footsteps toward our future

August 1, 2013

Alex and Grant confer about music

At right, Lillian Marotta, Alex Hunter-Nickels and Grant Serrels confer about music before heading to the trail.

What a walk we had.

Last week, we walked for our children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren and siblings, nieces and nephews, friends and strangers. The oldest walker was 78, the youngest, 11 (grandfather Mahan Siler and his granddaughter Leigh). We walked for a future free of enslavement by fossil fuels that have provided an abundant lifestyle for some but at escalating cost to humans and other species, to plants, water and air and future generations.

About 25 people walked 100 miles, from Camp David to the White House, while about 50 others, including me and several others from the Climate Change Initiative of Howard County, joined at Harpers Ferry, where John Brown tried to start a rebellion against slavery several years before the Civil War. Along the way, other walkers joined for a day or two. Over the days, we walked on the C&O trail, once part of the Underground Railroad. As organizer Steve Norris said on that first night in Harpers Ferry, we felt the spirit of Harriet Tubman and the movement to break the bonds of slavery, just as we are trying to break the bonds of fossil fuels. Slavery and fossil fuels, both cheap energy sources for those with power. One immoral on its face, the other increasingly so.

Laura Narayani offers to carry daypacks on the bike.

Laura Narayani offers to carry daypacks on the bike.

The Walk for Our Grandchildren expanded my world. I became part of a community of walkers who had given a great deal of thought to where we’ve been, where we’re heading and where we ought to be going. For a week, we shared stories and photos, meals and snacks, sunblock and ibuprofen, bandages and a lack of showers. We headed for Noah’s medic tent in the late afternoon to soak blistering feet. We headed for the medic tent in the early morning for a new layer of moleskin, gauze and duct tape so we could walk another day. Grumble, the aptly named cook with Seeds of Peace, organized meals of steel cut oats, scrumptious hash browns, blueberry pancakes, rice and lentils, fresh fruit, hummus and much more. Those who crossed the ferry into Leesburg Tuesday evening for a small detour to a protest organized by a new 350.org chapter enjoyed a potluck banquet prepared by members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudon County. A few from the Leesburg group, at the request of a Leesburg councilwoman, stayed into the evening to testify at a town meeting and possibly helped stop a new highway of fossil-fueled vehicles. The first day back home was jarring. As Laura Narayani emailed: “I just can’t figure out why I’m sleeping inside and why no one is cooking for me now : )”

The Walk for Our Grandchildren also contracted my world. My days were measured in steps, in relative slow motion compared with the world I’d left behind. We were quiet by 10 p.m. and started rising with the sun. We saw the moon rise in Leesburg. We walked with butterflies and by turtles, fish, snakes, herons, deer. We were invited inside the Harpers Ferry youth hostel to take shelter from a violent thunderstorm. Each day, the trail was different. Sometimes the canal was filled with algae, or the trail was covered with sycamore bark. We stopped at a lock house, where perhaps 150 years ago a family had lived in its four rooms without electricity. That family had walked 50 feet up a hill to get water from a spring. We, too, often had to walk that far or more to the water pump near our campsite. Water became precious.

When we all lived at a human scale, before industrialization, the atmosphere contained 280 ppm of CO2. By using fossil fuels, we have accomplished engineering, medical and technological feats. But we also have managed to do something no other species has done: We have changed the atmosphere. At 400 ppm, a level never before seen by humans, we are melting glaciers, acidifying the oceans, worsening droughts, fueling storms, driving wildfires, wiping out species. If everyone on the planet consumed resources at the rate we do in this country, we would need eight Earths.

And so, for a week, we lived on a human scale, nomads wandering toward a new civilization that we hope will be untethered from fossil fuels. And we pledged, by whatever peaceful means necessary, to reinvent a more just, more human-scaled future.

Here’s Steve’s message on a banner directed to President Obama: When in the course of human events it becomes self evident that the greed and avarice of the 1% are a serious threat to the lives and well-being of the 99% as well as the animals and vegetation we share this planet with, it behooves courageous leaders to make difficult and courageous decisions. STOP KXL!

I thought the teens and 20-somethings on the walk would resent us old-timers for having bequeathed this mess. Instead of looking back and laying blame, though, they are looking forward, feeling the urgency. “We must be the ones to act. It can’t be, ‘Someone will figure it out.’ That someone must be us,” said Jerry Stewart of Aldie, VA, who walked for his days’ old nephew.  Jerry walked from Camp David, as did Lillian Marotta who endured horrendous blisters to try to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and the suffering of poor communities hit hardest by climate change. Wild-haired (ok, most of us had wild hair) troubadour-philosopher Alex Hunter-Nickels, who woke us most mornings with his singing and ukulele and said he was as old as the cosmos (or 18),  is working for “dignity of all life forms, including the banker, the senators and the blade of grass.” He says “Wow” a lot, not as trite rejoinder, but in genuine awe of the present. He’s weary of hate and evil and picking enemies. “If you recognize [our] interdependence with plants and animals, then you can’t cut down the trees without recognizing their dignity and live a lifestyle of complete disregard of all life forms.”

