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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.

Leonard Higgins 1

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.

 

 

Giving Everyone a Place at the Table

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This past Friday, Bill Moyers hosted a conversation of the type we need to hear more often on the problem of hunger in America. The program featured a long interview with Kristi Jacobson and Mariana Chilton that revolved around their new documentary, A Place at the Table, which Jacobson directed and produced and in which Chilton plays a prominent role. Though I have not yet seen the film myself, Moyers calls it “one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen in years.” Continue reading

The Values That Guide Us

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, also known as “food stamps,” comes up for renewal every five years as part of the federal farm bill. Normally, its passage is a routine matter that engenders little debate. This year, however, things worked out differently. Different versions of the bill were recently brought up for a vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, both versions tagged with signs of the Right’s fierce austerity campaign. The bill approved by the Senate would cut food stamps by $4 billion over the next ten years. The bill considered by the House proposed slashing funding for SNAP by $20.5 billion over a ten-year period. The House bill was defeated this past Thursday (June 19th), but the reason it went down was because a cluster of Republicans, convinced the cuts did not go far enough, voted against it. The ultimate fate of the farm bill is not yet knowable, but one thing is clear: families that depend on SNAP would suffer greatly from such severe cuts.
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A New Slate of Projects–Part 4

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is the fourth and final part of the four-part series on BGR projects approved for fiscal year 2013–14. We here provide overviews of our three U.S. projects, all new partnerships. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ for preparing the material.

19. New York City: Feeding a Hunger for Meaning  NEW

Reciprocity-Homeless Not Hopeless

Homeless But Not Hopeless

The Reciprocity Foundation was established in 2006 to address the plight of homeless youth in New York City. In 2011, RF opened the first Holistic Center for Homeless Youth in the U.S., offering homeless youth personal counseling, vocational training, and college preparatory coaching along with meditation, yoga, and retreats. When they found that the homeless students were arriving hungry and unable to focus, RF started a vegetarian meal program in 2012 called “Starved for Meaning.” Meals at the program are prepared collectively and served “family-style,” with a moment of gratitude before the meal.The meal fulfilled the students’ hunger for other things besides food: for community, dialogue, gratitude, and meaning. Our first project with the Reciprocity Foundation provides funding to increase the capacity of the vegetarian meal program from 30 to 75 students weekly. As part of the program, the number of weekly communal meals will be doubled from 2 to 4, the kitchen will be upgraded, and a nutritionist will be hired to ensure balanced and nutritious vegetarian meals.

20. New York City: The Urban Community Food Project  NEW

New York_Urban Rebuilding

Growing Food in the Heart of the City

 The Urban Rebuilding Initiative is a community-based organization established  in New York City to give  low-income New Yorkers a chance to rebuild their neighborhoods and their lives. In August 2011 URI started the Urban Community Food Project, with the mission of building a sustainable food system throughout the City in order to address poverty, food insecurity, and high incarceration rates in low-income communities. The Food Project will train at-risk youth, young adults, and formerly incarcerated men to convert urban spaces in local neighborhoods into food production sites. Trainees will be taught how to build and maintain food systems that will supply fresh produce to community safety-net programs. The Food Project’s goal for 2013 is for each of three farms to produce 2000 pounds of produce per year for local food pantries and soup kitchens. The use of aqua-ponics and solar energy will permit the growth of winter crops. BGR funds will partially support the procurement of equipment and supplies to construct the first garden at Tried Stone Baptist Church. 

21. Santa Clara County: Building Organic Home Gardens          NEW

Verde Valley, picture and quote

Esperanza: “I feel good about growing my own food.”

