I recall a civil conversation with my former father-in-law ten years ago about the health aspect of smoking cigarettes. He said, “When I learned how bad it was, I knew I had to make a choice. It was on me. So I quit cold turkey.” Our conversation turned to environmental issues. He said, “People are adept at figuring a way when they have to. People will figure it out.”
I valued my former father-in-law. An Italian man who had faced the throes of Mussolini, World War Two, and then educated himself as a high level engineer and immigrated to the United States and thrived. I respected his words because he had lived through unimaginable atrocities and injustices.
When I learned about our environment disaster ten years ago, like you, I was befuddled. I’ve got kids coming into the world, and I began to recognize my role as a responsible parent was no longer about baking cookies for parties or getting my daughter or son to a proverbial soccer practice on time. The stakes had changed, and I needed to get on board fast to see what sort of social change I could muster, especially in my own County of Marin, California which heralds one of the world’s worst carbon producing lifestyles in the United States. Though we can claim to have some of the most powerful, forward thinking environmentalists, such as Author Paul Hawken, Environmentalist Michael Stocker and Filmmaker Louis Psihoyos, the elite lifestyle by many is ruining integrity for the rest of us, yet the financial elite have the most to offer. I recognized that quickly and then had to take a hard look at my own life before I dared to advocate anyone changing their lives.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to make a first time film with children standing for our oceans, recognizing that our love for our children’s future is the gateway for us all to be inspired for social change. My husband wasn’t giving me the support I needed in order to do the film project, so I left him, believing he’d wake up to this immense responsibility I was advocating and join me. Well, he didn’t, and I realized I was quickly disbanded, in survival mode, which felt like a shipwreck, and placed on a solo mission in a highly vulnerable financial and emotional circumstance with a wicked divorce, predatory lawyers, mediators and therapists, my son’s school confused with the facts making my life hell, an organization undermining my efforts, and a too soon girlfriend taking over MY mother duties and throwing me under the bus as a bad mother while those who I had called long time friends started partying with the “girlfriend” before my kids even got “the talk”! (“Can’t you see I’m trying to save our kids’ future!” I tried to shout.) This is a whole other book, and I’ll spare you the details, but feel free to read HERStory so you can avoid the pitfalls I fell into.
I would never advocate divorce for a change of lifestyle, but as a parent who has shifted my entire life from one living in a big house, being financially comfortable, to a couch surfing activist, filmmaker, writer and educator, living paycheck to paycheck, stretching my credit and going to a food bank while I have the IRS and credit card companies on my back because I’ve extended myself on every level to initiate change – I want to assure you, the parents of our kids, DO NOT BE AFRAID OF CHANGE. We have a duty to our children, and we have a duty to their generation. We must unite on all fronts.
And you could probably do it better than me. Learn from my mistakes.
I live today in a small two bedroom apartment, sharing it with another financially strapped immigrant mother and her kids, with LESS noise in my life and less responsibility with MATERIAL STUFF. This has been a blessing not a horror, believe me. The level of freedom I experience now is filled with a richness of community, connecting with local and global citizens who are also making sacrifices for the future our kids – activists, artists, environmentalists, where we are all extending our wings in order to be the light and carve a future path of integrity, honesty, generosity and kindness. We’re being rebels in a system that has become so exploitative and greed oriented – WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY WE HAVE TO BE THE GOOD GUYS!
Yesterday’s rise of our youth was one of the beautiful days I’ve witnessed since I’ve stepped into my own activism – to see our kids understand the priorities in our world today and we have an obligation, a duty, to stand by them right now. And let’s start with our public schools which are disasters and are not taking this issue on the level they should. This has been my story which has positioned me into the “crazy mother” or “thorn in their side” as I’ve tried to fight with our local schools for the last five years understanding a severe lack of nature education, a connection to what is real. I see the values of competition highlighted through aggressive sports rather than cooperation, art, music and dance. I see the books fed to our children, which hold little value than cheap entertainment. I see extravagance fed to the kids with meaningless pom pom throwing parades, expensive school dances without the thoughtful big picture integrity. I see how much technology is fed, without real “people to people” connection or even recognizing technology’s consumerism is leading to an incredible toxic toil on our environment! I see the military recruiting tables at our high schools without the thoughtful foil next to them of environment or peace organizations advocating a wiser society other than the form of violent power, especially given our military has become puppets for the oil industry.
We, as parents, or any other thoughtful, wise human in our country, need to take hard looks at ourselves. The line has been drawn. And as my former father-in-law said, “When I learned how bad it was, I knew I had to make a choice. It was on me. So I quit cold turkey. People will figure out a way when they have to. People will figure it out.”
