Posted by: Deb Henry | 06/10/2010

Idolizing just one person undermines the struggle

My brain is still reeling from the 2010 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, CO at the end of May.  I went on the trip because I needed a vacation — and ended up back in Salt Lake six days later at 2am needing a vacation from the vacation. It was emotionally and physically draining to an extent that I have never felt before. (I would do it again in a heartbeat.)

The Mountainfilm festival describes itself as:

“An assembly of people who have come together to see what the human spirit can achieve. Our festival is a place for understanding how another human being’s struggle is also our own; a place for both asking impossible questions and explaining the previously unexplainable; a place to learn, be inspired and to celebrate indomitable spirit.”

The only thing missing from the description is how not only was I inspired, I was also stripped of my ability to believe that we’re going to make it out of this whole climate change and binge-consumerism alive. Chris Jordan mentioned at one of the talks that he too has trouble being simultaneously inspired to change yet overwhelmed with the enormity of the consequences of our actions. It was his presentation and the tears that shook me while he spoke that helped open me up to the enormity of our world and our role in the future of this world. I wasn’t the only one in tears and felt at home in this community of people having this revelation of the consequences of humanity’s actions.

Chris showed the audience pictures of the stunning Albatross birds (video) who live on Midway island, 2400 miles from any land in the middle of the Pacific — but he showed us photos of them decaying after they had died  consuming our plastic trash found floating in the The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. He talked about how the Albatross only have one egg each mating season and how they feed them soda caps and cigarette lighters that we toss into the garbage (and forget about). He went through how the parents watch their singular offspring suffocate from things that the parents innocently fed them. I think the part that really got to me (and is getting to me now) is:  How many seasons in a row have these birds watched their offspring die? Do they feel emotion as they watch their offspring die?

Copyright Chris Jordan 2009

The group of friends I was with included Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist with the group Peaceful Uprising, currently on trial for bidding on oil and gas leases in southern Utah. (More on the trial from the CityWeekly) Tim spoke several times at the festival and each time was treated almost like a celebrity; a feat seen unattainable by the average citizen. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hearing Tim speak, but the strange part of watching others react to him was that it seems some have forgotten the power they have within themselves.  Tim too seemed a little uncomfortable with his celebrity status.  He has stressed several times his actions were done out of necessity, not to be a hero. Society is doing a bang-up job making us feel helpless when we are not.

Earnest “Rip” Patton sat on a panel with Tim on Monday morning. He was a freedom rider in the deep south during the civil rights movement. He talked about how at the lunch counters there were waves of civil disobedience that filled the jails. A group of police may arrest the 10 people at the counter but as soon as they left, 10 more sat down and then 10 more, and 10 more until the jails were filled. What happens when they jails are filled to the brim with nonviolent protesters? Do you prosecute them and leave the murders out on the street? I think our climate movement could learn a lot by studying the civil rights movement.

Another odd scenario was a discussion about if you need to change the system from within it, or if you can change the system from outside of it. I equate this to the people who work for large corporations or banks. They believe that if they work hard enough for long enough, they will be in charge and eventually the system itself will change. They think that if Walmart is selling organic food, we’ve won.  It’s some of these same executives who individually take no responsibility for the actions of the company but sum together to make up the company. Responsibility is so dispersed within these huge corporations (like BP who has the budget of a nation), that ethical issues perpetuate to where the individual employees are complicit, yet do not feel responsibility. Yet another reason why we need to get rid of corporate person-hood and return to an ethos of small business responsibility.

The entire weekend reminded me of a question our inspiring ex- Governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman Jr. used to ask to the youngest members of our community: What are you going to do to make the world a better place?

– Deb

“One thing that I think the history books, and the media, have gotten very wrong is portraying the movement as Martin Luther King’s movement, when in fact it was a people’s movement. If people understood that it was ordinary people who did everything that needed to be done in the movement, instead of thinking, I wish we had a Martin Luther King now, they would ask, ‘What can I do?’ Idolizing just one person undermines the struggle.”

–  Diane Nash, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee



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