Audio recording of the entire call: Click here.
The Recorded Interview of Sarah van Gelder and George Price
Conversation with Sarah van Gelder
Closing (Reed Price)
About the Speakers
Sarah van Gelder of Yes! Magazine and George Price of the University of Montana
This information, as well as information about the other speakers during the Earth Week Speaker Series, is provided in the announcement on the Charter for Compassion International website: http://www.charterforcompassion.org/index.php/environment-reports-and-documents/earth-day-speaker-series-and-presentations-2016
Sarah van Gelder is the Editor-At-Large and Co-Founder of Yes! Magazine. She has studied communities and individuals who are exploring ways to build bridges to a future based on hope and unified action—and is writing a book based on a recent project called the Edge of Change Road Trip https://edgeofchange.yesmagazine.org/about/. As part of discussion, we’ll learn about key places where the debate over climate change has shifted into resilient action, and explore how people are helping to move themselves and their communities toward collective action.
George Price, a professor at the University of Montana, teaches African American and Native American Studies, runs a permaculture farm on the Flathead Reservation outside Missoula. George has been very active in climate change resistance and fossil fuel resistance.
Reed Price: Good morning and welcome to the call. Today we are discussing shifts in the culture around climate. We are sharing a recorded interview. One of our speakers, George Price, had a schedule conflict and could not be with us this morning. So, we recorded an interview with both of our speakers that we will share with you on the social webinar. After we listen, we will come back together for conversation. If you have difficulty accessing the webinar, your reminder email for this call has the link.
Reed: We are happy to have two speakers with us today, George Price of the University of Montana and Sarah van Gelder of Yes! Magazine. [Reed introduces the speakers and provides the info in the “About the Speakers” section above.]
Sarah met George while she was traveling across the country on a road trip that she dubbed the “Edge of Change." She is writing a book about her travels. Thank you both for joining us. Today we will talk about some of the cultural shifts that offer promise for a unified action against climate change.
Sarah, can you describe some of the things you saw on your “Edge of Change” road trip that you found inspirational and suggestive of ways we can move beyond political debate and rhetoric and move toward civil action on climate?
Sarah: I started Yes! Magazine twenty years ago in an effort to create a more just and compassionate world. Recently, I went on road trip to discover stories of change. The trip began last August and I was on the road for 4 months. I traveled to the West, the Midwest, Appalachia, the South, the Northeast, etc. I wanted to find out what was happening from the edges of society. In Southeast Montana where George is from, there was a proposal to dig a large strip mine. I saw resistance to the coal mine from ranchers and from the native people on the Cheyenne reservation. Last month, due to this resistance, the proposal died. I witnessed the similar language used by the ranchers and the native people when they spoke out against the proposal. They both talked about the land and water as sacred. They felt it was their responsibility to turn over the land to future generations in good condition. They understood that people are connected to place, the Earth and each other. These connections are more important than any immediate short- term profits that might be gained from digging up the coal.
I saw bridges being built between communities. There was a gift of a totem pole to the Cheyenne people and both ranchers and members of the tribe attended.
Reed: George, you were part of the “Megaload protests” to stand up to vast quantities of equipment being shipped to help with the Tar Sands.
George: Yes, back in the winter of 2013-2014, we got wind that in December these big hauling companies would be bringing equipment for the Tar Sands through our area. We had protested this before. The Idaho Nez Perce people had a successful resistance about a month ago. So the trucks were going to bypass them and come through our valley. We had activist groups that came together to plan resistance. It was an interracial, intercultural movement- similar to the resistance in Eastern Montana. In “Indian Peoples Action” some of us suggested that we have a round dance in the middle of this highway in front of the trucks bringing in the equipment. The trucks are large, taking up 3-4 lanes of the highway. A round dance is a traditional, social, welcoming dance. It is a social activity. The dance is in a circle with hand-drummers and singers in the middle. Then, one line of the dancers break from the circle and go around shaking hands and inner and outer circles form. This was our way of reaching out to these human beings that work on these haulers who are only in this because they need a job. We are not against them. We are against the corporate machinery creating devastation up in Alberta. We wanted to demonstrate solidarity and compassion for our brothers and sisters in Alberta. So, we had four of these actions between January 1st and March, 2014. Our largest group was about 80 people. For many it was their first public protest action. We met beforehand to talk about what to do. We would never know for sure when the haul would come through. We had spotters up the highway to let us know when they were coming. Four elder women chose to be arrested. We did activist training beforehand. No one was obligated to resist and be arrested. The dynamics of tribal people getting arrested is different from people who have means. We let people know that we would resist up until the last moment. We had four people who choose to get arrested. After our last protest/blockage in March, they did not bring any more loads through. Following this, the companies broke up the loads to make them smaller so they could get them under the overpasses. Then, they could transport the parts to Alberta and assemble them there. In evaluating the success of this protest, the companies had to spend $9 million to reconfigure their equipment and set up the reassembly plant in Alberta.
