By Geri Lipschultz, 2012 StS Fiction Contest Winner
Large movements begin small. They live first in the dreams of individuals and when those individuals meet others with similar dreams, sparks occur. That’s the general story of the origins of a Women’s Congress for Future Generations, the four-day conference in late September held in Moab, Utah, to which over one hundred and seventy women came, representing many states in the US and some countries outside. Its focus was nothing less than repairing the planet. The organizers were a group of very high-powered women who used social media to invite women who wanted to be part of a gathering that would among other things help to draw up a declaration of rights—for future generations. The exasperating problems of our environment, and the way the powers that be have failed to adequately protect it do not seem to be high among the topics debated by President Obama and Governor Romney, but they were the focus of this well-planned event created to begin a very different kind of negotiation than the one whose first concerns are economic.
The invitation speaks very beautifully for itself:
Over the past year women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds have been quietly working on these issues. Conversations have been held in the kitchens of long time environmental activists. They have been held on the frontlines of civil disobedience by young activists resisting fracking, nuclear power and mountain top removal. They have been held in the halls of academia, in the dream world, and in political arenas. It is time for a larger conversation and to transform conversation into action on behalf of the future. It is time for women to speak from our authority as the first environment for future generations. It is time to rise up and claim this authority so we can sing lullabies not requiems to future generations.
What drove writer, scholar, professor, mother and cancer survivor, Heidi Hutner, to change her course from 18th century scholar to environmental activist and director of the Sustainability Program at Stony Brook University was a series of revelations springing from the possibility that her own cancer might have the environment as its source and not her genes. She found herself devouring the work of writers ranging from Rachel Carson to Sandra Steingraber, whom she recently interviewed, slowly realizing that she herself was developing expertise and solidarity with other writers. As Hutner reinvented herself, so did she reinvent her work, and the literature she began teaching moved into that of sustainability, and her classes became hands-on, and within so many years, she’d transformed her life and work and her classes. But she found herself in relative isolation living and working in Long Island, NY, which unlike California seemed like a world that was in denial. No one was interested in talking about change—not even when the Fukushima disaster hit, but six months later—a little over a year ago, at a panel in New York, featuring such speakers as Vandana Shiva and Helen Caldicott and Kevin Kamps, after the screening of Gary Null’s film (Knocking on the Devil’s Door) about Fukushima, Dr. Hutner met other activists, along with the mothers of Fukushima—with whom she quickly bonded. Following that, the grass roots movement “Occupy” sprang up, and she found herself going back and forth into New York City, meeting with others similarly driven by the urgency of the issues. There and then—with the extraordinary help of the virtual world of facebook, e-mail, text-messaging, and telephone—the Women’s Congress for Future Generations was spawned.
The conference meant to evoke the Seneca Falls gathering in 1848 directed itself to such matters as protection of ecosystems, sustainable industries, the inclusion of a broad range of voices, including those of indigenous peoples. Participants and planners were melded together. Rather than a bill of rights for humans distancing themselves from their former countrymen, their former masters (and then finding nothing hypocritical in enslaving others, finding nothing hypocritical in stealing land—stealing a continent! from its very inhabitants) this bill of rights was to be a document representing all living things. Women spoke for the mountains, for the rivers, for the animals.
Built into the programming was a determination to prevent what Hutner calls “the star thing,” so while there were high-powered scholars and activists—including people from Peaceful Uprising, representing the imprisoned activist Tim DeChristopher, and who, along with the Science and Environmental Network, sponsored the event—in attendance, there were also people who simply felt the calling. Organizers were well aware there were people who might have felt the calling but could not afford the trip, although there scholarships offered, as well as live streaming. Hutner says that people came, “even though they had no idea what was going to happen. People said, ‘my friend said I had to come, so I came.’” There was an instant feeling of comfort—and love. Hutner says she spent the first day going up to people and saying, “Who are you? Who are you?”
The time was determined for its auspiciousness, and the site was chosen by a number of indigenous people for its sacred quality. Also for its proximity to locations currently under consideration for new nuclear plant and up for grabs by the hawkers of hydraulic fracturing.
Large conferences take time to digest, both on an individual and collective level. But with her classes, her blog, as well as two book projects, not to mention numerous articles in the works, Hutner cannot deny that she’s energized, almost overwhelmed with work to be done. She’s more committed and more hopeful now than she was a year ago about what can be done locally. The collective effort is in process, so we will have to stay tuned. Those of us who feel called to give back to our planet would do well to keep ourselves informed.