Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What to Read on the Day that the Vote on a Pipeline is Scheduled

I know that today may be a difficult day for my political friends, depending on which way the vote on the Keystone XL pipeline goes.  Oddly enough, I've been reading Bill McKibben's latest book, Oil and Honey, which dovetails nicely with the political events of the week--but it's odd, because I started it long before the vote was scheduled.

It's also odd, because I have that sense of time warping--the book covers the beginning of the protest against the pipeline back in 2011, and here we are, years later, still waiting to see how it all turns out.

Regardless of how the vote goes, it's important to remember that the vote has been delayed because of the actions of this band of protestors.  And President Obama may prevent the construction of the pipeline, if the Senate and the House give approval--and that would not have been the case without this protest movement.

The movement was helped by the larger institutionalized protest groups--but the bulk of the movement was comprised of ordinary folks.  McKibben, himself, is a fairly ordinary guy:  a teacher and a writer at midlife.  He shows the way that a movement can be built:  he knows these people who know these people and eventually, they get the attention of the White House.

The book also tells the story of one of the more successful beekeepers in the U.S.  It explores the ways that people can combine resources:  McKibben has a bit of money to buy some land, but no time to care for it the way he would like.  The beekeeper has vast knowledge, but no money to buy land.  They combine forces to find that interesting twists and turns happen.

It's a book about the land and all the ways we might save it.  It's a book about ordinary citizens and the power that they have.  It's a good reminder in these political times.

And regardless of how the vote goes, McKibben continuously reminds us (and I'm only halfway through the book) that the environmental struggle is never truly won.  I would say that the flip side is that the battle is never truly lost either.  I've written this before, but it bears repeating:  when I was a child, you couldn't swim in many of the country's rivers--and they sometimes caught fire. Now you can swim in most of them without too much fear. When I was a child, in major metropolitan areas, you could see the air you were breathing. Now, you can't, at least in Europe and the U.S.

I'm also thinking of the death of Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues:  what an amazing life (more details here).  I think of this book as one of the classics, so I was startled to realize that it wasn't published until 1993.  I had been thinking it was one of those 70's books, like Rubyfruit Jungle.

Let us take a minute to think about how much has changed in the world since 1993.  For one thing, we can use a word like transgendered, and many of us have an understanding of what that means.  And that book, the remarkable work of one amazing writer, helped bring about that change.

I think that many of us are guilty of one of the deadliest sins, the sin of despair, of being unable to imagine that change can happen.  We think that our work doesn't matter.  We think that it's much too late.

McKibben has documented in numerous places that we have indeed changed the planet, and it likely won't change back.  But while life on this planet will be harder in some ways, in others, it's easier now, at least in parts of the world, as this article reminds us.  Many of us have more freedom to be our authentic selves.

It's good to have these books and these humans as examples of why it's important not to waste that freedom.

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