Moments of Transformation
Moments of Transformation
By Claire Curran
There are moments that define the path of our lives, that crystallize our passions and commitments. These moments are sometimes gentle. More often, they are alarming: bells ringing, waking us up. What do you do when in one of those moments you are confronted by your own prejudices? Do you hide, or face that subconscious prejudice and racism head on? Do you commit your life to working to overcome those systems of oppression and marginalization that exist not only in institutions, but within ourselves?
Erika Thorne was confronted by her own racism and let that moment change her forever. As a lifelong activist, Erika was someone who saw herself as working not only to create social change, but to foster community living and safe spaces. Then, after performing a dance piece she had choreographed, she was confronted by members of the audience who told her that her piece was unconsciously racist.
Erika did not turn away, she didn’t insist that wasn’t the intention of her piepce. Instead, she sat with that recognition and let it inform her life's work. To respond to such a moment with commitment and clarity is a beautiful testament of what we can do even when confronted with a part of ourselves we don’t like and did not realize we carried.
Recognizing the prejudices we carry and the ways in which we ourselves uphold and support systems of oppression is not an easy task. But it is necessary, always. So what does this have to do with working in the climate movement? Simply put, everything.
As Erika told me, we must ask ourselves,
“How has our individual and collective action actually been part of the system that put people on the margins to the extent that abandoned uranium mines will be left for decades right next to communities who are raising their children and farming their land? When people can be marginalized to that extent and told ‘your life doesn’t matter,’ that has enabled society to do the kind of violence that is resulting in climate change.”
Even if we recognize how environmental issues disproportionately impact marginalized populations but do not recognize the structures and entrenched history of oppression that has enabled that impact, “[we] are stopped because we don’t understand how racism is limiting our capacity to work together.”
We are all confronted by these moments. For myself, I do this work because I see Climate Change as an issue of justice. My experience studying abroad in India confronted me with the ways that my privilege is built on the oppression of others. In order to move our work forward in a powerful way it is vital that we recognize the ways these systems of oppression operate in the world and within ourselves. But as Erika emphasized, this is no shame and blame game. Instead recognition is a vital prerequisite to action. When we recognize the impact of our action, not the intention, we are humbled and able to truly listen at the feet of those most deeply affected. Then, after listening and through deep conversation and discussion we are able to move into action that works to repair, not further, systems of oppression.
That is work that Erika will lead us in on Tuesday May 20th and Thursday May 22nd at the Reconciliation, Faith and the Climate Crisis Workshop: Addressing Systems of Oppression as Integral to a Just and Sustainable Future. And as people of faith we have something unique to offer. As Erika recognized, “I believe people of faith are a very potent constituency within this work because they have a moral framework. Every person of faith that I know has and is continually developing rights and wrongs, why am I here, how can my work and actions be in line with my spiritual understanding.”
So please join us as we bring to the table all our faith traditions have to offer to creating communities and a world that is just, compassionate, and sustainable.