Many of us have read articles and studies about how masses of people react when faced with oppressive and dictatorial regimes. Most people start to self-censor and grow self-protective all by themselves before they are even asked (let alone forced) to comply. They anticipate the line, and start to stay far within the realms of it.
Eli [left] with their partner Kerri, at a Corpus Christi #WaterIsLife demonstration at City Hall
By Eli Poore Eli is an UU young adult, a seminarian at Starr King School for the Ministry, and member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Corpus Christi.
It was December 13th, and I stepped into my shower before heading to bed. As someone who is fond of a nice hot shower before bed, I took my time, letting the hot water run over my skin, warming me up after a cooler day in my usually warm South Texas coastal city. I recall noticing a slightly odd chemical smell, but brushed it off, attributing it to the less-than-ideal state of our city water system and some recent rains. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.
The next day, I awoke to find that our city government leaders had issued a city-wide tap water ban the night before. As we heard the news, a collective groan arose from my family.
“Not again!”, we all grumbled. We prepared to purchase bottled water, as it had become something of a ritual by now- over the past 18 months, our community had endured a series of water boil notices, beginning in July of 2015 when a sample site near our residence tested positive for E. Coli. A few months later in early September, yet another boil was issued due to high bacteria levels that stretched on for three weeks, followed by a third in May of 2016, due to another issue with disinfectant levels, which lasted for nearly three weeks as well.
"Citgo knowingly operated uncovered storage tanks containing highly toxic chemicals such as benzene for a ten year period"
A quick scan of the MSDS widely available online shows that coming into contact with this chemical can cause respiratory tract, eye and skin burns, as well as target organ failure, and was particularly dangerous to children, the elderly, and those with immunodeficiencies. Now, we were really concerned.
Cat Boyle is one of nine UU representatives, and one of two UUYACJ members, going to Marrakech, Morocco as an observer of the UN climate change summit COP22. World leaders are convening Nov 7-18 to discuss the implementation of the Paris agreement, which aims to keep global climate change below an average of 1.5 degrees Celcius.Cat has written several updates and reflections, available here, here, here and here. More info about UUs at COP22 can be found here.
Courtesy of Cat Boyle
Indigenous peoples' issues continue to be ignored and sidelined by officials at COP22. Speaking at his press conference today, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change John Pershing mentioned that he had not specifically met with Native Americans groups, but instead met with Native American individuals at other civil society meetings. Meanwhile an indigenous international-led protest of the pipeline at Standing Rock at COP22 drew a large crowd. The U.S. may be ignoring indigenous issues but the world isn't. With the situation in Standing Rock still ongoing and the reality of climate change's extreme impact on indigenous people clear, Native Americans continue to be maligned. Climate justice is justice for Native Americans. We must as a faith continue to witness and bring attention to the Native Americans' causes.
Cat Boyle is one of nine UU representatives, and one of two UUYACJ members, going to Marrakech, Morocco as an observer of the UN climate change summit COP22. World leaders are convening Nov 7-18 to discuss the implementation of the Paris agreement, which aims to keep global climate change below an average of 1.5 degrees Celcius. Read Cat's reflection here. More info can be found here.
Courtesy of Cat Boyle.
Marrakesh is in the middle of an arid landscape. The ground here is dusty and dry. Here, it may be hard to believe but there are many things growing. COP22 is the crossroads of states, actors, players and stakeholders from all around the world. It is as if the Silk Road reawakened and unfurled as governments, NGOs, economic, and faith-based organizations come together, their ideas and initiatives spilling out into a more hopeful future for this planet.
In the middle of the sweeping conference arena, green cacti sprout up, resisting all urges to die. Yet reflecting on the US election, hope is hard to find. the nation elected a leader who does not believe in climate change. Many people here at COP22 struggle with what that means for our country and the world. You people at home may be just as concerned. This election has brought tears, fears and agony over the question: what kind of world will we leave for our descendants?
Consider the cactus.
