PARIS – On Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015, I attended a workshop in Paris for the 2015 climate talks called, “The Leap Manifesto: A Justice-Based Energy Transition,” an event hosted by Naomi Klein and countless other forces for change in Canada—spanning tribal, political, and labor identities. The speakers included Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians, Hassan Yussuff from Canadian Labor Congress, Crystal Lameman from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, and Christian Poll, a Member of Danish Parliament for the Alternative. The manifesto poses to completely (and radically) re-imagine and envision a new future for Canada.
The workshop played out like a case study and skillshare, an offering of topics laid out to blaze trails for a better world. The event gave rise to hope that Canada could be an inspiration for the world to follow. Many celebrities support the manifesto, including Alanis Morissette, Arcade Fire, Donald Sutherland, Ellen Page, Gord Downie, Leonard Cohen, Feist, Rachel McAdams, Tegan & Sara, Sarah Harmer and Sarah Polley. Even then, there is the truthful acknowledgment that the country still has a lot of work to do. Canada leads in tar sands oil extraction, producing 20% more carbon than conventional crude sources in the United States. This practice has produced toxic lakes of sludge, visible from space and when the tar sands are fully used up, comprises climate pollution more than the US and China combined. After a presentation of the manifesto itself and its current impacts, the event held time for a Q&A with the panel.
I held the mic, my palms pressed deep against its black surface, still warm from the previous questioners in the room. I had half-formed words at the tip of my tongue and a swirl of options deciding how to ask mine, still piecing it all together in my head as they ushered me to speak.
I said: “I am from California, where the drought is the most severe we’ve ever known. Coming here to the climate talks, I’ve come here, heart open, with the issues that are intimate and personal to me; however, the more people I’ve spoken to, the more I realize that there are so many more frontline communities than we can collectively process.
“My question is this: all of us are here because we’ve seen our share of suffering. Because the immediacy of what’s in front of us forces us to focus inward, how do we draw our parallels together between regions that share our struggles in a way that’s powerful and unifying? What are tangible ways and resources to build people power and use it to bring change across?”
Fundamentally, the problem is that our world is at the point of exhaustion, and our give-and-take of resources have dived dangerously into far too much taking. Corporate, mechanical institutions, like kings, have ravaged and stolen for far too long and in several ways—much like how Wal-Mart has devoured the local economy in my hometown of Stockton, as it has in many other cities across the US. Companies like Paramount Farming (now the Wonderful Company) and Nestle are guzzling away public resources for private profit from California’s dwindling bodies of water, while local instances of corporate irresponsibility of oil and gas operations threaten the health of our oceans and our skies. In Canada, oil corporations like Shell and Enbridge have stolen the health of indigenous communities and wildlife, poisoned by the impacts of an industry that has long been known to be unsustainable. Even with these examples, there is still much more to say and solve of these issues.
What gives me hope, however, is the power of cultural revolution in normalizing solutions that will lead us out of our societal problems, and de-normalizing our addiction to throw-away industrialization. This manifesto, open-source and a resource to any that may find it useful, sparks ideas of brilliance that submerge oblivion as deep in the ground as fossil fuels should be.
From the Leap Manifesto:
*“We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.
We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go. So we need to leap.”*
A fellow SustainUS delegate, Leehi Yona, put it so eloquently after the climate agreement passed: “Looking at the science, there’s a lot more that we can do than what’s been put on the table […] this agreement is a first step when we need a marathon.”
I’ve been with my city every step of the way, with five years of community organizing deep in the trenches of a universally—felt pain—the economically depressed, socially disconnected, and resiliently beautiful Stockton. I’m willingly and begrudgingly in love with my hometown, and it is always on my mind when I work across California or somewhere else further off.
Reflecting back on my years in organizing, certain memories pop out: Hanging drawings and paintings in the dusty-but-loved Plea for Peace Center for one of my very first group art shows; helping to put on one of our city’s longest-running events, the Stockton Earth Day Festival, to teach next generations how important our ecosystems are; holding a workshop at a national arts activist conference, to tell people on the opposite coast of the country what’s at stake with the loss of our Delta waterways in California to global greed; training young student leaders from across the entire West Coast in organizing skills about these issues and more, for the Sierra Student Coalition’s summer grassroots training program.
I’ve been in meetings where I’ve listened and spoken, lived through the statistics and learned through experiences, cried and lost and loved and hurt;I’ve been mad and I’ve wanted to give up, but I won’t. These are all the steps I’ve gone through. But our complex circumstances as a statewide community (historical oppression, economic and educational circumstances, the frontline fight for a failing ecosystem) require more than just steps.
We need to be ready to leap.