Here is the emotional tension in our story. Our actionists have a very fine balance to walk. There is tremendous strain between the need for action and its necessary preparation. The pull to decisive targets is set against the ethical weight of possible casualties. The desperate need for serious impact leads to a moral dilemma inherent in uncertain consequences. And there will be so many more dilemmas, some requiring decisions and offering no time except for regrets.
DEW will require sacrifices, some of them harsh and permanent. Our actionists may have to choose this work over love, family, friends. They will have to take recruitment seriously and security breaches even more seriously. They may have to go to prison for half a lifetime rather than turn on their comrades. They may have to risk their lives, and what’s often harder, the lives of others. There will be no heroes’ welcome, not for the nonindigenous. There will be secrecy and trauma and betrayal, and it will wear them to the bone.
But because this is our best hope, there’s also the possibility of victory. The strikes will be decisive, but the victory will be more like the slow search of roots through soil. From above, today looks no different than yesterday, but the roots don’t give up, not today, not the next day, or the next. Until finally the fragile filaments find water, and then all things are possible. You will find water when the answer is yes. You will find more water when six yeses meet to draw a map of the possible, a list of the tasks, an arrow aimed at the heart of hell. Strength is only half the pull. Steady your hands as you take aim. It will take a few months to let it loose. But that first arrow will be fletched with the feathers of passenger pigeons and great auks, and every flying thing will wish it home.
In six months, you’ve scored a few and lost a few, but you’re ready for more. More means your success has parlayed into recruitment and a small network is almost in place. In nine months, they’re trained. In ten, the need-to-know order ripples through. Two days later, the grid goes dead, the bridge comes down, the equipment sinks or burns up in the night. You have bought life on this planet—from the tiny green constancy of plankton to the patient grace of bison—a few more hours, maybe a day.
And the joy you weren’t expecting: across the continent or halfway around the world, someone else answers in kind, a “Yes” in the clear language of resistance. People you will never meet darken the sky above Berlin or Bangkok, light up the night in Fort McMurray, kill computers in the Bombay Stock Exchange. The war is on.
In a year you’ve crashed the grid twice; the Forest Brigade has taken out equipment and roads, two factories, and a nice chunk of Plum Creek’s corporate headquarters. And Fish Defense got the Swan’s Falls and Minidoka dams. Twelve are dead, three have been captured. And the response by those in power has been swift, severe, and indiscriminate. Two hundred people have disappeared, taken by the police or by corporate goons. Some may be actionists, some may be aboveground activists. Some may have nothing to do with the resistance at all. Those three who are captured don’t talk, and the message comes that they won’t. All you can do is mourn in the minutes between sleep and waking. Some day you can break and let tears come. But not now. Now all focus is forward.
It takes a few more months, but one morning the news is everywhere: in the night, three draglines in West Virginia were melted to scrap. “Leave our mountains or you will die in them” is the single communiqué. You don’t know these actionists, but you know the rhythm of their hearts. The Oil Brigade has left for Louisiana, committed to taking down the rigs, a toxic mimic of a forest rising above the sea, a sea that has been slick with oil for twenty years. The dams on the Mississippi are attacked, one by one by one. Then a whole cell is caught in the Midwest, eight of them rounded up. Paranoia spreads like a plague, the rumors, the purges. Your network holds because you built it to do that. Only the serious were asked, and they were trained. They also had to swear on everything they held sacred to hold to discipline and act with honor.
Aboveground, Big Eco and the public intellectuals of the environmental movement have nothing good to say about you and your unmet comrades. It doesn’t matter. Under the surface, people are talking, and the young, ever fearless, want to join. And it doesn’t matter because what does matter is the goal, the strategy, and the targets. Convincing the readers of Yes! Magazine was never the plan.
By the end of the second year, the grid is no longer dependable. The economy is stuttering, and the American public is ready to drink your blood. But somewhere a black tern is feeding her young, and when they fledge, they will carry the hope of their entire species on their small wings. In Burma and the Amazon, a few elders still speak their native languages, dense with words for plants and rain and spirit. Just outside Boulder and Lincoln and Des Moines, there are bison again, and a few brave acres of perennial grasses. The I-70 underpass into Lawrence is emblazoned “You are in Free Lawrence! Deep Green or die!” A thin stream of repairers has made its way here, from Baltimore and Seattle and Oakland, rewilding not their psyches, but the world. The first ones teach the next how to plant, how to keyline for precious water while the grass takes root, how to keep respectful watch on a bison heifer expecting her first. And they teach evolution, birth control, and democracy in their alternative school.
