|(Image from JustSeeds.org)|
I’m not in Standing Rock, North Dakota. I’m not planting my feet on the ground that contains my ancestors, placing my flesh and blood between the land and our culture’s insatiable lust for oil and the incomprehensible power of profit. I haven’t been arrested, held in a jail cell or a dog kennel. I haven’t screamed at the law enforcement of collected states and departments and representatives of governments and corporations.
And I have been wondering why I’m not there. I know these things matter. I do not want oil to spill into any landscape, upon the bones of any ancestors, into the waterways of the living, into the endocrine systems of the unborn generations. I do not want the dangerous patterns of our consumptive lives to continue unchecked, unchanged. I want the sovereignty and dignity of Native peoples—in North Dakota and across the globe—to be upheld and broadened, not beaten down further and ignored yet again. Colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism—all of these forces have pushed peoples out of homelands and towards the marginal land and seascapes that are now most at risk from the climate change brought about by lifestyles less grounded and intentional that many that were displaced. I don’t treasure an image of indigenous peoples as noble savages—that lack of nuance and excess of Romanticisms covers up far more interesting realities and prevents humans from seeing each other with empathy, and as the hot messes of contradictions we all are. However, I do believe that there are societies that have much more sustainable values than the majority white, post-Industrial Western Capitalist one that destroys landscapes to find the oil that, when burnt in power plants and refineries and gas tanks, destroys the air, the water, the seasons, the planet.
I’m still here in New England, though, not in the Dakotas. I daydream about these actions, these times of solidarity when bodies come together to block pipelines and trucks, but I never go. I stay here because I need to pay my rent, feed my dog, repay my student loans, tend to my family, because my life is here and I feel enough binding me here that I can’t imagine going without creating more, or maybe just different, burdens. Am I just making lazy and selfish excuses to stay comfortable? Do I not believe enough? I wonder these things in the middle of the night sometimes. If I really cared so passionately about climate change, about being in solidarity with a cause I believe in, wouldn’t I be there, linking arms and marching and standing and holding firm despite the consequences, rather than going to the grocery store or making mundane appointments for my car inspection or looking at the container ships come into port and knowing that their oily effluent is mingling in the sea with my father’s remains, and I am standing on the beach, throwing a tennis ball for my dog.
If I really wanted the present and the future to be brighter, better, cleaner and kinder than the patterns of the past, shouldn’t I, shouldn’t we all, be out on parade and picket lines?
I don’t know. It simply isn’t practical—if everyone is arrested, who bails us all out, makes soup for everyone, takes care of the young and the elderly, installs solar panels, plants gardens, negotiates climate and human rights agreements. I admire those who are putting their lives on hold and on the line to stop pollution from crossing national boundaries and poisoning the land and water and sanctity of the place. Similarly, I admire the people who labor through zoning board meetings, who figure out how to live off the grid, who temper their egos enough to carpool or take an inconvenient bus, who raise kind children who love vegetables, who run for office with integrity and practical idealism, everyone who does the thousand quieter jobs that transitioning away from fossil fuels truly require.
And it is not the same to do this small work. I was sitting in my apartment, prepping for a job interview by researching grant writing and best practices for sustainability in higher education, while watching friends on Facebook check in at Standing Rock. And I wanted us all to be there, for real. To be all together, fists high and smiles wide, walking into the fray and saying, firmly, that this dirty way with pipelines and trampling lives and beliefs for profit and out of a lack of imagination of how to implement a cleaner world will no longer be. I wanted the drama and the Romance and the certain solidarity of such direct action.
Because doing the quiet necessary work is hard. Not in the way that having red raw marks on your wrists from zip-tie handcuffs or being violently intimidated or beaten by law enforcement or being a civil disobedience felon or living in a protest camp is hard—and I do believe those are hard things that people chose to do—but because you have to get up every day and find a balance of practical action while navigating life. It is hard, it is not glamorous—movie stars and Bill McKibben and Terry Tempest Williams and Wendell Berry are not going to join you in signing up for a CSA or doing an energy audit of your home or going to a meeting of the water board—but it is perhaps as vitally important.
Which is what I’ll keep telling myself, as I do what work of the world as I can in Maine, while it remains Facebook official that I’m in North Dakota.