I wrote this a few years ago when Friday for Future was first starting and hope seemed to be swelling.
As I’m moving house and am a bit heartsick at the general state of things this week — both of which make it difficult to write — I decided to throw this up for you all. Please enjoy.
Then just do things. Make your world a better place. Maybe that will help.
Today the world’s kids are skipping school, classes, jobs to demonstrate on the doorsteps of the powers that be. It is a climate march constituted of those who will lose the most to the climate monster we have created, to our exclusive enrichment. It is rather beautiful, joyous even. But I do wonder.
Marching is all the vogue these days. It is cast as the ultimate action, let your voice be heard, your creative hand-painted sign be read, your phone snapshot be witnessed. This is your badge. You are an activist. You are doing your part. You are making a difference. You are the message bearer. You are the change. But I do wonder.
And all these thousands gathered together! It is wondrous community, this march. All in accord, bent on one purpose — to be heard. Working together, walking together, voices melding into one giant roar. Hear this! We speak with one voice and come with one message. We demand as one. Demand the future you have taken from us. It is only just. But I do wonder.
Is this all we can do? And what exactly is being done?
I’ve spent my time marching, protesting, demonstrating. Was even arrested once. In a body bag. I’ve shouted myself hoarse and handed out leaflets to scowling pedestrians. I’ve raised signs to the cameras and fists to the walls and closed doors. I know the need to be seen, to be heard. And I wholly support these young people in their demands for the life that was stolen from them and from the rest of the planet. I have spent much time of late dedicated to wrenching a patch of future out of the encroaching disaster. Not only for myself, but for whoever follows me.
Not much of that effort has been given over to demonstration however. Not in the terms of a march, at any rate. I guess my approach could be called a real demonstration. As in, here is how we move forward. Follow me. Do just as I do. Step in my footsteps and maybe we’ll both make it down the path. Life as demonstration. Demonstration embodied. This is why I wonder if marching is really the best use of resources and effort and oh so precious time. Is this really the demonstration that will show us the way to be, the way to go, the way to survive? Somehow I don’t think so.
I’m a mother. I am also many other things. But mostly I’m a mother. Biologically could be a grandmother, except my sons may or may not be able to raise their own children. My children will face deprivation and early death; it is easy to understand how they may not even want to bring new lives into this world. Certainly, child-bearing is not the assumption, the given, that it really should be for a healthy animal of breeding age. Creating new life is the entire purpose of life, is it not? And yet, our children are robbed of that quintessential truth of living. At any rate, I am a mother and I see the world through that lens. The lens of the caretaker.
This, I think, is what is missing from marching as demonstration. It is the care. The thought for the future. The practical arrangements and plans for meeting the needs that arise from the living body. Jesus was so wrong when he chided Martha for cleaning the house and preparing the meals. If not for Martha’s bed and bread, whose body would survive to chide and preach and march? There is this missing — this demonstration of what needs to be done. First and foremost, that bread! But also the clean socks and the sound roof and the warm arms encircling us in the night.
I have a suggestion box. Most mothers do, you know. It is not all our own counsel. It is an open box, accepting wisdom from all and sundry and dispensing it likewise. It’s been sitting in the kitchen pantry for millennia, soaking up knowledge and direction. Might as well tap into it to see if anything of relevance is in there.
And what do you know! Humans have lived through nightmares like this before! Imagine! And with so much less than we have today.
OK, so it might be a bit worse this time. For one thing, it’s everywhere and everything. We have lost so much of life already. We have poisoned and degraded every last nook and cranny in this huge globe. We have dealt blows to the the essential life-support systems of Earth that will take thousands of years to balance out. And it’s not a given that they will balance out. It is definitely not a given that the balance will include the human species.
But be that as it may, we are alive now and we have created this mess and it is our responsibility to clean it up as best we can. So here is my best. Lists, like marching, are all the rage. I’m not very au courant, but occasionally I do pick up a trend and shake it out and put it to my own devices. And after all, lists are very mom-ish things! Thus, here is a list of things that I think might be better demonstrations of the future, the change we would like to embody, than simply marching.
Demonstration 1: Gardening! What could be better than mob gardening! There is little that planting a garden can not improve. Gather together, yes, but rather than marching with no purpose, march to the nearest school grounds or hospital or urban food bank or elder care home or public park and plant a garden. It is autumn. The perfect time to dig into the soil, add compost and mulch, and make the beginnings of a plot of earth that will feed the future.
Then come back. Don’t make it this one day and done. Come back and tend the garden. Plant the annual seeds. Plant the herbs. Pull up the weeds. Keep it well watered and manured. Harvest the fruits and vegetables. Turn these into food. Then repeat the whole thing. Year after year after year. And before you know it, you’re in the future and you are thriving. And all those who eat from your garden as well.
