Category Archives: arts activism

Now Hear This

Last Friday evening, I was in good company and I don’t just mean the company of other artists at The Box Gallery’s The New American Patriot: Climate Art in the Public Interest, though the work — mostly visual — was often powerful, and my contribution in keeping with the theme.

FreeVector-23So Little Time: A Spoken Word Performance on Climate Crisis in Four Parts is a 15-minute compilation of poetry and prose drawn from several sources and includes one original work.
I had been thinking about doing such a piece for over a year, as my passion for climate and women’s issues began to overlap. Putting the show together was fulfilling in itself in that I drank deeply from a very large spring. I am grateful to the curators for accepting my proposal and to the friends who showed up to hear my performance, and hung in there despite significant acoustic challenges.

As I need hearing aids myself, I know intimately how frustrating it can be to miss what is being said. But those who struggled to hear me are only part of the good company in which I found myself during the performance. It later dawned on me that my voice – and I don’t mean to overstate this relatively minor event given the scale of the issue – was just one more that isn’t being heard because 1. There is too much other noise, 2. Listening well is an endangered skill, and 3. We have trained ourselves to turn a deaf ear to whatever messes with our worldview. And that is a huge part of the problem for which there is no other solution but to do what climate scientists, activists, shamans, actors, writers and poets have been doing: keep telling the inconvenient truth, in as many places as possible, in as many ways as possible with the intention that words will become deeds. Just keep on keeping on. And I plan to.  If my readers have thoughts about venues and/or other outlets, including social media, I’m all ears!

I am immensely grateful to Green Writers Press for permission to use work from So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis, compiled largely by poet/climate activist, Greg Delanty. I also chose, and was granted permission to use, a poem by Rachel Lewis, a 2014 winner of the Cape Farewell/ Young Poets Network Competition for poems exploring climate change. And I drew from The Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground collection, under fair use permission. My friend, Jean Cavanaugh, allowed me to quote from an uplifting Facebook post entitled Scarcity is a Myth. We all deserve a hearing.

I end for now with a poem from So Little Time.

Global Warming ~ Jane Hirshfield

When his ship first came to Australia,
Cook wrote, the natives
Continued fishing, without looking up.
Unable, it seems, to fear what was too large to be comprehended.

More:

See internal links for my sources, including the excellent volume, So Little Time (available from http://greenwriterspress.com/books/our-first-books/so-little-time/, Amazon and other book outlets). The Guardian’s collection, curated by UK poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, is read by actors, James Franco and Jeremy Irons, among others.

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner speaking at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in 2014

Almost anything by Wendell Berry

Women + Climate Activism, Clearly

It’s time to bring these two together in my life: my passion for women as spoken word artists and climate activism.  No surprise, Eve Ensler is out front on this: the woman who made it ok to say vagina out loud is doing the same for climate change.  Her new one-woman show, In the Body of the World based on her acclaimed 2013 memoir, is being performed in New York City right now, and I would give much to be there.  But I will have to be content — and I am — to host a meeting of Women Aloud at my home tomorrow, to begin preparing for The Vagina Monologues 2017 at The Brewhouse Gallery, Lake Park, Fl.  And a new opportunity could be on the horizon for me/us.

no-gender-justice1This morning, I wrote this proposal to artist/activist colleagues who are co-curating a show in my area:

Proposal for The Box Gallery, The NEW American Patriot: A Climate Action Exhibition, July 1, 2016 through July 10, 2016

Vision:

Some of our most beloved poets and spoken word artists have been and are taking the role of shaman on behalf of climate crisis and our endangered ecosystem. Their prophetic, urgent warnings were being issued before the scientific community reached consensus that human-caused climate change threatened all of life. Their testimony about the living world of which we are a part, are a necessary act of patriotism for our times. These men and women express rage, despair, grief, and surprisingly, what Buddhist sage and teacher, Joanna Macy, calls ‘active hope,’ — the very act of creating art that we take into ourselves and act from. We should be putting their words on billboards, creating community service announcements from them, slipping them under every door, and reciting them to all who have ears to hear.  Because, as poet Greg Delanty’s book puts it, we have So Little Time.

