“It’s not just a one-day march. It’s our long-term ability to build a strong climate movement that we need to invest in.” —Ananda Lee Tan
I’ll be at the People’s Climate March in NYC all day Sunday. Over 1,500 organizations are now registered to participate, and over 800 buses including ours will be heading to downtown NY. The March precedes the 2014 UN Climate Summit by two days.
If you’re not going yourself, but want to watch from home, bookmark the PCM’s website: Democracy Now will be running a live feed through the day.
I won’t be at the March alone.
A Conversation with Toni and John Hudson, Quakers, Retired Teachers, and Climate Activists
Toni Hudson, a retired elementary school teacher, spoke to me two weeks ago. Just a few days beforehand, she’d shared an announcement about the People’s Climate March with other members of her Friends (Quaker) meeting in Sandy Spring, MD. She’ll attend the March in New York City with her two grandsons, riding a bus organized by the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.
Toni, what happened when you shared about the March at last week’s Friends Meeting?
Toni: I got a few responses from people who appreciated the message, and the clerk put it in our meeting’s newsletter. I just wanted to put it on people’s wavelength and wonder how many more people will go.
How did you first hear about the People’s Climate March? I heard about it through Peterson Toscano, the Quaker performance artist who now specializes in climate change.
Toni: My husband and I, we get a lot of emails from environmental groups. I think I first heard about it from Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW). We’re on the steering committee and QEW decided to sign on to the March as a supporter months ago. If you know Quakers, you know that’s not just a decision that gets made quickly! Well, I heard about it and thought about it, but because it was in New York, I crossed it off my list. I thought it was too far away.
And then when I heard about it again from Bill McKibben’s group 350.org, it caught my attention. Either QEW or Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) said it was going to be really big. It was equated with the March on Washington . You know how people say “I was there [at the March on Washington]?” They said the People’s Climate March would be a historical moment.
I said I want to be part of that. This is going to be really, really big.
Have you always been concerned about environmental issues?
Toni: Well, I hear about many of these things through my husband, John. He’s a chemist and used to teach environmental science.
But I’ve always had a general concern myself. Back in the 1970s, when Earth Day started and during the gas shortage, I remember only being able to get gas on certain days. We were so close to public transportation, could walk to a bank or a church—it might not be your church of choice!—but these facilities were there around us.
Neighbors of mine had some passive solar in their house back then: they had a cinderblock wall with a glass wall on the outside; the glass let in the light and the blocks absorbed the heat. Jimmy Carter had solar panels on the roof [of the White House]. And the retirement community at Sandy Spring had solar panels as well.
And then things died out for a while. It seemed we had all really cut back on our energy use, and then more and more things went back to how they’d been before.
Where does Quaker EarthCare Witness fit in?
Toni: QEW started 25 years ago; their anniversary celebration was last fall. Originally they’d thought that they’d just be around for 25 years and by that time Quakers would have taken on the principle of “right relationship with the Earth.” It hasn’t worked out that way. As Quakers, we have testimonies about simplicity and equality so there was a thought that we might get another testimony about caring for the Earth. That’s part of what QEW has tried to do.
I think Earthcare has turned into a unifying factor for all Friends, regardless of their affiliation.* The steering committee has representatives from the different Yearly Meetings, including those that are more conservative. One of the newly active and most respected members is a conservative Quaker from Iowa. He is concerned about native plants, and is trying turn family property back into native prairie. He’s also a biology teacher and is very good at communicating. He has such a reverence for the land and God’s creation. I admire that.
* Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference are two of three international associations for Quakers. Roughly, FUM trends centrist and FGC trends liberal. A third association, Evangelical Friends Church International, supports evangelical Quakers. My local yearly meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, is a joint member of both FUM and FGC.]
Is there any part of your faith that drives the action you take about this issue?
Toni: My faith teaches me that we only have one Earth, and it’s important for us not to mess with the cycle of life. Another teaching is the idea of taking care of the world that we live in. It feels like man’s greed to think that they have the right for everything to go their way and not consider other living things.
Tell me a little about your grandsons.
Toni: My grandsons are 11 and 16 years old. And we’re actually going with another grandmother and her two grandsons: one of the other members of the Unity with Nature Committee lives in West Virginia and will ride the same bus as us.
