Climate activists chain themselves to display at Wells Fargo, calling for shareholders to pass a resolution halting fossil fuel funding. April 25, 2022. Photo by Lewis Bernier, used with permission, all rights reserved.
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Rising Up in Sacred Activism

Sacred activism is at the heart of Novasutras practices. We seek to create spaces where spiritual people become more activist, and activists become more spiritually grounded. In sacred activism, our devoted spirits guide us to work for the world’s well-being.

“It’s in that convergence of spiritual people becoming active and active people becoming spiritual that the hope of humanity now rests.”

~Van Jones

How can your sacred activism be nourished and grow?

Rising Up Rooted: Finding Your Calling for Sacred Activism

Activism has been called “bold love-in-action.” Any devotion of time, energy and intention in creating change for the benefit of others can be a form of activism.

Sacred activism can take many forms, from simply having conversations to help friends understand and deal with the climate crisis, to silent meditation while holding a sign in a public space, to marches and rallies of thousands of people, to devotional acts of risk or even self-sacrifice. Many forms of sacred activism are explored in more detail in the following sections, beginning with some of the simplest means of participation (having effective climate conversations) to those that require deep dedication and taking on risk. Not everyone will feel able to participate in every form of activism, but nearly everyone can find a way to nurture sacred activism within the growing climate movement.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence,
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Rising Up as Spiritual Practice

When we come together to take action, we are nourishing our own spirits. Engaged action aligns us with purpose. We can envision all of the beings whose suffering may be reduced by our actions as allies who are supporting our efforts. By acting with integrity to our highest values, we grow agaya and ubuntu in community.

“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

~ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Rising in Response to the Climate Emergency

Right now, the science is very clear that we are already living in a time of climate disruption. We have only a few short years, at best, to avoid tipping points that are likely to lead to accelerating extinctions and societal chaos. Climate change threatens the integrity of agaya and ubuntu.

In light of the climate emergency, everyone should spend some time contemplating the question of what more they might be ready to do. Now is the time when activism matters most, when every example of bold love-in-action today can reduce the suffering beings will experience in times to come. Together, we can create the social tipping points that can lead to profound change in the trajectory of our civilization.

How far will you rise up in your sacred activism?

Raising the Topic: Climate Conversations as Sacred Obligation

One of the simplest places to begin for many people is merely committing to talk more about climate issues. You don’t need to be an expert on the science. You don’t need to deliver a lecture. Just opening up about your own concerns, and (more importantly) being ready to listen to the concerns of others on the topic of climate, can make a vast difference.

When you look at the data it turns out that about 3/4 of people in the whole U.S. don’t even hear somebody else talk about climate change more than once or twice a year. And if we don’t talk about it why would we care, if we don’t care why would we act? So action begins with conversation.

Katherine Hayhoe, Climate Scientist

How to Engage in Effective Climate Conversations as Sacred Activism

For people you encounter who are not yet engaged on climate issues, they have very few opportunities to even think about climate change as something that might be important. Just by providing these people a chance to think about how climate change will affect their lives (or is already affecting them), your conversations help to grow vital support for action and social change.

Our allies at THIS! Is What We Did offer online trainings and supportive community for people who want to have more effective climate conversations.

Raising Your Voice: Demonstrations in Safe Places

In parts of the world where free speech is protected and peaceful demonstrations are rarely repressed, street protests and demonstrations can become effective and welcoming spaces for emerging activists. Many of us find that coming together to publicly make our ideas known is personally encouraging (and can be downright fun). We remember that we are not alone. We remember that there are others who understand the gravity of the times we are in. And by coming out, whether as a single person holding a sign on a street corner, or a rally of many thousands marching through a city, we let like-minded others know that they are not alone in their concerns, that there are places where their climate worries will be respected instead of dismissed, and that it might be time for them to break their silence and join the cause.

Demonstrators at Chase Bank in Santa Cruz, Black Friday, November 26, 2021. Red dresses symbolize #MMIW & #MMIR. Photo by Michael Levy
Climate Justice Demonstrators at Chase Bank in Santa Cruz, Black Friday, November 26, 2021. Photo by Michael Levy.
Hundreds march in Climate Strike, Santa Cruz, CA September 27, 2019  - from Santa Cruz Climate Action Network
Hundreds march in Climate Strike, Santa Cruz, CA September 27, 2019 – from Santa Cruz Climate Action Network
Thousands RISE for climate justice in San Francisco, September 2018
Thousands RISE for climate, jobs and justice in San Francisco, September 2018. Photo by Erik Peterson.

Erica Chenoweth, a Harvard University political scientist, found that the active, nonviolent engagement of as few as 3.5% of the population can be enough for revolutionary political change to happen. A Yale Climate Opinion poll in 2021 found that 65% of the population of the USA is worried about the climate – the majority of this seemingly disengaged democracy! As more and more of the climate-concerned are mobilized to action, the “impossible” levels of rapid change needed can instead begin to seem inevitable.

