Robert Michael Pyle is a consummate scientist, writer, and storyteller. Even sitting for two hours in a well lit public library in the afternoon felt more like listening to ghost stories around a campfire in the woods (replete with discomfort at the length). But Bob wasn’t here to tell tall tales and convince us of the existence of Bigfoot with the revision and reprint his book, Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide. He was here to challenge all those notions of what we think is true and how to keep our real imaginations active. To stare at the Dark Divide, as he tells it, between how we can find evidence and not know what that means and how to keep our minds open from the darkness of narratives made too certain. He says, a rational person would keep the mind open, and we so seldom do, mistaking the narrative of that rationality for reality.
The difference between looking into Bigfoot and not looking for Bigfoot is important.
The Dark Divide does a lot of work though. It is Bob’s name for the place most saturated with Sasquatch lore and an inaccessible, mostly ‘wilderness’ land. It characterizes a region, part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and other nearby reserves with a long and troubled Federal protection history. So named from John Dark, a prospector first to the area and handing out racist names for many spots. It was dark too from lack of roads, even logging ones trying to access its old growth. It is the break between the Cispus and Lewis River drainages, surrounded by mountains named by the residing tribes, most notably the Klickitat and Yakama: Tahoma (Rainier), Pahto (Adams), Wyeast (Hood), and Loo Wit (St. Helens). Those tribes often recognized the big hairy ones as part of the local fauna, hidden peoples in the mountains.
It is here that Bob’s investigations of Bigfoot are focused. Whether named as Bigfoot or Sasquatch, or from some of the pacific northwest tribal traditions as Windigo, Witiko, Stoneclad, WoodMan, Natiinaq, Neginla-eh, or from Asia as Yeti, Almasty, Yeh Ren, Chuchunaa, or in Europe as Grendel, or Hollywood as King Kong—the tradition has an extensive history worldwide. What is it about these stories we must continue to tell? What about our relationship with wilderness and nature, our distant hominid brethren, or our ethics of land and societal management that these stories evoke? These are covered better by him in the book, still quite lengthy.
Keep in mind, I’m a chemist and science-minded person by training. I think a healthy amount of real skepticism is important (not that so-called ’climate change skepticism’ that gets passed off as real skepticism): analyzing evidence and data, examining our rhetorics, money trails, and the stories behind what we think we know. To that end, I had already dismissed much of what the conspiracy community had to say about Bigfoot. Bob is similarly wary of the ‘gold fever’ existent in many of these true believers and conferences. I can love the stories for their own merit, but never actually believed that Bigfoot could exist.
Two hours in a room with Robert Michael Pyle can open your mind.
Bob wasn’t there to convince anyone, let alone himself, of the true existence of Bigfoot either. But the evidence: the footprints and castings, the contestable Gimlin video and his advocacy, knotted twigs, and true experiences of wails in the night, serve as present enough evidence that we should at least allow our preconceptions about Bigfoot to question our actual references and narratives. The evidence is astounding, and yet.
We still don’t have a Yeti in the room, and so the evidence speaks just enough to show a tiny gap, perhaps convincing few, but enough to keep our minds open so other voices get heard, and questions still flowing. Knowledge and belief exist as a tree, different branching perspectives and modes of existence: science, traditional, intuitive, narratives, and others still. All are there to serve the development of how to know the darkness. And, as Bob says, “Perfectly good myth should not be dismissed.”
I still don’t ‘believe’ in Bigfoot, but I’ve become sufficiently, welcomingly agnostic towards Bigfoot and to the heritage of other’s beliefs and the possibility of making kin with those unknown, dark places. I think we need more cozy uncertainty than the absolutist affirmation or denial of all sorts of notions if we hope to move forward as a collective people, challenging what we think we know about people and how this world works, and what lives in the Dark Divide.
We still don’t know things about our world, and that’s a good thing.
Schonberg is a musician, natural historian, scientist, and creator, and in the face of that ominous silence, she’s made it her life work to document and amplify the sounds of ecosystems in order to protect them. This mission has taken her around the world, recording the sounds of endangered bees in Hawaii and, most recently, ants in the Amazon.
She uses her music to magnify the voices of the silenced chorus. Sometimes she packages the undoctored sounds of the ants. Other times, she mixes them into new rhythms. And sometimes, she plays right along with them, drumming a beat to the choir – an interspecies symphony.
It’s called the biophony – the soundscape of ecosystems that Schonberg is tapping into. I imagine that humanity was once included in that biophony. But at some point, we got too loud, and we began creating sounds that didn’t quite fit in.
Enter, the anthropophony – the soundscape of humanity. In many places, the anthropophony has overlaid the biophony to the extent that we can no longer hear the little critters. Without their sounds and voices, we forget that they have something to say, a contribution to make, and we’re then excused to act poorly toward them.
Striving to break open this silence, Schonberg listens to the ants.
It’s eavesdropping really because, she found, the ants are really talking to one another. Acoustic communication, she calls it. In the past, it was thought that ants only communicate through vibrations, but, thanks to the work of people like Schonberg, we are learning more and more about how these insects relate with one another.
Schonberg’s presentation made me realize the many layers that exist in communication. Spurred by her inquiry into the natural world, I have begun to wonder: how do we communicate up here in the anthropophony? Well, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of images, and a lot of language. With my bachelor’s in English, I have spent years obsessing over the nature of language. In it’s average service to us, language is largely symbolic mixed with a little bit of noise, and thus, though we usually fail to realize, it is limited in its ability to paint a full picture of reality and our environment.
When we texture language with acoustics (not thoughtless noise) and rhythm – elements universally translatable to all dialects and, perhaps, as Schonberg is proving, even all species – we get poetry. We get music. Perhaps the more we can texture our language, the richer our communication will be. The more we’ll be able to appreciate the value of the ants.
We need people like Schonberg. People paying attention. People humbling humanity’s hubris with reminders of all the voices that are out there. People not afraid to tease our perceived boundaries of communication. Reminding us that the world of the human is not a rendering of the Big Picture but a faction of it.
