Submission from Ohio Valley Environmental Resistance (OVER) received on 10.29.21
EATING PLASTIC TRASH TO CONNECT WITH LIFE
Resisting the Settler Habit of Running Away through Ritual
The Ohio Valley Environmental Resistance (OVER), made up of climate justice activists from around southwestern Pennsylvania / occupied Haudenosaunee lands, held a public spiritual ceremony at the City-County Building, Pittsburgh, PA, 15219 on Saturday, October 23rd, to call attention to the pain and suffering that plastic pollution is currently causing, and to bring attention to how the Shell Ethane Cracker Plant, which will create 1 million metric tons of new plastic every year in the southwestern Pennsylvania region. The ritual began at noon and was called “Plastic for Lunch.”
About 12 people entered a sacred circle, sang songs about our connectedness to the Earth, gave testimony about how plastic pollution affects them, and at the height of the ritual, we ate small pieces of plastic called “nurdles,” a similar product to what the Shell Ethane Cracker Plant will produce.
We ate pieces of trash made with chemicals that are likely carcinogenic, pieces of corrupted molecules that are suspected of causing the gradual sterilization of people with y chormozomes without their consent, pieces of plastic that sicken and kill living beings throughout the world, and we did it with reverence. Plastic was our profane sacrament, our eucharist befouled.
A refrain sounded through the domes of the public hall: “What happens to the land happens to me.
“What happens to the water happens to me.”
“What happens to the air happens to me.”
It happens to you.
“We are part of the ecosystem. We cannot escape it.” — Officiant during the Concluding Rites
People who look like me and the other participants in this ritual were the children of settlers from the continent of Europe. While there are exceptions, for the most part our ancestors fled their homelands of their own volition. The dominant/white/settler culture’s myth goes that they fled out of religious or political persecution.
Resources were running low. Nobility and royals hoarded material goods. The poor roiled with deep hunger, exhaustion, and boiling rage. Those who could afford to buy a ticket on a boat to cross the Atlantic did so.
Leave it to burn. Break your ties. Forego your obligations. Let other fix all the problems you leave behind.
I have heard people talk about “getting out of this place” for my entire life. They want to get away from the country. They want to get away from the city. They want to get away from their blood families. They want to get away from poor employment or educational opportunities. They want to get away from this or that region, from this or that climate, from blighted neighborhoods.
Sometimes they talk of starting up communes or eco-villages, living in harmony with the natural world, somewhere far, far away from the toxic dump they currently deign to inhabit.
Someone else can deal with this.You are not rooted in place.You can leave.You can start again. And again and again and again.Just pick up and leave it all.You have no obligation to this place.
I have a foot in the new age world. Within that subculture, there is much talk about raising one’s vibration, about ascending into the 5th dimension, about communicating with the higher self and higher astral/extraterrestrial/dimensional beings and heavenly realms, and higher this and higher that…
High above the Earth and its problems.
Away from the physical, away from the soil, the flesh, the filth, the baseborn mess of this world. Away from the confusion and terrors that the lowly beings of this world offer.
Away from limits.
Why worry about this place when you can transcend it all?You can’t possibly be this place. You can’t possibly share this place’s fate. You have better things ahead than a place like this.
“If the elements that give us life are poisoned, if our kin, the non-human animals and plants are poisoned, then we are also poisoned.” — Officiant during the Statement of Intention
Settler culture is a culture of running away. If the land is too desecrated to grow food, if the forests have all been cut down, if the water is too fouled to drink, settler culture tells us that it is acceptable to just run away from those problems and then recreate them somewhere else. Settler culture teaches us to dissociate from what is happening to the physical world. It teaches us the we are somehow “above” the very elements that make up our bodies and nourish us. The settler culture is expressing itself in new ways through the hype to colonize Mars and to become further enmeshed with high technology. Instead of accepting that our fates are tied to a living planet and accepting the responsibility that such a fact entails, we can just blast off into space. We can just upload our minds into the Cloud. We can just run away again.
As I took part in OVER’s ritual and ate plastic, these thoughts came to me.
I didn’t want to ascend. I didn’t want to go to heaven. I didn’t want to commune with otherworldly beings, or detox myself from dangerous chemicals, or hole myself up in an eco-village that shunned all but the purest of everything. I didn’t want to rise above anything or find a place that matched my fucking personal brand.
I wanted to sink down. I wanted the dark. I wanted to cover myself in the same industrial waste that my plant and non-human animal relatives were subjected to. I wanted to feel what they felt. I wanted more than to be a caretaker or a steward. I wanted to be among them as they are among each other.
Suddenly, my obligations became clear. Within the numb haze of isolation that so many people who look like me experience, a rickety bridge appeared. The plastic filth, the fracking waste, the heavy metals, and the smog are part of my ecosystem. And I am part of the ecosystem. I cannot escape it, no matter how much I run away. All of those things that we claim to revile, those things come from the settler culture. Those things areus.
I wish to break an ancestral curse. When the infernal nightmare of settler culture, the culture I was indoctrinated in, widens its gape into the Abyss, I will not run away. Not this time. Let me eat plastic with the deer. Let me breathe poisoned air with the walnut trees. Let me drink water clouded with fracking waste with the ducks. Let me face myself and the culture that shaped me, head on.
The ritual that OVER designed certainly was to call attention to Shell’s plastic death factory in Monaca, PA, and to emphasize the suffering that plastic pollution causes. There was also a covert message we wanted to convey to the world and to our own selves:
No more running away.
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