Nothing is Stronger Than a Circle

Nothing is Stronger Than a Circle Which is Why, as Black Elk* Teaches Us, Everything Tries to Be Round
Nothing is Stronger Than a Circle Which is Why, as Black Elk* Teaches Us, Everything Tries to Be Round

Thoughts on the Russell Tribunal re:
International Corporate Complicity in the Destruction of the People of Palestine
Convening in London November 20-23rd 2010
Copyright©2010 by Alice Walker


November 19, 2010

In many of my talks to young people, to women, to peace activists, etc., I advocate that in these times of planetary disasters and instability people everywhere should gather together in circles of friends, in each other’s homes, on a regular basis, to talk through the fears and challenges with which we, as a world, are faced: more frightening events at this time than at any period in human history. It is time to circle, I advise, with the hope that eventually our diverse circles will engage each other, merge, and organically transform the earth.

I think of the Russell Tribunal as one of these circles, perhaps the most important, though its members may consider themselves strangers to each other. That they are not strangers is evident by their appearance, as a group, to take on the Tribunal’s exacting and highly essential work: to cast the light of conscience on the behaviors of powerful interests and destructive players in the world community. This is a duty that calls out to those who understand how important it is to end our common silence about abuse and atrocities committed in our names, and who also realize that we must be determined in our efforts to care for the maligned and traumatized and oppressed of the earth. That this caring signifies our awareness of membership in the same clan, the same family. The family of humankind of which any oppressed person is the brother or sister, the mother or father, the child or grandparent that is, at one point or another of our lives also our own self.

It has been an honor to be invited to join the present session as part of a jury hearing testimony on international corporate complicity in the destruction of the Palestinian people, who, since I visited Gaza a year and a half ago, have become part of the earth’s peoples to whom I have felt duty bound to show up for. What has happened to them has of course happened to countless others. Including my own tribes: African, Native American, poor European immigrant. It is because I recognize the brutality with which my own multi-branched ancestors have been treated that I can identify the despicable, lawless, cruel and sadistic behavior that has characterized Israel’s attempts to erase a people, the Palestinians, from their own land. For isn’t this what the US military was ordered to do to the “Indians” of America? Did not the British burn out communities of Scottish people and horrifically oppress the Irish? Did not wealthy and powerful Whites, generally, for a time, rape, kill, capture, and/ or enslave Africans? And are not some of their descendents, at this very moment, stealing and confiscating African and Indian and poor white land, and harming people and other life forms, using many of their ancestors’ ancient tools of brute force and deceit?

It grieves me that I am unable to be in this circle of brave and compassionat people for this occasion because of a mundane yet tenacious visitor: the flu. Which condition, as I recover, I can almost consider absurd. Since college I have admired the pacifist Bertram Russell, the founder of the Tribunal and also Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, early members. James Baldwin, as well, a person of such laser like intelligence and moral integrity, that it would have been a joy to sit in his symbolic chair.

But the Tribunal will go on: because it is a living part of all of us. That part that knows what is right. That part that really does not appreciate wrong. That part that is not blind. Not deaf. The part that hears the cries of others in distress because those cries echo our own internal expressions of shame, horror, dejection and despair.

The Russell Tribunal is rare and precious and glorious, because it reminds us to act for ourselves, to follow our own conscience. To join with our fellow humans who are also awake. Or at least beginning to stretch and yawn. It is a treasure that makes the world not only more safe, but infinitely richer.

I bow to its belief in justice, fairness, and international standards of decency and law. The ability of humans to acknowledge and defend what is right and to do the work of holding the light in a world that seems at times to be sliding inexorably into the darkness. All that is ever needed to challenge that darkness is one light. May each of us, following the Tribunal’s example, be that light, however small and flickering, wherever we find ourselves.

Post Script:  The First Day of Spring, 2011

And when we bring our flickering candles together, what happens?

Like much of the world I watched with intense hope and emotion the unfolding of the Egyptian Uprising that began January 25th, 2011.  Would the people stand their ground in the face of a cruel dictator’s efforts to frighten, batter, torture and destroy them?  Would they look at the bodies falling around them and, sickened and afraid, fade back into the shadows?  Shadows with which all oppressed people are familiar: the backstreets of non-belonging, non-being; the dark corners of being hungry, insufficiently housed and clothed, the dim corners of being denied education and therefore intellectual stature and light; the literal dungeons of underground torture chambers.

There were moments when it was almost unbearable to watch the Egyptian people’s sincere and principled revolt that has, by its example of peacefulness and dignity, transformed and renewed the spirit of creative resistance around the globe. I did watch and listen, however, to every sight, every sound, relying especially on the guidance of a young Egyptian-American broadcast journalist, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who was inspiring in his courageous determination to do justice to the unfolding drama of the Egyptian people in perhaps their finest hour, and who is a member of the astonishingly thorough and savvy team of journalists and producers at Democracy Now! in the United States.  Many times I could not hold back tears of joy, to see so many people, sick of their own oppression, get off their knees, climb out of the shadows, and rise.

I felt I knew them.  Their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the future of their children, culture and country felt familiar to me.  I have seen this same courage among African Americans, in our struggle for dignity and equal rights; I have seen it in the lives of Native Americans, whose long struggle not only to free themselves but also Mother Earth from aggression and defilement has been a life enhancing example for me.  The images of people praying, singing, weeping, suffering, dying; these are now, thanks to the people of Egypt, relics to be referred to, touched, reviewed, cherished, to give us strength for the road ahead.