Folks, I urge you to be like the cactus: keeping growing in the climate. No matter what our leaders may believe, we must continue to push forward. Sorrow and despair have watered our soil and now we push forward and break from the dry earth. Appalling behavior from our leaders must not lead to apathy and ambivalence on our part. Hildegard von Bingen, medieval anchoress, considered God as veriditas, a flowing river of green energy that is sustained by the acts of creation within in. Siblings, strive on. Keep creating. Keep going. Keep bringing the green. Our future depends on it.
UUYACJ member Alicia Cooke was arrested, along with UU minister Jim Vanderweele and 3 others, on Oct. 26 for disrupting a lease auction at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. For more information, check out our news and updates post, and this article. Donate to the legal fund here.
Below is a reflection by Alicia Cooke
On October 26th, six people attempted to enter the New Orleans offices of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the entity responsible for auctioning off parcels of the Gulf of Mexico and other public waters to the fossil fuel industry. Seventy million acres are on the auction block for the next 5 years, many exceeding a mile in depth—well beyond the depth of Deepwater Horizon. We were: an employee of the state (that’s me), a young AmeriCorps alum, UU minister Jim Vanderweele, a candidate running for Steve Scalise’s congressional seat, and two Tulane graduate students. The police had been informed of our presence and were waiting. From a short distance, a man holding a Starbucks cup watched us. Two rows of barricades separated us from the front entrance.
Photo courtesy of Alicia Cooke.
Four of our colleagues had peacefully occupied this same BOEM office several months ago. They were told that while BOEM was magnanimously accommodating of their intentions, the building had a private owner and he wanted them to leave. They were arrested and are awaiting trial.
In many American places, and cities in particular, our public spaces are entangled in a web of privatization, permits, and fees. It’s all good and well to take the philosophical position that the right to peaceable assembly guarantees you free access to spaces and streets, but that position may wilt with the reality of what you’re asking attendees at your event to do: risk entanglement with unsympathetic police and/or private security, cross busy streets without the benefit of a safe escort, etc.
In our time- and cash-strapped activist community down here, we’ve made an art form of walking the line between asking for permission and begging for forgiveness. Leading a Second Line parade in advance of COP21, we got the parade permit at the last minute but skimped on a permit for the gathering place; a security guard kicked us out, but nicely directed us to the closest piece of land over which he didn’t have jurisdiction. When we crashed most recent BOEM lease auction at the Superdome, we spent over $900 to make sure everything was in order—with over 300 from wide walks of life in attendance, the stakes were too great. When we had 200 university students gathered permit-less in a public park in advance of another Second Line for Keystone XL, a security guard kicked us out swiftly.
“Although this is a public space,” he said memorably, “it’s private property.”
We could see a tight knot of BOEM employees clustered in front of the other side of the disabled automatic door. I slipped under the barricade. The police escorted me away. I slipped under a second time, approached the door, waved a hand to the people behind the glass. An invitation to talk. I was escorted away again, and the cuffs went on.
We were all so very un-threatening, right down to the 67-year-old UU minister in his collar, standing peacefully by the front door with his hands clasped behind his back when I last saw him through the window of the cruiser.
In light of our passivity, the heavy officer presence seemed excessive. The man with the Starbucks cup,who turned out to be an undercover Homeland Security officer, seemed excessive. The charges and fines we were slapped with, $530 each for Disorderly Conduct, seemed excessive. A few steps in the wrong direction, and a week’s salary gone.
Let’s be very clear about what is happening when public spaces, be they parcels of the Gulf or city parks, are handed off to private entities: we lose our right to the commons, and increasingly lose avenues of expression to protest our loss of the commons.
After reading our charges in detail, most of us have decided we will stand trial to contest them. Our lawyer warns us that the chance of getting the fines reduced or dismissed is small, but to us it’s worth it to have a chance to plead our case. Climate experts tell us that in order to maintain a livable climate, 80% of existing fossil fuel resources must stay in the ground. The U.S. government simply cannot pursue additional drilling while abiding by the Paris agreements.
“Disorderly” refers to an aberration in how things should be. It implies something falling short of goodness, and of security. One example might be the historically unprecedented and catastrophic rapid temperature rise we have seen in the past several decades due to unethical fossil fuel exploitation. In contrast, I fail utterly to see how attempting to gain peaceful entrance to a building where decisions are made in the public interest counts as “disorderly”. So we’ll see them in court, our consciences in proper order.
