“When planting your tree, think about how even small acts can have significant results and how each one of us can help bring peace into our troubled world…When we deplete our finite resources, we begin to fight for the few that are left.
“The planet does not belong to those in power. It is a gift to all of us, not only a source of profound beauty but the sustenance for all life. And each one of us can help conserve and protect the Earth.” — Wangari Maathai
Nobel peace laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai, feminist, first environmentalist Nobel Prize winner and first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the Green Belt Movement have announced the launching of the “Plant for the Planet: The Billion Tree Campaign”, a worldwide campaign to plant one billion trees by the end of next year, in an effort to save the environment for the future.
The campaign encourages the planting of indigenous trees and those appropriate to the local environment, identifying four areas for planting: degraded natural forests, farms and rural landscapes, plantations and towns.
Maathai appealed to rich nations to cut their emissions of green house gasses to spare poor countries from drastic climate change effects, calling on them to donate funds to third world countries to enable them to address challenges posed by climate change.
Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement 30 years ago in Kenya by organizing women who were willing to plant trees to improve the environment and their livelihoods. The Green Belt Movement has now planted 30 million trees.
Maathai, asked about the significance of a tree to the Green Belt Movement, once answered:
Trees help heal the land and help break the cycle of poverty and hunger. Trees also provide a source of fuel, material for building and fencing, fruits, fodder, shade and aesthetic beauty. This is particularly important for women, who are expected to overcome resource deficits—for example, by walking further to find wood for cooking and heating and clean water—and growing or gathering new sources of food as old ones disappear. Trees, and intact forests, also keep soil healthy, stem erosion, protect rivers and streams (critical sources of clean water), and promote regular rainfall so droughts are avoided. The tree is also a wonderful symbol for peace. It is living and it gives hope. Trees are also actual places of peace. Many African communities—including my own, the Kikuyu—have special trees under which individual and community conflicts are resolved. In this, and in so many ways, the planting of trees lessens the potential for conflict and fosters peace. The Green Belt Movement has used trees as symbols of peace in Kenya. In the early 1990’s in an effort to diffuse clashes between ethnic clashes, the Green Belt Movement planted trees with both sides. We also planted trees in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park to show our belief in democracy, even when we were living under a very oppressive government that seemed unlikely to change. When you look beyond the trees there is wonderful symbolism.
Compare and contrast the simple idea of women, planting trees, with this statement, which I had the misfortune to read today:
Willis, like Carol Hanisch, didn’t think politics was about changing your personal lifestyle, as if your little, lone acts of resistance would amount to a hill of beans. Instead, change came about through collective political action — which would require doing more than shopping your way, or even abstaining from shopping your way, to revolution.
To begin with, do people who say (and believe) this kind of thing ever think about the fact that collective political action almost always begins with these “little lone acts of resistance” which are being so disparaged? Do they stop to consider, ever, that planting a tree, in a lone act of resistance, and caring for the tree you planted, is, indeed, about “changing your personal lifestyle” — for political reasons? Does it occur to them that the Green Belt Movement, responsible for planting 30 million trees in Africa (the continent most threatened by global warming), which will now plant a billion trees in one year’s time, hopefully, began with Wangeri Mathaai, herself, planting trees, recognizing that planting trees is revolutionary work, and organizing women to plant trees?
Some “hill of beans.”
“The personal is political” means that what happens to women, what goes on in our lives, the ways we are subordinated, are political issues. What is done to us is done for political reasons, to subordinate us. It was never meant to be marching orders or a mandate, and no feminist, including radical feminist, I know views it that way.
Which has nothing to do with the fact that, disregarding all of the above and what Carol Hanisch meant or didn’t mean, as feminist women, we can definitely engage in personal, “little, lone acts of resistance” which are not only political but which are, in fact, the work of political revolution. People get bugs up their elbows over this phrase for one reason: because they don’t like being called out on acts or views or beliefs which harm women. Well, that’s understandable I guess; what isn’t is the lengths to which they will go to gut an incredibly meaningful statement with a rich feminist herstory of all meaning. It would be funny if it was so not funny, feminists working hard to persuade, prove to women that what we do in our personal lives means nothing. If it doesn’t, then there’s no reason for us to be feminists or revolutionaries of any kind. Might as well hang it up now.
Planting trees as revolution wasn’t what Carolyn Hanisch had in mind when she said, “the personal is political.” But individual women planting trees as revolution is entirely political as well as personal, and can, has, and will change the world.