Today my little Extinction Rebellion group met at the Beaverton Farmer’s Market to stage a very mellow “action.” Six of us wore sandwich board signs with tombstones, each one reading “RIP” something-or-other. We had RIP birds, RIP forests, RIP coasts, polar bears, bees, and the last sign read “RIP Humans?” We processed solemnly and slowly through the farmer’s market, which was pretty busy considering it’s already November. At the end of the procession, someone not wearing a tombstone greeted anyone who looked interested, and offered them a flyer about how to get involved in the fight against climate chaos.
You may think this sounds cool, or you may think it sounds inconsequential. Maybe you don’t have an opinion, but its seems most people do these days. The reality of it was poignantly mixed.
You had basically sympathetic people looking for locally produced or organic vegetables, fruits, and various other neat products. As one observer commented quietly, “You’re preaching to the converted.” But many of these folks, while generally supportive, still lack a sense of urgency about the climate crisis. At least we were demonstrating that some people really care, and we were inserting a reminder into an ordinary weekly activity.
The coolest thing about the action might be the reactions of children and parents. Children, naturally curious, ask their parents what this procession means. Adults say something like, “They’re reminding us about climate change. That’s why we always recycle, or turn off the lights.” For once, as I heard this explanation while processing along, I wasn’t frustrated by the idea that climate chaos could be averted by recycling. Kids have to start somewhere, and you don’t want to squelch their aspiration from the get-go. Although I was trying to be somber while wearing my tombstone, I couldn’t help but smile when I overheard a mother reply to her son, “No, volcanoes aren’t causing climate change, people are.” I couldn’t hear exactly what the boy’s further comment was, but he clearly argued with his mom, somehow convinced the problem really lay with volcanoes. I’m guessing there was some kind of superhero comic involved in his thinking.
But of course, how much good did we do today? Who knows? We only processed for about a half an hour, and most people were more interested in procuring artisan jams or fresh pastries than contemplating the climate crisis.
As we walked, my brain struggled to contain the dueling realities before me. On the one hand we were in the midst of a peaceful community celebrating the harvest. The produce was truly exquisite, laid out in artistic arrangements that would inspire the lamest cook to try to make dinner from scratch: Purple cauliflower, broccoli grown in the shape of a fractal, copious bunches of carrots with delicate roots still attached, squashes in an practically infinite variety of shapes and colors. Why would anyone think there was anything awry in this world?
At the same time, in my heart I hold the comments of a friend of mine who has been an organic farmer for 20 years. She shared recently, with the stoicism I imagine you need to have as a farmer, that her farm just had its worst season since it began. Apparently, small farmers plan their crops very carefully, depending a wide variety of crops to carry them through; if one crop doesn’t do so well in a given year, another one will. This is the standard and sacred practice. But it didn’t work this year.
I chose the sandwich board saying “RIP birds.” I’m a big fan of nature, but birds really get me. They’re like perfect jewels, living miracles. Especially the tiny ones, no heavier than a watch, but more elaborately decorated than a cathedral. At times a certain part of me wondered, “What are we doing? What difference does this make?” But then, hidden under the sandwich board, I put my hands over my heart and thought about the birds.