We each bring all our past, including childhood traumas we have been working to heal from, to every experience we have, every day. Being arrested adds an intense fight or flight physical and psychological response that brings all of who you are into sharp focus. At least it did for me. As a child who’d been beaten with leather belts by an abusive father, I felt much of that same terror as an activist blocking oil trains from refineries in Washington state last May on the morning the police arrived in a military assault fashion at dawn, while our camp slept.
While I have never fought in a war, blocking a train track may be a somewhat similar experience, knowing that at some unknown point in time a fierce response by the opposition will come. In our case it was rendered by the state police.
If you get arrested, you will probably get treated in ways you have never been treated before. It feels strange that someone else controls your body, your freedom, safety and your very life or death. That particular someone may be half your age and appear more frightened than you feel. While there can be kindness that individual officers share, there is no mistaking that it is a very dangerous situation.
For me, part of the immediate aftershock of being arrested was feeling argumentative and defensive. If my spouse shared an opinion then I felt oppressed. I felt misunderstood and distrustful. Only later did I realize it was pressure relief I needed to express, which came from being violated: Shackled for five hours, not being allowed to use the bathroom, not knowing what would happen next, having arrest numbers written on my arm with a marker. These indignities were visited on us for peacefully resisting the passage of oil trains, which we did to protect that which sustains us — a livable atmosphere.
I understand that my Sharpie assault is nothing compared to rubber bullets, concussion grenades and water cannons perpetrated on the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. I think we all enter the fight wherever we find ourselves by joining others who are acting. I believe we are in the fight of our lives.
The fossil fuel corporations have clearly stated they intend to extract and sell every drop of “their” fossil fuel reserves. Scientists say four fifths of fossil fuels must remain in the ground to avoid severely heating the planet, possibly causing human extinction as well as the extinction of many, many other species.
It is difficult to confront the reality of climate change in a culture where the “cult of self” reigns supreme. We Americans pursue self-interests without regard for the rest of life, including our plant and animal brothers and sisters.
Engaging in resistance can ruin friendships. It can take barely tolerable family gatherings to a crisis point. Even perfect strangers will verbally assault you in a parking lot, when they see you are resisting fossil fuels. Personally it has restored me. I have gained a new sense of power, by working in community with others, who are fighting to change the forces that are killing the planet, the habitat on which our survival depends.
It seems that we now have a powerful leader, who is a fascist, ruling America. We have never experienced such a regime in our United States. As his policy plans unfold, we see racism, authoritarianism and corruption. These are not true American values. Let our grandchildren read the history of our collective response. They will tell the stories of how we worked together and overcame differences, misunderstandings, mistakes and egos to build a movement in American rooted in kindness, inclusion, climate justice and a fair transition to clean energy so together we can build the beloved community we long to live in.
My path leads me to grassroots organizing for the climate, volunteering with 350 Eugene. We feel love and joy working in coalition with allies statewide, and we are beginning to have some climate wins. We will continue to boldly resist! Check out the website world.350.org/eugene. If your passion lies elsewhere then Eugene is a cup overflowing with opportunities to work for positive change!
This is our time, climate change is the fight for all survival, it is our duty to fight for the future. When we join together we win!
Deb McGee is a retired public school counselor turned activist/farmer with her partner Patty Hine. Together they are cofounders of 350EUG.