You, Too, Might Just be an Activist

by Ben Weilerstein, Social Media Coordinator for the Western MA team

On Tuesday a railroad track converted into a bike path carried us most of the way from Wilmot, NH to Concord, NH. On Wednesday the hills bore us across the state border to our second week of trainings in Lowell, MA. On the way we passed a hand-painted billboard asking boldly in black and red if politicians would act on climate change before it’s too late. It was the first sign that we are not in this fight alone.

WestMass team leader Ben Linthicum standing with an important roadside warning.

WestMass team leader Ben Linthicum standing with an important roadside warning.

In Lowell, we found that community: we were invited to church, a community picnic, and a neighborhood festival in Tyler Park. At the festival, we met up with our first community partner, the Lowell node of 350 Massachusetts. We helped the Lowell organizers grow their membership and collected signatures for the petition against natural gas pipelines and in support of sustainable energy in the Commonwealth. We spoke to Lowell residents, tossed Frisbees with teenagers, and danced with children. We had fun, helped get a job done, and held mostly brief conversations over the three hour period.

Much of the work we do this summer will require me and my team members to make sincere connections to strange in short conversations. Occasionally, however, we will be lucky enough to forge deeper relationships over hours, days, and even weeks with certain individuals. In Lowell, we had the privilege of forging these sorts of connections.

Chip is an active member of the Pawtucket Congregational Church, where we are hosted, and is incredibly generous, warm, and hospitable individual. Following Sunday services, we were invited to a barbeque in Chip’s backyard. I spent hours conversing with Chip, his mother Hope, and other members of the church and the neighborhood between sips of soda and bites of delicious veggie burgers. My conversation with Kim, one of the church’s members, was particularly powerful.

Climate Summer riders converse with community members in Lowell. Photo Credit: Iona Feldman

Climate Summer riders converse with community members in Lowell. Photo Credit: Iona Feldman

She asked me a few questions about Climate Summer, so we talked about organizing and activism. I then asked her if she was involved in any activism in the area. Oh, no, I’m not really an activist, was her response. She explained that she was involved in volunteering for children’s health and other issues, but not activism.

I told her “that’s activism!” An activist doesn’t always mean a petitioner or a protester, though this work is certainly important (and I often enjoy it). An activist can be someone who reads books and articles that critically examine and challenge our world, then shares those ideas with their friends. An activist can be someone who brings their neighbors together in worship to affirm how beautiful humanity is. An activist can be someone who, like Kim, creates the world she does want to see instead of protesting one she doesn’t. Thinkers, readers, musicians, friends, volunteers and builders are all activists.

When I explained to Kim that I considered her an activist, a smile spread across her face. Ok, cool, I’ll think of myself as an activist now, she told me. Her smile leaves me hopeful that a great diversity of tactics and types of work will succeed in bringing about a healthier, more just, and more enjoyable future.

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