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Wake Up! Our World Is Dying and We're All in Denial

Had we been in a trance? I wanted to shout, "Wake up! Please wake up! Our old future is gone. Matters are urgent. We have to do something now."

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Sara was devastated. She and John quickly bundled up the baby and said good night. I could see her weeping as she tucked Coltrane into his car seat. I felt anguished, and I wasn't sure I'd done the right thing. Yet Sara was 33 years old. Could I really shield her from what scientific experts were telling us? Would I want to be "protected" from the truth? Wasn't it better if we faced these things together?

That next week, I couldn't enjoy anything. My conversations with my husband quickly fell into what we call "the dumper." I was afraid to be around friends for fear I'd infect them with my gloominess.

I knew I had to find a way out of my state of mind. I couldn't survive with all that awareness every minute of my day. I wanted to be happy again, to be able to laugh, and to snuggle with my grandchildren without worrying about their futures. But I couldn't forget what I now understood.

What pulled me out of my despair was the desire to get to work. I didn't know what I was going to do. I felt unqualified for virtually everything involving the environment, but I knew I had to do something to help. It was unclear how much my action would benefit the world, but I knew it would help me. I've never been able to tolerate stewing in my own anxiety. Action has always been my healing tonic.

I invited a group of people to my house to discuss what we could do to stop TransCanada from shipping tar-sand sludge through our state via the Keystone XL pipeline. We called ourselves The Coalition. For more than a year now, we've met for potluck dinners and planning sessions. We've made sure the meetings have been parties. We've had wine, good food, and lots of laughter and hugs. We've tried to end our meetings on a positive note, so everyone would want to return. None of us has time for extra tedium or suffering, but we like working together for a common cause.

If you want to discover how the world works, try to change it--especially if the changes involve confronting the fossil-fuel industry. Our campaign has been a complicated story about money, power, international corporations, and politics. But it's also a simple story, about my friends and me, working to save our state from what we nicknamed the Xtra Leaky Pipeline.

Through the year, we held rallies, educational forums, and music benefits, and set up booths at farmers' markets and county fairs. In other words, we "massified"--a term we used to signify momentum and getting increasing numbers of people on board.

By the summer of 2011, our entire state had united around the idea of stopping the XL Pipeline's route through our Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer. Our campaign was the best thing to happen to our state since Big Red football. Progressives and Western ranchers worked together, and Sierra Club attorneys were given standing ovations in VFW halls in little towns with no registered Democrats. We staged tractor brigades and poetry readings against the pipeline. What all of us had in common was a desire to protect the place we loved.

As Randy Thompson, a conservative farmer who fought the pipeline, said, "This isn't a political issue. There's no red water or blue water; there's clean water or dirty water."

I wanted to keep Nebraska healthy for my grandchildren. When my grandson Aidan was 6, he had a growth spurt in his point of view. Our family had gone to a lake to watch the Perseid meteor showers. Afterward, driving back home, we crested a hill and Aidan saw the lights of his small town on the horizon. He said, "Look at my beautiful city." I responded, "It's a pretty town at night with all the twinkling lights." Aidan was quiet for a moment and then said, "Nonna, my town is big to me, but small to the rest of the world." I sighed. That's a lesson we all have to learn sooner or later.

 
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