Our Power, Inside and Out

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by Leslie on October 11, 2014

The Our Power conference drew hundreds of people from communities on the front lines of the catastrophic dirty energy war against our families and our climate. These incredible people with oil refineries, mountain top removal, incinerators, fracking, and other poisons in their backyards came together to say enough. They told impressive stories of building clean energy in their communities as they continue to fight dirty energy. The joy, the pride, the passion, the wisdom in their visions! lift them up through the waves of grief, anger, and exhaustion from their struggle against the toxic tide.

The most powerful shift at this conference may have been invisible: an inside job. I heard many people speak of how new and wonderful it is to be creating what they want instead of fighting what they don’t want.  Jihan Gearon of the Black Mesa Water Coalition says designing solar facilities is “good for her soul” and that business developer-activism is a brand new world that she doesn’t yet know. Jihan is exactly the kind of savvy local-systems businesswoman the world needs. It was a real eye-opener to see her as just another face on a panel of young women of color. It’s the new face of the climate justice movement, and it is beautiful beyond belief.

Our Power did an inside job on me, moving me even deeper into the front-line love-war zone. It was one of the most profound experiences of community in my life. I don’t live in a front-line community, but I’m on the front-line in my head and in my heart.  My heart ached hearing stories of single mothers working three jobs for income, family, and community, and of whole towns with high rates of cancer and lung disease. I’m angry that factories that cause explosions aren’t fixed, that gardens of food are destroyed by contamination by toxic waste, and on and on. Story after story, decade after decade. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not fair, it’s not right, it’s not f***ing OK.

What’s my place in this struggle? I felt just as at home here as in my small rural town. I felt alive! in the bustle of many flavors of broader society, like being off the sidelines into the game. I don’t want to be the bad guy on the other team. But I’m part of the problem! I’m part of the privileged world with a car, money to spare, a roof over my head and food on my table, and redwood trees and birdsong in my peaceful backyard.

I recognized the familiar old sad song of fear, guilt, and shame ringing in my head. “The others” would feel different from me/resent me/love me for my money. “They” wouldn’t like me/respect me/trust my respect for them.  “It’s not fair” that I can’t enjoy my privileges because I’ve had my own traumas too and deserve rest and safety. I realized that I was back on my inner battlefield of Am I enough? I felt the sharp edges of the broken places within me where I don’t feel loved and loveable.

As I shared my angst (which felt like totally embarrassing whining) with trusted friends, I suddenly blurted out “I’ve suffered enough!” And I finally got it. I heard my own inner cries of enough. It’s time to embrace my life without guilt, to know that I deserve to stand with the front-liners sharing our compassion and our gifts. And I darn well better stand with them, or else I’m the only one responsible for crippling my own power by standing alone.

So what if I just stand side by side? What does it look like to be an ally? I look forward to seeing new paths with new allies.  I humbly ask for patient allies of color to walk with me, to help me discover my blind spots. I invite allies with heart, wisdom and resources to reach out to the Climate Justice Alliance to help build the communities we all want to live in. Let’s all turn the tide together.

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