Don’t restrict your garden to lettuce and tomatoes. Humans and the beings humans depend on all love variety. Specifically, don’t forget the flowers! And be stingy when naming weeds. Those wild things that offend ball-park groundskeepers are needful in a real garden. Dandelions and clover and even nettles all have a place. (Though maybe at the furthest, most neglected corner in the case of nettles.)
Demonstration 2: Plant trees. Closely related to gardening, yes, but with deeper aims. You may never rest under the shade of the oak you plant, but it will provide shelter to your great-grandchildren and thousands of other beings. It will take carbon from the air and breathe out oxygen. It will cool the earth and hold soil and moisture in place. It will feed generations and it will create its own new generations. And that’s just one oak tree.
Again, gather! Come together, all of you bearing saplings, and march to a place that is barren. Break up the concrete. Haul the trash away. Lay down rich soil and dig it into the dirt. Water the earth. Plant your young trees in the enriched soil.
Or go in smaller groups to those places that have been hurt by my generation and those before me. Bring the most resilient of trees — the locusts, the acacias, the alders, the willows, the sand cherries, the sycamore and red cedar and hawthorn and white pine. Bring bags of soil and barrels of good water. Plant those blasted mountaintops and squalid mires with hardy trees.
Or gather in the park or the school yard with fruit and nut trees, bushes and vines. Apples, pears, lovely peaches and plums, quince and fig, berry and grape and kiwi, rowan and viburnum, persimmon and pawpaw, medlar and mulberry. Walnut, hickory, pecan. White oak and beech. Cherries and hazelnuts. Nut pines and juniper. Coconut palm and pistachio and pomegranate. Create a food forest for the future, human and non-human alike.
In any case, take care of your charges. Above all make sure they have sufficient water and protection from the hungry hoards. It is likely that many will need replacing, especially in the most degraded landscapes. But in a few years your trees will learn to fend for themselves. What’s more, they will help restore health wherever they are planted — for decades into the future.
And then they will reproduce themselves.
Demonstration 3: Wind-farm raising. You’ve all heard of those quaint barn-building gatherings, yes? Well, if not, look it up. And while you are at it, look up Low-Tech Magazine. Those good people have made it their mission to demonstrate how we can live, indeed thrive, in the future we face. In particular, they’ve got blueprints for all sorts of things — including human-scale wind towers.
You don’t need enormous steel and plastic towers to gather in the energy of the winds. In fact, that’s sort of counter-productive in places where the wind does not blow unobstructed, day and night, all year long. It’s putting far too many resources into far too few joules of energy. What most regions need are smaller, distributed patches of both solar and wind energy gathering. Water, too. But for now, this is a wind-farm raising.
Find a plot of land that is sufficiently windy and sufficiently unoccupied. The subversive in me would love to see a swarm of young people take over land that has been recently bull-dozed for “development” to plant a community wind farm in place of yet another sad strip mall or McMansion mushroom farm. But that might be asking too much. So find a plot of land that suits. And yes, this is the hardest part of your demonstration!
Gather again. (See how many opportunities there are for getting together with thousands of your closest friends!) (And yes, I know there are other activities that go along with these gatherings. . . ) This time you’ll want a few folk who are handy and quite a few tools. You will also want to learn all you can, well in advance of gathering, about the construction, use and regulation of wind towers in your area. Though, I would say it’s probably acceptable to ignore much of the regulation, being that it is largely created to prop up the current system, not create a new one. There is much truth to the old adage “It is better to ask forgiveness than permission” after all. Still, better to know what you are ignoring and maybe plan for it.
Then build. If a barn can be raised in an afternoon by a couple dozen folk, then I don’t see why a wind tower or two or six can’t be put up in a weekend.
Demonstration 4: Power down. Your wind farm, all your solar panels, whatever other non-fossil fuels you put together, these are not going to generate the wattage that most Americans and other Euro-westerners burn through every day. Let me be blunt. Renewables are utterly insufficient to our current electrical needs. (And they don’t even begin to meet transportation and high-temp industrial needs.) Moreover, renewable energy sources do not yet exist to power more than a few percent of our electricity needs today. And we need to quit fossil fuels today, not when we have replacement energy sources built out in the future. We need to quit today. So because we need to quit today and because we’re never going to have this much energy again, it’s time to get into the practice of using less.
This isn’t quite as good an opportunity for a gathering. Sorry. Not everything is a party. But it still could be with a bit of creativity. Think candles and bonfires in the park. Or a day at the beach. Or just a gathering where everybody is interacting directly with the people present and only with them. Remember that? Or have you ever experienced a party without cell phones and the internet?
