the dance party at the end of the universe

I have a hunch: a lot of people don’t join in collective climate actions (or other kinds) because it looks like work.

And it’s advertised like work. You read things, you go somewhere to get more things to read like pamphlets and reports, you listen to very smart people talk about stuff that uses a lot of long words, while sitting in hard plastic chairs, drinking bad coffee out of tiny paper cups, and then people ask you for money or petition signatures.

It’s fun for me, but I am weird. For most people, this is not fun. This is milling around with strangers who want you to change yourself or your life in some way.

So, what if you could have fun while doing something positive about climate change? I mean, normal-people fun.

 

If you live outside of Ontario–and maybe even if you don’t–you won’t know that this is Diane Saxe, formerly the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario; the Conservative Ford Government, after its 2018 election, promptly fired her and then began rolling back environmental regulations and policy. And Saxe, not one to ride gracefully into the sunset under such conditions, launched a speaking tour in response: about climate change, policy, and how destructive the Ford government’s decisions are.

I went to one of her stops several months back (and took Frances with me), and snapped a pic for IG, as one does (see: fun for me). And:

And that is exactly what Ann and I did: We had a tea party called Climate and Crumpets. There were many, many little sandwiches and pastries–some vegan, some not–and a few different types of tea with fancy tea cups and fabric napkins. We played games, we talked, we wrote ideas on a chart–because you can’t not write ideas on a chart. We fussed over the puppy. People sat on comfortable chairs. There were no petitions. And while I had some notes about things I wanted to say, mostly the conversation had a life of its own.

And, because I am drowning in fabric scraps, I made everyone a handkerchief out of a piece of super soft cotton–in part because it’s a sustainable use of the fabrics, but also because it’s important to acknowledge the feelings we have about the climate crisis, even the messy ones. Especially the messy ones.

It was fun: it was making new friends, having interesting conversations, eating treats, drinking tea out of fancy teacups, cuddling a puppy, and playing games (Ann did a bang-up job of role-playing an oil company executive who was totally sure that her money would allow her to continue polluting indefinitely … until it wasn’t. Then I think she was genuinely surprised).


I posted about the tea party on instagram and FaceBook, as one does.  And some local friends were interested in doing something similar, but this time less tea and more trouble: a local dance friend, Katerina, and I hosted a Climate and Cocktails party with a dance social after. Because as the famous lady said:

Image result for if i can't dance emma goldman

Which she didn’t actually say, but she did love dancing and revolting, so we’ll let it stand.

Anyway, in late November, we talked climate again. There were pastries, Katerina made Pisco Sours, we had Chilean wine, and chatted about climate change with a puppy looking on. We played the same game, complete with moustache-twirling villain, and a near climate-catastrophe. Eventually there was dancing. And it was (dare I say it?) fun.

It’s hard to find space to have any kind of reasonable conversation about any polarized subject, and it’s hard to find a subject more polarized right now than climate change. Getting people to have face-to-face conversations in small groups is, as the research says, more effective than mass one-way communications. But I think it also helps to make it fun: why shouldn’t there be snacks and drinks and games? The easier and more appealing it is to join in, surely, the more people who will give it a try.

I’m hoping to keep this up and see where it goes. If you’re interested in doing something like this (either locally with me or not-locally yourself) let me know; I’m happy to share resources and ideas!

A Citizen Mandate Letter

Ann is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me on the internet.

We met online in the early days of our mom blogging adventures, about (OMG) fifteen years ago. Over the years we’ve participated in panels together, Frances and I have spent wonderful weekends at her cottage, we’ve met up for dinner and coffee, we had that tea party (which I’m shocked to discover I haven’t blogged about yet!), and throughout Ann has always been so generous and supportive. You’d never know from the time she makes available for her friends that she’s a busy parenting author conducting readings and workshops and writing and rewriting dozens of books and I don’t even know how many articles.

And like everyone else I know for more than ten minutes, Ann has been on the receiving end of many of my rants about how important it is for citizens to be engaged in their government throughout terms, to pressure politicians and make their voice heard. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when she wrote a mandate letter on her website about the actions she’s committing to taking between now and the next federal election:

“I wrote this letter to remind myself that the actions citizens take in between elections are even more important than the actions they take during elections. I want the next government to make progress on three complex and interconnected issues — the climate crisis, electoral reform, and income inequality. My plan spells out what I, as an ordinary citizen, can do to encourage them to make progress on all three fronts.”

You should read the whole thing; and also, please consider writing your own! What issues are you most concerned about? How will you engage with our government to encourage them to act on those priorities?

It doesn’t need to be fancy or grammatically correct and you don’t need to share it, though public accountability never hurts. You can put yours on twitter, FB, instagram, or in the comments section here or on Ann’s site.

New cabinet postings were announced today and shortly our new government will be getting to work. How will you use your voice to influence what they do?

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Here’s mine:

Citizen Mandate Letter for Andrea McDowell

During the upcoming session of Parliament, I will be doing everything in my power to encourage my elected representatives to make substantial progress on the climate crisis, recognizing the way it intersects, reflects and amplifies so many other injustices currently faced: income inequality, race and gender discrimination, mental health, and so on. Every bit of genuine progress on any form or aspect of inequality will facilitate climate action, and vice versa, so long as that progress is taken with acknowledgement of the ways it all ties together.

This entails:

1. I will support the work of individuals and organizations in my community addressing climate justice. Financially, where I can afford it; with time and promotion regardless.

2. I will help my fellow Hamiltonians develop skills and knowledge in what the climate emergency means, what climate action we need, and how and when to have conversations with politicians. I know the science is overwhelming, and even among those committed to action, there’s a wide diversity of opinion and strategy. It’s hard to figure out who really means what they say and who’s just bluffing, particularly when you’re not in this space every day. What do government proposals mean? What are the consequences of those proposals? What does the science say? How can we participate?

3. I will write to my elected officials on all important matters of policy. When I do, I will connect those policy matters to the climate emergency; it’s not like drawing those links is hard at this point.

4. I’ll work to find and build the bridges between different political communities in good-faith efforts to move action forward. Climate is an issue that is too important to allow partisan warfare to derail efforts. We all sink or swim on this planet together; I can’t buy my daughter and myself passage out of the climate emergency by engaging in individual good works. So much needs to be done on so many fronts that there is near infinite room for people to engage on meaningful and substantial climate action and policy coming from very different perspectives; all efforts will be less than perfect, because humans are less than perfect, so if we spend our precious remaining time taking shots at imperfect climate proposals and actors we will shoot them all down, and do as much as any oil company ever did to bring about the end.