Due to the devastating recession, for many immigrant and Latino residents in Santa Clara County, California, food insecurity is a hard fact of daily life. In Gilroy, where 63% of the population is low income, there is only one healthy food resource for 4,000 people. Valley Verde was launched in 2009 (and registered as a nonprofit in 2011) to  increase self-sufficiency and healthy eating among Santa Clara’s low-income immigrants and people of color. VV teaches organic gardening skills. By the end of Year 2 in its pilot program (2010) , 83% of families enrolled had healthy gardens and 91% reported increased vegetable consumption. The new project being sponsored by BGR will recruit and support 60 low income residents of Gilroy to cultivate and maintain organic home gardens. VV will use BGR funds to purchase seedlings for winter and spring planting and to purchase planks of untreated redwood to build raised beds for participant families. Participants will acquire organic gardening and leadership skills and nutritional knowledge through monthly garden club meetings, mentoring, and recruitment and training of future mentors.

Concluded

Time to Draw a Line in the Tar Sands

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The impact of climate change on global food security is sure to be one of the most critical issues we’ll be facing in the years ahead. Since agricultural productivity depends on a stable and congenial climate, we cannot tamper with the climate without jeopardizing the world’s food supply. Over the past decade we’ve seen how a warming climate has triggered long droughts, violent hurricanes, torrential storms, and searing heat waves, reducing yields of essential food commodities. Policy expert Lester Brown writes ominously: “Extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth’s rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread, eventually bringing down our social system.”[1]

As an organization dedicated to the battle against hunger and malnutrition, Buddhist Global Relief is deeply concerned with how we’re altering the climate. In our view alleviating hunger calls not merely for acts of philanthropy but also for a vigorous effort to counteract the forces responsible for hunger, among which global warming is now the most formidable. Tackling climate change requires in the first place a commitment to honesty and truth. We can’t hide behind the mask of denial and we can’t afford the luxury of delay. We have to recognize that the primary cause of global warming is human behavior: our carbon-driven economy, our frenzied consumerist culture, and the hunger of fossil fuel corporations for ever greater profits.
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Bussing for a More Just Budget

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On his PBS program Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently featured a segment about the “Nuns on the Bus” tour that took place this summer when a group of Catholic nuns boarded a brightly lettered bus and zigzagged their way across nine states, from Iowa to Washington, D.C. The nuns had set out on a two-week journey of faith and compassion, seeking to draw national attention to the plight of the poor. Their purpose was not so much to inspire people to acts of private charity as to ring the bell for social justice. Their specific target was the federal budget passed this spring by the House of Representatives, crafted by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, a Tea Party hero now the Republican candidate for vice-president.

The ostensible objective of the House budget is to forge “a path to prosperity” by cutting government spending and thereby getting the federal deficit under control. But was this the real aim the budget’s proponents had in their hearts? Budgets are usually written in an arcane jargon that only trained economists can understand, but the nuns had evidently done their homework and had realized what the budget would do. They could see that behind its claim to serious fiscal responsibility, the budget would actually bolster the wealth of the ultra-rich while passing on the bill to just about everyone else.
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An Oasis of Safety for Kids in Port-au-Prince

Jennifer Russ

The cameras and reporters may have moved on to other stories, but the people of Haiti affected by the 2010 earthquake have not been forgotten. A report from the What If? Foundation details the support that BGR’s grant has provided for the children of the Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood in Port-au-Prince: 17,000 meals over the course of six months, or over 2,800 meals per month, cooked by volunteers in a calm, safe environment that children enjoy.

The food program, known as Lamanjay in Haitian Creole, has not been without its challenges. In the first part of 2012, the program’s vehicle was inoperative. Luckily, the food program team found a man with a “tap tap” (a brightly painted independent taxi) who helped them transport the food. Another challenge has arrived along with the Haitian rainy season, which forces the cooking team to operate in a leaky temporary structure with a tarp-covered tin roof. The What If? Foundation hopes 2012 will see the construction of a new permanent kitchen and cafeteria.

Despite these challenges, the success of the program is evident in the calm order of the daily routine. Children arrive an hour before food is served to clean tables and sweep the floor with child-sized brooms. They then wait patiently for their food.  When they are finished they give up their seats to other children and take their plates to be washed. Although these children face poverty and hardships every day, Lamanjay allows them a couple of hours of safety and peace and a place where they can fill their bellies, forget their worries, and be children, if only for a little while. Continue reading