Bringing our whole selves into the movement to end the climate crisis

** Framing speech I gave at the April 2014 Convergence of local 350 leaders working in their towns, cities, and states to end the climate crisis. 

I want to bring my whole self into this room.

  • I am the great-great grand-daughter of villagers from a rural, Tamil-speaking, Hindu people
  • I am the great-grand daughter of a people colonized by profit-seeking, English-speaking, pale-skinned, Christian, monarchists from thousands of miles away.
  • I am the granddaughter of civil servants whose families survived, then profited by taking on the values, language and practice of their British rulers.
  • I am the daughter of a father born a few years after Indian Independence, who was told by his parents, “we should speak English in this house.”
  • I am the daughter of a mother who was one of a few Hindu students allowed to attend a prestigious Christian Medical college in independent India.
  • I am the child who immigrated with her parents to the United States as a baby.  I am the naturalized citizen.
  • I am the child of a doctor and an engineer. I am comfortably middle class.
  • I am a woman.
  • I am a college educated person.
  • I am an anti-oppression educator and an activist for women’s rights and racial justice.
  • I am a woman of color.
  • I am a woman married to a man.
  • I am a brown-skinned woman married to a white skinned man.
  • I am the mother of two kids under age 6.
  • I am an activist working to end the climate crisis

I have brought my whole self into this room with you because we all share a basic goal: the end of the climate crisis.

We have the same basic analysis;

1.  the fossil fuel industry is the main driver of this crisis. We must stop them.

2. Alternate forms of energy exist that do not contribute to global warming. We should use them.

But just as I bring my whole self into this room, I also bring my questions:

Why do we as a global society allow the fossil fuel industry and other corporate and state powers to put profits before people?

This question keeps me up at night. Because when we try to answer this question, we know that the answer lies in 500 years of history we cannot ignore.

No.  We must bring our whole selves into this room.

In the 15th century the Kings and Queens of Europe sent their people to systematically colonize the non-Christian lands;

They prioritized power and profits for the kingdoms of Europe over the sovereignty, and survival of indigenous people, nation-states, and their lands.

In order to increase and maintain their power they exploited the lands, natural resources, and labor of the people they encountered.

They silenced those who stood in the way of this profit. They massacred tribes, enslaved whole villages, indentured workers, discounted local values, beliefs and practices and replaced them by force with their own.

But perhaps the most clever thing they did was this:

They rewarded those who complied by minimally sharing profits and offering security. And those who actively brought profits in were granted riches, safety, and access to power.

They rewarded those who complied…and we are still being rewarded, or privileged simply because we were born into the middle/upper class, simply because of our European ancestry, simply because we are culturally American.

We have been taught to believe that our ideas are good, our methods are rational, are causes are just.

And now we are all here in this room. A group of good, rational people, with a just cause:  shutting down the fossil fuel industry, and ending the climate crisis. But who are we in this room? And who is missing?

I bring myself into this room as a person who has internalized the values of a profit-driven colonialist culture.


Around the world people who rely on the land, natural resources and on their own physical labor for their daily survival are most often Black and Brown people, indigenous people, and migrants.

When their ancestors attempted to resist colonization and the unending drive for more profit, more growth, they were massacred, enslaved, indentured, exploited, dehumanized, and objectified.

Today the great-great grandchildren of those resisters carry that trauma within them and face the 21 century colonial weapons being wielded daily:  malnourished and poisoned bodies, crumbling neighborhoods, children trying to learn in dysfunctional schools, hostile law enforcement, and decimation by incarceration.

In order to survive, they too have often been minimally rewarded for compliance.

Compliance has often meant working in service of profit for the wealthy, in the very industries we are trying to dismantle.  Coal mining, oil-refining, pipeline laying.

Knowing this, are we still good? Are we still reasonable?  Are we still just?

If we want to end the climate crisis, is it enough to end our reliance on fossil fuels?  If the” profit before people and land mandate has gotten us to where we are right now, what must we do differently?


We do not have to answer this question by ourselves. In fact, we cannot.

Many groups led by people who work the land, black and brown people, indigenous people, and migrants are finding ways to resist the fossil fuel industry, AND prioritize the people and the land.  Some refer to this work as “THE JUST TRANSITION’. Others may think in terms of building the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

I bring myself into this room as a humble student of those groups working toward a Just Transition.  Groups working for more triple bottom line approaches: Groups like the Climate Justice Alliance, Movement Generation, the Green Jobs Movement, and Idle No More.

I am asking you now to bring your whole selves into this room and into this work. To consider becoming a student like of those who have been traditionally outside of the environmental movement.

As you strategize, organize, and mobilize, I ask that you consider the following:

1. How can we prioritize those who rely on the land, natural resources, and their own physical labor to survive?

2. How can we prioritize the voices of those who have been silenced?

3. Who is missing from our strategizing, our organizing, our mobilizing? Why?

4. How do we begin?






The Freedom Dream

What are the boundaries of the freedom dream?

I hear the bells ringing.

I smell the dough rising.

I feel the rain falling on the dessert.

And then I wake up.

2013_08_09_MLKMOW1 urgency of now


The New Olympians: An Earth Day Poem

Miracle Planet,

what have we done?

Allowed our own god Greed

to hold your Future,

which must be

our Future, hostage.


And now Greed’s

power has grown.

This god has corrupted

Justice, Industry, and Governance.


And we sit, paralyzed

by Greed’s minion  Guilt.

She drives our hand

to make offerings,

obeisance, offer fealty

to the servants of Greed.


But what if we reminded

Guilt that she is none

but Anger turned inward?

Instead of paralysis,

Anger could push us to

act, to resist, to vision,

to change.


What if we withdrew

our offerings to Guilt

to Greed, and to Destruction?

