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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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Dearest friends,

We live in momentous times. Hard times, beautiful times, complex and important times. This summer the local, national and international news became so bleak that tens of thousands of people took to pouring buckets of ice water over their heads. Okay, actually, this was done as the Ice Bucket Challenge, ostensibly to raise awareness about ALS, and to fundraise for medical research. I personally believe that it was wildly successful, because people needed something, anything, even a small, but direct, and shockingly cold thing to do in the midst of spiraling chaos. It was almost as if it was a large scale social baptism into a culture of caring, if even symbolically, and only for a minute. Who knows really, but I suspect that if we were not inundated with horror stories from Gaza and the Ukraine, Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, and Ferguson, MO; if Robin Williams was still alive, congress functioned, jobs were available, and there was no catastrophic drought and flooding in our country, the ice-bucket challenge would not have gone viral. For people not accustomed to doing activist work – it apparently was compelling enough to participate in. For those of us engaged in the long haul of organizing work, I have to admit, it was a little bewildering, even somewhat frustrating, even though I don’t know anyone who would begrudge funding towards ALS research.

If we learned anything from the unexpected success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, it is that many more people are willing to go outside of their comfort zone, at least for a moment, for a good cause. Tens of thousands of people participated. It seemed to address a hunger for an opportunity to contribute towards the well-being of one another, but only when there were virtually no consequences of doing the action other than getting soaked. This is challenging, because with climate change, and all the many crises of our time, there is a lot of need for transformation, and nearly all of it comes with costs, some more severe than others.

            In my neck of the woods, the big discussion these days is about the upcoming People’s Climate March. In case you have yet to hear, this Sunday, September 20th, over 200,000 people are coming together in New York City for the People’s Climate March, in a show of solidarity and strength, demanding that world leader’s take climate change seriously, and ratify agreements at an upcoming UN Summit on Climate Change! Many people from Appalachia will be marching in the People’s Climate March, and some are even testifying in front of the UN. Organizers from throughout the spectrum of movement work have put months of effort into this march, and as I write, people are traveling to New York from all across the country!

The hope is that this will be a big turning moment in the greater Climate Justice movement. Momentum has been growing, and the outreach effort extraordinary. It is exciting to see so many new people engaging in issues around Climate Justice, and the coalition is large and diverse.  I will not be in New York this weekend, but my hope for all of the people marching, and all of us connected to movements big and small toward collective liberation, is that the momentum will continue to grow, with a focus on strengthening community resiliency and deepening our roots of community organizing.

My fear, is that the awesome momentum from such a march will be contained in the action of the march itself. Does that make sense? I am concerned that the act of taking all the time and resources to gather in New York City to demand climate justice from the UN, will be the act itself. And I will be the first to tell you, that it is just a beginning – well more of a continuation, of a large global effort for change. For the People’s Climate March to be effective, it must energize local action toward community resiliency in the face of climate change across our country. Even when the UN ratifies all sorts of agreements to curb emissions and curtail climate change, it is only a beginning - we have a long road ahead for deep transformation, and to stay focused, we all need to stay in relation with one another.

We can use large moments like the People’s Climate March to garner strength, resolve, and inspiration. Next week, we must steel away the memories and use it for staying power when local work becomes tough – when we all return to the habitual internal tensions, inter-personal conflicts that seem entrenched, where at times the path through racism, homophobia, and oppression toward a collective liberation seems impossible. If eighteen years of movement work has taught me anything, it is that this is our only way through. The actual marching part of this mobilization is like the bucket of ice water in the Ice Bucket Challenge – noble, fun, exciting, and potentially, very transformative, if only we can hold the gaze after the moment, and bring the work back home again.

And of course, I believe that we can. Every act of courage and resistance can be a catalyst for deeper connections. I feel moved to write this letter today because I know that while there is much anticipation for this upcoming march, there has also been a lot of heartbreak. Much needed financial resources have left local organizing efforts to go into this largely symbolic one. Lots of time and energy of organizers who work in local communities has been diverted to this effort. It will be worth it if seasoned activists come back home with renewed energy, and troves of new people engage in local organizing.

            We live at a vibrant time – still on the precipice of possibility, but with realtime consequences if we do not act on climate change and collective liberation in tangible ways. What a challenge! Do you accept it? Are you willing to act, or keep up the work? The stakes for our survival are high. We just have to be willing to stay focused in the midst of mounting pressure, and use whatever we have, our breath, our songs, our stories, to stay connected, open, and committed.

            May all of you marching this weekend be filled with inspiration, and walk tall in dignity while representing all of us. Much love to all of you. I missed yall in my long absence from writing these letters,