I will graduate this June, and then I will move somewhere else. While I don’t yet know where that “somewhere else” will be, I do know I will not want or need to bring most of what I own along with me. “Need” has taken on a new meaning to me recently, as recent events have given me a glimpse into a future for this world that is far from stable.
Generations before mine were raised to see their lives as stories of steady progress and growth. You go to school, you get a nice job, you fall in love and marry. You work your way up in your careerby being hardworking and loyal, and you steadily gain capital. You have children. You buy your first new car, you buy a house, you buy yourself more stability through flood insurance and fire insurance and health insurance and car insurance for events you suspect will never happen. You save money for a vacation here and there, you put your kids through college so they can follow in your footsteps, and then you retire. Well done.
I suppose there were times in my life when I ascribed to this life story. I suppose in some ways, by being a graduate student at age 24, about to leave academia and venture off into The Real World, I still am. Yet questions have arisen during my time on Earth that challenge this common understanding of the Plot Line for Life. I am a member of a capitalistic society that is running out of fuel. I am a citizen of a country that removed itself from the Paris Climate Agreement, whose president is actively working to undermine environmental protection agencies, research, and regulations, and who seems all too happy to provoke a similarly unstable authoritarian who is making threats of nuclear war. I am a citizen of a world that is in the midst of the largest extinction event in geologic history, and I am a member of a species that is at the root of thatextinction.
For me, “Anthropocene” and “apocalypse” have become virtually synonymous. I swipe through my phone and pause to watch a video of southern California going up in flames. I watch as hundreds of cars wind down a highway in a scene that seems so familiar, but I can’t place it. So I stop, think, and oh, right – this is the image of Hell that is branded into our brains from a young age, seemingly whether we grew up religious or not. This is the climax of the movie when theworld goes up in flames.
I don’t have a job lined up for the future or plans for kids and a house, but I plan to gather together the essentials for a bug-out bag this winter, so that I am ready to leave my home at a moment’s notice and never return. I plan to coordinate a way of communicating to and meeting up with my loved ones if an earthquake strikes, or a fire erupts, or a flood engulfs the Willamette Valley. And then, I plan to learn how to grow my own food, filter my water, and start a fire without a match. I plan to learn what I can eat in a forest without getting sick, and I plan to become more familiar with my local resources, in case our globalized systems collapse, and my world suddenly shrinks to a few hundred miles or less.
Do you think I’m crazy? Look at this world. Listen to the President of the United States. Look at the devastation from Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Harvey, the 210,000 gallons of oil that just spilled out of a pipeline in South Dakota, and tell me that the world isn’t crazy.
But this is the part of my post where I am supposed to offer a ray of hope, so I’m going to try. Have you heard of the Degrowth Movement? At the beginning of this term, Dr. Barbara Muraca gave a talk at the OSU Center for Humanities in which she presented some of the work she has been doing that looks into this movement. I have to be honest with you – I am still wrapping my head around Degrowth and what it means to undergo “downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet,” as it is described on an online forum for the movement. I am still imagining the implications, based on current power structures, for people of color and other underprivileged communities to transform toward “a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions.”
Yet, I am excited to see transformative movements gaining traction and earning respect in a university setting, and I plan to keep stoking my glimmers of optimism about the future of this planet by reading and learning about resilience thinking. I plan to keep surrounding myself with strong, passionate people who are ready to approach the future with creativity and wit, and I want to wiggle into that perfect niche where I am both useful and happy.
In the meantime, (and in the spirit of Degrowth), I need to get rid of a few things. Can you help? I have a pile of clothes I don’t wear, boxes of half-broken gadgets, and too many shoes. When I graduate and move out, do you want all my furniture? Do you want my old textbooks? Do you want my phone? Do you want to relieve me of this reflex to consume products I don’t need and resources I shouldn’t use? Do you want to help me start a garden? Do you want to teach me how to sew? I’m trying. I’m learning. And this is my plan for the Anthropocene.
Since I have moved across the country and spent a few months in my new home, I have been pondering what it means to be part of a community. Is it being in a group of people who simply happen live in the same place or can it be so much more? I don’t consider where I live at the moment to be my only community, as I consider myself to be part of many. I surrounded myself with part of my new local clique when I went to the Whiteside Theater last month. The people who gathered at this event were those who value the strength of words, nature, and culture. They helped in giving back by donating the money they didn’t need. Through the power of story, I was able to discover that where I am right now is where I’m supposed to be.
The Magic Barrel: A Reading to Fight Hunger, sponsored by OSU’s Center for the Humanities, was a night which tugged at my heartstrings and provoked much thought. The premise of the evening was to have various authors read excerpts of their works to bring a focus back to community and engagement. Through “the Power of Story,” the hope of the hosts was to raise money and awareness for Linn Benton Food Share.
The MC of the night, Karelia Stetz-Waters, captured the crowd gathered under the Whiteside Theatre’s Roof with her open personality and wit.
A Night of Readings
The first reader, Clem Starck, gave an emotional, thoughtful, and true to life reading of his poems which contained humor as well as wisdom.
Another author, David Turkel, presented to the audience a quite unique piece: a one-woman show, monologue-driven rendition of Agamemnon set in West Virginia, originally produced for a French audience by a British theater company. What started off as a humoroussetting, with the accent and all, the writer delivered an emotion-packed monologue of the one-woman show with the feel of the original Greek tragedy. A difficult feat marvelously pulled off.
Poet Bonnie Arning read poems from her newly released work Escape Velocity. The pieces she read were powerful and true, mainly explorations of her own experiences.
John Daniel, an author who awoke the Oregonian in me when he said, “rain wakes the land/rain is home,” is also an Oregonian wannabe, yet he described the landscape like a true native.
