If a person of learning participates in public affairs and serves as judge or arbiter, she gives stability to the land… But if she sits in her home and says to herself, ‘What have the affairs of society to do with me?…. Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!’—if she does this, she overthrows the world. -from Midrash Tanhuma, Mishpatim 2
I wish there was no need to protest, that there was no tar sands oil pipeline threatening to encroach upon sacred burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux or to imperil the safety of water for whole communities. But the strength, dignity, and purpose displayed by Native water defenders under intense pressure—including violence from highly militarized authorities—inspires my respect. The excited shouts from defenders as they see buffalo approaching on the horizon brings me tears of joy. Watching white religious leaders from across the country answer the call to stand in solidarity with Native leaders—knowing this nation’s history of systematic abuse, oppression, and extermination of Native peoples perpetrated by Whites—moves me deeply and gives me hope for something new.
Something new. A new dynamic here in the U.S. and across the globe. A dynamic of solidarity rather than abuse, cooperation rather than exploitation, and power-with rather than power-over.
Our patterns of abuse, exploitation, and power-over have brought us to our current moment of climate crisis. Only new patterns of solidarity, cooperation, and power-with can transform us in time to avert the worst impacts.
At the same historical moment when people from across the country are gathering in solidarity in North Dakota, standing strong at Standing Rock; leaders from across the globe are preparing to meet in Marrakech, Morocco for the next round of international climate talks. These talks, COP22, follow on the heels of a landmark climate agreement that emerged from last year’s COP21 talks in Paris. The international agreement was ratified incredibly quickly and goes into effect November 4, 2016. But don’t let celebrations over the Paris Agreement fool you—there is still much work to do, and while the global community might have agreed on some goals, much of the way we’ll actually achieve those goals is still to be determined.
Many of the issues at play over construction of a tar sands pipeline at Standing Rock will also be at play in Marrakech. They are questions on a global scale of solidarity or abuse, cooperation or exploitation, and power-with or power-over.
Do we continue to invest in fossil fuel extraction that imperils current and future generations, indeed the planet as a whole? Do we continue in patterns of exploitation and abuse that manifest not only in environmental destruction but also in environmental racism, wherein people of color suffer the worst impacts of pollution and global climate change? Do we in the global north use our financial and technological resources to shore up our defenses against climate impacts but exclude poorer countries—even though we are most responsible for the reality of climate change?
I am going to Marrakech to listen in on these global conversations. I will be there as a representative of Texas Interfaith Power & Light and under the auspices of COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. Leaders from a variety of other U.S. religious communities—Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran (ELCA), Presbyterian (PCUSA), Episcopalian, Muslim, and Unitarian—will be there, too. Together, we will represent a small sliver of the religious diversity that flourishes in the United States—and together, we will do our best to witness these important global negotiations on behalf of our faith communities so that our communities can better advocate for the wellbeing of God’s people and God’s creation.
We are living in a time when sitting at home, ignoring the voices of protest and the affairs of society is not only irresponsible; it is dangerous. Allowing current dynamics to continue unchallenged and untransformed could indeed “overthrow the world.”
I will do my best at COP22 to listen, learn, and report back. You can follow our TXIPL interfaith team of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish staff reports on COP22 here; for updates from me to the U.S. Jewish community, visit COEJL; and of course you can follow my blog here. Meanwhile, I am eager to follow the story of Standing Rock as it continues to unfold. And: for the vast majority of people who won’t be driving to North Dakota or flying to Marrakech, I am excited to hear how people are transforming dynamics in their own communities in order to create a healthier future for all people everywhere.
So tell me: how are you standing in solidarity, encouraging cooperation, and shifting to power-with rather than power-over in your community?