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Extremism in Defense of the Planet

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“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. The Nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

I might have agreed with Dr. King’s statement when I was a teenager during the Vietnam War, but it’s nothing that would have been ascribed to me as an adult.

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Dr. King

Like many people, I have been taught to be wary of extremists. Stick to the center, stray neither to the right nor to the left, and you won’t get yourself in trouble. People won’t respect you if you stray from the comfortable middle. You won’t be listened to.

Unless you are an athlete or an energy drink, you don’t want to be viewed as extreme.

When I worked in environmental messaging and communications on Capitol Hill, we learned that the best way to side-line someone was to label them as an extremist. “Out of step” is a good phrase. Likewise, industry PR reps labeled all environmentalists as extremists — “elitist tree-huggers who want everyone to freeze in the dark.” We tried hard to represent ourselves as mainstream. Just a bunch of soccer Moms over here…what, you think I hug trees or something?? (I do, get over it.)

I’ve noticed that right-wing commentators are even calling the National Rifle Association “extreme” and “out of step” these days. Curiouser and curiouser.

In Praise of Imbalance

Last night in my spiritual book group, we got to talking about whether or not we can really make a difference in the world. Should we focus on our inner growth, become the best humans we can be, and trust that this will make the world a healthier place? Is it better to march in demonstrations and wave signs? Do you have to go to Africa and build an orphanage? Or is it the simpler things that count, like working at a soup kitchen or helping with Habitat for Humanity?

“Balance,” several intoned, followed by much nodding.

This may true for individuals; I’m not sure. But I am sure that balance doesn’t help a society or a world that is badly in need of change. Balance doesn’t lead to change, it maintains the status quo. In order to move from the status quo, you’ve got to have people out on the edges tipping the scales. The type of people who go on hunger strikes, who march in the streets, who refuse to sit in the back of the bus.

The comfortable people in the middle won’t like these troublemakers on the edge; they knock things off kilter. They will label them:

Extremists.

Getting Out of Step

I’m headed for the edge. I’ve changed my mind about extremists — I’m with Dr. King.

Look where “the norm” has gotten us. If enough people don’t get “out of step” pretty damn quickly, our planet is in big trouble. It’s not enough to just vote anymore.

Hand holding a world on fire

The oil and gas industry has more money than God, and they are willing to spend whatever it takes to stop action on climate change. It is up to “we, the people” to make this change.

Even my former employer, the well-respected but slightly stodgy 120-year-old Sierra Club, has just announced that it will engage in civil disobedience because the time is so short and the stakes are so high.

Creative Extremism

I think that when Dr. King talked about “creative extremism,” he might have been talking about the kind of extremist that creates new things, builds towards a new vision, rather than simply deconstructing and criticizing.

It seems we finally have a leader willing to lead towards that kind of vision. In case you missed President Obama’s inaugural speech on Monday, he spent more time talking about climate change than any other issue:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

THANK GOD!

There’s going to be a huge climate rally in D.C. on February 17th. I’m going to make some signs and go act like an extremist. Will you join me?

Find out more about it here.

You can also make calls to help turn out other extremists — ahem, activists.

And check out this video:

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How Not to Screw Up Your Holidays

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I guess they are officially here now.

The Holidays.

And you know what that means.

Crazy busy…OMG, I’m so stressed out…I’m so behind with my shopping…Oh no, not another open house!

Stuff We Don’t Need

Every year since my mother died – it’s been four now – I slip away around Thanksgiving to get myself mentally prepared to bow out of the madness. I spend a few weeks at my little writing retreat in New Hampshire and arrive home serene and centered, only to be met with a rush of busyness that knocks me over like a gust of arctic air. No one can stand against it.

This year I am determined. I bought lots of nice chocolates and some calendars – no unneeded gifts, no Christmas cards that waste paper and burn fuel as they jet across the country.

I’m thrilled that my neighbor is making Christmas dinner, so I don’t even have to clean my house, let alone get my pots and pans all dirty.

My Gift to You

Red Christmas Present

To Blog Friends, From Santa

My gift to you, blog friends, is a wonderful essay written this summer, which seems particularly salient as we approach December.

Here are a few excerpts, but I do hope you’ll click on the link and read the whole thing.

  • “The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.”

This is a crucial distinction. We are not victims. This busyness did not happen to us. If you feel too busy, you are likely choosing that. I’m not talking about the people who are working three jobs just to make ends meet; most of us choose our lifestyles, our material “needs,” and our activities, and we can change our minds about what we’ve chosen. We can also change our approach to the holidays.

  • It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.”

I was a part of this dynamic when I worked as an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill. I bought into it and tried to live up to it.”Really? You’re not working this weekend?” Or, “You’re leaving already?” There can be an added undertone of righteousness when the work is not-for-profit. At Christmas, it’s about competitive shopping and competitive social calendars.

  • Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day … I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

Wow – right between the eyes. I could not agree more. This is especially poignant at a time of year when we should probably be reflecting on the deeper meaning of our lives. Maybe that’s why the pace increases!

  • Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain … The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

This is one of the reasons that becoming a writer attracted me. It gives me “permission” to withdraw from the busyness, for the sake of my creativity. It seems you have to have a special waiver to escape the busyness trap.

  • “I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.”

This is the wonderful gift of a well-lived Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. We get to spend real, honest, spacious, wondrous time with the people we love.

People I Love

You Can Do This

Here’s the full blog by Tim Kreider – I hope you’ll take the time to draw a few deep breaths, put your feet up, and read this:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

While you’re at it, here’s a timely piece about the strikers at Walmart, trying to strike a blow (so to speak) for sanity and time with family over the holidays. It’s written by a pastor who points out that Americans work more than any other people in the industrialized world. Perhaps as much as A MONTH more each year. Ponder that.

Thanks and giving: Why Wal-Mart “Black Friday” strikes are important – Guest Voices – The Washington Post

Do yourself a favor. Make a holiday plan now, and schedule in downtime. Alone time to reflect. Leisure time with your family. Face time (not racing-between-parties time) with your best friends. You can do this. (I’m talking to myself as much as to you!)

I wish you peace and happiness and idle time with people you love. Merry, Happy, and Blessed…

hanukkah icon menorahChristmas tree decoratedkinara  Kwanzaa Candles

photo credits to Clipart and : <a href=”http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=13063&picture=inside-a-christmas-shop”>Inside A Christmas Shop</a> by Petr Kratochvil

Welcome Inside My Head (Yikes!)

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Greetings, fellow Web wanderer. I’m glad you’re making a virtual visit to my new blog. I’m more than a little nervous about this undertaking, so I appreciate your company. My name’s Melanie, and I’m a recovering environmental lobbyist, having escaped from nearly thirty years on Capitol Hill. My soul is still green, and I enjoy working locally in Maryland and occasionally consulting on faith-based environmental initiatives, but I am increasingly absorbed in my new life as a freelance writer.

I’m told that every “serious” writer (a somewhat dubious label) must have a blog, and so, I begin. This shouldn’t be too hard, because I love stories, and isn’t that what the best blogs are? I like all kinds of stories, but true stories are my favorites, so most of my writing consists of essays, profiles, and memoir.

Writing has been spiritually and emotionally healing for me, and I want to help others explore writing as a path to serenity and personal freedom.  I believe we’re put here to love and to learn from each other — I hope that my journey will be of some use to you, and I trust that your stories and comments will help me grow as well. Welcome!

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