Reed: You made the company think whether the transport was cost-effective.
George: We also are in close communication with our allies up in Alberta, our fellow humans who are being victimized by all this. We are empathizing with them. There are all forms of cancer occurring with higher incidence in the areas near these operations. They are losing natural resources. These are fishing people. They wonder if they should eat the fish with the gigantic tumors on them or just stop fishing all together.
Reed: Sarah, did you see this kind of action elsewhere on your trip?
Sarah: I found on my road trip that people are aware of climate change; however, it is in the background. It informs what people are doing. I found people involved in the local food movement. They were working to bring food production back to the community- to bring the entire food system back to local. There are climate reasons for this action. For example, suppose we are importing all of our food from California and California is in the midst of drought. We could make a different choice to get our food from a local source e.g. in Illinois where there is rain, etc.
Food becomes a critical issue for health and for our sense of cultural sovereignty. I visited a wonderful farm in Kentucky run by immigrants from Central America. They have formed a co-op and they grow their food and share together. They have created the connection to place, Earth, and each other. People tend to see things holistically, as belonging to an entire culture.
Reed: We bring our cultural habits to the table. There is often polarization between groups of people- e.g. immigrants, those of different economic means, etc. Are their examples of commonality and unity?
George: We’ve talked about some examples of unity. I think that the trend is among common people- those who are becoming awakened to climate and economic injustice. People are beginning to unite and cross the divisive lines that were created by our past colonial culture. People still have unique concerns specific to their home and their own communities. Yet, with the Internet we can communicate across the world. Intertribal communications are occurring across the US and the globe. We all are coming together to face adversarial forces of exploitation. We are creating solutions. The food sovereignty movement is exciting. I have lived on the Flathead land for many years. We have the ability to relieve ourselves from health concerns. We need to take charge of growing our own food. I am descended from many cultures. I’ve lived with the Salish and Kootenai people for many years. There are other organic permaculture farmers on the Reservation as well as myself. There are still obstacles to overcome. People have been sold on sugar, salt, and crunchy things. However, there is a wonderful experience of independence that people gain when they can take care of themselves. The intercultural interaction is very exciting. We have native and non-native farmers teaching and learning from each other.
Reed: They are building a new economy also.
George: Yes, one that is different from the industrial, capitalistic economy.
When people are no longer dependent on their products and people can do for themselves, the corporations will have to adjust mightily. That may sound like a dream, but with the dire circumstances that we are facing, people are seeing the need for fundamental reconstruction of society. This is evident in the political arena.
Reed: Income inequality is getting much attention. We don’t have to play on that scale.
Maybe the edges of culture are good places to look. We can explore “grow your own...”
Sarah: I had a wonderful time visiting Detroit. There is such a creative spirit. Detroit is a city that has been depopulated. There is physical and psychological space. It is not all about industry. There are active urban agriculture programs. There is space for things to happen. People do swap meets, cooperative daycare. There is an exciting sense of possibility. A new world can come into being. They have tried the 9:00-5:00 thing. It works in some ways, but it can eat your soul.
Reed: When the 9:00 to 5:00 is added to another job, family care, etc., it adds up to too much.
Sarah: There is a new world, a new culture. We want to do for each other and we are making this culture a part of how we want to live. We are not just plugging into a global corporate machine.
