I was glad to see that the organizers of the Women’s March have issued a position paper. It’s good to have a better sense of the energy bubbling up within and around this event. If the bus parking applications are any indication, this is going to be big. It’s fair to assume that people are coming for many, many personal reasons. The position paper helps us to recognize a shared purpose. And from there, who knows what’s possible?
So it was with a growing feeling of unease that I read down the four PDF pages, point by point, wondering when—and then if—the environment would get a mention. Here we have gender justice, freedom from violence against our bodies, an end to—and accountability for—police brutality, and the end of racial profiling. Here we have dismantling gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system, Reproductive Freedom, Gender Justice, LGBTQIA rights, and a fair, secure, equitable economy. Here we have equal pay for equal work, the dignity and fair treatment of care workers, the right to organize, the living wage, Civil Rights as birthright, passing the ERA, and immigrant and refugee dignity and rights.
Finally, the last point at the end of page 4, is this:
“We believe that every person and every community in our nation has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. We believe that our environment and our climate must be protected, and that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for corporate gain or greed—especially at the risk of public safety and health.” ~ Women’s March Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles, January 2017, pg. 4
I am so appreciative that more and more folks have been finding the relative safety of community and friends, so that they can come out about their gender identity or their sexuality and find acceptance. The ability to more fully lead one’s life, in openness and honesty, is a priceless gift. In that spirit, I want to come out here as a tree hugger. I not only have hugged trees, I have conversed with them. And had similar communion with a mountain stream and a field of pollinators. And others of my brothers and sisters and cousins: moss, stone, hawk, heron, fox, and fungus.
In the late 1990s, I read a lot of Ecofeminism. I was attracted to thinkers like Vandana Shiva, Irene Diamond, Carolyn Merchant, and Susan Griffin, who argued that the way we treat women’s bodies is a subset of the way we treat the larger body of the earth. That women are subjugated, exploited, dehumanized, and raped stems from the same mindset that also subjugates, exploits, and rapes the earth. How, then, knowing this, can we still be writing things like “every community in our nation has the right to . . . enjoyment of our public lands”? Even when we know that those very lands were stolen during the genocide of the people who occupied that land when White Europeans came along?
I want to say to the organizers of this march, the authors of this position paper, that until more of us awaken to our interdependence—our kinship—with the living world, we will continue to dominate, exploit, rank in hierarchies, and perpetrate injustices. Even as they are perpetrated against us.
It may be helpful to turn to another statement of principles, the Dark Mountain Manifesto from 2009:
“We believe that the roots of these crises [social, economic, and ecological unraveling] lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilization: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature.’ These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.”
It’s interesting to note that indigenous people, for whom the understanding of their place within the web of life is ingrained, have no separate word for “nature.” And the insidious thing is that the myth of our separation from nature is so embedded in the DNA of our culture, we can’t even see it. This separation perpetuates gender injustice, violence against our bodies, brutality, hierarchies of race and privilege, control over reproduction, an unfair economy, unequal pay, the devaluing of care, and on and on.
The Story of Separation, as it’s been called, extends into all our relationships. Though it begins with our separation from what we call “nature,” it includes the separation of body from mind, male from female, and reason from intuition, among other divisions. Once these formerly integrated wholes are wrenched apart, the instinct is then to rank. And so, the knowing of the mind is believed to be more important than the knowing of the body. Men feel justified in their domination of women, and intuition is demoted beneath reason. Independence is elevated over dependence, altogether omitting the true reality of life on this planet, which is interdependence.
Words matter. As well intentioned as it is, the wording of Point 16 matters. The denial and disregard of our interdependence makes possible a phrase like, “our land and natural resources cannot be exploited.” It’s not our land, and the living world is not a storehouse of “resources” waiting around for us to use them.
“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” –Massasoit
“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” ~ Ancient Indian Proverb
When we say, “the environment and our climate must be protected”—presumably by humans for the use of other humans—we miss out on the rich possibilities afforded by a perspective of kinship. What if the whales, arguably the most intelligent mammals on the planet, have something to tell us? To teach us? What if the elephants want to be the wise elders we so desperately need, as we have gone so horribly astray? What if they are in a better position to save us?
In the same way that the marginalization and exploitation of women have deprived human culture of so much beauty, gentleness, brilliance, and creativity, our very dismissal of kinship with the larger community of Life deprives us of unimaginable richness, meaning, compassion, acceptance, and belonging.
Until this interdependence is acknowledged, our complicity in ecological devastation will remain unexamined. Because all of life is interconnected, every time I flip a light switch, I am condoning both the ecocide of mountaintop removal coal mining and the worker exploitation of black lung disease. Every time I turn on my heat, I am contributing to the ruination of water and air from fracking—outcomes that affect both the exploited rural people whose farms are on the front lines and the fish, birds, deer, and others who live in those places.
This knowledge can easily lead to despair, because the system feels much like an intractable cancer grown out of control, and a trap from which there is no escape. And yet, we will march, because we have faith that positive action creates ripples. I urge all women, all humans, to march with the awareness of the Story of Separation, and of the dangers inherent in elevating humans to a pinnacle of life where we do not belong.
And so, on the 21st, I will march in support of gender equity, freedom from violence and exploitation, and valuing caregivers of all sorts. I will also march in recognition of interdependence, in celebration of the miracle of Life and the sustenance and nurture that the living world provides every second of every day—for free and with no expectations or demands.
Time was—and still is, in some communities—that people performed ceremonies and rituals that acknowledged our interdependence with Life, expressed our profound gratitude for this miracle of connection and nourishment, and pledged to play our role with humility and beauty, as one tiny part of the web of life. One of our most important roles at this time is to speak up.
When I march on the 21st, I will bring my whole Self—all my questions, fears, insights, vision, hope, dreams, and love. I will listen to the speeches (if I can hear them), I will marvel at the diversity of the assembled throngs, and I will lift my voice with them. I will carry my photo banner of the earth from space. Our only Home. And I will greet and thank every tree, every shrub, cloud, bird, whiff of breeze, and the sun who brings the warmth and life that drives this whole miracle.
I will continue the still awkward practice of substituting better pronouns than “it,” when referring to my nonhuman brothers and sisters. As suggested by the great teacher and writer, Robin Wall Kimmerer, the pronoun “ki” is a beautiful recognition of kinship. This kinship is not metaphor. It is literal. If we set aside our schemes and plans, our policies and positions, for just a moment and really let this sink in, what might we feel? And what might we be capable of?
I’ve been a woman all my life. I’ve known the humiliation of disregard, the struggles to be recognized and treated with respect, the anger and frustration and pain of marginalization, and the dangers of having a female body. I’ve also known the magic of intuitive understanding, the strength of heart connection, the leaps of insight and innovation that are only possible through creative engagement with the world. As we rise up and share our voices, let us women include the ultimate marginalized community of Life.