Anyway, the goal is to turn it all off. (OK. So maybe not the refrigerator.) This is the best time of year for it. There are still 12 hours of daylight throughout the globe. It’s neither too hot nor too cold, so heating and cooling can be accomplished without power. There is no reason to have the TV even plugged in. And take it from someone who only reluctantly uses the phone — life is much more pleasurable without “device”.
Take it slow. Maybe pledge a power-free Friday. Or a weekend. And then stick to it. Bury your laptop, phone, and tablet under the bed. Put a blanket over the television. Turn the thermostat to OFF. Open the windows to let in the light and the breeze. Plan a day so dense with activity and interaction that you don’t miss the electrical buzz. Try cooking with fire or with the sun. Go to the library or a museum. Take a long walk. Go tend that garden you planted. Take a nap in the middle of the day. Tell stories in the dark.
Try to see how much energy you save. If you live in a house with a meter (one that can be read by mere mortals, that is), record what is used on a powered-on day and then record your power-down day use. If you can’t directly measure your conservation, you can calculate it. There are many resources that will help you add up your use. (Yes, this calculation will likely have to be done on a power-on day. Oh, life’s little ironies, no?) And then remember that any measurement or calculation of your direct use does not include all the energy used indirectly to power the necessary infrastructure.
Of course, all that will be running regardless of whether you use it or not. For now. But as more and more people turn off for more and more time, the cost of keeping the servers running, keeping the transmitters broadcasting, keeping the talking heads talking 24-7 is eventually going to outweigh revenues. And then we’ll see the real energy savings! But it must start with you turning off the switch.
Pro tip: you need to physically unplug electronics because they are sucking current even when they are off.
Demonstration 5: Live in! There was at least one die-in today. Even though I’ve been involved in these things (remember the body bag?), I’ve never understood the point. OK, yes, in anti-war demonstrations the dead bodies represent the costs society chooses to euphemistically call “the ultimate sacrifice for your country”. And today, those demonstration bodies mirror those that have breathed their last on beaches, in detention camps, and in homes where disease and starvation live — all deaths created by the chaos of climate change and resource depletion. I understand all that. I just think it’s not very helpful. After all dying is not the goal, right?
So take a page from the Occupy people and set up camp. Then LIVE! Make food and feast on it. Make music and dance to it. Make friends and learn to support and care for each other.
This is one where you can make signs too. Think about what you want life to include. What you need it to include. Clean air. Healthy soil. Unpolluted fresh water. Food. Shelter. Family. Friends. And then. . . bees, trees, forests, rivers, tigers, elephants, gorillas, coral reefs, ants, turtles, ravens, clouds, caves, moonlight. Poetry. Stories. Love. Put all that into your posters and post those things all around your live-in. This is what needs to survive. This is what we are demanding. This is what we are due! This is life!
Demonstration 6: Craft-in. This is closely related to the live-in but, like the tree planting versus gardening, expanded in scope. Think of a craft-in as the ultimate demonstration. This is the demonstration of the tools and skills we need to cultivate in order to face our future. Not only for necessity but for pleasure!
Again, this might require a camp or festival setting, and maybe a weekend or so rather than a day. Lots of crafts take more than a day to accomplish, let alone teach.
Crafters can be of any and all sorts. If you know how to knit a scarf, how to build a chair, how to fix a toaster, how to make pasta, how to plumb a toilet, how to play guitar, how to identify birds, how to forecast the weather, how to grow enormous pumpkins, how to whatever — bring your knowledge, your skills and your tools and share them. Teach others. In the process, learn from others. And have a really good time doing it. If you don’t know how to do any of that, then come and learn. And also have a really good time doing it!
Demonstration 7: Harvest festival. (Huh?) Yes! Have a party celebrating the food grown in your neighborhood.
This is a slippery one because it requires that there is food grown at least somewhere near your neighborhood and that you know what that food is and where to get it and how to prepare it into your festival feast. Tricksy, yeah? All that worked into party planning? All that being a solid head start on the knowledge and skills we all will need to thrive in the future. And a solid support for the people who are already engaged in feeding people in your region.
Then, because one feast is never enough, make it permanent. Not the feast. Though if you make it an annual event, it will just get better every year. But make celebrating local healthy food a daily thing. Shop from farmers’ markets and coops. Or start a fresh food cooperative if there isn’t one in your neck of the woods. Eat at farm-to-table restaurants, if that’s in your budget. Better yet, learn to cook. Learn to preserve and store foods. Learn to grow your own, even if all you have is a planter on a balcony. Learn how food fits into your culture. Learn how the food you eat comes to you. Quit that fast food junk cold turkey. (Believe me, you don’t know how gross that stuff is until you stop eating it. . . few months down the road, just the smell will turn your stomach.) And above all, celebrate! Food is life. It deserves reverence and celebration.