The showstopper of the evening, Kathleen Dean Moore, local celebrity, was an absolute delight to see on stage. If you already knew Kathleen Dean Moore as a writer, you need to experience
her as a performer. Kathy read from her work Piano Tide as Audrey Perkins sang and hummed next to her. I discovered that the best way to read a work by Moore is to heave her read to you with the accompaniment of Audrey’s clear voice. If you can’t have the real thing, at least read her works with her voice running through your head, it is not the same experience, but it’s close enough.
By the end of the evening, over $9,000 were raised which equates to over 64,000 meals for the food share to donate.
Once a month the Roadrunner Foodbank distributes pounds and pounds of food on the Mescalero Apache reservation in southern New Mexico. I lived and worked in Mescalero for a little over a year as an Americorps volunteer on an educational farm in 2015. I often helped distribute food to the many families that came to collect items, and I even received some food myself. The food bank provides an excellent service to a great number of families and individuals on the reservation, however, there were some less than desirable facets. We would often receive highly processed and sugar-laden foods, like cookies and cakes, and sometimes we would receive produce like chayote squash and aloe leaves that local people didn’t know how to cook. One month we received an inordinate amount of chewing gum. Bread, produce, and other canned goods were incredibly useful and well received by the Apache families, but some items weren’t exactly nutritional or beneficial.
Currently, within the United States, there are approximately 200 food banks that distribute food to over 60,000 food pantries(Fisher 2017). As of 2016, 46 million Americans visited food pantries, approximately 1 out of every 7 people. Although the generous charity and rosy intentions of kindly Americans certainly aid many of the hungry and poverty-stricken individuals in the U.S, most donors fail to recognize the underlying alliance between anti-hunger campaigns and big business. In his latest book, “Big Hunger”, Andrew Fisher untangles the insidious webs woven between corporate interest and charitable agencies. I attended Mr. Fisher’s short, but enlightening talk on the topics discussed in his book at Grassroots bookstore in late October.
Andrew Fisher began his talk by addressing the history of these charitable organizations in this country. Food banks gained popularity in the United States in the early 1980’s due to the economic recession coupled with president Reagan’s slashing of economic safety nets (Fisher 2017). Since then, food banks have become a commonplace and accessible service across the United States. However, the growth of food banks has been seen to benefit some far more than others. According to Andrew Fisher, some CEOs of food banks rake in upwards of $250,000 annually. The roots of big business have also snaked their way into the workings of food banks, with 22% of food bank board members being affiliated with fortune 1000 companies like Kraft and Walmart. These companies hold a certain level of clout when it comes to making policy for food bank operations. For example, food banks typically measure success by the weight of food received and donated. This sounds like a plausible technique until one considers that liters of soda weigh far more than bread or romaine lettuce. The lettuce lobby appears vastly underfunded compared to PepsiCo.
Walmart, the largest corporation in the United States, is renowned for their millions of pounds of donations to charities and food banks across the country (Forbes 2017). However, Andrew Fisher contends, that this is a huge ploy to gain popularity among consumers (Fisher 2017). He attests that although Walmart certainly isn’t anti-hunger they are not anti-poverty. One could argue that they actually thrive on poverty. In fact, it is commonplace for Walmart to encourage their employees to visit food banks and sign up for government benefits, such as SNAP, that can be spent at their stores. According to an article published by Forbes, in the year 2013 Walmart accounted for 18% of sales involving SNAP benefits (Forbes 2014). The article cites a report conducted by the Americans for Tax Fairness coalition that calculated U.S. taxpayers paid $6.2 billion in public assistance to low wage Walmart employees in 2013. Fisher asserts that Walmart store employees that do not hold managerial positions often work a 32 hour work week so that Walmart can legally avoid denying them the benefits that go along with full-time employment (Fisher 2017).
What if Walmart did decide to pay a higher hourly rate? Would prices soar? Not really. The Labor Center at UC Berkeley determined that if Walmart paid all of their employees at least $12 per hour it would cost them $3.2 billion, 1% of the companies annual sales (Jacobs 2011). If Walmart decided to pass off the cost of raised wages to the consumer, the study finds that it would cost the average shopper about $12.50 more per year. For workers earning less than $9 per hour, this $12 per hour wage increase would amount to an extra $3,250- $6,500 in their pockets annually. That would mean less need for public assistance, and less reliance on food pantries for meeting basic needs. The solution to poverty lies in addressing not just hunger, but also wages.
As the season of giving fast approaches, many Americans will be donating to the plentiful food drives and food banks across the nation. Although the relationship between anti-hunger campaigns and big business is quite shady indeed, there are 41.2 million people in the United States that are food insecure (USDA 2017). Donating to a food bank or pantry is very generous and kindhearted, and by no means should anyone discontinue supporting hungry individuals and families. However, if we as a country wish to truly assist those in need we must help pull people out of poverty instead of continuing this cycle of impossibly low wages coupled with the constant need for assistance. If we really wish to help those in need perhaps we should couple our fight against hunger with a fight for fifteen.
FISHER, A. (2017). BIG HUNGER: the unholy alliance between corporate america and anti-hunger groups. S.l.: MIT PRESS.
This word, subversive, has come up frequently for me in recent conversations in class, in community organizing, and while reading books and articles. It’s eerie. Before a seminar discussion, a few weeks ago, about ecology as a subversive subject, I do not recall paying any attention to the word, let alone having a full grasp of what it meant. Now I am seeing and hearing it all over the place, and I cannot help but think about the connections between each situation when the word comes up.
To be subversive is to attempt or intend to undermine, disrupt, or overturn an established assumption, system, or paradigm. Aside from it being the perfect word that describes my reason for being in the Environmental Arts and Humanities Master’s program, subversive was not an adjective in my verbal repertoire, until now.
So how does this relate to climate change and sustaining a successful movement against the major ecological destruction we are heading toward?
On October 19th, I had the honor of speaking on a panel about civic action for an undergraduate class at OSU titled, “Climate Change and its Challenges: Responding with Resilience in Community”.
