Remarks at North Carolina Peace Action Event in Raleigh, N.C., August 23, 2014.
Thank you for inviting me, and thank you to North Carolina Peace Action, and to John Heuer whom I consider a tireless selfless and inspired peacemaker himself. Can we thank John?
It's an honor for me to have a role in honoring the 2014 Student Peacemaker, iMatter Youth North Carolina. I've followed what iMatter has been doing around the country for years, I've sat in on a court case they brought in Washington, D.C., I've shared a stage with them at a public event, I've organized an online petition with them at RootsAction.org, I've written about them and watched them inspire writers like Jeremy Brecher whom I recommend reading. Here is an organization acting in the interests of all future generations of all species and being led -- and led well -- by human kids. Can we give them some applause?
But, perhaps revealing the short-sightedness and self-centeredness of myself as a member of a species that didn't evolve to manage a whole planet, I'm especially happy to be recognizing iMatter Youth North Carolina because my own niece Hallie Turner and my nephew Travis Turner are part of it. They deserve LOTS of applause.
And the full iMatter planning team, I'm told, is represented tonight as well by Zack Kingery, Nora White, and Ari Nicholson. They should have even more applause.
I take complete credit for Hallie and Travis's work, because although I didn't really teach them anything, I did, before they were born, tell my sister she should go to our high school reunion, at which she met the man who became my brother in law. Without that, no Hallie and no Travis.
However, it was my parents -- who I suppose by the same logic (although in this case I of course reject it) get complete credit for anything I do -- it was they who took Hallie to her first rally, at the White House protesting a tar sands pipeline. I'm told that Hallie didn't know what it was all about at first or why the good people were being arrested, instead of the people committing the offenses against our loved ones and our earth being arrested. But by the end of the rally Hallie was right in the thick of it, wouldn't leave until the last person had gone off to jail for justice, and she pronounced the occasion the most important day of her life thus far, or words to that effect.
Perhaps, as it turns out, that was an important day, not just for Hallie but also for iMatter Youth North Carolina, and, who knows, just maybe -- like the day Gandhi was thrown off a train, or the day Bayard Rustin talked Martin Luther King Jr. into giving up his guns, or the day a teacher assigned Thomas Clarkson to write an essay on whether slavery was acceptable -- it will eventually turn out to have been an important day for more of us.
I'm a bit ashamed of two things though, despite all my pride.
One is that we adults leave kids to discover moral action and serious political engagement by accident rather than teaching it to them systematically and universally, as if we don't really think they want meaningful lives, as if we imagine comfortable lives is the complete human ideal. We are asking kids to lead the way on the environment, because we -- I'm speaking collectively of everyone over 30, the people Bob Dylan said not to trust until he was over 30 -- we are not doing it, and the kids are taking us to court, and our government is allowing its fellow leading destroyers of the environment to become voluntary co-defendants (can you imagine volunteering to be sued along with someone else who's facing a law suit? No, wait, sue me too!), and the voluntary co-defendants, including the National Association of Manufacturers, are providing teams of lawyers that probably cost more than the schools Hallie and Travis attend, and the courts are ruling that it is an individual right of non-human entities called corporations to destroy the inhabitability of the planet for everyone, despite the evident logic that says the corporations will cease to exist as well.
Should our kids do as we say or as we do? Neither! They should run in the opposite direction from anything we've touched. There are exceptions, of course. Some of us try a little. But it is an uphill effort to undo the cultural indoctrination that has us saying phrases like "throw this away" as if there really were an away, or labeling the destruction of a forest "economic growth," or worrying about so-called peak oil and how we'll live when the oil runs out, even though we've already found five times what we can safely burn and still be able to live on this beautiful rock.
But kids are different. The need to protect the earth and use clean energy even if it means a few inconveniences or even some serious personal risk, is no more unusual or strange to a kid than half the other stuff they are presented with for the first time, like algebra, or swim meets, or uncles. They haven't spent as many years being told that renewable energy doesn't work. They haven't developed the fine-tuned sense of patriotism that allows us to keep believing renewable energy cannot work even as we hear about it working in other countries. (That's German physics!)
Our young leaders have fewer years of indoctrination into what Martin Luther King Jr. called extreme materialism, militarism, and racism. Adults block the way in the courts, so kids take to the streets, they organize and agitate and educate. And so they must, but they are up against an educational system and an employment system and an entertainment system that often tells them they are powerless, that serious change is impossible, and that the most important thing you can do is vote.
Now, adults telling each other that the most important thing they can do is vote is bad enough, but saying that to kids who aren't old enough to vote is like telling them to do nothing. We need a few percent of our population doing the opposite of nothing, living and breathing dedicated activism. We need creative nonviolent resistance, re-education, redirection of our resources, boycotts, divestments, the creation of sustainable practices as models for others, and the impeding of an established order that is politely and smilingly steering us over a cliff. Rallies organized by iMatter Youth North Carolina look like moves in the right direction to me. So, let's thank them again.
The second thing I'm a little ashamed of is that it is not at all uncommon for a peace organization to arrive at an environmental activist when choosing someone to honor, whereas I have never once heard of the reverse. Hallie and Travis have an uncle who works largely on peace, but they live in a culture where the activism that receives funding and attention and mainstream acceptance, to the limited extent that any does and of course trailing far behind 5Ks against breast cancer and the sort of activism that lacks real opponents, is activism for the environment. But I think there's a problem with what I've just done and what we usually tend to do, that is, with categorizing people as peace activists or environmental activists or clean elections activists or media reform activists or anti-racism activists. As we came to realize a few years back, we all add up to 99% of the population, but those who are really active are divided, in reality as well as in people's perceptions.
Peace and environmentalism should, I think, be combined into the single word peacenvironmentalism, because neither movement is likely to succeed without the other. iMatter wants to live as if our future matters. You can't do that with militarism, with the resources it takes, with the destruction it causes, with the risk that grows greater with each passing day that nuclear weapons will be intentionally or accidentally detonated. If you could really figure out how to nuke another nation while shooting its missiles out of the sky, which of course nobody has figured out, the impact on the atmosphere and climate would severely impact your own nation as well. But that's a fantasy. In a real world scenario, a nuclear weapon is launched on purpose or by mistake, and many more are quickly launched in every direction. This has in fact nearly happened numerous times, and the fact that we pay almost no attention to it anymore makes it more rather than less likely. I imagine you know what happened 50 miles southeast of here on January 24, 1961? That's right, the U.S. military accidentally dropped two nuclear bombs and got very lucky they didn't explode. Nothing to worry about, says comedy news anchor John Oliver, that's why we have TWO Carolinas.