President-elect Trump on environment (read more) is ominous, to say the least. Maybe it’s so difficult because of the many issues involved. For each of us, they profoundly determine our identity and quality of life. But how we’ve been advocating life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was just disrupted. To me, that’s the most important take away from this election.
As I travel and meet people and places, I’m often surprised. I ask questions like how often they talk to this neighbor down the street or that one. Or I look across the road and ask what our community does with that one. There are notable exceptions, but often, the answer is nothing. We can’t imagine a situation in which we hold anything in common with “those people.”
…and we’ve got Facebook and all these other social apps. How often do you have a meaningful conversation with people who disagree with you?
Truth is, if you lost this election, you lost it to people you don’t talk to.
I used to live and work at an environmental nonprofit in the Pacific Northwest. Where spotted owl and tree sitting wars happened during the Reagan and Bush administrations. When I was there, there was still so much animosity between the mill town and environmentalists who’d won protection for the old growth forest. The antagonism was so great that you couldn’t go into some businesses for fear of poor treatment.
My friends and I would go down to the local bar. It was right beside one of the last surviving lumber mills. There was a huge 2×3 foot sign on the right side of the door that read “WE SUPPORT THE TIMBER INDUSTRY.” We were a bunch of long-haired, patchouli-smelling “hippies,”, and we’d go right in. Belly to the bar. Order up. And hang out with everyone else. These were loggers, grocers, mechanics, all deeply and broadly affected by the economic crash that came after wilderness protection. We’d buy each other a drink, swap stories, get to know each other. Most importantly, we respected each other.
Then one day we were sitting there. Talking with the bartender. …she looked left, and right then leaned in close. “You know, I go up there sometimes. Walk in the woods. It’s beautiful. Don’t tell anybody I said this, but it may have been a good thing they protected it.”
Listen. The space between our mission and the lived reality of people in our communities is the chasm into which our cause fell this election. We have to tell our story better. It has to be relevant to the lives of people in the real world. We have to understand where they’re coming from. To do that, we’ll have to step out of our privilege of advocacy. See that it is so much more difficult to vote for an ideal when we’re struggling to make our lives work.
It’s complicated. I get it. I’m plowing through my own baggage right now as well. But as hard as it is, my feeling is that distancing ourselves is not going to improve the situation. But if we can swap stories. Share our experience over a beer… or a cup of coffee, we can maybe begin to appreciate the humanity in each other.
And that, I think, is the fabric of a better world.