Crossroads by Carolyn #77

    At a show about a year ago, I was sitting outside talking with a group of people.  The conversation turned towards activism and a protest that had happened earlier in the week.  One girl asked me if I went to the protest (against Columbus Day, I think) and I told her the truth- that I couldn’t make it because I had a chemistry test.  She scoffed and proceeded to tell me that I had no right to even participate in a discussion about activism, that because I don’t make it to all the protests I contribute nothing to ‘the struggle.’
    That pissed me off and I had an immediate reply.  I explained to her that while she’s been floating around the country getting drunk and sleeping on people’s floors, I’ve been working damn hard to support myself and learn how I can try to solve environmental and social problems.  Instead of being on the streets reacting to some fucked up policy change or whatever, I want to work to make sure it never happens in the first place.  Somebody needs to fill the important positions.  Like at the EPA or at the utility company, wouldn’t it be better to have someone with my ideals and goals calling the shots than some ex- frat boy fuck that’s just in it for the cash?  Imagine how different things would be if there were more people like us defining the status quo.  It would save a lot of frustration and heartbreak, not to mention environmental and social damage. 
    I respected her choice to just travel around and her commitment to social change, but I thought she was a little misguided.  I think it’s a common belief among travelers and squatters that they are somehow outside of the system, the real revolutionaries, that they are living it.  There might be a hint of truth there in the form of small protests, but in my experiences traveling, where I expected freedom, I found new dependencies.  Sure, I didn’t pay money to a landlord or clock in at some chain-store job, but I was dependent on the sympathy and wallets of other people and on the remains of other people’s products.  Without this society in place, virtually nobody could ‘afford’ to travel and be unemployed.  I’m not saying our society is wonderful, but unfortunately, this is the way it is for now. It always amused me how someone could claim s/he is ‘fucking the system’ or ‘living free,’ as s/he waits in line for food stamps or to buy booze with someone else’s money. 
    It led me to question the various types of activism. I do think there is a place for direct action and I have a lot of respect for people who risk their freedom and sometimes their lives to make an immediate difference.  When I was younger, I wished I had the courage and commitment to fuck up animal testing labs and throw bricks at McDonald’s and fur shops.  I felt pretty useless and inadequate as I screamed at a protest, then went home or as I handed out leaflets at punk shows; I never thought I was doing enough.
     Now I see things differently.  While I think direct action can be a good thing, I also think it’s usually shortsighted and potentially detrimental.  For example, last week I heard that environmental activists vandalized and torched an SUV sales lot.  My initial reaction was pleasure, but when I thought about it more, I realized that burning tires or anything for that matter releases a lot of pollution.  In addition, those cars will just be replaced and the buildings rebuilt which requires more raw materials and usually the company doesn’t just suck it up, but gets money from insurance or passes the price to the consumer.  Sure, the action sent the message that SUV’s are bad for the environment, but so is burning gasoline and tires.  Likely, the only result was to make people afraid and that is a bullshit tactic of the mass media and government.  I can’t help thinking that a better way to make a difference would be to encourage people to ride their bikes or mass transit and work towards changing fuel efficiency standards.
    I’ve been thinking about that conversation and related topics a lot lately.  Since June I’ve been volunteering as an intern with the local government.  I work in the Office of Environmental Affairs, focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy.  If you had asked me even two years ago whether I’d ever work for the government, I’d have laughed or spit or something.  But, I’ve changed my mind; I get a lot accomplished this way.  A few months ago I put together energy efficiency resource sheets for local businesses. Currently, I am developing an entire energy efficiency program for the city. I’m even getting Xcel Energy, the power company, to give us thousands of dollars for local energy efficiency projects.  Because of my efforts and those of other caring people, this town will cut its greenhouse gas emissions between 10 and 20% over the next ten years, helping to slow global warming, clear the air, and becoming a model for other cities to follow.  I’m really seeing the value of community projects and the possibility of affecting change on local levels.
    When I look at all the good that could happen, covering my tattoos and brushing my hair is trivial.  Yeah, it sucks that I won’t be able to go to work in Carhartt’s and a Doom shirt, but it’s a tiny sacrifice.  It would only be a big deal if my identity was wrapped up in my appearance.  Fortunately, it’s not.  At this point, it’s more like a fun role-playing game when I slip on some funky, sexy blouse and work skirt and get out my day planner.  Clothing is just one facet of individuality, so fuck it.  The only thing that sucked was having to buy the clothes.  And if that makes me a ‘sell-out,’ than I’m content to be one.
    I hope you believe me when I say that I don’t think what I do is more important than what anybody else does.  I think it’s rad when people begin to take more responsibility for their lives by learning to garden, build bikes, by recycling and helping and educating their community. My point is that we can all make small changes that potentially can have far-reaching effects.  The cool thing about life (at least in this country) is that we have choices.  People can have different goals and are best suited for different things. Personally, I want to affect change and make a living doing something I love and that helps make the world, specifically the environment, a better place.  Sounds like idealistic dribble, I know, but why stop short of our dreams? 
    Love for nature is what motivates me.  Every time I sign someone up for wind power or get them to use an energy efficient light bulb, I’m happy.  Every time I put out the recycling or take the bus, I’m making a small difference.  And I like to do what feels good. Perhaps it is a little selfish, but nature is better off for it.  I may not be smashing the state or fuck, fuck, fucking the system, but I have my little hammer chipping away at the walls before me.
    P.S. Want to do something really easy that saves you money on your energy bill and prevents pollution? Replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFL’s).  You can find them at the hardware store for around $6 and they use about 75% less energy and last way longer, like 5 years. Saving energy not only saves money, but it prevents pollution.  Also, lots of municipalities offer wind power for only a couple of cents more per kWh. You can stick it to those oil tycoons by choosing to use renewable fuel.