Transformative change not achieved without a fight
As a professional communicator and community activist, I’m a big fan of empathy as expressed by columnist Steve ErkenBrack in “Empathy and the environment.” In fact, I recycled a 2020 campaign sign with a new message for our front yard in Minneapolis. It proclaimed, “Empathy is Strength.”
This summer, our neighbor in a distracted moment lost control of her Prius (yes, it’s a liberal block) and crashed through the sign into our crabapple tree. While the sign was scuffed and pinned against the trunk, it survived and even protected the bark from damage.
The Prius was totaled. Empathy is strength, indeed.
But how well does an ability to understand and share the feelings of others withstand creeping authoritarianism and relentless global capitalism that keeps both feet on the gas instead of the brake?
ErkenBrack’s examples of transformative social change were fueled by empathy, but they were not achieved without a prolonged fight. Historically, guns, fire hoses, jail, gerrymandering and condescension have been deployed against ignorant teens, crusading ministers, self-absorbed college students, righteous environmentalists, uppity women and restive laborers.
Because how will the poor slaves manage without their job creators?
The powerless don’t lack empathy when they storm the barricades. Their sin is failing to appreciate power brokers, lobbyists, hedge fund managers and robber barons who fiercely defend the status quo, whether through religiosity, feudalism, colonialism or good old global capitalism, which has exported jobs, razed forests, polluted air and water and tolerated extinction of cultures and species.
Empathy works wonders only if it is reciprocal. Otherwise, it’s the butter knife brought to the proverbial gunfight.
Tut-tutting the urgency of young people at the forefront of the environmental movement resembles the mock bipartisanship of coal millionaire Joe Manchin more than the inclusiveness of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Don’t be fooled by noblesse oblige.
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“Don’t trust anyone over 30” originated out of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley that championed the student right to political speech on college campuses, which in turn helped spark broader national activism related to civil rights and ending the Vietnam War.
Berkeley activist Jack Weinberg, not Bob Dylan, first said “we don’t trust anyone over 30” to dismiss a reporter who kept asking him who was really behind the protests, implying that the Communist Party was pulling the strings. The off-hand quote got picked up by newspapers nationwide, sparking outrage from the establishment and adoption by the movement.
More empathy and respect good for the community
The letter from Kathy Fackler, “Empathy, respect will ring temperature down,” is a perfect balance to Steve ErkenBrack’s op-ed. She points out we need empathy and curiosity to bring the temperature down, as well as “common sense and common humanity.”
She may have noticed the truck driving around the county with a very obscene flag flying next to the stars and stripes. She may have seen the note from a local politician implying that a certain cultural group is causing havoc on the planet. She may have been a visitor to my neighborhood where there is little empathy or respect. The HOA has failed to “build a consensus” regarding a gate to the small park that is shared by the members of the subdivision.
Fackler thanks ErkenBrack for “reminding us we all have a stake in the transition,” so we need to listen to each other. My teachers taught the importance of the team and “common humanity.” Do we want to compete with the members of our team? The global village and my subdivision are definitely in need of empathy, respect and treating each other as equals.
Electric vehicles have their own issues, too
Electric vehicles, I think they do have a place, but not totally. There are some issues that come with owning one.
First, you need to be paying a per mile road tax as you don’t buy that bad fossil fuel.
Second, you need to pay a fee to dispose of these batteries that at this time are not recyclable,
Third, you need to pay a tax to reclamation of our earth that is being torn up to get the minerals necessary to make those batteries.
Fourth, you need to pay for the disposal of all those wind turbine blades that are being buried.
So things are not as green as you may think they are. Electric vehicles use a lot of energy, but out of sight out of mind I guess, so keep on driving and using up the land to make your car. Fossil fuels are not going away, they are used in all things in your green car — tires, plastics, electronics and the seat you are sitting in.