This blog is the second in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Rebecca Dalgin of Montpelier, whose connection to the Earth informs her social justice work. This is Rebecca’s story.
I live in the occupied lands of the Abenaki, AKA Montpelier. When I want to feel connected to nature, to this place, I go to Hubbard Park. It’s quiet and peaceful, but still rife with life. As an herbalist, I feel connected to the Earth when I go out and harvest some goldenrod, for example, because I know my family is going to need it come allergy season or to support their digestion.
Humans are inherently connected to nature. We’re animals. We’re a part of nature. As the permaculturist Penny Livingston-Stark says, “we are nature working.” When we build something, it’s still nature. We’ve forgotten that we are connected to each other and to the plants and animals and fungi.To me, that’s a huge part of what has happened to our world. We are nature working, but we’re nature not working very well.
People need to work with nature, not against it. Herbalism can help show the way. Often the medicine you need the most is what’s right around you.Take dandelions. They support healthy liver function. Processed food, pharmaceuticals, and the type-A lifestyle common in the U.S. are all really taxing on liver function. But our culture also creates the compacted soil that dandelions like to live in. We’re surrounded by this plant that could support a lot of people’s wellbeing and cycle nutrients from deeper in the soil.
Or Japanese knotweed. It may be opportunistic, but it’s not all bad. Knotweed migrates north as the climate warms. But increasing temperatures also foster growing tick populations, and Japanese knotweed helps fight Lyme disease the ticks carry.
Humans’ capacity to change our habitat is really large compared to other species. I believe that capacity is going to cause our extinction if we keep going. When a species gets too large and uses too many resources, there are repercussions. It balances out. That’s what happens. Knowing that eventually, we can’t just keep going the way we’re going…it gives me a lot of pause. There’s this one place near where my in-laws live, in upstate New York, where a bunch of oil and garbage was dumped. There’s this patch of land that’s just black because oil was dumped there. To me that’s just heartbreaking, the total disregard that humans can have for where we live and for each other.
Growing up, I struggled to find my place in the movements for social justice. I was interested, but didn’t know how to plug in and got disillusioned very quickly. But the Vermont Gas pipeline felt like something very concrete and very wrong. It was a clear entry point. I got involved with Central Vermont Climate Action (CVCA) during the singing demonstrations we held at the eminent domain hearings for the pipeline. Big groups of us would sit in on the hearings and sing so loudly that they couldn’t hold the hearings. Music is such a beautiful and empowering tool of resistance.
I don’t know if I really consider myself an activist. I feel a little uncomfortable identifying that way. This has been such a long campaign and I’m just coming in at the end of it. I’m just someone who’s really concerned and really fearful for a lot of people in this world right now. There is so much pain and injustice in the world. The emotional impact can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to put my energy and how to be most effective in creating change. I want people to understand how their actions affect the planet and other people.
Climate justice is not just about the way the Earth is changing. Climate change isn’t going to effect everyone equally. It is largely those who have contributed least to the effects of climate change that are already feeling the impacts most acutely. As a fairly well-off white person living in the global North, climate change is affecting people all over the world in far more devastating ways than it has effected me. That said, here in Vermont too, we feel the effects of climate change and will continue to feel them more deeply if we do not change. Climate change will certainly change what our plant communities look like, too.
It’s been a gift to connect with other people doing this work over the past year or so. The Standing Rock solidarity action on December 5th was so inspiring, with people coming together from environmental and racial justice movements. It took me a couple days to come down from that.
Campaigns like the Vermont gas pipeline resistance and Standing Rock are about place intermeshed with human community. Standing Rock is a good example of not just fighting what we don’t want but creating what we do want. It’s not perfect, communities never are, but that struggle has also to some extent created a community there, which I also see here in Vermont. And those communities, those connections, have the power to outlast any pipeline.
Julie Elfin is a senior at the University of Vermont studying the environment and communications. This profile series is her culminating project for her Online Organizing internship with 350VT.