• Gail McNulty

Bay Area: Your New Year’s resolutions can help save our collective future

“We need more real love. Gritty, dangerous, wild-eyed, justice-seeking love.”

—bell hooks


People talking by a sunset. Image Source: Harli Marten on Unsplash
Image Source: Harli Marten on Unsplash

If you live in the Bay Area, you are uniquely positioned to help create the future we all need. Let’s all make New Year’s resolutions to leverage this unique positioning, start courageous conversations and spread justice-seeking love while there’s still time to transform tomorrow.


Although you might feel that there is little you as an individual can do to initiate meaningful change in the face of increasingly scary times, the simple fact that you live in the Silicon Valley means that you likely have more power and influence than you realize. You never know who you might reach with a conversation that begins here at your workplace, in your church lobby, or at a school gathering. A dialogue you initiate could well play a profound role in painting a new vision for our collective future. With its wealth, innovation, cultural influence, and increasingly diverse—albeit stratified—workforce, the Bay Area has a key role to play in rewriting the story of yesterday and tomorrow for our nation and the world—a story that inspires at least 3.5% of us to rally for change rather than cower in comfort.


What if we were all to develop beginner’s mindsets about the state of the world recognizing that all humans are interdependent, all workers are essential, and no one has all of the answers? To find radical solutions, we need to start asking new questions, elevating long-silenced voices, and encouraging safe spaces where challenging topics can be carefully and conscientiously explored. When we overcome the false need to know everything about topics before engaging, we will be ready to work together to begin the innovative, inclusive thinking that will allow us to start rapid prototyping a future in which we all not only survive but thrive. A future where the hubris that has led man to think nature and people are commodities to be used and exploited for profit has been replaced by humility and healing. A time in which narcissism, which Brené Brown defines in Atlas of the Heart as, “the shame-based fear of being ordinary” has been eradicated so that people everywhere—and perhaps especially in ultra-competitive places like Silicon Valley—can finally exhale and simply enjoy being with friends and family while learning to love miracles of nature before it’s too late to save them. A future where we all know what it truly means to love and be loved in the universal and unconditional ways bell hooks (the renowned Black feminist writer and visionary who passed away on December 15, 2021) pointed out that our society fails to nurture:


“Only love can heal the wounds of the past. However, the intensity of our woundedness often leads to a closing of the heart, making it impossible for us to give or receive the love that is given to us.”

― bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions


Think for a moment about how desperately justice-seeking love nurtured here and now is needed—as the Build Back Better Act lies gasping for air on the floor of the U.S. Senate; rather than initiating the fossil-free future he promised, Biden has issued more drilling permits each month than Trump; the U.S.’s failure to vaccinate its own population and help vaccinate the world has perpetuated a global pandemic—the first of many we might face as Earth continues to heat; and the U.S., yet again, failed to live up to expectations at COP26. All the while daily headlines continue to casually describe apocalyptic times:


Although Californians not experiencing flash floods and mudslides caused by atmospheric rivers pounding our state are likely sensing relief that drought conditions may be less severe this spring, these weather extremes—from severe heat, emergency drought conditions, and seemingly endless record-breaking wildfire seasons to sustained intense storms—are yet another sign that we are heading into uncharted territory in this era of climate crisis.


Meanwhile, the inequitable treatment and disproportionate casualties of ‘essential’ workers throughout a pandemic with no end in sight have shown us that systems that protect some people while placing others in harm’s way will ultimately be safe for no one. The cherry, apricot, and apple orchards which preceded the Valley’s tech behemoths; our restaurants, hotels, and service industries; and Silicon Valley itself were built by and continue to benefit to this day from an invisible class of people conveniently labeled as immigrants, foreigners, intruders, and criminals—many having risked their lives to cross the U.S. border fleeing climate disasters in their home countries triggered by exploitive transnational farming practices. To protect our shared future, we must evolve beyond the classism, racism, and xenophobia that sustain our economy and begin seeing, listening to, and amplifying the voices of people who have for too long suffered in the shadows of this country’s failing systems.


In her 2018 TED Talk, “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it,” Christian Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe offers the advice to “start from the heart about why it matters to us” and begin conversations around shared values such as parenting, community, love of the outdoors, faith, economics, national security, etc. Think about people you interact with, places you frequent, and groups you attend. Where and with whom might you start conversations with the intention to help people contemplate the intersectionality of systemic problems that have started and continue to fuel environmental destruction and the polarization that is fracturing this country?

Here are a few examples to help kickstart your thinking:


People who work in the Bay Area might invite colleagues to explore the true cost of products and services taking into account how humans and/or the ecosystems are harmed as a result of profit-driven worker exploitation, extraction, production, planned obsolescence, and/or policies. In doing so, they might invite colleagues at all levels within their firms—including those who may be cleaning offices or serving meals—to engage in solutionary thinking to better understand how to ensure their company is doing the most good and the least harm possible. Hopefully, those who work at social media firms have already watched and discussed The Social Dilemma with one another. If not, now would be a great time to host screenings and discussions. Green-tech startups should ideally be thinking not only about the sustainability and environmental benefits of their products but also of how their production models might align with the just employment transitions outlined in Build Back Better and the Green New Deal.


