Becoming a Parent in the Age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock

Our son will be born just a few days after Donald Trump becomes President.

As soon as possible I intend to teach him the “Golden Rule,” as my parents taught me. For me, this important lesson grew into a fierce passion for justice rooted deep in my soul. One of the scariest things about learning I was pregnant was the fear that I would have to trade my identity as an activist for that of a mother. But that’s not possible. Because in order to do my job as a mother, to ensure my baby has the best chance possible of surviving and thriving in this world, I’m going to have to work harder than ever before. And I’m not just talking about bringing my child to gymnastics and violin lessons and helping him with his homework. I’m talking about ensuring he has access to the very basics required for human survival: clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and healthy food to eat. And in an era of climate change and a pending Trump presidency of climate change denial and profiteering from fossil fuel development, that will most likely mean putting my body and my freedom on the line.

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Becoming parents!

On one of our first dates almost three years ago, Jeremiah and I went to hear Winona LaDuke speak about indigenous resistance to extreme fossil fuel infrastructure like tar sands and pipelines. She challenged everyone in the audience to burst out of our Northern California bubble and support the frontlines in places like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada, where indigenous people were risking their own lives and freedom to preserve a livable planet for us all.

Roughly two years later, we had finally managed to organize our lives in such a way that we were liberated to serve at the frontlines and to travel around the country working on regenerative agriculture projects that would heal our broken food system, rebuild topsoil, sequester carbon, and reduce the amount of pollution poisoning our waterways. Our ambitious goal was to plant – with the help of family and friends – one million trees before having our first child. Or, if not a million, at least a few hundred thousand… enough to feel as though we were being somewhat responsible parents by helping create an ecological safety net for future generations.

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We figured this endeavor would take years, and with the help of family and friends we were able to purchase a work truck and convert a 6’ x 12’ enclosed cargo trailer into a mobile tiny house we planned to live in during our journey as nomadic regenerative activists until we were ready to “settle down” and have a family.

Our first stop was my hometown of Oconto, Wisconsin, where we planned to plant a community food forest (a perennial food-producing ecosystem) on some marginal land my family owns. After that, we intended to connect with and support some of the indigenous resistance efforts in Canada or the northern US. We left California mid-May of this year, visited a handful of beautiful and inspiring places en route, and two weeks later, on May 30th, my mom’s birthday, we arrived in Wisconsin.

That same day we found out I was pregnant.

Suddenly our plan seemed a little crazy. We spent our first nights in Wisconsin battling poison ivy, mosquitos, and fierce summer storms, wondering why we had given up our jobs and home in California. We gave ourselves a month to come up with a new plan, and in the meantime I insisted we go ahead with installing the food forest.

It was in part my stubborn Taurus nature wanting to complete what we had set out to do, and in part extremely practical. If we were going to bring a child into this world of profound uncertainty, a world of converging ecological, economic, and social crises, the least we could do was create some sort of safety net for them – a place where they can someday harvest food and medicine and build a shelter and harvest rainwater if needed.

oconto_garden_fenceThis particular piece of land is not very desirable for conventional development – it’s swampy and covered in a thicket of invasive shrubs and poison ivy – which made it a relatively safe investment of our time, energy, and limited financial resources. So we (by “we” I mean mostly Jeremiah, with help from our good friend Zach… I was too sick and tired from early pregnancy to be very helpful) got to work: clearing space for a garden; building beds out of composted horse manure and mulch we had acquired for free; planting vegetables and losing most of them to deer; building an 8’ deer fence and replanting the garden with trees, berries, medicinal herbs and other perennials; and building relationships oconto_garden_partywith our neighbors (which was especially helpful for our encounter with the local police, who showed up in force to accuse us of trespassing and try to kick us off my family’s land). Jeremiah was rather appalled by the condition of the land when we arrived – I had failed to mention the dense thicket of Buckthorn and the hordes of mosquitos – but he dutifully poured his sweat and love into the land, day after day, until a resilient, lush garden emerged on the corner of a dead-end street, a gift to our budding family and to the community in which I grew up.

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The garden explodes!

By the time the garden was finished, we had come up with a new plan.  Though I loved being close to my family, we decided Northeastern Wisconsin was not the right place for us to build a nest at this point in our lives. Access to local, organic food was particularly challenging, and it would be years before the food forest was really producing. Friends of ours from California were buying land in a small community in Colorado’s Western Slopes called Paonia. The area is a “banana belt,” with the highest density of organic farms in Colorado, a low cost of living, and is surrounded by National Forests.

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Our cozy straw bale/passive solar home

Synchronistically we found an off-the-grid homestead to rent in the high desert surrounding Paonia-a beautiful passive solar straw bale house powered by 100% solar power that utilizes rainwater catchment for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Located mid-way between mine and Jeremiah’s homelands, it seemed like a good place to bring a new life into the world. So we took a leap of faith and agreed to a year-long lease without ever having been to Paonia or having seen our new home.