For years, working in the environmental field seemed like it would be enough of a contribution for me; then, after meeting people who live in remote northern communities already struggling with climate impacts 15 years ago, working to incorporate climate projects into my jobs seemed like it would be enough. After the failure of the Copenhagen summit, switching to a career in renewable energy and building wind farms seemed like it could be enough. I had an “I gave at the office” attitude on climate activism, broadly.

Then last year’s IPCC report came out. It hit me that Frances would be 27 in 2030, the deadline for halving global carbon emissions, and would either be looking forward to a challenging but possible future, or a future where the world just continues to disintegrate for her and everyone else in her generation. Leaving climate work at work no longer felt responsible. It no longer even felt tolerable. So yes, I’m tired and overwhelmed and frankly unsuited to community activism, as introverted as I am, but I’m doing it anyway, because I can’t look my daughter in the eyes if I don’t.

If our elected representatives were hearing from even 100 of their constituents once a month–on any issue–their priorities would shift. If we all could find one or two hours a month to do community climate work, we could move mountains.

A cozy travelling duo: Simplicity 5271 and Butterick 5934

I know, another sewing post! Don’t faint.

Today we have a double post: pajamas and a duffel bag.

(Both of which were made for a trip, although both were needed too. The pajamas because I haven’t had a proper pair of new winter pjs for decades; and the duffel bag because the last one I bought was in university and is falling apart, and also sucks.)

(And the trip because I was totally exhausted and feeling burned out on the job/house/dog/kid/kid’s medical needs/my medical needs/climate action overload, and happened to read about an author’s trip to the middle of nowhere with her kids so they could have a night dark enough to see stars. And I thought, oh god, yes, a night dark enough to see stars … but maybe without the kid, just this one time. And I booked a teeny cabin in the middle of nowhere over Canadian Thanksgiving.)

Pajamas!

(Simplicity 5271)

This is a Simplicity pattern that I’ve used for Frances many times. You know it’s old, because I bought this Simplicity pattern in a Fabricland store, and they haven’t carried them for years (cost dispute). But it’s a good basic pattern.

This lovely cotton french terry I picked up on sale at Needlework. I think it’s gone now, but it’s so gorgeous. Almost too gorgeous to make into pjs. (Almost.) Neck band is a bit of scrap cotton ribbing.

I actually chose the size based on my measurements (for a Big 4!) since I wouldn’t care if the PJs were too roomy and the finished measurements looked ok. As a unisex pattern with all sizes in one envelope, I didn’t have to worry about not having the size I needed. Very much appreciated.

And look! Look at these! These are perfect PJs for hanging out in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere with a book and a cup of tea.

Luckily, they’re the perfect PJs for hanging out on a sofa in the suburbs with a book and a cup of tea as well. I am set.

Duffel Bag!

(Butterick 5934)

Alice in Wonderland was one of the first books I ever read. I read it and its sequel probably dozens of times when I was in elementary school. I used to dream about finding portals to other worlds (Narnia too).

So when the anniversary Alice fabric was released a few years ago, I snapped up some of the canvas–again from Needlework–and good thing too, because it didn’t last long.

Yes, it does have Bill the lizard flying through the air! There are teapots and cups full of tea stacked willy nilly! The Cheshire cat’s floating grinning head is hovering in mid-air! The dodo bird is marching in his goal-less circles! There’s the Queen, the King, and the White Rabbit! And yes there are little metallic flourishes all over it! It is perfect.

I haven’t read the book or watched the Disney movie for decades, but every time I look at poor Bill on the duffel bag, I think, “There goes Bill!” And I guess if you were less of a die-hard fan and don’t remember Alice eating or drinking yet another thing she shouldn’t and growing to fill the house she’d entered, to the point where her leg is jammed up the chimney, and they send poor Bill the chimney-sweep in to try to flush her out, and she kicks him sky-high when he tries, that might not mean much to you. But basically, this duffel  bag was loaded with memories as soon as it came off the sewing machine, which is pretty well perfect.

It’s lined with two quilting cottons: one for the main, and a Tula Pink snails print for the zippered pocket, both again from Needlework, probably neither still available. The contrast handle fabric is a cotton twill from King Textiles in Toronto, and the bottom contrast fabric is a Merchant and Mills oilskin–also Needlework, and still there! It gives a bit of extra toughness and waterproofing that’s useful in a travel piece, I think.

The pockets that came with the pattern
The zippered pocket that did not come with the pattern, but is very easy to add in.

Two layers of interfacing: I had to move the sewing machine to a big table to squeeze the bag through the throat for the last few steps, but it was worth it.

This pattern is OOP, but overall it worked out well. All the pieces fit together, the instructions were good, and it makes a nice roomy bag.

(I haven’t yet made the detachable strap; I didn’t have the right hardware. The zippered pouch I added following the instructions in Lisa Lam’s The Bag Making Bible.)

Sizing Note

Wonder of all wonders, I used a body measurement chart to pick a size for a Big 4 pattern, and it actually worked. Of course, this is a loose-fitting garment where the penalty for getting it slightly wrong is very low.

Burda 10/2018 Pants #114: Every work wardrobe needs a pair of bright pink pants

Holy cow, a sewing post!

I have been sewing–slowly–but not many new patterns, and I’m not someone who likes to review patterns I’ve already reviewed unless I did something substantially different. And there’s not a whole lot of gaps in my wardrobe to fill right now, so not much need to sew.

One thing I have been trying to make more of lately is pants for work, hence these:

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They are swishy, they are magenta, they are linen/rayon. In the magazine they made them up in cashmere, but I thought it best to try it out in something a little less expensive (but still wearable) first. This is the second pair I made; the first version, in rayon twill, is just a smidge too stiff for the pleats. Also, since the pattern has a belt, I made the whole thing up in a size 40 thinking I could just cinch it in. And I can, but it doesn’t look right or feel right with everything hanging from the waist tie, so I don’t recommend that. The twill pants I do still wear, but not as much as I would have liked to.

The linen/rayon blend is much drapier, and I cinched in the waist by about an inch on this version, so it can actually stay up on its own without hanging off the belt, and that helps. The linen/rayon is from Needlework; the magenta was pretty popular and went fast but I think this was the only cut to end up as pants.

DSC_0057
The Side

The pattern goes together well; it’s a side zipper rather than a fly, so it’s not time consuming, as pants patterns go. I stabilized the pocket edges with selvedge from a scrap of pink poly chiffon, so it is both very thin and very stable. And I did my now-standard buttonhole-on-the-inside-of-the-pocket trick to make it more functional to wear with an insulin pump.

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The Back. It is big.