Do not worry so much about what you are eating. If it is produced locally and with minimal inputs (especially no poisons), then even bacon is good food. Good for your body and good for the planet. The converse is also true. Soy grown in former rainforest with tons of fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide inputs, processed into tofu in some squalid factory-like setting by people not paid enough to even buy what they produce, and then shipped around the globe — that is not good food. Not for you and certainly not for the world.
So plan a harvest celebration for your neighborhood. And don’t forget to make sure everybody can get there and everyone can eat.
Demonstration 8: This is where I show both my mom-ishness and my age. But hold a clean-up! Yes, that old stand-by that nobody seems to ever remember these days. It’s an oldie but a goodie, folks.
Now, don’t just pick up the trash whatever it might be and put it out on the curb for whoever to take away to wherever. And don’t limit it to the roadsides. Do a cleaning swarm! Clean up your schools, your community centers, your empty lots, your homes, and yes, your room. This is an opportunity to engage with waste. To really dig in and understand what happens to it. And it begins with a whole lot of self-education.
First, define trash. You may think that torn pair of jeans is useless, but there are many people who can put them to good use. Then, you need to find out what happens to trash in your region. Do the recyclables actually get recycled? And where does this happen? And who has to do it? Where do you take batteries, light bulbs, and other toxic trash? (What? You mean it doesn’t just go in the bag with the rest of it?) How is this stuff disposed? Where? By whom? And who gets to live with it in their backyard? How much of what you throw away could be used for compost? Is there a composting facility nearby? For that matter, how much is actually edible? Can you donate that can of kidney beans nobody seems to want to eat? (Why does it always seem to show up?) Then, what happens to the true trash, the stuff that can’t be used or improved or otherwise transformed? And what percentage of the waste stream is actually true waste?
Once you have all these sorts of questions sorted, then hold your clean-up. It can be as big or small as you want. But it shouldn’t just be one day. This is the one demonstration that really needs to be for life. Starting now. Because once you start paying close attention to the waste stream, you’re going to stop generating waste. (Guaranteed. You simply can’t know about these things and participate in them.) And you will find that reducing waste is the first step in reducing consumption which in turn strikes right at the core of nearly all the problems we face. It all comes down to too much. So clean up!
There are obviously a whole lot of other creative ways to interpret demonstration. Maybe you want to do something else. Good! Just keep a few things in mind. First, a march is not good enough. Even if you get some official attention and force a few concessions, it is not enough.
If you must demonstrate marching, ask yourself: Who are you demonstrating for?
Sadly, the powers that be are not a very attentive audience. They don’t want to be. Indeed, they can’t if they are to remain powers in this system. A demonstration aimed at reaching them is not accomplishing much aside from a nice party in the streets. You need to be reaching the people who will actually do things. The people who will make the changes. You need to demonstrate mostly for yourselves. And for your parents and teachers and grandparents. Your local business people. Your local farmers. Your local officials and care-givers. I don’t want to sound despairing, but most national political systems are utterly broken. There is nothing to be done. Best turn your back on it all and fix what matters — your lives.
It is unpopular to say this, but what you do day to day makes much more of a difference than all the acts of officialdom. Your choices can either fuel the system or starve it. Do not let anyone tell you that your choices are inconsequential. What you do matters. What you don’t do matters. In fact, it is all that matters. There is nothing that happens that does not include your individual choices. Yes, your choice to forego flying matters even if the planes keep flying. Your choice to eat locally matters even if the world is still awash in industrial food. Your choice matters no matter what else happens. It is only when you and you and you and you and you all make choices to live a better life that there will be a better life to live.
So march if you need to, but that is not all you need to do. You need to live your demands. You need to be that change. (And yes, I really hate that phrase too, but it’s apt.)
A party is nice and needful, but what we really need is more practical work done. So much needs to be fixed. So much needs to be started. If you want to really have an impact, you don’t march in the street. You do what needs to be done, right? Or, in this case, maybe you don’t do what needs to be not done. Because as I said above the core of our problem is too much. We need to stop making so much mess and start living life more fully with less stuff, more real goods. We need to connect with each other and with the world around us. We need to experience our cultures. We need to live in the world. Because this is the only life and the only world. And it is broken.
I want to apologize for that. I am very, very, very sorry we’re not doing what parents are supposed to do. We’re not passing on a better world. We’re giving you a broken one and saying good luck. But I also want to say that I think you will enjoy the world much more than those who have been burning up all the resources in the last few decades. And you will be more fit to your world. You will be stronger and more intelligent. You will be happier, maybe healthier. Certainly more scrappy and flexible. And my generation isn’t all bad. There are plenty of us who are going to have your back and cheer you on. Hopefully, some of us are going to march with you on that path that leads to a good life.
Mostly, I think you might be teaching us though. Like today! You marched. And you demonstrated to us just exactly what is at stake in this future we’ve created.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021