Monday, April 17, 2023

Still Hopeful

I went to a book talk via Zoom tonight to see Maude Barlow talk about her recent book, Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. I last saw her in person, seven years ago, when she worked to try to get Nestle out of Guelph. This time her book is about all the things, and how to keep up our spirits while fixing a broken system. She does book talks online now because travelling is taxing, and she's 75! 

She started writing this book after being at a talk in June 2019, at the start of Covid, in a packed church full of lots of young people there to see her and David Suzuki and Avi Lewis. She spoke about having hope while facing facts and the Green New Deal, and then at the end, a couple grade 12 girls told if that if she hadn't talked about hope, they would have given up.

Her definition of hope is, 

"the commitment to protect all that is good for the future generations and the planet, knowing that you can't control the outcome, but put your hand out anyway and touch the universe when you can, and have faith that others are doing the same--faith that you're not alone."

Here are her three major lessons somewhat paraphrased:

1. We need to define hope properly through Joan Halifax's idea of "wise hope." It faces reality and welcomes grief but not despair. You can sometimes feel despair, but don't set a place for it at your table. We can't know when our actions will cause a tipping point. But we must embrace the grief, carve out space for grief, and have courage to experience sadness together. Realize that every generation has to fight for justice, human rights, and democracy. We don't have a right to say there's nothing to be done -- that's privilege talking. We have to attach to struggle, and detach from the outcome. Have deep compassion for the issues without tying ourselves up in knots. 

2. We need to learn from the past. Every crisis opens up for true change. Right now it's a time of anti-intellectual, anti-science, a fight against knowledge. During WWII, it was horrible, but it provoked the human rights framework and the United Nations, and covenants on social rights and rights for Indigenous peoples. Covid and the climate crisis are exposing deep inequities. The IMF and World Bank are admitting that economic globalization just doesn't work because it's all based on profit motives, and there are none for getting vaccines to the global south. Of the 100 largest economies, 69 are corporations. We've transferred so much power to the private sector in the 80s and 90s. This is our moment now to say that didn't work. It's our moment for something new to be built.

3. We need to understand how important it is to build social change. It takes a long time. It doesn't work overnight. It needs sustainable momentum. Set up goals and timetables, but don't be rigid with them. Change can come in ways we didn't expect. Stay in touch with nature. See Solnit's Orwell's Roses about how Orwell's gardening influenced his writing. We need to ground ourselves in nature. We dan't know what will make the difference. From Solnit: "Cause-and-effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension."

Before my mom was born, no woman, idiot, or criminal could vote. That's changed dramatically. It was just the 1960s when my mom wasn't allowed a driver's licence or bank account without my dad's signature. Change can happen. The women's movement said, we don't want half the pie, we want to change the ingredients. We understood the need to make the movement inclusive and diverse. 

There are so many signs of hope. In 2010, over 48 countries brought in laws to improve sanitation. Over 300 municipalities reversed privatization of water services. 25 million people are living in Blue Communities. The world has never been more prepared now, with what we know, that we must not give up on this movement. We need to shift financial commitment from fossil fuel subsidies to protection of biodiversity. We need to plant two billion trees. David Boyd is fighting to get the UN to recognize the right to a healthy environment, but it's not in the media. Quebec First Nations have fought to get Magpie River the rights of a legal entity, the right to exist and the right to sue the government and corporations if they violate its rights. Canada is finally dealing with the lack of water in First Nation communities. We've restored 80-85% of communities, and are due to finish the rest within two years. We signed UNDRIP. The movement is there. 

We need to work towards an earth and human-centered economy. Kate Raworth, a British economist, explains donut economics. There are 9 ecological limits of earth on the outside that must not be overshot, and 12 necessities to live on the inside. In the middle is the sweet spot of the donut. It's not growth, but it's not walking backwards either. It's been adopted in Amsterdam, and Nanaimo is looking at it too. 

(Monbiot wrote about it a few years back.)

Clearly many changes are still needed. We need to listen to the voices of Indigenous teachings who have mastered the art of living on earth without destroying it. From Robin Wall Kimmerer
"We have to polish the art of seeing. . . . What would it be like, I wondered, to live with that heightened sensitivity to the lives given for ours?  To consider the tree in the Kleenex, the algae in the toothpaste, the oaks in the floor, the grapes in the wine; to follow back the thread of life in everything and pay it respect?" 
In the Q&A, on what to do with how ugly things are getting: 
Be kind and listen. I'm not saying be kind to white supremacists, but within the movement, to one another and to yourself. The right-wing backlash is very disturbing. Pierre Poilievre is a dangerous man. I live in Ottawa, in the red zone where the convoys were. It was awful. How we deal with that is very difficult. We need to get to young people. They're recruiting kids in these events, selling Bibles and attacking human rights in the name of God. We do need to find ways to have a dialogue. The hearts and souls of young people are up for grabs. 

Some doctors and scientists are going down the conspiracy path. If they say Ivermectin helps, they start to get more followers, and get advertisers, and then they've given up a respected career, but entered that world. They need to understand this phenomenon and the place of internet algorithms that take you deeper and deeper. There's a lot of anti-women, anti-semitism there. It goes deep into the roots of sexism and racism dressed up in new colours with the internet a powerful tool. We need to speak to each other.

On voter apathy and Doug Ford:

Who voted for cuts to healthcare and destroying conservation authorities? This goes hand in hand with anti-education and anti-democracy, and not trusting experts. It's a tempting way to think. But there are teachers working with kids about the need to protect water, the climate's impact on water, the rights to water, plastics issues. When I meet teachers, they're the hope. We need to inspire kids at a young age. 

A commenter said we're calling it apathy, but it's overwhelming despair. People don't feel like they can respond to it all. They feel like they can't be part of the corporate agenda, so they're going to start a native garden and not think about stuff. Barlow agreed: 

People will go off and take care of their own family. They disconnect from society because they don't feel they can do anything about it. The convoy was full of loners who found each other and made a community with a sense of family despite having different reasons for being there. Building democracy is damn hard work. We need to make people feel, I did that. I made a difference, and maybe I can do it again. Take a break if you need to, but come back to it. It's in our blood. It isn't in me to stand by and let things happen.

On the media:

We need to support alternative media: Rabble, Tyee, Narwhal, National Observer. The mainstream media is less sure of itself, which is a good thing. The National Post is owned by an American investment conglomerate feeding the right wing perspective with a hatred of everything outside their bubble. And the Globe & Mail too. The UN Conference on Water last month, the first since 1977, 10,000 people came to New York, and I didn't read about it anywhere, not even in alternative media. There's a myth of abundance, so we feel like we don't need to do anything about the water crisis. But the UN put out a statement just before the event: Within the next decade, the demand for water will outstretch the supply by 40%. Bottled water, despite all the work we've done, will double within the next ten years. We need to not give up on mainstream media, but keep going after them, like the IMF and World Bank realizing the old way didn't work and something new can be born here. We have to have hope and keep at it.

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