When we formed a small songwriting group in early March 2020, I had no idea we were making a life raft. We met once in person and then the meetings went to the screen, we wrote one song a week based on the prompts we got together. We started the group without knowing the vital role that supports our mental health at all times during that first year. We have processed grief and isolation and political frustration. We have found something to do with shredding pieces. When the lockdown took the wind out of our sail, it seemed like there was magic in listening to each other.
When my morning sickness became impossible to zoom in I had to leave the group. I became a child; My first. I had no idea I would become a mother at this birth. After the soft opening of the world, our group dissolved, each returning to their various sectors and fields. I soaked up the smell and sounds of my newborn, completely immersed in her and my appetite.
Then came the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, which stated that it was almost too late. This is a crisis we can foresee, but if we fall into the “wall” we will have no opportunity to give the world to our children as we know it: pollinators, butterflies, migratory birds, seasons. We seem to be a disaster-driven society, programmed to keep up with the status quo until we hit that wall. But if disaster is left to teach us, there is no room to learn and adapt.
It was keeping me up at night when I was already sleeping with a newborn. I was wondering how to cope with this enormous amount of stress where action seems impossible – this kind of action prevents us from running off a cliff.
I am still worried about my daughter, I brought her to a corrupt place. The quote from the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapf ಕಾ haunted me: “To have children in this world is like carrying a wood to a fiery home.” I want all my actions to show her the beauty here. She is so full of joy and awe, she shines her laugh at everyone she meets, not knowing that the people she shines are driving her off the cliff.
Then I noticed that all the like-minded people I know no longer tolerate the news. “I’m taking a break,” he said. While I am deeply sympathetic, I am chilled out by the realization: If all the sensitive people out there were doing the same thing … who would run the ship? What if all the people I knew were stuck in their grief and anger, paralyzed like me?
So I thought: What if we could use that special power we found in the songwriting group? Listening. Something to help some soft-hearted people grieve and let go of anger; To put that energy into something positive, tangible? It didn’t have to be big; Only one intimate group will ask each other to appear together. To create freezing and deactivating materials. To make something beautiful, because it is important to us that we have tried.
The idea of the intimate sector has blossomed bigger and more outwardly than I expected: puppets, music and a lot to say… in public. I am not prepared; My hands are already full of my 1 year old baby and her needs. I hesitate to place my hopes in a city where cynicism flows deeply. A place where people mocked the idea of a clean Ohio River. Impossible! Even childish to think about it! The fear that our march, the expression of our hope, will encircle the hornet’s nest – will only make people who already disagree with us more and more reluctant to help stop exploitative measures that poison our soil, water, and air. And community. Taking profit as a measure of “good,” what is “progress.”
I still want that intimate group to process everything that is painful and frustrating. But, in this case, I have asked once again to unlock the exterior of the beautiful vision of what this city might look like: healthy, fair and beautiful – “bourbonism” and fossil fuel based industry and infrastructures, anything beyond polluting ourselves and our space for profit. My hope is that this parade will help strengthen that vision and freeze some of us. Because this is the only thing worth working on.
I look at my daughter on the edge of the walkway and come out happy when I stand up for the first time in the crowd; Her father and I constantly followed her to keep her from falling. I think, “I don’t have any spare time to march or protest. None of us do that. But if you widen the scope of your vision a little, we don’t have time for anything else.
This article originally appeared in our Good River Zine, available at www.greenstreetsky.org. Our Good River Climate Parade will be held on June 25 at 3:00 pm. It starts at Injustice Square (Jefferson Square Park).
Joan Shelley is a singer-songwriter and activist. Her new album, The Spur, will be released on June 24.