Mission:

To create and perform a script of poetry/monologues/rants, both original and from derived sources (as permission is granted), for a series of live, 15-minute performances during The New American Patriot: A Climate Action Exhibition, at time(s) and location(s) to be determined and mutually agreed upon, for a maximum of three performances. Material will be organized thus:

  1. How we came to this
  2. What we risk losing
  3. What do our hearts say
  4. What we must now do

Logistics:

Performer(s) will need a designated performance space, high stool(s) and audio support for each 15-minute show. Recorded incidental music may be used to introduce and close each segment.

Respectfully submitted: Marika Stone, producer The Vagina Monologues and You Can’t Say That!, 2015, founder, Women Aloud, “a troupe of spoken word performers interested in exploring ideas and issues relevant to women of all ages. We are nonprofit. Proceeds from our shows will go to registered women’s charities.”

This is new territory. I’m both excited and terrified at the thought that my proposal could be accepted, which is a great place to be. Stay tuned.

The Box Gallery

Women Aloud

Wendell Berry on Climate

Green Writers Press

Does Florida Have A Poet Laureate?

Happily, surprisingly, yes!  As of June 15, after a gap of three years, Peter Meinke, 82, was appointed to the position.  As it happens, I am familiar with Meinke’s work via his second volume of poems, Trying to Surprise God, gifted to me by one of his students at Eckerd College, a sister writer and friend.  Who knew then I would come to live in the home state of this poet, whose Lines from Key West, inspired both curiosity and a sense of foreboding? I’ve been feeling as optimistic about the state of poetry in this country as I do about the State of Florida, which is to say not very. But this news is somewhat encouraging on both counts, if only because Meinke’s four year term also coincides with a critical window of opportunity for Florida to get its act together about sea level rise and the rising demand for solar energy. There is, as the title of one new collection of climate-related poetry puts it, So Little Time: Words and Images For a World in Climate Crisis.  

Poets were once the rock stars of their generation, able to speak truth to power through their art. They got it, and did not fear to take a stand. Here’s T.S. Eliot, writing in 1939:  “For a long enough time we have believed in nothing but the values arising in a mechanized, commercialized, urbanized way of life. It would be well for us to face the permanent conditions upon which God allows us to live upon this planet.”

The good news: poetry is persistent enough, even in our social media, texting-crazed, wired culture — perhaps even because of it —  for questions about its demise to crop up every so often.  The latest iteration comes in a CNN report on the appointment of Juan Felipe Herrera as the next poet laureate of the United States.  Notwithstanding The Writers Almanac, and popularity of poets like Billy Collins (a former U.S. laureate) and Mary Oliver, it is clear that the number of people who read poetry is shrinking to cult status. And yet, undeniably, as the surge of interest in poetry after 9/11 indicates:

In times of national crisis, when ordinary language fails us, we still turn to poetry to express the inexpressible.  Brandon Griggs, CNN

I believe poetry can — and must — show up whenever and wherever it can make the strongest impact, where it takes us by surprise, shakes us out of our lethargy, and makes us care about what truly matters. And for that, we need more than the printed page; we need spoken word poetry, delivered at open mics, popup events, or even through campaigns such as the voicemail poetry created by poet and professor, Major Jackson, for his students at the University of Vermont.  It goes like this: you call a friend and, without any explanation, recite a poem on their voicemail. If they answer, you tell them to hang up and let your next call go to voicemail.

spoken word micThe other reason I see a future for spoken word poetry is Eve Ensler. With her launch of The Vagina Monologues in a tiny theater on the Westside of New York City, Ensler demonstrated the power of spoken word to touch people deeply. She not only shook up gender politics, she also launched an ongoing international campaign to call attention to violence against women and girls. Performing her material and the formation of a troupe that grew from that experience (Women Aloud) has me asking some new questions. What if a campaign based on spoken word poetry (or monologues) could do for climate justice activism what Ensler did for the women’s movement? And if so, what better place than Florida, climate ground zero, to test it out? When you think about it, critiques of the status quo and prophetic warning are by no means a new role for poetry through the ages. Think Shelley’s Ozymandias. I especially love Wendell Berry’s savage wit and quiet anger in Questionnaire and Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front from which one of my favorite quotes: Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.

