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Gahh! No more seats on the subway! My arm shot up at the hand railings lining the top of the car, in hopes of finding free space amongst a crowd of tired and hungry workers ready to call it a day. During peak hours, the subway defies all social norms of personal space.
On occasion, I have found my face in armpits, smelling scents I wish I hadn’t and avoiding glaring eyes awkwardly positioned in front of me. These occurrences evoke an uncontrollable, yet thankfully silent snicker within. Expecting the usual today, I gripped the hand railing, bracing myself for a bumpy and claustrophobic ride.
Despite the subway quirks, being in a space that is shared by so many people creates opportunities for interaction, having the potential to inspire us. I noticed a girl reading a book called Water Wars. Thus began my journey into understanding the global water crisis. It started with a girl on the subway and deepened with the discovery of a soul sister, Vandana Shiva, the author of Water Wars.
A literal tree hugger, Vandana Shiva was inspired by Chipko movement in India, where women resisted deforestation by practicing the Gandhian method of satyagraha, non-violent resistance. Shiva is an environmentalist and eco-feminist, authoring numerous books on these topics. Luckily, I got my hands on Water Wars and started learning of the global water crisis that plagues much of the world, prompting some to say that water is the next oil.
Thankful for the newfound wisdom that Shiva provided me, I started to delve deeper into her background. Being a South Asian woman, I identified with the gender and cultural similarities we share. I found it endearing to know of a kindred spirit coming from the land tilled by my ancestry. She stands up against opposition which seeks to manipulate the land as they see fit without any regard for the present ecosystem. Particularly sensitive to women’s issues, Shiva recognizes that women are oftentimes the most likely to suffer from environmental degradation. They are the ones who travel miles for water, feeling the affects of arsenic-polluted water pumps on their bare feet. In a documentary, I saw her marching with women who opposed a Coca Cola plant from withdrawing groundwater and polluting a city in India. From her work, it is clear that Shiva believes it is imperative to provide information to people so they can take control of their environment, not falling prey to internal governance issues or foreign aide regulations.
Feeling inspired from Shiva’s activism, I couldn’t help but question where I stood with my passions. Being an activist is no easy gig. With a high turn-over, it can be a lonely journey. In fact, especially with environmental activism, the issues are so expansive that our efforts feel like a drop in the ocean. Even legitimacy in the eyes of policy-makers can be hard to attain. It is fair to say that Shiva faced a lot of opposition from people who didn’t share her world-view. But at the end of the day, she followed her conscience and she continues to do so.
When thinking about my own passions, I can only hope to do the same, even though I struggle with much of the aforementioned issues. Without conflating ‘activist’ and ‘radical’ too much, I am reminded of my dear friend who shared with me the meaning of ‘radical.’ It comes from the word ‘root.’ Yes! Root! Negative connotations are attached to the word ‘radical’ because it has been used to label abnormal acts. But if we take a step back and try to understand the source of the word, maybe we can begin to grasp a deeper understanding of what it means to be a radical. A radical individual is focused on getting to the root cause of a given issue. They are in search for truth and justice. It is not an easy position to take because it can be difficult to internally sustain but I believe that a radical is someone who finds satisfaction in the normative view of the world. They have a vision of what the world should be like with justice and equality—-this belief is deep-seeded within their soul. It is a self-sustaining. The radicals who are able to fight for their cause day-in and day-out recognize the cause is bigger than them and they can only sustain this world-view if their soul is aligned with their action.
And this is Vandana Shiva, who continues to spend her life aligning her desire to see justice with the world she resides in—-she is truly an inspiration.