Category Archives: Social justice

BGR’s 4th Concert to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

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On Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 7:00 p.m., legendary saxophonist David Liebman, bassist Larry Grenadier, singer/songwriter Rebecca Martin, jazz and blues vocalist Sandra Reaves-Phillips, drummer Winard Harper, organist Akiko, and pianist Mijiwa Miyagima celebrate International Jazz Day as headlining artists at Buddhist Global Relief’s 4th annual Concert To Feed The Hungry. The Concert To Feed the Hungry perpetuates the global diversity of jazz in Harlem.

This annual concert, produced by jazz saxophonist Dan Blake, brings together an all-star lineup of leading jazz artists with a global mission to assist impoverished communities around the world. Buddhist Global Relief sponsors projects around the world that help poor communities overcome hunger and malnutrition and provides education for women and girls in at-risk communities.

The day-long event will commence with 2 music workshops organizaed by Jazzmobile and The New Heritage Theatre Group.

Visit www.concerttofeedthehungry.org for more information about the concert and the artists.

Ending Extreme Poverty by 2030: A New Initiative

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

HKI-Bangladesh Markets

Over the past few months, global leaders representing a wide spectrum of faith communities collaborated on a  project convened by the World Bank Group to send forth a collective moral call to end extreme poverty by 2030, a goal development experts consider feasible. The group worked together to draft a narrative titled “Ending Extreme Poverty: A Moral and Spiritual Imperative,” due to be officially released tomorrow (April 9th) at noon EDT. The statement, which grounds the imperative to end extreme poverty in humankind’s spiritual and religious traditions, should open a new front in our global efforts to create a more just and equitable world, a world that works for everyone.

Buddhist Global Relief has been an integral partner in this project, whose aim corresponds to our own guiding vision: “the vision of a world in which debilitating poverty has finally been banished; a world in which all can avail themselves of the basic material supports of a meaningful life.” I had the privilege of serving as a member of the committee responsible for drafting the statement and helped to ensure that the final formulation would be acceptable to Buddhists as well as to representatives of the monotheistic faiths.

According to the document, achieving the goal of ending extreme poverty will take two commitments: to be guided by the evidence of what works, and to use our voices to compel and challenge others to join in this urgent cause. While meeting the first commitment will be the task of policy experts, members of the faith communities must rise to the second. To fulfill our responsibility we must continually insist that no one suffers the indignities of chronic hunger, destitution, homelessness, and medical neglect. We must affirm that everyone has an intrinsic human right to sufficient nutritious food, shelter, medical care, and a sustainable environment. And we must do more than speak; we must also demand and inspire concrete action.

The document calls for a holistic approach, proposing that we go beyond mere cosmetic patches to tackle the underlying causes of poverty, including preventable illness, lack of access to quality education, joblessness, corruption, and violent conflicts. It calls for an end to discrimination against women, ethnic minorities and other groups, and demands that women and girls be able to enjoy the same basic human rights as men. It also highlights the need to mitigate climate change and combat extreme inequality, both of which increase the extent and severity of poverty.

The narrative proposes a deep systemic shift, calling on the global community to move away from a paradigm that focuses narrowly on the quest for ever-expanding profits toward “a new paradigm of socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.” It sees faith and spirituality as playing an essential role in facilitating this transition, which must be “rooted in the spiritual visions of our respective faiths, and built on a shared recognition of the intrinsic dignity and value of every life on Earth.” It reminds us that our faiths tell us that “the moral test of our society is how the weakest and most vulnerable are faring.”

A media teleconference with global faith leaders and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on the call and commitment to end extreme poverty will be held on Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 12 p.m. EDT. Call-in information is as follows:

Within the US and Canada –
Free phone/Toll Free Number: 888-469-1378
International number: 1-415-228-3891
Participant passcode: 1619782

Small Is Not Only Beautiful … It May Be the Key to Our Survival!

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As climate change advances ever more ominously and leads us closer to climate chaos, the key to reducing carbon emissions may lie not in ambitious market-based solutions but in a transformation of the dominant model of food production.

