“Your mother and I are worried about you,” my dad said looking down into the beer his hands cradled on a wood table in the Morris Inn at the University of Notre Dame. We came to Notre Dame to honor two now decades-old father and son traditions. The first, seeing Fighting Irish football games together, serves to support the second, honest face-to-face communication in a comfortable environment. I travelled all the way in from Victoria, BC. My dad came in from San Francisco. For a family that has moved as much as ours, Notre Dame comes as close to representing home as anywhere.
“We’re just worried about you,” my dad said again. “We’re worried you’re not going to be able to support yourself.”
I understood his concerns. In fact, no one worries more about me than, well, me. I’m a volunteer activist in a foreign country living completely on the goodwill of others. I rely on others for sleeping space, for food, and even for the beater bike stuck in the same gear that I grind up hills in Victoria. Someone at US Bank must like me because it’s a minor miracle they haven’t shut my account down by now for being perpetually overdrawn.
Every time I come home, my mother presents me with a stack of unopened bills that have arrived for me at their address. The student loan companies never stop. The Milwaukee ambulance company wants the $1,000 they decided it cost to transport me the two miles from my bedroom to the emergency room one of the nights I tried to kill myself. Of course, I was unconscious and couldn’t possibly consent to the ride. I often ask my parents for money and they’ve been wonderful about helping. I am sure it is beyond annoying to see my name appear on their phone and automatically wonder if I’m calling to ask for money. On top of this, my dad’s older brother – unemployed, uninsured, and living with my grandparents – just suffered a severe stroke that is going to leave him paralyzed.
I write this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series to encourage individuals – especially young settler individuals from middle class backgrounds – to take the personal steps necessary to free themselves for serious resistance. One of the biggest impediments to engaging in full-time resistance that I hear from young settlers is a worry for the anxiety it will cause their families. It is true that engaging in serious actions against the dominant culture could cause your family to worry, could cause your parents to be angry with you, could even cause your family to desert you, but, in a time when your family’s well-being is at stake, is it more important that your family is happy with you or that the possibility of a healthy future for your family is protected?
My father is a Type-2 diabetic. I cannot pretend to know what that feels like. I’ve seen him prick his finger with a mechanical needle to draw a drop of blood to measure his blood sugar thousands of times. I’ve seen him wince as he inserts a syringe into his belly to deliver the effective insulin his body cannot produce. I’ve heard him describe the dizziness that accompanies low blood sugar and the strange tingling sensations he sometimes feels in his feet. I’ve imagined the fear he must feel when we get the news that a diabetic family member has had some toes amputated.
If there was any possible way to take this disease away from my father, I would do it. Of course, there is nothing I can do to take diabetes away from him, so I work for the next best thing. I combat the economic and agricultural system that causes widespread diabetes.
Diabetes has been described as a disease of civilization. While many scientists claim the causes of diabetes are unclear, they explain genetics, physical activity, and diet are factors in the development of diabetes. Additionally, type-2 diabetes has been found to be extremely rare in pre-Western dominated indigenous cultures around the world. The active life-styles of non-civilized peoples with diets high in proteins and low in carbohydrates meant diseases such as diabetes were virtually unknown.
It would be one thing if civilization and the destructive agriculture that accompanies it were simply an inevitable development in human evolution. If diabetes was simply an unfortunate coincident with the so-called comforts of civilization, then perhaps I could live in peace with my father’s disease. My dad would simply be unlucky enough to bear one of the bad side effects of the culture of progress. But, this is not what is happening. The same omnicidal processes that massacre indigenous peoples on their lands, that require mass deforestation of old growth forests to fuel this ever-starving machine, that produces the pollutants that are poisoning so many around the world are responsible for both the diet and the difficulty to maintain regular physical activity characterizing life in this culture of death.