Benjamin Bushwick, who walked from Harpers Ferry, sometimes barefoot, spoke eloquently, passionately and with no notes at a rally in Leesburg and a civil disobedience action Friday in DC at Environmental Resources Management, the firm that assured the State Department that the Keystone XL pipeline would be just fine for the environment – after lying about its ties to pipeline builder TransCanada. Here’s Benjamin: “If we continue business as usual, if we continue burning fossil fuels, we are heading down the road to atmospheric hell on earth incompatible with human life as we know it…. I’m marching because I matter. I’m marching because my future matters. My future matters more than politics. My future matters more than frivolous executive salaries. It matters more than the economic well-being of shareholders. And most importantly, it matters more than a primitive addiction to an outdated source of energy. We have all the technology to make this transition.”  He doesn’t expect the “muckety-mucks” with titles to have a change of heart: “This struggle is really about taking control back into our own hands … taking power back into the youth.”

ERM's the worst around; leave the tar sands in the ground,

At the rally outside Environmental Resources Management: “ERM’s the worst around; leave the tar sands in the ground.”

Jerry, Lillian and Alex were among the 54 arrested at the civil disobedience action Friday when they refused to leave the ERM offices. They were among six who hooked themselves together there in a contraption that looked a little like a mini-tar-sands pipeline, and the police had to cut them out. Never before have I been part of such a powerful and targeted action. Inside, but also outside the building, we seemed to move as one, like a school of fish. I asked Jerry: Who was making decisions inside the building? “We all were,” he said. Lillian said she couldn’t stop smiling for her mug shot. By the third try, officials wanting a serious look gave up and went with the mug with the small smirk. Those jailed reported singing and chanting, inside the ERM building and in their cells.

Come on people

Can’t you see?

We don’t got

No planet B. 

And …

 Giving advice is not so cool

When you’re in bed with fossil fuel 

And the jailed men sang … in a round:

Dear friends, dear friends

Let me tell you how I feel

You have given me such treasures

I love you so.

On the last morning, there was silence — because Alex had broken all but one string on his ukulele in the excitement of the civil disobedience action the previous day. We woke in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, where we had slept on the sanctuary floor, like refugees from an overheated planet. But then Alex started playing the church piano. And we all packed up one last time and headed in a grand march to the White House for speeches and a reading of the Declaration of Independence From Fossil Fuels. Garrett and Grant Serrels, 17-year-old twins who walked from Camp David and are from iMatter: Kids vs Global Warming, brought the scroll with the Declaration and 40,000 signatures to the rally. They are part of iMatter’s lawsuit, now on appeal, against the federal government for failing to protect the atmosphere as a public trust. “I fear for my future,” Garrett said. “Climate change has a human face.”

At the end of the rally, the adults encircled the youth, and Mahan Siler had us look at each other, to feel how much we need each other, youth, adults and elders.  And we pledged: “We … declare that we as a community… ought to be free and independent from lifestyles and forms of energy that cause global climate change.”

Before parting ways, we met one more time in the shade of trees near the White House, held hands and sang, in a round: 

Dear friends, dear friends

Let me tell you how I feel

You have given me such treasures

I love you so.

—     elisabeth hoffman

The iMatter teens...anything less than getting us to 350 ppm is not enough.

The iMatter youth at the final rally in DC: Anything less than getting us to 350 ppm is not enough.

Those under 20 are in the center of a circle of adults who pledge to do all we can to leave a liveable planet. (3)

At the final rally in DC, those under 20 are in the center of a circle of adults who pledge to do all we can to leave a livable planet.

Rileys Lock, Wednesday night. (2)

Walkers talk after dinner at Rileys Lock Wednesday night.

Liz Feighner, Elisabeth Hoffman and Lore Rosenthal about to start another day of walking.

I and CCIHCers Liz Feighner and Lore Rosenthal are about to start another day of walking.

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3 Responses to “footsteps toward our future”

  1. Greg Yost said

    Outstanding account. Thank you, Elisabeth!

  2. Sandra Lubarsky said

    How well you capture this amazing week and the importance of these “human-scale” efforts in the wider narrative of our time! Thank you!

  3. Rebecca Ruggles said

    It is is very moving to hear the inter-generational pledges especially. Thank you for your account, Elisabeth.

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