Members of peasant farmers group La Via Campesina demonstrating outside the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. (Photo: Friends of the Earth International)

Last month the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced that it had moved the hand of its Doomsday Clock ahead from five minutes to three minutes before midnight, a decision due to the unchecked advance of climate change and the modernization of nuclear weapons systems. At almost the same time, the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. They also pointed out that the previous ten hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998.

These revelations that our survival as a species–or at least as a civilization–is in jeopardy add to the urgency of the UN’s climate conference, COP 21, to be held in Paris next December. While hopes ride high that a rigorous and legally binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions will finally emerge in Paris, it would be a mistake to assume we can just sit back and trust negotiators to devise an effective accord on their own. We should never underestimate the power of the fossil fuel corporations and their allies. Time and again, at COP conferences from Copenhagen to Lima, they have used their influence to dash hopes and shatter promises, and it’s unlikely they will keep aloof from the talks in Paris. Strong pressure, indeed relentless pressure, will be necessary to prevail against them. 

Even without the meddling of the fossil fuel agents, high-level climate summits seldom deviate from the premises of free-market economics. They always assume that growth is essential to a sound economy, despite the fact that the relentless pursuit of production and consumption is pushing the earth to its geophysical limits. A durable solution to the climate crisis requires not only technological ingenuity but new ways of thinking. It must flow from an organic understanding of the place of human beings in the biosphere, one consistent with hard fact, not with greed and ambition.  Our assumption that we’re a  privileged species entitled to exploit the earth’s natural treasures for our own advancement lies at the root of the crisis. We need instead a vision committed to both ecological sustainability and economic and social justice. We have to realize that we are an integral part of the earth’s web of life, and as such must accept our humble place within the whole. At the same time, we must enable  human communities to flourish in harmony with each other and the natural world. In short, we must shift our priorities away from the pursuit of endless economic growth toward an affirmation of the integral human good, which involves both a thriving natural world and social justice for the human population.

One key to meeting both objectives at the same time lies in transforming our models of agriculture. Roughly half of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and food production, which currently depend on fossil fuels for energy, chemical inputs, transportation, and preservation. Few proposals to mitigate climate change brought forward at international meetings take account of the close correlation between climate change and agriculture, yet the connection has been strongly emphasized by Oxfam, the World Resources Institute, the Earth Policy Institute, and peasant organizations around the world.

The international peasant movement, Via Campesina, which has more than 250 million members worldwide, contends that the market-based policies offered to reduce carbon emissions—policies such as REDD and Climate-Smart Agriculture–not only fail to sufficiently cut emissions but also undermine the interests of small-scale farmers and indigenous populations. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) allows corporations and rich industrialized nations to purchase tracts of forest in the global South to offset the carbon they release at home. Spokespersons for Via Campesina hold this program permits these major emitters to continue releasing high levels of carbon in their own countries while gaining nominal credit for reductions they promote elsewhere. Since carbon emissions cannot be sealed off within their lands of origin, this policy, they argue, is closer to sleight-of-hand magic than to a real solution.

Climate-Smart Agriculture, another strategy advanced to stem global warming, basically takes the tenets of REDD and applies them to farmland. Climate-Smart Agriculture seeks to impose new biotechnology on farmers around the world—genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers—creating yet another wave of dependency on markets. Investors from the global North receive carbon credits for their contribution to Climate-Smart Agriculture projects in the global South, thus increasing speculation within the food system by expanding its profit value. Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian Via Campesina leader, says: “There’s absolutely nothing smart about it. The climate crisis is rooted in capitalism, which is also in crisis as an economic system. Entrepreneurs are trying to emerge from this crisis, and as a way of doing so are creating green capitalism, of which Climate-Smart Agriculture is typical.”

Via Campesina and its allies hold that solving the climate crisis requires replacing the industrial model of agriculture with an alternative that respects the planet’s natural limits and takes advantage of its restorative capacities. The model they propose revolves around the twin principles of food sovereignty and agroecology. Food sovereignty holds that rural working people and their urban counterparts, not corporations and market interests, should be at the center of the global food system.  Agroecology, the practice for realizing food sovereignty, makes use of ecological methods that have proved their worth over many generations. Though fears have been expressed about its ability to produce sufficient food, Olivier de Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, allays these fears in his March 2011 report to the Human Rights Council: “Agroecology can double food production in entire regions within ten years, while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty.”

