Wednesday, May 23

Activism and Personal Place

As some of you know, I used to be a very active member of the Brattleboro Area Peace and Justice Group. I still administer the mailing list that connects members of that group and though the group more or less faded away several years ago, the mailing list is still sometimes active, but generally from activism issues that various individuals who used to be connected to the group would post. I recently posed a question to the group about whether or not to keep the list active and as part of the discussion, I posted a version of the following item:

I should explain my own thing-- I stopped attending Brattleboro Area Peace and Justice Group when two things happened-- I got hired long-term to do contracting work all over the state and I realized that I only had so much time to devote to activism. So I chose doing work to unionize CCV faculty instead of working on Peace and Justice Group issues for a time. Last October the union drive went down in flames for a wide variety of reasons which are, at this point, over and done.

The funny thing is that this defeat happened on what was, in all reality, an extremely good day for me: it was the day I got the photograph shown on the right.

It's a photograph that helped me in ways I don't think I can articulate sufficiently-- it transformed my sense of what I could accomplish as a photographer-- it captured a bird I'd been trying to capture for some time, and it captured it with outstanding clarity and quality and did so under very poor lighting conditions. It taught me to believe more in my strengths as a photographer and to try to push my own skills and abilities in ways I wasn't sure I'd been able to before.

After losing the union drive, I'd been very slow to get back into activism again. I haven't done benefit concerts the way I used to. I did one with a few local musicians in Saxton's River after hurricane Katrina which raised $600, but that was September of 2005 and that's the last one I did. 20 people showed up, which makes raising $600 kind of impressive, but makes me feel like I could have done a lot better in terms of drawing an audience.

Even so, I feel like I want to do that sort of thing again, but since I've been working much more in Northern Vermont than Southern, I don't feel as connected to the Brattleboro community and I don't feel like I have the emotional resources to invest in being the only person doing all the work behind an event. I've done that way too often and I just don't have it in me right now. So I've been doing environmental work on a personal level-- when it was time to buy a vehicle for work, I put the extra investment in getting a Prius rather than spend the money on something just for me.

When it came to how I would spend my time last fall, I invested it in a master composter class so that I'd have a better sense of how to reduce personal waste and do a better job of giving back to the planet.

And what I've really been doing is honing my craft as a photographer, and somehow, right now, that's more important to me. Not necessarily long term but, for now, it's an eco-friendly hobby that connects me with the earth in an important way.

I guess I'm in an odd place right now. I'm very interested in activism, but I feel as though my activism has transformed itself into a less direct action approach and more of a work through my art fashion. My photography web site draws a lot of people to it, and I use it to connect with blogging towards environmental awareness. And yet, I know that's nowhere near enough to sustain any sort of real change. I am learning a lot about birds, about climate about shifting migration patterns, about deforestation and about the impact we all have on the planet around us, but finding myself sometimes really hopeless-- when I read that our best effort is to be reducing greenhouse gases by 2020, I thinking that's just not going to do it. Not even close.

So I do what I can, but I don't know what else to do except to talk to people about it. So I tell people I work with and deal with about auto emissions and about bird populations and about what happens to Vermont's economy when the temperature rises enough that maple syrup doesn't work any longer.

And I talk to my students about politics and about influence and about cognitive dissonance on a political scale, but it's not my place to tell them what political beliefs to hold or to advocate for a viewpoint, so I just do my best to make sure they have the tools they need to figure it out for themselves and only tell them what I really think about a political issue when they ask me point blank about it.

So, I guess that's where my head is right now.

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