My boots shifted on the hill, nudging a wire fence stamped into the dry dirt and grass. I could feel the power of the chant fill the lungs of those around me, voices cracking and fists pumping – and I listened, staring back at the line of police in riot gear, unsure if I, as a white non-Native, was part of the implied “we.” But my voice eventually joined in, as I realized I was on the other side of that “we.” These treaties between the U.S. government and indigenous tribes implicate me as I benefit from the history of systemic exploitation and genocide against indigenous peoples that continues today.
It was Indigenous People's Day, the morning after the injunction to halt construction was lifted, and I drove with hundreds of other water protectors in a caravan to the frontlines after a powerful sunrise ceremony and prayer. This was my second of five days I had the honor of spending standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux over my midterm break (Oct. 8-15) with ten other students.
Behind the police standing still, we watched a group of people getting arrested for praying in a teepee next to the laid-out pipeline, which stretched into the horizon of the prairie. On the frontlines, youth indigenous leaders also told the police that we were fighting for their water too, and water for their children. While I think that shouldn't have to be a convincing point – that you should care about another's livelihood regardless of how it affects yours – I was touched deeply by this insistence on compassion and humanity, especially in the face of the dehumanizing forces of capitalism.
“We” is a powerful and important word. It can be politicized and polarizing, defining “us” and “them.” Aligning yourself with a community is necessary in forming identity, and brings along with it certain traditions and history. It also defines you in opposition to other communities. Crucial to the fight against the pipeline is the idea of staying true to a treaty, as the government and private companies have historically disrespected these agreements. The government granted the land on which the pipeline passes to the Sioux through the Treaty of Laramie in 1848. But after the Great Sioux War eleven years later, a new treaty took land away from the indigenous peoples, and more land was repossessed by the government when homestead farms failed. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the land was taken unjustly, ordering the U.S. government to provide compensation to the tribe. To this day, the Sioux has declined the payment from the federal Indian Claims Commission, which now totals over $1 billion. They want their land back.
Unitarian Universalists have a tradition of holding covenant with each other, or a written agreement of how to behave with one another – or to “engage in mutual promises with Spirit,” as the UUA website states. I remember drafting these agreements at the beginning of each year with my Young Religious Unitarian Universalist (YRUU) group, and for special events like overnights and cons. While not every UU community has a written covenant, congregations are committed to “affirm and promote” the Principles and Practices.
Every culture has some kind of social contract, whether explicit or implicit. The survival of Native American tribes largely depends on these treaties, which have a history of being ignored and disrespected. In their legal battle for cultural and environmental autonomy, the Standing Rock Sioux are appealing to this precedent of agreement, and to their entitlement to interact with land in ways that are culturally appropriate.
We slept in the Oceti Sakowin camp in a yurt close to the highway. It was unlike any community I'd experienced before, and I was just barely starting to understand the microdynamics after a week. I was humbled to share the same space as so many different people from so many different places and life paths. Most of my time was spent cooking or cleaning dishes in the main kitchen. I also helped paint signs and tried to talk to everyone I met.
Washing dishes with conserved water at the main kitchen at Oceti Sakowin camp. Photo by Amelia Diehl.
While I can only speak for my limited experience of a week living in the camp, the governing structure was welcoming and open. Because we were entirely sustained on donations and generosity, there was a kind of equalizing culture – but also the potential for entitlement.
This is not to say there were tensions within the camp. I was constantly aware of my white non-Native identity, navigating how to be respectful when I do not understand the full cultural significance of ceremonies and prayers. I saw a particularly striking example of cultural disconnect one day when I walked along the Cannonball River with a friend I'd made in the kitchen to Sacred Stone Camp, the original camp founded in April. My friend – whose anecdotal reflections came from having been there a few weeks – considered that camp to be more white. There was talk in the other camps that it was too late to unite and centralize winterizing efforts, which perhaps explained the influx of people to Sacred Stone, where volunteers were making longhouses and compost toilets – nice “environmentally friendly” things that might not be possible amid the politics of the bigger camps.