Professor Ken Winograd, from the College of Education, invited me to panel alongside Professor Linda Richards, from the School of History Philosophy and Religion, and David DeHart, a Senior in Environmental Science. I have organized demonstrations and workshops with Ken, Linda, and David before, and was happy to be in their company while talking to the group of eleven students about climate change activism.
Professor Winograd asked us panelists to respond to two prompts: What are the different types of action? What are the personal benefits for activists? The three of us had input that complimented what we each had to say. It was great to have different perspectives and experience levels while talking about these larger concepts. Linda spoke about making a promise to herself as a young girl to end war when she saw the photo of nine year old Kim Phúc running from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War. She later realized she could actually keep that promise when she discovered nonviolence as both an ideology and a practice in organizing around nuclear disarmament. David spoke about finding a sense of community that can emotionally sustain folks while dealing with difficult issues in activist and organizing groups.
Ken wanted us panelists to show his students that there are many forms of action and many roles one can take to be involved in a particular protest or demonstration.For many who see the pictures in the news of the brave folks suspending themselves from bridges like during the Shell No campaign, or sitting in front of trains, such as the Vancouver 21, activism may seem too daunting, too dangerous, too arrest-able.
I wanted to give the students a more holistic sense of what those types of demonstrations entail. I spoke about the many roles involved in planning and performing such an action. Roles can include legal observers, media and police liaisons, even those who are providing child care for organizers, and supplying food and water for people. All of these roles are integral to a successful action and are needed to sustain movements that are subversive to the systems at the root of climate change: capitalism, imperialism, and heteronormative, white supremacist patriarchy.
I mentioned that action can also be more on the creative side, such as the street theater that was performed on February 1, 2016 by community organizers that were contributing to the global Divest campaign. After months of the student and faculty led OSU Divest group trying to persuade the OSU Foundation to divest from fossil fuel company holdings, to no avail, community members decided to escalate tactics to really get the Foundation’s attention. We created a mock oil spill on the Memorial Union Quad, with a clean-up crew trying to keep passersby out of the danger area, while people acting as the CEO of Exxon Mobil and OSU President Ed Ray stood by shaking hands and doing “business as usual”. Members from OSU Divest, and Rising Tide Corvallis spoke to the crowd about the ethical implications of public entities, such as universities, profiting off of climate change. It was creative, fun, and lively, and it got attention.
After the panel discussion we split into groups with the students and discussed what their thoughts were and if any of them felt compelled to take part in any actions in the future. Most of the students had not heard of the support roles needed in safe and successful protests, and some of them mentioned their interest in becoming more involved in the community. One student seemed really interested, and to me, that is a win!
My impression, upon leaving that day, was that we had imbued the students in Ken’s class with the knowledge and confidence to become more active in the movement to mitigate climate change. The three of us, with various experiences and reasons for being involved ourselves, ignited sparks in some of the students that were not previously lit. Without our discussion, the students would not be moved to partake in any form of resistance. Or so I thought, until I attended an event the next evening, which was subversive to those assumptions.
Kevin Van Meter came to OSU and spoke about his recently published book, Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make Revolution Possible, on October 20th.
During the book review, Kevin explained that the premise of his claim is based on subverting an assumption held by organizers and activists on the left. That assumption is that laborers, students, the poor, “are unorganized, acquiescent to systems of domination, or simply uninterested in building a new world”. Organizers, whether they are members of a union, or a group based on immigrant rights, often feel like they need to come into a space and teach the people how to be radical, how to organize and resist the systems of oppression in which they are immersed. But most people are already resisting in ways, that when looked at as a whole, are fairly subversive. This includes taking a longer break at work in order to make a doctor’s appointment because our lives cannot be neatly packaged outside of our nine to fives, or students spending time doing meaningful activities with friends and family that may cost them a lower GPA, or immigrants that learn and share techniques for a livelihood in a place that is constantly hostile to them.
These everyday forms of resistance are political and are often underestimated, or overlooked on the left. Kevin’s talk taught me an important lesson: While trying to inspire action in people, especially those that are most affected by issues such as climate change, organizers like myself need to meet people where they are at and try to understand the ways in which they are already resisting. This is an ecological view, to look at the connections and intersections of small acts of resistance that feed into the larger forms of action. It is key to understanding how to form alternatives to the systems we resist. And it is humbling for activists and organizers to acknowledge that everyone can and does resist on some level.
So, while speaking on the panel for the eleven undergraduate students was subversive to climate change, it was so for different reasons than I originally thought.
Instead of the three of us acting as givers of knowledge and empowerment, we were starting a conversation that allowed for the self-actualization of power and resistance. We were building relationships that illuminate the common ground we share. And we were resisting climate change in that moment by having a discussion in a class about responding to climate change, in a classroom at Oregon State University.
When you consider what types of large-scale social and individual changes that are needed to actually mitigate the climate crisis,you can’t be much more subversive than creating community and better understanding our own every day forms of resistance.
Thanks to Ken, Linda, David, and Kevin. Also thanks to the Coalition of Graduate Employees, Students united for Palestinian Equal Rights, Anarres Project for Alternative Futures, Allied Students for Another Politics, and Corvallis-Albany I.W.W. for sponsoring the Kevin Van Meter event.
 Paul B. Sears, “Ecology: A Subversive Subject,” BioScience 14, no. 7 (1964): 11-13.
 Van Meter, Kevin. Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible. California: AK Press, 2017.
When writing this essay, I kept coming back to the idea of mathematical division, an attempt at grasping a metaphor for what we have done to the earth by constructing barriers, and what we have done to ourselves. You know, four divided by two equals now we each have less. The US/Mexico border is a prolific reality to this metaphor, it is a jagged scar across the continent that we can’t let heal. On October 20th at Oregon State University, as part of the School of Arts & Communication’s Visiting Artists and Scholars Lecture Series, the esteemed photographer, Richard Misrach, spoke on his most recent work that focuses on where nature and man interact on the US/Mexico border, a project titled, Border Cantos.
