Further local conversations on global climate change
Does Pope Francis know that we fill the room just to talk about what he has to say about poor people and the climate and our responsibilities as human beings?
Do you think he knows that on a Sunday afternoon seventy people in Rappahannock County, Virginia, left off whatever they were planning for the afternoon just to read a page from one of his encyclicals and then exchange such thoughts as they have in response to his views?
Does the pope know that he inspires at least one among us to write a song about the changing climate and then get up — unaccompanied — and sing it out for the room? (You are free to imagine this writer’s unusual delight to hear the song.)
Well, there were some seventy Rappahannock men and women, and three visitors from other counties — two from Greene County and one from Albemarle — gathered in the fire hall at the Washington Volunteer Fire Company on Sunday afternoon, March 13. The meeting was announced as a Conversation and the heading on the pope’s message was “Hear Both The Cry of the Earth and The Cry of the Poor”.
(That is paragraph #49 of the pope’s message. Read it here.)
What we heard is that there have to be some changes. Capitalism, a strong force for good, needs to become a force for healing — for healing abused and neglected children, and abused and neglected land. Some of those attending had come in response to their very strong feelings that too many children are raised without a decent education; some had come because of their concern that land is neglected, that too many invasive plant species are attacking beloved Virginia acreages.
We have to change the earth, went the conversation in one of the ten-person working groups. We cannot make that change, it was said, without significant changes in social justice. When hearing the pope speak of “the cry of the earth”, one woman noted that the United States is “the only country on earth that is denying climate change.” Another participant noted that “we in America are the world’s one percent.”
An accompanying claim to these thoughts was that the wealthy in our society could do more for both the climate and the poor. Another allied claim: pharmaceutical companies are targeting poor people; making money off those who are poverty-stricken.
There is a lot of denial about climate change, it was reported. And a lot of ignorance abroad in the land about this change. But, it was emphasized, there is a big difference between the two; denial is deliberate.
We as a society need to give poor people more opportunities, more choices in life. We need to teach people how to help themselves. We will have no environmental justice without social justice. They go together. To do this, it was proposed, we will have to change our culture.
Folks had things to say about Rappahannock County. One, there’s not enough public transportation. There isn’t any, as a matter of fact. There is an antipathy towards affordable housing. There is disincentive in Virginia as a whole against solar power and other alternative energies.
When the pope speaks of the poor, he could well be talking about women everywhere. Women, it was noted in the groups, suffer a high rate of poverty. They need education and they need more micro-loans, which are being successful in many places overseas. Another Rappahannock note: we have a healthy volunteer culture here: one transplant from Arlington, Virginia, noted that the government there does many of the things that we do here purely with volunteers.
A number of speakers talked of “embracing the poor.” The woman who first said that did so with an arms-open gesture, seeming to reach out and gather in the very souls of the less fortunate.
Lots of folks had ideas. One — maybe more — spoke of running for office. Some spoke about working to improve the public schools. No change without social change, without structural change seemed to be thoughts arising in many if not all of the groups. We need, went another allied thought, carbon taxes.
If the afternoon had a topical sentence, it would be this question: how can we empower our leaders to understand poor people? Came one answer: invite Al Gore to Rappahannock County.
Which brings us to this invitation: the next Conversation is scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. The time is 3:30 pm, but it is a good idea to arrive early to get a good parking place and maybe to help set up the chairs. See you at the Washington Fire Hall.
Now, since you are curious about the song that Pope Francis would, I am sure, be delighted to hear, imagine Judy Reidinger at the microphone, and the tune is from the old NBC show “The Week That Was” when Nancy Ames sang “They’re rioting in Africa …” Remember that? Well, that is the melody. Here are some of Judy’s lyrics:
The polar bears are drowning, la la la la la la la.,
Too bad for our Mother Earth, la la la la la la,
But here’s what we need to ask la la la la la la la,
What’s a home for our children worth?
This Conversation, like the one in February and the one to come in April, was organized by Beverly Hunter of RappFlow, by Russ Savage of the Universalist Unitarians of Sperryville, by the Green Team of St. James Episcopal Church in Warrenton, and by Father Tuck Grinnell, pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in Washington VA.
[This article is part of a series covering the entire five-month long conversation. A complete list of the articles can be found here.]
photos and text by Jed Duvall, Amissville