May 3, 2011

POWERSHIFT 2011: Monday at Lafayette Park

I'm still pretty bummed that I didn't go to any of the Sunday workshops, but the upside of that was how much more I looked forward to everything on Monday. Before the Friday and Saturday, I had actually been a bit reluctant and intimidated about Rally Day. I never really thought that I was cut out for that sort of activism...which is kind of funny, given that I adore Edward Abbey's writing. Desert Solitaire changed my life. And from that, even though I still haven't made time to read The Monkey Wrench Gang, I found that sort of action appealing. So go figure...I'm not sure why my logic was personally against rally activism.

So I was pretty intimidated about heading to Lafayette Park Monday morning, and honestly only had a vague idea of what to expect. That vague idea was somewhere between the warped media stereotype of Greenpeace and the ridiculously AWESOME things that happened at the convention center on Friday and Saturday.

As an aside, I want to briefly talk about the disgustingly bad experience I had on the Metro that morning. I've been to DC before. The Metro is pretty good. Construction and other factors probably contributed, but during the MORNING COMMUTE HOUR, the red line failed HARD. I was at the freaking station around 9 (Tenleytown), and should have gotten to the appropriate stop around 9.30ish. But noooo, the morning of a big rally, the trains got all malfunction-y. Consequently, the hundreds of commuters and young environmentalists got to pack penguin-style (or sardine style, take your pick) both on the platform and in the car. On a semi-humid, high-70s day. I was wearing a duffle bag as a backpack and carrying a pillow and a tote full of stuff for the rally and afternoon lobbying. It was incredibly sticky, frazzled, and generally revolting. Easily my worst public transportation experience. The American train system, both in subways and across the country, REALLY needs renovations. Europe (and Japan, pre-earthquake spring) knows how to get public transportation done. When the model American subway system fails hard, that's a very sad statement about the state of the nation's systems in general.

I got to Lafayette Park, found my fellow SLU-zers, managed to deposit my luggage on our bus, and then booked it to the nearest Starbucks (conveniently located only a block and a half away). I was pretty frazzled at that point. A Venti mocha frapp with extra espresso proved to be appropriately contradictory and caffeinated to calm me down. Except naturally, I opted out on the whipped cream. I am in a sorority, after all. I have to be a little idiosyncratic as an environmentalist and as a sorority girl (among other things). To not do so would be terribly un-Amurrikan.

Once I'd ingested (inhaled) some delicious, chocolatey caffeine and taken a few deep breathes, the awe started to sink in. In the five minutes it took me to get my coffee, the 200-some people in Lafayette Park had swollen to 2000 or so, and the speeches were just about to start. Green helmets were everywhere. There's just something about all that mutual energy- excitement, motivation, indignation- that is a truer, much better kind of electrifying. I felt beyond myself in a way I rarely do among crowds: beyond myself in the way I normally feel when I'm in the mountains with nothing but whatever I'm wearing and whatever is in my backpack.

There is that inspiration that you get from hearing the story of a woman who walked from the Gulf Coast to DC to make a statement about what is happening to her community and habitat. There is that indignation when the event organizers talk about political apathy and when Bill McKibben reiterates the corruption of the US Chamber of Commerce. The initial rally was incredibly inspirational; feeling spiritually connected to several thousand other people all gathered in the same place is a precious and (sadly) rare experience. We transcended the virtual reality of contemporary Western society for a little while.

Maybe that sounds a bit hippie-ish, stoner-ish, who knows. To me, it is my best effort at describing a connection to people en masse that is far too rare these days. Forming and experiencing those connections is something that will be crucial for our culture to really change. It is vital. We need to reach that deeper understanding of our fellow beings and of our location...not just a student rally in Lafayette Park, DC, but all life on planet Earth.

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