Bypass Rhetoric — Pierce the Heart

Climate Generation is a proud sponsor of The Great Northern – this piece was originally published on the Great Northern blog.

Reflecting on Climate Generation’s Eyewitness: Minnesota Voices on Climate Change

By Maija García

Eyewitness: Minnesota Voices on Climate Change balances youthful dreams and elder wisdom in a collection of drawings, photographs, poetry, and personal testimony. Turning its pages is like walking through a forest — finding a new view round each soulful tree. Just beyond the title page of Eyewitness, a quote from powerhouse Terry Tempest Williams reads, “Stories bypass rhetoric and pierce the heart. They offer a wash of images and emotion that returns us to our highest and deepest selves, where we remember what it means to be human, living in place with our neighbors.”

It is my passion to shape stories –– with words, music, movement, and stage craft. This work is by nature collaborative… imaginative… transformative. We use stories to make meaning of our lives. But do stories make a difference? For a generation struggling to carry the burden of climate change, can storytelling help us solve problems whose solutions may reside beyond the scope of our imagination?  Eyewitness offers a stream of ways to relate to each other, and with the earth, organized by five themes of moving our way through climate change action: gratitude, loss, responsibility, resilience, and hope. And this beautiful book inspired me to share my own journey.

Landing in New York City at the age of eighteen, I breathed in the crisp fall air and the spoiled scent of garbage. I recall climbing four flights of stairs and an escalator up from the subway, spilling onto an avenue lined with concrete, metal and glass where town cars, taxis and buses breezed past this corner where bins overflowed with plastic & paper, while swarms of people buzzed round like ants in a mound. I remember pausing in the middle of the sidewalk like an untrained tourist, suddenly realizing that everything around me was made by humans or machines; not a spot of soil or a tree in sight. I shivered to think this city would be unrecognizable to its original inhabitants — the Lenape of Manhattan. I wondered what would happen to life on the planet if we continued this pattern of development. Was humanity destined to drown in its own garbage? I was compelled to lend my life to changing course. Like most young people, I wanted to change the world. I didn’t know then how the world would change me. Longing to taste ocean breezes and old growth forests, I moved to California and declared a major in Sustainable Development at San Francisco State University.

In college I studied the intersection of environmental activism and social justice movements and experientially learned the power of direct action. I stacked towers of Starbucks cups across campus lawns on Earth Day, marched in the Battle of Seattle, protested the IMF and World Bank in Washington DC, and stood with water protectors at the World Social Forum in Brazil. It was 1999. Climate change was reaching a boiling point, but the science was buried in journals as plastic waste swelled in the ocean and icebergs cracked in the sun. What would it take, I wondered, to inspire a global paradigm shift, and what small part could I play? Wherever there was activism, there was art! And so the central question of my life became how to integrate art and activism.

“I have come to realize that in this moment of global urgency, storytellers must do more than make meaning — we must inspire change.”

I moved back to New York City in 2004 and founded Organic Magnetics, “binding creativity and sustainability to generate folklore for the future.” In collaboration with writers, actors, musicians, designers and technicians, we produced multi-media live installations in public places. We examined the history of cultural collision, environmental impact and social movements in NYC — featuring the stories of change makers and unsung heroes. We meant to evoke empathy for the human condition, offering transformative experiences for our audience. Ultimately, through the creative process, WE — the artists — were the ones most transformed. Becoming mindful of our practices, our resource use, and making space for the often painful history we uncovered through our creative process, we became a community capable of solving problems through the radical act of collective imagination. These creative collaborations with Organic Magnetics showed me that although I may not succeed in “changing the world,” I could contribute to a growing paradigm shift through art making. By activating the imagination within creative collaborations, we build capacity within our communities — making us more responsive to climate change, injustice, or any human challenge. And I have come to realize that in this moment of global urgency, storytellers must do more than make meaning — we must inspire change.

I find that each rising generation is more passionate about social justice, racial justice and climate justice than the last. Two years ago, I left New York and accepted a full time position as director of professional training at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Now living on this beautiful land — stewarded for generations by Dakota and Ojibwe tribal nations — I walk my dog along the Mississippi River where mighty oaks reign and eagles soar overhead. I feel closer than ever to the earth, to the water, and to my purpose.

Get your own copy of Eyewitness to read more climate stories by Minnesotans: climateeyewitness.org.

Maija García is a Cuban-American director and choreographer whose signature work is featured in Guthrie Theater’s new production of West Side Story, directed by Joe Haj, Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It and the film Chi-Raq.  Director of Salsa, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha in Havana, Cuba, Heather Henson’s CRANE and Legend of Yauna with Marie Daulne (Zap Mama). Choreographic works include Cuba Libre with director Damaso Rodriguez at Artists Repertory Theater, Another Word for Beauty with Steve Cosson at the Goodman Theater and Fats Waller Dance Party with Jason Moran and Meshell N’degeocello at Harlem Stage, Kennedy Center and various international jazz festivals.

García worked alongside Bill T. Jones to choreograph the Tony Award winning musical FELA! On Broadway, becoming creative director of FELA! World Tour and FELA! The Concert.  She is currently working on original choreography for West Side Story with director Joe Haj at The Guthrie Theater and Hatuey, a Cuban-Yiddish Opera at Montclair Peak Performances. A graduate of California Institute of Integral Studies with a BA in Sustainable Development, Garcia founded Organic Magnetics to create folklore for the future, producing Ghosts of Manhattan: 1512-2012 an interactive history in Fort Tryon Park and I Am NY: Juan Rodriguez at El Museo del Barrio.

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