It’s about time for a new blog post interview. This one, long in coming, is with Chiara Rose D’Angelo, a youth activist I admire greatly. But before we get into it, you should know that we’ve scheduled our yearly Teen Talking Circle Facilitator’s Training. Check out the dates. Would love you to be there. The more circles we have going, the more youth will unlock their voices… And we need them unlocked!!! Youth activism comes from the discovery that we need not be diminished by our fears or issues, we are not alone, and we can empower each other to take action for what we care about. Upcoming TTC Training
I’ve always considered myself an activist. And an optimist. When faced with the shocking statistics, horrors, and dire consequences of our collective greed, lack of spiritual connection, global unconsciousness and self-centered aims I’m stricken, but my basic instinct is to be positive, imagine solutions, create something, and believe that we’re smart enough to figure this thing out. It’s people like Boyan Slat and Chiara Rose, two youth activists, who keep my spirits up.
Both Boyan and Chiara are great examples of what Joanna Macy, calls “The Great Turning.” The Great Turning is the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Joanna says the Great Turning is happening right now in three dimensions: Holding Actions, Analysis, and a Shift in Consciousness. Check out The Great Turning
If you look back at previous TTC interviews, you’ll read about photographer/filmmaker, Chris Jordan’s documentation of the albatrosses on Midway Island, dying en mass due to plastic consumption. Yes, the mothers feed the babies plastic. Boyan is a Dutch student who has come up with a brilliant concept as to how to clean up those garbage patches of plastic in the ocean and it seems it is working…
What I believe: YES, WE ARE ONE INTERCONNECTED LIFE FORCE FLOWING THROUGH EVERY LIVING BEING ON A LIVING PLANET IN A LIVING SOLAR SYSTEM IN A LIVING MULTIVERSE
About Chiara Rose D’Angelo
Last summer, on May 22, 2015, Chiara Rose D’Angelo attached herself to the chain of the anchor of the Arctic Challenger as it moored north of Seattle. The ship was among those that Royal Dutch Shell intended to use as they drilled for oil in the in the remote and dangerous Chukchi Sea, the Arctic Ocean, off northwestern Alaska. Chiara stayed up on the chain for 66 hours contributing to a wide-scale protest heard around the world, $hell No, a massive activist effort to call attention to the insanity of drilling for oil in the Arctic Reserve and produce actions to stop any vessels from getting up to Alaska. Thousands of kyactivists took to their kayaks to block Shell’s rigs from moving up the waterways. The idea was that if the vessels were detained Shell would lose the critical time (weather) window they needed to have the rigs in place before winter.
Chiara Rose, a 20-year-old student at Western Washington University, set out from Bellingham, Washington, in the dark of night. She paddled through choppy waves until she reached the anchor, and then jumped onto the chain. She fitted a hook through the links, dangled a harness down, and pulled herself up. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god, I actually did it!’” Rose said. “I’m actually on the chain!”
The guts it takes to do something like this is inspired and inspiring. It is a flagrant, empowered action that screams in the face of the powers that be, “NO, not in our names” – and a powerful, positive force that can only be spurred on by life affirming values.
In an interview with Yes Magazine Chiara described the physical effects of being strapped in a harness for three days and nights as, “Unbearable.” She said there were moments that helped push her through, like seeing her friends boating up with supplies for her or a school of fish underneath her feet. “I was on Lummi historic fishing grounds,” referring to a local Native American tribe. “Being on a toxic site that used to be such a thriving site, knowing that it would happen to the Arctic, helped me push through.”
This was not the first mind-blowing act of heroism I’d seen Chiara do. A year earlier, in the pre-dawn hours of August 18th, 2014, she climbed 70 feet up to a platform, clandestinely built by friends of hers, and began a tree sit in protest to a controversial shopping development that would eliminate 800 trees in a forested area on her native Bainbridge Island. The aim of her tree sit was to create more time for the community to move into action and voice their opposition to the project. As more and more island residents learned of her action, a vigil formed at the base of the tree where one by one community members voiced reasoned arguments or simply anger and sadness at the idea of another shopping center on an island where there were already too many local vacant storefronts and no need for another pharmacy, let alone the proposed Walmarts.