They’re … not slimming. That would be my one cautionary note, if it matters to you. Otherwise it’s a good pants pattern that makes work-appropriate and comfortable pants with a few fun details. I’m not sure if I’ll use my cashmere on these (are they too trendy? Will the pleats and bow be unwearable in a year or two?) but I enjoyed making these ones.

Sizing Note

In Burda, according to the their body measurement chart, I should be making pants up in a size 40/42. For the first pair, I made a straight size 40, which was too big in the waist. For the second pair, I made a 38/40; this is my usual Burda size, and it fit just fine.

The Outrage Economy

It just so happened that two books I put on hold at the library ages ago (Team Human and How To Do Nothing) became available at the same time and were about mostly the same thing: the attention economy, why it is very bad for us, and how we need to reconnect with each other and with the physical world around us to lessen its grip. I read them both over a couple of days, and came away with two things:

1. How To Do Nothing is way better than Team Human, if you’re interested but don’t have time for both.

2. It isn’t really an “Attention Economy”

Attention focuses on the gentlest-sounding name for the resource they’re exploiting, but that’s kind of like calling a diamond mine part of the “jewelry economy.” Yes, a lot of the diamonds will end up in jewelry; but that is a pretty dishonest description of a dirty, stressful, dangerous, and often deadly operation that digs rocks up out of the ground for further processing.

What is it they’re digging out of the human psyche to refine into Attention, or Engagement?

It’s outrage: anger, fear, and disgust.

And our social media feeds use algorithms that put content most likely to create that reaction right at the top, because that’s what gets the most likes, shares, and comments. In Team Human, for example, Rushkoff shares how social media algorithms have learned to put photos of our exes having fun on the tops of our feeds because it gets the most “engagement” (i.e. encourages FB stalking). Our social media companies profit from upsetting us.


Personality Psychology Backgrounder on Emotions & Political Convictions

The connection between feelings and political orientation is a two-way street, and fear, anger and disgust play a huge role.

In the five-factor (or OCEAN) personality model, “openness to new experiences” is highly predictive of political orientation, with those scoring low more likely to be strongly conservative, and those scoring high more likely to be highly progressive. This correlation has a lot to do with fear, anger and disgust: those who are low in openness have stronger fear/anger/disgust reactions to all stimuli, particularly novel stimuli, so “what’s new” triggers a “this is dangerous, threatening, probably gross and contaminated” reaction: people who are shown to be more sensitive to these emotions (say, a stronger disgust reaction to a picture of a dead animal) are  more likely to be conservative. Anything from gay marriage to working mothers to a zero-carbon economy is new, and triggers anger and disgust and a visceral, knee-jerk, “NO.”

But while the sensitivity to these emotions predicts political orientation, you can also push someone to embrace more conservative political positions by causing feelings of anger, disgust, and fear: if you tell experiment participants to use the washroom before a test measuring political beliefs, for example, and one group gets a nice clean washroom to use and the other group gets a dirty one, the one who gets the dirty bathroom will endorse more conservative (and punitive) policies.


So, if you were to hazard a guess about the specific dangers of a social media business model that primes people to feel outraged all the time, what might it be?

Seems like it would push people to adopt more conservative positions over time.

And isn’t that what we’re seeing–on social media and in other areas of our lives? More outrage, and a general shift to the right among a lot of the population: Proud Boys, Yellow Vests, Jordan Fucking Peterson, increasing sentiment against immigrants and refugees, more hate crimes?

Yeah, it’s speculative, but the science that there is backs me up.

The hard thing is figuring out what to do about it. Successive waves of people trying to “get off Facebook” or “get off Twitter” hardly make a dent, because as awful and predatory as the business model is, that’s where many of the critical conversations of our time are taking place. People aren’t really watching TV news anymore, which isn’t a conversation anyway; and if they are, they’re likelier to be watching the hellspawn propaganda shows than they used to be. Traditional news media are scrambling to keep any kind of viable business model with the “share the post first get the facts later” model that’s so successful for social media and so disastrous for our democracies: we need a free, accountable press that delivers reliable and well-considered news to our citizens, but increasingly, if newspapers try to actually do that, they get eaten for lunch by propagandistic competitors. And as a result, our politicians are often having to respond, not to what actually happened, but how it was portrayed on FaceBook and Twitter memes.

I have my own approach, which I call FaceBook Hygeine:

1. If you don’t have time to read the whole article, you don’t have time to comment on it.

2. If you don’t have time to fact-check–the article, the story, the photo, the meme–you don’t have time to share.

The first because the people who write news headlines are not the same as the people who write news articles, and often, the actual article is a whole lot less inflammatory and salacious than the headline–because the headline is meant to suck you in. But if it doesn’t manage to, at least it can get you to “engage” by making you so mad you can’t help but speak your mind … about a completely misinformed or counter-factual claim made in a headline that isn’t connected to the content of the article.

And the second because, given how dysfunctional and competitive news media is nowadays, even something appearing in a news article isn’t necessarily true. And of course memes and photos we all know are routinely faked. Even videos now can be faked.

Checking the basic facts of a piece rarely takes more than five minutes, and if you open a new browser tab to google it in, you won’t be helping to train FB or Twitter algorithms in what gets your goat.

This helps so much. It really does. It’s not the systems overhaul that we need to clean up our social media messes, but it keeps my own pages tidy and defensible without bowing out of political speech.

If you are, by the way, interested in knowing more about how and why political parties are targeting their ads to you specifically, you can try using this FB Chrome/Firefox extension: whotargetsme.


A Tiny Aside On Timothy Morton’s Environmental Philosophy, Just Because

“Commodity fetishism isn’t about just the alienation of humans, but the alienation of any entity whatsoever from its sensuous qualities, as we just saw. Production, as in the writing of a brilliant poem, is the thing you can’t help doing, your species-being. This is exactly how it can be exploited. It just happens anyway, so that the capitalist can dip a bucket into its flow to extract labor time from it and homogenize it. The capitalist exploits this fact, the non-chosen, non-‘imaginative’ part of me that I don’t have to plan, the fact that I’m a being like a silkworm. Which is precisely why my labour can be equated with the productivity of the soil–both are conveniently spontaneous bits of ‘nature’ that capitalism can turn into blank screens for value computation.” (Humankind, p. 60) (emphasis mine)

Let’s extend this thought experiment a little bit:

If humans can’t help but be productive, can’t help but make and create; and if capitalists then skim that off from us to create the value they profit by–which seems reasonable to me, and true–then what of emotions?

We can’t help but feel. Joy and sorrow and grief and humour and fear and anger and confusion and curiosity bubble out of us 24/7; feelings permeate us all the time, and form the basis of our rationality, our values, and our choices.