Beside So Little Time, this year, the UK’s Guardian launched a series of 20 original poems on climate curated by British poet laureate, Carol Duffy, because (as she wrote): If information was all we needed, we’d have solved climate change by now. The scientific position has been clear for decades. Researchers have been waving a big red flag that has been impossible for our politicians to miss.”  Her goal for the collection: “… to reach parts of the Guardian readers’ hearts and minds that the reporting, investigations, videos, podcasts and the rest had failed to reach.”  

Poets grieve, rage, and pull no punches.  An example:

Extinction

We closed the borders, folks, we nailed it.
No trees, no plants, no immigrants.
No foreign nurses, no Doctors; we smashed it.
We took control of our affairs. No fresh air.
No birds, no bees, no HIV, no Poles, no pollen
No pandas, no polar bears, no ice, no dice.
No rainforests, no foraging, no France.
No frogs, no golden toads, no Harlequins.
No Greens, no Brussels, no vegetarians, no lesbians.
No carbon curbed emissions, no Co2 questions.
No lions, no tigers, no bears. No BBC picked audience.
No loony lefties, please. No politically correct classes.
No classes. No Guardian readers. No readers.
No emus, no EUs, no Eco warriors, no Euros,
No rhinos, no zebras, no burnt bras, no elephants.
We shut it down! No immigrants, no immigrants.
No sniveling-recycling-global-warming nutters.
Little man, little woman, the world is a dangerous place.
Now, pour me a pint, dear. Get out of my fracking face.

~ Jackie Kay

More to think about:

The Dark Mountain project, a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We produce and seek out writing, art and culture rooted in place, time and nature.

Poetry Outloud — an annual contest for the spoken word that offers school-age performers cash prizes include $20,000 toward a college scholarship.

Consider supporting the poetry/climate effort by your purchase of So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis, by Greg Delanty and other poets and photographers.  (Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont).  I am not affiliated with the authors or publisher.

Earth Hour 2015: Lights Out

Where were you when the lights went out? If you are of a certain age and lived in the Northeast United States, you’ll remember at least one major blackout, with those of 1965 and 1977 perhaps the most indelible because normal life was disrupted for so many people across a vast region.

I was caught in a blackout in New York City in the early 80’s while on a research assignment in Brooklyn for Technology Magazine – the irony sank in sometime later.  Fortunately for my co-worker and me, we were above ground when the power went out, not trapped in a subway car or skyscraper office.   We, along with hundreds of others hit the streets, giddy with relief.  It was late afternoon when we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, into Lower Manhattan and the Village. There, a party was in progress as restaurants who had lost their refrigeration, were turning out meals on make-shift charcoal grills and offering them, along with slightly warm beer, to whomever cared to take them up on their offer. Although that particular blackout would prove to be relatively local and short-lived, there was no way to know at the time.  “It’s tempting to ask why if you fed your neighbors during the time of the earthquake and fire, you didn’t do so before or after,” writes Rebecca Solnit of the San Francisco earthquake in  A Paradise Built in Hell: the Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.

