Creativity + Focused Activism in 2013

An excerpt from my annual letter to friends and family:

My organizing philosophy has changed radically this year, from try-everything to an exclusionary focus on the root of climate change. (Hold onto your ‘silver bullet’ critique for a minute).

"It's a Rogue Thing" on February 17 in Medford drew 400 attendees and 1,500 project participants.

“It’s a Rogue Thing” on February 17 in Medford drew 400 attendees and 1,500 project participants.

This shift began in January when I helped my friend Hannah Sohl in creating a big expression of climate love from 1,500 cardboard pieces individually decorated by southern Oregonians with their love for home and a stable world. The project culminated in February when over 400 smiling people gathered in Medford to assemble the pieces into a 120-foot long salmon. The success of the project—and the joy of doing it—stunned me. Art has a unique power to invite newcomers into the climate movement and build the goodwill we need to build support for real solutions.

The trouble is that just getting people to show up for big happy events doesn’t keep fossil fuels underground. Hannah and I were struck speechless by a woman in the crowd shouting “what do you want us to do now?” What should we have said? Recycle more?  Our focus on awareness had precluded practical action.  We’d punted the responsibility to our speakers—who were great, but together presented no coherent vision for change. So our ragtag band of ten lovable misfits gathered to answer her question: friends between jobs or school, parents, local nonprofit staff, and retirees. We decided on two things: 1. It’s time the climate movement focus exclusively on the root of the problem, and 2. Oregon can lead the way with a state-wide carbon tax. Your generous donations and support made the resulting event a big win.

The first Oregon Climate Action Day, May 22: nearly 200 Oregonians rallying for the carbon tax in the Capitol.  Credit: West Turn Picture Co.

The first Oregon Climate Action Day, May 22: nearly 200 Oregonians rallying for the carbon tax in the Capitol. Credit: West Turn Picture Co.

Oregon Climate Action Day was the most meaningful project of my life. On May 22nd, we towed the salmon up north to Salem. In the true spirit of a sand mandala, it spawned under the rain in front of the capitol building as 200 folks from across the state rallied for a revenue-neutral tax on carbon. (My speech is here.) Our team trained about 60 volunteers to lobby legislators for the carbon tax that day. We were thrilled to learn from our state representative that our work was instrumental in passing appropriations to finance a study on the effect a carbon tax might have in Oregon.

Top quote of 2013 is an utterance from Buckminster Fuller long ago that a problem adequately stated is a problem very nearly solved.  I have come to see that our bandaids for climate change have so failed to heal our climate because we never adequately stated the problem. Climate change is merely a symptom.  Other symptoms include hydraulic fracturing and ocean acidification.  Coal trains and pipelines like Keystone XL, or the LNG project slated to bisect Oregon, are also symptoms. The uphill battles facing local agriculture or bike commuting are symptoms.

The TEAM! L to R: Dan Thorndike, .. , Christine Haynie, Winston Friedman, Camila Thorndike, Rob Schlapfer, Erica Franks, Dan Golden, Whitney Brown, Muuqi Maxwell, Malaika Libera, ., and Hannah Sohl.

The OCAD TEAM! L to R: Dan Thorndike, Hans West, Christine Haynie, Winston Friedman, Camila Thorndike, Rob Schlapfer, Erica Franks, Dan Golden, Whitney Brown, Muuqi Maxwell, Malaika Libera, ., Hannah Sohl, and Jana Gastellum.

The source of our problem is underpriced carbon. We all pay the hidden costs of carbon for the benefit of the few. The list of symptoms is never-ending and so long as we each run off with an item on this list of “things you can do,” we will be divided and conquered—indeed, divide and conquer is pretty much the only game our enemies got. Instead, we can together pull on the highest lever of change with simple carbon pricing, shifting the whole playing field in favor of sustainability.

