I often feel I’m a lightweight as an activist. I attended my first protest in May in Chicago. I saw that protest get very heated and violent at the very end. Joining protests is not my own personal first line of activism–but then, nor am I just an armchair activist posting pithy things on my Facebook.
I try to raise awareness of issues, and live my values in my every day life. For me, this has meant years of environmental work to live more ecologically sustainably.
All the time, I am working to reduce my environmental impact. And while there are a lot of issues out there, a lot of things to stand up and be an activist for or against, for me, environmental sustainability sits at the crux of many of these. If we destroy our environment, we are harming ourselves, our children, those who come after. If we destroy our environment, we are creating entire new classes of social justice problems.
So I’m a bit of a nomad–I’ve moved about 13 times in the past 8 years. I have kept my possessions to about 2-3 minivan loads; I try to live light. I buy my furniture on Craigslist, I Ebay and freecycle and Craigslist things I’m getting rid of.
I recycle everything I can before I get to throwing things away. The past weeks I’ve been helping my mom to sort things at her house; she wants to sell her house and move. But she has lived here 20 years and accumulated a lot of things. In fact, there are things that have been in storage here since before she moved into this house.
So I’m trying to live my values here–trying to Craigslist, Freecycle, and Ebay things. Taking things to Goodwill. And yet, there’s still going to be a whole dumpster of things that will end up at a land fill. Mostly wood and debris from the rehabbing, but there are televisions, electronics, hundreds of little things that there’s nothing to do but throw away. My mom–like most of us–is caught up in the cycle of consumerism.
I Need This
I need to have this, need to buy this, because…because why? Because if I don’t buy the right clothes I won’t be seen as a professional at work. If I don’t buy this couch, my neighbors will judge me. I want this TV to watch my shows when I veg on the couch when I’m exhausted after work. I want these toys, I want, I want. I cleared about a dozen large bins of toys from a child who stayed here for a while. This wasn’t even all his toys. And gods know if Goodwill will be able to use half of them, so many were half broken.
As I clear out boxes and boxes of things–things ruined from basement storage, clothing, furniture no one will ever want–I see the cycle of usage, of consuming. We buy all this crap, and then are miserable living in houses overflowing with stuff we can’t sort or clean, and then when we move, we dump half of it. And during a move, I don’t know about you, but I am usually overtaxed and physically exhausted and that’s about the last time I have energy enough to want to take the extra time to Craigslist things or recycle them. So things get dumped in the landfill, and then we buy more things.
Using Resources, Poisoning the Well
The production of these things takes resources. Clearcuts the woods, poisons the streams and the air. What toxic chemicals are created in the production of the computer I’m using right now? Or your new big screen TV? What will those chemicals be doing to the environment when these electronics end up in a landfill?
Imagine what new diseases and disorders will ultimately be found to be caused by exposure to plastics, chemicals, toxins in cleaning products, fertilizer, genetically modified food? Imagine who will be able to pay for electricity and gasoline when the non-renewable resources begin to falter, pay for water when there are clean water shortages.
Much like the social issues now facing us, environmental issues will impact the poor more harshly than the upper percent of people who can afford to pay for those resources. Already, the poor live in the neighborhoods that get more pollution, more waste, and their children face more diseases, exotic cancers.
Social issues, environmental issues, political issues often seem too big, out of reach. What can we individuals possibly do to fight them? Is attending a rally really going to end a war?
The truth is, to make changes, we have to change. And environmental activism is asking for changes most people aren’t willing to make in their lives, because it makes our lives less convenient. Most Americans I know, feel entitled to that convenience. I call it the overwork laziness; people overworked by their jobs are too tired to even rinse out a plastic container, much less take the time to haul recycling if there’s no pickup in their neighborhood.
But, if we want a better world, we are all going to have to do the work to make it happen. And yes, it means inconvenience. That’s where the activism comes in. Recycling, using less resources, using natural cleaning solutions, all of these are a beginning, and can have more impact than attending a protest. And, it’s work, hard work.
What is Activism?
Sometimes activism is making phone calls to a legislator. Some of us are better at this than others. Sometimes activism is standing up at a protest. Sometimes it’s getting arrested. And sometimes it’s going through the daily process to reduce what we use, to begin to use less resources.
As a Pagan, I consider this to be part of my spirituality. And I am very sorry to say that I still attend many Pagan events with Pagans guzzling down bottled water, eating off styrofoam plates, and not even recycling their recyclables. Or in some cases, even cleaning up their trash. I would like to see this change. And yes, it’s inconvenient to use less resources, but we have to find it within us to do this.
A lot of what I’ll be posting about will be ways to reduce environmental impact as a core part of Pagan activism and Pagan spirituality. And more than that–to change our perspectives on our usage of resources so that we can be healthier and happier about using less.
Reducing our Use of Resources
To explore how our use of resources, the way we spend our money, the initiatives and even politics we support, how that may be part of our spirituality, and how to bring that out into the world through our words and our actions. Activism is not just protesting–it is acting, it is changing minds, changing culture, through our actions.
There was a sign at the protest I marched in. It said, “There is no Planet B.” We all need to reduce our impact, or we, and our descendants, will face the consequences.
Shauna Aura Knight is an author, artist, ritualist, community builder, activist, and spiritual seeker. She travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and spiritual growth. She’s the published author of books and articles on leadership, ritual facilitation, and personal transformation, as well as an author of fantasy fiction. Her mythic artwork is used for magazines, book covers, and personal shrines. Check out her blog on Pagan leadership and community building or her web site for more information on upcoming classes, rituals, books, and articles.