It’s so hard for their parents: our children are so busy making a living. So the bulk of the people I know who participate in environmental groups tend to be older, partly because they have the time.
I think there are two kinds of older people: those who say “I’m not gonna be around for the future so I won’t worry about it,” and the others who say “I’m really concerned about the future and what kind of world my children and grandchildren are going to be in.” I’m in that second group.
My grandchildren’s mother really was anxious for them to go on the march: them going was a way for their parents to participate. An 88 year old friend who couldn’t physically go herself has given another rider the money to pay for her trip to New York. So people are participating in as many ways as they can.
What other action have you seen, beyond this March?
Toni: QEW is coordinating the Quaker contingent at the March, but QEW also has NGO status at the UN. So there are Friends who are assigned to go the meetings at the UN Climate Summit, to bring to the UN environmental issues from the Quaker perspective. There are also Quakers trying to get the PNCBank to stop mountain top removal and they’ve been very successful; they do very active things like showing up at board and stockbroker meetings. FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) is another group that works with Congress.
You know the Quakers weren’t “out there” on this issue initially but some are considering it as significant as slavery [The abolition of slavery was a catalyst for some early Quaker social activism.] We can see now that the people who are going to suffer the most from climate change are going to be the people that live close to the water, the vulnerable, the poor.
John: In Montgomery County, MD, the County Council made a resolution about natural gas fracking at Cove Point. A company, Dominion Energy, wants to export the natural gas to India and Japan by piping it across Maryland from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, liquefy it at Cove Point, transport it liquefied across the ocean, and then pipe it to Japan. The concern for residents is that it’s dangerous to live so close to the liquefaction point. Cove Point is like the Chesapeake beach, so residents are close to where the work would be done. And Montgomery County said the state shouldn’t allow the point to be built before an environmental impact study has been done. Howard County (a neighboring county) wouldn’t initiate a resolution to discourage the state from moving ahead.
The US Energy Department has said that it would be better for China to burn coal than use the fracked gas transported from Cove Point because so much methane is lost during the process. The worst emissions come from the natural gas industry. If you want to learn more about this, you should look up peer reviewed science papers from the National Academy of Science.
Toni: I think there’s room for all kinds of people in this movement. I’m not a scientist or an academic; my husband is. He innately has a more technical understanding and I don’t. So what I try to do is bridge that gap for other people. The majority of people, it seems, don’t have a real good understanding of science. For instance, when you pass a bus and it says “Clean natural gas,” John tells me that the gas itself might be clean when it burns, but the process overall is bad for the environment.
But people who know too much can overwhelm [others] with information so I think you still need people who can communicate the message without being overwhelming. I’m glad we’re involved: being a volunteer makes you do things you never thought you could do!
What trends are you noticing now that you’re more engaged?
Toni: For Quakers, the theme next year at the 2015 annual yearly meeting session will be “Right Relationship.” We brought forward a statement for that. Some years ago it felt like people looked at me strangely when I talked about the environment. But this year, I really really noticed that it seemed like something that was on a lot of people’s minds and there was an appreciation for the concern. There are so many different things to worry about and be involved in and it seems like more people are thinking this is something that should take priority.
At Sandy Spring Friends Meeting, the native plant garden is another aspect of this respect for the environment. For earth day, someone spoke about the bees. At Sandy Spring Friends School, they are planning to put in another field of solar panels to help them cover 60% of energy use. One of the staff members works on the garden, which produces some of the food for the school. All of this is part of right relationship.
Do you think it’s too late to turn the ship of over-consumption around? Where do you see hope?
Toni: I’m an optimistic person but I don’t want to have my head in the sand. I’ve always had confidence that people can solve these problems. But as I get older I get worried that greed stands in the way, so that’s where the faith community comes in: if you examine your conscience, it may force you to do the right thing.
I hope that people of faith will make the difference.
“This moment will not be just about New York or the United States. Heads of state from around the world will be there, as will the attention of global media. We know that no single meeting or summit will “solve climate change” and in many ways this moment will not even really be about the summit.
“We want this moment to be about us—the people who are standing up in our communities, to organize, to build power, and to shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world.
“To do that, we need to act—together.” —350.org and the People’s Climate March
Many thanks to Toni and John for talking with me. I’ll look forward to seeing Toni, Peterson, and a hundred thousand other people on the streets of New York this Sunday!