Dearest Luminous Heart,
I was 13 when my grandfather died. Until this point in my life I hadn’t seen someone lie in an open casket with their lifeless body looking at me. It really affected me. I became depressed and missed him so much but I also knew that my grandfather was in a better place.
Death permeated my community. Where I grew up in Massachusetts, General Electric was the largest employer, and the chemicals used at the plant where my grandfather and most of my extended family worked poisoned the workers and the community at large. PCB’s and other hazardous chemicals leaked into the air, poisoned the soil and barrels of chemicals were illegally dumped into the rivers where my father and I would fish. The barrels continue to sit in the Houstaonic river to this day and there is still an advisory in place for eating fish out of the river.
Numerous complaints and concerns were sent to both the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency and soon an epidemiological study was launched in the area. The rates of bladder cancer and other rare cancers were found to be much higher than average and the death rate soon ballooned. My grandfather was one of many who died of a rare lung disintegration disease in the early 1980’s.
This area of Berkshire county continued to receive money to clean up the region. In fact, another $200 million dollar settlement was reached in 1998 with GE to clean up the pollution. For years I was outraged and wanted action to happen. Then in my 30’s I realized that this toxic polluter actually created change- the awareness created new chemical laws, many chemicals were outlawed and stopped being used, PCB’s were banned as lubricants, new workplace and union standards were put into place. It was the ongoing action of the few that spread to the many, this created systemic change within the industry and changed the rate of environmental degradation in our country.
This story was my beginning into the world of advocacy. By the time I was 17, I was working on undoing racism. I saw how my African American friends were treated and I wanted to see change. I can remember the roads and malls being shut down due to gang violence. My first year in community college I was the Social Services Chair of the Student Senate. We wanted to bring someone to speak who had a message and would help instill peace and action and we raised enough money to invite Joe Clark. Have seen the movie “Lean on Me”? It was based on his life running an inner city school and teaching kids the value of mutual respect and creating safety by building community. He was tough and he used a baseball bat to get the attention of faculty and students by saying “Enough fear, enough hate, enough violence”. Joe Clark always carried his bat and even appeared on the front cover of Time magazine holding his bat.
I remember driving to Albany airport in my beat up Pinto to pick him up. He got off the plane with his baseball bat. He was kind and confident. He asked me why our college wanted him to speak and I replied ” You get things done, you motivate people to care by being tough but kind and by showing people violence is a form of hate that is destroying our community.”
Once we got to the venue and I parked the car he asked me if I wanted to hold his bat! I was in awe, “um, yes please sir”, I responded. And as I closed my eyes and held that bat I literally felt the power of change ooze through my body. His talk that night was to 1,000 people in the gym of my college. It was so powerful! People jumped up out of their seats when he said “Why do we give up on our youth, turn them away, let them stab and shame each other in violence and anger? I believe in the human spirit. A young man who has the focus to shoot a round ball into a hoop has focus and determination and they can also turn their hope into action if we as leaders can love them”. My heart was full and I was hooked. I went on to attend Undoing Racism workshops, joined a white privilege think tank in Boston and continued to advocate for systemic change and speak up for injustice.
My advocacy efforts lead me out of hate and fear, away from the us and them, to us and we. It was because of this that I found my Buddhist practice nearly 30 years ago and began to practice the art of observation and spiritual truth in every area of my life. I do not look at GE as a monster anymore, I look at GE as a catalyst for systemic change. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist who lives in divine loving service says “We have to walk in a way where we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. You must walk as if your feet are kissing the Earth.”
I know we are all in a new wave of awareness and living and floating in the unknown but we can all move into spiritual awareness for the evolution of our earth. My wish for you is that you kiss the Earth with your feet.
4 ways to vote to create systemic change.
1. Vote! Let your truth be counted to support leaders whom we can trust and rely upon to evolve our world
2. Vote with your heart! Follow people on social media that light up your heart not darken your soul. A “like” on social media is like a spark from your heart.
3. Vote with your dollars and cents! Support causes and actions that bring love and safety to the world. Find an organization or a charity that matters to you and donate what you can.
4. Vote with your feet! Only spend money, time and resources at stores and restaurants that support your belief system