The wall spans 2,000 miles between Mexico and the United States, barriers range in size and material, depending on where they are located. Misrach’s lecture featured an array of photographs that he had taken while near the border. The first that he showed were grouped under the title, “The Wall,” and featured images of the border juxtaposed against various and vibrant landscapes: rolling hills and peaceful beaches cut by the rust-black enormity of the wall. An image that stood out from the commanding group, was one of a small segment of wall, attached to nothing, in the middle of a flat barren landscape. It is stopping no one, physically, but it serves as an emotional reminder of division. At the bottom of the wall bright green grass is growing, it is the only green in the image, the only perceived life in the frame, and it is that of the natural world, bordering a pointless border wall, reclaiming and asserting itself against what is stark and lifeless in its hate.
Various items are used throughout the wall to separate the land. Bleak iron X’s are used to stop vehicles from crossing the border. They resemble large skeletal tumbleweeds, motionless and massive against the desert landscape.
Misrach has been working in partnership with the musician Guillermo Galindo, who makes musical instruments out of objects that Misrach has brought back from the wall. Such instruments include a large piece of the wall itself, hung between beams and played as a percussion piece. Galindo has also made instruments out of clothing and other found object left behind by immigrants, resulting in hauntingly moving compositions that speak to the migrant crisis and the resilience of art and life. Misrach played a sample from a composition that Galindo made from children’s belongings that had been left behind after thousands of lone children migrated from Central America. Children’s shoes, toys, and bibles were found in the middle of the desert. The composition was chilling and heartbreaking, Misrach partnered it with photographs from his “Artifacts Cantos” that were made at the places the items were lost by the children and found by the photographer.
The haunting artifacts of the desert documented in Misrach’s photos also included effigies made out of agave stalks and previously found migrant clothing. The effigies were made and left behind by an unknown artist. In Misrach’s photographs they stand like people with their arms and legs splayed out. Reaching and asserting themselves in the desert and against the wall.
The wall doesn’t just separate two nations, it also divides parts of the United States from itself. Misrach described this area as the “third nation,” a place considered to be a limbo between the US and Mexico, to the north of the Rio Grande and to the south of the border wall. Misrach’s photos of this area show the desolation of this forgotten country, abandoned and for sale buildings are reclaimed by the desert and lost to civilization. In another group of photos, titled “Premonitions Cantos,” Misrach explores the effects this division has had on people, which he describes as a “dystopian anger manifesting in different ways,” all displayed through graffiti, but all different raging voices. The hatered portrayed in these photos range from racial to religious, all bare against the abandoned houses its sprawled across. Misrach titled this canto “Premonitions” because the photos were made before the last presidential election, and he uses them to foreshadow and document the hate and frustration that led to its results. Since the election, Misrach has documented the continued dialogue in these desolate areas, how the hateful graffiti has continued in places, but has also changed in others with the political climate. Misrach referred to this change as a pushback against the larger cultural movement that is at the forefront of the Trump era. New messages have emerged in the graffiti:
“Set fire to your local bank,”
“Eat the rich,”
“Trump eats farts”
have been added to the narrative. If Misrach’s “Premonitions” photographs were able to take the temperature of the oncoming political storm, maybe these current message show that we are changing again, hopefully moving away from the wall, and the fear and misery that surrounds it.
In an image in Misrach’s “Other Side Canto,” he reveals the social and cultural division the wall creates between the San Diego/Tijuana border. The image is taken from the deserted San Diego beach, an area that is so militarized that no one uses it for recreation. The empty landscape against the height of the wall, which feels like the wall of a prison we have enclosed ourselves in, is ominous and inescapable. The feeling of our constructed cage is all the more persistent when gazing through the bars to the Mexico side: a lively recreation area crowded with beach goers playing in the surf and sand, enjoying a day on the coast.
Misrach’s photographs reveal the cut of the border over the natural world, the damage it has done to ecosystems through division of habitat, ecotones, and waterways. The photographs also reveal our clear-cut presence on this natural landscape, humanity portrayed as huge metal barriers altering the land and claiming it for our own. With all of these aspects in mind the photographs also show the damage we have done to ourselves: we have divided cultures and people, and lives in these ecotones, for we are part of the natural world we have changed. With these borders, we have done nothing but construct a cage for ourselves and the natural world around us, restricting growth and prosperity for all behind the wall.
These are the words I read on large posters as I entered the Sonia Sotomayor room at the CH2M Hill Alumni center at Oregon State University. The buzz that filled the room was energizing as women and their allies gathered for a day centered around change making in many different forms. I entered the gathering hall. Although I was expecting for this day to be inspirational, I wasn’t prepared for was the power surge I received from the passion and force shared by the speakers throughout the day. Luckily, I was not alone on this adventure, one of my dear mentors and dance sister Antigone was there. We spent the past year working together with teen girls from high schools around using the healing art of tribal style belly dancing to facilitate discussion around body image, identity, earth stewardship and much more. Kristina, a fellow Environmental Arts and Humanities student, also shared this experience. We were amazed by the speakers’ courage and their stories. Their gentle and loving reminders for radical self-love and self-care spoke to my heart that day.
Corvallis Changemakers was a conference for women & their allies that was “[C]reated by a group of friends in Corvallis, Oregon who, inspired by the upsurge in activism in our community and our nation, seek fresh voices, ideas, and tools to effect change.”
I want to share a little bit about the keynote speaker, Walidah Imarishaand what she calls visionary fiction. Walidah is a writer, educator and poet. During her presentation, Dreaming New Just Worlds: Visionary Fiction and Organizing, Walidah walked through the importance of imaginative spaces, offered through visionary fiction for exploring contemporary and historical problems. In addition to inspiring and transforming the way we imagine and re-imagine the realities of the future. She emphasized the power of the of our imagination through creative outlets, such as writing, to decolonize our minds. Using fictional storytelling as a catalyst for change requires some clarification about what the goals are within this genre.
