Stewing on Doing
How to do things without moving a pinky
Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.
I loved this Jia Tolentino New Yorker piece on the outerwear brand Outside Voices from last year. Reading it again now, this paragraph feels so different given the current sitch:
I took my place amid a sea of young people wearing Doing Things hats in blue and burnt orange. Haney gave a minute-long pep talk—“Our mission is to get the world moving!”—and waded into the crowd. The ludicrously energetic instructor turned on a booming reggaeton mix and launched into a 2-a.m.-at-the-club dance routine so saucy and contagious that everyone around me screamed. It was a hot, thick, strange day, and soon everyone was booty-popping, body-rolling, unhinged by glee. I took videos so that I could show my friends what I was doing. I felt amazing—porous and overcome. Afterward, I talked to a student named Jesse, whom I’d spotted in the crowd. He wore a U.T. polo, rolled-up khakis, shower slides, and tube socks. He’d just been walking by, and had joined in; he’d never heard of Outdoor Voices or Zumba. He was buzzing. “That was so, so great,” he said, dazed.
It speaks to the physical joy that no amount of Zoom dance parties can capture. Happening upon something wild and gleeful that perfectly satisfies some desire you didn’t even know you had. Of course, I’m a sucker for outdoor collective dance parties on ‘hot, thick strange days.’
The piece made me go check out the workout wear company itself, but I could find no correlation between the strangely bland overpriced leggings and the rather beautiful Outdoor Voices motto: Doing Things. And yet I always think about this phrase, #doingthings. Is it the time to be thinking or the time to be doing? Does doing require movement? Is a disco protest more #doingthings than a letter-writing campaign?
VIBE OR PRESCRIBE?
A reader, Cath, wrote to me a few weeks ago suggesting I could make the newsletter a bit more prescriptive (thank you, Cath!). That had been my original intention, but with disparate interests and geographies and resources and styles, I’ve slowly pivoted that initial idea into customizable prompts—hopeful thought starters that can be adapted to the particulars of your world and worldview. But I get that sometimes people want a simple thing to #do. I myself often want these things, too. (Just tell me what to do, world! Do I stop flying? Do I stand in front of my MPs office with my hair on fire? Do I watch Love Is Blind?)
In my work, I’ve often used engagement tools to help clients generate thousands of petition signatures or letters sent to politicians. It’s not so much that I don’t believe in the effectiveness of these tools, but that they don’t feel like #doingthings. They feel like autopilot. Most people don’t read the letters they send, or the petitions they click. So while the sheer mass of them may be effective on occasion, the jury is out on how much they move people up the ladder, thereby stymieing real mobilization. I worry, too, that recipients of these mass-produced campaigns don’t grant them the same legitimacy as individual change-making efforts, or they experience digital onslaught fatigue. Sure, constituency assistants dutifully catalogue numbers of emails received, but I suspect they consider these digital efforts a less-worthy means of doing. Politicians don’t capitulate to a few thousand letters the way they do to a few dozen angry citizens and a TV camera. In Ontario, our government generally just ignores anything that doesn’t immediately make them look horrible.
But is attending a rally or occupying a physical space doing more? I think I’ve always had a bias toward the physical. It takes longer and feels scarier, therefore it must mean more. Every nonprofit’s Ladder of Engagement agrees. We move people from clicktivism to...mobilizing. It’s harder for me to get to events at prescribed times, so, rightly or wrongly, I ascribe a higher value to the idea of showing up. Even as I know it’s increasingly impossible for so many people to find the time or resources to show up. Of course, we literally can’t show up right now. So #doingthings must now answer how to make our voice heard while we shelter in place. I know, I’m running in circles in my living room.
I don’t have an answer, but I do think being shuttered is going to force us to find new ways to do action, new paths to move projects and goals and ideas forward. It’s one of the few things I’m optimistic about. That, and my next loaf of bread (I never learn).
PIVOT TO ACTION
In the run of two newsletter editions (an eternity on the COVID clock), I’ve gone from feeling like we needed to be sensitive to the current situation and not advance an environmental agenda while people get sick to...TRUMP IS ROLLING BACK EPA REGULATIONS WHILE AMERICANS DIE LET’S DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW! (Even staid Obama has jumped into the fray to say “go vote.”)
I don’t want climate work to be silenced because we can’t leave the house, which is on fire. So let’s DO THINGS. Let’s write things, let’s share things, let’s yell things from our porches, be they digital or clapboard.
How are you taking action from home? I would really, really love to know. As well, if you have a digital effort that could use a bump, please send it to me, and I will start a handy new section to share these. I’ve started this week with a few of my own. 👇👇👇
THIS WEEK: BUMP THIS
Why are construction sites deemed essential but community gardens being shut down here in Ontario? People need to grow food.
People before polluters petition from Environmental Defense Canada.
We can still climate strike (digitally). Tomorrow!!
LAST WEEK: WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THE QUIET…
So many beautiful ones.
I am working my way down through the (too big) chest freezer down in the basement, meal by meal, and can almost see the bottom in some places…
I walk my dog nearby In a re-treed tree farm, I put her many sticks (former tree branches) in the X branches of a tree along the middle trail. So far we have 2 layers of sticks in one tree to select, 5 sticks on one layer, 4 on the other. I like ones that are smooth, just enough wt., not too terribly long or it’ll hit the ground and mess up my aim, and jar my wrists. Sticks that bounce like a kong ball, every which way, thrill me. The sticks in the tree remind me of a place pool cues live…but in trees! I think the bouncing (kinda like throwing rocks in a lake—skipping ‘em) thrills me more than my lab Tess!
I'm essentially solitary in a retirement community. I've been reading my old journals to try to get in touch with my much younger self. It's been a fascinating dialogue.
For some reason my kids started watching Alf this week.
Hope you are safe and healthy.
Thank you for reading,
(Thank you lovely Bernadette K for proofing this beast!)