When I was a child, I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for what I had that other people did not, and wondering about my responsibility for addressing the problems of others and of the planet. During high school, I volunteered at a homeless shelter. I was obsessive about not littering, turning off the lights to save electricity, and recycling. After college, I joined the government service program Americorps to work in a school. I became a vegetarian for environmental reasons. I worked in information technology a couple years after that, then switched careers to education and became a teacher. Primarily, I was focused on myself: what I thought, what I believed, what I did.
But over time, something began to shift. As a teacher, I spent time in communities that looked a lot different than me, than my family and friends, than the places I grew up. And I learned that my thoughts, my beliefs, and my actions were not the central matter, and in fact that my help, my guilt, and my pity were not needed. Helping those less fortunate may seem noble on its face, but it was actually all about me, not about those I was ostensibly trying to help. Instead, what was needed was my accompliceship — my commitment to stand alongside my friends, family members, and colleagues in the struggle for justice. This was a challenging shift for me. The value I imagined that I brought was not my actual value.
This shift, which arguably started in me nearly 20 years ago, is not finished. This shift is really three different changes within me. First, it is a shift from niceness — doing what I perceive others want me to do — to kindness — what I believe is compassionate towards others and myself. Second, it is a shift from kindness toward individuals to justice within a system, reflecting the fact that we make our own choices but are embedded in a web of relationships with other people, other creatures, and with our planet. And third, it is a shift from viewing social justice for people and environmental justice for the planet as two separate fights to seeing them as one interconnected whole. We must join these fights — racial justice, gender justice, environmental justice, planetary justice — together into a single struggle.
Racial, gender, environmental, and planetary justice… they are the same fight. As Martin Luther King informed us, they are the fight against white supremacy, patriarchy, militarism, and out-of-control capitalism. These combined evils seek to strangle us — sapping the life from us as individuals and from the interconnected systems, the life webs, of which we are a part. They undermine our relationships and communities, telling us the lie that we are solely individuals. They undermine our connection to the planet that gives us life, telling us that it is here for our comfort and dominion. They undermine our ability to change, claiming that the way things are now is the way things have to be. And they undermine our joy, pretending again and again that our value, and even our very selfhood, come from what we purchase and consume. At this point in history, the forces of white supremacy and patriarchy are resurgent, justifying their hateful ideologies by blaming people of color who are pulled into Western societies by the capitalist system designed to maximize profit for corporate titans while deflecting responsibility onto those same people of color rather than onto the capitalists who actually pull the strings. This same capitalist system has driven the Earth to a state of crisis through extraction and expulsion, using our planetary home as a resource mine and refuse dump, just as it has used the bodies of people of color, women and, despite its claims, those of white men as well.
The shift I have undergone pushes me to fight white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism in particular ways, distilling the passions of my lifetime into the twin fights for racial and climate justice. Race is the key factor around which hate and systemic discrimination are organized in US society. When you control for all other factors, race is still a core determinant of poverty, education, incarceration, medical issues, and so many other outcomes. And so for me, racial justice is at the center of my personal work. Climate is the interface across which we interact with our planet. As we destroy the global climate by dumping CO2 into our atmosphere, the disruption to our global environment and to humanity as part of that environment will overwhelm every other issue. And so climate justice is at the center of my personal work. Racial and climate justice are my twin focuses. But our collective fight for justice must come in as many forms as there are those of us seeking justice. Some may fight for trans rights. Some may seek justice for children and their caretakers. All of those fights stem from the kindness and compassion we have for individuals, but they are fights to protect the relationships and systems in which we are embedded. These fights are all about seeking justice for living systems.
We are entwining, wound around each other. We are separate beings, yet somehow one. We are interconnected. We are interwoven with one another, person with person, person with non-human animal, animal with plant, plant with soil. We each have our own body, our own mind, perhaps our own soul. We each have our own, and yet they are entwining, wrapping around one another in a continuous process. We belong to and with one another, and so we care for one another and for the collective we form through our mutual relationships. Because we are entwining, our kindness and compassion must not be parochial, but must extend to every human individual, every animal and plant, every ecosystem. Because we are entwining, my fights for racial and climate justice are connected to all other true fights for justice, and my fights cannot be won without those other fights also succeeding.
Human beings, this world, this universe developed and grew in a state of entwining. Our efforts to stave off change and death have led us to embrace ideologies that give us the illusion of power over others and over ourselves — white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism. But this power is just that: an illusion. In reality, by embracing these ideologies we create the very results we are trying to avoid — death for ourselves, death for our societies, and death for our planet. Instead, we must embrace the state of our birth, a state we have never truly left, the state of entwining. And when we embrace this state instead of trying to subvert it, we realize that entwining means the power, beauty, and grace of individuals in relationship. Entwining means living in the fullness of change. Entwining means seeking justice for living systems.
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