Whereas the prevailing food system subordinates the environment to the market economy, the model of food sovereignty corrects this “inversion” by viewing the economy as a subsidiary of the planet’s larger ecosystem. The model respects the earth’s natural limits and also seeks to promote true human flourishing. Rather than looking on the food system as a source of profit, the ideal of food sovereignty is to empower the small-scale farmers who actually produce the food. It sees “small” not only as beautiful but as an essential key to our survival.

The commitment to food sovereignty unites two needs that often pull us in opposite directions: environmental sustainability and social justice, the need to block the advance of climate change and to eradicate extreme poverty, especially in rural communities.  Thus, to meet these twin goals, a shift in energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy must be matched by a corresponding shift in agriculture, from one that extols the big and wealthy to one that respects the potentials of  small-scale farmers. As Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the Haitian Via Campesina leader, says: “Peasant agriculture can feed the world and cool the planet.”

Girls in India as Agents of Change

by BGR Staff

BGR is presently sponsoring a project by the Bodhicitta Foundation in Nagpur, India, that has created a girls hostel to prepare girls for a better future. The hostel is accommodating thirty girls from extremely poor families, training them as social workers who will eventually return to their villages and become agents of change. At the end of January we received a half-year report from the Foundation. Below are highlights.

Adolescent girls in India make up a large percent of an invisible and vulnerable population. Prevailing cultural customs in India’s patriarchal society leave them powerless to decide their own future and disregard their potential as autonomous agents. Families traditionally favor male children, who are better fed and given preferential educational opportunities. Girl children are subject to gender-based discrimination. They are often denied an education but are instead forced into early marriage and child-bearing even before they outgrow their teen years. Investing in education for girls can be one of the most potent weapons in the fight for greater social justice. Educating girls can help alleviate poverty and the ignorance that leads to oppression of poor girls and women.

The focus of this Bodhicitta project is to enhance the education of adolescent girls. The project provides 30 girls with scholarships and hostel accommodations for three years. It trains them as health care and social workers or in other related fields of interest. These girls will become agents of change who will eventually return to their own villages, ready to empower other disadvantaged people and enable them to become self-sufficient.

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The girl’s hostel has 30 girls in residence, coming from Bihar, Maharashtra, and Nagpur. The girls, aged 10–22, are studying in nearby schools or doing university degrees by correspondence. When the girls first arrived at the hostel, many were so shy they could not speak in a group. Some were undernourished. Others suffered from worms, iron deficiency, head lice, and other conditions. Slowly the girls learned the routine at the hostel and developed their ability to study and focus. Now they can’t wait for the classrooms to open so they can practice their computer skills, play group development games, and share their opinions. On Saturday night the girls watch movies about inspiring people such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Gandhi. But what they enjoy most are Bollywood movies with fantastical plots, wonderful costumes, and lots of dancing!

Their growing confidence, laughter, and joy in learning is a privilege made possible by the kind volunteers and donors of Buddhist Global Relief.

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One hostel resident named Anjali, age 19, writes:

At home I spend all day serving my father, who drinks and is bedridden. Sometimes I felt like committing suicide because all my dreams for a better future were impossible. But since I found the hostel, I feel so happy. I have never been able to focus on my studies like this. I also really enjoy the extra programs like computers, counseling, classical dance and yoga. I feel myself growing in confidence. I never thought a woman’s life could be like this. Now I feel that I can be stronger in the future and secure employment and a better life. I hope I can get a good job and help my family and our community. But most of all I look forward to being independent.

Another resident, Nikki, age 14, reviews her experience:

My mother is a sex worker. Last year she was sent to jail. My father is an alcoholic and drug user. My brother and I were often alone in the house. We had no food and had to beg neighbors to give us something to eat. My father sold our food to get drugs. Some friends of my father came to the house and tried to molest my brother when I was away. I was afraid I would have to become a sex worker like my mum. I had given up all hope of having a normal happy life. How can you think about study when your brother is in danger and your father threatens to sell you?! Ever since I can remember I have had to fight for life, fight for food, fight to be safe, fight to be heard. Bodhicitta Foundation is like paradise for me. I am happy my brother is in boarding school, although he is still very naughty. I know this is my one chance to make sure I don’t end up married to a laborer or working like my mum. If you don’t have education people will cheat you, you will be a slave your whole life. I feel so safe and free here. I hope to become a social worker and activist. I want women to get good jobs and have better lives. Thank you for helping me!