George: We are replacing the rugged individualist competitive culture of the past with cooperative, democratic culture. In Missoula, Montana, there is a time bank where people exchange services and log in hours when they do things for each other. When you log in hours to the time bank, you get credit for someone to help you. People relate to each other and have new sense of being part of the community together. They cross divisive lines. It is a very exciting time to be alive. We have been looking for this. I am 64 years old and I experienced communal living in my young, naïve years. Then, I drifted away from that. Now we are coming back to a sense of deeper possibility. Indigenous people worldwide have been doing this forever. They are becoming people that others listen to now. I am glad to be alive now even with the scary elements of our current scenario. It has brought people together. There are unknown possibilities for reform. I do not have despair because I realize more and more that I cannot predict the future. I cannot predict the power of consciousness-raising and commitment. I am looking to retire soon. Then I’ll have time to really get busy.
Conversation with Sarah van Gelder
Reed: Thank you Sarah for that interview. If anyone has a question, just press 1 on your phone keypad.
Sarah: I had the honor to tour George’s farm and enjoyed what he was doing with permaculture- learning about what to grow where and how that fits into climate change, culture, etc. A new culture is what we are talking about- a much more sustainable and nourishing way to live. The things that are bad for the planet are bad for our health. Being rooted in a place, planting food, riding our bikes... all these things are good for us and our Earth. We must be rooted in community. It won’t work if we try to do it all by ourselves. In our communities we have a lot of power. People are grabbing hold of this power and making things happen for the whole community.
Reed: Do you think there are responsive ways that we can make common cause with people who are fighting the fight?
Sarah: Most of the time when something happens at the national and international scale, it means that it is taking holds locally. Local communities have the most power to stop detrimental actions. When people act locally to resist pipelines and the expansion of fossil fuels, AND instead, begin to focus on renewables, that is making the new, more sustainable world a reality.
Reed: Do you believe that the new economies that you experienced in Detroit are also possible in other places?
Sarah: Absolutely. There are different assets that each community brings to the table. If a community has assets, then money can be spent on making changes. In Cincinnati people are working with unions to create co-ops. They are forming worker co-ops to do energy retrofits in homes in the community. There is so much waste of energy in old homes. The homeowners benefit, the workers benefit, and the climate benefits.
Reed: At Yes! Magazine, what are you planning to cover this week during Earth Week, following “COP 21”?
Sarah: We have an article by David Korten about the way consumerism is costing so much to the Earth. We emphasize that our relationship with the Earth goes deeply in our traditions, especially in our Indigenous traditions. The Earth is sacred. We can’t use it up and throw it away. We must take into account every effect we have on the Earth. We somehow lost track of this when we got into technology and industry. We began thinking that we would still be fine even when the water and air are polluted. However, it is not only climate instability that is happening. There are threats to agriculture and finding enough good water to drink. People are understanding the reciprocal relationship we have with the Earth.
Reed: Thank you Sarah. We look forward to your book “Across the Edge of Change.” We will be sending out a report with the notes for this call in about 48 hours. I understand that you have a series of blogs from your road trip that are available online now.
Sarah: Yes, I am posting at: https://edgeofchange.yesmagazine.org/.
Reed: The link to the audio recording for this entire call will be included in the report [see “Resource” section at the end of these notes]. Thank you everyone for participating in this call today. It is part of the Charter’s Speaker Series during Earth Week. All the calls and reports will be on the Charter website. These calls and reports are free; however, we appreciate your support. I have brought up the Charter’s donation page on the social webinar.
Tomorrow we join with our partner, the Compassion Games International, to host a call with speakers Dr. Jane Goodall, Hereditary Chief Phil Lane, Jr who is active in the Indigenous peoples movement, and Rex Weyler from Greenpeace.
Thank you everyone for your interest and engagement with the Charter for Compassion International. Have a good day!
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From Sarah's Blog: Beginning in August 2015, I’m taking a road trip with a set of questions that have been building in my mind until I can no longer ignore them—questions about the climate crisis: Is there still time before irreversible changes kick in? Questions about racial divides: How can we finally take on a legacy that continues to traumatize people, especially people of color? And questions about the economy: Is a middle class way of life a thing of the past as wealth and power concentrates in the hands of the 1 percent—or might there be a better, more localized way to organize our economy? In other words, is there still hope for people and the rest of life?
Tweet your ideas and tips to #EdgeOfChange or leave a comment below. And follow me on twitter @sarahvangelder.