By Zappa Montag
I have always been intensely aware of ecological issues having grown up in the Redwood forests of Northern California (Occupied Pomo Land), where I witnessed both the glory of relatively unspoiled natural splendor, and the massive damage that logging industry, and regressive politics inflicts on these irreplaceable habitats. From relatively early on in my youth, I realized that my life mission was tied to ecology and community.
I recently went to the Global Climate Strike rally in San Francisco-- one similar to rallies recently being held across the world, during the week of September 20-27. There was an impressive amount of build up to the event online and in the public sphere. I had seen posters at my son’s East Bay High School for weeks, and it seemed like the pre-organizing that was happening addressed young people in a way that I had not seen political organizing do in some time, if ever.
I was pretty excited about this because, like many activists of my generation, I feel that youth involvement is key in any hopes of obtaining a meaningful change in regards to humanity’s future. The climate change issue is especially poignant because the youth will be taking over the reigns of whatever world we leave them in short order, and in many ways it seems that we are handing them a very desolate future-- unless, of course, imminent and intense action is taken to alter the course of our society, and repair the ecological damage that has been wrought.
For many of us adults, especially us parents, there is great sadness and guilt over the condition in which we have left the planet for our kids. It feels like we have failed, and it feels like no matter how much we wrestle with these issues it is difficult to see a way out. We are stuck arguing with professional climate change deniers in a seemingly never ending circle of nonsensical debate as the conditions deteriorate, and the warnings from scientists grow ever more dire. Because of my love of nature, and my belief in social change as something that needs to come from historically marginalized voices, I was really happy to see that the organizing for the Climate March was reaching young people, and specifically Black youth like my kids. Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color worldwide are at the forefront of the struggle against ecocide and climate chaos. The negative effects of climate change hit poor nations inhabited by People of the Global Majority disproportionately, and the rich countries do little or nothing to alleviate the suffering that is inflicted. Similarly poor areas inhabited primarily by BIPOC, be they urban or rural, here in the US have experienced a legacy of victimization by environmental racism and neglect. Yet, environmental activism has long been seen as an area of concern primarily of white people. This despite the long history of activism and resistance by BIPOC communities. So of course I was, and am, happy to see the tide changing, and Black, Brown, and Indigenous people at the forefront of the struggle.
It was apparent that the pre-organizing had paid off. Downtown San Francisco was filled with young people, the majority of them Youth of Color. This was unprecedented in my long career of social activism. Generally activism has been the purview of white, middle class, educated adults. While there has always been discussion of reaching young, working class, People of Color, it was generally a difficult goal to attain. The work of the youth groups in the Bay Area, as well as the appeal of young activist Greta Thunburg on the international scale had an apparent impact.
It was helpful that some schools, including my son’s, had given the students an excused absence to attend the march. I met up with my son and daughter, and a few of their friends, and trailed behind them during the march, taking it all in. The energy and enthusiasm was palpable and contagious, and I was left feeling hopeful that something big had been accomplished, something that could lead to real progress.
Afterwards, in the days that followed, I began to question if that was really the case. Was this just another parade? Was there really a turning over of the reigns to the next generations? Did the youth feel included and energized? How did they actually feel about the issue of climate change?
I decided to check in with my kids and their friends and see what they had to say through a series of conversations and see what I could glean from them. After all, perhaps the greatest thing we can do at this point is really try to listen to the young people on the issues that they will be facing more so than us old timers (link to video).
Upon reflecting on our experience at the Climate Change March, and my subsequent discussions with my kids and their friends I have reached a couple of conclusions:
The kids are pretty sharp. They know what is up, and they see how we are failing them.
We can let pessimism set in among the young generations, or we can try to instill some hope.
Hope requires action. Tangible activities that tackle the issues and build community, and solidarity.
I have certainly learned a lot in these conversations and the ideas and attitudes that these young people have conveyed to me. Granted it is a small sample size; all I can really conclude is that the youth are very aware and cognizant of what we are facing, although not necessarily optimistic.
I recently started an organization/social movement called Black to the Land, which seeks to elevate Black voices to the forefront of ecological struggle and to reestablish that ancient bond between Black people and all that is land loving and healing. The world needs this to happen. We are the original caretakers, and the people who have been most cut off from our true selves and our birthright in this cold-hearted machine of a system, that seeks to destroy all that is beautiful.
From nature walks, trash clean-ups and watershed restoration, to regenerative farming and landscaping, to obtaining ownership of land for stewardship, Black to the Land will seek to right the wrongs, big and small, and restore the balance. Justice and reparations must always be at the heart of our work. We recognize that we are on stolen land, and seek to partner with our indigenous family to walk the red road together for the betterment of all on Planet Earth.
To do so, Black to the Land is going to start with some of the simplest actions we can organize. Clean up and restoration days, nature walks, and camping trips. These activities will give us time together to appreciate nature, help make the world a more beautiful and cleaner place, and spend time together plotting our next moves.
I was born in 1969 in New York City. My parents were early adherents to the hippie counter culture. I grew up hearing about the Yippies, and the Black Panthers, and Haight Ashbury and all that kind of stuff. After moving to Oakland, California as a baby, I migrated further up Northern California to Mendocino County in the mid 1970’s. It was quite a time to be a kid up there. The memories are deeply ingrained. I developed a strong love of nature and the outdoors, which has been one of my guiding lights throughout my life. My parents were hippies, but they were also politically radical, and I also carry that legacy. I want to live to see the beautiful reformation of human society, to one that is in balance with nature and exists to meet the needs of all people and living things.