I suppose you’ve been wondering what people here at Marlboro did to celebrate Earth Day last Wednesday. Like, did we walk to class, recycle our newspapers, wander around in bare feet, eat vegan and skip bathing for the day? Did we think globally and act locally? Well, yeah, we did all those things, just as we do every other day. Yup, every day feels like Earth Day here, but last night was even earthier than most. That was when local filmmakers Alan Dater and Lisa Merton presented their award-winning film Taking Root, based on the life and vision of Kenyan activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai.
Wangari strikes me as the kind of person that could motivate the CEO of Exxon to plant trees in Greenland. Taking Root was life-altering for the audience because Wangari has such charisma, such a presence and such vision that she has led a growing army of mostly rural women to plant more than 35 million trees and fight for social and environmental justice. Okay, planting trees may be easy to take for granted in Vermont, where you can look through a window and see 35 million trees. But in Kenya, after a century of deforestation and land degradation, mostly affecting poor rural communities, Wangari’s Green Belt Movement has been no less than a revolution. In fact it did help bring down the 24-year dictatorship of Daniel arap Moi and encourage democratic reform.
So after last night I was thinking, what could we accomplish on Work Day if we had Wangari along, flashing her radiant smile and dropping combustible one-liners like “You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself, that values itself, that understands itself?” I was just picturing Marlboro planted cheek-to-jowl with tropical forest trees, when I remembered a comment filmmaker Alan Dater made to me during the memorable Wendell-Judd Cup cross-country ski race last February. I know this is mixing up seasons, but Alan and I were huffing up the long hill from South Pond to the Judd’s house when I exclaimed to him, between huffs, “We should get Wangari out here.” He retorted, between huffs, “Yeah, she could pull both of us up this hill.” He really said that, and I believe him.
Learn more about Alan and Lisa’s film, Taking Root, and Wangari’s amazing story. Wangari herself visited Brattleboro earlier in April and met with Bill Baue of Marlboro College Graduate Center for a short interview.