Answer Period

Q: I’d like you to speak a little more about the difficulty of being in public office, given the way government is today.

A: As an elected official I have to persuade people to vote for me, and many would say I’ve been too bold in terms of challenging the framework of current thinking, including that of my fellow councilors. After eight years of being in office I am well aware of the problems that government is not dealing with, problems that burden the day-to-day life of people I know and love. So my responsibility is to share my thoughts in as honest a way as possible about what we need to do to address those problems, and my hope is that voters agree with me.

While what is most important for me is that we all continue to grow, I had some trepidation about being totally candid because I wasn’t sure what people would say, how they would handle it, how I would be able to put my candor into the context of what I’m doing as an elected official. But I have to do it. Because if something doesn’t work, and you know it’s not working, and it can’t work because it hasn’t been structured to work, then all you can do is speak to the truth of what you see at this moment, realizing that it is not the total truth, but it’s the best you can do. The responsibility of each of us is to share with one another what is deepest in our heart, understanding that it’s not perfect, understanding that we can’t answer all the questions, but knowing that what is in our own heart gives us better answers to the questions we’re grappling with than do our politicians, our religious leaders, our business leaders. If we believe this, we can begin to believe in ourselves.

Q: First, what are your thoughts on the 2008 election, aside from the issues of voter disenfranchisement and government corruption? Second, please speak to the transition to the new paradigm. When we went from wood to coal and from coal to oil, a lot of people suffered during those transition periods, and I think people tend to skirt around that.

A: To the first question: There is no candidate who I think is speaking to the issues of the transformation we need. Some of them touch on it, but what’s missing is the whole issue of transformative psychology. In general they have spent so much time in the Club of Congress that they think they are the answer, but they aren’t. We are the answer. As I listen to them talk, I don’t notice any indication that they are ready to lead us into the new age. They may be trying to provide the best leadership they can think of to stop the ship from going down as quickly as it is, but that’s not the leadership we need, and that’s why we have to look to ourselves. We need to look to the Van Joneses and Majora Carters, to the Susan Witts and Robert Swanns. We need to believe we have the capability as human beings to move forward and build new realities.

To the second question: The suffering that African-Americans are going through now is heartrending as we see our young killing our young, but the current situation was preceded by 400 years of incredible brutality. Or look at Mexico, for example, and what happened to those of Latino descent as the United States took over their country, robbed them of their wealth, and then looked down on them when they came to this country because we had made Mexico unlivable for them. Or look at what white workers have gone through in this country, struggling during the 1930s to win their fair share, then in the 1950s the leaders making deals to their detriment, and now today having a union movement that is a faint shadow of what it once was. And I as a man can never know what those of you who are mothers know about the life process, but you know there is a level of pain preceding the arrival of new life that is unimaginable if you haven’t experienced it. Even in everyday life, there will be pain if you’re going to learn, and we are here to learn.

The suffering these groups, not omitting Native Americans, have gone through in the past few centuries is so horrific that I personally am not afraid of what the transition will be like, for we have the opportunity to build a foundation on which to create a world where we will treat one another like the human beings we are and where we will treat the rest of nature as part of our own being. As we move out of this age into the next, the suffering we’ve already gone through mitigates for me the fact that there will inevitably be more stress and struggle.

We are spiritual beings in physical form, and we get so caught up in the physical form that we forget we’re here to grow and develop as spiritual beings. As we adjust to new realities, part of that process will involve pain and suffering, which will cause friction and tension among us, but it’s all about our liberation. There’s pain now in the old system and there will be pain in the transition, but we need to accept it as part of the process of moving toward something so positive that we will keep our thoughts and actions focused on the future. We also need to help our children to understand what it means to be a human being and to be glad to participate in bringing the new age about. The definition of who we are and what we are here for is at such a low level that we have an enormous amount of work to do to create an environment across this globe that can be nurturing for future generations. We shouldn’t hesitate just because it’s going to be difficult.

Q: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a politician speak so much to the idea of needing to bring about a change in consciousness. I wish you would write a book to share your ideas with a wider audience. I think that so much of “the left” is trying to attack the old system using the old system’s methods, not realizing that we simply have to move to another level. We need to bring others with us by showing them that there is another way of living, of doing things. That’s why I wish you would write about it.

A: I’m getting close!

Let me say something about “the left” vs. “the right.” Throughout my life as an activist I’ve worked with people who see themselves as being on the left, and I have discussions with them about their ideology because both the left and the right have premises concerning the nature of human beings that are off base. Neither the right nor the left gives us an intellectual framework for moving forward. In my view, the right wing has a garbled view of what Jesus’s work really involved. Let me be specific: One of the central points of right-wing, fundamental Christianity is that slavery in the South was justified by the story of Ham and Noah. As crazy as it seems to me, American Christianity asserted that because Ham looked on his father’s nakedness, people of African descent were doomed to be slaves. This is the kind of biblical distortion that is essential in a slave society that calls itself Christian. How can you be Christian and yet have slaves unless you insert elements into Christian dogma that justify treating other people as if they are not human?

