Last week I took a day off work in order to attend a 3-day event called Break Free. Organized by dozens of climate action groups, labor, indigenous people and social justice activists mobilizing simultaneously on six continents around the globe, the intention was to catalyze an urgently needed conversation focused on transitioning from a fossil fuel based economy to a sustainable, renewable energy economy. Here in the Pacific Northwest, activists converged on Anacortes, Washington, site of the Shell and Tesoro oil refineries, representing the oldest, and largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in the Northwest.
Unsurprisingly, even as climate scientists (excepting a few corporate paid shills), are unanimous in agreeing that climate change and global warming are happening now, fossil fuel corporations have only one game plan in their cancerous death march: expand profits, exploit people and planet to the maximum extent possible, evade and deny culpability for all harm, marginalize resistance, repeat.
A little known fact in the mainstream white dominant American culture is that the point of land occupied by the massive refineries sits on a critical wetland habitat, site of the largest heronry in North America. It was also the home territory of the Swinomish indigenous tribe who had previously lived there for perhaps ten thousand years until the land was forcibly taken by the U.S. government during the Grant administration. The Swinomish still endure though, having survived the theft of their land, and the many faces of genocide. Only a people with deep spiritual connection – with each other and all life – could have survived what they have been through.
White mainstream culture could learn much from indigenous culture, the importance of staying in balance with nature, not assuming domination over the Earth, but learning to co-exist within the web of life. There is still time, but the sand is running quickly out the bottom of the hour glass.
On Saturday morning, as the kayaktivists gathered at Seafarer’s Park, a native Swinomish wearing a cedar bark hat began beating a skin drum and chanting sacred songs. I could sense the agony and suffering in his life as he spontaneously began to speak in a voice at once powerful and cracking, a mixture of sadness, anger, and love. He introduced himself as Eagle Bear, the great great grandson of Chief Seattle. He spoke of the reverence his people have had for the earth in that place for thousands of years. How it was stolen. How he was beaten and nearly broken in tribal school, not allowed to speak his own language. How he and his People have suffered in numerous ways. He expressed gladness that we had come to shine some light upon these historical wrongs, to help bring Mother Earth back into balance.
Later, in the evening, the group, “Women of Color Speak Out”, shared important words about the intersectionality between climate change and four root causes of the current global crisis: capitalism, colonialism, racism, and patriarchy. A just transition away from a fossil fuel economy to one that is sustainable cannot merely be driven by technology, but needs to be accountable to all people everywhere. One of the largest problems facing the environmental movement today is the failure to bring forth comprehensive solutions that factor in the social, racial and economic inequities at the root of the environmental crisis.
Break Free organizers, at least from what I observed at planning meetings and at the event, worked diligently to avoid those historical shortcomings, listening sincerely and honoring the input and collaboration with indigenous tribes, people of color, and other marginalized populations. We are all in this together. Now is the time of the Rainbow Warriors.
We have reached a point in human history – the beginning of the sixth great extinction as some are calling it – where we as a species have an opportunity to come together as one people, respecting all life in its magical beauty and diversity, to respect one another and every creature, understanding that the comfort and sustenance of our lives comes at a great cost to other sentient beings – human and animal. This is not an invitation to heap guilt – a completely useless emotion – upon ourselves. Guilt is simply another self-indulgent dysfunctional escape strategy. We need a revolution in spirit along with a revolution in economic, political, and technological priorities.
The fossil fuel crisis is bringing changes to our world that are already deadly for many millions. The temperature – both actual and metaphorical – will only climb from this date onward. We can choose to engage and skillfully mitigate these challenges by committing ourselves to increasing our compassion for all life, and by acting on that compassion. Please investigate these words with an open mind. Tune out the mainstream media. There is no such thing as a “free press”.
Only a handful of large corporations own the vast majority of large “news” outlets – like KIRO and King 5 (thanks for the correction Bill) here in Seattle, which published extremely misleading articles about “garbage” left by protestors in Anacortes. Activists who peacefully performed civil disobedience, blockading rail tracks with an encampment, were raided by cops in combat gear at 5:30 a.m. and at gunpoint, were ordered to immediately leave the area or be arrested. When the activists tried to retrieve their camping gear (labelled “garbage” by the media), they weren’t allowed to.
Meanwhile, Shell spills 100,000 more gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico over the same weekend, issues a typically lame “oops, sorry” press release….but instead, we read in blaring headlines about the hypocrisy of protestors and silence when it comes to the massive death and carnage spewed around the globe by corporations like Shell, BP, Exxon, Monsanto, and their ilk.
Truth was, is, and will always be, the only source of protection and refuge in this world. Please seek it out and act accordingly. Let us join together to heal in this time of earth transition.
2 thoughts on “Break Free”
Thank you for these powerful reflections. I thought it was actually KIRO and then KING that made the hoopla about the garbage, without explaining that the police forbid people access to the area after removal at gun point.
KOMO seemed to not take the bait and kept their heads in straight. As far as I’ve seen anyway.
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