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Spirit of Activism—Saving a wild place

by Liz Howell (11.18.07)

I’d first like to show you what our new filmmakers have created about our Rock Creek campaign—Leon Schatz & Raechel Donahue. We hiked them up a canyon at dawn on a beautiful fall day and flew them over the Rock Creek Area. [You can go to YouTube on the web to see this video. In the search box, type "Wyoming Wilderness" to see the Rock Creek video.]

Did anyone see the film festival movie this week, "In the Shadow of the Moon"? One astronaut said he looked back from the moon to the earth—the place where his family lives, his life is there, there’s mountain ranges and cities and he could hold up his thumb and block out the entire earth with his thumb. How fragile! How small! What a jewel!

The Unitarians believe in our Seventh Principle--"respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part". That movie put that web out into the cosmos for all eternity—a tremendously belittling concept for humans to comprehend.

I was in awe of that idea of blanking out the earth with your thumb. It put into perspective my work at the Wyoming Wilderness Association. I had to understand why in the world it was at all meaningful to work to save a tiny place—like Rock Creek.

Last April for Earth Day we worked with a community of dedicated and visionary folks bring to Sheridan events that helped understand the global warming issues—the Sheridan Unitarians were out in force--Ainsile, Ramie, Doug, Bruce, Amy, Janet and many others.

In one sense, its rather alarming that we must have come to a time when we’re talking about only saving our treasured, special places in Wyoming. Little patches on a little planet in an infinite universe. Even the 60 million acres of our state of Wyoming seems rather small, let alone places like Rock Creek, the Little Horn, Fortification Creek, Adobe Town, the Red Desert, the Wyoming Range, Franc’s Peak, the DuNoir and so many more tiny little specks on a universal scale.

But on the other hand, we’ve also come to a time when we are alarmed about the global climate change. What we do in our own backyards is effecting what is occurring on a planetary level.

The Rev. Richard Fewkes, minister emeritus of the First Parish Unitarian Church, in Massachusetts says, "We are Unitarians because we believe the source of being and existence is One, though called by many names. We are Universalists because we believe that salvation and the journey to wholeness is available to all. And we are Unitarian Universalists because we believe that reason and love in action and practice are the best means for discovering what it means to be human and illuminating the mystery of the divine."

Ronn Smith, our own minister emeritus, told us in his wonderful talk, "To that end, I will define spirituality as the awareness of a meaningful connection with the sacred whole. It is a commingling of the self with something greater. That something is sacred because it speaks to our most cherished ideals; communion with it is meaningful because it enlightens and empowers us."

How can a human being (another microscopic dust particle) be concerned about a place? A small piece of real estate, a corner in the world? A spot on the global map? Shouldn’t we have the depth and vision to know that saving the whole planet is the only real way we can survive into the millennium of the cosmos?

Yet we are in love-- with a canyon, an ancient tree in a forest, a waterfall, a rock strewn boulder field, a mountain peak enshrouded in clouds, or even a bird on a branch.

Rachel Carson tells us that "Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts." This sounds like a marriage of a lifetime.

As humans with our capacity to love, to feel elevated about something outside ourselves, gives us the inspiration to care and care deeply for these tiny dust specks.

But we are compelled to do more than love, some are moved to act. At this point, I have to understand that motive, that loaded verb—to act.

Julia Butterfly Hill sat in a tree for several years, she said "I gave my word to this tree and to all the people that my feet would not touch the ground until I had done everything in my power to make the world aware of this problem and to stop the destruction."

Why do some move out into the world, put our lives on hold and act for the savior of a place, for peace, for the under served, for the poor, the lost, for the homeless—for a tree?

Humans find meaning through our hearts. It is our heart that elevates our minds to the heavens, the enlightened state of being, that gives us a truth to follow. The truth and love will translate into the uniquely Unitarian practice of spiritualism. In my case, love of a place, combined with the need to seek a better world, and then acting upon that conviction is my own source of activism, truth and meaning.

Sometimes that motivation to action is based on our negative emotions: disgust, anger, sense of loss, frustration, fear, hopelessness combined with love. As Gloria Steinham has said, "The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Whatever your motivation for action—love must be present. Love is not just a feeling. Love is first what we are to ourselves. Love is an elevated commitment of action.

What we do creates love and emboldens our love. The Pakistani standard for love is love as action. And I’m not talking about our society’s standard for romantic love, that flowery, aching, glossy eyed, poetic love, but a heart place that goes outside our intimacy to the world.

Activism is action in support or against a cause. The United States was practically founded on the principles of revolution or rebellion against repressive ideas of government. We are experiencing a very repressive government and will suffer the residue for years from the Bush regime. Remember complacency becomes compliance.

The founder of Earth Day, Denis Hayes, said, "Listen up, you couch potatoes: each recycled beer can saves enough electricity to run a television for three hours." No worries, he wasn’t talking to the Unitarians! But to America.

We listen and revere Mohandas Gandhi who reminds us: "You may think your actions are meaningless and that they won't help, but that is no excuse, you must still act."

Unitarians practice the "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." This principle permits Unitarian Universalists a wide range of beliefs and practices. As each individual determines their own truth and meaning, the sense of a spiritual basis gives us our activist call.

The Wyoming Wilderness Association called to me one insane moment. Back in the seventies a loose-knit group of starry eyed wilderness lovers formed this umbrella group to pass the Wyoming Wilderness Act. In 84 when it was passed the group disbanded. With the help of a fifty more starry-eyed and concerned wilderness lovers, we started the group up again in 2003. Activism we are finding is the key. Motivate the citizenry and according to history, the elected should respond. Right?

The Wyoming Wilderness Association is embarking on a campaign this fall with the leadership of two college grads who have returned home—Lori Van Buggenum and Greg Nickerson. Our own Amy Vanderwall, an activist at heart, participated as well. I snatched these smart, committed young people out of their wanderings to develop an absolutely amazing text-book grassroots campaign to reach out to local community leaders, business people, stakeholders, hunters, anglers, civic groups to let them know about a magnificent place and opportunity to complete the vision for Cloud Peak, by adding the Rock Creek roadless area as wilderness.

I was moved by our young activist, Lori VanBuggenum, who came in one morning and said, "I’ve made a commitment!! I have moved to a place of commitment to seeing Rock Creek as wilderness." As a mentor, we learn from our youth and remember our idealism and passion.

Greg Nickerson came back to Sheridan with a Bachelor in American Studies from Carleton College in Minnesota. He was assistant curator at the Sheridan History Museum and help set up the primary exhibits. Now Greg can say that he has joined the ranks of those who act for the betterment of the environment. Please join me in welcoming Greg, who will give you a slide show about the Rock Creek message. Thank you.

® by Liz Howell, Director, Wyoming Wilderness Association www.wildwyo.org   Go to our web site for Gregory's slide show

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