The problem with the left is that Marxian analysis says everything is material. If this is true, if there is no soul, then we’re lost. If there is not a process of evolution of human consciousness, of soul energy, we are left with what happened in the countries that were taken over by communist ideology. There we saw leaders continuing the practices of elitism, of terrorism, of coercion in the name of creating a new society, and it was the same kind of rhetoric the right wing would use.

I think both the right and the left are bankrupt in terms of their ability to give us a framework of thought for advancing human consciousness. A great deal has been written that treats the nature of human consciousness and its evolution. We should read those works and try to apply them because the political thinking of the past is outmoded. I believe that the new system we’re creating for the next age must devote itself to the earth, plant life, animals, and human beings—all as part of a process of evolution that is taking us to a level of mutually beneficial interaction. And we need to be respectfully critical of others, including our allies, who we believe are misguided in their thinking. Our responsibility is to go beyond them and not get caught up in ideas that were clearly designed to deal with another age and another time.

Q: What are you as a local politician in Boston who serves on the city council finding in terms of reviving and rebuilding a sense of citizenship among the people you’re organizing and the people you’re asking to vote for you?

A: I have two responses in terms of positive indicators of the desire in our hearts to change. One is the fact that two years ago when a group of us said it’s time to organize the unemployed, people scoffed and were skeptical, but the reality is that now there’s an organization of fifty to sixty people. Some of them have gotten jobs, others are just supporters and allies, and still others, although they haven’t gotten jobs, are still putting energy into the effort and are growing in so many ways as they learn to value themselves. This morning Majora Carter talked about the transformative experience of people who not only find a job but gradually see themselves in new ways because they are doing things they never did before and are realizing that they are more than they thought they were. The experience of working with unemployed people has provided a good indication of the hunger for relationship and for meaning in our lives.

The second part of my response is that we had a city council hearing with members of the school department a week or so ago, and about 200 young people came to the hearing. We’ve had other hearings attended by young people when we talked about summer jobs and such, but this time they came because I had been working with a teen group on the idea of bringing civic education back into the high schools as a requirement, which was dropped some 35 years ago. We spent three hours at the hearing with these young people, who said to the councilors, the mayor’s representatives, and the people from the school department, “You have a responsibility to give us the opportunity to develop our civic skills and our skills of understanding and our ability to use government just as much as you have a responsibility to teach us math and English.” The school officials didn’t quite know what to say, but they realized they had to be respectful because here were young people saying they care enough to want civics to be taught in school.

Those who testified said that because of their involvement with one organization or another they were beginning to understand how the world works, and as they learn how things work here in Boston, they understand themselves better and have the energy to do more. What they said was so genuine, and it was coming from people who were 14, 15, 16, and even one 12-year-old. She amazed us by telling us she had gone to a charter school, a combination public/private school, and she appreciated her educational experience in civics there. She said Boston needs to bring her experience into the public school system so that people who are 17 and 18 can learn about civics, which she was studying at the age of 12.

Both parts of my answer point to an evolving process within us. A flower grows based on certain principles, a tree grows based on certain principles. Our educational system has not acknowledged that there are energy forces guiding us. We’re so caught up in our arrogance as human beings and as Americans that we think we’re the only consciousness that’s here. We don’t see that these forces are trying to push us toward that next step in our evolution when we will move outside the material framework of separation—man/woman, black/white, day/night, animal/human—and realize that everything is flowing from one universal energy system that underlies all there is. The question for each and every one of us is whether we will let that energy guide us. Each of you has a soul, each of you has within you an energy system that is the composite of life experiences gained in other lifetimes, energies that can help you as you confront the next step.

It’s crucial for us to understand who we are. Race, gender, class—those are just wrappings; they don’t define who we are. We must move beyond the surface, beyond the material construct, and recognize the energy that’s inside. If there is one energy system from which all comes, then we’re united. And our job is to become aware of this unity. The environmental movement is doing a great service because it’s helping us recognize our relationship to our mother, the earth. We are her children, but we’re warring against one another. How can our mother have peace when her children are at war? If we’re going to heal the earth, we have to heal our relationships; when we heal our relationships, then our mother will be fulfilled. There is one earth and there is one people. Doesn’t there have to be a harmonious interrelationship between the earth and its people if we’re going to have the kind of harmony that the environmental movement is seeking? I think so.

Q: How can we elect officials who want to represent the people instead of the corporations that control the media and put up the money for the election campaigns?

A: It’s a question of local action. The more action there is at the local level to challenge the way things are being done, the more energy there will be to elect officials to positions of leadership in government who will truly represent the people. I also think there has to be action directed toward raising resources to help finance campaigns by the people who have been out there in the struggle with us. The basis for getting the next generation of the leadership we want is community action, organizing, creating the means by which people learn to understand issues and better understand how to provide leadership. That’s the grounding for real change, and it also puts the politicians who are in office in the position of having their weaknesses exposed. So I think organizing and action are the best means for developing a new generation of elected leadership.