Asked what the best thing an individual can do for the climate, Bill McKibben said, “Stop being an individual!” We have to see ourselves as part of a great movement, one of many, many people mobilizing to fight the climate crisis.

THIS! Is What We Did

If we are a drop of water and we try to get to the ocean as only an individual drop, we will surely evaporate along the way. To arrive at the ocean, you must go as a river.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Creating True Peace

How to Engage in Peaceful Demonstrations as Sacred Activism

While there are sometimes calls to join massive demonstrations in capitols and centers of political or economic power, there are many more opportunities to join in smaller protests at a local level.

If you’re in the Santa Cruz, California area, please join the local chapter, so you’ll get regular emails to keep up-to-date with ecospiritual, community, and ecoactivist events in the area. If you are ready to get more involved in organizing local climate justice actions, sign up to join the Santa Cruz Climate Justice Crew.

If you’re elsewhere, contact us about how to start a Novasutras chapter in your area, to host Climate+Land+Water celebrations and other climate justice events.

You could also check to see if there are local chapters of organizations like Rising Tide, Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, or the Sunrise Movement. (Please suggest other good groups for this kind of action in the comments.)

Raising a Ruckus: Civil Disobedience as Sacred Activism

Gene Sharp and other researchers have explored 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action for creating social and political change. Many of these involve some form of civil disobedience, where activists choose to violate laws and risk arrest in order to halt immediate threats to agaya and ubuntu, or to gain more attention for their cause.

While the numbers possible in law-abiding rallies and marches can turn the broader tide of politics, the urgencies of the climate and extinction crises also call for more dramatic holding actions. Choosing to risk arrest and put oneself in harm’s way, to amplify the message and halt the harm to all beings, is a potent form of sacred activism.

For each person who is called to take more risks, there is also a need for support. People who may not be able or willing to risk arrest or bodily harm are vitally needed to provide legal, financial, logistical, emotional and spiritual support for those who can.

How to Engage in Civil Disobedience as Sacred Activism

In addition to participating in these kinds of actions along with Rising Tide, Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise Movement, or Greenpeace, you can also learn more about how to organize actions. Trainings and support for effective nonviolent civil disobedience can be learned from Ruckus Society and East Point Peace Academy.

Raising the Stakes: The Risks of Self-Sacrifice in Sacred Activism

Most who chose to engage in civil disobedience do so in ways that accept some level of risk in order to protect and defend agaya and ubuntu. However, they generally take precautions to keep themselves reasonably safe, thereby minimizing harm to their community. Yet some consciously choose acts of self-sacrifice. One may choose to take on suffering now to reduce suffering for others in the future, or to highlight the intolerable injustice of the problems; fasting, exposure to the elements, and even setting oneself on fire have been used.

Wynn Bruce’s story is a complex one, but it can be viewed as an act of satyagraha, a profoundly devotional act of political protest by enduring personal suffering.

While self-immolation may lack the constructive attributes of a nonviolent act like fasting unto death, it is, as Stratfor’s Rodger Baker recently explained, “a method of public death that doesn’t harm others in the same way that suicide bombings or attacks of that sort do.”

Bryan Farrell, Self-immolation and the power of self-sacrifice (2011)

One of the tragic truths about Wynn Bruce’s choice of self-immolation is that it was done alone, without a support team. Because of this, there were no spokespeople immediately available to explain the purpose of his action. There was no press release to communicate the core message. Instead, most of the first reports spoke of it in ways that hinted at a possible terrorist incident, or made no mention of his motives.

Whether and How to Engage in Self-Sacrifice as Sacred Activism

Acts of self-sacrifice are, by definition, causing some harm to the beloved community of the person involved, and by extension to the broader community of life.

For such an action to be true to the principles of sacred activism, they must only be done by those who are truly the right people, in the right place, at the right time. They must not emerge solely from despair or desperation. Instead, there must be no question that the act is coming from a place of deep love and devotion to the value of life, to ubuntu and agaya. This level of dedication should necessitate an extended time of spiritual and community preparation, so that there is no doubt as to motives, and there is the best opportunity for effectiveness.

Before you embark on a course of action that includes a high risk of harm to yourself, it is important to do some inner work, and some work in supportive community. Novasutras is growing our community to provide social, strategic, and spiritual support to activists at all levels. Connecting with other groups like The Resilient Activist or the Good Grief Network can also help you find the emotional clarity that is a prerequisite for truly sacred activism at this level.

Doing Righteousness Right: Activism as Devotional Practice

In Novasutras, we encourage each person to find a balance of restorative practices and engaged activism. The things that we do for personal wellness help us to be our best, most effective selves in our work on behalf of life. And in the reciprocity that is integral to ubuntu, the work we do on behalf of life nurtures our own resilience and personal power. So we invite you to begin with simple steps that feel right to you, and dedicate yourself to finding your best niche within the ecosystem of sacred activism.

What will you choose to do today? How do you think sacred activism will become a growing part of your life?

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