Recently, while on an evening walk with a friend, out of the blue she said, “I wish I could move to a place just like this was 40 years ago.” Her tone of voice was yearning. It was also a surprise because her life on San Juan Island appears nurturing, inspiring and secure. When I asked what she missed, her response was a non-verbal gesture of sadness and a few words, “It was community.” she said. “We all knew each other.” She then went on to talk about the fishing boats in the harbor, the salmon cannery, the farmers, and the intimacy of simple island life when community was more important than consumption.
My own island life started on Bainbridge Island in the early 70s. It was a farming community back then, too. It was also a community of fishermen, hippies, artists, and a Filipino-Americans who helped save the island farms of Japanese Americans interred in camps during the Second World War. www.huffpost.com/entry/bainbridge-island-japanese-american history_n_5cde4b02e4b00735a914047a
It was the presence of farmers from all over the world on the streets of WTO Seattle that planted the seeds for my book, “Battle in Seattle—The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations.”
Why would farmers spend so much time and money to come from all over the world to show up on the streets of Seattle? The answer lies in one word, “corporatization.” Their communal land was taken over by private/government interests preventing them from growing traditional crops to feed their families and their neighbors. Corporate profits from such crops as coffee and cotton annihilated the community food supply. This is also true also for the Montsanto era of fruit and vegetable farming.
Industrial farming turns us all into cash machines for voracious capitalistic greed and corruption as well as victims of chemical poisoning. Corporatized farming has also resulted in non-stop farmer suicides around the world, including in the U.S. theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/06/why-are-americas-farmers-killing-themselves-in-record-numbers
In India there is a massive and tragic number of farmer suicides due to mandating certain crops (particularly cotton) and the purchase of seeds and pesticides. Most of the farmers who commit suicide in that country do so by swallowing the pesticides they are forced to buy. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers'_suicides_in_India
Historically, farmers were the heart of community. Now they are suicide statistics. So, what, exactly, does “community” mean? The dictionary offers an array of definitions but care and concern for one another along with communing with our environment underlies them all. Those of us who live here on San Juan Island year-round connect intimately to the diminishing light of winter and the return of the light in the spring. We know the quiet winter ferry rides and the time to chat at the check-out counter. There is an ebb and flow of life and light that connects us all. And, in winter, eye contact returns on the sidewalks of Friday Harbor.
Summer brings a kind of anonymous community. There is less eye contact on the streets, less personal connection in the grocery stores, precarious traffic conditions in town, loaded ferries, unpredictable pedestrians, and pervasive plastic is everywhere. It washes in on the tides as well as onto tables of restaurants throughout town. In one restaurant that only opens in summer, everything is plastic and customers are asked to throw their leftovers & utensils into garbage containers. I made the mistake of asking if there was a re-cycle container for the plastic. I was told, “No, because there is nowhere to take it.” I mentioned the recycling center and was told, “That all goes into landfill anyway.” I have not confirmed it, but I have wondered where our recycling goes now that China no longer takes it.
But San Juan Island is not San Juan County. Lopez Island has its own fiercely unique sense of community. Very recently I saw a bumper sticker on a car in the Lopez ferry line that read, “Don’t change Lopez. Let Lopez change you.”
Well, Lopez wants to make a big change in San Juan County waters. In response to the imminent extinction of the Southern Resident orca whales, a group of Lopezians are working to get an Initiative on the November ballot that, if it passes, will require a 650-yard distance between the SRKWs and boats in county waters. It will, in effect, give the SRKWs access to their scarce supply of salmon. www.southernresidentprotection.org/
Almost immediately, four whale-watching companies, three of them from the Pacific Whale Watching Association, sued the Lopez group and San Juan County. Even though the PWWA, which consists primarily of Canadian companies recently supported whale-watching moratoriums around islands to the north in British Columbia. They were assuming, I suppose, that they still had access to the SRKWs core critical habitat in the waters of San Juan Island. www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/resident-killer-whales-new-regulations-1.5132544
Recently, several members of the Lopez group came over to Friday Harbor and hosted an informational event at the Grange. Their individual and collective passion for saving the SRKWs was palpable, as was their scientific knowledge and their faith in our county community. Tim Ragen Ph.D., the former head of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, presented all the solid science regarding how boat noise and disturbance impedes the SRKWs ability to forage for their ever-decreasing supply of salmon.
The science, as well as the common-sense-of-it-all is irrefutable, yet the representative from the Pacific Whale Watching Association who was at the meeting jumped in with mocking criticism of the Initiative. The response in the room was immediate. “I’m for the whales, not the money.” Other voices echoed this refrain throughout the room.
Chasing after money is chasing after extinction—for the Southern Residents as well as ourselves. As our home planet edges into a sixth extinction, we turn a blind eye, a closed mind, and a cold heart towards doing what is necessary to save it for our children and our children’s children. The SRKWs are but one species. Yet, as the most uniquely intelligent species of orca whales on the planet, their imminent extinction has immense implications. The speed with which greed and capitalistic consumption has brought the earth to her knees is shattering. Feeling it all, locally and globally, means an end to “Fine” as my automatic response to the grocery store aisle “How are you?” question. Instead, I pause for a second, and say, “I’m hanging in.”
In almost every circumstance I receive a moment of surprise and then a rather somber, “Yeah, me too.” Sometimes meaningful conversation ensues; but even when it doesn’t there is a shared moment of gratitude that we are not alone in our distress. When we acknowledge our mutual concern, if only for a few seconds, community happens. And, oh, how it helps to know we are not alone.
The following article is more than five years-old and as current as it could be: www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/meet-the-money-behind-the-climate-denial-movement-180948204/?fbclid=IwAR3zg0ArccLhrURqXOznkV7IuRIJqFTNSIvStM4o-5xAQ_rKSCCkw_o36YA#ad0Y0C2zrhM710Vz.01