Stories are Doors

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القصص أبواب = stories are doors 

The first word I learned on my first day of Arabic class was الأمم المتحدة, the United Nations.

Five years later, I walked inside COP22 in Marrakech, the U.N. talks on climate change, trailing red Moroccan mud on my shoes.

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After passing through airport-esque security (no, my shotgun microphone is not a weapon; no, I’m not concealing anything in my hair), I waited in line for my accreditation badge to be printed. I stood behind a delegation from Sudan and an ambassador from the World Bank. The World Bank man liked our green shirts printed with the words “Climate Justice Storyteller” across the front.

I studied Modern Standard Arabic for four years (2009-2013). Save for layovers* in Doha and in Abu Dhabi, I had never set foot in the Middle East before attending COP22 this November.

*Airports don’t count, right? But they are beautiful intersection points. See Naomi Shihab Nye:

Harvard students who take Arabic fall into neat categories: the vast majority who want to work for the State Department or the CIA; aspiring business leaders; the ROTC guy who occasionally came to class in uniform; and a poet obsessed with words (*points at self*). Our vocabulary lessons were skewed accordingly. It was two years before I learned how to ask to use the toilet. Official state functions were deemed more important.

In Morocco, my Modern Standard Arabic was woefully useless. I could introduce myself politely and barter for a taxi or a handful of oranges, but not much beyond that. The dialect spoken in المغرب diverges sharply from the formal stuff I learned in class. If I spent a few more months focusing on immersion, I could probably pick it up. Living breathing languages are beautiful for their twists and turns, but COP was about something else.

One thing I love about learning languages is that it teaches me to be a better resident of my own tongue. I’ll never be done learning Arabic, or English (!) for that matter.

Language is an approximation, always. The words that describe the thing (round, asinine, plastic, vertigo) can never BE the thing. Ceci n’est pas justice climatique. 

I’m most interested in the ways that stories (and poems) become doors, portals through which we access experience that is outside of what we would have come across otherwise.

I remember the first poem I ever read: “Zinnias” by Valerie Worth

Zinnias
by Valerie Worth

Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched
Arranged to please us
In the house, in the water, they
Will hardly wilt– I know
Someone like zinnias: I wish
I were like zinnias.

That poem, for me, was a door. I had never seen a zinnia before, but I felt like I could feel the flower’s texture. I wanted to be “stout and stiff”––as if looking at a flower could make me more confident, more alive. It wowed me (and still does) that words could do that.

How can the climate movement harness the power of a poem? How can we be “like zinnias” and “stand no nonsense”? Where do stories come into play?

@SustainUS celebrates the end of #COP22

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A group of 13 storytellers from as far afield as Utah and Hawaii joined together to find out. We were selected as part of a Storytelling Challenge run by SustainUS.

Hundreds of people applied. I had my second round interview when I was super-sick, an amoeba wreaking havoc inside my intestines in Cambodia. I must have said something semi-coherent, though.

It was a privilege and an honor to receive the call from Morgan Curtis on July 4th: “Will you join the delegation?”

I said yes.

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SustainUS Climate Justice Storytellers at COP22

Fun fact: I met Morgan Curtis through this blog! She wrote to me about a year and a half ago asking for tips for her bike trip to Paris for COP21, which resulted in this post. And on Monday we’re meeting up for vegan pies in Oxford. LOOK OUT, WORLD.

In the months before November, the SustainUS delegation had weekly Google Hangout calls to work out travel logistics and figure out how we wanted to show up together inside the U.N space.

At a retreat in Oakland, California, we gathered to do a version of Joanna Macy‘s Work that Reconnects and to practice the basics of Nonviolent Communication, a method that involves listening without the intention of responding. Instead, I learned how to listen for needs.

It is a huge privilege to have access to the U.N. space, even as an observer. I wanted to honor the stories of climate change that need to be told; the voices that weren’t present inside the tents of COP22 because they were not allowed access, or the voices that, even present, were systematically silenced within. Why don’t indigenous nations, for example, have a seat at the negotiation tables as sovereign nations? Tribal sovereignty and environmental justice / climate issues go hand in hand.

I view my purpose as one of amplification.

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I spent the eve of COP22 on a rooftop with local activists talking solidarity across movements. Stories = fuel.

Earlier that I day I attended COY, the Conference of Youth that proceeds the Conference of the Parties (COP) each year. I stopped in at Green School Bali‘s booth, a storytelling space inspired by this episode of This American Life where a Japanese man uses an old phone booth on top of a hill to communicate with the dead. Inside the Green School booth, you could sit down and tell your own story of climate change. The personal is political is ecological.

