photos by Anita Jerva
by Robert Gardner, Think Green Correspondent
After much anticipation, Montgomery County Community College held its annual Richard K. Bennett Distinguished Lectureship for Peace and Social Justice on Monday, Feb. 25. Special guest speaker Emily Hunter addressed a crowd of more than 500 students, staff, and local residents first at MCCC’s West Campus in Pottstown, and later at the Central Campus in Blue Bell, on what she calls “Activism 2.0: The Rebirth of the Environmental Movement.”
College President Dr. Karen Stout opened the main, afternoon event in Blue Bell by stressing the importance of the Bennett Lectures to the school—particularly its student leadership. She noted the addition of three new clubs on campus: Veterans Student Organization, STEM Club, and Environmental Club. She also spoke of the many sustainability events and programs undertaken at MCCC.
“I’m sure that we are creating the next generation of eco-warriors[at the College],” Dr. Stout said. “I’m very proud of our students.”
Dr. Stout then introduced environmental sciences professor Jerry Coleman, who described some of his own “vague memories of the first Earth Day.” After a quick laugh from the audience, Coleman shifted gears by highlighting both the dynamic nature of environmental activism as well as the need for the movement to change and grow while mirroring the social climate.
“Education is key,” he said in closing. “But so is questioning.”
With that, Coleman brought to the podium Emily Hunter, the twenty-nine year-old daughter of a famous environmental activist. She took the stage amid tremendous applause before stating what an honor it was to be, as she put it, “here at a college that takes environmentalism seriously.”
“Activism is a far-off world, inaccessible to most of us.”
This sentiment had dominated the field for too long. Young people, she explained, comprise a new and exciting trend in activism—millennials who see into the future and want to initiate change. Now. They are writing a new narrative: hope in a hopeless time. The time has come to redefine activism; to create something “we can feel a part of. That’s Activism 2.0.”
Hunter will admit, she was born into activism. Both her mother and her father helped create the environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Emily’s journey began at the age of nineteen when her father Robert sent her to join Sea Shepherd. With family friend Paul Watson at the helm, Sea Shepherd became the star of Whale Wars, a reality television program.
“This kind of activism,” she recalled, “isn’t for everyone. I found that out as the cameramen were snapping pictures on me getting seasick.”
Though she can laugh now, the experience caused her to question whether she had what it takes and what activism really was. The loss of her father to cancer left a void in the younger Hunter, but it also left a “void in the movement itself.”
“I thought the same old banner waving just isn’t working anymore,’” she said. “’So It’s time for a rebirth.’”
She began to research and document a new generation of activists who were changing the game of what it means to be an activist. What she found was a new story. A new normal. 2012 was the warmest year on record; over half the arctic ice shelves have melted. The world before us is uninhabitable. Generation X is busy raising families and Gen Y is entering adulthood.
“My message is for everyone, but specific for this generation. Thomas Jefferson said that every generation needs its own revolution. This is our revolution.”
She quickly spoke about the history of activism, which took place in four stages: awakening, spark, loss of innocence, and system change.
- The awakening began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the lobbying of the lumber industry. Around this time, the Sierra Club was founded.
- The spark happened during her father’s time, the 60s and 70s, coinciding with the advent of nuclear testing, the specter of nuclear war. Following the lead of great civil rights activists, Greenpeace used new tactics—civil disobedience. They embraced the new media culture.
- In the 1980s, the movement witnessed its loss of innocence. A new, radical form of activism began eco-sabotage campaigns. Acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer dominated headlines. For the first time, environmental justice linked itself to social issues.
From 2006 through 2009, a global alarm bell began ringing. The internet emerged as a useful tool for organizing and educating. Environmentalists placed all their hopes into the Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009.
“It was, finally, a chance for change,” Hunter said. “But Copenhagen missed badly. It went from Hopenhagen to Flopenhagen. We were stuck in stage three, wondering ‘what’s next?’”
“We have to use our own identities and our own tactics,” she concluded.
Today, there are 3.5 billion people under the age of thirty on the planet. Hunter noted key trends which show that system change is slowly taking place, despite stout opposition from the corporate and political powers-that-be. The first trend is the interconnectedness, building bridges across continents and cultures. Second, change requires a root cause in order to join movements.
“We cannot survive in isolation. We can now connect the dots between environmental issues and social issues. 350.org attempts to take action now, forming a network of resources.”
The economy and the environment are inextricably linked. The former “infinite growth model” cannot continue unchecked. What is needed, according to Hunter, is a new economics based on sustainability. This economy will favor usership over ownership, collaborative over individual need, access over excess.
“This [proposed} society is not utopian in nature. It is a way to reduce waste and redefine economies. The Earth cannot support the way we live currently.”
Some of the areas in which change can be made immediately include biodegradable packaging, sustainable art and fashion, green buildings and technology. “With the proper dedication of effort and resources,” Hunter said, ” the possibilities are truly endless.”
“Activism is not about going barefoot and having dreadlocks,” she said, eliciting a laugh from the audience. Though she broke the dire mood, Hunter maintained a confident sincerity.
“My activism is storytelling. Our world is not hopeless. We are not hopeless…
“Our story is hope.”
Following the lecture, Hunter participated in a brief Q & A session, offering personal answers to some pointed questions. She talked of how near these issues are to her heart. She even sports a “Love is the Movement” tattoo on her arm as a reminder of why she does all of this. With fondness, she told a story.
According to her father’s wishes, his ashes were to be scattered into the ocean. His death, as mentioned, had left Emily feeling emptiness. As the ship took to the sea and Robert’s ashes reuniting with the world from which he sprung, a pod of blue whales followed nearby. The emotion carried her voice as she remembered with a smile.
Emily Hunter is not just Robert Hunter’s daughter. She is the next generation. She is an activist. 2.0.