Resistance and Change: Reflections from a Student Activist

By Amaya McKenna, Energy Impact Team

The line between being an activist and a professional is incredibly blurry and fine. I have been told that you must choose one over the other – that they are not compatible. However, with the help of my peers and professors, I have come to understand that activism can range from teaching younger generations about the perils of the world to chaining yourself to a bulldozer.

I always saw myself doing the latter because it seemed that causing a disturbance was the only way to make change, whether that change be beneficial or detrimental. This mode of thought is apparent in Edward Abbey’s, “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and within groups like ELF (Earth Liberation Front) and Earth First!, where (sometimes) violent direct action is taken to prevent environmental destruction.

I did not know that peaceful action could be just as, if not more effective as violent action until I learned about people like Vandana Shiva, Rachel Carson, and Arné Naess (to name a few).
The ecofeminist Chipko movement of the 1970s had huge implications for the future of environmental movements. A massive group of women, including the well-known activist Vandana Shiva, joined together and hugged trees to prevent logging companies from continuing their exploitation of the forests.

Carson wrote the historic book, “Silent Spring” in 1962 in which she exposed the dangers of DDT on bird populations. Her command was quiet but unwavering, making her an influential environmentalist that proved peace was powerful. The Deep Ecology movement was started by Naess in the hopes that society will choose to shift away from deep-seated anthropocentrism and instead value “biospheric egalitarianism,” or the belief that everything on the planet is intrinsically valuable – regardless of human perception. The philosophy of Deep Ecology helped form the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Wilderness Act of 1964, as well as foster a sense of respect for the natural world.

An example of a current peaceful environmental/social justice movement is NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline). People of the Sioux tribe started gathering along the Missouri River in 2014 when it was announced that the pipeline originally routed through Bismarck, ND was instead going directly north of the Sioux Reservation. As time passed, people from all around the country, and soon around the world, started coming to help protect the water and highlight historic inequalities facing native populations.

Over Thanksgiving break, I was part of a local caravan of FLC students and community members that drove up to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to bring winter supplies and help around camp. The people who have gathered at Standing Rock call themselves “water protectors” and are dedicated to non-violent direct action with a focus on traditional ceremony and prayer. There is a great sense of community and familiarity at Standing Rock that seems to be a common feeling with visitors. Upon arrival to camp, people greet you by saying, “welcome home” as you pass through a massive dreamcatcher standing in as a gate. There is dance and prayer at all times of the day, starting with the sunrise, and extending long into the night.

The power felt in Standing Rock comes from a need for justice and equality. With the recent change in administration, the future of Standing Rock was unclear. However, last week the main camp was cleared out by authorities. However, just because a movement does not succeed entirely does not mean it was not successful. The movement opened the world’s eyes to what environmental injustice looks like, and it taught us how we can fight oppressive forces in gentle ways. There are still people at Standing Rock trying to make a difference.

We should not stop resisting injustice or stop protecting the earth. Fighting for indigenous rights is not only important, but it is necessary. The future of the earth and tribal lands is precarious, and I encourage you to remain vigilant. If anything is to change, resistance is necessary. There are countless forms of resistance suitable for the participation of all people . . .

Remember Shiva and the women who fought for the forest. They were the first tree huggers. Remember Carson, who saw the natural world changing and decided to do something about it. And remember Naess, who gave us a more holistic way to value nature. We all have the power and the responsibility to change the course of the world. Now is the time to stand up for democracy, for human rights, for love, for environmental protection, for your neighbors, and for the millions of strangers across our shared planet.

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