Chiara eventually was convinced that she had accomplished her goal and descended two days later. The minute she came down armed officers hired by the developer, Visconti, cordoned off the site and began to bring in the bulldozers. In the months that followed, the shopping center was constructed and is finished now. One afternoon, just as the construction was coming to an end I noticed a captive deer running back and forth confused as to how to get out of the fence blocking off the construction site. Clearly, this animal’s habitat had been the forest that was no longer there.
My first interview with Chiara was directly after she came down from the tree sit in 2014. Let’s start there.
August 20, 2014:
L: Chiara, why did you climb that tree?
C: I wanted to create a platform for our community voices to be heard. I wanted to reawaken people’s sense that their own truth was more important than the truth that’s given to them to follow. I did the tree sit so that people could recognize that we are not the circumstances we are given, we are the vision we create.
L: You mean we are disempowered by the truth fed to us but empowered by having strong voices and speaking our own truth. I agree with that. How did it feel to be up in that tree and seeing everyone congregating below it? I was there in the morning but by afternoon it was a pretty big crowd. People taking the microphone and with each person speaking out it gave courage to others to come forward and express themselves.
C: All sorts of emotions came forward for me. It’s pretty incredible to be with those kind of trees that are slightly degraded in the sense that they have lots of invasive species at their trunks, but they’re still there, still vibrant, and have so much energy. And it was really great to see so many people on the ground coming and speaking and using the opportunity I created to let their voices be heard.
L: How does it feel to see those trees being cut down right now in front of you, just 3 days after you were sitting in one?
C: When I came back here and I first saw the trees being cut I started balling. It was really painful, and now it’s just another day. I think part of the reason I didn’t want to come back is because I’ve gotten numb to it. When things happen over and over again, it’s no longer painful. When you go to war, and you kill someone it’s probably traumatizing the first few times, but it begins to get more and more normalized. That’s what cutting trees is; it’s normalized for us. It’s really exhausting to think that’s the human condition — that’s what we’re up against — thinking all the things around us are so normal, when they’re not. This isn’t normal. This is pushing our lived environment to its max.
L: What prompted you to become a youth activist in the way that you are? What was the turning point?
C: At a young age I heard a story about a tribal nation in the Midwest that chains themselves to trees and that if their prayers are virtu
ous then they are released, and if they are not they are held forever. I realized that most of my prayers are virtuous; I just don’t ever actualize them. And at that point in time I was like, ‘alright, I’m going to go to school and be an oceanographer because my dream is to save the Puget Sound.’ I got two years into that plan and I realized I haven’t done anything, nothing; I’ve only contributed to harming something that I love so deeply. Eventually, it just clicked, and I started taking action. I really, really encourage people to think about what is that wish that you have, that one wish you could wish for that is not about yourself, but is about something you can see and feel and empathize with. What is that? Find it, and do something about it. Activate. That’s really where we need to go. That’s the path.
L: Do you ever feel hopeless?
C: Rarely. I’m not a big person on hope. Hope is too often something people proclaim and then not do anything about. But rarely do I feel hopeless. I have a lot of love. I used to feel hopeless, before I did things. But as a full-time activist it’s hard to feel hopeless these days. There are so many wins these days. A coal terminal in Boardman, Oregon just got shut down. Oregon is now coal terminal free. We have two left here in the Lummi Nation. Up in Bellingham, where I’m going to school right now, the Lummi say they are opposed to it, they are a sovereign nation, this has happened too many times, they’ve had their watershed destroyed too many times, and it is not happening. The chairman of the Lummi Nation just declared that. I am blessed to see so many wins. There is so much happening all the time. I am honored to be a part of these movements, because that is where the hope is. If people feel hopeless, it’s time to do something. Doing something is not a hopeless feeling – it’s the most hopeful feeling you’ll ever have.
L: What do you want young people to know?
