written with Lauren McNair
Recently, we had the opportunity to help organize a poetry-focused climate vigil with two other local climate activists. Organizing this action was like nothing we had ever experienced before, because our goal was to move away from the image of a typical protest, with hundreds of sign-bearing activists screaming at the government or a corporation. We wanted to host a more reflective action in order to explore our range of emotions surrounding the climate crisis: fear and rage, but also joy, love, and community when we are in nature or doing activism. We also wanted to center our action on voices that aren’t usually heard in the fight for climate justice, and actively invite people on the frontlines, and although this goal did not ultimately come to fruition, it was part of our initial reason for this action. We ultimately chose to host a poetry climate vigil because it would draw people’s attention in a unique way.
Art and poetry are essential parts of organizing movements, especially the climate movements, because these forms of expression are centered around emotion. Many of us have unprocessed grief and anger when it comes to climate change, and poetry and art help us channel these feelings. Having a narrative or telling a story with our activism also helps people make more personal connections to the climate crisis. We want people to understand the human and animal toll of the crisis in an emotional way, not just via some statistics on the news.
We were very purposeful with our locations for this action. We decided to start the action in front of a bank, because banks have been integral in funding fossil fuel companies and projects. From the bank, we then went to a Shell gas station. Shell is one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, and we wanted to draw the connections between bank funding and fossil fuel projects with our march. At the Shell gas station, we had a beautiful surprise– a rainbow lit up the rainy, sunny sky behind us. After hearing a few poems at the gas station, we walked up the street, chanting, and arrived in front of a cathedral.
In the little square by the steps of the cathedral, twenty or so climate activists sat down together, and began to write haikus. Evan, one of the other organizers, and Lauren, ran a little workshop on this particular form of poem. As Evan pointed out, haikus are especially relevant to the climate movement because they often describe seasons or the moments in the natural world. As the climate changes, haikus change. For fifteen minutes, we played music on our speakers and quietly wrote and reflected. I was amazed that at the end almost everyone was willing to get up to the microphone and share their haikus!
We ended our action by carrying home-made lanterns, printed with endangered species and tanks of oil, as we sang our way back down the street to the square we started from. The action had been regenerative, community-built, and definitely non-traditional. We left feeling like we had started something– something new– and we are excited to continue working to expand our creativity and collaboration into new kinds of actions, channeling our love for the planet and grief for the crisis we are facing into actions that are beautiful, angry, and healing all at once.
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