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November 9, 2016: we are mourning, we are taking action

And while we listened, the world changed. My country elected a climate denier / sexist / homophobe for president. OH JOY.

The day after, SustainUS gathered with international youth climate activists outside COP22 to mourn the election results. The president elect isn’t going to do shit for the planet, so it’s up to the people. We sang. We stood in solidarity with youth climate activists from around the world.

If I had to be in this struggle, there’s no other youth activists I would rather be in it with. Our work starts now. The next four years are critical to take action to limit catastrophic climate change.

I am inspired by how this group shows up, together, in the face of systems of oppression and extraction that feel so heartless.

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prayer circle for Standing Rock held outside COP22

We brought human stories to the UN. We listened.

There’s no other group of people I’d rather be facing the climate crisis with. Now the real work begins.

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At the midpoint of the conference, I marched in Morocco’s first climate march with thousands of other activists.

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“People change not climate change. System change not climate change. Today, today, before tomorrow.”

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Local activists marched alongside the international community. In their eyes, the Moroccan regime used COP22 to greenwash its crimes. SustainUS stands in solidarity with local Moroccan activists fighting against an oppressive regime that values profits over people #300kmsouth.

I traveled to COP22 not because I believe that the U.N. can solve all the worlds problems, but for stories. I believe that storytelling, listening, and amplifying voices can be tools for social change.

Manari Kaji Ushigua Santi, President of the Sapara Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon, took the time to talk with me about climate change:

“We have to get to know ourselves again – who are we? We are part of a chain of life in this earth. We are not a being more important than all other beings. No. Where do energies come from? From the sky and from the earth. We don’t want people to exploit all these natural resources. Each resource: petroleum, gold, uranium, copper – all of those have life. They are elements that help us balance with the sky and with the earth, so that the earth sustains itself. What happens if we exploit all those resources? The world starts to dance.”

Since the end of COP22, I’m thinking more about the dancing world. The unsteady world. The world in which I will grow old.

(P.S. For an awesome book about dance, check out Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I’m in the middle of it now and the way she writes about movement is stunning.)

How will people look back at this time: the age of screens? The age of environmental indifference? The age when we stood by and let destruction happen––the destruction of species, of the oceans, the Arctic, our coastlines?

Stories are the doors I build and walk through.

How can we tell the stories of the climate justice movement so that it brings in more people than it shuts out? COP, for example, has an old white man problem. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

I want to move through and move beyond closed doors and into new doors. Old doors. Doors where I dismantle the hinges, piece by piece. Doors I ram through and slam my body against, day after day. Doors I repair. Doors where I have no idea what’s waiting on the other side.

a city of doors 🚪 #marrakech #morocco

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Hungry for more? Here are a few door-like essays that I wrote during COP22:

Truthout: “From Standing Rock to Morocco: Indigenous Protesters Act in Solidarity Against Corporate Polluters”

Earth to Marrakech: “Meet Andy Costa, a Cycling Activist from Cote D’Ivoire”

Everyday Feminism: “Five Alarming Ways that Climate Change is Racist”

Earth to Marrakech: “Indigenous Leaders at COP22 Stand in Solidarity with Standing Rock”

Pacific Standard: “How Youth Delegates at COP22 are Mobilizing Ahead of a Trump Presidency”

Sierra Magazine: “Dispatches from a Youth Delegate at COP22”

(If you’re wondering to yourself––how can I keep this little storytelling boat afloat?––pop on over to my Patreon page. Any and all support is much appreciated. Plus you’ll get access to cool stuff like 1x poem every month written by yours truly.)

Until next time,

indigogirls

Imlil, Morocco; mountain dance

Support Climate Justice Storytelling at the UN Climate Talks

Hi all! I’m part of a group of 13 youth delegates from SustainUS going to the UN climate talks in Morocco this November.

If you’d like to be involved with the climate movement / support us, that would be massively helpful!

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We’re focusing on climate justice storytelling, and will be bringing stories from COP22 to media outlets back home.

The Paris Agreement has been signed, but we can’t wait for 2050. The transition from fossil fuels needs to happen (and is happening) now. This is the decade to take direct action to prevent catastrophic global warming.

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I have 10 copies of a poetry chapbook left & a handful of postcards from driving across the country that I would be more than happy to send your way. If you’d like a letter or a book of poems in exchange for a donation, let me know!

Thanks so much for your support. If you can’t donate, sharing this link would be a great help, too.

