Issue 18 Editor's Note: Widening Circles
Nina
Schlegel
March 22, 2022
Thomas Lommée’s installation at the University of Ghent in solidarity with the Climate Summit in Paris, December 2015. Photograph: http://arthistoryteachingresources.org

It seems almost impossible to digest all of the bad news taking place in the world these days. The alarming assault on democracy and the specter of authoritarianism; a deadly and exhausting global pandemic; the threat of war and military conflict; deepening poverty and growing economic inequality; and an acceleration of the climate crisis are all jeopardizing the future of humanity and the planet. These problems are all deeply interrelated and grounded in profoundly unjust structures of political-economic power. In the face of such monumental challenges, it is easy for so many of us to retreat into despair and apathy. What hope do we have to turn things around? How do we know that all of our time and energy devoted to the struggle for climate justice is going to yield a positive result?

Doubt is a crafty trickster. If we only focus on the grandiose challenges, then smaller victories toward a more just and sustainable future are rendered invisible. We must always keep our eyes on the grand prize, and work for the big solutions. But we should also spotlight the new political spaces that have been built during the pandemic and daily achievements that are being won in communities all over the world. This can be seen in the momentum for local Green New Deals in an ever-growing number of towns and cities. Despite the setbacks we have witnessed with regard to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), remarkable achievements are prevailing everyday around the world.

In this respect, the notion of what constitutes a big impact is often underestimated. Lots of small victories have the potential to add up quickly, and serve as building blocks for even bigger successes down the road. They can also inspire others to join the movement. It is comparable to the tiny daily growths of a plant that will one day bloom. As we recognize the magnitude of the challenges that lay before us, I am reminded of a poem by the Austrian novelist and poet Rainer Maria Rilke – Widening Circles:

I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.

I may not complete this last one

but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.

I’ve been circling for thousands of years

and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,

a storm, or a great song?

Rilke’s “God” was not a metaphysical deity but instead referred to the eternal life-force within all living things, circling out from our beginnings and towards our potential. As the Center enters its second year, we set an intention to help grow the movement in ever-widening circles that reach out across the world. In these circles we hope to foster solidarity, and show that our struggles are intersectional and unifying.  

Do not just passively watch the news. Be a witness to the power and possibilities of popular mobilization. Do not merely listen to commentators – engage with your neighbors, community, the world of doers and dreamers. Do not tune out because of bad news overwhelm. Tune in and help grow the climate justice movement by building relationships and integrating humor, hope, and joy into the work. Join us at the Center to help create a vision for how the climate crisis can serve as a catalyst for creating a new and better world for all of us.  Lean into a life of ever-widening circles.

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