In Defense of Earth Day

On Earth Day, my friend Jashvina and I sang Sam Cooke’s “Change Gonna Come” on the Mario Savio Steps at UC Berkeley. It was a part of Berkeley’s yearly Earth Week festivities, a week that changes shape each year according to the values of students and how they’d like to celebrate what has become a staple national holiday. We chose “Change Gonna Come” as a song of hope amidst deep-rooted injustice in the 1960s. We wanted to honor the Civil Rights Movement, a movement that paved the way for all justice movements that have followed. Singing felt so good and joyous, both of us dressed colorfully, smiling big.

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Is the environmental movement allowed to celebrate? I hear discourse these days of Earth Day being a joke, a scam, a detriment and a disgrace to the real crises at hand and the types of movements and actions we need to address them. I hear these concerns. But I still love Earth Day, and I think I always will. Can’t  we take one day out of the year, to step back from our daily struggles, our serious fights for divestment and environmental justice and new economies and political power, to breathe, celebrate, and feel gratitude? For me it’s a day to remember that amidst the environmental disasters that humans are causing and will cause, environmental miracles are also happening all the time. The poppies are blooming, new seedlings are sprouting, art and music are bursting from the cracks, and people are coming together in all sorts of new ways. And don’t forget – the sun rose this morning!

Amidst an environmental movement that is increasingly focused on addressing the system of environmental and climate injustice (which is definitely a move in the right direction), it’s important to remember and pay homage to the actual earth under our feet. Each of us lives in a specific place, a unique niche, that supports life like you and me. So what’s the harm in taking a day to gather and smile together?

Personally, I don’t want an environmental movement that is solely about tackling systemic issues. I also want an environmental movement that has its roots in the earth, in its living, breathing form. I want and need both types of movements. Maybe we all do. And so I want a day to join my fellow humans in expressing gratitude to the earth and its communities: human and non-human. Connecting intimately and genuinely with the non-human world is part of what it means to fully realize our existence as humans and live resiliently. The soil and trees and wildlife and watersheds deserve podiums on our human stage, and Earth Day provides that podium.

I don’t think that Earth Day needs to represent the entire environmental movement, as it is too often challenged to do by the media and popular culture. In fact, in 2014, there is no single environmental movement, and the mosaic of ideals and strategies that are out there could never be captured in just one day. But there is one earth, and it deserves our intentional gratitude. I know that we all should live like every day is Earth Day, and it is my idealistic, optimistic belief that we are moving in that direction. But until everyone’s hands are in the dirt, everyone knows the names of the plants around them, and we’ve all cleaned up our act, let’s keep using this special day to draw more attention and intention to a world worth fighting for. To a world worth knowing, loving, and celebrating.  Change gonna come, oh yes it will!

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