Big love,

Devi

SustainUS Delegation to COP22: our work begins

I spent last weekend in Oakland at Canticle Farm alongside fourteen other Climate Justice Storytellers representing youth from across the United States. We’re traveling to Morocco this November as youth delegates at COP22, the UN talks on climate change.

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We focused our first few days on doing a small-scale version of Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects. Then, we asked ourselves the  question: What would it look like to finish COP22 more energized than when we arrived?

It’s an honor to be a part of this group of dynamic climate activists. We stand with Standing Rock.

#NoDAPL #WaterIsLife

 

Poetry & Honey – upcoming event!

BOSTON-AREA FRIENDS:

On Friday Aug 19th at 7pm I’ll be reading poems at Follow The Honey (1132 Mass Ave) in Cambridge, MA. Stick around after for a wine tasting with Proud Pour!

Here’s the Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/319270138414558

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The event is free. I’m making a whole bunch of handmade poetry chapbooks that will be for sale in exchange for any donation — all funds will help me attend the UN climate talks in Morocco this November as a youth delegate with SustainUS.

More updates to come! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

Here’s the full event description:

 

Poetry and honey together (and perhaps a spot of wine)?!?! OH YES.

Kick off National Honey Day events with a poetry reading by Devi Lockwood at Follow the Honey in Cambridge, MA. Stick around after for a wine tasting with Proud Pour.

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Devi Lockwood is a poet / touring cyclist / storyteller from Boston. For the last two years she has been traveling the world by bicycle and by boat to collect 1,001 stories from people she meets about water and climate change.

Her journey began with the September 21, 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. To date she has collected over 500 stories (audio recordings) in the USA, Fiji, Tuvalu, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Qatar. She is working to create a map on a website where you can click on a point and listen to a story someone has told her from that place.

Devi’s writing has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, Bicycling Magazine, Storyscape, BOAAT, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere — for a full publication list, see: devi-lockwood.com/read-listen.

Devi is currently based in New Hampshire and will attend the November 2016 COP22 UN climate talks in Morocco as a youth delegate for SustainUS.

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The reading is free. Handmade poetry chapbooks will be for sale at the event, with some old poems and some recent poems from the journey. Price is a sliding scale — whatever you can afford! Bring cash / spare change.

All funds raised will help Devi attend COP22, the UN climate talks in Morocco.

At the end of the event, Brian Thurber, the founder of Proud Pour, will be sampling his wine.

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Proud Pour pairs high-quality wines with local environmental restoration. Proud Pour’s Sauvignon Blanc restores 100 wild oysters per bottle. Delicious + sustainable.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

website: devi-lockwood.com
blog: onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com

On Spirituality & Social Justice

“How can I help? What power do we have to overthrow an exploitative system? Am I enough?” 

I have a long-form article out today in Anchor Issue 05, published by Still Harbor — check it out!

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You can view the article here: http://view.publitas.com/still-harbor-anchor/anchor_issue-05/page/56 

And the whole issue here: http://stillharbor.org/anchor-magazine/#anchor-online 

Big love for the space that Anchor provides for conversations at the intersection of spirituality and social justice.

 

Bangkok: Puppets, Bicycles, Spirit Shrines, and Front Flips

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Just over a week ago, Charlotte and I left Aotearoa New Zealand for Thailand. After four months of trying every possible boat option we could think of (as a passenger on a cargo ship, working on a cruise ship, working on a yacht, etc.), nothing was working.

The plane ticket to Bangkok was cheap. I packed my bicycle in a cardboard box. We flew.

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Airports are for poetry.

(Here’s the final stanzas of one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye: “Gate A-4”)

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It was a strange feeling, being on a plane after having avoided air travel for so long. My feet hurt. The air was so dry. Cargo ships are loud, but airplanes are louder.

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Two flights, an 8-hour delay in Melbourne Airport, & a taxi ride later, we caught the sunrise in our open arms… and then promptly fell asleep.

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A friend from my hometown is kindly letting us stay at her flat in Sukhumvit. We’re way up on the 16th floor, witness to power lines // roofs and trees.

Out of frame: taller buildings // bright bright lights // loud loud traffic // rain // thunder // every building has its spirit shrine.

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Judging from observations, the spirits like to drink red Fanta.

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People bow at the spirit shrines as they pass. I have so much more to learn about the place of religion in Thai life, but I love what little I have picked up so far.

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Spirit trees, like this one in Chinatown, are protected from being cut down.

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I’m starting to get in the habit of drawing things to give my writing brain a break. You can see more sketches at drawingsbydevi.tumblr.com.

