Where William Lloyd Garrison and Climate Disruption Intersect
During the week of July 19, 2016, I brought Lucy Stone to the Ashland, Ohio Chautauqua for their
Voices of Freedom week. An old friend, Ilene Evans*, gave us a breathtaking Harriet Tubman. Fredrick Douglas**, Mary Chestnut***, and Clara Barton all made appearances. These are all people who touched the world they were born into, and it got me thinking about the resonance of our lives.
William Lloyd Garrison, one of my favorite rabble-rousers of that era, was a radical, nonviolent, anti-slavery activist. As a publisher and public speaker, he was unforgiving of an institution he called “a covenant with death and agreement with Hell,” and called for “immediate and unconditional emancipation” of the slave population. To our contemporary ears this resounds with logic, truth, and humanity. However, Garrison was one of the most unpopular people of his era.
He was committed to more than printed and spoken advocacy. He said that if you oppose the purchase, trade, and ownership of human beings, then you cannot use the products that emerge from their labor. If you abhor slavery, then you must abhor all that flows from it. That is when the popular culture abandoned him. Most citizens of the North were unwilling to go without the cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, rice, and indigo that supported their business, industry, and lifestyles. ‘Eventual Enfranchisement’ was the much more popular abolitionist movement in the 1840s and 1850s. We did not want to be bothered with the discomfort of doing
without, and could still feel righteous in our opposition to slavery. Today, Garrison is lauded as a hero of the abolitionist movement, instead of the man ripped from his carriage by Bostonians who did not like his brand of anti-slavery rhetoric. Today our greatest challenge is ensuring the survival of human life. We have heated this planet up more in the last 40 years than in the preceding 11,000. The planet’s responses are just
beginning to register, but so far, they include extreme and disastrous weather occurrences, increased flooding, new and multitudinous vector-borne diseases, oscillating temperatures that will affect plant growth, and degenerating air quality. These are only a preview of what we will experience, and we know the cause. I have heard ideas about sun cycles and ‘natural’ changes, but what we are sure of is that burning fossil fuels creates, as a byproduct, greenhouse gases. These gases wrap themselves around our planet, keeping heat in. The logical response is to stop burning fossil fuels. Theoretically, we are there. We understand that we must switch over to safe, renewable energy. Garrison would have us go further and say that if the behavior creates
a negative situation, then stop the behavior, and do not use the products or systems that emerge from it. Most of us are no more willing to give up automobiles, clothes driers, and air conditioners than our ancestors were willing to forego cotton or sugarcane. If we are still here in 100 years, will those who went off the grid and activated for a total abandonment of fossil fuels, be lauded as our heroes and heroines?
Let’s take the high road. Start thinking and acting on a life without fossil fuels. If we reject them, then the fossil fuel based grids that provide them will have to change direction.
Please, send me your ideas and actions. I will create a space on the site for them.
Let us cheer one another on, and bit by bit, abandon the behaviors that are heating our planet. We would make William Lloyd Garrison proud.
***Mary Chestnut, portrayed by Dianne Moran (firstname.lastname@example.org), offed a deeply compelling vantage point of the war from the life of a southern ‘lady.’