Walking Vigil and Civil Disobedience Action for Climate Hope
Contact: Nathan Broaddus
Member of Portland Friends Meeting, Peace and Social Concerns Committee
When: Starting at midnight (12:01 a.m.) on Tuesday, December 12 and continuing until 3:30 p.m. that same day
Where: Federal Courthouse, Federal Street, Portland, Maine
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/2114608838760787/
Members of Portland Friends Meeting and others from across Maine will hold a walking vigil, entitled 196 Rounds: A Walking Vigil for Climate Hope. An expected 100 individuals, including Quakers and people of all faiths, will walk 196 laps around the federal building in downtown Portland, the local seat of our national government. There will also be a nonviolent direct action civil disobedience event directly following the vigil (see below).
December 12 is the second anniversary of the signing of the Paris Climate Treaty, and we will walk one lap for each nation that is an active signatory of the treaty. Then, around three in the afternoon on Tuesday, we will undertake a final lap walking in the opposite direction. Because there is one country on the planet, and only one country, going backwards on the treaty: the United States.
The impacts of climate change are serious and universal. Serious in that they will affect the whole fabric of our life on this planet with each other, our own well-being and the well-being of our children and their children. Universal in that it endangers people all across the globe, some more than others. For both reasons, climate change is an issue of Faith. According to Nathan Broaddus a member of Portland Friends Meeting: “We cannot close our eyes to climate change, for in doing so we reject the Spirit that dwells in all people, in ourselves, and in our children.”
This will be a walking vigil. According to organizer Rob Levin: “We may walk with grief and tears at times, and with joy and hope as well. Parts of the walk will be silent, contemplative, and meditative. Other times we will fill the air with conversation, song and laughter.”
One lap and one country at a time, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, we’ll wave the flag for each country like the Olympics Parade of Nations. Said Levin” “We will honor the world coming together through the Paris accord, showing its resolve to address the biggest environmental challenge we have ever faced. And in the face of our home country’s abdication of responsibility, we will hold the world, our country, and ourselves, in the Light.”
We will walk through the first pre-dawn hours of that Tuesday, into the sunrise, all morning and most of the afternoon. Through the expected snowstorm and come what may. We will live out a vigil in the literal and figurative meaning of the word: a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray. It also seems fitting that the 12th is the first day of Hanukah, a holiday celebrating a miracle of light in the dark.
At 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, we’ll do our last revolution of the building, walking in the opposite direction, holding the U.S. flag and bowing our heads in silence, to express our grief and shame at our government’s tragic decision to withdraw from the Climate Treaty. We will then conclude the vigil with a short ceremony at the corner of Federal Street and Market Street. We will read out two lists: first, the list of the 195 nations that are active signatories to the treaty, and second, the smaller list of the one nation that is withdrawing. We will then have a few minutes of silent worship together.
Civil Disobedience Action:
At approximately 3:15, Robert H. Levin, a Portland Quaker, will walk off the sidewalk and onto federal property and erect a U.S. flag to half-staff, to symbolize the tragedy that is our nation’s failure to come to terms with climate change. Those standing by will be asked to sing America the Beautiful, a song that speaks to the potential to which we aspire as a people and a nation.
Rob Levin’s statement on civil disobedience:
“I do not undertake civil disobedience lightly. I have never willfully committed a crime before, and as an attorney I have enormous respect for the rule of law. I have spent countless hours over the past several years trying everything I can think of to work within the system to bring about change. I have met with, phoned, and written letters to our representatives and senators and helped train others to do so. I have marched in the marches. I have prayed alone and with my spiritual community. I will continue to do all of these things, but I feel called at this moment to take an additional step.
Even under the previous administration I was disappointed in the pace of change. But now, to see us going in reverse, is utterly heartbreaking to me. By abandoning the Paris Climate Treaty, we have demonstrated such ill will for the planet and for the international community. If these are the values that my government represents, then I cannot in clear conscience remain a citizen in good standing of the United States. By breaking the law, I feel that my actions will be more commensurate with the scale of the crisis that we face.
If the idea of flying the flag at half-staff seems dramatic, that is by design. The drama of climate change is unfortunately very real for all of us. We fly our flag at half-staff only during times of tragedy, and our current direction on climate change is nothing short of a global tragedy. We fly our flag at half-staff to mourn and honor our dead. According to a 2012 study, 400,000 deaths worldwide are attributable to climate change each year, with the numbers steadily increasing. At the same time, traditionally we fly the flag at half-staff for a limited duration. We hope that one day soon, our country will rejoin the community of nations and the Paris Climate Treaty and we will proudly hoist the flag all the way to the top. In the words of Carl Schurz: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”