Busyness, info overload, squeezing too much into too little time, we’re all stressed and bowed down by the oversized burdens we’re being asked to carry in these chaotic and challenging times. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to just tag out of the fight because it is easy to feel insignificant in the face of the enormity of the stakes we face.
Let me tell you what helps me keep from curling up in a fetal position and pulling the covers over my head. I get to invite the most effective, enlightened, and wise warriors of the possible to a table with microphones and ask them how they stay engaged. I ask them to report on this current territory that has no well-trodden maps. After each deep dialogue I’m refreshed, I’m washed clean of my despair, and I’m once more ready to get back in the game of life and make a contribution wherever I can.
Recently, I’ve had some conversations with several younger guests (you’ll be hearing from them later this fall) and they are not giving up. In fact, they are more engaged than ever. Which reminds me of a quote spoken by author and activist Alice Walker, “As long as the Earth can make a spring every year, I can. As long as the Earth can flower and produce nurturing fruit, I can, because I’m the Earth. I won’t give up until the Earth gives up.” (There are many interviews with Alice on our website, just put her name in the search box to find them).
This past week I was with Zen Honeycutt founder and director of www.momsacrossamerica.org. She has had no special training in activism. However, motivated by the love of her family and her three sons, she set out to learn the science of what GMOs are doing to our food supply. She’s been joined by others to take on big business like Monsanto and make a difference for all of us.
Her efforts remind me of another mother. In the 1970s New Dimensions was privileged to interview Hazel Henderson, who is credited with being a major influence on the public perception of ecological issues. She was born in Bristol England in 1933. When she was 21 years old she experienced the “Great Smog” of 1954 in London. It was induced by the discharges of coal-fired furnaces and was responsible for 4000 premature deaths in one week in the city. She immigrated to New York City in early 1962 and once more experienced terrible air quality. As a concerned mother, just like Zen Honeycutt, she became active and educated herself regarding the economic model that was causing rampant pollution. “As I dug deeper into economics textbooks,” Henderson said, “I realized that we were living at the end of the 300-year Industrial Revolution based on fossil fuels and outdated methods of production.” In 1964 she co-founded Citizens for Clean Air which, with her persistence, got the attention of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and several concerned media moguls. She was able to show the sources of air pollution and her group proposed re-figuring the entire United States gross national product index by taking into account and subtracting the costs of pollution. Kennedy was convinced and went on later to include these ideas in one of his speeches.
Her accomplishments are huge in the field of alternative energy sources. She’s just one person, who set out to change things. To those who would like to transform their environment and the world, she has a simple piece of advice: “Don’t wait for anyone to deputize you or authorize you or empower you. You have to just start out with yourself and put one foot in front of the other.”
What I have learned from Hazel and other luminaries whom I’ve had the privilege to sit with is that an informed public is an effective public. I urge each of us to focus on the issue about which you are most passionate and dive in. Know we can make a difference, truly.
-Justine Willis Toms