A climate activist must be an ER doctor, focusing on the source of the threat to our patient’s life, and a carbon tax is the simplest way to do it. One of the best ways to help is to join the Citizens Climate Lobby. The CCL’s Ghandian model helps anyone learn how to build citizen muscle. I attended the annual conference this summer to lobby Congress and ended up in their video, frizzy hair and all. Shi-Ling Hsu, author of “The Case for the Carbon Tax,” spoke to us and I think the précis of his excellent book is worth a skim. This book review includes helpful quotes from the text.

Staged reading of COAL: Fable of the Firerock at The Lensic, February 2013

Staged reading of COAL: Fable of the Firerock at The Lensic, February 2013

Currently I have the honor of applying the alchemy of community art and efficacious policy as a director on COAL, a national climate project created by New Mexican social change artist Molly Sturges. The musical tale of COAL: Fable of the Firerock is about a family coming together around the paradox of extractive energy. The story invites us to consider our own agency in the tradeoff of consumption or interconnectedness. Our vision is to inspire and train grassroots “Spark” groups to imaginatively build support for a price on pollution. We’re about to launch in Orange County. Want to host COAL where you live?

To conclude 2013, here are a couple favorite life hacks (pardon the dated phrase). My favorite books, shows, and articles are listed here.

Vipassana meditation is probably the most unadulterated technique of meditation as taught by Gotima the Buddha. Simply stated, you sit down for 10 days to observe the impermanence of sensations in your own body and develop the faculty of equanimity. Striving for enlightenment, no matter how distant, inevitably delivers guidance and energy for a proactive life. Everyone benefits. The people and centers are lovely. Oh, and it’s free.

Quitting Facebook. On day three of the retreat, I realized that the only way to wrestle down my monkey mind is to starve it. Leaving FB was the obvious first step. There are serious tradeoffs, but oh man am I happier! I always knew that letters, calls and visits are the stuff of friendship, but didn’t realize how much the Newsfeed was underlining my SoCal isolation. The best part about quitting has been recouping all the energy spent denying myself hits while working solo. Plus, FB is rolling out video ads soon. Laaame. Google+, anyone?  In the meanwhile, connect with me Twitter-wise @camilathorndike.

Wishing you all beautiful epiphanies and evolutions this New Year.


Bye, Facebook

Friends: At the Vipassana retreat, I decided to leave Facebook for an indeterminate period. Please leave me your email to stay in touch. (And wish me luck!)

The rationale might sound annoyingly self-helpy, but I so want to share the benefits of Vipassana that I’ll take a stab at a summary.

First: life is suffering, and suffering is caused by craving or aversion to impermanence. We all die. Peace–learning to live well–starts with starving the dangerous monkey-mind. Day three of just sitting on my pained ass trying to focus on my breath, I realized that my rapid-fire like/dislike mental habit pattern is strengthened by Millennial information flows that exercise my reactive brain. I understood on a physical level how anything engineered to create attachment to self, or to see things as I want them to be instead of as they really are, is literally hurtful.

By equanimously observing arising and passing sensations, one starts clearing away old garbage to walk a taller, lighter, and with an easier smile. If I’ve dedicated my life to a stable climate for the good of fellow beings, my first responsibility is to my own happiness. How will I prevent others’ heartbreak if I keep identifying with my own? Vipassana teaches that “When we suffer, we do not keep our misery limited to ourselves; instead, we keep distributing it to others.” It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Detachment isn’t not caring. On the contrary: reacting less means acting more on behalf of what matters. You save your life and countless others by observing the road instead of worrying about bugs on the windshield. I want to be an excellent driver who can take busloads of partying people to great places.

All in all, this is just a small way to reallocate energy to developing the happiness, wisdom, compassion, equanimity and determination to navigate change, global and personal. Meditation, work, and friendships are going to fill the saved time. I’m going to have my password changed and will check in once in a while for messages.

Please email me at I’m also one of those people keeping post offices open; snailmail rocks. And consider going to Vipassana! There are beautiful centers all around the world, and it’s totally free. It might also end up being the best thing you ever did for yourself.

Much love.
xoxo C