The last days of September were warm here in Boston. I spent as much time as I could in our back yard—a small, hidden spot of green growing things in our urban neighborhood. One afternoon, as I sat reading in the orange plastic Adirondack chair, I noticed a monarch butterfly make its way around the cyclone fence that separates our yard from the roofing business next to us. It fluttered above the roses, the hydrangea, and over to the butterfly bushes nodding in the wind. It landed on the single zinnia that was growing haphazardly among the Russian sage and the seed heads of black-eyed Susans.
I watched it open and close its wings and then unfurl its long tongue to sip deeply from the flower. A gust of wind bent the zinnia to the left, and then to the right. The monarch hung on tight as it arced back and forth in the gusts.
I watched, mesmerized by its tenacity and its beauty. I thought about how it was just starting its 2,500 mile southward migration. My heart ached knowing that over the past two decades, the monarch population has steadily declined because of logging of their overwintering grounds, pesticides killing their food source, and the shifting weather patterns of climate change. As I watched the monarch cling to the flower, I felt great sorrow for what humans are doing to this fragile creature.
Image description: Close shot of an adult monarch butterfly with orange wings and white spots on an orange zinnia. White siding and other zinnias in the background.
Suddenly, I realized I was seeing this creature only for its vulnerability, even as I was actually observing its strength and tenacity. I was casting a set of mental and emotional reactions over the reality of what I was witnessing in the moment: a tough and gorgeous butterfly getting its sweet drink on in a garden that my partner and I are stewarding as a place of respite and nourishment for many creatures.
The monarch, as far as I could tell, was not dreading its journey. It was not mourning the loss of its species. It was very much alive, very strong, and doing what it needed to do to survive. And, by planting the zinnia seeds earlier this summer, I had done one small thing to help it survive.
In that moment, the monarch took off, and flew right toward me. It passed inches above my head and winged its way out of our yard, onto the next urban oasis that someone else in my neighborhood is surely stewarding.
Over the next few days, several other monarchs came to visit, often heading to the single zinnia in the back yard as well as the riot of the same flowers in the small garden on the side of the house. I said hello and welcome, told them to stay as long as they wanted and drink as deeply as they needed, and wished them good fortune on the rest of their journey.
And as I did a little more research into monarchs, I learned this year was a particularly good one for these butterflies. I also learned that their numbers have been slowly rising over the past few years, although they are not out of the woods by any means..
I find myself thinking at times about Mrs. Johnston, my high school chemistry teacher who wore purple polyester pant suits and blue eye shadow. I never did end up understanding organic chemistry, but I deeply internalized what she told us about global warming and the effects it was having on the planet.
That was 1991, and I was 17. With the conviction of a privileged young person in the Global North, I assumed by the time I was an adult, scientists and politicians would have figured out how to fix it.
Today, I know that as Mrs. Johnston was teaching us about global warming, the fossil fuel industry was pouring billions of dollars into the dissemination of junk science, misinformation, and deception to prevent politicians from even considering implementing policies we needed to “fix” global warming.
Now it is 2019, and I am 45. Each year, more and more people are killed, lose their homes, and are forced to migrate because of climate change. We are in the middle of a mass extinction of creatures and plants.
We are also in the midst of some kind of revolution.
We are here with our rage, sorrow, grief, and fear. We are also here with our strength, tenacity, brains, hearts. With our ability to plant seeds and create community. Our ability to be humble and learn new ways of relating to each other and the world around us. Our ability to organize and be organized to put these very human qualities into action—in order to counter the other very human qualities of greed, competition, and fear that have led us to this place.
To be sure, it’s not always sunny afternoons of monarchs, zinnias, and revelatory insights. We operate within structures of oppression: We hurt each other, we get hurt, and we get worn out. But here we are.
I don’t think it’s an accident that I am here right now. I don’t think it’s an accident that you are here reading this. There are so many people on this planet at this moment—I think many more than we feel or know at times—doing this work of transforming the systems that are breaking us and destroying the planet. We are a community—wildly diverse, each with our unique gifts, perspectives, and ancestral support, as well as our many flaws and mistakes. We are doing the hard work, by necessity or choice. We can, and do, feel all sorts of ways about that from day to day and year to year. We don’t know what the results will be.
But here we are. Doing our best to see the monarchs for what they are, ourselves and each other for who we are, and what this moment asks of us.
Thanks to all of you who have been on the journey that is Starlight & Strategy with me! I’ve been writing this newsletter for seven months now; I’m curious about how it’s landing with you, and I’m thinking about what comes next. So, I’ve created a short survey to see what you think. As thanks, I will:
Randomly pick 3 people who fill it out to send a care package!
Send everyone who fills out the survey a special prompt.
Browse on over to take the survey. Thank you!
What else I’m reading/listening to/thinking about:
I’m always learning how to better use language as a tool to create the kind of change I desire. I deeply appreciate queer black editing’s Instagram posts for their education, affirmation, and joy.
Community / announcements
I’m excited to be part of Su Hwuang’s launch tour for her powerful collection of poetry, Bodega. If you’re in Boston, join us at the Brookline Booksmith on November 7 at 7 pm.
My friend Alli Chagi-Starr, an amazing Bay Area organizer, is helping to promote a book called Merge Left. It lays out a strategy build the supermajorities that can actually enact bold progressive agendas: call out division as the main threat, and cultivate cross-racial solidarity. Check out the promo video for more.
Here’s a way to advance climate justice by holding Big Polluters liable for fueling the climate crisis.
Thank you, and please share!
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