[essay] The Watermelon Manifesto: Solarpunk and a future worth fighting for

Many Gods, No Masters

-4h8Fg3A

The Watermelon Manifesto (solarpunk and a future worth fighting for)

The culture around us, most especially the worlds of speculative fiction and independent music, is replete with trends ending in -punk, representing alternative visions of the world, and one of the newest, having entered the public discourse only about five years ago, is solarpunk. But aren’t there enough of these punks floating around already? What is it that makes solarpunk so special?

Put simply, solarpunk is a rupture with these other subcultural trends because it presents an alternative vision of the world which is both desirable and achievable, unlike its predecessors. For example, steampunk presents a Romantic vision of an alternative present based on a retrofuturist reimagining of the development of industry, while cyberpunk presents people moving through and surviving within a grim and dystopic vision of the future. The former is pure fantasy, whereas the latter, though imminently possible…

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Spring In s’uləxw

Bleeding-hearts are blooming, bracken fern fiddleheads unfurling, and maple blossoms falling from the trees in yellow bunches. I pull up nipplewort, dandelions, peppercress; clearing out invaders and getting myself some tasty salad greens in the process. I’m still learning about the garden–how to tell a sow bug from a pillbug, which songs go to which birds, and why the buttercups have spotty leaves this year. I like to trace the roots of the weeds with my fingers in the cool, damp soil, but for cleavers and thistles I put on tough leather gloves. A garter snake basks in the grass nearby, with long yellow stripes as warm as the sunshine.

Soon the camas will send up purple stars, and local indigenous tribes will hold a ceremony in the nearby Longhouse (s’gʷi gʷi ʔ altxʷ) to celebrate. Camas bulbs are an important traditional food here: long before settlers came and put this land under the plow, camas prairies were maintained and harvested from by Coast Salish and other tribes. Whenever douglas-fir began to encroach on the prairies, they burned the trees to provide nourishing ash and open space for the camas to flourish in–a practice which has unfortunately been largely buried under legal snarls and opposition. Without people tending them, the camas prairies have steadily disappeared, and the purple “lakes” of flowers are a much rarer sight than they once were.

Common Camas (Camassia Quamash) in bloom

Happy Lokablót!

I didn’t really plan ahead for today, relying on luck and the morning’s ideas to decide what I was going to do. So, I took our older cat, Nubbs, out for her morning walk (something she insists on with endless yowling and pacing if we are late, especially if it’s sunny out), picked some fresh wildflowers for the house, and got to thinking. I decided to prank my partners by replacing the eggs in the fridge with Kinder eggs. However, the school bookstore which had had Kinder eggs very recently had sold out, so I got Oreo cream eggs instead which worked just as well. Each time one of my partners got up, I offered to make breakfast and asked them to get the eggs out of the fridge. ^^ I also got this seriously cool scorpion sucker for my offering to Loki (yes that is a real scorpion):

Banana-flavored!

Our kitten, Aadya, pulled a prank of her own by knocking down the trash in my bedroom and strewing its contents all over the house (how she managed that in a matter of seconds while my back was turned is a mystery we may never solve). Both cats seem to be in high spirits today, with Nubbs following me around the house purring (she’s usually very much of a grump and rarely purrs), and Aadya doing her best to be adorable, pouncing, flopping over on her back and wiggling, etc. Aadya is very much Loki’s cat and likes to hang out in his part of the altar.

Finally, here’s a silly (and slightly NSFW) song that the day made me think of:
http://sca.claypool.me/songs/blueribbon.html

Solarpunk Feelings

Solarpunk isn’t just a fantasy about some idealistic, untouchable future that we could reach if only, if only we were better people. It’s a plan. It’s something we can reach, not with pie-in-the-sky idealism, but with a combination of real, not just inclusive but integrative compassion, and practical strategy and action.

So how to write solarpunk? More importantly, how to write effective solarpunk?

I don’t have a good answer to that question, but I do have ideas.

First, we need to think of solarpunk as persuasive in nature. It has two messages, “this is what we want” and “this is how we get there”. The persuasive “arc” of a speech or presentation is different from a story arc–rather than a single sweeping motion, it goes back and forth between the unsatisfactory present and the desired future. This can be done in a story using actual time differences between different points of view (a character in the present/near-future and a character in the future), the memories of a character who has lived through both, or histories written about the present and told in the future. In terms of actual time spent on one or the other, it’s best to stick mostly to the future with brief touches on the present to ground, explain, and contrast.

Second, we need to be clear about the kind of society we want: one which doesn’t just talk about, but integrates into its foundation and basic workings, compassion and systems that allow all people to flourish and be happy. There is more to healing this planet and our species than community gardens and solar powered streetlamps.