In year three, oil hits $200 a barrel, then $210, $220. A little higher and the system will start to crash in upon itself. Carbon is at 400 ppm and still climbing. The network in the east sends successful shiploads of homemade materiel south. The people have more than spears to fight with now. The Belo Monte dam is stopped forever: 20,000 people and the forest get to stay home.
The People’s Militia in rural Wisconsin and Maine set up firewood deliveries to the elderly in the winter. Vermont votes for independence by a slim 2 percent. Cascadia starts talking. Farmers in India stage a Bengal Tea Party, dumping cheap commodities from the US into the bay, then blocking the roads from the ports. Nonviolent activists are able to completely shut down the G-20 meeting that year. An amendment to the US Constitution to strike corporate personhood is making its way through the states. People who bring soy products to permaculture potlucks start getting funny looks. Las Vegas goes dark and even those who hate you have to smile. But there is no air conditioning in New York City or Washington or Atlanta, the trees are long gone, and the summers are hotter than anything this planet has known. The frail and the elderly are hit hard. And there are widening gaps on the supermarket shelves.
But urban chickens have eased the way for the return of goats and pigs. Lawns give way to browse; people learn to calculate the carbon sequestration number—affectionately called “seek”—of their small patches of perennials. The Transitioners write a new platform, a third generation Transition Town manifesto, based on direct democracy, human rights, feminism, steady state economies. Some run for local office; a few win. In Eugene and Madison and Pittsburgh, there are monumental efforts on behalf of civic literacy and then participatory democracy. In Berkeley, corporations are declared illegal. Gulabi Gangs start in Boston, Northampton, and Ithaca, then in London and Amsterdam and Mexico City. The Gangs send books to girls’ schools in Pakistan and Sudan, and emergency contraception disguised as baby aspirin. Rumor has it they also send guns.
The rewilders, eyes gleaming, pledge to buy up the flood plain of the Mississippi River, acre by acre. Since the current inhabitants can’t get insurance any more, some of them sell. Others are intrigued, tour the restored wetlands, look over the accounting books, and sign up for some summer interns. In minor league baseball, the Peoria Chiefs become the Peoria Prairie Dogs. There are bison visible now along the Trans-Canada Highway and I-90.
Your action group has gotten good at speedboats and the geography of oil rigs, the landscape of pipelines, and you are fluent in the language of megawatts. There are tracts of old-growth forest now fertilized by the blood of your friends, but the trees still stand. There are sixteen-year-olds in Lima and Chennai and suburban Minneapolis desperate to say yes. Your numbers keep rising, but so does the carbon. It’s a grim race to the end.
And from here the story is uncertain. I can’t finish it. Only you can. Whatever work you are called to do, the world can wait no longer. Power in all its versions—the arrogant, the sadistic, the stupid—is poised to kill every last living being. If we falter, it will win. Gather your heart and all its courage; fletch love into an arrow that will not bend; and take aim.
Will you join me? The clock starts now, the moment you put down this book and think as hard as you’ve ever thought: who can I ask to join me? Our clock doesn’t tick off seconds; it advances by species and carbon. How many and how much since you started this book? Will you join me?
In the time it takes to write that question, another amphibian has dropped into the abyss of extinction, another flower will never stretch and bloom, another native elder slips with her language from the world. And in the time it takes to say yes, there’s still time to make the possible real. There is still time for amphibians as a class, still time for justice to win against power and its rancid pleasures of domination. Will you join me?
Pass that question not from mouth to ear, but from heart to heart. It will have to be whispered, but it can still blaze. K’widzawidzi nia? Te joindras-tu à moi? Ndicele undincede? Apni ki amar sathey jog deben? Let it circle the globe until it comes all the way back: will you join me?
Yes is still possible. But yes, like love, needs to be a verb, our best and only hope. Let yes guide your aim.
Then let it loose.