Eventually, I got my foot-weary self to the Port Authority Bus Terminal that evening to wait with other New Jersey commuters for the power and interrupted bus service to resume.  Here, too, there was unusual cooperation and camaraderie.  We riders of the DeCamp 66 and 33 who barely exchanged a word before, were talking, exchanging stories and phone numbers, discovering we were neighbors after all.

unpluggedEarth Hour, 8:30-9:30 pm local time, when the Strip in Las Vegas, Times Square and the Eifel Tower intentionally go dark to raise awareness about climate change, was launched in Australia in 2007 by the World Wide Fund for Nature and has become a global movement.  Getting millions of people to power down for one hour a year doesn’t seem like much to ask, even of the electronic device-addicted populace of our century. In our home, we mark the occasion with an hour of candlelight, a glass of wine, a ukulele, some songs, enjoying the respite from the mixed blessing of an always-on, always-connected life that we have embraced so wholeheartedly.  Viewed in long-range or aerial images, Earth Hour is spectacular, and more than a little unnerving.  I would like to think that this scale of community arts activism will help us wrap our heads around what is impossible to contemplate, even for climate advocates: a world without power; life as we’ve come to know it, unplugged.

Artists of all kinds have often taken the lead in making the invisible (under-appreciated or ignored) visible, because they can.  Some are using their gifts to wake people up to the really wicked, society-transforming problem of climate change and a rising sea, e.g. The HighWaterLine project. The brainchild of artist, Eve Mosher, the HWL helps communities visualize the impact of climate change in our own neighborhoods and streets. Mosher began her work in 2007 in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, mapping areas predicted to be impacted by flooding during storm surges. After deep research into climate science and Google maps of flood zones, she spent six months using chalk and a sports field marker to draw the 10-ft. above sea level line in the streets and on the buildings. Yes, that was five years before Sandy.  Click here for more on the HWL.

Blue LightsAs residents of one of the states most vulnerable to sea level rise, Floridians are fortunate that Eve Mosher will be making a return engagement, this time in Palm Beach County later this month, chalking sea level rise for the HighWaterLine Delray Beach event. This day-long performance is part of the 2nd Annual Florida Earth Festival, a series of workshops and demonstrations that runs April 18 through 25, including a weekend of intensives at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton, 2501 St. Andrews Blvd.  Volunteers are needed for all kinds of tasks during the festival, and if you are able, I urge you to find what speaks to you and sign up.  For this yoga instructor and lover of dance, it is the prospect of being in the grand finale of the HWL mapping: a ‘movement choir’ of dancers holding blue glow lights and moving to Neil Young’s new anthem: Who Is Going to Stand Up for the Earth.

I’ve also signed up for the Beautiful Trouble workshop in the hopes that it will help me hone my new-found voice as a spoken word artist (thanks Vagina Monologues!) into a poetry flash mob or open mic performance on environmental themes.  In any case, it sounds like way more fun than climate advocacy usually is, Greenpeace Gorilla suits and the Raging Grannies notwithstanding.  These trainings are intended to serve as “A Toolbox for Revolution.” Bring it on.

Earth Hour visuals

Earth Hour, March 19, 2016

Biggest Blackouts in History

HighWaterLine Action Guide

Like Water For Avocados

After an announcement about a possible shortage of Hass Avocados caused near panic (and perhaps some welcome publicity), Mexican food chain, Chipolte, tried to soothe its fans with an announcement that there is no “guacapocalypse” in the offing.  Really?  Avocados are a thirsty crop, second only to another California favorite, the endangered almond.  According to Mother Jones, it takes 74.1 gallons of water to grow one pound of avocados as opposed to strawberries (9.8 gallons) or lettuce (5.4 gallons). For the time being, the California Hass is big business for the state: “… about 80 percent of all avocados eaten worldwide and … more than $1 billion a year in revenues in the United States alone.”  (California Avocado Commission).  