As part of the project Bodhicitta has funded a small community center. This center provides vocational training, training in life skills and capacity building, counseling on domestic violence and sexual abuse, family and relationship counseling, meditation and yoga, and internet facilities. The center continues to offer tuition to slum children, meals to undernourished children, and vocational training to women.

Women receive loans and education to enhance their business acumen and empower them to start their own businesses. The income gained will directly increase the well-being of their children, families and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates offers health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum.

Kunta Bhai, age 43, a sewing course participant, writes:

My husband and mother-in-law threw me out on the street. I had nowhere to go and no education. Through the sewing course I can get piecework for shops and make more money than collecting recyclables from garbage. Meeting other women and hearing their problems gives me hope and comfort. After so much pain, meeting with the women in my micro-finance group once a month is like having a family. We cook for each other and help watch each other’s kids. I feel happy and more optimistic about my future now. I hope my daughter will finish college and have opportunities I haven’t had.

  Jessie Benjamin contributed to the writing of this article.

 

 

 

Many Americans Don’t Get Enough Food

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

While the United States proclaims itself the land of limitless opportunity, the shining “nation on a hill” where dreams of prosperity and success become true, the reality on the ground often belies this pastel rhetoric. The reason for this failure is not lack of resources but policies determined by voodoo economics and rabid cruelty. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. Too many workers are earning poverty-level wages. Too many programs that provide critical assistance to the neediest of our fellow citizens are being cut. Yet the big shots in Congress, who lecture the poor about the need to work hard, still subscribe to the belief that cutting taxes for the rich and granting subsidies to big business will result in rising incomes for everyone else.

One of the most effective measures in assessing a country’s real economic health is the extent of food insecurity among its population. Figures from reliable sources indicate that a shocking number of Americans perpetually live in the shadows of hunger. Over 46 million Americans–roughly 1 in 7 people–are dependent on SNAP, the food stamps program, which has been in the crossfires of a radically regressive Congress. If funding for the program is cut still further, the number of SNAP recipients will go down while the number of people unable to obtain sufficient food will rise.

The 32nd Annual Report on Hunger and Homelessness, issued by the US Conference of Mayors, reveals the extent of hunger in America. Released this past December, the report is far from comprehensive. It covers only 25 major American cities, while much of the hunger in the US is found in rural areas and in smaller towns and cities. Nevertheless, despite this limitation, the report reveals enough to remind us that we need to get our house in order.

An article on the website Alternet entitled “Ten Cities Where an Appalling Number of Americans Don’t Have Enough Food” sums up the findings of the report. Of the 25 cities covered by the report, 71% said the number of requests for emergency food assistance had increased last year, while 82% reported that food pantries and kitchens had to cut the amount of food distributed per visit, and 77% had to turn people away due to lack of resources. In 2015, 84% of cities expect requests for food aid to increase, but many  food banks and pantries worry that they may not have the resources to meet these requests. At least 20% of the food being distributed last year came from federal funding (in Los Angeles, it was as high as 51%).

Food bank in San Francisco

The article surveys the ten cities mentioned in the mayors’ report as at the bottom with respect to hunger and food insecurity. The ten are: Memphis, San Antonio, San Francisco, Washington DC, Des Moines, Boston, Santa Barbara, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, and Norfolk. Memphis, known as “the hunger capital of the US,” had the worst hunger problem of the 25 cities included in the survey. Last year 46% of the city’s requests for emergency food assistance were unmet. The main causes for food insecurity in Memphis have been unemployment, low wages, and poverty. Twenty-six percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line. San Francisco, surprisingly, also has one of the country’s most critical hunger problems, partly due to the relatively high cost of living in the city. Last year 37% of the city’s requests for emergency food assistance were declined. The report predicts that in 2015, the need for food assistance in San Francisco “will increase substantially,” while funding for the city’s anti-hunger programs “will decrease substantially.”

