Fear. It’s that chill that creeps up your spine. That awful, churning hot knot, deep in the pit of your stomach. The tremble that makes your hands feel powerless. The freeze-up, that tempts you to inaction. But you can’t give in to it. You still need to DO SOMETHING.
I’m not a very public person by nature. But right now life — my activist life, and life on the planet in general — demands that I do some very public things. It’s terrifying.
My husband tells me fear and excitement have some of the same roots. Maybe. Sometimes it is excitement, disguised. But sometimes, like a week ago Wednesday, like today, it is just plain wanting-to-crawl-in-a-hole rather than do what needs to be done.
That Wednesday I went to City Hall. Maybe to you that doesn’t sound like much. To people in small towns, like the authors of the Slow Democracy book I recently reviewed, it doesn’t sound like it is very tough. But when your “hometown” is one of the largest megacities in the world, city hall is a daunting, prohibitive fortress.
You enter the monster underground. I was given a free parking pass for the day (at $5 per hour, that’s a pretty huge freebie), but I circled the 4-block area twice trying to find the right place to enter to claim the blasted pass. Thank goodness for Siri to navigate the busy fast streets, but once there she cannot tell you where to find the door. Once underground (deeeeep underground. ugh) you wind around and twist around and there are a bazillion signs, a bewildering array, and you have to read them all to see which ones apply to you. That’s just for starters, but it sure sets the stage.
Then you have to find the way up. The parking garage is under a building in one block and city hall is in another block — you don’t even know how far you have traveled underground. (Oh – there’s the mayor’s parking place!)
A door, and a friendly woman sees me looking very lost and takes me under her wing. A rabbit’s warren worth of corridors later we’re at elevators, and in the back of my mind I’m wondering how I will find my car … IF I will see my car ever again.
Elevator set #1 completed, more rabbit tunnels, and we’re out of the darkness up into the light in a glorously daylit corridor. Only now as I think back on it do I realize that probably meant we were high over the street. I never looked.
Security is not quite as bad as LAX airport. My friendly guide departs (after directing me to yet another bank of elevators which I cannot see and hope I can remember the directions to).
I watch the security guard work over the crowd ahead of me. An elderly woman has no i.d. She shakes her head silently, desperately clutching her handbag. Her granddaughter takes the handbag from her, digs around a bit, and fishes out granny’s i.d., clicking her tongue scoldingly. The older lady probably feels just like I do.
Meanwhile I’m clutching my own bag, wondering what security is going to think of it. Deep inside it are glass jars full of seeds. Heirloom vegetable seeds. Yes, I’m carrying them into Los Angeles City Hall. I’ve done some nutsy things in my life and right now this is sure feeling like one of them. (What was I thinking?)
They’re Christmas lima beans, a delicious heirloom people have been saving, generation after generation, since the 1840s. D’aquadulce fava beans, first recorded around 1885. Carouby de Maussane snowpea, a gorgeous purple-podded 19th century treasure. Alderman peas, the ancestors of which date from 1878. Drought-tolerant Ejotero blackeyed pea, the rich heritage of the Mayo people of Sinaloa. All tucked in my little bag. These are what this is all about. These precious seeds, the stories they represent, the people they represent, and their vast power: The power to feed people … now and into humanity’s future.
I’m carrying my hopes with me. Hopes for a secure food supply. Hopes for feeding people. Hopes for a backup-system of urban gardens and for maintaining peace as peak oil turns uglier. Hopes that the people I’m to meet with will lend a sympathetic ear.
Hopes that we can do something to try to stop transnational corporations from controling the entirety of our food supply — diverting it to chemical-dependent, water-dependent, corporate-economy-dependent, completely OIL-dependent means, just in time for the end of the oil age. Shutting naturally-diversified varieties out of the marketplace, the very diversity we need for a climate-changed future.
Big hopes. Little me. And my bag of seeds.
I wasn’t alone last Wednesday. There were other people carrying hopes: NO GMOs in our food and our seeds! Some of the people were activists I knew from our own coalition, others came from different angles and different agendas but had reached the same conclusion: genetic engineering does not belong in our food supply. We shared our hopes and our dreams with people deep within city hall. We’ll see what might come of it.
We still have hopes. The following Saturday, more people carried hopes: this time out on the streets, with lots of other people, to the March Against Monsanto. In downtown L.A., in other smaller groups around Southern California, in cities across the country.
While I was at city hall, with some of my fellow activists I slipped into the vast, built-to-impress chambers of the city council. One of the women whispered to me, “It’s so inaccessible!” But maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be there … with my little jars of seeds … trying to convince them how important it is that we DO SOMETHING.