Headlines like this one from Newsweek 3/13/15: NASA: California Has One Year of Water Left, should be setting off alarm bells in the Congressional denialist camp on the basis of the economic impact alone, with the nation’s food security right up there next to it.  So it’s particularly bad news for all of us who love avocados — heck, like to eat regularly! — that Senator Ted Cruz now heads the Senate Science Committee, and that he has told NASA to stick to space and drop its climate investigations.  We need to pay close27_smap20150224-16 attention to what happens next.  After all, budget cuts that could threaten programs like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Soil Moisture Mapper (SMAP)  — a satellite that can improve weather forecasts, monitor droughts and predict floods —  will hurt us all, now and in the immediate future. Maybe we should take a page from Senator Snowball’s playbook and start jamming the inboxes of legislators of his ilk with our favorite guacamole recipes.  This sounds like a job for Beautiful Trouble, fearless artist/activists.  Hi-jinks and hackery that exercise our creativity and even soothe our souls.   

It’s great to learn that Al Gore is newly optimistic that we can bring ourselves back from the brink, but yesterday on World Water Day, I couldn’t help thinking about what ordinary Californians are doing about a drought so severe, it has its own website?  Not nearly enough, according to figures from January this year which showed that conservation of water dropped from 22% to 9%, possibly spurred by an end of the year rainy period.  We are so addicted to short-term — or maybe it’s magical — thinking!  No wonder we are so easily distracted by shiny new things, blockbuster movies, and gossip about people we’ll never meet or particularly want to.

So I decided to ask a friend who lives in Huntington Beach about the water crisis, and she assured me that although some of her neighbors still have lawns (and presumably, have not as yet been prohibited from watering them), she has embraced a more desert scape, that is, rocks and succulents.  OK, it’s something, and granted, this is a minuscule sample.  But isn’t this typical of a common mismatch between the complexity of the issues we face — economic, health, safety, civil society — and the response of too many people like my well-meaning friend, as well as those in positions of power?  California officials, writes Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are “staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

Although drought isn’t an issue for Florida at the moment, we have our own water challenges: a rising sea (flooding, coastal erosion, threat to infrastructure and property) and the migration of salt into the agricultural water supply.  So much for the idea that California’s agricultural losses might be somewhat mitigated by Florida’s food growing power.  For more on this including the Sea Level Rise Symposium 2014, see my blog posts from last July, Water: Next Capitalist Tool? and November, Raising Fields.  Not enough water or the wrong kind — none of this is good news for living things.  But compared to what many see as the threat of water wars in the not too distant future, these issues are a drop in the bucket.

What can we do?  First, recognize that climate change is with us here and now and that we humans have no history or experience with the kinds of change it will likely produce in our lives.  On a beautiful, cool morning in South Florida as I write this from my patio, it’s possible to imagine that we have a decade or two before we are forced to adjust, to take action, or possibly, flee for higher ground. Even if that were true, it’s cold comfort for our children and grandchildren. Second, cut your consumption: repair, reuse, repurpose, skip the upgrade, minimize air travel, and make do while these are choices we can still make freely. Third: ask yourself to imagine a world without your favorite food (yes, avocados), a beloved bird, flower, tree, pollinators in general, a particular beach, a cherished vacation spot, a life experience you now take for granted (hiking a pristine trail, growing vegetables, access to a wide variety of fresh food, taking a hot shower, feeling safe on my streets and in my home, are all on my list).  What would you do to preserve these ordinary treasures, for yourself and those you love?  Do it.

See also: The Dark Mountain Project and Movement Generation

Gloves Off Arts Activism

“If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it.” ~ Art Buchwald.

That’s one of the things that has long concerned me about many of the environmental organizations we have supported for years. Example: the beautiful Nature Conservancy magazines that arrive every month with their gorgeous covers, great writing and photography.  You can’t help but get an impression of a polite, established organization dedicated to conserving pristine swathes of nature for those who have the time and money to enjoy them. This is far from the whole truth, of course, but by its own definition, TNC prefers “non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions” over, say, dressing up in a gorilla suits and scaling a wall to protest rain forest destruction in Indonesia, a Green Peace stunt that caused giant Nestlé to reconsider where it accesses palm oil for its popular KitKat brand.

