Interview w/ Lauren Mckendry

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1. What are your biggest ecological concerns threatening life on this planet?
   Honeybees. And of course the answer is way more complicated than that.

Current agricultural trends are killing honeybees. Mono-cropping, pesticides, GMOs – and there the issue isn’t only the GMOs themselves (some studies indicate that pollen from some GMO crops is indigestible or even harmful to bees and some plants are genetically modified specifically to kill insects) , but the literal tons of pesticides and herbicides they are created to allow to be just poured onto the crops and the environmental damage from that. That is actually the main point of GMOs – to allow the use of chemicals that would otherwise kill those plants. You might think, “Herbicides, how can they affect bees?”, but all those humble little weeds otherwise at the edges of fields and between rows are a hugely valuable food source; dandelions are just loaded with nectar.
One might think that honeybees would come way behind something like climate change, but 2 things there. For one, humans as a species will likely survive climate change. Not that I’m downplaying, it, society and life as we know it will collapse if we keep on and it’s not going to be a lot of fun for anyone, but I don’t think it’s total extinction for us. The death of honeybees IS an extinction event for our species and many others, we rely on them as pollinators for a huge, simply huge swath of our food chain. And two, if we fix the factors that are killing honeybees, we fix a lot of other things right along with it, we change entire systems of doing things and we do make a dent in climate change and other more known dangers.

Everything is far more interconnected that way than most people stop to think about.

2. How did you begin to become interested in activism/ politics of liberation?

   This question took me some time to answer, because I never really thought of myself as being an activist or particularly political, although of course I am, because really every thinking person is, whether or not you give yourself the label.

   For me, I study world events and I study history and I’ve learned that the small things are really vital. Like, this one place I lived, I got a citation for having a clothesline. Now, I’ve lived in NYC where people hang clothes lines out of 5th story windows, I’ve lived way out in the sticks, I’ve lived all over and it never occurred to me until code enforcement showed up at my door that a clothesline – something that people have used for eons, a simple fact of life – would be illegal. Or, recently I had an argument with someone vehemently defending a town ordinance against vegetable gardens so strict that they were threatening to seize property over it (and I’ve run afoul of a similar ordinance myself) and it made me think “What would the Founding Fathers (or choose your historical figure here) say if someone told them that their vegetable garden or clothesline was illegal, and that they were going to be dragged to court and fined or lose property over it?”  

  I kinda think they’d be pissed, and so am I. This is a small thing but, like the honeybee, it points to systemic failure. 

  It begs the questions of Why? How did we get to the point where people find this acceptable?  What exactly is going on that those in power want to regulate the daily facet of our lives, down to drying our clothes and growing our food? I mean, really – what could be more essential than feeding ourselves? Who, exactly, is a tomato plant hurting that it is outlawed if it can be seen from the road? What public danger does a clothesline pose, that we need to ban them? When the plain and simple basics of life, things that a person can do that harm no one and let you provide for yourself, become regulated or illegal, this is a huge danger sign for me and I need to do something about it.

 

3. How do we prevent near term human extinction and how long do you think we have at the current rate?

How long do we have? I read a study done by some people who put way more research into it than I have and they said about 5 generations. I have no reason to believe that isn’t accurate, if nothing changes. Society as we have it now is not sustainable, and we’re making it worse; as I said, no honeybees destroys the food chain, climate change, dead spots in the ocean, antibiotic resistance, the flat out stupidity of war … yeah, I can see us functionally ending ourselves in 5 generations. Remnants might still exist for 5 more, judging historically from functional extinction of other species to death of the very last member.

But I do think we can change it, and I think that maybe the answer is both easier and more complex than most people think. I think we need to start acting like a social species again, and take care of each other.

Maybe that sounds really idealistic and like non-action, but when you truly believe something, your actions reflect that, and if we all start taking care of each other a priority, we can effect a change in what we consider normal. Think of, well, any current tragedy anywhere, say, the Flint water crisis – what was your reaction? Now think about how your reaction would be different if it was you, or even a member of your family. If your sister called you up hysterical because your 1 year old niece was in the hospital being treated for lead poisoning.

The 2nd reaction needs to be our default setting. I think we really underestimate how things would change if our reaction went from “Oh, those poor people, maybe I should write a letter?” to “OMG, I’ll be right there to help!”

4. Do our tactics for resistance change when given such an overwhelming scenario?

It is overwhelming. People wonder what they can do and it’s true that there’s no clear plan of action that works for everyone. But we all just need to keep our focus on doing what we can. Maybe you can do a little, maybe you can do a lot – whatever it is, just do it. Do as much as you can without your life falling apart and losing balance – it’s more than you think. Take the opportunities to help that come your way. Look for them.

There have been times in my life I could do a lot. Times when I could donate money, make major lifestyle changes, do a lot of volunteer work, all the big stuff people think of.

And there have been times in my life when helping those who needed it more than me meant saving a stray cat, or carpooling to the store, or letting a friend crash on my couch. That still counts. You never know just how much the small amount of help you can give will mean to someone, and what they might go on and do from that example.

5. What can we do to combat sectarianism and build solidarity within our movements?

Talk to each other. I really think it’s that simple, and I feel like we’re forgetting how. Even this interview is done by computer.

Now, don’t get me wrong, talking to each other by computer is better than not talking at all, but too often, we just don’t talk. People complain about sectarianism, but then we slap labels on each other as a reason to not associate with those out of our group. Whenever you want to label someone; liberal, conservative, feminist, whatever – that is a sign that you need to go talk to that person. Preferably not about whatever made you want to label them a vegan or whatever, because that turns into just defending your label. People are complex, we do things for a reason that makes sense to us. When we remember that, we are far, far less likely to mentally slap a label on them, put them in a box, and proceed in an “us vs them” fashion.