And if someone can fertilize that and nurture it with ideas (true or not) until we are boiling over with the kinds of feelings that keep us glued to our screens and our feeds; if someone can then use our feelings to get us to help fertilize our friends and families and acquaintances, to get more feelings out of them until we are all brimming over, like one farmer who plants their field with GMO seeds that spread on the wind until everyone’s growing GMO crops whether they wanted to or not; particularly the darker feelings like anger and fear and disgust and outrage because they are so compelling and contagious…

…and if they can build a business model that profits off it …

…what then?

Isn’t that social media?

Isn’t that what FaceBook and Twitter have done? Aren’t they profiting off our rage?

Wouldn’t this, and the algorithms they’ve built, encourage them to allow and even encourage any outrageous message, no matter how far from the truth, so long as it gets someone to hit the “share” button and yell “this pisses me off!” to their 500 friends?


I don’t know about you, but the thought that social media has effectively turned my brain into the equivalent of a newly-broken field, to be seeded with anger and fear, fertilized with constantly enraging news whether real or fake, and then “likes” and “shares” harvested for their profit at my expense–this makes me feel ill. Our increasing polarization, the steady erosion of community and compassion, the proliferation of “alternative facts” and misinformation: all of these are accepted as externalized business costs of new and unregulated industries.

And the whole business model is built on profiting from the manipulation of our most intimate and interior experiences: our values and feelings.

George Orwell comes up a lot these days, and for many valid horrifying reasons; but the ending of 1984 was in retrospect too generous by far. In 1984, if you don’t remember, the protagonist fell in love and conspired against the government, both illegal; but was convinced that so long as he still loved his girlfriend the ending could not be too bad. And he believed that nothing could change his feelings for her.

Facts, at any rate, could not be kept hidden. They could be tracked down by inquiry, they could be squeezed out of you by torture. But if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make? They could not alter your feelings, for that matter you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to. They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.

In 1984, it took torture to make him despise her.

In 2019, it takes algorithms to make us hate each other–and not even for something as large as propping up a totalitarian regime–just  a fatter bonus for a FaceBook executive. (Which isn’t to say that a lot of the alt-right neo-nazi crap isn’t totally hateful and doesn’t deserve it–but we hardly need lies to fan those flames higher; the reality is bad enough.)

We need systemic answers to this; as much as I rely on my Facebook Hygiene, we can’t simply expect billions of people to spontaneously and consistently restrain themselves; this is why we regulate casinos and driving speeds. What those regulations might be, I’m not well versed enough in this to say.

What I can say in the meantime is: BE CAREFUL. When you click, like, share, or comment, you train the algorithms in what to show you, and they won’t care if it’s harmful or enraging or a lie. All they care is how much time you spend on it and how likely you are to spread it around.  Anger is a necessary fuel for change, but it can also burn people out, and without a goal it can push people to the right.

Crafters for Climate

I’ve done something a bit mad, and I’ll talk about why I’ve done this to myself more in another post, but for today I’ll just tell you what it is:

I’ve committed to creating, hosting or participating in one public Climate Change event connected to each of my hobbies, ideally before the Canadian election in October but if that can’t be arranged ASAP.

Sewing was first: two small workshops held at Needlework here in Hamilton, using scrap fabrics to make small climate action banners and support the youth strikers, while I spoke a bit about what the climate emergency is and how it connects to our much loved hobby.

So great to see a bunch of kids out on Friday!

I’ve put it all together in this post as a toolkit that you can take to your favourite local sewing space and do yourself (or with a friend!).

Approach

I absolutely did not have this well thought out to begin with: I just went to my favourite local fabric store with a hugely sketchy pitch:

With the climate crisis being so much in the news, and the UN climate conference coming up again, and a federal election being faught over the carbon tax–and with Greta Thunberg and the youth strikers asking for adult support and participation in the Sept 20 and 27 climate strikes–wouldn’t it be great if an unexpected community like crafters and sewers were to speak out in support of climate action? We could fabric scraps, I suggested, and maybe piece them into a banner for the shop window or the protests–or people could make their own–or iron slogans on t-shirts, or make tote bags–or, I don’t know, what do you think?

Fortunately Kate and Liz were super enthusiastic and supportive and had the much better and easier idea of using fusible web to make banners, but yes, out of scraps. And I’d talk a bit about climate change while we all make our masterpieces, and we’d raise some money for a local environmental group, and in short, it would be fabulous. Liz and Kate did most of the work: making the blank banners, setting up the event on their website, and collecting donations. (A huge thank you again!)

Agenda

After everyone arrived, Liz and Kate gave a basic introduction to the event and a how-to on the fusible web. Attendees brainstormed a slogan, sketched it out, and started tracing and cutting. About an hour in, after everyone had their slogan planned out and was focused on getting it done, I jumped into my talk.

It was very short–just a few minutes–and we were all working on our projects at the same time, so it was very informal.

Afterwards we kept chatting while we finished up our banners.

Here’s the one I made on Saturday morning, hanging at home on the living room wall.

Talk

Do any of you remember seeing the headlines about “twelve years left to save the planet” from a year ago? And if you do, how many of you feel like you have a really solid understanding of what that means? What is it we had twelve years left to do, and what happens if we don’t do it?

Here’s the basic rundown:

If we want to be reasonably sure that the planet can continue to support human civilization in something mostly like what we’re used to, we need to limit total warming to 1.5C.

We’ve already experienced 1C of warming, so there is very little margin left, and the global carbon cycle is so slow that what we’ve already emitted will get us to 1.5C some time this century whether we continue to emit carbon or not.

That sounds bad, yes? So when global leaders met and signed the Paris Accords saying they would try to limit warming to 1.5C, it led straight away to the question: ok, great, but how?

The IPCC commissioned a study on that question: how do we do this? CAN we do this? And about a thousand climate experts from around the world collaborated on putting together the information that came together in last October’s report. What they concluded was:

  • If we cut emissions roughly in half by 2030
  • And completely decarbonize by 2050
  • And then go into NEGATIVE emissions in the second half of this century

We have about a 66% chance of keeping warming to 1.5C, though we may overshoot it for part of that time before negative emissions have an impact.

That twelve years is how long we have to cut our emissions in half. Of course right now emissions are still rising, so that’s a big challenge.

AND! It will affect our beloved hobby, too. Let’s talk a little bit about how: we’re sitting in a space where just about every product started out as a plant on a farm, and which will be affected by a changing climate. Textiles and fashion have environmental implications beyond climate of course, like water use and transportation and fertilizers and chemicals during processing and dyeing, but I’m going to limit myself to climate impacts today because that’s what we’re here for.

