For my granddaughter Madeleine’s fourth birthday, my husband gave her a Sound of Music DVD. She was pleased enough, but when we sat down to watch this family favorite together a conflict arose. Madeleine insisted on Star Wars instead, with us. Since we most definitely did not want to watch Star Wars ourselves, unpleasantness was brewing. So I dusted off my mediator skills — yes, these tools can work even with pre-schoolers — to determine why Madeleine was going to the mat for Star Wars. The answer? Darth Vader, a major league bad guy.
Ah. Easy to solve. We had convinced Madeleine that Sound of Music was a happy, singing, dancing love fest when she is currently much more fascinated with monsters of all stripes. When I explained that Sound of Music actually has some of the worst bad guys in history — real ones, led by the evil monster Hitler — Madeleine was satisfied. She changed into a princess costume, and we settled in for an afternoon of nuns and Nazis.
Madeleine enjoyed herself, but with that set-up, I found Sound of Music to be a very disturbing movie. It was unsettling at the least to watch the characters on screen — based on real people — go merrily about their lovely lives with picnics, puppet shows, and a gala ball despite the fact that their country was about to be devastated. So much suffering was just around the corner, yet no one seemed to know or care, except the Captain. Even he, though, seems completely absorbed in his own life.
The problem is, that’s kind of where we are right now — singing, dancing, falling in love, and having parties while the climate change monster is on our very doorstep, at best. In many places, the ravages of climate change have already barged right through the front hall with never-before-imagined fires, droughts, super storms, and crazy temperatures.
Life where I live often seems normal, but it isn’t — and it isn’t normal where you are, either. We can keep pretending that all is well – but that doesn’t change the fact that the telegraph boy singing to our daughter in the garden is a Nazi, metaphorically speaking. Peril is upon us. Beating back that peril will take a great deal more than the Captain’s defiant yanking down of the Swastika flag hanging from his villa. We have to rise up and take creative, strong, bold, and united action.
Montpelier, Vermont may not be as stunning as Salzburg, Austria where the Sound of Music takes place — but it is heartbreakingly lovely here, especially in the spring when the sun returns, the frogs again begin their loud mating rituals, and the Farmer’s Market comes back outside. Sometimes, it is so hard to remember and appreciate that we are living under such a dire threat. But we are. We are. We are.
Of course the comparison to the Sound of Music can only go so far. How many of us actually make play clothes out of draperies any more? And I by no means wish to imply that all the hard working men and women in the fossil fuels industry are Nazis. We are all complicit in building and maintaining the system.
Here’s the good news, the really really good news: the climate justice movement is huge, a worldwide collaboration — growing not only numbers but also in audacity. Soon, from May 4-15, 2016 you can look for and participate in an unprecedented global wave of mass actions targeting the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects to keep coal, oil, and gas in the ground and accelerate a just transition to 100% renewable energy.
This tremendous resistance is called “Break Free from Fossil Fuels,” led by local and international organizations, grassroots groups, and regional coalitions — all determined to stop fossil fuel projects with more than a dozen major mobilizations on six continents. Excitingly, for my friends and readers in Vermont, one of these actions will be just across the border from us, in Albany, on May 14th. You can get on a bus to head over there for this historic day! All the info you need is here.
Wherever in the world you are, you can look to Break Free’s planned actions as an outstanding illustration of the perseverance and courage of citizen activists all across the planet. Thank god for their willingness to put their bodies on the line! I am deeply grateful, and heartened by the movement’s willingness to escalate resistance to free us all from the unspeakable suffering of climate change.
Equally important, Break Free is working to build a brighter future for all. Certainly there are viable solutions. In fact, in his book The Great Disruption, Paul Gilding says creating this better future should be easier than vanquishing the Nazis, once we’re all on board.
But we’re not all on board. Despite December’s Paris climate agreement, governments remain irresponsibly slow to take real climate action — so we the people have to step it up. Break Free proponents say we are close to an historic, global shift in our energy system. The way we get there is by peaceful direct action that confronts those who are profiting from climate change and takes power back for the people. This will often mean arrest, and creating situations that inconvenience and/or confuse others.
Not too long ago, there was an action in Montpelier which shut down a street and a critical office building in an effort to stop a fracked gas pipeline in my state. I visited some of those camped out in the street, in the rain, offering them companionship and gratitude. Other people dropped by to bring them food. They had plenty of food.
The next night, I was stunned when a woman in my yoga class — a woman who works in the shut down office building — made snide and derogatory remarks about this same group of climate warriors. We were preparing for yoga, a peaceful, respectful time, so I kept my mouth shut. But I wanted to shout, they are trying to save the planet for godsakes! Who cares if you’re inconvenienced at work for a few hours???
So I know not everyone will applaud those taking part in the Break Free actions. But here’s the thing. It is easy now to look back to the time of Sound of Music, and the war that followed, and applaud all the disobedience and resistance against the Nazis any and every citizen mustered. Even, wish there had been more. How much more will that be the case in the future, as our grandchildren’s children reflect back on our actions? Particularly since none of us can climb over a mountain to reach safety? There is no safety. If ever resistance and disobedience were called for, the time is now.
A final note. What does this have to do with happiness? Everything, it has everything to do with happiness. You may have seen the meme floating around the internet proclaiming that “Happiness is an inside job.” Well it is — and it is also an outside job. Just how happy do you think the von Trapps were in exile, as they learned how many of their friends and neighbors back in Salzburg had been killed by the Nazis? As they themselves struggled to build their new life? And what of love and compassion? How happy do you think I feel when I consider the world my beloved Madeleine will grow up to inherit? Oh, yes, and food. Food makes me happy. What if climate change destroys the crops? Etc. Ad nauseum.
I’ll wrap up with one more look at the von Trapps. Their love, music, play, resilience, and courage were all excellent coping qualities in extremely hard times, even if their lack of awareness and action was almost deadly for them. Our challenge is to emulate their strengths as we face the peril of our age. Fine, let’s be playful: I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that spring will come again — besides which you see I have confidence in the climate justice movement! Seriously, I do. May it be so.