Social Change: Interhelp and The Work That Reconnects

The sections of the Hope Sings song collection correspond to the five stages used in workshops developed in the network called the Work That Reconnects (WTR). It was first named Interhelp. 

"Carry the Candle" is a very short song that I find helps to end a workshop. "The Drum of Our Calling" summarizes a key activity in the final section of the spiral, Going Forth, Taking Action, where people identify their next direction.

Purpose of this Work

These workshops provide a time of nourishment and renewal, like coming to a well. People tap into their interconnection with all life and also have a chance to share their surfacing pain for the world. Feeling the sincerity of caring listeners, it is more possible to find voice, speak up, and go forth into action.

Within the framework of the Work That Reconnects, I offer these questions to participants. Recently, I've been using this title for the workshops; I call the sessions, “Mending the Web of Life.”

  1. What are the specific reference points you have that help you tap into our basic interconnection?
  2. What deeper solidarity is arising in you?
  3. How and where are you called to help mend the web of life?
  4. How is the Universe arising to help you?
  5. What transformative powers will aid you?

Background: Honoring Foundational Thinkers

The underpinnings of this work included insights of Chellis Glendinning who created the phrases “despair and empowerment” and “waking up in the Nuclear Age.” See Wikipedia to learn about her work as a pioneer in the field of ecopsychology, her books and essays, and her “courageous stand in support of the customs, culture, and traditions of the Native American and Indo-Hispano people of northern New Mexico."

Joanna Macy is the founder of the Work That Reconnects who has fostered its development for decades both in the U.S. and internationally. Wikipedia recognizes Joanna as an eco-philosopher, who directs us to “a new consciousness in which the earth is not experienced as separate.” She developed inspirational workshop formats that engage activism, spirituality, and psychology. Her thinking has spread widely through teaching, public speaking, workshop intensives, and her books.

Fran Peavey, author of Heart Politics, was a pioneer of Strategic Questioning. She stood with Macy in the early years of Interhelp as pillars of the work starting in 1978. Peavey was known for identifying specific organizational decisions that would facilitate involvement of many people. Here is an example of one of her strategic questions: “How can our organization weather the tides of constant reorganization and restructuring and still maintain a clear vision of its mission?” She extended insights from the work of Movement for New Society and Re-evaluation Counseling. One snapshot of her work: she sat in Russia on a park bench in the 1980‘s with a sign, “American Willing To Listen” as people lined up to talk with her.

Two dozen crucial people helped co-create and add insights in the first fifteen years of Interhelp including Barbara Hazard, Tova Green, Sarah Conn, Joe Havens, Kevin McVeigh, Rosa Lane, Fran Macy, John Burt, and myself. John Seed’s work on A Council of All Beings was also pivotal.

Since 1995 numerous people have carried on and developed this work further including Molly Young Brown. A key book, Coming Back to Life:The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects is by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, and it can be purchased as a paperback or downloaded. Fran Macy created the name, the Work that Reconnects.

These directions are currently included in the forefront: focusing on anti-oppression, consciously working on decolonizing, making room for healing from violence. There is also a commitment structurally to bring voices of younger people into the forefront since 2014 when the Earth Leadership Cohorts began.

The essence is empowering each person to develop and offer their own realizations, insights, expressions and actions.

Music Within This Social Movement

Here is an anecdote from the early years. I remember the group singing at a national Interhelp gathering in 1982 at Northfield, MA. UK activists had traveled across the ocean to be there for the purpose of meeting allies who could help in the campaign to stop the Euro-missiles. Within the workshop activities, Ruth Pelham and I added in songs amidst dialogue, but things came to a boil Saturday night. “We didn’t come all this way just to sing songs,” one person from the UK objected. A way opened. Suddenly USers were talking about the things they hadn’t said. They spoke of putting aside professional careers to work full time to stop the Euro-missiles. Out of the blunt explosion, what was underneath -- the common work -- got revealed. At the same time USers defended the singing. They said the singing gave them breathing room. It gave hope. We kept singing.