A few points about visionary fiction:
It discusses current social issues
It is conscious of identity and intersecting identities
It centers leadership around marginalized and most affected
It is conscious of power inequalities
It is realistic and hard but hopeful
It is generative- creates options
Change is grassroots
It is nonlinear; dreams with past
It is not neutral
The most powerful statement that I gathered from this presentation is that, “art either advances of regresses justice.”
Goodness, what a hard act to follow, but all the speakers delivered. One common theme that echoed throughout the day was that sharing our stories is an act of resistance. It allows us to honor our multidimensionality and reclaim narratives that may be otherwise told for us. I believe this was a day dedicated to creating brave spaces and engaging in tough dialogue around the role of power and privilege regarding: gender, able-bodiedness, race, sexual orientation, etc., in the spaces we are hoping to transform.
I tried to capture more direct quotes from throughout the day, but it was nearly impossible. Have you ever had a time in your life when you wanted to capture every word that flowed from a person’s mouth. Try multiple people’s mouths during an all-day event. This exact feeling captivated me. So instead I will share a list of the panels I attended, along with the names of the speakers. Just in case any of you out there are interested in learning more about some of the amazing people who spoke that day. All of the conference speakers and their bios can be found at the Changemakers website.
Vulnerable Storytelling for Revolution
Panelists: Trystan Reese, Mary Zelinka, Alejandra Campoverdi
Unleash Your Inner Changemaker Through Intentional Relationship Building
Panelists: Rhonda Simpson, Lisa Wells, Stacey Rice
The diverse experiences and voices present created a dynamic program that required a lot of energy to remain mindful and engaged but also a fair amount of energizing reciprocated through activities and discussion. One of my favorite voices (and laughs) was a laughing activity shared by Traci McMerrit during the laughing labyrinth exercise. We used the healing aspect of laughter to create space in our heart center, relax, and build community. Apparently laughing is a way our body copes with stress, so laughter is good medicine. Other speakers such as Rhonda Simpson and Lisa Wells lead us through activities such as heart-centered breathing, yoga stretches (and shaking), which complimented powerful testimonies about the crucial need to put ourselves first, and take care of ourselves during our journey as change-makers.
So to sum up the day, we breathed together, stretched together, laughed together, shook together, cried together, learned together, grew together, and dreamed together. Not only was this a Sunday worth remembering and reflecting on through this blog, it was a day that contained golden nuggets of wisdom that I hope to come back to. I intended to focus on tools and solutions rather than problems, and to remember there is a vibrant and engaged community ready to serve as allies in a time of uncertainty. My only regret is not taking many pictures. So here is a link to the Corvallis Changemakers Instagram.
So, like most of the time in college, I am left with more questions than answers. But one question that is always worth exploring was presented by Rhonda Simpson during the final session, what makes your heart sing?
From there the thread of connectivity became apparent in my mind.
Invest in it. Nurture it. Thrive.
Inform yourself. Inspire others. Act.
Activate forces that support it. Educate others about it. Legislate.
What does not support its liberation…
Resist. Persist. Insist on change.
We are the Change Makers.
May our power rise, may we liberate ourselves, and may our collective wisdom continue to blossom.
It was a while ago when I began my teaching career at Gaston High School, located about 45 minutes west of Portland. Forested hills, the slow-winding Tualatin River, and low-lying onion fields surrounded the small rural town. Most of my students came from families who logged and farmed, and many of them fished, hunted and spent their summers helping neighbors and families with outdoor work.
Since most students had accumulated plenty of first-hand experience on the land, it worked well when I initiated our ecology unit with lessons about the Kalapuya people, who were the first to call Gaston their home. By learning what life was like before European contact, we were able to discover which plants and animals were native to the landscape. Irises, tarweed, camas and yew, willows, wapato and elderberries, deer, trout, and grasshoppers populated our class discussions. We also talked about the challenges and ingenuity required for living with the seasons. And we studied the shelters, clothing, and tools that were derived from the land, trees, and animals.
I’ve since had similar chances to teach Corvallis students about the Kalapuya bands who lived in the Marys River watershed. And over the years, my students and I have managed to plant camas bulbs (with trowels, not digging sticks), create cordage (from pre-gathered plant fibers), and prepare tasty wildfood dishes (some untraditionally sweetened with sugar). All in all, these overviews of Kalapuya lifestyles offered a satisfying foundation for studying place-based ecosystems. But in retrospect, I understand that my overviews were a bit over simplified and certainly over sweetened.
David Harrelson’s Lecture: “The Kalapuya Then and Now”
Three nights ago, the Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club and the Spring Creek Project co-sponsored a lecture at the Majestic Theater entitled “The Kalapuya Then and Now” in honor of our area’s indigenous Chepenefu Kalapuya people. (Chepenefu, which refers to the place of the elderberry, was the native name for the Marys River and its valley, which encompasses present-day Wren, Philomath, and Corvallis.) David Harrelson, who is Kalapuya, was the evening’s guest speaker. He serves as the Cultural Resources Department Manager and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, and he spoke eloquently on behalf of his heritage, which reaches back 500 generations.
Harrelson began his talk by pointing out that it’s critical for us to know and respect history, because it keeps people from being marginalized and their stories from being fabricated. Before sharing a traditional creation legend with us, he admitted we were a lucky audience. He explained, “You don’t tell stories till the first frost, and you don’t stop till the frogs croak.” And since Grand Ronde saw its first frost early that very morning, we got to hear a Kalapuya story about spirit power, dancing rain, mist, camas and clouds. Soon afterwards, we heard the legend of rising waters and people who were carried on the backs of birds, an indigenous account of the Missoula Flood of 15,000 years ago. Harrelson emphasized that each of the stories talks about place, and each telling helps bring back knowledge and traditions.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons traditional knowledge could have vanished from our contemporary lives. When settlers arrived between 1750 and 1850, they brought disease and conflict that wiped out most of the Kalapuya population. In addition, a series of treaties in the 1850’s forced western indigenous tribes to cede 14 million acres to the federal government. Eventually, over 27 bands were relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation, amounting to less than one-thousandth of their original land. The move also resulted in lack of food and shelter, and the incongruity of native people becoming agricultural “migrant workers” in their own homeland. Ultimately, the federal government essentially erased indigenous people: tribes were no longer acknowledged and native communities began to lose their continuity, language, and culture.
