I am looking into the face of a woman who is going to protect the lives of my children, and I know she is going to do this, even though I don’t know her name and we’ve never spoken. I am watching as people around me assume our positions as ancestors-of-the-future, seeing our uncertainty that we are doing the right thing, our desire to be forgiven for our failure to do more come spilling out of our eyes and hands even before we speak. And as I listen to the glimpses of people’s lives that they reveal, I see better from outside of my own experience: see how life in our society sometimes takes away not just the ability but even the impulse to hope for a different world. By: Anais Tuepker
These were some of the most striking feelings and observations I had during the “Active Hope” workshop facilitated by Barbara Ford last weekend, open to all for free but with donations going to support the work of 350PDX. Like the “Active Hope” title, the subtitle of the workshop was taken from a book by (ecologist and Buddhist scholar) Joanna Macy and (medical doctor and psychologist) Chris Johnstone. As a participant, though, I felt the workshop’s powerful message was not about avoiding going crazy but learning how to acknowledge – and respond to – the craziness of social and environmental destruction that we are already living in and through. As Barbara outlined early in the day’s discussions with the 40 or so participants, there are three widespread stories that together make sense of a broadly shared experience underway in our world right now. The first is “business as usual” – the capitalist, extractive, more-stuff-is-better-and-don’t-try-to-change things story that many of us don’t like, but which we can’t deny often has the upper, merciless, hand in shaping our daily lives. The second is “the great unravelling:” our recognition, and also our fear, that what has been will not continue, and that even if we hate it, we are afraid of what might replace it. The third is “the great turning:” that we may, just possibly, be able to build something much, much better out of the physical and emotional ruins that have led us here. All of these stories are at work, and at different times one will help us more than another to make sense of where we are. Just as, later in the workshop, we talked about how there are different kinds of actions that are needed to build a worthwhile future, so too do we need to recognize that we are embedded in realities that we ignore or try to wish away at the risk of damaging our ability to actually change them.
These ideas provided the framework for several hours of interactive exercises designed to help people open up to the deep, often complex, and sometimes ambiguous emotional reactions we have when we begin to work on climate justice or the other social justice movements with which it intersects. Describing these activities requires a more practiced writer than me; my words sound flat when I say we touched hands, we listened to each other memories, we praised those who have made us strong and imagined our own possible contributions to the survival, even thriving, of our planet. The exercises reminded me, and I’m pretty sure those around me, of the importance of looking, listening, and getting outside of oneself, connecting to others, connecting to the long flow of life before and beyond ourselves. In this way, we recognize that we are not alone, either in our pain or our euphoria. By recognizing that we will not always be as strong or as knowledgeable or as compassionate as we would like to be in our climate work, we are more free to try our best to do what needs to be done. We begin to understand more deeply how we cannot do this work by ourselves – and when we see the beauty and determination of others who, like us, care so much, why would we want to try to go it alone?
350PDX will be offering future workshops to keep building heart and resilience in our movement. Keep checking this website or subscribe to the 350PDX “Events” list on Facebook to find out when events are happening.
About the author: Anais Tuepker is a 350PDX volunteer and sociologist interested in the connections between health and activism.