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

“Learning to Scale Peaks From My Underprotective Mother”

Ya’ll. YA’LL.

I wrote an essay that was published yesterday for The New York Times.

It’s up on the Well Family Blog as part of a series on family relationships called Ties.

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gorgeous illustration by Gisselle Potter

Here’s the full essay:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/learning-to-scale-peaks-from-my-underprotective-mother/ 

Someone pinch me? I’ll be over here doing a happy dance.

Much love,

d

 

Dancing at Kura Tāwhiti

Some places are full of the stories
of all the people
who have passed through here before.

Kura Tāwhiti is one of those places.

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When I dance, I hear landscapes differently.

I dance to honor places.

Dancing is sacred to me.

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Arohanui to Nicole for taking these photos, and for the adventure.

Christchurch People’s Climate March

Art and activism at work:

an aside:

I don’t have a way to monitor sound or block the interference of the wind on my camera when I make videos right now, which is v. frustrating. It was a windy day. I chose the least windy takes to share with you all. I’m working on fixing this so that future videos can be ever better.

Thanks for being here & for giving me the opportunity to play around with a new form.

This video made possible by supporters on Patreon: www.patreon.com/devi_lockwood

Much love,

Devi

Fact:

I have always enjoyed dancing barefoot & in public places.

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There were controlled burnings in Yosemite National Park that summer. It was a long wait. I danced without music––

because I have a heartbeat, and sometimes that is enough of a reason
to celebrate.

Commit Random Acts of Dance

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Hey world,

Happy International Dance Day​!

I was planning on cycling north from Wellington (gotta catch that cargo ship up in Auckland, eep!), but my lovely friend Charlotte convinced me to stick around for a day of dance classes taught by local teachers at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

I learned some intro capoeira, grooved along with a hundred or so others to a complex 20-second stint of hip hop choreography taught by the inimitable Braedyn Humphries, and rekindled my passion for both leading and following in salsa. Gender roles, go home!

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Dance brings out joy.

After the event, Charlotte and I boogied our way along the harbor, re-enacting our 20 seconds of hip hop choreography to the tune of street musicians, and then again in the middle of a crosswalk, just because we could.

Three folks told me water / climate change stories along the way, too! I listened to a man who thoroughly doesn’t trust climate scientists, a seven-year-old who told me that one day the ocean was sucked dry, and then a big elephant came back to make the rain fall again, and a lovely woman on her way to perform improv who told me about her summers on the water growing up.

The current count: 310 recorded stories. My goal is 1001.

I took out my sharpie, because, well, because because. Because there was a particularly greenish stretch of wall that needed a voice. And then this happened:

commit random acts of #dance

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Commit random acts of dance. I dare you. A tiny dance celebration is pretty much guaranteed to make your day better.

Call for dancers / choreographers / folks who write about dancing

CALL FOR DANCERS / CHOREOGRAPHERS / FOLKS WHO WRITE ABOUT DANCING:

Hi beautiful people, this year I am traveling the world (mostly by bicycle) with an audio recorder in hand, collecting stories from people I meet about water and climate change.

(about.me/devi_lockwood)

When I was doing this project in San Francisco a few months ago, I went along with a friend to my first modern dance class. I studied ballet for thirteen years before I turned to sports (ice hockey, rowing, and most recently, long-distance solo cycle touring).

After the modern class I had an aha! moment––a vision of a performance where a group of dancers embody an edited track of the water/climate change stories that I have been collecting on this trip. More on that story here: https://onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/release/

(I’m struggling with how to word it best, because the idea for this performance still seems fuzzier than words. I hope that this makes some kind of sense. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.)

I’m reaching out to as many folks as possible––geography is not a limiting factor. Do you know of dance groups/ choreographers who would be interested in this kind of project?

If so, please get in touch, either in the comments here or via https://onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com/contact/

It’s a far-off kind of proposal, but I like to dream big.

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