IT WAS THE LEAST I COULD DO.
As I lay down on the sidewalk, an instant chill began to seep into my back, legs, arms, and hands; January nights are still cold, even in Phoenix. Wearing a painters mask, my breath felt labored, and I realized it was from nervousness; I could see my breath fogging my glasses with each exhalation. After a while, I started to shiver from the cold.
Thankfully, the coordinators told us to rise, and we sang as we stood up: “We’re gonna rise up, rise up ‘til its won. When the people rise up, the powers stand down. They try to stop us but we keep coming back.” Some of us giggled, it felt ghoulish to stand up while singing these lyrics, but that also seemed to be part of the point.
We moved on, and died again. And again. And again. Four times that night I died trying to bring attention to the climate crisis.
It was the first First Friday of the year, and downtown Phoenix was alive with performers, artists, and revelers.
Earlier in the night, as I rode my bike over the highway and through the dark neighborhoods to the die-in downtown, I was nervous. I wasn’t afraid of being accosted (though some of us were) or being harassed or arrested by the police (they did come introduce themselves and gave us a card in case we needed anything). I was nervous because this was just so new to me, and something I had never done before. Way outside my comfort zone, the idea of laying my body down in such a public way felt so vulnerable.
I found the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion groups at the designated meeting spot, immediately recognizing familiar and friendly faces. I asked if anyone else was nervous. Nope. Just me. We discussed logistics (which spots to pick, how long to lie down) and strategy (will we talk, what we should write on the ground); people passed out masks, small signs and flyers. I was still nervous but felt the camaraderie of good people around me.
Then we lay down and died.
The first few minutes, I just focused on my breathing; it was hard to breathe with the mask on, and it kept steaming my glasses. I worried this would be too obvious that I was not dead, as if someone was going to question my authenticity as deceased. I still felt nervous, and vulnerable. Then I heard one of the facilitators (non-dead person) sharing our message: time is running out, we are in a climate crisis and we need to act now! Yes, this is why I am here. I was still cold, but my nervousness had transformed into resolve.
2019 was a roller coaster ride of emotions as I tuned into the climate crisis, viscerally feeling the steady heightening of the emergency, perceptible and seemingly inevitable. After I quit my job, I began educating myself about climate change and started a website and blog about it (climatehopeaction.com). Part of my own journey was about opening up and expressing my concerns about what I was learning, essentially just having conversations about the devastating climate events that were occurring with disturbing regularity. Having these conversations has been challenging to me, it doesn’t come easy or naturally. But I kept telling myself that feeling uncomfortable is a small price to pay to raise awareness and momentum; it is the least I can do.
But now, finally, ACTION. We were doing something in the public, disrupting everyday life.
After the cold had numbed my back, I started to notice the sounds around me. The noise of a generator dominated, beyond that was a faint cacophony of different bands playing, passing conversations and laughter, some people who had stopped to chat with our organizers; some conversations died out as they wound a path through our inert bodies.
When I started shivering, I looked around for something to distract myself. Above me, suspended high in the night sky, was the half-moon. As she always does, Luna brought calm and a widening sense of perspective. My shoulders relaxed and the shivering stopped; I was still cold, but hey, what is a little cold in the face of climate crisis and ecological collapse? I thought of Australia, as I have done so much of late, of the increasingly terrifying stories coming from that continent as it burns; people, animals, whole ecologies engulfed in the infernos of uncontained wildfires. I have felt so powerless watching the terror unfold, my only role to bear witness to the tragedy. Lying there, this was the least I could imagine doing in that moment.
As the night went on, we moved through the crowd. Every time I lay down to die, I always made sure I had a view of the moon.
Research tells us we need 3.5% of the population joining in nonviolent action, and disrupting business as usual, if we want to turn the tide on the climate crisis.
So I challenge you to look deep inside and ask yourself: What is the least you can imagine yourself doing to save the planet?