Earth Activist Training
Up at 5am to catch the early train, a lovely meeting in LDN with fellow social reporters, a pint of California's finest ale, a heist of used-book gold from Skoob, including a collection of Gary Snyder's poetry – I'm in an altered state, a golden state. And it's entirely appropriate as I sit down on the train home to write this piece.
I had wanted to do a permaculture course for several years and was determined to do it with Starhawk. Always, it seemed, either the course was already fully booked, or my own schedule wouldn't accommodate. I was ready to acquiesce to the circumstance of a responsible life once again – much too much stuff going on, too many responsibilities – when I read Margaret Atwood's 'After the Flood'. I stayed up all night reading the last 200 pages, or so, and something in it fixed in me the determination to make it happen no matter how irresponsible.
Over the bridge, along the river, then up steep narrowing roads, up into the wild coastal mountains near Cazadero. For the next two weeks our cohort lived up on Black Mountain, practising rituals, singing songs, visualising the carbon cycle, making compost tea, hunting mushrooms, noticing patterns, planting trees and propagating plants, collecting tools, making maps, designing homesteads and refugee camps, exploring ally-ship and coalition building, and learning tactics. Most importantly, we learned how to conjure the power within to speak truth and be strong when called upon to do so.
The two-week course weaves together earth-based spiritual practice, active citizen skills, and permaculture, including 'social permaculture'. There was no way the course description was going to prepare us for what was in store. We all came away changed and charged, ready for the challenges we all had waiting or us.
What is an activist? Is it a label reserved for those engaging in non-violent direct action or campaigning? Is it about developing awareness about complicity, somnambulance – waking up, and in waking up, choosing to act mindfully, to fully embody one's roles in the world as both sentient mammal and citizen? What is an earth activist?
I hadn't fully embraced these questions consciously, but had become sufficiently aware of the state of the world and my role in it to prepare for something more. That's how I went into the course. I came out with clarity.
The circumstances of global warming and climate crises building, of biosphere destruction, of a political economic system responsible for the harm, unjust and inequitable, and, left to its own devices, utterly incapable of setting things right - isn't this the analysis? And if it is, then the set of consequences that ensue is our shared fate. This is historical responsibility thrust upon our generations, from boomers to millenials - not unlike the historical responsibilities thrust upon prior generations, but certainly of much greater scale and complexity. There is no red pill, no blue pill, no hiding behind 'we didn't know', 'just following orders'. We didn't ask for this, we don't want to have to deal with it, but hey, that's life. We either wake up and act on our knowledge in whatever way we can or we are part of the problem.
That's clarity for you, eh?
The E.A.T. experience has stuck with me, prepared me for a great number of challenges in my life over the past four years, including working in the Transition movement. I've drawn upon the experience many times for stamina, strength, clarity, and skills, and will be forever grateful to Starhawk, Charles, Rain, Jay Ma, and Sage, as well as all the wonderful souls who were on the course. Most recently, I've co-designed a 'social permaculture' training aiming to skill up and prepare community groups to take on economic and social change, something I never would have had the confidence to do before.
To find out more about Earth Activist Training, visit their website, earthactivisttraining.org. They do courses all over the US. There is also an Earth Activist Training collective here in the UK, trained up by Starhawk and with close connections. Their website is earthactivisttraining.org.uk.
Images: Starhawk; Lilly, (thanks Emily Fitzgerald!)