A Million Leaps of Faith
Appeal for the two coordinated Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion rallies in Oslo, 21 September 2020
My name is Martin. I’m a philosopher, lecturer, researcher, writer, an artist, but most importantly, I’m a dad to a six-year-old child. I’m also a bonus dad to two beautiful boys.
Very soon, and sooner than I can dare to imagine … and bear to imagine, these children will ask me that one question I so dread: “Is everything going to be alright? Are we going to solve this crisis?”
I dread the day they will ask me this because in all honesty, any answer I can come up with involves heartbreak. Do I tell them about the rage? The existential dread? The despair? The grief? Do I mention the daily litany of losses – Californian fires spreading their ashes even to Germany, tropical storms too numerous for our alphabet, or numbers of wild animals collapsing across all continents?
I think I will tell them a story. A story that involves not only broken hearts, and, in fact, not only broken necks, but a story that is more profoundly a story of love. Love as something more than a romantic feeling. Love as the grounding, the fundamental orientation towards existence as co-existence. I will tell them a story I came across in Washington State, while I was researching indigenous resistance and rewilding initiatives on the Elwha River.
Here’s how it goes.
Life ever wants to live
One hundred years ago, a hydropower dam was built into the Elwha River, to bring “peace, power, and civilization” to the American West. Imagine ten thousand fish, salmon, coming back from the ocean to spawn. Ten thousand river-intelligences, each so powerful, they can leap even against gravity. But on that day, the dam blocked their homecoming. Piped water thundered. The salmon had never encountered that dam. They had also never done anything but leap against obstacles. They leapt, and they leapt. They did not stop. Nothing ever stopped them. But the dam was too tall. They crushed their heads trying. They colored the river red with their blood. Every single one died trying.
A full century passed. Every year the fish returned. Every year they leapt. Every year they crushed their heads. Every year they bled to death. The urge to leap was so powerful a thought, stopping simply remained unthinkable.
I will say to our children: What the fish showed that day was this: life ever wants to live. Life ever yearns to unfold into deeper relationship, reciprocity, inwardness, interbeing. The biosphere is more than carbon cycles; it is more than ‘resources’, ‘biomass’ or ‘planetary boundaries’: The biosphere is a web of meaningful forms, gestures, poetic expressions. This planetary sphere of life is value that has taken form as the breathing bodies of salmon, ash tree, chanterelle, golden eagle, wolf.
I will say to our children: When those salmon leapt against the structures of our techno-civilization, they brought with them a clear political message, a clear baseline for strategy.
Here it is:
Actions that celebrate, honor, or guard life matter as an existential expression of aliveness. They matter as a courageous reorientation toward Being as Being-in-relationship. They matter because simply by being enacted, they already create what Charles Eisenstein calls “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” Actions that celebrate, honor, or guard life may be politically inopportune. They may be economically sidelining. They may be socially stigmatizing. They may be personally defeating. They may starve our bellies, silence our voices, drain our hearts, break our necks. But every one of them matters.
For the salmon on the Elwha River in Washington State, a full century came and went. Their numbers collapsed. Yet they leapt. And they leapt. And then in 2012, after more than 100 years, the impossible happened: the Elwha River Dam was dismantled, in what made international headlines as the world’s largest dam removal, anywhere, ever. Only weeks after the dam had been taken down, the salmon were once again leaping. This time, there was no stopping them. They instantly got to business, journeying, making new life, co-creating once again a more vibrant, more robust, more diverse, more beautiful existence.
“Is everything going to be alright, Papa? Are we going to solve this crisis?”
Let’s be clear: The old story of humans as separate from and above all life is a dam that will not hold forever. That story creates power for the privileged and brings dying to the many. It may seem like it’ll never crumble. But just like physical dams can and will be breached, the dams of human hearts can and will be breached. The dams of the imagination can and will be breached. The dams of the power structures that keep us from creating life-affirming societies can and will be breached. All it takes is a million leaps of faith. All it takes is a million leaps of commitment. All it takes is a million acts of love. All it takes is a million sacrifices. All it takes is a million acts to make sacred again our countless bonds as humans with the more-than-human commonwealth of Being.
And let us remember that we are not alone in this struggle. We have allies. Through this living Earth, the universe has infected itself with a wanting deeper than human affairs. Life is an unstoppable cascade of wanting that washes and spills and surges and flows round and round this planet, a river of ever-unfolding possibility. Life is a round river that will not be forever dammed. Life will keep on sprouting, spawning, blossoming, hatching, rejuvenating, rebirthing, rewilding, reimagining itself. That which is already surging and leaping and running up against the physical and metaphysical dams of the human-centered lifeworld is none other than life itself, raucous, untamable, feral life, wanting to live. Depending on where our allegiances lie, this may be warning or pledge: Life will not be contained or dammed forever. Really, it never has been.
So we will leap, in rage and in love. Now as ever, our commitment to leap is so powerful a thought, stopping simply remains unthinkable.
“The end”, writes Pacific West Coast poet Gary Snyder,
the end is,
grace – ease –
healing, not saving.
the proof of the power within.
Thank you to each one of you for your commitment.