I've observed how powerful the role of human connection, to each other and to our environment, truly is in what we choose to protect and how hard we try to do so.
There’s a region of Louisiana nicknamed Cancer Alley. When I interviewed the leaders of a group called RISE St. James in Louisiana's St. James Parish, they recounted their fight to keep another polluter from being built close to their homes and schools. As they fought and raised their voices, the group was also grieving neighbors who died from cancer, made more prevalent by the toxins already in their area.
Today, RISE St. James (allied with Earthjustice, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and other environmental groups) prevailed. The Louisiana court system threw out air permits that Formosa Plastics needed to build its petrochemical complex in St. James. After years of protests, alliances with other environmental groups, sharing their stories, and speaking up, the members of RISE St. James get to celebrate this victory.
"Stopping Formosa Plastics has been a fight for our lives, and today David has toppled Goliath," Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of RISE St. James, said in a press release. "The judge’s decision sends a message to polluters like Formosa that communities of color have a right to clean air, and we must not be sacrifice zones."
I’ve been thinking a lot about the environment and the health of our planet. I've been mulling over and over how our physical and mental health is connected to our environment, not only the people and ideas around us but also the physical environment too. I've been wondering about what it means to be both a spiritual creature and a creature of the Earth. The feeling of standing under a canopy of trees is incomparable. It's at once a feeling of being grounded, rooted in the Earth, and a mysterious sensation of connection to all that ever was, all that is, and all that ever will be.
When I worked as a journalist reporting on environmental issues and climate change, it struck me that what moves us toward caring and the will to act often transcends facts and figures. Very often, what moves us is feeling and emotion, and the love we have the capacity to feel toward people, places, and animals. Science and research is important. At the same time, I've observed how powerful the role of human connection, to each other and to our environment, truly is in what we choose to protect and how hard we try to do so.
When Lavigne shared her motivation for starting the group, she spoke about how her spiritual connection led her to fight the Formosa complex. As I wrote in Mother Jones in 2019:
In early 2018, when Lavigne learned that Formosa Plastics Group, a Taiwanese supplier of plastic resins and petrochemicals, had announced that St. James Parish would be the site for a massive project that would create 14 chemical plants, she says she asked God for advice. “Do I need to sell my home? He said no. I said, ‘Do I need to sell my land, the land that You gave me?’ He said no.”
“God told me to fight,” she continues. “And I’ve been fighting ever since. I’ve been going in the fast lane.”
I think that spirituality is a form of love. And regardless of what gives us a sense of connection, it can become the source for deep wells of courage, persistence, and determination that we didn't even know we had inside of us all along.
The painting above is titled "If we let our tears water the soil, what will grow?" It's a part of my latest series of artwork, Love Letters to Mother Earth. There is so much grief to be felt about air and water pollution, inaction and greed, precious forests reduced to ash, and water wonders of the Earth choked by staggering amounts of trash. I've had to grieve so much as a trauma survivor and I know firsthand that grieving is loving. Grieving is seeing things as they are and living in reality. It can be terrifying to grieve and yet, it is healing and it points the way forward.
This is the connection I'm making with the artwork from my Love Letters to Mother Earth series. Embedded within the artwork of this series is a deep appreciation for life. I am honoring the wonder I’ve felt for sunsets, rolling hills, forests, and clouds. And I am also honoring the suffering I’ve experienced in my struggle to see myself and break free of abuse. I am referencing how breaking free has involved turning toward the wild, finding people who respected my needs and could truly help guide me, could love me for real. The artwork of this series is my way of saying that all these kinds of love are connected: love for my child self, love for nature, love for others, love for my humanity, love for humanity, love for this planet, love for existence, love for the wild woman inside of me, love for myself today right now.
More than anything, love is what drives me. And it’s not naive as I was called far too many times as I grew up and tried to speak the truth of what I believe. Love motivates us to be kinder and more caring. Love brings meaning to our lives in a world where there is so much doubt and mystery. Love guides us toward a meaningful, beautiful, real, hopeful existence.
I’ve lived very dark days and years. I’ve survived things that no one should have to experience. And ultimately, love is what drives me to my protect what makes me who I am.
My love for this life is why I didn’t give up. It’s why I’m still here, alive, still trying, still me. I’m tough and yet, my heart is still open. It’s been agonizingly difficult and still is some days and I wouldn’t change it because this is my life. And I still get to live it.
This kind of love requires us to face loss and feel the ache of what cannot be redeemed. And yet, somehow, there is always something precious to be redeemed. The love I am referring to has the power to heal and to help us protect what is precious to us if we let it be that close to our hearts.
By Nicole Javorsky