This summer I was blessed to attend the first National Network Assembly which was held at the Des Moines YMCA Camp near Boone, Iowa. It was a wonderful experience and successful in attaining its goal of providing opportunities for community organizers across the country to connect with, and learn from, each other.
The sign above, “do all the good you can”, is what you see as you leave the YMCA Camp. I don’t think I’ve heard that expression before, but it crystalized what I have strived to do with my life. I hadn’t planned to do a deep dive into the meaning of life this morning, but as I’ve said many times, sitting in silence before my laptop, I wait to see what I will be led to share. This morning’s focus might be in part because my friend Reza recently described a class he is taking, “the meaning of life.”
It might also be because I have become unsettled lately regarding what my next steps should be. Care for Mother Earth has been the consistent thread of my life. Looking back over the past 40 years I wonder what more I could have done to have convinced others we had to stop using fossil fuels. It is unnerving now to see the consequences I knew would result are coming into being–the ferocious wildfires in California, massive flooding of the Missouri River, the loss of ice and melting permafrost in the Arctic, the death of sea life as the oceans warm and become acidified, early blizzards in the Dakotas, powerful hurricanes like Dorian and the Tycoon Hagibis hitting Japan now.
What I don’t know is whether we are past the point of no return on the path to environmental collapse. Until recently I thought the answer to that would determine what I should do next.
If there is still time avoid the extinction of ourselves and most other forms of life, then radical efforts to force governments and industries to stop using fossil fuels might be justified. My Quaker faith would require of me that however radical those efforts might be, they need to be based on nonviolence, as exemplified by the Extinction Rebellion, Global Climate Strikes and the Sunrise Movement.
As Nahko Bear said at the Water Protectors Youth Concert at Standing Rock on September 8, 2016, “Remember that nonviolent direct action is the way to a successful revolution.” As I searched for that quote, I came upon another by Nahko:
Our country is primed for an overthrow of power within rapidly shifting currents. The land has seen devastation over the winter’s long night, but now sings songs of rebirth inside the blossoms of the cherry tree. At least in this hemisphere. The people…well, we’re all a little worn out thanks to a heavy hitting astrological and planetary realignment. Does anyone else feel like they’ve hardly had a moment to process and catch a breath before Mercury went Gatorade? Again? We’re being tested. Within each survivor is a warrior. Can we captain this ship through unknown waters? Are we braver than our fears? Will we earn a seat at the table, our place as a future ancestor? Oh, hell yes.Nahko Bear
This is an example of how what I write follows unplanned and surprising paths. I hadn’t meant to include that paragraph from Nahko, but it fits. Naho Bear is an Indigenous song writer and performer, who often shares words of wisdom between songs at his concerts. The Youth Concert mentioned above occurred just a few days after praying men, women and children at Standing Rock were attacked by security forces dogs. More of what he said to those youth that night follows:
Remember that nonviolent direct action is the way to a successful revolution. And that is a hard one, because they are so bad (chuckles). When they come at us you just want to hit ’em, you know? Just sit with that. I know it’s tough. They’re going to try to do everything they can to instigate you.
But remember what we’re here for. We’re here to create peace for our Mother. We’re not here to create more violence.
When you’re feeling bad, when you’re feeling frustrated, put all your prayer into your palms, put them to the ground, put them back to the sky, honor the Father, the Mother, just know it will be alright.
Are you guys feeling proud, are you proud of yourselves? Because the whole world is watching. The whole world is watching. So whatcha gonna do? Gonna show love? Are you gonna be smart? You gonna think before you act? Take care of each other? You’re gonna show ‘em what family does. They don’t know what that’s like.
You gotta put down the weight, gotta get out of your way. Get out of your way and just look around the corner at your real self and look at all the potential that this beautiful Earth and love has to offer you.Nahko Bear at the Water Protectors Youth Concert
As I started to say above, I don’t know whether we are past the point of no return on the path to environmental collapse. Until recently I thought the answer to that would determine what I should do next. What I believe now is whether we are past the point of no return toward mass extinction, or not, is not the question I should be asking myself. Rather, my question now is how can we create Beloved communities? Rather than protest to try to force governments and industries to change, we can, right now, begin to build communities that don’t depend on fossil fuels, aren’t built on capitalistic, resource extractive economies. In this way we empower ourselves, and can empower others to “do all the good you (we) can”.