Hello! My name is Aly Tharp and I am from the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. I serve as a part-time network coordinator for a small group of committed and spiritually-grounded activists called the Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice. Before taking this position in September of 2014, I hadn’t fully realized how deeply my Unitarian Universalist faith informs my activism and perspective on justice.In the fall of 2012, I was just a few months out of college with a degree in Environmental Studies. I had a passionate interest in the intersection of economic justice and environmental sustainability, but my vision for what careers were available in that field involved grim caricatures of assigning US Dollar values to forests, watersheds and ecosystems with a thin sliver of hope that speaking the language of the market will influence public policy enough to make a lasting difference.I didn’t think that lasting solutions to our unsustainable society would come about using the same methods that brought us such great global environmental crises in the first place, and I still don’t. Instead, I found inspiration in the growing grassroots change movements around the world, and felt that was the domain where I wanted to be.
Before long I was in the thick of things, in East Texas. Two Unitarian Universalist (UU) activists had recently been arrested along with quite a few others, taking non-violent direct action to block the machines tearing down trees for the easement to the Keystone XL “Gulf Coast Project”.
I knew about the Keystone pipeline from my college studies, but learned about the blessing from President Obama to build the segment from Kushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast only after the tree-sits and construction had begun. An article posted on the blog Treehugger detailed how Benjamin Craft-Rendon, now a close friend and collaborator in the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice network, and Shannon Beebe had been placed in stress positions, tazered, choked and pepper sprayed while they were locked to a machine. Their treatment brought me to outrage and action.
In October of 2012, I went to a mass action training camp hosted by the Tar Sands Blockade, a group which sustained a tree-sit on the easement of the KXL pipeline in Winnsboro, Texas for nearly three months while simultaneously taking direct action to delay construction at other sites throughout Oklahoma and Texas. Over the next two years I stayed involved in the movement, and focused largely on media, research and community outreach. I spoke at UU churches and with college students about tar sands extraction and resistance across the continent.
I often think of the words of contemporary UU faith leader Gini Courter, who once gave an audience that I was a part of the mandate to “dream lucid and wide awake”. I love that and aspire to it. To me it means unhinging your creativity and working towards your vision for a better world without looking away from the ugly truths of what makes this society so difficult for the majority of its inhabitants — pushing your heart and your mind to dwell on the growing edge of your own understandings and capacities. In spending the last three years supporting nonviolent direct action, I’ve witnessed astounding levels of chaos and frustration, as well as successes and opportunities for growth and transformation. Because I am white and was raised in a competitive and corporate-sponsored suburb, my personal ground-shift was largely in developing stronger awareness of environmental racism and the legacies of colonialism, slavery and systemic oppression in our modern lives and social norms. I was sheltered from these truths.
The dominance of deep seeded racism, capitalist imperialism and militant nationalism are the main reason why I stand for “climate justice” and not just “climate action”. I hear the *sigh* of, “Oh, we just need 5 billion fewer people on the planet,” coming from almost all directions. Yet one average person from the USA uses the same resources as roughly 500 people in Bangladesh. It’s clear to me that at the end of the day, “We just need 5 billion people to die,” is an overly-simplistic and sociopathic platitude. While perhaps there are a few red buttons on this Earth that could be pressed to make that happen — pressing them is not something “we just need”, and the only other means I can imagine of manifesting this wish is essentially sitting on our hands and waiting for climate chaos and ecological collapse to devastate our unsustainable food and economic systems and then choosing not to help anyone but ourselves.
I’m not one to sit on my hands and champion hedonistic hopelessness, and I think we as a society so often do just that because the world breaks our hearts and shuts us down. Our growth and learning shouldn’t end there. There is more to living, hope to be found, and much better ways of doing things than what we’ve got going on now. Taking action, seeking healing, learning to forage and eat from your bio-region, becoming a part of a community working to combat oppression or pollution or both, supporting those who have lost everything, naming our fears and staring them down — these are all powerful and life-changing things. To change the system, we have to start by changing and challenging our selves and finding inspiration and love in the communities we can create. It’s the relationships I’ve formed with other brave and brilliant people walking similar paths that give me inspiration and hope for the future.
I look forward to this interfaith gathering, and cannot wait to see what meaningful and powerful connections may come from it!