A few – mostly white – volunteers were digging into the Earth to make ground insulation for a winterized kitchen. We talked to a few indigenous young men working the security shift nearby, and one mentioned that in his culture, they would never dig into the ground, because it is Mother Earth – or at least they would have performed a ceremony. One of his friends added at another point “but I like to see these hippies work!”
The concept of “helping” is certainly a vexed one, as often volunteers can erode rather than contribute to progress in someone else's community. Again, without a direct relationship to the place, there can be a disconnect in values. The decision to dig must have been made without indigenous consent, though certainly with good intentions. I need to remember that sometimes my presence as a white person is not helping, and might actually be actively harming the people in a space.
There were certainly cases of theft, which was all the more disheartening in a community I would call intentional. While some people may come with harmful intentions, I believe strongly in people's ability to change and grow – and also to respond to accountability. While I speak from a place of privilege as I say this, I do believe in compassion, and that if people are given the space to be trustworthy and trusting, they will rise to that norm. We have to believe in each other. My heart was warmed by what felt like the consistent flow of donations, the fact that there was always someone who would step up to cook or clean dishes in the kitchen or work in the wellness tent, the fact that there were so many different people who decided to be here in cold North Dakota, rather than anywhere else. I was humbled by the generosity and openness I experienced there.
The camps by the banks of the Cannonball River. Photo by Amelia Diehl.
As Our first night at the camp, two elders sat with us by our fire to welcome us. One spoke briefly of the history of oppression indigenous tribes experience from government exploitation. He told us everyone is indigenous to somewhere, urging us to reconnect with the land where we are from. The law enforcement who protect the pipeline's construction, he said, have lost that connection, which leads them to exploit the land and people. He asked us to introduce ourselves with this land of origin, which was a way of being transparent and accountable to ourselves and each other in this community. For most of us, it was a mix of European countries (most of my father's family is from Germany, while my mother's side is Italian. I would have originally said I come from Michigan). While I never heard his full perspective on this topic, I thought about it a lot more over the course of the week. Being from somewhere is as human as migration is. So much of environmental discourse centers around how we've lost our connection to the land, how we live in such mobile societies. This culture of distance can too easily become a culture of disregard and even abuse.
Being from somewhere is a relationship to that somewhere. In forming a connection with your surroundings, this becomes a kind of agreement. Rather than a compromise, it's a negotiation, a consensus of addressing the interconnected needs of human and non-human life around you. In deciding where we belong, we also decide who or what does not belong.
Considering my positionality, I was unsure which “we” I could claim. While I consider myself fully committed to this movement and the broader anti-capitalist, pro-climate justice movement as a whole, being an ally is an active process, not a label or destination, and I have to earn it. And how do these conflicts -- of disrespecting an agreement, whether implicit or explicit -- arise in my own communities?
Everyone needs clean water, clean air and healthy land, and we do all share the same planet, though some of us have tragically disparate access to these resources. We are all downstream. We need a new agreement – one that goes beyond national or even global political documents – but is about building relationships that act on our full humanity. Even if this pipeline goes through, we have stood – and will keep standing – together. Perhaps what matters more than who we are is how we are with each other.
Blessings and greetings on World Water Day and this beginning of Climate Justice Month 2016! I write to you from an altar in the Radical Arts and Healing Space warehouse in New Orleans, Louisiana-by the time you read this, it will be 24 hours until the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management holds a lease sale for up to 43 million mineral acres to the oil and gas industry for fossil fuel extraction in the Gulf of Mexico.
Originally posted on March 22, 2016 - on Commit2Respond. By Aly Tharp, Commit2Respond & Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice
Blessings and greetings on World Water Day and this beginning of Climate Justice Month 2016!
I write to you from an altar in the Radical Arts and Healing Space warehouse in New Orleans, Louisiana—by the time you read this, it will be 24 hours until the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management holds a lease sale for up to 43 million mineral acres to the oil and gas industry for fossil fuel extraction in the Gulf of Mexico.