C: What I want young people to know is the right now you have the most energy and power you’ll ever have, as far as being able to wake people up. You’ll never be able to touch peoples’ hearts as deeply as when you’re young. The wrong people might make fun of you, but the right people will have to open up and have to open their eyes. And if you start talking about your future and what you want in your future, there is something there that people can’t ignore anymore. It’s time that we all started speaking our truths, because we won’t be silenced anymore.
OK TURN UP YOUR SPEAKERS!!!
The next interview with Chiara took place a few months after her $hell No action. And it should be noted that Shell Oil pulled out of drilling in the Arctic – news we were all beyond relieved to hear! The official reason for pulling out was that Shell did not find enough oil once they put their drills down to assess to make the project viable.
L : You went through such an intense experience on that anchor? What was it like?
Chiara : Physically unbearable. It’s crazy because I’m telling it now as a story, but I still have the body memory of the unbearable fatigue and I can feel the stress points still where the harness was hitting me. The inability to move a muscle up there felt like I simply stuck in my body. But, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, I was clear, full, and felt this infinite energy. So much was happening in the moment; everyone wanting to talk to me – the Coast Guard, reporters, family… What was amazing was how clear my words were and how in even all of that pain and stress and intensity, I was able to speak so clearly.
The first two nights another protester came up and sleep underneath me. He was in a much more uncomfortable situation than I was in. His presence was so helpful in calming me. I had someone to talk to. But I didn’t sleep. There was no sense of night; the Coast Guard had their lights shining on us all night long and the chain felt so cold and sterile. Spiritually, I could feel everybody’s support, as if they were right there saying, “Go Chiara!” So, I didn’t feel so alone. Then, there was these floods of moments where people boated out to me, to drop off gear, food and water.
During the day I could see my friend’s sailboat on the horizon with a banner saying, “75% chance of spill, WTF?!”, and that was just like this beaming light of truth which I could hold onto. Every time I spoke with my mom and she told me that everyone was supporting me, I felt so blessed.
Right: Debra D’Angelo (Chiara’s mom)
L : So, Miss Chiara, what’s life like now?
Chiara : Interesting…. It’s a mix between my desire to find community and normalize and keep working to protect waterways. I started my activism at sixteen; I was eighteen at the tree sit. When I was in high school, I thought I could either wait to start being active; go through college and then get a job doing something good, or just start now. I decided to start in high school. The more I did, the more I realized that the youth voice has this different kind of power — this potent truth. When you’re really young and you know what you believe in, people listen.
L : So, now what?
Chiara : I’m going be down to Evergreen College to study about women’s indigenous work and the untold stories of indigenous women fighting for justice. I’m going to be immersed in a very serious and rigorous classroom program, which is what I’m looking for, with people that take it seriously. Then I’m heading back to Fairhaven College. I feel set and on path. I’m going to spend the summer advocating for the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary, which would designate the Salish Sea as a protected zone. This would create an agreement between Washington, British Columbia, and the 200 plus coastal Salish tribes to bring animal populations back up to 50% of historic levels and restore the ecosystem so that it actually functions.
L : As an activist you have to learn facts and face so many tragic realities. What do you do with your grief?
Chiara : I feel it.
L : Do you ever get just despondent – feel things are just futile?
Chiara : I get angry, but I’m getting pretty skillful at making action happen out of grief and going through the process. Joanna Macy has this really beautiful thing she calls The Spiral. (http://www.joannamacy.net/theworkthatreconnects/the-wtr-spiral.html) It is about four successive stages or movements that feed into each other — opening to gratitude, owning our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and just going forth. I have my own spiral, my own process. It hits me in a big wave. I feel the pain for the earth and I hold it and I know it, I don’t run away from it. I feel the grief in my body and then go and connect to what is beautiful about the earth and allow it to inspire me. Once I feel inspired, visions of what I can do come and once I have a vision I jump into it. I like to joke, when I go for swims in the Salish sea, I know it’s toxic, but I swim in it knowing it’s toxic. I feel the grief about that but my process brings me back to action.
Chiara: I have a question for you, Linda. How do you hold space so sacred? When I’m with you I just feel the good vibrations. How do you hold that?