The figures in the article indicate that those dependent on emergency food aid are not necessarily unemployed. Many have full-time jubs. The reason they require food aid is simply that their wages are too low. They also receive inadequate benefits and thus must meet health-care costs on their own. This traps them in a vicious cycle by which inadequate diets contribute to poor health, and payments for health care absorb earnings that might otherwise have been spent on better nutrition, thus undermining health.

Another article on Alternet predicts that the problem of hunger and food insecurity in the US will be further exacerbated when one million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut from SNAP by the end of 2016 even if they’re actively pursuing work. In some areas, SNAP will reinstate a three-month limit on benefits for unemployed adults who are not disabled or raising children. These people will lose their benefits even if they are unable to find jobs, unless they are enrolled in a job training program. Many states, however, do not have such programs even for those who seek training. Thus, despite their plight, such people will be turned away from the program.

It is said that the best way to evaluate the social health of a nation is how it treats the least among its citizens. On this criterion, the US has a long way to go to live up to its ideal of “with liberty and justice for all.”

Ecological Agriculture as the Key to Saving the Planet

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The two biggest challenges the world faces today are climate change and global hunger. These challenges are bound to escalate over the next decade, and if we’re to avoid unimaginable calamity they must be met headon. Though the two may appear distinct, in reality they’re joined at the hip. Thus if we’re to triumph over one we must also tackle the other.

One of the keys to a double solution lies in transforming the global food system. According to recent studies, the corporate-dominated food system is responsible for 44%– 57% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—a quantity larger than that of all the world’s vehicle traffic. A hotter climate in turn portends ill for our food supply. The heat waves, droughts, and monster floods unleashed by a warmer planet reduce crop yields, blocking efforts to feed a world population due to add 2 billion hungry mouths by 2050.

Girl in Cameroons Photo: COLEACP PIP

While the tie between agriculture and climate confronts us with a dilemma, agriculture experts have suggested that both problems can be ameliorated at one stroke by changing the dominant system of food production. What they propose is a pivot away from the focus on large-scale monocrop cultivation toward small-scale farming using agro-ecological techniques.

A short article recently published in the online journal GRAIN, authored jointly by GRAIN and the peasant movement La Via Campesina, argues the case for the advantages of traditional small-scale farming. The article dissects the industrial food system into six segments, describing the negative impact each has on our climate. It then proposes five steps for simultaneously cooling the planet and feeding its people. These proposals closely mesh with the types of projects promoted by Buddhist Global Relief.

The onslaught against the climate begins with deforestation, which razes the huge forest tracts that serve as major “carbon sinks,” sucking up vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in tree trunks, foliage, and the soil. The burning of felled trees and undergrowth aggravates the situation by discharging large quantities of CO2 back into the air. It’s estimated that deforestation accounts for 15–18% of GHG emissions.

Farming itself is directly responsible for 11-15% of emissions, most resulting from chemical imputs such as fertilizers and pesticides and from the use of oil to run farm machinery. The toxic chemicals, moreover, seep into the plants and soil and from the food into our bodies, to the detriment of our health.

The transportation of food, carried by ships and trucks back and forth across oceans and continents, accounts for 25% of global GHG emissions linked to transport and 5-6% of all carbon emissions.

Processing, the next step in the chain, transforms raw foods into commodities for sale in supermarkets and food shops. This requires an enormous input of energy, as does the packaging and canning of foods. Together, processing and packaging account for 8-10% of total GHG emissions.

To preserve the food for sale, it must be refrigerated, another energy-intensive process, which together with the retailing of foods adds 2–4% of carbon emissions.

Finally, the industrial food system discards as waste up to half the food it produces. Much spoilage occurs in storage or during the long journey from farm to plate, while in the developed world mountains of food are thrown out by supermarkets, restaurants, and homes. Food waste adds another 3.5–4.5% to GHG emissions.

Small farmer carrying bag of grain Photo: COLEACP PIP/Aurélien Chauvaud

The article proposes five steps “to cool the planet and feed its people,” all revolving around small-scale ecologically sustainable agriculture.