From my perspective, we need it all, the whole shebang of responses to avoid a continued mismatch between the urgency of the planetary crisis and what can be done to arrest the worst impacts on species, including us. Which is why kudos to the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group for inviting two local arts activists to show and tell about Artful Activism for Pro-Environment Community Engagement. The event at the Jupiter Library last Saturday morning deserved a larger audience. But what it lacked in size it made up for in age-diversity and enthusiasm, and I left with a sense that we might all access our inner artist, and/or support the professionals in their efforts, to reach people emotionally. And while we’re at it, let’s broaden the definition of art to include poetry, spoken word, improv, street theater, and more, to arrest the slide to ecocide we are currently headed for.  Here’s a model: Eve Ensler’s one-woman show, The Vagina Monologues, has morphed into an international V-Day movement to end violence against women.  Clearly, it has a long way to go. The epidemic of domestic abuse currently in the news is a sign that facts alone are not going to get us where we live.

My friend and colleague, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida, led off with a slide of the Stone Crab Alliance which, that very afternoon (October 18) marched on Gov. Rick Scott mansion in Tampa, brandishing banners that read: It’s All About Our Water.  Founded seven years ago, EcoArt SF aims to integrate and infuse art into sustainability strategies: “Art and science, as twin knowledge forms, must be tapped in tandem to create the wisdom, and activate hope, that underpins sustainability.” See an example of ‘social sculpture’ by Jackie Brookner at Elders Cove, West Palm Beach, and click the link to find drip-mist-2 (1)out more about the organization’s goals and projects.

Dr. Aagerstoun then showed slides of other groups that are using art activism in their communities, many of them examples of exactly the kind of prankish, gloves-off approach that Green Peace favors in its campaigns. Two resonated especially strongly with me (see the list at the end of this post for more).
The Illuminator’s mission is to “smash the myths of the information industry and shine a light on the urgent issues of our time.” During the recent People’s Climate March weekend in New York City, it projected this glowing message #FloodWallStreet Stop Capitalism! End the Climate Crisis! on the side of a building.  I also love the BackBone Campaign and supported their work for the People’s Climate March with a donation. Their mission is “to train progressive activists and organizations nationwide who are working toward human dignity, environmental sustainability and peace.”

Next up, visual artist and research biologist Diane Arrieta, with examples of her work which “illustrates the links between biodiversity (including endangered species), healthy ecosystems and human health.” Like street artist and activist, Banksy, Diane uses available exterior walls as a canvas for her stunning murals. If you can get this image out of your mind, you’re more organized (or is it Little Panda 2distracted?) than I. While Miami is a public space art-friendly city, Arrieta has found that getting permission is no easy task in some municipalities. I cannot imagine my hometown allowing public buildings to be used for art activism of this cutting-edge kind.  But maybe no one has put it to the test.  If people we elect to serve our needs fail to grasp the connection between a healthy ecosystem and the wellbeing of our cities and citizens, what is the point of clean, tree-lined streets, top-notch schools, and excellent sports facilities?   Join the Scouts’ beach cleanup by all means,  but first do everything possible to ensure that there will be a beach for us and our children.

The Sierra Club audience was more eager to share ideas than talk about their response to the art, per se, but you could read that as a sign that we intuitively ‘got’ how powerful and edgy arts activism could be, and were already thinking about ways around roadblocks and new forms of expression. Why not more artists-in-residence so they are paid for their work? Why not students teaching their peers? Why stop at buildings and overpasses?  Why not project messages on clouds? How about a more mobile form of message delivery where by the time someone complains, the show has moved on? How about peel-off art activism decals with potent images and messages for our homes and/or cars? Why not? Michael Moore, move over.

More resources from the presentation:

Beautiful Trouble — A Toolbox for Revolution

The Yes Men

Raging Grannies

Living Planet Report — “…not for the faint-hearted.”

Overpass Light Brigade

Rude Mechanical Orchestra