Alicia Pace (Santropol Roulant)

Am I an Activist?


When considering the questions pertaining to NOW activism, I found myself tripping over the word ‘activism’, despite an awareness that the term is open to new definition and exploration.


I have observed my language over the past months since our gathering in Mexico, and have found that the words ‘activism’ or ‘activist’ are still almost completely absent in my everyday language.


For me the term ‘activist ‘ implies an exclusion. A with us or against us attitude. In university I protested on the streets with “women take back the night”, the rise in tuition rates, various campus causes. And it was I who mimicked that exclusionary impulse. I didn’t understand those who could not see how important it was to give your voice and feet to such causes. Yet while I felt a certain rush, comradery and even strongly believed in what was being “fought” for, something didn’t feel integrated.  There was an emptiness to the method. Perhaps that is how I started to define and then reject “activism”. I realized that what was missing for me was a feeling of deep relationship and integration. That it was more powerful to be a feminist, in my actions, thoughts, deliberations than it was to hold up an abstract idea or concept. I wanted to engage with love and thoughtfulness not just intellect and righteousness. I dropped out of the mainstream message and medium and receded into a quiet yet more powerful mode of just living as the woman/feminist that I was. So my “activism” took on a new look. I left the protests and overly intellectualizing my reality and moved into deep conversations with family and friends about what it meant for us to be strong, whole women in today’s world. Looking and finding my own power in daily interactions rather than a book definition of feminism.


I have not revisited my resistances or ideas attached to “activism” since that time.  I know that I am deeply inspired and moved by people who are steeped in their own exploration and learning. Reflecting upon it now, I would best describe myself and kindred colleagues as “engaged”.  Perhaps that sounds too open, too vague, but the quality of engagement leaves space for each of us to move in the areas of our passion and still meet in a common space of exploration and collaboration. Be it water or education or organizations that we immerse ourselves in… engagement, for me, is our commonality. It is inclusive, infectious and lively.  In that light, NOW activism is a movement of people with purpose and passion, who attract and energize others to engage with their own lives and learning in more profound ways.


Recently I had the privilege of being with and 85-year-old Gurwhali man who lives in a village in the lower Himalayas.  His name is Saklanaji and he has been reforesting the mountainside of his village for over 50 years, one tree at a time. Driven by deep conviction that the trees are our salvation in this crazy, polluted, materialistic world, Saklanaji climbs the mountain paths each morning and greets his work a determination and integrity that moved me. 


During my time with him, Saklanaji surprised and inspired me. At any given moment he had my companions and I shout from the top of our lungs into the Himalayas asking the world to renounce its destructive ways. He would suddenly sit in the middle of the path we were climbing and create/recite a long poem about the trees, love and loss.  He calls himself a madman and wanted us to know that the power of one madman consumed with love and purpose can change the world. At the least it can change the face of a mountainside, the water flow, the ecosystem and in turn the village itself.


 He was taken to courts over 23 times in order to have the legal right to plant trees on a mountainside that no one owed. He lost his first wife to TB, his brother to the fight for independence. He has fathered 8 children by his second wife and all the while planted trees without fail. Never losing sight of his mission.

When we first arrived at his home he greeted us with a song and said that his poetry made women cry. I thought this was romantic and then found myself two days later crying as he looked into my eyes with such tenderness and emotionality. His dedication and lyrical sense of purpose in turns touching me and challenging me to reflect on what moves me with intensity and love in my own life.


And so, 12 years after I let go of the recognizable activist in me, I find myself in contact with powerful, engaged, loving people like Saklanaji and I cannot help but be drawn into their web of passion and purpose.


I am attracted and energized to work with people who don’t advertise their activism… they are their activism.  There is a lived engagement and commitment to learning and compassion. NOW activism can be reflective and analytical but it must be lived and not in a protest here, or paper there, for me it needs to flow through my daily actions. Saklanaji is what I consider a NOW activist. He is a madman. Full of purpose, flanked by action, driven by love. He doesn’t ask me to become an “environmentalist” or to even spread the story of his work. He asks, what I will do with the inspiration garnered from my connection with him?


There are NOW activists, in all corners of this world. From a village in the Himalayas to my neck of the woods in Montreal. I think a movement is brewing in our connections, friendships, and support of one another. Not to become dogmatic or to convince one another to take up this cause or that, but to bring out the best in one another, to hold our contradictions and differences while we each find the courage to live on the margins.


As I take the oak seeds in my hand, Saklanaji, throws down his walking stick and embraces me with strong arms saying, “You are my daughter, you are my sister, you are my mother,” and blesses me as I bury my fingers into the dry, cracked earth.  I wonder how this seed will find what it needs to grow into the oak it has the promise to become. And yet there is a forest around me. One madman/poet can change the world. In that sense of the term, I too am an activist NOW.