To be honest, the past few months have been really hard. In 2021, I tied my well-being to the passage of the Build Back Better Act, which led to a long series of heartbreaks. First the bill was supposed to pass by Fourth of July, then by August, then by the end of September, then October, then by the end of the year. Each time a deadline approached I got all full of butterflies, thinking, “In the next few weeks we are going to pass the bill that will cut our emissions in half and pull millions out of poverty.” Then, each time the deadline slipped by without passage, I suffered another little heartbreak.
By the end of the year, my heart was more cracks than anything else. On December 19th 2021, when Senator Manchin announced on Fox News that he would not support the Build Back Better Act, it felt like a sledgehammer blow, scattering the broken pieces far and wide. And, so far in 2022, it feels like those 10 thousand pieces of my heart haven’t budged, but have just kept lying there, unable to come back together again.
To be clear, we have not given up. We will all keep struggling to enact this lifesaving legislation – under a different name than Build Back Better – until it passes or a new Congress is sworn in, but for obvious reasons it’s been hard to feel like my heart is in the fight the way it was last year.
I was in this listless state when someone from Arm in Arm For Climate asked if I would come to Birmingham, Alabama. They told me that Arm in Arm is a coalition working to ignite a transformational era that ends the climate crisis through sustained, disruptive humanitarianism centering on racial and economic justice. They were holding a national assembly to build connections, share skills, and grow the power of this burgeoning coalition. I said “yes” and it was the best decision I have made all year.
As I got on the bus leaving Washington DC, I felt uneasy. It has been so long since I had done anything like this, and I found I was a little outside of my comfort zone. I found my social muscles were a little out of practice after two years of a pandemic.
We arrived late on Friday night, and woke up early for a full day of training on Saturday. In back-to-back training sessions we learned how to create art for banner drops, how to de-escalate, how to fundraise, and how to organize, all before noon. By the time we broke for lunch, my head was spinning with new names, new skills, and new ideas.
As we ate, the singular Keya Chatterjee, Executive Director of the United States Climate Action Network, took the mike. She looked around at all of us gathered from across the country and said “When we march, we chant ‘no justice, no peace’ but they keep not giving us justice, and we keep giving them peace. It’s time to change that.” We all cheered and she continued. “Our institutions are failing us. The Senate has not passed the Build Back Better Act, the Supreme Court is on the verge of repealing Roe V Wade and the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses, and President Biden has not declared a climate emergency. The only thing that can turn this ship around is distributed mass actions that force the hands of those in power.”
In that moment, I knew I was bought in. It felt like we had done everything we were supposed to in 2021. We lobbied, we got media published, we brought in effective messengers, we ran models and shared the results, we demonstrated, we made compelling videos, we used every tool in the toolbox. Now, I thought, maybe it is time to do something we aren’t ‘supposed’ to do, to think outside the conventional toolbox.
The rest of the weekend is a blur of joyful and powerful memories. We laughed together, shared slam poetry by a campfire, jumped in freezing water, participated in multiple faith ceremonies, wrote poetry, and marched through the streets of Birmingham.
Through it all, the image that sticks in my mind most is not a memory but vision of this upcoming summer. I can see disruptive humanitarian actions all across the country in July and August, distributed and synchronized, demanding national action, and tied to local campaigns, powerful and peaceful. I can see people in power saying to each other “we have to give them what they want. Ignoring them just isn’t an option anymore.”
From now through the summer, that’s what I’ll be working towards. If you want to work toward this too, you should go to arminarm4climate.org and sign up to get trained. Then take your new skills and renewed sense of purpose back to your own activism – in my case, fighting to save millions of lives with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.