Most damagingly, it has allowed us to forget how to coexist and collaborate with one another outside of the digital plane—and to forget our cooperative potency in the real world. We are so distracted—so accustomed to airing our issues out on the internet, so trained to believe that a simple retweet is a genuine act of activism—that we have forgotten how to actually get shit done.
Thankfully, there are countercultures across the country persevering against this passive trend. These groups realize that the people are not apathetic—we simply lack the motivation and mechanism to make our compassion count.
One such organization is the American Ethical Union, who convened in Albuquerque last week in pursuit of their mission to “foster a world that is democratic, compassionate, just and sustainable” through the development and nurturing of ethical humanist congregations and communities.
The theme for this 103rd(!!) iteration of the annual assembly was “Seeds for the Future: Environmental Justice and Ethical Culture.” A series of panels, presentations and workshops fostered discussion around effective strategies to combat and counteract the environmental injustices inflicted on the marginalized residents of inner cities, poor rural areas and indigenous lands—communities that have been unreasonably and unrighteously victimized by the detrimental impact of large industry.
One such community is the San Jose neighborhood in southeast Albuquerque—a majority-Hispanic neighborhood that is home to 1 percent of the city’s population and a whopping 30 percent of its polluting industry, with nearby factories producing everything from asphalt to gasoline to chlorine. What’s more, the area has been federally designated as a “superfund site” in need of immediate cleanup due to dangerous contamination by hazardous waste and pollutants.
The neighborhood also “boasts” vastly premature mortality rates, increased poverty rates, and high population density. And still factories are moving in, with more air emissions permits being issued every year—though not without a fight.
Local residents Steven and Esther Abeyta, with the generous help of Kitty Richards, managed to stave off a mixed-waste facility that was attempting to move into their loving locale. At the AEU conference, they spoke to the lessons learned in successfully coordinating and achieving environmental activism and justice.
The truths they spoke ring out powerfully in this modern, seemingly-apathetic era. They reminded us that the one thing which always prevails, which trumps all argument, is the truth—because the truth is always right.
They reminded us that activism is for everyone, and that we all must play our part to realize true change. Activism is about fighting for what is right: for you, for your family, for your community, and for the world.
They reminded us that change is possible. It is inevitable. It doesn’t happen all at once, and the fight towards change can feel suffocating and defeating and soul-crushing, but the world is constantly evolving, and we have the power and potential to play our part in achieving that.
They reminded us that we are not voiceless and we are not alone, though it may feel that way at times. All it takes to enact great change is simply showing up and making your voice heard—and together our voices resound much farther.
These are ideas of critical importance, now and eternally, and they perfectly encapsulate the principles upon which the American Ethical Union is founded: interaction and engagement.
Through interaction—with one another, with our environment, and with our world—people become people. We become aware of the lived realities and experiences of one another. We learn how to live to allow everyone in the world to thrive, with fairness and justice.
Through engagement, we discover our own responsibilities—to one another, to our environment and to our world—and become activists. We learn how to effectively and collectively impact our world.
As the American Ethical Union seeks to expand into the Albuquerque area, I’d like to invite you to add your voice—and our collective one—to their national mission for justice through interaction and engagement. Do not let yourself become part of a generation of “wacktivists” who let the world pass them by, who let their visions for the future be dictated by the world as it is.
I’ll leave you with the most potent lesson I learned at the American Ethical Union conference: Don’t hide yourself. Don’t bury your passion and your love and your care for the world. Those are the things which speak to people and around which community can be built. Those are the things which create connection, which enable us to speak soul-to-soul as agents of change—as true activists.