Art as a tool for climate activism has engaged young and old alike in our local UCC church and in our Southern Oregon community. For our Central Pacific Conference, incorporating art and engaging young participants was a priority for our Rise Up: Climate, Faith, and Action week-end retreat at beautiful Camp Adams in March, 2014. The intergenerational character of that event was rich and energizing. Young people spoke of their interest in embodied activism, and the idea of a “Caminata," was born. A Caminata is an intentional walk, often practiced in Latin America, for the purpose of demonstrating and mobilizing resistance to injustice.
Our hope in the Climate Action Network of the CPC was to reinvigorate and build capacity in our churches for meaningful action on climate policy and practice. We also wanted to build our local networks with other faith communities to be able to mobilize significant response on behalf of the future of the planet.
An issue for Southern Oregon was the threat of a 232 mile pipeline for moving fracked gas to an export terminal on the coast and shipping it to foreign markets. From nearby Medford to the capitol in Salem, the distance is also 232 miles, so we decided to walk and bike to our Jerusalem during holy week to denounce the project and plead with Governor Kate Brown for carbon pricing and an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure in our state.
We walked in tribute to Berta Cáceres, recently murdered in Honduras for her environmental activism, and in solidarity with indigenous rights.
Our pilgrimage to Salem for the climate was earthy, sustaining and holy: step by step, rainy day after rainy day, chanting, singing, entering warm welcoming communities joined by local walkers and bikers. We were nourished and inspired together and glimpsed the very world we are working for.
Half of our interfaith group of 13 participants were children and teens, our youngest 9 and the oldest 69. A brightly painted bus helped us cover the distance in a week. We stayed in Presbyterian, Methodist and UCC churches along the way; were fed and housed and had our tired feet washed. Together we walked, sang, danced, prayed, broke bread, painted a mural, lit candles, and fell in love with our warm and gracious hosts—people in faith communities and their local partners working in defense of the environment, choosing cleaner energy, eating local food, and promoting sustainable practices.
We don’t know exactly what it all meant—our walking and biking, being on the radio and in the news—or who even paid any attention. But it was deeply moving to journey together, caring for and adjusting to the needs of each other, expressing ourselves through words and actions and the arts, purposing to make lifestyle changes, engaging deeply with the earth through the practice of walking, experiencing the elements, and receiving with deep gratitude the hospitality of strangers.
The Rev. Paula Sohl is the Associate Pastor for Ashland First Congregational UCC.