I think of events like this uprising as “a human sunrise.” My faith is always in the people and in our ability to create this.   In that spirit I offer poems.  For it is poetry that, like music, dance, theatre, and art, generally, can send us beyond the edge of our fear.  These poems encourage us to look deeply into what kind of world it is we wish to construct, as we rightfully demolish the old one.

I wrote the first three poems decades ago to commemorate what can happen when hope is lost and a revolution in the making begins, for whatever reasons, to sour.  The soured revolution is unfortunately common; mistrust, greed, internecine squabbling and warfare usually produce it.  Also the age old dilemma for the masculine of what to do with the feminine after political change is made and woman clearly intends to remain by man’s revolutionary side.  Then too, there is the revolutionary leader who loses the way and turns a wrathful face to the people that frightens them into backwardness and submission.

It is well, I think, to consider these things and to recognize them as they are happening.


The quietly pacifist peaceful
always die
to make room for men
who shout.  Who tell lies to
children, and crush the corners
off of old men’s dreams.
And now I find your name,
scrawled large in someone’s
blood, on this survival


He Said Come
He said come
Let me exploit you;
Somebody must do it
And wouldn’t you
Prefer a brother?
Come, show me your
All scarred with tears;
Unburden your heart –
Before the opportunity
Passes away.



I so admired you then;
before the bloody ending
of the story
cured your life
of all belief.
I would have wished
you alive
still. Or even
Before this thing we got,
with flailing arms
and venomous face
took our love away.

~ From Revolutionary Petunias   ©1973 by Alice Walker

A soured revolution is one of the saddest disasters that can befall humanity.  For it comes after so much hope, and suffering, and loss.  So much pain and sacrifice.  So much dashed belief; in ourselves and in others who have appeared so beautiful and magical, brave and compassionate to us.

What can help prevent it?  That is what is considered in the following poems, written in response to the unfolding of uprisings and revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and the Middle East generally, but in many other parts of the world as well.  Parts of the world that remain unseen and therefore uncared about by much of the global community.


“Blessed are the poor in spirit ( for theirs is the kingdom of heaven )”
©2011 by Alice Walker

Did you ever understand this?

If my spirit was poor, how could I enter heaven?
Was I depressed?
But now I see the power
of editing;
and how a comma, removed or inserted
with careful plan,
can change everything.
I learned this, anew, when a poor young man
in Tunisia
desperate and humiliated
set himself ablaze
and I felt uncomfortably warm
as if scalded by his shame.
I do not have to sell vegetables from a cart as he did
or live in narrow rooms too small for spacious thought;
and, at this late date,
I do not worry that someone will
remove every single opportunity
for me to thrive.
Still, I am connected to, inseparable from,
this young man.
Blessed are the poor, in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus. (Commas restored).

Jesus was as usual talking about solidarity: about how we join with others
and, in spirit, feel the world the same as them.
This is the kingdom of knowing the other as self, the self as other;
it is this challenge, overcome, that transforms grief into
peace and light.
I, and you, might enter the heaven
of right here
through this door.
In this spirit, knowing we are blessed,
we might remain poor.


To Change the World Enough


©2011 by Alice Walker

To change the world enough

you must cease to be afraid
of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of
humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off
daunted and ashamed
into the shadows.
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
fresh light
you do:
the same high place
and ample table.
The poor always believe
there is room enough
for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard
of this.
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
however few;
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth’s reckoning;
no longer far
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us.


Our Martyrs

©2011 by Alice Walker

When the people

have won a victory
whether small
or large
do you ever wonder
at that moment
where the martyrs
might be?
They who sacrificed
to bring to life
something unknown
though nonetheless more precious
than their blood.
I like to think of them
hovering over us
wherever we have gathered
to weep and to rejoice;
smiling and laughing,
actually slapping each other’s palms
in glee.
Their blood has dried
and become rose petals.
What you feel brushing your cheek
is not only your tears
but these.
Martyrs never regret
what they have done
having done it.
Amazing too
they never frown.
It is all so mysterious
the way they remain
above us
beside us
within us;
how they beam
a human sunrise
and are so proud.

For the Egyptian people February 11, 2011.

I will never get over the fact that human beings are sometimes willing to die for each other, for their dreams, and for a future that is only dimly imagined.  Nothing moves me more deeply than this sacrifice; it makes me wonder, often, if this isn’t part of the reason we are born, to recognize ourselves in others, in the planet itself: in grass and trees and children and turtles, and to die for all of it, that all of it, of us, might live.

In any case, my response to the human sunrise is always the same, as shown by this poem:

May It Be Said of Me

© 2009 by Alice Walker

May it be said of me

That when I saw

Your mud hut
I remembered
My shack.
That when I tasted your
Pebble filled beans
I recalled
My salt pork.
That when I saw
Your twisted
I embraced
My wounded
That when you
Rose from
 your knees
And stood
Like women
Of this Earth-
As promised
 to us
As to anyone:
Without regrets
 any kind
I joined 


From: The World Will Follow Joy:  Turning Madness Into Flowers
(a work in progress) © 2011 by Alice Walker

Northern California

March 2011

This piece is to be the foreword to the book:
Corporate complicity in Israel’s occupation: Evidence from the London Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
Edited by Frank Barat and coming soon.

*Native American Medicine Man and Mystic

*Photo of Frida Kahlo calavera with candles: ©2002 by Alice Walker



Published on: Nov 20, 2010