  1. Taking care of the soil. Where industrial agriculture destroys masses of the organic matter on arable lands, the traditional practices of small farmers have the opposite effect, capturing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil. Hence, if the right measures are adopted, this “would offset between 24-30% of all current global greenhouse gas emissions.”
  2. No use of chemicals. Small farmers know how to preserve the fertility of the soil without the chemical fertilizers that have fostered an unholy alliance between agricultural firms and chemical corporations. Such traditional techniques as diversified cropping, integration of crop and animal production, and planting of trees and wild vegetation on cropland help to improve soil fertility and and prevent soil erosion.
  3. Cut the transport, focus on fresh food. The article maintains that reorienting food production to local markets and fresh foods can dramatically cut carbon emissions. It neglects to mention, however, that livestock cultivation is responsible for some 18% of global carbon emissions (see “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” Executive Summary, p. xxi). Thus a transition from meat-based diets to plant-based diets would bring sharp drops in carbon emissions while making available for human consumption the vast amounts of grains and beans now used to feed animals. Since the animals are raised to provide meat for affluent people in the developed world, such a shift would also bring greater equity into the global food system.
  4. Give the land back to the farmers. Over the past half-century, 140 million hectares have been taken over by big estates to grow crops such as soybeans, oil palm, rapeseed, and sugar cane, all notorious emitters of greenhouse gases. Small farmers produce food more efficiently and in ways better suited to a finite planet. Thus, the article says, “a worldwide redistribution of lands to small farmers, combined with policies to help them rebuild soil fertility and policies to support local markets, can reduce GHG emissions by half within a few decades.”
  5. Forget false solutions, focus on what works. The false solutions include GMO crops, large geo-eningeering projects, and policies like carbon markets that allow the worst emitters to avoid cuts. Though these approaches are favored by big agro, biotech, and chemical firms, which all profit from them, the article contends that they do not work. The real solution, it holds, is “a shift from a globalized, industrial food system governed by corporations to local food systems in the hands of small farmers.” This suggestion is supported by independent studies. For instance, a study of 286 sustainable agriculture projects in 57 countries found an average yield increase of 79% (Oxfam, Growing a Better Future, p. 53).

As global civilization pushes back against the mounting threat of climate chaos, governments and innovators will be promoting clean technologies, green commodities, more fuel-efficient cars, and retrofitting of buildings. While these are essential parts of any solution, policymakers shouldn’t overlook the role of agriculture. Shifting support from the industrial model of food production to agro-ecological farming will not only reduce carbon emissions but regenerate soils, protect rivers and lakes from pollution by toxic chemicals and animal waste, and reaffirm the dignity of small-scale farmers. Such a shift will further help lift traditional farmers from poverty, thus enhancing their economic security and promoting social justice. It will also redefine our relationship to the natural world from one characterized by domination and exploitation toward one marked by deep care, reverence, and collaboration.

It is for such reasons that BGR sponsors projects that favor small-scale farmers and ecologically sustainable agriculture. We see these as critical both to our efforts to combat global hunger and to counter climate change, which poses such a grave danger to the world’s food supply. By promoting sustainable methods to tackle poverty and hunger, in our own small way we are helping to preserve a planet that will remain hospital to human flourishing.

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in the Climate Movement

Ven. Santussika Bhikkhuni

Last week the People’s Climate Train rolled across the country carrying 170 people to the People’s Climate March and about 200 Buddhist practitioners gathered to “Prepare the Heart to March” at New York Insight Meditation Center the day before the largest environmental action in human history. Both these events offer a glimpse into the diversity, determination and rapid growth of the climate movement.

Passengers on the People's Climate Train rolled through spectacular landscapes from coast to coast and participated in 50 workshops on climate

Passengers on the People’s Climate Train rolled through spectacular landscapes from coast to coast and participated in 50 workshops on climate

At 9:17 pm on September 18th, after a four-day trip across the continent, the People’s Climate Train rolled into New York’s Penn Station to the cheers of well-wishers and climate activists who turned up in numbers to welcome their fellow marchers to the Big City. The train brought climate activists and concerned citizens into New York for the People’s Climate March, to take place on September 21st.