Civilization is at the root of the problem. Derrick Jensen’s definition of civilization in two-volume work, Endgame, most accurately describes the predicament we find ourselves in. He defines civilization as a “complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities.” He goes on to explain what’s wrong with cities defining them as “people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.” People living in cities exhaust the resources where they live and then are forced to constantly acquire the necessities of life from somewhere else. But, what happens when your neighbors – both human and non-human – are unwilling to give you what you require? What happens, for example, if your way of life depends on fossil fuels that you cannot access from the land you occupy? The answer to these questions form the history of colonization.
Agriculture is nothing more than the colonization (and annihilation) of non-human communities. Author and activist Lierre Keith often encourages her audiences to think about what agriculture does to the land with a simple, common sense progression. I’m paraphrasing her ideas, but she asks audiences to picture a healthy natural community. Take the prairie lands of the American Midwest, for example, where thousands of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria once thrived. It’s not too hard to remember the tens of millions of bison that once thundered through the prairies. It’s not too hard to hear the cheerful conversations of hundreds of millions of prairie dogs. It’s not too hard to feel the song the wind played on never-ending seas of grass. And, what has agriculture done to these prairies? It has cleared the soil of every living thing – all the way down to the bacterial systems – to grow one crop (often corn or soy or wheat) on land that used to teem with life.
Is it so hard to believe, then, that many of the products spawned in this destruction like high fructose corn syrup are linked to the causes of something so damaging to humans as diabetes?
It was not until I visited Unist’ot’en territory in central so-called British Columbia that I truly understood the connection between civilization and unhealthy diets. One of the first things that struck me about the forests in the region was the number of dead and rotting trees. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say one in three trees standing in Unist’ot’en forests are dead – killed by beetle infestations. Climate change is producing winters that end earlier allowing the pine beetles to spawn earlier and at greater numbers. These beetles are literally destroying the forests. This destruction is keeping moose from ranging into Unist’ot’en territory depriving the Unist’ot’en of a staple winter protein. Traditionally, the Unist’ot’en were able to live in balance with their land eating food that they could find on their territories. But, now they’re forced to get their food from somewhere else.
This is, of course, why there are supermarkets everywhere. Civilization has progressed (in the way cancer progresses) to the point where most of us simply cannot survive on food we produce on our own land base – if we even have access to soil to produce our own food. The destruction of the land’s ability to support us and the conversion of the land from self-sustaining natural communities into monocrop dead zones results in high fructose corn syrup being cheaper and easier to acquire than moose.
Just like we know that civilization requires the combustion of fossil fuels creating climate change, we know that civilization requires destructive agriculture creating dangerous diets. Unist’ot’en forests are under attack from fossil fuels in the form of beetle infestations caused by climate change and Unist’ot’en homes are under attack from fossil fuels in the form of proposed pipelines that would gash through their territories if not for their incredible bravery.
The processes threatening the Unist’ot’en threaten my family, too. The processes threatening the Unist’ot’en are undermining the world’s ability to sustain life. I cannot take my father’s disease away, but I can join people like the Unist’ot’en on the front lines as they combat the destruction.
I began this series weeks ago imploring my readers to fall in love. I think most of us are already in love with someone, though. We love a partner, a child, our parents, our siblings, a dear friend. We love them so much we worry how our activist lifestyle might negatively affect them. The truth is our loved ones are literally under attack. Environmentally induced cancers are murdering our loved ones at staggering rates, suicide is taking too many of us, and widespread social collapse is not so much a question of if, but when.
I listen respectfully when my parents express their worries to me. I’ve put them through a lot over the years. They gave me life and have loved me unconditionally. But, at this time of crisis, I cannot help but think of the lessons my dad has taught me. My father is a man that gets uncomfortable when I say, “I love you, Dad.” He rarely says it back and that’s ok because his actions have shown me he loves me.
I hope that families supporting those who want to devote their lives to activism can see the love in our actions. I love my parents, I love my sister, I love my friends, and I love this magical world filled with so much beauty. I refuse to see my family destroyed. I refuse to see this living world drained into a lifeless desert. That’s why I can tell my dad I love him, or I can follow his example and let my actions speak for me.