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Up on the balcony, Charlotte and I ate our first dragon fruit. It tasted like a beetroot walked into a kiwi fruit––savory and delicious.

Then we started the quest to find Charlotte a touring bicycle. I’ll be writing more about this in the future; the saga is ongoing. After a few false starts, we’re nearly there!

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Vrrroooooooom. Look out, world, there’s a singer on wheels soon to join the ranks of touring cyclists doing cool shit. Rumor has it that Charlotte has started a theater blog, too…

Speaking of which, if anyone knows of venues in SE Asia / beyond that would like to host Charlotte to sing, do be in touch 🙂 Best bet is if there’s a pianist or other instrumentalist to accompany her.

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Three things to know about Bangkok:

ONE: It’s hot. Well yes duh, Devi, it’s hot.

This is not Boston heat, folks. It’s not Fiji heat, either. It’s hotter, even, than most days in Tuvalu (plus more traffic, more population, and greater distances between places, so moving in Bangkok means reckoning with CARS, MOTORCYCLES, TUK TUKS, TAXIS, PURELY DECORATIVE CROSSWALKS, NONEXISTENT SIDEWALKS, EVERYTHING). Step outside in the middle of the day in Bangkok and you’ll be dripping with sweat within minutes.

Bangkok heat is the kind of heat that is exhausting to walk in.

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TWO: Crossing the street is an adventure. When I say “an adventure”,  I mean: it’s stressful: a full-body kind of stress. Pedestrians don’t have right of way: cars and motorcycles do. There are a few pedestrian overpasses, thankfully.

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THREE: The only drinking water is bottled water. More on this later, too. Having access to safe drinking  water that flows from a tap (or from the ground) is a huge privilege. I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

FOUR: Everything is wrapped in plastic. I’m doing my best to refuse as much plastic as possible, but the stuff is everywhere. Drinks come with straws. Bananas in the 7-11 come wrapped in plastic, and then the cashier puts that bundle inside another plastic bag for you to carry out of the store.

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The saddest bit, as we all know, Is that all that plastic goes to the water, and then into the sea. We’re on track to have more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

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I met up with Madeleine Recknagel, an activist working to change the culture of plastic use in Bangkok. She’s a cool cat. You can learn more about her work on her blog.

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Thanks for showing us around some of the temples, canalas, and back alleys, Madeleine!

SPEAKING OF MEETING UP WITH COOL FOLKS:

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That’s Li Murphy at left, and Awais Hussain at right, both Harvard Class of 2015. Li co-founded Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers. Awais was head of Harvard’s spoken word poetry group Speak Out Loud, and also does awesome things in physics and philosophy.

We went trampolining and had a yummy dinner at a night market. Awais did his first front flip. Li told me a story about water buffalo.

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collecting stories at the night market — the cardboard sign lives!!!

AND OH MY GOODNESS, so much has been happening that I almost forgot:

Charlotte and I visited Sema Thai Marionette, a puppetry company dedicated to working with underprivileged children and doing research into Thai puppetry traditions.

We went to their morning performance of a show about the Rambutan Prince at a school in town, and then hung out at their puppetry workshop for the rest of the day.

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The team of puppeteers helped me translate my cardboard sign into Thai…

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…so now I’m ready to collect stories on the street. Thank you so much, Sema Thai Marionette! It was so wonderful to get to know the whole troop, and to spend some time with the puppets, too.

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Charlotte and I loved the bicycling marionettes––

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… the pedals even moved! 🙂

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More soon, lovely people of the internet. For now, I’ll leave you with some street art from the neighborhood. Wheels on wheels.

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Over and out,

Devi in Bangkok

On the Texture of the Air

Tonight I read three poems to a room full of climate activists in Aotearoa.

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Activism is hard work. It’s exhausting.

After listening to the poems, someone told me how re-energized she felt––poetry the counterpoint to a long day of planning direct actions for the coming year.

“I was exhausted ten minutes ago,” she said. “Now I feel lightness. What a difference.”

Poetry changes the air in a room. This much I know.

Over & over I’m reminded of the importance of art in our movements, the necessary breath.

There are as many ways to be an activist as there are people on this planet. There is value in standing with a cardboard sign in the streets. There is value in being loud––many voices speaking for a single cause. So much planning goes into a single march. I have deep respect for that work.

There is value, too, in sitting down in a silent room with a pen and a piece of paper, the quietness of writing, of meeting oneself on the page without knowing what will come next.

I move through both worlds in my activism. The one doesn’t exist for me without the other.

& there is always more to do.