Webs of Power: Notes From the Global Uprising by Starhawk

Review by Susan Chenelle

We need more women like Starhawk. In November 1999, she was incarcerated for five days following the protests in Seattle. Since then, this Pagan activist, teacher, thinker, and visionary has dedicated herself to the global justice movement, traveling to Quebec City, Washington, DC, Genoa, Porto Alegre, and back again. Of equal importance, she has been doing what her fans have appreciated for more than 30 years, writing, continuously, posting columns to her website and other forums, from within the besieged activist headquarters in Genoa to the ruins of Jenin in Palestine. Webs of Power collects these eloquent reflections and astute analyses, beginning with Seattle, continuing through the struggles since and looking toward the future.

In the first half of the book, “Actions,” she shows what it means to confront the awesome political and economic forces intent on enforcing global corporate hegemony at the expense of the freedom, health, peace, and survival of peoples across the globe. Her opening essay, “How We Really Shut Down the WTO,” not only outlines the principles and methods of decentralized, democratic direct action, but also vividly expresses what happens when you place yourself within a mass struggle and what you need to do to survive. But Webs of Power is far more than a collection of reports from the battlefront. In subsequent essays, like “Hermana Cristina’s Well,” Starhawk gets behind the activist lingo and illustrates what “globalization” means, how it impacts the daily lives of ordinary people and what ordinary people around the world are doing about it.

For those involved in the global justice movement, the most compelling and provocative parts of Starhawk’s book are those in the second section, “Visions,” in which she addresses intra-movement conflicts and concerns, such as the quarrel over direct action vs. non-violence, or “diversity of tactics.” Where most activist-writers have become bogged down on one side or the other of this debate, she thinks beyond this dichotomy and backs up her philosophical discourses with examples where potentially destructive situations were diffused by listening and seeking constructive compromises that respected all parties’ mutual and divergent interests. In this section, she also delivers one of the most cogent analyses of the history of the left in America to be found anywhere, as well as a sharp-minded look at gender and sexuality during the Civil Rights movement.

Whether or not one embraces Paganism or magic ritual, few will disagree that, facing such challenges from within and without, the survival and progress of the global justice movement will require, if not a manifest sense of spirituality, then a great deal of deep thinking, insight, and wisdom. Weaving principle, action, politics, and spirituality together, Starhawk calls for a new political language, one that eschews jargon and all its historical baggage for clarity and makes the vital connections between all forms of repression and exploitation. Starhawk’s own eloquence demonstrates what that language might be like. Such a revitalized discourse would not only mediate or eliminate the conflicts that so often arise around ideology within the movement but also speak to those alienated by such bickering and elitist rhetoric.

Webs of Power is an important guide for those participating in the global justice movement, and an excellent primer for readers looking for a way to become involved and informed. In a time when the Bush administration is hell-bent on making war wherever and whenever possible and/or profitable, shredding international treaties left and right, and throwing up missile defense shields that don’t work, when 15 million people are starving in southern Africa thanks to the IMF and first-world greed, when states and cities across the U.S., following the federal government’s lead, are fending off huge budget deficits by cutting jobs, education, health care, and other critical services like fire departments, instead of rescinding one or two tiny corporate welfare loopholes or tax breaks, this book is, as Alice Walker says in her endorsement, “a must and soonest read.”

Originally published in the March/April 2003 issue of Clamor Magazine.


Author: schenelle

Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction in Jersey City, NJ. Co-author of Using Informational Text to Teach literature series. Doctoral student in Teacher Education and Teacher Development at Montclair State University.

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