“My job is not helping people to feel that they can be safe, but rather showing and illuminating people where the paths for activism lie”
No 728 Posted by fw, April 23, 2013
“…sometimes you need to feel unsafe to feel vulnerable to say, ‘I’m not going to build a beautifully-appointed, toxic-free bubble for my family, because sooner or later my children have to grow up anyway and enter the world…’ I want to be one… of the people who stand up and say, ‘This is not right. No matter how difficult this is to change, we’re going to have to change it.’ “—Sandra Steingraber
Sandra Steingraber, biologist, author, cancer survivor, and activist extraordinaire is currently serving a 15-day jail sentence for an act of civil disobedience against a gas fracturing company. In this post, excerpted from the transcript of a 46-minute video interview of Dr Steingraber by Bill Moyers, she talks about what being an activist means to her.
To watch the full 46-minute interview and access the complete transcript, click on the following link.
Sandra Steingraber: The toxic assault on our children, interview by Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company, April 19, 2013
But I do think that what’s required at this moment is heroism. And I’m mindful that when I read books to my children, they love to hear the narrative of heroes.
And heroes that can overcome all kinds of odds when everyone is telling them they can’t possibly win, and they do. And I still believe in that very strongly. I was really moved by a conversation I had and I describe this in the book, with a third grade teacher who taught during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early ’60s. Her class was so terrified that she had to suspend lessons and just talk to them about it.
And at one point in asking her class questions about the situation she realized how all of them fully expected to die. And so she asked, “Well, how many of you believe that there will be nuclear war within your lifetime?” And every single child’s hand went up except for one girl. And so she was wise enough to ask that one girl, “Well, what makes you think that you won’t die?”
And the answer was, “Because my parents are peace activists, they’re going to stop it.” So that made me realize in thinking through the story that my task as a parent is not to come up with the perfect climate change story to tell my children.
It is not to hide the data on my desk when they’re old enough to read it because I’m fearful that it will upset them. Instead, my job is to be a hero. My job is to go out there and stop it, to tell my children, “Look, climate change is a serious problem. It’s a threat to your future. But Mom is on the job.”
That’s why I’m up at 3:30 on the morning, pushing the button on the crock pot, “There’s your dinner, you’re going to have to do your own homework tonight. I’m off to Albany. I’m trying to stop fracking.” This is why. And my kids therefore, fully believe that I’m capable of doing this, right?
BILL MOYERS: But Joseph Campbell told me that the hero’s journey belongs to every man and woman.
SANDRA STEINGRABER: That’s right.
BILL MOYERS: Everyone has to take her own route into the hero’s journey. But every mother can’t be a biologist. Every mother can’t be going to jail to inform her children that she’s out there on duty to make the world better. Can you give me a few practical things that mothers listening to us right now, and fathers I may say, can do to protect their children in this — what you describe as a relatively hostile environment?
SANDRA STEINGRABER: Well, I see my job, Bill, as not helping people to feel that they can be safe, but rather showing and illuminating people where the paths for activism lie. Because this is how I could sort of conceptualize it, I think. Going back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, people who lived through that time could either build a bomb shelter or they could work on disarmament.
But if you work on building a bomb shelter, then you actually create a sense that this is less unthinkable than it should really be. And so sometimes you need to feel unsafe to feel vulnerable to say, “I’m not going to build a beautifully-appointed, toxic-free bubble for my family, because sooner or later my children have to grow up anyway and enter the world,” right?
They’re going to need some pollinators, they’re going to need some coral reefs, they need the ice caps frozen so that the climate remains stable. And so it’s my job to address myself to those issues. I can’t tell people what they should do because I don’t know what skill sets they have. But I can say that it is time now to play the save the world symphony.
I don’t know what instrument you hold, but you need to play it as best as you can and find your place in the score. You don’t have to play a solo here. But this is our task now. In the same way that my father at age 18 was shipped off to Italy to fight Hitler’s army, it was his task of his generation to defeat global fascism. And at the time he was sent it looked like an overwhelming job, right?
I mean, it looked – it was supposed to be the thousand-year reign and it looked — didn’t look good for our side. But nevertheless, that was the right thing to do. And my father, even though he suffered his whole life from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder was never prouder of the role that he played.
And so at this point in our history, it is the environmental crisis that is the great moral crisis of our age. And in that, I don’t want to be a good German. I don’t want to be so paralyzed by well-informed futility syndrome that I don’t look around me and see the signs of harm. I want to be one of the French resistance. One of the people who stand up and say, “This is not right. No matter how difficult this is to change, we’re going to have to change it.”