We left Wisconsin on a high note after attending the Wisconsin Permaculture Convergence; stopped in Rochester, MN where my dear friend Brittany who is a midwife at Mayo Clinic was able to show us our first glimpse of our baby via ultrasound; and moved into our new home on August 15th. Jeremiah found carpentry and landscaping work, I continued working remotely for Transition US, and we started nesting and found some lovely roommates to join us in our off-the-grid compound. Though we were missing – and still are – our friends and families, we felt good about our decision to bring our baby into the world in such a peaceful, beautiful place. We’re grateful for a slower pace of life that will give us the ability to really enjoy this important transition, and for a community that is incredibly supportive of children and new parents.

delta_countyPractically speaking, this rural, wild area (we have herds of deer on our land, hear coyotes howl most nights, and are occasionally visited by bear and mountain lions) seemed like a safe, resilient location to weather the coming turmoil of political and economic instability compressed by the increasing impacts of climate change like drought, natural disasters, and food insecurity. We knew that regardless of who won the presidential election, we would need to be prepared to deal with the impacts of our unsustainable economy and continue working to heal the distressed planet our child would soon inhabit.

Water is Life: the Age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock

Shortly after moving to Paonia, we learned that the Bureau of Land Management was considering opening 95% of public lands in this area (managed by the Uncompahgre Field Office) to oil and gas development, particularly fracking. In case you aren’t familiar – fracking is a form of unconventional, horizontal drilling for the natural gas found in shale deposits. Ecologically speaking, it’s a devastating practice that blasts huge amounts of fracking-fact-graphicwater (millions of gallons per well) and sand (much of the sand used for fracking is mined in Wisconsin), mixed with a long list of chemicals (some of which are known carcinogens), into the earth. Fracking has been linked to water contamination, increased seismic activity (earthquakes), and negative health impacts on people living nearby. Not to mention that fracking perpetuates the use of fossil fuels at a time when we desperately need to be switching to renewables in order to slow climate change.  Natural gas is not, as some proponents claim, a “bridge fuel” to renewables, because the methane emitted by fracking is a greenhouse gas 20-25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its ability to trap heat in the atmosphere.

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Paonia was previously a coal mining town, but two of the three mines have closed in recent years creating a loss of jobs, an economic shift toward organic farming and outdoor recreation, an accompanying demographic shift (miners leaving the area and people like Jeremiah and I moving into the area), and some clear political divides. There remains some support for fracking among locals in the interest of job creation, but many, many people (including conservative ranchers, sportsmen, etc.) are opposed to opening up public lands to oil and gas development because they know this is a short-sighted strategy for economic development that will leave our beautiful bio-region and the emerging sustainable agriculture economy in ruins. More than 40,000 people provided comments to the BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan for our region – more than the population of the county we live in – demanding very limited or no fracking. Now we wait for a response from the BLM and prepare to strengthen our resistance strategy, if needed.

Meanwhile, we watch and take inspiration from the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) centered around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the Missouri River in North Dakota. If not for being pregnant and concerned about harsh winter weather and police brutality (a shot to the belly from a rubber bullet would be detrimental to our developing fetus), we would most certainly be there in solidarity.

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standing_rock_2Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the struggle for indigenous rights it epitomizes, is perhaps the most important battle of our time. Oil pipelines burst constantly – it’s not a matter of if, but when – and DAPL threatens the water supply of not only the Standing Rock Sioux, but the millions of people downstream who get their water from the Missouri River. The Missouri River feeds the Mississippi, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and already contamination of the Mississippi River has created a “Dead Zone” the size of Connecticut in the Gulf of Mexico.

mni_wiconiHuman beings are made of roughly 60% water, and there are now more than 7 billion of us on Planet Earth. Almost all other life forms, including our food sources, are also mostly water, but just 1% of our planet’s water is drinkable. The oceans function as the lungs of our planet, and are already suffering from air and water pollution (the oceans absorb much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere).

When we are talking about the ability of our species, our children and grandchildren, to survive on this planet, water is so much more precious than fossil fuels. So rightly, powerfully, the rallying cry of the #NODAPL movement is “Water is Life” or “Mni Wiconi” in Lakota language. The first baby born at Standing Rock, to a Lakota woman much braver than I, was named “Mni Wiconi.”

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Baby Mni Wiconi, born in a tipi on the banks of the Cannonball River

I am becoming a mother in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Our new president, Donald Trump, has invested more than half a million dollars in the company Energy Transfer Partners, whose subsidiary Dakota Access is building the pipeline. This makes me very uneasy and appears to be a clear conflict of interest, as it is up to the federal government (US Army Corps of Engineers) to provide approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River. And, even if DAPL is halted, how many similar projects will be greenlighted in the future to enhance the investment portfolio of President Trump and his allies, at the expense of the well-being of us common folks? (By the way, water privatization is another looming threat to consolidate scarce resources and make the wealthy wealthier. After all, water is more precious than fossil fuels!)