  • We need accessibility for everyone as a primary concern and not an afterthought. Ramps, elevators, railings, navigable sidewalks and entrances, accessible bathrooms (without any sort of gender attached to them), complete ingredients lists, enough interpreters and translators to facilitate communication, competent and compassionate teachers who can address the diverse needs and abilities of their students, and most importantly, a system that includes people with diverse needs in its decision-making and listens to and addresses their needs.
  • We need health care to be accessible to everyone who needs it (and not, financially or otherwise, punish some people for having more or different needs than others). Healing should focus on what the patient needs to be happy rather than some arbitrary ideal of “perfect” health, consider their community, past, and other circumstances that affect and are affected by their health. The field of medicine should consider equally the health practices of various cultures and traditions, and should integrate study of mental, physical, and social health rather than isolating them into separate disciplines.
  • We need a society that integrates people of different races, cultures, religions, abilities, genders, and orientations,without homogenizing them or prioritizing one over another. All should have the same opportunities and rights, and actual, tangible reparations should be made to aid with the healing and recovery of colonized, enslaved, and otherwise mistreated peoples.
  • A future without poverty means that no one will suffer the afflictions of poverty. Everyone gets a home. Everyone gets nutritious food and clean water. Everyone gets electricity, safe and clean systems for sewage disposal, and access to information (libraries, internet). Everyone gets accessible, reliable public transportation. No one should have to live in fear of getting their utilities shut off, or not being able to eat this week, or getting kicked out of their apartment in the middle of December. These are not reasonable consequences for not being able to work, and ability to work does not and should not determine a person’s worth to society or in general (especially in a society where tasks are increasingly being automated and work for the uneducated is scarce).
  • On that note, education should be free and accessible to everyone, and should focus on what they want to learn for personal and societal betterment and projects they wish to undertake, not on preparing them for entering the workforce (which is shrinking rapidly due to the aforementioned automation). Education should not function as a class division, nor should it be prerequisite to full participation in decision-making or any other aspect of life (though certain professions obviously will require education, such as medical).
  • Wealth and/or power concentrated in the hands of a few is always a recipe for disaster, no matter who those few are, how they got there, or how well-intentioned they are. Decision-making should be transparent, equitable, and place the power firmly in the hands of the people. Private ownership of natural resources and manufacturing tools/equipment (aka the means of production) should be prohibited, with these things belonging to the community that uses them. Money should be either an antiquated concept or severely nerfed in its capacity to transfer power.
  • Our well-being as a species should not be seen as in conflict with the well-being of the planet, but rather dependent on it. Humanity can thrive and be happy without destroying the environment in the process. Any solarpunk story should include solutions or potential solutions to the environmental problems we currently face, both the root causes and the symptoms. Make sure these aspects are as practical and well-researched as possible, with a clear transition between the current state of things and the future.

Finally, the action side of things. What can we do right now to ensure a future that looks like the solarpunk vision? For starters, we need to practice what we preach. If you think, “I want a future where black and brown people do not face violence and discrimination” but you don’t listen to POC voices here and now? Get on that. If you want a supportive, compassionate community? Create that community now. Start setting examples of what you want to do, and not in the incremental “progress by inches” way that is too slow for people dying while they wait for things to get better. There are better people than me to talk about direct action, so all I will say about that is that direct action–with a concrete, doable plan, one that considers who will be affected and the needs of those involved–is needed.

When talking about the way things are now, and what it will take to achieve the future we are striving for, you don’t need to be light and fluffy. This, as I said, is not about escapism. It’s about hope. Not the passive, empty, “just wait and be a good person and the Benevolent Universe will send good things your way” kind of hope–hope with a plan.

On the Terrorist Attacks In NZ

I have been struggling to find words to express how I feel on this matter, and to be honest, my feelings are not what should be centered here. This tragedy affected 49 Muslims and their friends and families, and while I grieve that such things are still happening and will continue to happen as long as extremists paint entire religions and peoples as evil, I cannot begin to know the pain and fear that are carried by the survivors.

What I do know, is that the shooter, who had symbols of my religion on his weapons, and claimed he was going to Valhalla for his deeds, will be doing nothing of the kind. I am enraged and horrified that this terrorist would dare claim a place among the honored dead who fell in battle, after massacring innocent people who were unarmed and at prayer. I hope that those Asatruar who have harbored beliefs that Islam is a “terrorist” religion will see the echo of that here, and realize that they were wrong. Just as Muslims deny terrorists who claim to act in the name of their god, so now I join my fellow Asatruar in denying this terrorist. Let his name be forgotten, let his body be food for ravens and worms, let his spirit face justice and suffer as he made others suffer.

To the friends and families of those who were killed in this attack, I wish for you peace and healing. To the Muslim community as a whole, know that Asatruar are not your enemies, and this man and others like him are not our friends. We must work together to build a world where this never happens again.