L : I don’t know. I don’t try to do anything more than be authentic and be as kind as possible. I do my best to listen to my intuition and follow her lead! I am still learning to set boundaries and strike a balance for myself in every way. I’m very sensitive to vibrations around me. I play life by ear and think musically.
Chiara : How do you go about setting those boundaries?
L : I just energetically do my best to honor myself and my space. I’m an only child and most likely that helps and hinders me at the same time. When I was young, I didn’t listen enough to myself and learned from very uncomfortable feelings that I did not enjoy going along with things if I didn’t jibe with them…I also experienced early the rewards of being an activist and standing up for what matters to me. It helped that I was part of a strong 1960s movement as an activist. Strength in numbers so to speak. So, I’ve developed a strong response mechanism that reminds me to follow my feelings. If I don’t feel it, I excuse myself, or I speak my mind and usually that ends the conversation. Boundaries can be achieved gracefully – they also can be created with an energetic that causes broken relationships – so one has to choose the consequences one can imagine.
Chiara : How do you hold that? I come from a long line of women that were mistreated, so there’s this sense that just historically that’s the energy that I come from.
L : If you mean that you have patterns stemming from your family constellation, I know what you mean. That’s also a big part of my work to be more empowered. I felt “less-than” (others) when I was a teenager. Less pretty, less popular, less important, less liked… it stemmed from being different, feeling different, not being able to go along with the statis quo. I was very angry with the world of adults. They were in the dark ages and I was bursting at the seams. It was the beginning of a groundswell of change. When I discovered other people who felt like I did it was such a relief. Knowing I was not alone gave me the fuel to come out more and more – and of course, it was happening for a lot of people back then… it was the beginning of the realization of a generation gap, which was more like a generation paradigm shift. We were leaving the 1950s behind. LSD blew the lid off. Music also blew the lid off. Protest blew the lid off. With LSD people used to say it was like forcing the pedals of the flower to open rather than with meditation allow them to open organically and naturally. LSD and meditation were coupled for a good while, and yoga became popular in the West. It was almost like transform or die! I think my generation is the ageless generation in so many ways. I think what happened in the 1960s in terms of my solidifying my values and what I fight for, believe in, stand up for is the same now as then.
Today, the way I continue my personal transformation process is much gentler and slower and more basic. To encourage myself not to revert back to unkind ways of treating myself, I have a morning ritual. It’s very simple: I go to the sink in the bathroom, turn on the hot water and put a washcloth in the sink. Then I look up at myself and talk to myself as if I was just meeting a friend who had spent the night. I smile at myself and say with authentic loving feelings, “Good morning, Linda. I love you.“ If my monkey mind starts saying, “My God, you’re looking so old and wrinkled?” I push the thought away and smile at myself and say something like, “Linda, you are so beautiful. You are so talented. You’re doing great. Keep going, I’m with you all the way.” I want to speak to myself in the morning the same way I would speak to a child I was greeting first thing in the morning. I wouldn’t do it thinking judgmental thoughts, thus sending out downer vibes! I’d do it with love and positive regard. So, I give that to myself. It helps me start the day off knowing it is about uplifting my soul and spirit and hopefully, I remember to keep that attitude throughout the day. It is the only way I can contribute my best to the world and the only way I can trust I’ll treat others with the same love and respect. Doesn’t always work. I can fall into self-denigrating thoughts that stem from my family constellation, or get frustrated, tired, at the end of my rope and lose it –but essentially, I really do love life and people –and as long as I don’t allow myself to buy into any of the very misguided messages that we older women are over the hill, I’m fine. In fact, we older women are changing the world! And younger women, and feminists and activists and educators and spiritual guides… we are simply NOT alone!!!
Thank you Chiara, for your generosity and your deep love of life. Thank you for putting yourself on the line and for your strength and conviction. I love having you in my life!
February 15, 2016. Addendum:
Chiara is currently in school and will graduate this Spring with a degree in Ethno-Ecological Justice and is working on preparing for her hearing for her $20,000 dollars in fines she received from the US Coast Guard.