What if we found

new gods to worship?


What if our Future

was released

from bondage,

wounds healed?

What wonders

could she weave

on this Miracle Planet?

And do we have

the courage

to set her free?


NaPoWriMo 2013: Day 22




I can

I can be

I can be alive.


NaPoWriMo 2013: Day 20

Evolution of a Freedom Fighter

I. Victim Blaming

i can’t believe

i can’t believe this

i can’t believe this is happening

why is this happening to me?

what did i do?

what did i do wrong?

i must have done something wrong

II.  Bystander Intervention

i saw something

i saw something

i saw something bad

something bad

something bad happened

something, something, something

not right

why is he doing that?

someone should help.

someone should help.

I should help.

I should do something.

I should say something.

I should tell him to stop.


Other voices join me.


He stopped.

I did it.

We did it.

III. Consciousness Raising

why did this happen to us?

why did this happen to US?

what did we do wrong?

what could we have done wrong?

We did not do something wrong!

What happened was wrong.

How did it happen?

We will find out.

IV. More Consciousness Raising

what can i do?

i can’t do it alone?

what can we do?

they have the power.

do they have the power?

they have the power because

we give them the power

we give them the power so

we are the power

they do not have the power

unless we give it to them

V.  Social Change

We will remember that we give the power.

We will convince others to see this truth.

We will remind them that we have the power.

We will withdraw our consent to be ruled.

We will rewrite the history they tell.

We will remove our support for their ways.

We will refuse to fulfill their demands.

We will insert ourselves into their plans.

We will undo the so called “done deals”

We will create our own means to the end.

We are the power.

We are the power.

We are the power.

We Will be FREE.


NaPoWriMo  2013: Day 12

Dear Justice

He loves him.

Never apart. Never without

the tickle of whiskers, the feel of fingers, the  

coffee breath pontificating

the warmth of forever embers glowing.

He loves him.

She loves her.

Once eyes locked.

Heat rose.

Something inside her went click.

That was it.

The moon never leaves the earth.

She loves her.

He loves him. She loves her. He loves him. She loves her.

She loves her. He loves him.

Please. Open. Your. Eyes.


We, The People

Open Heart Surgery

Last week I had open heart surgery at the Facing Race Conference in Baltimore   I was in serious danger of having a White supremacy -related cardiac arrest. The daily stress of race related slights, ignorant remarks, and racial stereotypes in the news, on TV, and in my daughter’s classroom were taking their toll.  The unhealthy diet of  judging my beauty against the norm, of basing “good, “right”, and “true” on “White”, of wishing for a new nose, different hair, eyes, lips clogged arteries. The pressure to be a strong bridge across the racial divide was pushing the damaged muscle to its breaking point. The everyday news of injustice, inequity, and the needless suffering of people of color,  people of gender,  people of difference,  people, was sapping my will to resist the oncoming collapse.

And then I stepped in to Facing Race.  Rinku Sen, editor of Colorlines magazine and executive director of Applied Research Center (ARC), hosts of the conference, stepped on stage.  I was breathing heavy. I was walking slowly with the weight, pain radiating.

Rinku Sen was the first responder.

“Transformative is what I am after. I don’t want to reverse the racial hierarchy. I want to take it apart. I want to change the course of human evolution.”

A jolt went through me.

“We are so well equipped to do this. We are such good strategists. We know how to run campaigns. We do this work with so much heart, and so much humor. We have so much resilience. We can survive anything. We can do this. We can take the country and the world closer to a new humanity.”

The weight began to ease inside me.

“If we do our part, then our kids will do their part. And their kids will do the next part and the next kids after that will do more. I am counting on you to do this with me…Our ancestors demand it. The dead demand it. The living demand it. And we can answer them, if we stand together. We can set the path for true human liberation. We must start today. I know that together, we will get there. “

I was revived, still damaged, still in pain, but ready to live, ready to fight, ready to be healed.  There is so much more to tell.  The power of the speakers, dancers, comedians, artists, children, elders, changed me. All the faces together facing the madness that is White supremacist, patriarchal, heterosexist, ableist, classist hierarchical lifted me up.  That weekend, my chest was opened up. Years of toxins were released. New connections were built.  I was transformed. I was ready to walk the liberation path again.


We voted

We voted for the Dreamers, and the Same-sex lovers, and the 99%. We voted for the unions, and the aging baby boomers, and the guy on the street who sleeps on vents. We voted for shattered glass, and equal pay. We voted for ourselves.

We voted because they thought we wouldn’t, and because we knew we had to. We voted because our bodies were being debated and our voices were being ignored. We voted so teachers can teach and students can learn. We voted to take care of each other.  We voted to be able to take care of ourselves.

We voted for soldiers to begin the healing. We voted for roads, and bridges, and pipes.

We voted because the lines were long and our patience was running short. We voted in waves of gold, and brown, and  pink until day turned to night.  We voted after polls were closed.

We voted because we know there are more superstorms to come. 

We voted in fear. We voted in hope. 

We voted. We voted. We voted.



Peace Tree

I spent the morning
in the Peace Room at the Friends Center.
It sits in the light on the 3rd Floor.
Later that day I walked down
to the lower level, no windows.
The Justice Room is down there
I thought, “I wonder… why?”
“Why is the Justice Room below the Peace Room?”
“Is justice the roots sunk deep
from which the peace trees rise?”


I didn’t know,

and then I did.

I am not you.

We are not them.

This is not right.


We should fight.

We should shine a light.

We should make it right.


I didn’t know

And then I did.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

We are all not free.

This is not right.


We should fight.

We should shine a light.

We should make it right.


I did not know

and then I did.

I am here to fight.

I will shine a light.

I can make it right.

We can make it right.


We will make it right.






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