Climate change—impacts on cotton:

  • higher temps a mixed bag, depending on geographic region and how close they already are to upper tolerance levels
  • drought, storms, all decrease yields
  • yields in some countries already declining
  • during the 2011 Texas drought, 55% of cotton fields were abandoned
  • even in low-warming scenarios, yields in America expected to decline 30-46%
  • solutions include GMOs for heat and drought tolerance, using more wild varieties and cultivars that tolerate extremes better, and changing farming practices to better conserve water etc. Even so, yields will almost certainly decline.

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/why-climate-change-material-cotton-industry

https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/129/358/172950.html

http://www.insidecotton.com/jspui/bitstream/1/2600/1/Bange%20and%20Constable.pdf

Linen/flax

Not as much research or writing, but yields are declining for now and expected to continue to decline; however, not as severely as cotton (because it uses the entire plant, not just the seed?)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329655637_Flax_crop_production_and_climate_change_from_diagnosis_to_solutions_for_the_future_Philippe_GATE_and_Olivier_DEUDON

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25796897

Polyester/synthetics

A single polyester t-shirt has carbon emissions of 5.5kg, (about double that of a cotton t-shirt).

https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/textile-industry-and-climate-change/

Bamboo & Rayon

We also have a solution here too. There are definitely sustainability concerns with the production of rayon, but bamboo was described by Project Drawdown as having significant potential to sequester carbon because it’s a perennial plant that grows very quickly.


So there you go. Everything in the world, including this shop, affects and is affected by the climate crisis.

And of course, it’s not just textiles, is it? If it were, we might be less concerned, though I personally have no interest in living in a global nudist colony.

Reports on climate impacts expected for Hamilton this century include: more extreme weather events, more precipitation in the spring, winter and fall; more drought in the summer; more ice storms; more extreme heat, leading to an anticipated 2 months or more of extreme heat every year by the 2080s ; more invasive species; new pests and diseases to our region (like Lyme disease).

At the same time, these impacts are going to be worse for vulnerable and marginalized communities: women, racial minorities, people with low-incomes or disabilities, are all going to feel the effects more.

But this also means that just about anything you do to make the world a better, fairer place will help on climate change. For example, the same people at Project Drawdown found that if you combine the mitigation impacts of education for girls globally and improved access to family planning, women’s rights have as much impact on climate change as wind turbines.


You’ve probably already heard about the things you can do as an individual or a household to reduce your carbon: drive an electric car or take transit, avoid flying, avoid meat, change to LED lightbulbs, set your thermostat to use less heat and air conditioning—and those are all great, but if we need to decarbonize, we need societal change. Our province shutting down all the coal-fired power plants was, at the time, the largest climate mitigation project in North American history, because at a stroke we all emitted less carbon in our electricity regardless of our personal choices.

We need a lot more of that, which means action from all levels of government and business and industry leaders. Which isn’t going to happen unless they hear from a lot of us.

Which is where our lovely banners come in, and the school strikes and demonstrations. It’s amazing to me that even the conservative party has a climate policy for this year’s election. It’s crap, and it would make emissions go up, but they’ve got one–they’ve conceded that it’s real and accept that the public wants to see action. This is a direct result of increasing public visibility and pressure from things like the youth strikes. So the best thing for all of us to do is get more involved.

Other Ideas

You weren’t at the workshop, you aren’t going to a strike: how else can you be part of mobilizing and publicly supporting action on climate change?

It is uncomfortable and new territory for a lot of us, but so much is at stake.  Please find a way to be involved!

Theory

For the climate nerds, here’s the theoretical background: climate communications research shows that conversations about the climate emergency are more successful and lead to better outcomes when:

1. They are in small groups or one-to-one, rather than mass communications
2. They come from a trusted member of that community, rather than from an outsider
3. They are built on shared values and priorities
4. They tackle solutions and a vision of a desired and desirable future

These workshops put that theory into practice in the Hamilton sewing community.

Democracy is a Learned Skill

We’re getting close to a federal election here in Canada (election season here only lasts for a couple of months, so we’ll be all done by the end of October, American friends–whereas you’re already in the thick of it and still have a year to go, which is just mind-boggling to me). It’s the perfect time for me to harp on one of my favourite subjects:

Democracy means rule by the people, not checkmarking by the people.

Voting, as important as it is, is the bare minimum for citizenship in a democracy (and yes, I know a lot of people can’t even manage to do that much).

You’ve got to show up between elections. Politicians do what large numbers of their constituents vocally ask them to do.

In the house I grew up in, people voted, and that was it. Political activities otherwise involved people venting about decisions they didn’t like at the dinner table with immediate family, and otherwise never bringing it up. That’s probably typical. My mother being who she is, even venting with immediate family sometimes brought about several months of shunning, which I hope isn’t typical; but in either case, my family practiced democracy by voting, and then complaining when elected officials didn’t do what we wanted them to without ever taking any trouble to tell the elected officials what that might be.

That’s what my daughter gets at her Dad’s house, but it’s not what she gets at mine: I’ve been dragging her to protests and public meetings and community events since she was a little kid.

And as a result, at 15, she’s confident about attending them and voicing her opinions, she knows what she thinks, and she’s got better knowledge about how government works than most 40 year olds.

Democracy and citizenship are, I think, like housework. You learn how to cook and mow the lawn and get the groceries and do laundry from watching your parents cook and mow the lawn and get the groceries and do laundry, starting when you’re much too young to participate, but learning even then that this is a routine part of living. Then as they get older, seeing and participating more, and taking more ownership.

But how did I learn it? How do you? If you didn’t grow up in that kind of house, how do you figure it out so you can make it NBD for your kids? I mean, I didn’t go to a protest or public meeting until after I started university, and lots of people never have.

Speaking as an adult-learner in the practice of democracy: you just show up.

You just GO.

You don’t need to go with a posse or even a buddy. You don’t need to know the people who are there. No one’s going to make you speak if you don’t want to. Even if it’s a protest, you don’t have to chant or shout, you can just walk quietly, even without a sign–it helps just to have more people. You can sign the sign-in sheet, or not; you can ask questions, or not; you can pick up the brochures and read them at home and then email your questions in, if you have them. It’s not just for experts or professionals or activists.

If it helps, tell yourself you’re going for 15 minutes, just to see what it’s about, just to poke your head in. Make up your mind about staying after you take the lay of the land. It’s fine! You’re not marrying the protest or the public meeting. At this point it’s not even a coffee date. You’re just showing up so you can figure out if you want to swipe right or left.