Getting Ready for Ostara

A full month after the snowstorm that kept us huddled together in the dark for a week, there are still mounds of ice lining the sidewalks. But the sun is finally warm enough to start taking off layers instead of adding them, and soon the anxiety of watching the fickle sky will be over. I have never felt so eager for Spring to arrive!

Of all the pagan holidays, the Solstices and Equinoxes are pretty much the Big Important Days in my practice (though I observe other holidays, these are the ones I really go all-out for). Ostara is, of course, the time for all those “Easter” things that have persisted despite the Christianization of the holiday (eggs, rabbits, flowers, cute baby animals, springtime sex frolicking, etc.) And honestly, it makes sense that this was the time chosen to mark the resurrection of Christ: Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal after the death and barrenness of winter.

Like other fertility-focused holidays, this is one I strongly associate with the Vanir (particularly Freyja). This is a good time for weddings, and for people who want to get pregnant or have pregnancies go well to enact rituals to that effect. Spring is also a good time for rituals that benefit children, and for general happiness. Obviously this is also the time of year to start getting serious about any gardening you want to do–personally I want to get some herb-pots for my windowsill since I don’t have any outside space to garden in.

I usually decorate for the holidays using things I gather from outside on the day itself, so I never really know ahead of time what that’s going to look like–but it’s a good bet that for Ostara that will be mainly fresh flowers. I dislike “Easter grass” and other plastic decorations, and highly recommend using what the earth provides and not harming nature in your celebration of it. Some common spring flowers such as daffodils are toxic–keep that in mind if you have children or pets! Citrine to boost energy and happiness or rose quartz to aid with romantic endeavors are both good stones to work with or just have present.

My go-to meal for any day that I’m sharing it with the gods is lamb, and that goes double for this day! Ham or rabbit are good alternatives as well. Eggs (of course), rice, and any seeds, nuts, legumes, dairy, and fruit are all good for celebrating fertility. I try to make breakfast and lunch on Ostara fairly light and fresh so that me and my partners will have energy to go outside and enjoy the sunshine, unlike winter feasts which make us feel cozy and sleepy. To that end, I use a lot of citrus, fresh spring veggies, and very light desserts with a lot of fruit, and try to avoid bready things or greasy things.

Charms For Trees

The recent winter storm was a harsh reminder of nature’s power, especially to those like my family who were unprepared. For a full week we were trapped in our apartment with no electricity, no heat, and little food that didn’t require cooking. But we came out of that trial unscathed, and with lessons learned to ready us for next time; the same cannot be said for the trees.

Many, many trees in our area were seriously damaged or killed. By many, I mean no less than one fifth sustained some visible damage, ranging from major branches torn off to being totally uprooted (and the latter includes a startling number of old, well-established trees). I am sure that most of them will heal, and the forest will recover as it has done time and again for ages, but in the meantime, this will absolutely have an impact on the local ecosystem.

In light of that, I decided to write three charms for trees. Two are more individual, aimed primarily at protecting specific trees that are in your care (such as fruit trees in an orchard). The third is for protecting all of the trees in an area, and maintaining a healthy local ecosystem. I deliberately did not name any deities or include any religion-specific lines; these should be effective regardless of your particular path.

Charm to Protect A Tree

Root, bark, bough and leaf
By my power be kept safe
Needle, flower, seed and cone
Now to you let no harm come

Safe from sickness and from blight
Safe from fungus and from rot
Safe from worms and choking vines
Safe from insects of all kinds
Safe from deer and humans too
Let no beast or bird harm you

Against all weathers, stand you strong
Against the landslide, flood, and quake
No fire shall burn or lightning split
No snow or ice your branches break
No curse or mischief come your way
No frost shall touch your new green growth
No axe shall heedless hew you down
No wind uproot you from the earth

Root, bark, bough and leaf
By my power be kept safe
Needle, flower, seed and cone
Now to you let no harm come

Charm to Protect Fruit Trees and Encourage A Good Harvest

To you, tree:
Green leaves untouched
by worm or blight
May they dance and shiver
in the wind
And drink in warm honeyed
sunshine

To you, tree:
Bark whole, unharmed
by bug or beast
May it shield you from
all weathers
And grow thicker-skinned
each year

To you, tree:
Flowers numerous
as the stars
Let their nectar beckon
the honeybees
Each bloom by pollen
pregnant

To you, tree:
Fruits abundant
ripening sweet
May your strength bear
their weight
Cradles of generations
to come

Charm to Protect All Trees and Promote A Healthy Ecosystem

You rowans red and thunder oaks
You firs and pines and cedars tall
You aspens that from ashes grow
You conifers and leaf-trees all

Let wind and winter do no harm
Be strong, yet bend beneath the storm
Endure against the blight and plague
And from death, always be reborn

Your branches reach up to the sun
To shelter creatures in your care
Make room for them beneath your roots
Of nuts and fruit your bounty share

Let all who enter your domain
Take what they need and nothing more
And let life thrive in harmony
From canopy to forest floor