If you are neutral in situations of injustice…you might just be busy and exhausted.

two buckets full of sunflowers at farmers market

I see this quote going around a lot: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu

And I see a lot of similar sentiments in online activist circles: that idea that everyone needs to speak out about [insert issue here], or else they’re complicit in harming people. The implication that you’re bad or shameful if you don’t post about a specific issue on Facebook (especially if you–gasp!–post outfit pictures or other fluff instead), attend a specific rally, etc.

On one hand, yes. Silence protects oppressors. Speaking out is important and necessary. And there are some silences that are particularly egregious: like the huge numbers of white Americans posting about Robin Williams and the ice bucket challenge while completely ignoring Ferguson.

But at the same time, I feel like just keeping up with all the injustice in the world–let alone actually doing anything about it–would be multiple full-time jobs. It would be near impossible for any one person to speak out about every injustice that deserves to be exposed. And in general, it’s a good idea to take the time to do research before speaking up about something, or else you run the risk of buying into an oppressor’s narrative and standing up for the wrong side. (“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X) So even being able to speak out thoughtfully about any given issue requires a certain amount of time and energy.

And having that time and energy is, well, something that often comes along with privilege. Which is not to say that marginalized people don’t participate in activism–obviously, they do. But privilege makes it easier. If, say, you’re a single parent working multiple part-time jobs just to make ends meet, you probably don’t have a lot of time to attend protests or even share articles on social media. And that doesn’t make you a bad person.

Even if you’re middle-class or rich, and privileged in a lot of other ways, your personal life–family, friends, raising kids, dealing with physical or mental health issues, caring for ill or aging family members, advancing your career (or finding a career or even just a job), finding outlets for creative expression, volunteering, trying to eat well and get enough exercise and sleep, making some time for relaxation and fun–can take up most of your time and energy, and that doesn’t mean you’re self-centered or pro-oppression.

There’s a really, really fine line between encouraging people to stand up for justice and shaming people for having lives.

I’m not comfortable with condemning the vast majority of people as oppressors because they’re busy caring for themselves and their loved ones.

And I’m afraid that saying “You must take action about [insert issue here] now! Or else you’re a bad person!” runs the risk of alienating people who do care about that issue and just haven’t had the time or energy to take it on yet. It sets up a standard of “you have to be the best, most informed, quickest-acting activist, or else you shouldn’t even bother.”

I want to run around shouting from the rooftops about what’s happening in Ferguson and Gaza. And I hope that as many people as possible join me. But I’m aware that I have more time and energy for protest than many–not to mention that I currently work in a location that makes attending rallies really convenient–and I’m not going to judge other people for living their lives the best they can.

A reminder to activists (or anyone paying attention to the world right now)

It’s ok to have fun. It’s ok to take a break from bearing witness when your heart can’t take all the injustice and violence any more. It’s ok to enjoy “frivolous” things.

It’s important to recognize that not everyone has the privilege of being able to step back–but it’s also ok to step back when you need to, and return to the work when you are ready. There will always be more work to do.

“Our activism is a series of acts of love”: more thoughts on #EnergyExodus

With my carpool buddies Eli, Dorian, Nikki, and Dan

A theme that came up over and over again at Monday’s rally was love.

It came from Turner Bledsoe, a 79-year old who had walked the entire 70 miles of the march. He said, “It’s a march of love–love and concern. I want your lives to be as good as mine was.”

It came from Ben Thompson, a student activist who is taking time off from grad school to pursue climate justice full-time. He said, “Our activism is a series of acts of love.”

It came from the dancing, the music, the blisters on the feet of everyone who walked for six days straight.

It came from the fervent, shared hope for a better world.

A world in which, as Ben said, no one would have to die so that others can have meaningful work. A world in which no one would have to die so that a mother can turn on a light to read to her child.

Building the bridge from our world to that world is doing to take strength we can barely imagine.

We can only do it with love.

We will rise up.

Dogs, dancing, and people power: I made it to the #EnergyExodus after all

Yesterday, I ended up finding the energy to make it to the concluding rally of the Energy Exodus. Due to some last-minute Facebook connecting, I even managed to find a ride.

And I’m so glad I did.

