Self Defense for Radicals: Collective Soul + Activist Heart

In his book, Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats, author Gwynne Dyer presents a series of scenarios that could potentially play out (soon) as climate change advances, e.g. several million dying in cyclones and floods in Bangladesh, the US building a mined fence to stop “climate refugees” from the South, tens of millions of Chinese dead in droughts…and then things get truly catastrophic.

Such so-called “gloom and doom” is often greeted with either denial or mockery but staring dead-on into the reality we’ve all helped create is the first step in the following outline for personal, intellectual, and global self-defense.

1. Accept our role

  • We’re not victims (remember: victims are helpless) but we are volunteers. Due to our compliance and/or silence and/or inaction, we’ve played a role in bringing our culture to the brink of social, economic, and environmental collapse.
  • We’re not being “attacked” for our choices. For the record, I prefer to save the word “attack” for, say, those being targeted by American predator drones (subsidized by our tax dollars).
  • We’re not being judged as guilty. It’s a little too late for that.
  • We’re not being judged as innocent either. We’re all participants and/or witnesses (see above).
  • We may think it’s not “fair” that we’re the generation that has to change everything about the way we live…but to paraphrase Clint Eastwood in The Unforgiven: “Fair’s got nothing to do with it.”
  • We are not alone. In the book (and movie), The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad sez: “Maybe we’re not all individual souls, but maybe we’re all part of one big soul.” Incredibly basic, yes…but within that simplicity lies what I see as the secret: If we were to view all living things—along with ourselves—as part of one collective soul, how could we not defend that soul by any means necessary?

2. The 4 R’s of defending our collective soul
(to be taken as literally or metaphorically as you choose)

Reality and Reaction

  • Self-defense “moves” rarely (if ever) work and can cause you to not trust your instincts as you struggle to remember what you’re “supposed to do.” Memorizing a few moves before a conflict is not unlike only learning 20 words prior to a spelling bee.
  • The attacker always has the advantage—at least initially. He knows before you when, where and how he’s going to attack.
  • Your first option: run. If you can’t run, create and maintain distance from your attacker(s).
  • Know your enemy: Expect the worst because that’s exactly what you’ll get.
  • Facing a weapon can be frightening but some weapons can serve to “limit” the attacker’s psychological approach and thus, his options. Exploit that advantage.
  • Practice awareness of your habits, surroundings, routines, and overall “presentation.” Don’t allow yourself to be an easy target.
  • Contrary to popular belief, you are never unarmed. Use your body and/or whatever you can get your hands on. Plus, as Ice T declared: “My lethal weapon’s my mind.”


  • Decide in advance to survive. Ask Derrick Jensen explains: “The Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had a much higher rate of survival than those who went along. We need to keep that in mind over the next ten years.”
  • Condition your body to endure through exercise, lifestyle choices, and healthy, earth-friendly eating habits (read: vegan diet).
  • Take time to learn some tools like kicks, punches, blocks, etc.
  • Occasionally train and practice in street clothes and/or familiar places.
  • Anything goes: There’s no such thing as fighting “dirty.”


  • Activists, memorize these 13 “magic words” when dealing with your local occupying army, I mean, police: “I am going to remain silent. I would like to see a lawyer.”

3. There’s no time like now

When else in all of human history has there been a time when we were in better position to shape the future? What we do (or don’t do) in the next few years will tilt us all toward either the point of no return or a far more sane form of society. Each and every one of us can take part—right now—in creating the most important social changes ever imagined. As I wrote above, we’re on the brink of economic, social, and environmental collapse. What an extraordinary time to be alive. How lucky are we? We’ve been trusted with the most vital mission of all time: survival.

4. Face up to your fears

Participating in sustained direct action is not a popular choice. It could put us at odds with our friends, family, and community. It could jeopardize our careers. It could even lead to direct conflict with law enforcement officers. Scary stuff, for sure. But ask yourself this: What frightens you more, being judged for getting ticketed for disorderly conduct or comprehending that 80% of the world’s forests and 90% of the large fish in the ocean are already gone? There are good reasons to be afraid. There are better reasons to be bold. It’s time to blossom, comrades. Even with all the fear, pain, dread, and uncertainty we may (or may not) experience while blossoming, remaining tight in the bud is no longer an option…for us or for the planet. Just leap and the net may appear.

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. lichen said on July 14th, 2010 at 7:40pm #

    I hope people learn to grow healthy, organic plant foods to eat–fruit trees, perrenial vegetables–not just how to punch and kick…

  2. Maien said on July 16th, 2010 at 8:26am #

    Me too, Lichen. And I like the idea of Max picking up his tomato seeds at his local post office. An ordinary act, which adds ‘life’ to this current existence. Not death.

    After all, somebody has got to be concerned. So until I can figure out a more effective way to change the world… I will continue to grow ‘tomato’ for self, neighbours and the local food bank. Hell… this is not the only thing I do! Keeping some fundamental activities alive, also encourages grounded thinking… especially for that breed of “Lefties” who recognised that their privilege was not at all “leftie” and thus rejected the whole kit and caboodle of labels along with the lifestyle.

    Deadbeat, I love your posts and look for them as I learn from you and agree with much of what you write. Growing tomatoes, or anything… is an effective antidote for anger.