From this altar I pray that we can reflect back on this day, one year from now, and find that our efforts have moved us into a more loving and liberated world. One where the Gulf of Mexico and shores of Alaska are not destined to be sacrifice zones to a carcinogenic way of life. One where there aren’t thousands of communities in the USA with contaminated drinking water supplies, and the EPA does not send internal memos saying “Flint was not worth going out on a limb for.” Flint, MI, is a predominately black, predominantly poor city. In a world built with justice, equity, and compassion in human relations—a world that recognizes that Black Lives Matter—such a memo could never exist.
After a 1,500 mile journey to New Orleans from Massachusetts, Jimmy (@jiseng) and I have just put some finishing touches on a thirty-foot banner that reads LOVE IS LIBERATION
Climate justice calls us to collectively rise up and above the gridlock, greed, and violence of this racist and classist society. If love is liberation, I pray then that love will guide our way. Today, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has launched a petition calling on EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to address the Flint water crisis and incorporate water justice into national and state-level Climate Action Plans.
Do so knowing that these demands are aligned with the vision for Climate Justice articulated by leaders of frontline impacted communities such as those who created the Climate Justice Alliance’s Our Power Plan. Get educated: Learn more about the meaning and pathway toward climate justice imperatives in the USA by reading this great resource.
In closing, I leave you with this message for World Water Day from Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nation, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe:
"We are asking to open your heart and minds to this time of crisis that is now upon us, threatening a healthy life for our future generations and also for the many spirit lives of the four legged, winged ones, those that crawl and that swim who depend on Mni Wiconi, the water of life. Those that know how strong spiritual energy is, understand water is the most essential life-line to survival. It is a 'Source of Life' that is so powerful, that when we offer our energy of prayers, it can change into medicinal healing, through united intentions. Even science finally found this out only recently. Water carries the Keeper’s energy and can change very fast. It can also bring death by not respecting its gift, especially when over abused as a Resource. It is time we wake up the World to stop abusing and destroying a gift of life—before it is too late." (read the full message)
The new Commit2Respond Communications & Resources team will be sending a weekly email to everyone who is part of Commit2Respond. If you haven't already RSVP'd for Climate Justice Month, sign up for additional resources and sources of inspiration throughout the month.
In the Spirit of Love and Faith,
Network Coordinator, UU Young Adults for Climate Justice
Chair, Commit2Respond Executive Team
Member, Commit2Respond Communications & Resources Team
"We are also responsible to the natural world. ... We consider the impact of every governmental decision on future generations, on peace - and on the natural world." (Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority Annual Report 2015)
On November 17th, I was preparing to leave town on short notice for an activist demonstration. While I was between briefing meetings and packing and frantically sending Emails cancelling everything I'd scheduled in my life for the next three days, @UUSJ re-tweeted a post that read, "Interfaith friendship is the boldest way to defy extremists." In the midst of a hectic day of preparation, reading that post gave me pause.
I grew up in Newfoundland, where I converted to a vegetarian diet at age 11. My decision to take up this ethical position, unpopular at the time, was fueled purely by a love of animals. Over the years, my food choices have evolved, and these days, I have more complex political reasons for the ethical veganism that I live by, which include an ongoing and growing concern for the lives of animals and the industries and economic systems that they are involved in, for my own health, and for the environment. But committing to veganism is complicated, and only becoming more-so over time. I never expected to find myself donning a blaze orange hat and being threatened with arrest for demonstrating support for hunters, but living out our values in this interconnected web isn't always predictable, or simple.
The Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority has negotiated with Parks Canada to determine safe areas for indigenous hunters to exercise their Treaty hunting rights in Ontario. These agreements ensure that indigenous hunters have access to their land and traditional practices, as well as ensuring the safety of other hunters and settler property owners. Furthermore, the Haudenosaunee are engaging in conversations about ensuring the balance of local ecosystems and the impact of climate change. One of the agreed upon safe hunting areas is Short Hills Provincial Park, near St. Catharines. At Short Hills, the Haudenosaunee deer harvest helps balance the ecosystem, which cannot sustain the large deer population that live in the park in the absence of natural predators. The 2015 report of the Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority states that about 500 deer live in the park, which can sustain about 100 of them.