I have some incredibly dear friends who are diametrically opposed to me on on practically every major point; religion, politics, philosophy, you name it. We don’t care, we talk about music and hobbies and family and the outrageous TV shows we like and find each others company marvelously enriching. It is so, so easy to focus on something like; they are really Christian and I am very Wiccan – but if we did that we’d miss out on all the ways we work together and that is the important part. Focus on the important part

6. Will technology or the state provide the solutions we need?

If we make it, then yes. Technology is a tool, it does what we make it do. A hammer can build a house or cave in a skull, the choice is yours. This is true for all tech from the taming of fire right on up to the present day.

What is also true is that anything new is scary. Fire is destructive stuff, GMOs were created to make profits… but it doesn’t have to stay scary, we just need to learn about it and how it can help us and then use it to do that.

Similarly, the state is us. We run into trouble when we forget that and let it grow into it’s own, snowballing organism. It’s like the difference between your stove and a kitchen fire. One is a wonderful, useful thing and the other is a horrible, tragedy causing emergency because it jumped its bounds and went haring off on its own with no direction. Government is a wonderfully useful tool that lets us move past our own, immediate interest and gives us roads and schools and (ideally) stops the few bad apples, like the kind of people who rape or are ok with owning sweatshops, from making it so the rest of us can’t have nice things. But if you let it off the leash then suddenly we’re all fucked and working in sweatshops.

7. What kind of art interests you?

Oooh, all kinds! I think the most wonderful thing about humanity is how we can turn everything into an artform; stone, crafts, motion, chores, we’ve made art out of all of it. Not too long ago I saw a sculpture that just stopped me in my tracks with awe that someone saw a rock and was like “Know what? I can do something with that…” and then created this marvelous, amazing thing that you practically expected to just come to life.

Oh, we need to support the arts more!

I love all manner of art. I love music, books that draw me in and fascinate me, dance, dressage, drawing from museum pieces to graffiti, all of it. And the most amazing thing is that nearly all of us can do something of the kind and most of us barely notice.

We are such wonderfully creative creatures. I have friends who are very into the fiber arts and can do all the steps from processing fiber – from wool to cornsilk – and spin it into thread or yarn and then create these gorgeous things with it. I mean, just really think about that for a second, the whole process of it, it’s amazing.

And we can do it with anything. Like; we can all manage to feed ourselves, but some of us can take the same tools and create a 5 star meal. I pour coffee every morning and I saw a video where this man turns the simple act of pouring coffee into this spinning dance, and then there are the people who noticed that the cream leaves little white ripples on top and decided to play with it and make lovely pictures. In coffee. Things like this give me hope for humanity.

8. How do you deal with the burn out and grief when fighting for our planet?

Well, there’s art.

I try to just maintain balance. I think the best description I ever got for that (I read it, but don’t remember where) is to think of your life like a wheel, and think of the parts of your life – ie, family, work, politics, interests, self care, etc – as spokes of that wheel. If it’s all in balance, the wheel rolls smoothly. If you put too much weight on one spoke, it doesn’t roll well, and can even collapse. It’s a good image.

For me, personally, I have some rules I try to follow, wrote them down and everything. I make a point of looking for the good in things, and in looking for ways to make things better. Actively, and in small ways too. It’s easy to forget.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling the strain, I remember something my Dad once told me. he said “You can be right, or you can be happy, and nearly every time, that’s the choice.” Remembering it is, far too often, indeed the choice, and actively choosing, helps. If I keep in mind that I am choosing to be right, it gives me the strength to fight for it. And sometimes, I need to remind myself that my sanity demands that I just need to be happy on this one, or something really isn’t worth scrapping over, and I let it go. Taking that further, we always have choices and we need to remind ourselves of that. I could choose, right at this very moment, to pack a backpack, empty my meager bank account and hike to South America. Whether I do or not depends on what is important to me. Me, I won’t, because I choose to instead go make dinner for my kids. Remembering that what I do is a choice I make reminds me of why I make those decisions.

9. Who influenced your ideas the most?

So many people I couldn’t even begin to count or list them. Really, I tried. But everyone you meet has something to teach you, even if it’s what not to do. I know that sounds cliched, but it’s true. Everything we see or experience holds a mirror to ourselves and maybe we want to see more of that and maybe we want to see less. And often what truly influences us isn’t an “aHA moment” kind of clear.
But I want to personally thank all the dreamers out there, authors of fantasy, artists, songwriters and the like. Because what we dream when we imagine ourselves without limits, or when we decide to take something just as far as it can go, just for the hell of it, or whenever we put a piece of our soul into something and put it out there, knowing we may never get credit for it … those are the people who let us know what humanity could be if we let ourselves. If we all just did that – took reality and common limits and ego and just chucked them and did it anyway. Those people really influence me. And I want to thank them for it.
And the real beauty of them? They’re everywhere – you just have to notice. Listen to this quote “You have been given the gift of life. It is a fragile gift, and not one that you can keep forever, but, it is the most precious gift in all the world. Use it well.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it wonderful and inspiring? I’ve no idea who wrote it. It’s from an episode of Thundercats. Whoever wrote that may never get credit for it and I’m sure there’s someone in their life who makes fun of them for being some nameless script writer for a re-booted cartoon that got one season, but they still wrote something beautiful and amazing and inspiring and threw that message out there not knowing if it would truly touch someone.

People like that, they influence me the most.

10. any final shout outs?

A great big kiss to everyone who knows me as Otter!