The Big Trade-Off

One of the main reasons people I know voted for Trump is “jobs.” But it’s not that easy. Trump is not going to fix the economy for us. Neither of the two-party candidates would tell us this, but THE ECONOMY CANNOT BE FIXED… at least not by job creation based on extractive industries. That’s because we live on a planet with finite resources, but our economy is based on an infinite growth model. If you dispute this truth, watch this video and then let’s talk.

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wealth_distributionThe economy is contracting because we have over-exploited the natural resources on which it depends. There is already so much evidence of this: drought and aquifer depletion, massive topsoil loss, and a shift to extracting ever harder to obtain (and less profitable) forms of fossil fuels like tar sands, fracking, and off-shore drilling. All you need to confirm this reality for yourself is an open, critical mind and a Google search. Precious, life-giving natural resources are becoming more and more scarce, the result of our lavish, wasteful consumption habits combined with rapid population growth. And this resource scarcity is compounded by wealthy elites consolidating as much wealth as possible, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs.

The future of our economy is not a return to the days when anyone who worked hard enough could easily buy a big house, a new car, raise a family, and live the American Dream.

out_of_stockI’m sorry, but that’s not the reality of the physical world we live in. I say this as someone who invested five years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars in a college education and Master’s degree and think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever own property or a new car or have a retirement fund (at least not in the way this has conventionally been done). And I’m not willing to trade my child’s future in order to have these things. At the same time, I know I don’t need any of these things. I can be perfectly happy and fulfilled with an inexpensive tiny house, a bike and a used biofuel vehicle, a food forest as my retirement fund, and the knowledge that my child will have a livable planet as his inheritance.

Continuing down a path of extractive economic development puts future generations’ access to water, air, and food at risk. It increases the possibility that they will experience the crumbling of our civilization and with it the sort of suffering—poverty, hunger, violence, conflict, chaos—we see in the countries we have destroyed in our insatiable quest for resources (often under the guise of “democracy”).

With all due respect, if you are willing to make that trade-off, or choose to stay ignorant and pretend everything will be fine and we’re passing on a perfectly lovely future to our children, shame on you.

I am not just directing this at Trump supporters. Though Clinton acknowledges climate change, her pro-fracking, pro-Wall Street agenda is absolutely inappropriate for the scale of economic and ecological crisis we are facing. At least with a looming Trump presidency, people have been startled into paying attention and will hopefully stay awake long enough to get organized, rather than simply returning to business-as-usual. There are many alternatives to the extractive, fossil-fuel driven consumer economy, but making the transition to a sustainable economy requires us to really think about our how we spend our money and what we are supporting.

Another reason for supporting Trump I’ve heard from several people—particularly kind, loving, generous women—is because he is pro-life. If this is you, I’m asking you to promise me that you are going to fight for my child’s access to clean water and a livable planet. Otherwise, with all due respect, you’re being cruel and hypocritical. And if I lose my freedom—or worse—by fighting for my child’s access to clean water and a livable planet, then promise me you will help take care of him.

This is what it means to become a parent in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Many mornings during my tumultuous first trimester, I awoke to stories of police brutality and mass shootings and lay in bed grappling with the reality of being pregnant during these times. Last month a Saudi Arabian student was beaten to death on the University of Wisconsin campus where my sister went to college. Since Trump’s election I hear more and more stories of emboldened racists/sexists/bigots/ xenophobes threatening and harassing strangers as our national shadow bubbles to the surface. This is not the kind of world I want my son to grow up in.

When I told my father, who recently turned 81, that I was pregnant, he said something along the lines of “too bad the world is such a mess.”

We Are Not Afraid

It’s a scary time to become parents, but we are not afraid. We have looked realistically at the impacts of climate change, of what happens when societies collapse and people compete for scarce resources, and of the current impacts of the American way of life on the rest of the world. It’s not pretty. In fact, for years this awareness has given me horrific nightmares (as well as deep motivation for my work). But ignoring or fearing the ugly realities of the world we live in is not helpful. What’s needed now is action.

Our son’s childhood will not revolve around screen time or consumer culture. Rather, we will be sharing with him an understanding of where we are in the evolution of humanity and an awareness of his role and responsibility as a white man in this world. We will be giving him tools to create a positive future given the realities of the world he is inheriting, tools like homesteading and survival skills; community organizing and non-violence education; and hopefully a strong spiritual foundation he can fall back on when things get hard and he sees the dark side of humanity.

We will teach him not only the Golden Rule “treat others as you want to be treated,” but also its important translation “no one is free until we all are free.”

And of course, we will teach him unconditional love.

The gift of living in uncertain times is that it makes the present that much more precious. The gift of living simply is that it creates more space for the things that really matter. And the gift of having deep compassion and empathy, for feeling the pain and suffering of the world as deeply as I do, is that this capacity for feeling pain and suffering is matched by a capacity for love.

earth_mama_5That’s why we chose to bring this child into a world of uncertainty… and, we can only imagine, why he chose such unconventional parents.

In a world rife with hate and callousness and immense suffering and the potential for so much more suffering, the only thing that is true – the only purpose for existence—is love. And you can bet we will teach this to our son.

Because that’s what it means to become parents in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

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