The first of the two alarm clocks I had set for 5 and 5:15 AM shrilled as I woke to pitch black skies and a forecast of heavy rain and thunder storms to last all morning long.
But we had to drive to Lansing, the Michigan state capital, which is two hours from my house!
“This is the worst moment,” I reminded myself, as I always do when leaving for a trip before dawn. “Things will get better.”
As I gazed out the kitchen window, eating cereal rendered tasteless by my nervousness, I heard a distant rumble.
As I drove through the downpour, a bolt of lightning flashed like a white arrow aimed directly at the carpool spot my friends and I had chosen. Nobody was there. For quite a while.
I am little old lady, getting older and littler by the day. Why, with a nervous stomach and fatigued to the gills from a medical procedure the day before, was I doing this to myself? My beloved earth and everything I love upon it is already past the tipping point of climate change, so why bother? Why not just live out my days not worrying about how things will be after I curl up my toes?
That’s just not me. When I see an injustice, I always figure that if I don’t act against it I am complicit in it. My soul cried out to do something, no matter how hopeless, against our lovely planet becoming uninhabitable for my grandchildren or, if things continue the way they are going, for any human beings and many other species as well. So I spent the winter studying two issues that seemed especially important for Michigan – the way fracking contaminates our waters and the air we breathe, and how to switch from carbon polluting fuels to clean energy.
If I go at all this alone, there is reason for hopelessness. In reading about these issues on the web, however, I discovered that others had been there before me and done a lot of useful groundwork. The Sierra Club is especially fact-based and well-organized, providing research and frequent calls for specific actions on the very same issues I am interested in.
And then came the call — Come to Lobby Day! I rounded up two friends for the adventure. Here came one of them through the heavy downpour, to relay us north to pick up the second. We were off!
There was a bad moment when we thought we had lost our way in rain-drenched Pontiac, but she is good with maps and we reassured each other that we were on the right track. We arrived at our other friend’s home, took a pit stop, hopped into her car, and were off.
There was a bad moment when she thought her muffler was falling off just as we were turning north to Lansing, but nothing happened and we found a parking lot only a block from the Lobby Day site.
What a miracle of organization! Every kind of “talking point” had been sent to us by email, there were two conference calls with preparation and advice for meeting with legislators, and the (very) young man who stood up to welcome us explained a complex-to-set-up but efficient process for visiting State Representatives and Senators. Each group would have a Lobby Leader experienced in the Capitol who knew how each one had been voting, how many Sierra Club members were in his or her district, and other useful tidbits.
My team consisted of just me and Mitch, a large and imposing forty-something with a harried look. We were both taken aback at the sight of each other, I at the higher expectations on me for remembering facts without a larger team to share the burden; he, I suspect, at the frail little old being he was saddled with. I told him I was better at making earnest, heartfelt points than remembering numbers, so we divided what we would say accordingly.
As we went from office to office we turned out to be a very good team, he with the numbers and contents of specific bills and striking anecdotes like the fact that frackers were spraying unpaved roads with their toxic wastewater; I with my conviction that my rights as an individual citizen would be abrogated by refusals on the part of fracking companies to disclose what was in their toxic fluid. I came up with a good point about the lakes in the Oakland County watersheds being so threatened with contamination that property values might plunge; Mitch got their attention with the fact that not a “lump of coal” is mined in the whole State of Michigan so that we have to pay more for it than we would using our own resources. We both waxed eloquent on the cheapness of, technical advances in, and job creating possibilities of Clean Energy.
They were all Republicans, sworn to follow the party line on global warming, but they or the staff speaking for them listened politely to our points and even seemed to learn something. My own
Who knows whether any of the folk we talked to on Lobby Day will actually change anything in their policies? I am more convinced than ever that the point is to do something. If you just sit there passively and watch the world fall apart underneath you, there is nothing but guilt and despair. And the only thing for despair about climate change's impact on our beloved earth, writes Joanna Macy, is “Active Hope.” “When we perceive our deeper identity as an ecological self that includes not just us but also all life on Earth, then acting for the sake of our world doesn’t seem like a sacrifice. It seems a natural thing to do.”*
There are follow-up letters to write, getting busy drawing others into action, and a feeling, when the wren sang his heart out in my sun drenched garden this morning, that I was doing everything in my power (and going way beyond my comfort zone while doing so) to ensure there would be many more glistening May mornings for the wren and both of our descendants long after I have gone.
*Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, p. 76.