Sitting on this screened-in porch surrounded by the electric green leaves of this deciduous forest, the sound of the rushing creek drowned out by the chirping birds, a cup of hot coffee in hand, I’m pretty sure I’m in Paradise.
I’m actually in Texas.
I’m staying in the lovely home of a Tar Sands Blockade organizer and soon-to-be grandmother. We met this past weekend at a non-violent direct action training on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, and she offered me a ride to Texas so I could cover the resistance here before the worst of the summer heat set in.
Last time I checked in I was in Rapid City, South Dakota, staying with some cave people. The day I left I talked to my mom on the phone for the first time since I left home, and we had a wonderful conversation, but by the time we hung up I was feeling pretty emotional. I got a ride from the cave into town with my 8-months pregnant host whose baby daddy is stuck in prison for a drug offense, who was full of anger and sadness and guilt about bringing this baby into the world alone (despite the fact that she is going to be a tremendous mama!) She dropped me at a coffee shop where I then struck up a conversation with a passerby who started telling me a heartbreaking story about the death of her 14 year old who had suffered brain damage in a bike accident.
By the time my ride to the Moccasins on the Ground training picked me up, I had had an intensely maternal morning.
My ride was a journalist with the Lakota paper in the city, full of laughter and good stories. I didn’t realize until we arrived that she had driven an hour out of town just to make sure I got to the training safely, that she wasn’t actually attending. The hearts of strangers just seem to grow and grow and grow.
Being new to the activist training circuit, I was feeling pretty socially awkward when I arrived at the training. The camera and microphone I was carrying only made me feel more conspicuous. But within ten minutes I had met folks with mutual friends from Occupy Wall Street and found a banjo mentor, and I felt much more relaxed.
On the third morning, I was enjoying a hearty bowl of oatmeal when my Tar Sands Blockade friend offhandedly mentioned I’d be more than welcome to ride with her down to Texas. I thought about it for five second, then went to pack my bags.*
On the way to Texas, I had some helpful conversations, some of which will be in my next Fueling Dissent article (check it out!) One thing that came up has had me reflecting a lot on my activism. One of the folks in my car asked the question:
“Why do you organize? If you’re really honest with yourself, what keeps you doing this?”
It’s surprisingly hard to answer this question honestly. Immediately I want to say it’s because I feel compelled to try and fix a broken world, because it breaks my heart to see companies run people over, because I believe the world can be better, because fuck climate change. All of that is true. I organize in part out of compassion.
But there are a lot of compassionate people doing other things. It isn’t just that. For me, I organize because a lot of my friend organize. Because walking away would jeopardize my social life. I think honestly I also like the attention I get from people, the sort of combination awe and “you’re crazy” reaction. And also, I have a lot of anger. I feel betrayed by a lot of the institutions I once had such intense faith in, and I really just need an outlet. I’m really fucking mad.
*** WARNING: this next bit is a bummer! If you’re already feeling cynical and bummed, maybe don’t read this!***
I think though at the root of it I feel like our situation is pretty desperate. I don’t have a lot of hope that we can fight this thing and win. but fighting keeps me just busy enough to keep that thought from really sinking into my bones. Being here and talking to the Tar Sands Blockaders who threw everything they could into stopping the Keystone XL, and to the people who now have tar sands pumping under their feet without their consent, it’s hard to feel hopeful. The tactics these people used were totally non-violent, and still they are being called eco-terrorists, facing felony charges, and being surveilled by the government.
People were literally charged with eco-terrorism for unfurling a glittery banner and raining glitter down on passersby. Apparently security guards thought it was anthrax. What a joke. Glitter terrorism.
But really, what do we have to do to win? To actually stop climate change? We can’t do anything without facing serious state repression. Our government is corrupt, so the legal channels don’t serve us. Our media is corporate-run, so we’re uninformed about corporate power. Our people are poor, so they don’t have the time or energy to fight a seemingly losing battle. And we live in police state, with cameras on every doorstep watching to make sure we stay in line. At the Moccasins on the Ground training this weekend, a drone was hovering over our campfire.
I don’t know if this means fight harder or give up. But it’s heavy. It’s really heavy.
Sigh. On the bright side, I’m planning to meet up with my sweetheart and go on tour playing shows together, so keep your eyes and ears out for a struggling banjo player and her handsome and talented musician companion! I’m looking forward to the break from all this pipeline drama!
*Incidentally, this is how I ended up at Wall Drug for a third time on my trip. If you don’t know what this is, look it up.