Q: My name is Gola Wolf Richards, and my specialty is the evolution of consciousness. That’s what I teach on line. If we’re going to engage in a new paradigm in order to get to where we need to go, we have to learn how to get there. I want to offer my services to help you do that. I wrote a book that is free on line at

A: Thank you very much.

Q: I also want to ask how you picture the economics of the future in the context of your remarks?

A: I think we need a world labor movement, not a union movement but a world labor movement. We need people all over the world coming together around the question of how to build an economy. We would join together as workers to create work that is meaningful and positive and sustaining. One aspect of that movement is worker cooperatives, which move beyond the corporate model of a few people controlling the work of all. That’s slavery. It’s wage slavery as opposed to legal slavery. David Ellerman has been writing for thirty years about wage slavery. If we had a labor movement in this country that was seriously concerned with how to create work that’s meaningful and can sustain us, then I think worker cooperatives would become a key part of it. It would also be key for the government to provide technical assistance.

We need to develop a movement around worker cooperatives that are given financial assistance by the government as well. Government is the basis of all wealth. Show me a person who’s become rich in this country, probably even in the world, and I wager we can trace that wealth back to government investment of money. The whole idea of independent entrepreneurs doing it all on their own is a myth insofar as it ignores the resources that come from the government. Not that entrepreneurs don’t have energy and driving force, but we need to understand that government is also instrumental in helping corporations get ahead.

In addition to a labor movement and worker cooperatives, another aspect of the economics of the future is import substitution. We’re buying so many things from around the world, and they keep growing more expensive because of the rise in transportation costs and such. We need to look at what we’re buying and where it’s coming from and ask ourselves how we can duplicate these products with products made by workers from the regions that are the best suited for making them. If our regional economy is being destroyed by the global system, then it’s up to us to consider strategically how to identify products that are coming from other places and raise the question of whether we can produce them here at a cheaper price with as good if not better quality. I believe in human ingenuity, and so I think that if we give workers of all races in this country an opportunity to develop and create new products with the support of government, we’ll unleash a wave of creative energy that can build the foundation for a new world.

Everything comes out of our minds. All material reality starts in the mind. If we can free people’s minds—neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, state by state, country by country—we will enable them to let the energy out and be creative, and if we can get enough human beings to be creative, then I believe we can bring a semblance of heaven to earth. That is, we can create a new world if we recognize and appreciate and acknowledge what we have to offer one another.

Yet another factor is that we’re mired in a credit system that has us hooked by the nose. So many of us are living beyond our means in a credit system that is robbing us blind, thanks to legislation Congress passed that allows credit card companies to charge 36 percent interest. Isn’t usury supposed to be illegal? We need to pull ourselves out of a system that preys on our appetites and lures us into the system at a young age so that we never get out again. We’re always paying back the interest on the debt that we incurred when we were young. There’s a film called ”In Debt We Trust” by Danny Schechter that I urge you to see. The issue of debt is very much related to the question of how to build an economy.

Concluding Remarks

All of us need to be committed to breaking through patterns of thought from the past that hold us back from the realization of our full energy. This country was founded on the belief that there are only certain people with the capacity to lead the country, with the capacity to be citizens. You had to be white, you had to be male, and you had to own property. That belief, I think, has infected society in this country and throughout the world. And so I’m urging you to liberate yourselves from the thought forms of the past that prevent us from becoming fully who we are. How do we do that? There’s a song with an inspiring line that says, What the mind can conceive, the will can achieve. I’ve believed that since I was young, and I become ever more convinced of it. My suggestion is that every day you spend time imagining the resolution of a conflict or a problem that you’ve encountered that day. At the end of the day spend time imagining the creation of structures that keep the problem resolved so that it doesn’t come up again. Be free. Be free to create a new reality within your energy system.

Reject fear. Fear is merely the static that prevents the energy of your imagination from realizing itself in material form. There’s nothing to be afraid of. What’s the worst that could happen? You could die. But death of the physical body is not the end of you or your consciousness. When those fears appear from the outside and the inside, recognize them, acknowledge them, appreciate them, and then say: “I don’t need you. You’re just getting in the way of my being free.”

My third suggestion is to concentrate. Draw a circle, focus your energy within it, and let your will refuse to let distractions interrupt the flow of your mental energy to the new reality.

So imagine, reject fear, concentrate.


Publication By

Charles Turner

Charles (Chuck) Turner was a community organizer and civil rights activist in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1963 with a B.A. in government. After a year spent in Washington, D.C. reporting for The Washington Afro-American Newspaper, he moved to Hartford where he joined the influential civil rights group, the Northern Student Movement. … Continued

Related Lectures

Actionable Responses to Climate Change
Uprooting Racism, Seeding Sovereignty
Building Freedom: Our Challenges
Aliveness as the Heart of Economics, Ecology and Commoning
A Conversation About Land and Liberation