I remember some of my early meetings and protests like that: just a peak! Just to see what was going on. Just to take it in. And it got easier, gradually. Like showing up for a book club or a dance social or a community art class: every one gets more familiar until one day you’re going to every one and you know all the regulars.

A really great public meeting or town hall or protest is magic. For a few hours, with good people and great ideas, you see for a little while what the world could be like, and it sticks. You take it with you. You bring it to the next one; it builds. I still remember the Occupy Toronto camp, the signs and the tents and the sharing and the marches. That camp ended, but the ideas are still there, and the people who were there bring those ideas into every other movement they join; Occupy principles are in the bedrock of the Green New Deal. And no, the American federal GND resolution didn’t pass, but thanks to the proposal there are GND movements all over the world. There have been two town halls on GND principles and priorities in Hamilton in the last few months. A couple of weeks ago at work, a community group called me up to ask if we’d be interested in participating in a GND-inspired project, with elements from those town halls built right in.

Democracy is rule by the people, not check-marking by the people. And when the people show up, in public, in numbers, they can rule. People who stay home and complain at the TV or on FaceBook have abdicated the throne.

Here’s the other thing: the people organizing those town halls and protests and public meetings? They so desperately want you there. It’s not a secret club with an exam you have to pass in order to have your say. It’s more like a brand new local store waiting for its first fifty customers so they can pay the bills and keep the doors open. Even if you’re not going to buy anything, even if you’re just checking things out, they’ll be happy to see you!

And when it gets easier for you, your kids see you doing it, and they begin to believe that this is just a thing that adults do to make the world work. They’re right about that, too. Because it’s the adults who show up who push politicians to act in one way or another, and if it’s only the angry and hateful adults who have protests and public meetings and delegate at Council, then that’s what’ll happen.

Growing up in a family where no one did anything beyond voting, if that, is kind of like growing up in a family where they all eat take-out all the time. No one knows how to cook! Cooking looks weird and mysterious and hard. What’s a cup measure, anyway? How does a carrot get chopped? Where do you get cashews? If you get the amount of baking soda wrong, will the oven explode?

You can either live with those fears as normal and natural and raise kids who also don’t know how to cook and eat take-out all the time.

Or you can figure out how to cook and teach your kids.

So–I mean, obviously, first of all, vote.

But show up to town halls too. Go to protests. Write letters and make phone calls. Start awkward political conversations about issues that matter to you. Go to public meetings on projects you support. Call your representatives–not about Major Issue Of The Day necessarily, but just to tell them what’s important to you, what you want to see them accomplish.

Participating in democracy in this way is also work. I know. TV is easier and more fun, just like take-out is easier and more fun than cooking. And just like it’s ok to eat take-out sometimes but as a regular thing it’s terrible for your health and your budget, sitting out on democracy is ok sometimes but as a constant thing is terrible for your mental health and your community.

Believe me, it wears on you and takes a toll to live as if you are powerless, to pretend as if the only voice you have is a tick you put in a box once every couple of years.

Also, just like cooking gets better when you find the recipes that work for your schedule and taste buds and budget, participating in democracy gets a whole lot more fun when you figure out whether you’re more the “come to the town halls a few times a year, clap politely, maybe ask a question” type or the “show up at the protest with a sign and yell” type or the “make the powerpoint slides for the community group to delegate at Council” type. Speaking for myself, I don’t love cooking; I cook because I love eating and I’ve found recipes that are fairly quick and we like eating and don’t get tired of. I also much prefer attending town halls and community meetings to knocking on doors during elections. That’s easier to figure out when you’ve tried a bunch of things.

Make participating in democracy as normal as vacuuming. Make it so your kids never have to feel awkward and uncertain about it. Show up, and bring your kids with you.

(Don’t) Panic: A hitchhiker’s guide to climate anxiety

In late March, I gave a presentation on fear and hope and helplessness in climate communications at a local Climate Change summit. There was supposed to be a video at some point, but I’ve (temporarily) given up on ever seeing it; but here’s what I said, with a picture of me saying it, in a handmade dress no less.

I’d love to hear what you think . It seems to be a bit of a Rorschach test: people hear what they think they’re going to hear, so far. Something like, “I loved your speech! It was about [climate communications preconception,] and that’s awesome!” And I say, “Thank you!” And I think, “Interesting, that’s not what I was trying to say.”

(As presented)

So climate experts are sniping at each other on Twitter again.

What about, you ask? The remaining carbon budget? Sea level rise? Hurricane projections? Oh no. None of that. There is only one subject I’ve seen continually spark fights between distinguished climate scientists on twitter, and it’s this:

Should we do everything we can to scare the bejeezus out of people to get them to act on climate change? Or, if we want people to act on climate change, must we do everything in our power to avoid scaring the bejeezus out of people?

I used to be on Team Fear, partly because fear was key for me. I grew up in a house stacked with books about Armageddon, full of lurid details about how the world was sure to end in fire in the 1980s, proof being Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark. Which meant I grew up thinking I wasn’t going to high school.

It’s not so different from Greta Thunberg and the school strikes. That’s it, folks. At the same age I was when I had my daughter, you will see human civilization begin to irretrievably crumble. We messed up. Sorry. Also, here’s a large student debt. And are you saving for your retirement? The seniors’ colony on Mars is not going to be cheap, so you wanna get started.

As it turned out, Gorbachev wasn’t the antichrist. He was just a guy who tried really hard to bring democracy to Russia. Climate models, however, consistently underpredict impacts, so the wildfires and hurricanes and sea level rise are all ahead of schedule.

You would not believe the number of people in the last year who, when I tell them I work in climate change, say, “tell me the truth. Are we screwed? Should I just get drunk and wait for the end?” The titanic comes up a lot.

Fear got me into climate change, just like fear got me into church. So if other people weren’t engaged, they must not be scared enough. So I scared them.

We haven’t had this much carbon in the atmosphere for millions of years! I said. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from climate impacts every year! YOU HAVE CHILDREN! If you’re not doing something, YOU’RE KILLING THEM!

No, I did. And it never, ever worked.

Why weren’t people responding with more enthusiasm to my terrifying mountain of facts?

Because fear doesn’t work, the research said. It paralyzes people. They hide from the issue instead of engaging with it.

Huh. Really? That’s weird. It didn’t do that for me.

Or, well.

Am I the only one who hasn’t yet packed an emergency kit for the next major blackout or extreme weather event?

I’m a type 1 diabetic. Ask me how many cookies I’ve eaten this week.

(The cookies here have been delicious, by the way, as always–so I guess you know the number’s not zero.)