According to Harrelson, it was during the Civil Rights Era that a restorative path opened up for his ancestors. Locally, after decades of difficulty, some good and fundamental changes have finally brought improved housing and health care to the Grand Ronde Community. And, at last, authentic indigenous history has become part of Oregon’s public school curricula. Harrelson also noted how traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is becoming respected among natural resource managers as a viable approach toward sustaining all people and all life.
In closing, Harrelson described a few collaborative projects that are fueling hope for his people. There’s the “Plants for People” project with the Institute for Applied Ecology to propagate culturally important plant species. Likewise, the US Forest Service is partnering with native people to improve huckleberry and camas habitat. He’s especially excited about an ongoing project near Gaston, the little town where I first learned about Kalapuya lifeways. That low-lying onion field near the high school? It’s being restored back to its natural state as a shallow lake—Wapato Lake—so the wapato and knowledge of Kalapuya heritage can thrive once again.
A screening of the documentary “Food Evolution” followed by a discussion panel was held at the Learning Innovation Center Thursday, Septemeber 28th. It was nearly a full house in the rather stuffy classroom with one big screen and three smaller ones for the back rows. The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the film began.
“Amongst all the conflict and confusion, how are we going to make informed decisions about how we feed ourselves?”
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a renown astrophysicist and science communicator with a great sense of humor. His smooth voice began narrating the story of how our food became what it is today, busting myths and common misconceptions from start to finish. For example, he explained how everything we eat has been genetically modified in some way for preferable characteristics since traditional breeding thousands of years ago. We could easily consider our domesticated pets genetically modified as well. The difference in genetically modifying something and genetically engineering it is the method, which we have developed after years of trial and error to find the most effective and safe ways to select for the characteristics we need from plants (such as drought or disease resistance). Since GMO is a broad term (hell, even your cat is a GMO), I will be using GE here to refer specifically to the method that is in the midst of such fiery debate. For the sake of full disclosure, I played my title off of Dr. Kevin Folta’s campaign “Just Say No to ‘GMO’” (link goes to his first article about why we should say GE published June 1, 2017).
Other genetic engineering applications were also brought to light, such as life-saving insulin and rennet which is used to make cheese (we used to have to kill calves for their rennet, now we can grow it from bacteria). We learned how genetic engineering saved the Rainbow Papaya from going extinct (via a virus) and thus saving the papaya industry from collapsing in Hawaii. While Hawaii tried to ban all GE crops, they made an exception for the papaya. This cheery picking effectively hurt their argument that GEs cause health problems. The myths of GEs causing health problems were also debunked when our narrator explained that over 2,000 studies from around the world found no human health risks. This evidence echoed the film urging its audience not to trust one voice, but a consensus earlier on. And we learned that glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp which is used on RoundUp Ready seed) is less toxic than caffeine or salt, and is less toxic than any pesticide to come before it. Our narrator said calmly,
“To be concerned about the safety of your GMOs is to be misinformed.”
“They’re not farmers, they’re mad scientists!” one protestor in the film shouted out. This sentiment is why I found it so important that the documentary humanized the scientists and paid due attention to the effects of GE crops on developing countries. It did so by following stories of scientists and farmers working together. The narrator didn’t say it outright, but using GE crops is also an environmental justice issue.
Following farming families in Uganda and Kenya, I became quickly emotionally invested in their success. As more and more countries ban GEs, the fear of them grows and it is the developing countries that suffer the most. Banana Wilt devastated 50% of the crop and 1/3 of Ugandans were estimated to be suffering from this famine. At first, the idea of a genetically engineered alternative was met with hesitation and distrust by Ugandans and their government. But once the families went to go see the test crops, and see the health of the banana trees unaffected by the disease, the mother said, “These are just like ours!” with a big smile on her face. However, the grandmother’s face reviled a heavy heart; she was concerned about what they would do while they waited several years for the GE banana plant to be approved. Thankfully, the documentary reported that so far Kenya has agreed to lift the ban on GE crops on a case by case basis. This situation points out the humanitarian applications of genetic engineering. Golden Rice is another fine example; by adding the precursor to beta-carotene, people in developing countries no longer have to go blind and die from Vitamin A deficiency. Once African farmer felt so strongly about his GE crops, he said,
“Americans beware – when you say no to GE technology, you are suppressing Africa.”
I sincerely wonder what the GE opponents have to say about that. Here in the USA, many of us have the privilege of denying food if we so choose, and it’s thought of as a personal choice. Clearly, it is not, but rather a social choice with global consequences.
To my understanding, corporate greed and bias have broken people’s trust. Even Monsanto, the USA’s most hated company, openly admits that they should have been more transparent from the start. Yet, I wonder further, are we distrustful of the right companies? Did you know GreenPeace has become a group of ecoterrorists, destroying test crops in developing countries? Did you know that if a company were to try to “buy” scientists, Whole Foods actually has more money than Monsanto? Speaking of Monsanto, did you know the suicide rates of farmers in India hasn’t changed (despite rumors, from whom, exactly?) and that Monsanto continues to donate seed to developing countries as a humanitarian effort (for example, to Haiti after Hurricane Matthew)? If we must argue the virtues of companies and individuals, we must look at both sides. Plenty has been said to promote the anti-GE side (unfortunately most of based on poor science or straight up lies to sell you something), so allow me to present just who this anti-GE side includes.