People who attend church could have a big impact by starting conversations within their faith communities about what roles if any, their denominations played in the genocide of indigenous people in California and/or the United States and how their churches might begin to make needed apologies and necessary reparations. Most people who follow the climate movement understand how Standing Rock, Line 3, and other travesties in a long history of broken promises and stolen or decimated tribal land are connected to the climate crisis. Although Indigenous Peoples make up only 6% of the global population, they have protected 85% of the world’s conserved biodiversity — more than national parks and forests — often risking their lives in the process. When the United States and governments and corporations around the world stop persecuting Indigenous People; respect their sovereignty; make reparations for repeatedly broken treaties, stolen land, and genocide; and acknowledge—with gratitude and humility—that Native men and women have in many cases risked their lives to protect land, water, and our shared future, we might all have a chance to relearn what it means to be humans caring for a miraculous and fragile planet.


Parents can look into what their children are learning about the climate crisis along with California and U.S. history to see if accurate stories are being told and, if not, start conversations at school board and/or PTA meetings. If your school teaches climate change, does it include information about climate justice and the way sacrifice zones in California, the U.S., and throughout the world have allowed the climate crisis to escalate? Does your school’s history curriculum accurately portray the treatment of Indigenous People throughout history? Are teachers and students aware of the current awareness-building effort to remove mission bells along the El Camino Real being led by Indigenous groups throughout the state? Have students been invited to contemplate this along with other ongoing efforts by members of California’s tribal communities to correct harmful misconceptions and protect sacred land and waters? For example, have they learned about the campaign to protect Juristac, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s efforts to protect sacred land in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties from sand and gravel mining, and/or the Chumash Tribe’s work to designate the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary which will safeguard California’s Central Coast from offshore oil expansion and other threats?


Teachers can effectively address the eco-anxiety (the chronic fear of environmental doom) many young people are experiencing in these times by connecting class conversations like those mentioned above to meaningful actions that can foster a new sense of agency and hope—like drafting statements to submit during NOAA’s public comment period for the Chumash Sanctuary designation. The Institute for Humane Education offers a free Solutionary Guidebook for teachers who want to ease students’ fear of the future by helping them to research underlying causes of problems that concern them while collaborating with peers to identify and design potential solutions. The Zinn Education Project’s Climate Justice Campaign is another good resource for teachers who want to empower their students to better understand why we are facing climate breakdown and how we can engage in collective healing to envision and create a new path forward.


I’ve learned through my collaboration with Silvia Morales of the Resource Center for Nonviolence that these conversations must be relational, not transactional, and tend to work best when we enter them with empathy and stay open to mutual learning. It can be helpful to start by asking some questions to gauge what the people you are talking with already know about the topic, looking for things you can learn from them (remember the beginner’s mindset). Admitting you don’t know everything about a topic and sharing your desire to learn more by talking with others can be a great way to build community. If you are in a small group, be sure you spend at least as much time listening and responding to others as you do talking. If you are presenting to a larger group, remember to include a bit of humor and a lot of humility in your approach. To inspire action, we need to invite people to engage and make joining difficult conversations nonintimidating to ensure we inspire people rather than paralyzing them with fear or remorse.


In preparing for these conversations, it may also be helpful to think carefully and perhaps even journal a bit about how to share things you know to be true without sounding self-righteous. We all want to believe we’re living on the right side of history but at a time when this nation and California are just beginning to face their roots of Christian and white supremacy along with still entrenched systemic racism, it can be difficult to decipher the right side of our history. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his November 17, 1957, “Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon:

If somebody doesn’t have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed because nobody had any sense on the highway of history.


The Global State of Democracy report released Thanksgiving week by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance found that, “The number [of countries] moving in the direction of authoritarianism is three times the number moving toward democracy.” The United States was, for the first time, added to the report’s list of “backsliding democracies” with Trump’s factually baseless questioning of the 2020 election results named a “historic turning point” that “undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process” culminating in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.


In this dangerous time, when people in the U.S. and around the world risk losing all freedom and hope for a livable future—how can we find the courage to face our past so that we can celebrate our common humanity, envision a healthy way forward, and create a world we can all truly love before it’s too late?


We all have a choice to make at this evolution point for this nation and the human species: Do we stay comfortable with injustice or actively fight for the equitable, antiracist transformations we need to create a just and joyful future for ALL? When I heard that Archbishop Desmond Tutu—who chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to gather testimony documenting the viciousness of apartheid and initiate societal healing—passed away on Sunday, I couldn’t help feeling grateful that he may look down on us from the Heaven he believed in to orchestrate the worldwide movement for restorative justice so desperately needed in these pivotal times.


The Archbishop once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” To protect our children and future generations, we must begin seeing the light in each other so that we can engage in conversations that nurture love, respect, and a mutual understanding that we are all in this together and it’s our job to protect each other and Mother Earth. Let’s all start talking and listening to one another—including people we’ve never spoken with before—to spread justice-seeking love and create new hope in 2022!


Original pixel art courtesy of Bay Area resident JJ Dang
What will you discover by starting a conversation today? Original pixel art courtesy of Bay Area resident JJ Dang

Gail McNulty grew up in the suburbs of Chicago spending the first half of her adult life in Washington, DC and New York City. Being in NYC for 9-11; teaching high school in the Bronx; raising three children; engaging in ongoing antiracism and climate justice learning; and evacuating from the Santa Cruz Mountains where she and her family now live during the 2020 CZU wildfire, have inspired her to become a committed ally in the movement to envision and create a just, joyful, livable future for ALL. She currently works as Sr. Manager for Communications and Climate Action at Save Our Shores.