Personal update from Steve Norris: Fasting At FERC

Steve photo 1_20_15Fasting this week at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has reminded me repeatedly of the some words from one of my favorite poems by Wislawa Symborska (Polish poet who won Nobel Prize).

It’s called ” A Few Words on Soul”:

“Joy and sorrow
aren’t two different feelings for it (soul).
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

We can count on it
when we’re sure of nothing
and curious about everything.”

Today, Saturday,  we are in the fifth day of our 18 day water-only fast. At present the whole thing is a mystery.  It’s one big leap of faith into a void that many have warned me not to enter – faith that doing this, depriving myself of food for a time, will teach me and others important lessons I need to know, and perhaps get the attention of FERC and other powers that be in a way our year-long protests, arrests, disruptive actions inside FERC, letters, and meetings have not done.

Also, the experience so far is one or both joy and sorrow: There is the great exuberation and learning that comes from working and fasting daily alongside people with rock-solid determination to challenge climate change and its attendant economic, social and racial injustices. And the exhileration each time I see a stranger’s eyes light up and they say something like :”thank you for being so bold. Please keep it up.” Then too there is the sadness of  dealing daily with the reality that millions of people (the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and emigrants from Syria, for example) are already dealing with the impacts of climate change, and that nothing in the short term is going to stop their uprooting and pain, and that ultimately my own granchildren and great grandchildren may be similarly impacted.

Because I’m sure of nothing, and unable yet to discern the meaning of this, I can only share vignettes of my experiences while being part of this community of courageous fasters who are not eating any food, who live for 10-11 hours per day on the sidewalk in front of FERC, who try in a friendly manner to engage both FERC employees (there are 1500) and passersby (there are many) in conversation, which we do with signs, banners, handouts, friendly greetings and just being present.

So here’s some things that have moved me:
  • As I was unloading my truck at 7 am this morning, a woman I had never seen before walked up to me and said “thanks so much for your work here. It is so important. How long will you be here? And is there anything I can do to help.” Many passersby, after reading our banner and the white boards explaining our presence, have done similar things
  • A 71 year old FERC employee approached me, starting the conversation with :”They’ve told us not to talk with you, but I’m going to anyway.” We talked for about 30 minutes about energy policy, fossil fuels and alternative energy. He understands the science of climate change, but feels that alternative energy is not reliable enough, and therefore we have to risk overheating the planet to obtain reliability.
  • Unlike him, many FERC employees will not even give us eye contact even when we say “hello, how are you doing?” This morning we experimented a little with opening doors for them. We are hoping that our 3 week simple and friendly presence here will degrade some of their resistance to us. Who knows?
  • Yesterday I walked up to a guy I had seen before but not talked to. “How are you?” I asked. “I’m not supposed to talk with you,” he replied. “So do you work at FERC.” “Yeah” “What do you do?” “I work at FERC”. “So you can’t tell me where.” “No”. “So what do you think about our fast.” “I’m not supposed to talk to you.” “Why’s that?” “Dunno.”  My conversation with him continued like this for maybe 20 minutes. This could be great material for a comedy routine. Anyone want to put it together?
  • Flash mobs. We did two in support of a group of about 150 Grandparents from Elders Climate Action. At 8:30 Thursday morning in the mammoth Rotunda of Union Station 200 of us sang and danced to the Climate Change Anthem (“We’ve got to Wake Up, We’ve got to wise up, We’ve got to open our eyes and do it now, now now, etc.”). Then again at noon in the cafeteria of the Longworth House of Representatives Office Building as Congressmen and staff sat around eating. We dispersed after two minutes of this just as 10 capitol police descended on the lunchroom wondering what had happened and how we had so quickly melted into the crowds.
  • We have several visitors every day, friends and activists who live in the area, passersby who want to talk more, people who have heard about what we are doing and want to know more, a couple of musicians who sing for us. Their visits are warm and energizing. The outpouring of support is phenomenal. Several people have asked me what can they do for me, which is deeply moving. My first response is “bring me some food.” But I have to then add that I’m joking. My needs are pretty minimal right now, only a gallon of water and some electrolytes every day.
  • One of the greatest joys and challenges is getting to know the other fasters who are a diverse group of people.  a 19year old from California who’s just beginning to explore activism, a 26 year old woman from Connecticut who after this fast will go to Rome and then walk 900 miles to Paris for the next UN Climate Conference in December; a couple of 60 year old nomads who spend their lives walking the roads and mountains of the US; a couple of older “professional” activists who have been working for social justice forever; a 30 year old social media guru who has visited more front line communities fighting fossil fuels than anyone I know; and so on. Mostly we work well together, though like any small group that is this dependent on one another and has important decisions to make which affect everyone collectively and personally, we have to struggle to arrive at consensus sometimes, or at least near consensus.

There’s much more of course I could share, but I think this is enough for now. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers, and when you find light shining on mystery, please let me know what that means. And when you can’t find the light, revel in the uncertainty, and teach me how to do the same.

Love, Steve