Can scientists be bought? Have conflicts of interest? Sure. But to acknowledge this is to acknowledge their humanity. They are just like the rest of us. They are human, they have families, and they also want to feed their families healthy food. People make mistakes and when those mistakes are severe enough, the greater scientific community does not remain silent. For example, a scientist who has been discredited is Stefanie Senif. She doesn’t even have a biology background. She is a statistician who overlaid two graphs on each other, showing a rise in GE crops and a rise in autism, concluding that GE crops cause autism. For those of us that took biology, I’m sure most of us have memories of chanting, “Correlation does not equal causation!” It is really easy to make anything correlate. In the documentary, a couple scientists showed that if you lay a graph of organic food sales over autism diagnoses, using Senif’s logic you can just as easily conclude that organic food causes autism. As a society, we have become more accepting of mental illnesses and are better at diagnosing them. Additionally, psychologists also recently widened the spectrum of what is considered autism. Let’s start looking at links before we get too excited.
My least favorite scientist is French-born Gilles-Eric Seralini. In his rat study published in 2012, Seralini did not allow any scientists at his press release for the study and simultaneously announced his book release and a film about the study (conflict of interest much?!). Not only did he use rats that experience a high rate of tumor growth, he violated animal treatment standards by letting the rats live well past the point that most studies would conclude their work to prevent the animals from living in pain. However, the larger the tumor the more shocking the photos, so Seralini allowed the animals to suffer until the tumors took over most of the rats’ bodies. Disgusted by this along with the obvious bias and lack of rigor in his work, this study was quickly dismissed by the scientific community and they then called for a more stringent peer-review process from all scientific publications. The outcry and controversy generated when this paper was published, retracted, and republished was coined “the Seralini Affair.”
To look specifically for a case of companies “buying” scientists off, we need look no further than Charles Benbrook. For years he was the go-to scientist for anit-GMO studies until the New York Times published emails between him and his funders. They clearly showed he set up his studies with the intent of finding health benefits of organic foods and health risks of GE foods. Funders included Whole Foods, Organic Valley, and Stoneyfield. He was let go from his post at Washington State University. You can read more about that at The Genetic Literacy Project along with lots of other fun facts.
All of these scientists were discussed in Food Evolution. But one audience member asked about someone else – Dr. Kevin Folta. The audience member asked how to have courage as a scientist to stand up to being accused of being a shill, having death threats sent to their office, and having their research burned to the ground. Sadly, the panelist simply said that not all scientists have that courage; many just quietly publish their work. But not Kevin Folta. He is the Chairman and a professor of the Horticulture Sciences Department at the University of Florida. After Joe Rogan urged him in an interview to start a podcast, Folta started Talking BioTech to reach out to everyone across the US to help spread accurate information about various bio-technologies.
Just because a company is “a huge corporation,” it does not automatically follow that it is “evil.” In fact, it takes a certain level of emotional maturity to move past the idea that things in life can be as black and white as “evil” and “good.” Even famous individuals, who are viewed as modern-day saints by their followers, are paid large sums for their positions. Vandana Shiva makes $40,000 per speech against GEs and Zen Honeycutt makes a commission on every food product sold that she promotes on her website. And while founding something with the title of “Moms Across America” sounds innocent enough, that organization has been known for shaming mothers for what they feed their children. In addition, they promise not to use donations to fund political campaigns, yet were blatantly caught in that lie when they marched up to the Environmental Protection Agency with 90,000 signatures to ban glyphosate. One of the mothers who faced the wrath of Mom’s Across America was Shelley McGuire, a scientist and mother, who dared to point out that the studies Moms Across America cited on their website were poorly done and flawed.
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled.”
This Mark Twain quote was actually the first image and words of the documentary. But did the scientific accuracy of the documentary get through to this audience, or the rest of its audience outside this screening? Keith Kloor says no, in his article in Slate titled, “Food Evolution Is Scientifically Accurate. Too Bad It Won’t Convince Anyone,” published last June. He believes the documentary missed the main issue in the GE debate: it’s not about facts, it’s about values.
So how do people make decisions? Mark Lynas, a British environmental activist who sheepishly admits he used to destroy test crops and openly apologizes for it, asks “When was the last time you changed your mind on something fundamental?” Lynas goes on to say that people don’t make decisions based on facts. Maybe a few initially, but it always comes down to a feeling, to what your gut says. Generally, once a person has made up their mind and then is presented with conflicting evidence, they dig their heels in even deeper to their previously held beliefs. Psychologists call this phenomenon “cognitive dissonance.”
The anti-GE movement uses the same fear tactics that its protestors complain of war mongers; they use fear. From Zen Honeycutt shaming mothers to Seralini telling parents their children will get cancer – it’s all fear based. And it works. It spreads confusion and spreads distrust, and sells lots of books and food products to those desperate parents who can afford to pay more for snake oil. However, Zen Honeycutt maintains the belief that there are no repercussions if she’s wrong about GEs. She must not have heard of Africa or shaming moms or the babies sent to hospitals because they get put on fad diets.
And so, it is my deepest hope that the film ventured deep enough into the connections between humanitarian efforts, environmental justice stories, and the humanity of scientists to convince people that we are all fighting for the same thing, that we all actually do have the same values and are on the same side. We are all fighting to have nutritious and abundant food that is secure and sustainable.
A few minutes after the film ended, the lights came up and the discussion panel made up of OSU science professors with various levels of expertise in specific areas of genetics, responded to questions from the audience. It was not nearly as exciting as the film, however, if you like a solid debate. Most questions were not concerned with the safety of GE food but the how to implement them as best as possible, such as crop rotation and effective combinations of GE crops and traditional practices. If anyone disagreed with the film they remained silent, although their questions would have been welcome. Essentially, the main point I took away from the panel was the same point made in the film by an organic farmer at UC Davis:
“…we should use every tool we have
to produce safe, accessible, healthy food.”
If you’re a student and want to know more about GEs, a highly recommended class is called “FW 435/535: Genes and Chemicals in Agriculture: Value and Risk,” and is also known as “the GMO class.” It’s taught by Steve Strauss who was a panel member and runs the Oregon State Forest Biotechnology Lab.