It’s time to stop cold turkey with all the extravagance and meaningless lifestyles too many of us have been living. Now is the time to rise and figure it out. Fast.
And we can do it.
As for ANY schools who may have an issue with our children’s absence yesterday? Here is a bold message for you: our children are standing for their future. If they have learned their lessons about the atrocities of the Indigenous Peoples, racism, environmental injustices, our kids standing in the protests are an example that they have learned their lessons from you well and are making a choice. Take honor in that instead of punishing them. They are learning how to become leaders and they deserve your support. Work with the movement so we can all rise.
The line has been drawn and our children will remember which side you are on.
And parents, there is nothing more beautiful than watching your own child take a stand – it’s one of the most glorious feelings a parent could ever have. You are doing your job right.
Understand, the fear I felt five years ago when I dropped my entire life to pursue my current path was tremendous. But today, the tide has changed. . . and I recognize that there is no space for fear now. We all must have courage and stick together as we shift on the highest level any recorded civilization has ever had to do, as we know of.
DON’T BE AFRAID to dive deep. We can do it.
(PHOTO ABOVE: My daughter and I had the privilege to dive with the Sylvia Earle family after my first time film Racing with Copepods, a 20 minute advocacy film with 12 kids standing for their oceans – a project which I left dropped my own life to make, diving deep into the world of environmental activism. These were our dive instructors – one of the most beautiful days of my life. I lost college funds to study oceanography at UCSB as a teen when my father stood up to a president and went for broke. )
My advice does not come without a deep level of learning. When I was a thirteen years old child, my own father placed me, my mother and everything we had at stake to break his federal contract, risk arrest, prison, fines and his livelihood, along with my dreams of going to university to study oceanography and play the guitar, in order to stand up to a President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, for political honesty. It was the last great strike of 1981 in this country, the beginning of the fall of our economic middle class, media integrity, environmental responsibility and more post President Jimmy Carter who initiated the first Green Deal with solar and wind initiatives and had proper vision for our country of being indepedent with sustainable energy. “It is the moral equivalent of war” he had said. Perhaps today after 40 years of wars, ocean acidification, oil spills, melting polar ice caps and the growing collapse of the health of our planet we can appreciate the wisdom of Carter’s administration.
It took me nearly 40 years of anger and hatred for my father, after years of emotional and financial turmoil, for me to understand the incredible gift he ultimately gave me – a heritage of values and an understanding of what sacrifice truly means when you go for the long run big thinking instead of short term cheapness of looking good, following rules which are bad rules for us today. We must stand for what is right.
Think big, as Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez says. And she’s got it right.
The film about the 1981 union strike is in the making – a powerful history unwritten in our children’s school books and not valued in our country – the story about military veterans who became air traffic controllers. Their union supported Ronald Reagan who made campaign promises. When those promises were not delivered, the union members had a choice to make between two wrongs: break their contract and stand up to political dishonesty OR go to work and accept dishonesty in their government, during the shadow years of the Vietnam War. Most decided to strike and lost everything – would you have the guts to do what they did for your country? It was one of the greatest acts of solidarity in our country, even when our country did not stand with them. It’s a story of American history that has nearly been forgotten and needs to rise as inspiration today – go for broke to stand for our kids, their environment and political honesty.
And as for those lost guitar lessons? I’m not done yet! Another lesson I’ve learned is our losses can be our greatest gains. . . I’ve completed a film with one of the world’s top guitarists, Brazilian Guitarist Jose Neto, who is no stranger to the power of music. As a former guitarist for Harry Belafonte of thirty years and Steve Winwood for the last twenty, I aim to inspire the values of kindness, humility, generosity and integrity, those that Neto has lived by. This film The Man Behind The White Guitar has been created by an international team of artists from Brazil, UK, New York, Los Angeles and Marin County with hardly any money, demonstrating that it’s spirit the can drive people to higher ground and those who believe in the values of kindness, humility, generosity and integrity. Neto’s song “Burning Money” could set the tone for us all. George Harrison and Paul McCartney have been fans of Neto’s – It’s time to “Imagine” and we can do it.
Step into the dream.
Understand this, when I started the film projects, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never been to film school or even been involved in the documentary film business. I just started doing it and figuring it out. I had never written a book before, let alone self publish a book before. But I started to do it and figured it out. I had never made an international film with the likes of top musicians, but I started to do it and I figured it out. Have faith in yourself and each other to do the unthinkable. Support each other with our dreams. And when you help one person rise, you rise too. We can all rise.
We can do this. We have to do it.