Casa Laura Issue 1 July 2020

Being a Catholic Worker in a Time of Pandemics, BLM, and Climate Breakdown

by Heather Luna (age 49)

This was almost entitled, Hospitality in a Time of… but being a Catholic Worker isn’t limited to offering a home to someone. “Catholic Worker” is synonymous with Clarification of Thought and Resistance, along with Hospitality. I spend a lot of my time clarifying my thought on what it means to be an activist right now. How people can best respond to this confluence of crises.

I make presentations to other activists about the root cause of climate and ecological breakdown. That it is oppression. The very same cause of racism, sexism, adultism, classism, ageism, disablism. And although each of these kills untold numbers of people around the world, in one way or another, none of them have been treated as an emergency… until maybe now.

Extinction Rebellion, which began in London in October 2018, demanded that the UK government declare a climate emergency. Around the UK, and around the world, people began demanding the same of their local and national governments. They were willing to block roads and get arrested to demand that the impending disaster be named and addressed.

But they did not do the same for these other consequences of oppression. Why is that? And why wasn’t it recognised that people have been dying from climate and ecological breakdown for hundreds of years around the world? And many have been struggling against it for just as long?

The reason: we may call it patriarchy. A very intelligent teacher of mine, Miki Kashtan, describes patriarchy as a system based on scarcity, separation, and powerlessness. We are scared there is not enough (of anything good) to go around, so we separate from one another, and we feel powerless in changing this… or anything.

Some of us, (very few of us when compared with the billions in the world), have grown accustomed to a particular way of life. A life that keeps us in a bubble. The bubble includes espresso-based coffee drinks (or easy access to them), Apple technology (or easy access to it), and a belief (based on statistics) that we will likely live a long life and as will our children and grandchildren.

Go to nearly any town or city in England, though, and you will find that not everyone lives in that bubble. Life expectancy will be lower for certain demographics. Some people can’t afford bread, much less a cappuccino. Some people don’t have a place to sleep at night, much less access to an iPhone. Do they care about birds dying and thousands dying in floods? Deep down, of course. Do they have time, energy, presence of mind to be an activist for climate and ecological breakdown? Probably not.

Before October 2018, why weren’t we blocking roads, demanding the government offer people without homes, at the very least, hotel rooms? Demanding the government create a system that makes charity unnecessary?

The patriarchy. That sense of scarcity, separation, and powerlessness. And the antidote to those is, according to Miki Kashtan: generosity, solutions for all, and practicing choice.

Do we have spare bedrooms to share? Spare money sitting in bank accounts to share? Spare time to share? Spare food to share?

When we look at solutions to big issues, like climate breakdown, are we looking at solutions that will work for everyone? Or do we feel tempted by solutions that offer us our current standard of living, but delivered through a “green” capitalism… a capitalism that destroys indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and lives and lands through the thirst for lithium for our electric cars? Are we tempted by an authoritarian who promises to take care of “us”, the bubble people?

And do we trust others so much, saying, “They’ve done all the thinking; I just want them to tell me what to do,” rather than trust our own thinking and put the work into thinking critically about what is best for everyone? Do we prefer to vote every 4-5 years for a representative, or would we be willing to make decisions daily or weekly about how to care for one another in these scary and exciting times?

So being a Catholic Worker right now during these times of Covid and Breakdowns? It means being generous, being creative and intelligent, and being willing to use our power and privilege to look at appropriate and loving responses to what is going on right now. It means no longer waiting for the government to meet our demands, no longer wasting our time in making demands. It means working together to meet the needs of everyone in our community, no matter how difficult the government tries to make this. It means sharing information about symptoms and testing on a community level. It means taking an attitude of non-compliance when we know something the government or economic system tells us to do is not fair, not just (such as cutting off people from their utilities or evicting people). It means loving one another and encouraging one another to take matters into our own collective hands, leaving no one behind from the solutions we conjure up between us. It’s exciting. It’s been exciting to see people creatively respond to Covid, in the community and within businesses. Human brains were developed specifically for crises. We are good at this. Look at the numerous and limitless examples of how people come together when a disaster hits. This is human nature: innovative, compassionate, connected. The government and its economic elite masters don’t want us to get too heady with this disruption. They need us to get back to Business As Usual before we realise that there IS an alternative to this exploitative and extractive way of life. That we can offer hotels to people without homes. That we can offer money to people on a large scale in order to limit suffering. These are possible… as is so much more.

Let’s keep talking about the possibilities, clarifying our thoughts, resisting BAU, and keeping each other safe.

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