As David Roberts says in his brilliant essay, Hope and Fellowship (which deserves its own post):

When we ask for hope, then, I think we’re just asking for fellowship. The weight of climate change, like any weight, is easier to bear with others. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last 10 years, it’s that there are many, many others. They are out there, men and women of extraordinary imagination, courage, and perseverance, pouring themselves into this fight for a better future.

And that’s exactly what I got from the Energy Exodus. Hope, in the form of fellowship with everyone from children to grandmothers. Hope, in the form of dancing.

There was even a dog. Not a golden retriever, but still pretty cute.

Continue reading

Some updates on life and stuff

1.) My birthday party on Sunday was amazing! I’ll put up some pictures from it eventually. We went to the beach, which was beautiful and full of shallows and shifting landscapes; then to one of my favorite restaurants for dinner; and then back to my apartment for general merriment.

One of my friends baked me a pink cake that was intended to look like Kaylee’s dress from the Firefly episode Shindig; another gave me three pins featuring My Little Pony, an angry cupcake, and Hello Kitty.  My friends know and love me, and they are wonderful.

I am so grateful for my friends, for this community that I have.

2.) I am tired. I’m working long hours at my current temp job, which is also physically exhausting, and leaves me with little energy to do anything but crash when I come home. I miss yoga and running errands and generally having a life.

3.) Due to aforementioned exhaustion and long hours, I won’t be able to make it to the Energy Exodus next week.

I barely have the emotional energy to care that Yosemite is burning. I’m mostly just trying to get through the day, put one foot in front of the other.

I hate feeling like I’ve flaked out on all the people I started connecting with in the climate movement.

I hate that there are so many things I want to do, for both myself and the world; so many ways I want to contribute to building a stronger, more equal, more durable society. There are posts I want to write, projects I want to collaborate on, actions I want to attend, art I want to make, places I want to see. Instead, I just have to survive.

4.) This is how unjust systems perpetuate themselves: by making people too tired to act up and change things.

5.) I could write a million posts ranting about the economy, the job market, the insecurity and instability that’s being sold to us as normal. It’s not normal.  It’s not ok. It’s chronic, life-force-sucking, soul-grinding stress.

6.) At the same time, I’m aware that I have a lot of privilege. I’m luckier, economically and otherwise, than a lot of people. I know that what seems like a new, harsh reality for middle-class people like me is nothing new to those who grew up poor and working class.  I know that having shitty options is nothing new to people who never expected anything better. I know that even when the economy was “good,” a lot of people were hurting.

7.) I want that to change. There is so much promising work being done to work toward a better and fairer society (and oh yeah, to ward off planetary destruction).  I wish I had the energy to plug into it.  I wish that there were jobs that addressed all the work that needs doing. Hell, I wish there were jobs.

8.) I’m tired.

Quote of the day: YES YES YES YES

Do you ever read something that makes you want to jump up and down with excitement because the writer has nailed something you felt but couldn’t articulate SO WELL?

That’s how I feel about this essay on the Science and Environmental Health Network blog, Moral Injuries and the Environment: Healing the Soul Wounds of the Body Politic.

Here’s a quote from it, but I highly recommend going over there to read the whole thing.

The moral injury stemming from our participation in destruction of the planet has two dimensions: knowledge of our role and an inability to act. We know that we are causing irreparable damage. We are both individually and collectively responsible. But we are individually unable to make systemic changes that actually matter. The moral injury isn’t so much a matter of the individual psyche, but a matter of the body politic. Our culture lacks the mechanisms for taking account of collective moral injuries and then finding the vision and creativity to address them.  The difference between a soldier’s moral injury and our environmental moral injuries is that environmental soul wounds aren’t a shattering of moral expectations but a steady, grinding erosion, a slow-motion relentless sorrow.

Yup. Slow-motion relentless sorrow is just about it.

It’s exactly what I’ve been struggling and struggling and struggling with but failed to put in such perfect words.

I am so glad I’m not alone.

Quote of the day: deciding not to die

The word fighting gets thrown around a lot. We’re fighting against the fossil fuel industry. We’re fighting against the corporate takeover of our government. We’re fighting against a predatory economic system. We’re fighting against climate change.

But there are some people who are literally fighting for their lives. And in this era of economic collapse, biosphere annihilation, and rampant oppression, these people are rising up because they have decided not to die.

— Chloe Gleichman, We Are PowerShift