What are we even fighting for?
At exactly 2pm on April 29th, 2017, thousands of people sat down on the street surrounding the White House. As part of this planned moment during the Peoples Climate March, the marshals guided us all in a few successive actions: everyone in the crowd sat silently, clapping their hands together in unison. Then, we all beat a rhythm on ours chests that mimicked a heartbeat, and finally, on the marshals’ queue, we let out a collective yell, a release of energy that both mourned and celebrated all that we were marching for.
It was a gorgeous moment, and one I’m so lucky to have been able to participate in. It was pretty much perfect… except for one thing. Between the two parts of this action, someone in the crowd around me decided to start chanting “Save the EPA.” The crowd quickly picked up the chant, and it took over the street for a good minute or two, before the marshals moved us on to the next part of the plan. And, in a day of beautiful resistance and solidarity and community-building, that one chant managed to leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Of course, I do wish we had an actual real, functioning Environmental Protection Agency. Of course, I wish that the current agency (along with the rest of our government) wasn’t full of climate deniers and fossil fuel executives. Of course, I wish that the Environmental Justice department hadn’t been completely decimated at the beginning of this new administration. I want us, as a country, to wake up to the need for strong environmental regulation, and to hold our big businesses accountable for destroying the natural system on which we all depend.
But “saving the EPA” is distinctly, not at all, not even a little bit what I’m fighting for.
On the day of that march, and in the art-making and organizing spaces I was in during the previous few days, I saw some of the most authentic better-world building I’ve ever seen. I met people who, despite having been failed by our government and society for a long, long time, somehow still have the energy and the willpower and the love to keep on fighting for our collective survival. During the four short days I was in Washington DC, I both felt the climate crisis deeply within my bones, and felt the solution — the true and full-bodied transformation of our relationship with the natural world and with each other — to be possible, maybe even inevitable.
And in that world that I’m fighting to realize, that the people I met before and during the march are dedicating their whole lives to building, saving the EPA couldn’t be more irrelevant. In the world I see dimly beyond the horizon line, we are, as a people, transformed — government agencies aren’t necessary to keep capitalist enterprises from realizing that we’re all in this together, and that natural systems cannot sustain the abuse we’ve been giving them, if we’re to survive another generation.
I’m quite young, and as anyone reading this has probably already guessed, pretty idealistic. Yes, I would take a renewed and robust EPA over the current state of things, and I don’t actually expect to see this transformed world within my lifetime.
But come on, how can we not fight for it?
If our vision has become so limited that we can only imagine keeping the evils we see around us in check, and not transforming them, then how can we be surprised when instead, those evils flourish? If we don’t believe, full-heartedly, that this new world is possible, how could we possibly expect those who are less sure to get on our side?
I’m twenty-two, and relatively new to many of the ideas and convictions I now hold very deeply. I do know the history of the EPA, and how hard and long a previous generation fought for it to be instated in the first place — and I’m deeply grateful for that work. I’m also aware that life probably has a few (many) more reality checks in store for me, and that I may read this in a few years and laugh at my own naiveté. But I’ve also feel the strength of those convictions absolutely emanating from those who have been in this fight longer — much, much longer — than I can even conceive of, and it’s those people, and not my academic education on environmental justice issues, that has made me believe in all of this as strongly as I do now.
And so I can’t help but think that we must, must be strong in our convictions, and big in our visions. We must keep envisioning, keep building, this new world we all want, or else I’ve got to think we’re doomed to repeat the same old patterns, and fall into the same old paradigms that make us think that we can’t ask for too much, too fast, or else we’ll be dismissed for our idealism.
Because, if we’re not any of those thing, I must ask — what are we even fighting for?