This is a beautiful story of one person's journey as an eco-activist. Where the author ends up is very close to my vision for Transition Whatcom.
(Excerpt from Fleeing Vesuvius) by Tuhi-Ao Bailey
I have tried to write this article many times in the past three to four years. I have changed dramatically in that time, from a full-on, full-time city activist to a rural… well, I don’t know what to call myself now but whatever I am becoming, I feel way more grounded and as if I’m making a real difference, finally, without running away to the hills...
And what now of the ‘activism’? A few months ago we were forced to take on about 15 massive petroleum corporations who had been given government permits and council consent to mine throughout our region, on- and off-shore.
Prior to moving here, I would have formed a small group and we would have gone out and protested, but not this time. We took it to our community first. We debated the issue, got to the guts of it and came out in strong opposition, together. We then took it to the next community along the coast and to other communities across the country. We formed a small group to put the issue in the media and debate it publicly and we now have many hundreds of people whom we can call on for support.
For my first time ever, we have the media almost completely on our side. Perhaps it’s a fluke; perhaps it’s timing, with increased awareness of climate change and of the massive scale of the industry expansion. But maybe it’s because we are changing the way we approach the situation.
We’re not just rushing out and saying, “Oy, you suck, go away”. We’re not going out as radical activists but as ordinary local people who care deeply about the place we call home and we’re saying, “Hey, this is our place you’re threatening and there’s heaps of us and we’re organising and networking and we’re going to stand up to you to protect it as best we can. We’re going to win over your workers, your voters, your suppliers, your families and your markets. It’s going to cost you and your shareholders aren’t going to like that.”
The main difference though is that I’m not thinking antagonistically. I’m thinking about disempowered communities and empowerment. It’s not How can we fight them? but How can we become more powerful so that they can’t hurt us? Focussing on building allies, not enemies, is a tactic I saw being used successfully by Dine and Hopi in Arizona who forced out a mining company recently after years of polluting and resource theft. So far it’s working well for us here.
Another thing I’ve learned is to not act morally superior. Our group was recently called “philosophically opposed to fossil fuels” by a petroleum PR guy. A few years ago I might not have realised the detriment of this label. Nowadays I try to ground my politics in the real issues that mean something to most people. Rather than say fossil fuels are bad, for example, I say we’re using them up way too much and too fast for the planet to cope and for our children to live well. I find this approach much more acceptable and engaging.
I also try not to be judgmental – I was always being accused of this and rightly so. The problems of the world are collective so individual solutions are not going to work. Being vegan or refusing to drive for example can just make our lives more difficult while the problems don’t lessen. We should do what we feel capable of on an individual level but the real challenge is changing society and that can’t be done by judging people and making them feel bad. That doesn’t mean being falsely nice to people but trying to understand the bigger things that stop us all from living within the planet’s means, whether it’s social pressures, poverty or just habits that are scary or hard to break...