Unfortunately, every year, a small group of local protestors take to the park to try to prevent Haudenosaunee hunters from legally exercising their Treaty rights. The protestors seem to be a combination of local settler property owners who have a "not in my backyard" mentality with regards to the Treaty hunt, and animal rights activists who object to the killing of the deer. These protestors, with the support of local police authorities, set up illegal blockades to prevent hunters from entering the park, and routinely create a stall, holding each vehicle up for as long as possible - up to 20 minutes per vehicle - at the start of the hunting day on their way in to access the land. While the vehicles are stalled, protestors shine flashlights in the faces of drivers, hold graphic signs up to the windows of vehicles, and shout extremist comments at the hunters, often with insidiously racist undertones. In response to the protests, a group of people who support the Haudenosaunee Treaty rights hunters have formed to stand in solidarity at the park entrance, and to try to disrupt the barricades set up by protestors. The Supporters of the Haudenosaunee Right to Hunt consists of local indigenous people and settler allies, members of the Christian Peacemaker Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Team (CPT), and members of the Hamilton/Halton Animal Liberation Team (HALT).
I am a Unitarian Universalist young adult, and our seventh principle is one of my core, fundamental beliefs. Currently, I live in a tight-knit community in Toronto, two doors down from the house that is home to members of CPT. As I mentioned above, I am also vegan, and I am a long-time animal rights activist. This year, after the first two days of the Short Hills Treaty hunt, all of these identities collided unexpectedly. Suddenly, people I knew were on all sides of these contentious demonstrations, and an issue that had never been on my radar before was all over my social media accounts and dominating personal conversations with everyone from my neighbours to my students at McMaster University, where I work as a teaching assistant. My values seemed very much at odds in these interactions, and I immersed myself in learning as much as I could about the issues surrounding Short Hills. What struck me the most, however, were the stories of unnecessarily cruel interactions between those supporting the Haudenosaunee hunters and those who were protesting under the guise of animal rights, but whose arguments seemed baseless and whose agenda struck me as fundamentally racist and colonialist. After thinking long and hard, I sent a message to one of my neighbours on the CPT team and asked if I could join them the next time that they were going to Short Hills. I felt very grateful when they said that they would welcome my company. We left Toronto twenty four hours later.
Protesters and supporters gather at Short Hills at the beginning and end of each hunting day. Hunters begin arriving at the park at around 4 AM, and leave around 5 PM. For those supporters attending both demonstrations, this often means sleeping in two to five hour bursts during the two-day span of each hunt, between classes at universities or shifts and their regular jobs. Local supporters offer their hospitality to those coming in from out of town, who sleep on couches, in spare beds, and on floors. Others travel several hours in often borrowed or rented cars to be present for the demonstrations. This week, temperatures at the park during the demos ranged from 17 degrees to below freezing, and we were present for rain, clear skies, and strong winds. I was personally overwhelmed by the dedication, hospitality, and generosity of the Supporters of the Haudenosaunee Right to Hunt, particularly those from local indigenous communities. Despite the diversity in our backgrounds, and in the face of adversity of many kinds, we were able to share food together, stories together, and spiritual practice together, and draw out each others' strengths in order to support the hunters. I was surprised by the depths of relationships that I was able to form over the course of a few short days.
As a group, the supporters peacefully demonstrate against the ongoing blockades, and enthusiastically affirm our support for treaty rights, for the hunters, their families, and their communities. Despite our positive approach, I experienced physical violence from both law enforcement officers and local protestors. I also experienced great joy in being included in smudging, drumming, and singing with indigenous supporters. The supporters always try to approach the demonstrations with a good mind: we laugh, we dance, we drum, we sing. And we remember: every day that there is a hunt... we win.
About the Author: Emmy Melissa Marie Legge lives in Toronto with her two dogs, D and Boom, and is a PhD student in social work at McMaster University, a youth advisor at First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, and currently a co-dean on the organizing team for the annual Unitarian Universalist Young Adult summer gathering "OPUS". Follow her on Twitter: @_saskeah