[By Jerry Stewart]
Before March 1st, if you would have asked me what I thought the march would be, I would have described a scene similar to that which unfolded over the last five days. While an alliance of farmers, ranchers, and indigenous community members from along the Keystone XL pipeline route, called the Cowboy-Indian Alliance, gathered in DC to call on Obama to reject the pipeline, the march organized five days of action to express our collective solidarity. On the first day, we made a video explaining our opposition to the pipeline. The next day, a number of us signed CREDO’s Pledge of Resistance, thereby committing to acts of peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience should Obama move to approve the pipeline. On the third day, each marcher wrote a handwritten letter to Obama expressing personal solidarity with the Cowboy-Indian Alliance. On the fourth day, marchers marched in silence to symbolize the voices of opposition that have been silenced by the courts and the media. And on the last day, we held a candlelight vigil and discussed the importance of unlikely alliances. These were five hearty days of what I had previously viewed as the heart of climate action.
Coming out of these five days, however, and rounding out two months on the road, I was surprised, upon reflection, to find that my idea of what lies at the heart of climate action has undergone a dramatic shift. Originally, I had expected that much of our energy on the march would be expended on matters directly and obviously related to the climate crisis. We would talk about the science, for instance, and how to raise awareness about it. We would discuss political strategy and necessary policy changes. We would spend time organizing rallies and holding solidarity events with various groups across the country. These things were a part of my original vision of the march before the whole thing had even started.
As the weeks after March 1st slipped by and it became clear that our attention was focused largely on ways of living with and relating to each other as a community, I was horribly frustrated with what was happening and doubtful about the march as a whole. When are we going to get to the “climate” part of this march, I wondered.
Now, however, I’m coming to see how perhaps the heart of this march and its message does indeed center on how we relate to one another in community. In other words, I’m coming to believe that the type of community living that the march embodies provides an antidote to the blindness and inaction that arises from commercial culture, a type of blindness and inaction that makes the climate crisis possible.
It seems to me that commercial culture divides us, blinds us to each other, and makes us forget that we are all dependent on one another for our well being. Our walls, our fences, our cars, and our drive for personal financial success, these things all serve to place us alone in a bubble, incapable of recognizing the intimate connections that bind all life together, people with people, and people with the living ecosystems around us. Isolated in this way by consumerism, and oblivious to the great web of interdependence that makes life possible, it becomes easy for us, as heirs of a flawed culture, to wreck havoc on the planet.
The march, I have found, is bringing these walls of isolation down. Living on the road in such a tight-knit community, it is no longer possible for us to rely on store-bought items for our well being. We provide for each other’s well being instead, and no longer depend so heavily on material goods or wealth to provide this sense of meaning and security. Living in community makes it almost impossible for us to live blindly to our interdependence. Living less blind in this way makes it more difficult for us to accept the havoc we inflict on each other and the living systems of planet earth, and pushes us to change both ourselves and the flawed system as a whole.
The march is in no way a model community. We don’t live sustainably, and we don’t provide a completely self-sufficient alternative to the larger commercial culture. Nor do we actualize a higher form of justice in our community, as we have yet to face issues of economic inequality and the flaws of capitalism. But that little bit of distance we put between us and consumerism
, and those steps we take towards each other, it has all been enough, at least within me, to awaken a new level of compassion and awareness that wasn’t there before. I am more aware that I am dependent on others for my well being, and they me. Because of this, I feel more compassionate towards those I live with. This compassion serves as a new form of inspiration. I see how we all live in interdependent ways, and therefore feel compelled to confront both myself and the wider system with a transformative question. This is the question of how to do better for each other.
If this question replaces within our collective heart the tired, flawed quest for the “American dream,” then perhaps we will be able to face the climate crisis with some degree of dignity and success.
In the end, I see our five days of solidarity with the Cowboy-Indian Alliance as compelling and worth-while, not because of the actions in and of themselves, but because of the kind of community and level of compassionate awareness that were a part of its necessary preconditions.
As we make our way onward, step-by-step, may the march continue to build upon such necessary preconditions of transformative change. May we play our part in setting the stage for a new dawn.