Guest post: Is it Better to Party or Starve for Social Justice?

Ange Palmer

A comment by someone dear to me in response to my call for support of an action called  Climate Karanga here in New Zealand  prompted me to write this blog. They said “not doing anymore last dash things for you starving for climate change…let me know when you are partying, dancing, licking and celebrating for climate change”.

I totally understand where they are coming from as there is a body of research around climate change education which suggests we must entice our audience to climate heaven rather than climate hell in order to gain their engagement. Positive messages arouse the masses rather than those of gloom and despair. Having been awash in the world of climate change whilst making a documentary on the topic for the last 6 years, believe me, I am all for the celebration of a brave new sustainable world.

Yet when someone is hurting so badly that they choose to express their grief and concern in such a public way as Bill McEwan chose in May 2015, should we not step forward and take their hand?

When I heard that Bill was motivated to embark on his week of Karanga – a Maori word meaning ‘a call’ – as a result of watching my film, I felt compelled to be by his side. Bill and his son Robbie slept in the Blenheim band rotunda located in the middle of this busy, conservative town, and fasted for a week to stimulate a climate conversation.

There is a long history of going without food to bring attention to issues in many cultures. In the old Irish tradition people would sit on someone’s doorstep and fast. Known as troscadh or cealachan, it became a method of protesting injustice. Fasting had specific rules that had to be followed that dealt with honour and hospitality.

Bill was adamant he did not wish the media to focus on his lack of food. “This is about climate change not fasting” he repeatedly said. His going hungry however was a personal expression of how strongly he felt deep inside about the assault on ‘our mother’ as he would say. He cried tears publicly as others came and sat with him quietly, sharing his emotion, hugging him in solidarity and exchanging ideas and stories.

This was a profound and inspiring experience to witness. Bill did not do this for himself but for his community, the small provincial town of Blenheim where his life began 70 years ago. And indeed he provided a forum whereby others were given a space to express their deeply held  concern. This is such a healthy and important part of our process as humans in facing up to what we know is unfolding our our dearly loved planet, Home.

We need to acknowledge the emotions that we feel. In fact it is ONLY by allowing these feelings to be be free within ourselves that we will then engage with solutions. Sadness is a measure of our love and caring, anger and rage reflect our desire for justice and freedom and can be turned into outrage and action, despair leads to inspiration and empowerment as we ask the deeper questions and fear builds the courage that we need in these times.

I was an intimate witness to The Climate Justice Fast held in 2009 through the infamous Copenhagen climate conference. Several people, some only in their twenties, fasted for 43 days. Their journey is featured in our documentary and again, their strength of conviction was compelling and moving.

Now there is an international movement calling on people to fast for one day each month for climate. Its called Fast for the Climate and is supported by youth groups, environmental groups and faith-based groups, who all want urgent action on climate change by governments this year. “Most of us are fasting on the first of each month, for 24 hours. But there is no right or wrong way to do it. Some people are skipping a meal together once a month. Some people are fasting from carbon consumption and production. Some people are fasting from food waste.”

Fasting is a powerful and deeply personal experience that some humans choose to explore. It can unearth raw emotion, wisdom and insight and I deeply respect those who have the courage to utilise this as a social expression. As we wade ever deeper into the mystery of this climate predicament I am sure we will see more public fasting.

So to my dear friend, let me assure you, I wasn’t starving. And I WAS celebrating. Indeed it was a party as we lay there together through the night in the town square under a tarpaulin, weaving stories, exchanging philosophies, laughing and feeling the love. A great party indeed.

Ange Palmer is the Co-Producer of 2 Degrees, an uplifting feature documentary examining the international climate negotiation process, social justice and community action.