Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tucson Activist Mary DeCamp Returns from the Great March for Climate Action

Activists use a variety of tactics to draw attention to chosen causes, and marches have long been part of the activist repertoire. For example, the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament was launched in 1986 to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Then last year, Ed Fallon, a former Iowa legislator who helped coordinate logistics for the Great Peace March, was inspired after meeting co-founder Bill McKibben to initiate the Great March for Climate Action (also called the Climate March) to raise awareness of the threat of global warming. Like the Great Peace March in 1986, the Climate March started in Los Angeles on the first of March. There were 35 full-time marchers, but hundreds of people marched for a day or more. On November 1, when the Climate March walkers ended their 8-month, 3,000-mile march with a rally in Washington, D.C., one of the footsore travelers who had been with the march for (most of) the long haul was Tucson activist Mary DeCamp.

I’ve worked with Mary on the Tucson Peace Center Board and in Occupy Tucson, and I have been on many demonstrations and in many meetings with her. So last spring when Mary told me she had decided to go on the Climate March, I was both impressed by her willingness to do something so difficult and concerned about how the Tucson activist community would get along without her. But I could see that she was committed to participating, so I decided not to whine about how much we’d miss her. Instead, I decided to try to support her as much as I could. On April 7, Mary and her small dog Birdie joined the Climate March in Phoenix. (Another Tucsonan, retired school teacher John Jorgensen, had joined the Climate March in California on March 1.) For the next eight months, I tracked the progress of the Climate marchers by regularly checking their website.

For most of the march Mary went “gadget-free,” meaning that she chose not to have a phone or computer with her. But each time she was able to get to a library or use a computer in someone’s home, Mary sent out thoughtful and concisely written descriptions of life on the march and of the landscapes she saw during her trip across the country. Here are a few excerpts from her blog (which were posted on the Tucson Peace Calendar).

On May 13 she wrote: “Instead of badgering my local elected officials, I now write a letter each day that is signed by all the Marchers and sent to President Obama. We were invited to sleep on sacred ground by the Laguna Pueblo authorities and given a police escort through their land. We get visits by local activists in the communities we pass through – a few nights ago we heard from Danny Lyons who was a photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement. We get prayed over and blessed and thanked — what a life!”

On June 5 she wrote: “I have decided to go gadget-free on the Great March for Climate Action. No computer, no phone, no camera, not even a watch, and hardly ever even a glimpse at a television screen.

“This choice is an odd one, I know. It means I lose touch with friends and family and don’t get as much internet time as any normal 6-year-old in America does these days. But it has given me a great gift as well: time. I have time to read and to think and to do odd jobs around camp because my eyes aren’t on a screen and my fingers aren’t on buttons.”

In mid-July while in her home state of Nebraska Mary wrote: “The hail damage across this section of Nebraska will spell big losses for the crop insurance folks. Winds have been high enough to twist irrigation rigs into unworkable pretzel-like sculptures in some fields. Perhaps those directly affected by intensifying weather like this will see that climate change is real, it is happening now, and what is in store for us is very worrisome. We’ve been faced with a lot of right-wing-radio listeners who repeat the notion that the world has *always* been changing, or that other planets are also heating up so it is not human-caused, or that only God can control future weather systems so there is nothing that can be done by human hands to intervene.”

On September 13 she wrote: “The big confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) in Nebraska and Iowa were a surprise to many Marchers – they’d never really thought about the source of our meat-driven diets. I believe a couple of folks on the march converted to vegetarian during that leg of the journey. We have about half omnivores and half vegetarians or vegans. Most of our meals rely mostly on veggies and fruits and grains, but we don’t go entirely meatless. Really, it is incredible the quality of food that can be prepared for a big group out of the back of a U-Haul truck. Much of the meat we do eat is given to us by local supporters who raise it themselves in more humane conditions.”

On October 1 she described her stay at the Our Lady of the Pines Retreat in Fremont, Ohio: “This is a retirement center for the Sisters of Mercy nuns and these kind souls opened their facility to shower, to shelter, and to feed us as we make our way across the USA raising awareness about climate change. The grounds are truly lovely, with many benches, meditative spots, artwork, and natural beauty to please the senses and to offer restful pauses in the day.

"I learned of Sister Moira Kenny, a valiant nun who just recently moved from the center to a new home elsewhere. By chance, I chose a mug that commemorated Sister Kenny’s jubilee ceremony to mark 50 years of service. I found out she’d been arrested and imprisoned for six months for her protest actions at the School of the America’s at Fort Benning, GA. This school trains ruthless dictators and has been a focal point for pacifists who want to voice their opposition to military “answers” to global problems. Unfortunately, the “criminals” in social confrontations too often turn out to be folks like Sister Kenny who have the courage to question the status quo business model promoted by the military-industrial-complex.”

On October 18 she wrote: “When this cross-continental walk began on March 1, 2014, we didn’t quite know what to expect. What a wild idea – get a group of heretofore unacquainted activists to throw in together for eight months of walking and camping and talking and listening. We had to figure out how to move people along at a reasonable pace to make our targeted arrival date of November 1 in Washington, DC. We had to feed people, transport their gear, tend to their medical issues, and deal with their poop – both physical and psychological – all along the route.

"And somehow, we have made it happen. We have stayed together. We’ve eaten wonderful meals and some not-so-good food during the past 7.5 months. We’ve enjoyed song and dance around campfires. We’ve lost sleep as train whistles continually hounded our outdoor overnight sights. We’ve despaired together about the dirty industrial presence that intrudes upon us as we make our way eastward. We’ve seen great beauty in our national forests and community parks. We’ve watched the seasons change and the landscapes shift as we cross the country. We’ve had rallies and pot-lucks and presentations and teach-ins and home-stays all along the way.”

And when she returned in mid-November Mary sent out a press release that said in part: “The Great March for Climate Action set out amid torrential downpours in Los Angeles, CA on March 1, 2014 on their path to Washington, DC, walking and camping along the route. The group typically numbered around 40, though 350 different individuals registered to walk at various times along the way and thousands followed the progress online as virtual Marchers.

"The traveling band averaged about 15 miles a day, following a path that took them through the drought-stricken southwest, along the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and through the heart of fracking operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They met with citizens in the communities they crossed where the locals hosted rallies, pot-lucks, discussion groups, presentations, and parties.”

Last Sunday, November 30, I heard Mary describe her Climate March experience to a group of 25 supporters. Her talk filled in some gaps about things Mary hadn’t described in her emails. For example, she told us how the marchers governed themselves, and she said that she and Birdie had been elected to the governing council. Though there were no arrests, no violence, and no fights along the way, there was a judicial branch that handled disputes. She also said, “I’m predisposed to action and getting things done, not just sitting around talking.” So Mary spent a lot of her time on the march helping to prepare meals, acting as a camp-scaper, and helping to drive the kitchen truck.

Mary described the March as “life-changing,” and she said that she has pledged to go car-free and to simplify her life by keeping her belongings to a minimum. (Before she left to go on the Climate March, donated her car to KXCI, our local community-owned radio station, to help with their fund drive.) “I’m scared for our country,” she said soberly, adding that she feels the need to be fit and resilient, love a lot more, shore up the social fabric, and make connections. Those are tough goals, but her participation in the Climate March shows Mary’s ability to walk the walk.

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