The People’s Climate Train came into being because a few of us in the San Francisco Bay Area wished to bring as many people as possible from the West Coast to the march without racking up the carbon footprint of numerous flights to get there. We also quickly realized that by traveling together by train across the country, we could use our time to prepare ourselves, learn from each other, and develop fruitful relationships. The project exceeded our wildest dreams as people with amazing skills and experience signed up for the train and then created and participated in four days of workshops held from early morning to late at night.

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Workshops on the People's Climate Train

Workshops on the People’s Climate Train

Workshop themes ranged from political strategies like “Putting a Tax on Carbon,” “Divestment,” and “Money in Politics,” to reports on direct action in “Utah Tar Sands and Beyond” and “Indigenous Struggles against Keystone XL,” to skills training such as “Non-violent Direct Action 101″ and “Buddhist Meditation.” Inspiration and leadership were featured in workshops like “The Work that Reconnects” and the “Faith Leadership Panel,” while creative expression was explored in “Community Circle: Music and Poetry” and “Artful Activism and Art Station.”

The Faith Leadership Panel included voices from more than ten different faith groups. The indigenous elders on board spoke to us with a profound depth and great heart about our true place in the natural world and the imperative to connect to Spirit.

Young activists inspired everyone with the power and clarity of their messages. The diversity of cultures and ages among us —which ranged from the 20’s to the 80’s—revealed the growth in diversity of the climate movement.

All along the way, people met the Climate Train at station stops, with full-scale rallies in a few cities. There were even people waiting  in fields and meadows to wave and cheer us on as we passed.

3rd graders meet the climate train in Glenwood Springs

The Citizen Climate Lobby and a class of 3rd graders met the train in Glenwood Springs, CO

Denver Rally

An enthusiastic rally in Denver

We all meet on this one issue: our care about the future of humanity and all beings on Earth. We are reaching across boundaries and stretching beyond our personal limitations to heed the urgent call to action.

Besides helping with the People’s Climate Train, I joined the national table for People of Faith at the People’s Climate March, the purpose of which was to mobilize people of every faith in the country. Preparations included months of weekly conference calls led by Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of Green Faith. I was awed by the diversity and commitment of the faith leaders participating in this group. At first, it seemed as if we Buddhists were slow to respond, but in the end we showed up and rocked.

About 200 people gathered at New York Insight Meditation Center on the Saturday morning before the march. We heard inspiring words from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi on transforming our fear into saṃvega— the sense of urgency— and our desire into fearless compassion. David Loy encouraged a shift in our relationship to the body, self, and the Earth. Ayya Santacitta brought attention to the reality and immediacy of climate chaos, stressing that there is nowhere to hide. Rev. T.K. Nakagaki compared our pollution of the planet by nuclear waste to a house without a toilet, where waste accumulates here, there, and everywhere. Wes Nisker brought humor and lightness with his take on the mystery of our cosmological reality. Thanissara read from her profound poem, The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra.  And I reported on the Climate Train and encouraged investigation into the Pledge to Mobilize.

As a final touch, musicians from the People’s Climate Train joined us and rocked New York Insight with original songs from the train and our own rendition of “Sing for the Climate,” which is quickly becoming the anthem of the climate movement worldwide. In the space of three hours, we laughed, we cried and we got ready to march.

The next morning, on Sunday, September 21st, we saw just how concerned and committed people in the US and around the world are about taking quick and decisive action on climate change. Along with nearly 400,000 people marching in New York City, more than 2,600 other events took place in 162 countries. It is good to remember that for every person who participated, there were ten or more who would have liked to have been there but couldn’t. It is also good to recognize how diverse this movement has become, and how strong, diverse and unified the representation is from people of faith.

This is not the end. It is really just the beginning. We need to keep the pressure on to get the binding agreements for sharp reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions that are necessary. We need to do all we can to ensure that our government leaders follow through. We take this action on behalf of everyone that Buddhist Global Relief supports, many of whom are on the front lines of climate chaos, for all children and for all living beings. And, we need everyone’s help to do it.