This collection is intended to help those who are leading workshops related to the Work that Reconnects. Many songs tell stories from social change movements including:

          Resisting segregation -- The Ballad of Juanita Nelson, 1939
          Black Lives Matter -- Use Me Instead, Home for Dinner
          The Women’s Movement -- The Women’s March, Women’s Pentagon Action
          Non-violent revolution -- Jaroslav Hutka’s song, Náměštˇ from the Czech Republic
          Deep Ecology --  Seed Savers, Held by the Earth, My Bones Sing
          Stopping child exploitation -- A Million Flowers
          Supporting refugees and immigrants -- House of Hope
          Jewish and Muslim voices -- Wise Women Taught, Ibrahim
          Supporting veterans -- Take Another Step
          Dialogue across differences -- Hands Across the Hills
          Changing ageism, honoring generations -- Ancestors, Strongest Light

I began adding songs to the other songs already in the Interhelp workshops in 1981 with “Here’s a hand pulling you on” -- offered here in the Hearing Pain of the World section. It gives a breathing moment to a workshop by acknowledging the sharing of deep feelings, “loving you scared, loving you strong.” Written in 1976, the song found a home in Interhelp because it is a community that embraces singing within political work.

Today in 2017 I have written several new songs for this work like “Marrow of My Bones” which puts forward -- “When I share my despair with you, hope grows.” It says that our ability to take in hope expands as we deeply take in each other.

I find myself wanting to stand alongside a person leading a WTR event, and say to them -- tell me what kind of transition you are working on? Like bringing in certain ingredients for a recipe, I’d then say -- here’s what this song might offer. For instance, songs about interconnection include: Help Comes, Heart of the World, Tree of Life, and Eagle’s Back.

Songs are a bridge. If you are leading a workshop and focusing on gratitude, for instance, and want to move into pain for the world, a song can provide that doorway. There are many songwriters and song leaders in the network. One of them, Anne Goodwin, co-authored “Starseed Celebration.” All but three of these songs are ones that I wrote, because that’s what kind of animal I am -- a person who processes the world and puts forward insights by writing songs.

Gretchen Sleicher pioneered the sharing of songs that relate to the stages of the spiral with her important website: Songs for the Great Turning. Go to: https://songsforthegreatturning.net. One of the songs on that site is “Turning of the World” written by Ruth Pelham. It is found by clicking the community tab.

Resources
For those new to Interhelp and the Work That Reconnects, I want to introduce you. The website run by the Work That Reconnects is workthatreconnects.org. A letter from Joanna on this site gives this perspective:  “I am moved by the growing evidence of a global community forming as the Work That Reconnects is adopted, adapted, and nourished in other countries and cultures.”

“Deep Times Journal,” edited by Molly Brown, is available on this Work That Reconnects site. The August 2017 special issue is highly recommended -- it’s on the impact of race and culture on the Work That Reconnects. Guest editors for this issue are Patricia St. Onge, Ann Marie Davis and Aravinda Ananda.

The Interhelp website is interhelpnetwork.org and the Interhelp online newsletter is edited by Paula Hendrick. The website explains the community interconnection: “The current northeast US-based Interhelp Council is the only US group with unbroken continuity since Interhelp originated.”

The Interhelp website states that its purpose is “to strengthen the human capacity to face and respond to crisis conditions.” A workshop participant said, “Interhelp is passionately, energetically – and joyfully – committed to the task of creating a life affirming and sustainable planetary society to replace the greed, environmental devastation, and incessant warfare of unbridled corporate capitalism.” This work helps people:

Move from feeling hopeless/isolated to empowered/ready to act.
Strengthen our personal support systems.
Renew our commitment to the earth, peace, and social justice.

Closing
Temenos, the home of Joe and Teresina Havens and a sanctuary embedded in deep forest in Western Massachusetts, was where four of us met June 1982 to plan the first training for trainers. Joanna Macy had asked Joe Havens, Kevin McVeigh and me to join her in developing and leading it.

Upon arriving after a mile walk up a steep hill to this sanctuary, the journeyer met a metal bell and striker on a tree. A sign invited -- strike the bell four times, once for each of the directions.

I strike that bell again at this moment with the joy of sending out a call for all of us to be sharing what we know and fruitfully co-arising.