Friends, I’ve had 100% cookie-based meals.

The complications of type 1 diabetes are objectively terrifying, and this means nothing in the face of a homemade chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven. Which I take the time to make myself. Partly to manage the stress of working in climate change. I should see amputations sliding off the cookie sheet, instead, I see endorphins.

OK. We’ll scrap fear. We’ll focus on hard work, optimism and hope. Hope is big. Hope is printed in really big letters all over this Summit, for instance.

I tried really hard. It went something like this:

Don’t give up! If we pull together and have some lucky technological breakthroughs, things will only get worse for another 50-100 years, and then, assuming we don’t skip merrily past any invisible tipping points, we can stabilize at a level that supports human civilization! Take transit!”

That didn’t work either!

When I tried to scare people, they called me an alarmist; when I tried to inspire people with hope, they called me an alarmist. Then Greta comes along and sparks an entire mass climate movement with five letters:

P A N I C

I give up. Or, no, I don’t give up. That’s incompatible with hope-messaging. Wait, what are we doing again?

The facts of climate change are objectively terrifying. What kind of hand-waving could we do to make that disappear?

Susanne Moser is a climate communications expert and the author of a textbook on the subject (that I read for fun). Here she says there are seven parts to an effective climate communication:

“a minimum amount of information, a realistic assessment of the threat, a sense of personal control, a clear goal, an understanding of strategies, a sense of support, and frequent feedback.”

What do they get?

That it’s possible we are ending the ability of the planet to support human civilization. Doomed cities, doomed countries, doomed cultures, deaths numbering in the millions—or more, the loss of entire branches of the tree of life within our lifetimes, wars and mass migrations caused by human desperation. –information and threat

That if we don’t decarbonize by 2050, our goose is cooked. Literally. —goals

That strategies like renewable energy and electric cars exist, but we haven’t been able to deploy them at sufficient scale.

That carbon levels are still going up. —feedback

And that it’s all in the hands of people they don’t know, don’t trust, and have next to no influence over.

It isn’t just that people aren’t given a sense of control in these media messages, but that they’re actively told that they’re powerless.

No wonder people so often tell me they’ve already given up.

Or I hear: “Andrea, I’ve changed my lightbulbs. I can’t afford to fly. I tried the community garden and everything died. The gardening class was $800. I already vote. I’m not an expert—I don’t know what to say—there was a community meeting at 3 pm and that’s when I pick my kids up from school. I’m terrified. I need to do more but what?”

We in this room are in a position of immense privilege. Working in climate change is, yes, stressful. I have a whole new appreciation for bourbon in my forties. But it’s also a gift: when climate news is scary, we can use it to fuel our work. It isn’t just that fear got many of us here, but that being here gives us a tool to manage that fear.

Most people don’t have that.

Still, isn’t it odd, that citizens of first-world democracies feel so powerless? How have our imaginations failed so badly?

What if stop worrying about whether we’re scaring people not enough or too much? Can we talk instead about this pervasive powerlessness?

Because they’re not. Social and economic transformations have always depended on political will, yes, but it isn’t a thunderstorm, arriving out of a clear sky, leaving a new world in its wake. Citizens acting collectively produce political will.

Every project we work on does two things: it reduces GHG emissions or makes our communities more resilient, and that’s critical, that’s why we’re here. But each also tells a story about whose work this is. Does the community have a role to play, or are they observers only?

Here’s what excites me about the Bay Area Climate Change Council: it tells a story about our community’s agency. Community feedback, community priorities, and representatives from community organizations created the work plans. Action is local: we will see and touch it. It widens the road to action for more people, which boosts the climate conversation, too. Someone who sees and knows they can help create the political will needed to make change won’t—hopefully—need to ask if they should give up before they begin.

MeMadeMay 2019 Recap, Holy Cow

I did it. Thirty-one days of me-mades, no repeat outfits. The hardest part was that Frances had uptillion doctor’s visits (more on that in another post), and on those days I worked from home, and I just don’t have as many homemade casual clothes as I do clothes for work. But I still did it!

As promised, here are links to all the blog posts about the projects including patterns, sizing, adjustments, and fabric sources. Here we go:

Day 1:

Burda 02/2017 #111 (unblogged). Love this sweatshirt pattern, not least because of the pockets! in the front. Sweatshirt fleece from King Textiles.

Day 2:

IMG_20190502_115318-01.jpeg

Burda Magazine Dress and trench coat. Embroidered bag adapted from the book Bags in Bloom.

Day 3:

IMG_20190503_183502_807-1.jpg

Burda magazine top and Jalie Women’s Stretch Jeans.

Day 4:

IMG_20190504_213039_826-1.jpg

Grainline Linden sweatshirt.

Day 5:

IMG_20190505_170953_360-1.jpg

Grainline Linden t-shirt, cropped (unblogged) with storebought jeans.

Day 6:

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Burda Magazine blouse (unblogged version of this shirt) and Burda paper-pattern skirt, clutching a Burdastyle magazine jacket and the same embroidered bag.

Day 7:

IMG_20190507_122029_013.jpg

Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt; Vogue 9155 view C pants (unblogged. Mini review: Should be a 16/18 based on their body measurement chart, but as always, tons of ease so I sized down to a 10/12. The fabric is a Fabricland ponte. Because of the knit I omitted the front fly closure and these are pull on, and it works, but in retrospect it would have been better to keep the closer and use woven interfacing in the waistband to eliminate the stretch because they do bag out over a day of wear).

Day 8:

IMG_20190508_151511_264-1.jpg

Jalie Mimosa t-shirt

Day 9:

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Burda magazine shirt, Patrones magazine pants

Day 10:

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Modified Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt, Jalie Women’s Stretch Jeans.

Day 11:

IMG_20190511_130544_013.jpg

Burda 6910 t-shirt (unblogged and out of print! Mini review: rayon jersey from Fabricland here. It’s been so long I don’t really remember this one anymore but it looks like I cut out a 10/12 on this one. I seem to remember taking in the waist a bit because the gathering at the waist adds a lot of extra space), Burda magazine bomber jacket.

Day 12:

IMG_20190512_150042_818.jpg

You can barely see it, but the shirt I’m wearing is a Jalie Mimosa t-shirt without the sleeve ruffles.

Day 13:

IMG_20190513_191156_714.jpg

Burda magazine shirt.

Day 14:

IMG_20190514_142550_258.jpg

Vogue patterns t-shirt, Burda magazine pants (New and unblogged so far, but hopefully I’ll get to it. Rayon twill from Needlework. I went with a straight 40 on this one reasoning that I could use the waist tie to cinch in the waist, and while yes that kind of worked, it would have been better to alter the waist down to the 38 and not have everything hanging off the tie).

Day 15:

IMG_20190515_190826_261.jpg

Modified Sewaholic Renfrew T-shirt, Patrones Magazine pants.

Day 16:

Knipmode magazine dress, Burda patterns blazer.

Day 17:

Burda paper patterns shirt, Patrones pants, Burdastyle magazine bomber jacket

Day 18:

Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt, Burda paper pattern skirt (I got a huge kick out of wearing an Art Gallery Fabrics skirt to an art gallery). Jacket is a hand-me-down.

Day 19:

Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt, StyleArt Jasmine pants turned into shorts.

Day 20:

Butterick t-shirt, Burdastyle magazine bomber jacket (again)

Day 21:

Simplicity wrap skirt, Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt.

Day 22:

Burdastyle magazine for the blouse and trench coat, StyleArc Jasmine pants.

Day 23

Vogue patterns dress, Burdastyle magazine trench coat

Day 24:

Butterick patterns dress.

Day 25:

Burdastyle magazine shirt.

Day 26:

Sewaholic Thurlow shorts (unblogged, stretch linen from Downtown Fabrics) and a Grainline Linden t-shirt (also unblogged).

Day 27:

Butterick t-shirt in what was claimed to be a linen jersey but which I actually think is rayon (Downtown Fabrics), Patrones pants.

Day 28:

Burda shirt, Patrones pants.

Day 29:

Vogue patterns dress, Burda jacket.

Day 30:

Butterick shirt with Grainline Scout sleeves subbed in, and Jalie Women’s Stretch Jeans.

Day 31:

Can you tell I was completely Over It by then?

Burdastyle blouse, Patrones pants.

BONUS! Dance class outfits:

Burdastyle magazine leggings and an unblogged Burda sweatshirt. I even made myself a practice veil from a poly chiffon bought during a Fabricland members’ sale.

Incidentally this is the best pattern for dance class leggings ever.

BONUS! Pajamas and lounging about:

Pants from Amy Butler’s In Stitches (never blogged: pattern works fine but not worth the price of the book on its own; fleece from Fabricland, cotton in the short version from Needlework), tops are Grainline Linden t-shirts and Burdastyle t-shirts (unblogged as I didn’t like the way it looked, which is why it turned into a pj top instead of a regular t-shirt)

BONUS! Dance socials

McCalls dress, Burda magazine jacket; modifified Sewaholic Renfrew and StyleArc Jasmine shorts


I think I did good. I definitely proved that I don’t need to make myself any more clothes, so I stopped and sold my sewing machines.

Hahahahaha! … no. Two of the above garments are ones I made this month, another two have been finished and are waiting for a chance to wear them, and I made myself a dress for Hamilton Frocktails.

Shamelessly stolen screenshot of the IG story.

Sewaholic Cambie in a silk/cotton voile from Fabricland, lined in a white silk/cotton voile. It is the dreamiest, floatiest stuff for a dress, and also pretty fun to dance in as I then wore it out to a dance social which technically was in June so it didn’t count for MeMadeMay. Probably won’t blog this one since there’s nothing different about this one than the first, except that the silk/cotton voile has so much body that I just put in a simple a-line skirt lining instead of the gathered one.

Here’s to 11 months of no daily outfit selfies. Hurrah!

Political Will is a Quilting Bee

Why progressive politicians with majority mandates don’t pursue more aggressive climate policy is one of the great mysteries of our time.

Apparently. Or not. Because to me it makes perfect sense. This conundrum comes from a complete misunderstanding of what political will is and where it comes from.

Political will is not like iron ore.

It is not a pre-existing resource that you need to look for, and, once found, can be used to make things like policies or new law.

And political will is not like a thunderstorm.

It isn’t a mysterious, difficult to predict source of energy that just shows up and dumps a bunch of rain and wind that you can then use to power change.

Political will is more like a quilting bee.

It is produced by people in groups acting together, in public, towards a common end.

You cannot make it on your own, and you cannot make it in private, but YOU CAN MAKE POLITICAL WILL.

Voting is one way of creating political will, but it is very weak due to its substantial flaws: it’s only semi-public, for one. No one knows who you voted for unless you tell them. And it’s dispersed: no one knows why you voted for someone unless you tell them that, either. Political platforms generally contain dozens of policy proposals or promises, and you probably didn’t like all of them, or all of them equally–so what are your priorities? And how are you communicating those priorities to your elected officials?

You should still vote, because that is your best chance of having elected officials who are open to your priorities and concerns; but it’s not enough, not by far. As a bare minimum, you should reach out to your representatives after elections to tell them what your priorities are, what changes you are counting on them to make, and what changes you are completely opposed to (particularly if they ran on those changes). It’s an email. You can write an email.

The public, declarative process of creating political will is why sustained protest movements have such a history of success: you have many people acting collectively in public who are very, very open about their priorities. Not any one person is single-handedly responsible for the political will created but, like a quilting bee, each one of them is contributing a square or a stitch.

Petitions, letter-writing campaigns, civil disobedience, organizations and organizing efforts, strikes, speeches, public meetings and events–all of them work. Ideally, you have a bunch of all of them as part of any sustained movement for change. If they happen often enough and there are enough people participating and they have a common-enough message, congratulations, you will create political will.

The politicians are the last stage in this process.

I don’t know how we ended up with the idea that politicians need to display leadership. Oh hell no. Politicians, particularly in democracies, have always been and will always be followers. Politicians who lead are consistently punished in elections. For progressive politicians, the line of doing the utmost of what is possible with the political will that’s been created without overstepping such that you lose elections–a la Wynne and Notley here, most recently–and see the incoming parties dismantling your legacies is particularly fraught.

Lots of politicians want to make positive change in society, but they can only do so if they have the political will required for the scale of change proposed–and that is the responsibility of the public to create. We can argue while the world unravels about us whether or not it should be that way, but it is; the public’s responsibility is to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions, publicly, in groups.

It doesn’t need to be terrifying. If you have an unholy fear of protest marches or have been completely indoctrinated that marching down a street with a sign is a sure way to be arrested, great, don’t do that. Go to a public meeting, a book reading, a speech, a fundraiser. Put a sign up in your window. Start or sign a petition. Write emails or make phonecalls. Send a cheque to an organization working on the issue.  And make it public. Don’t do it quietly. Let people know–friends, families, and your representatives. Do as much, as often as you can. In this way, you help to stitch the quilt of political will that our democracies need to create legitimate, lasting change.

dispatches from the Greater Toronto Bioregion

Ann Douglas

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