Marching for an Eco-Feminist Revolution

One year ago, I found myself standing at the front of a packed airplane cloaked in a somber fog. Donald Trump had been inaugurated just hours before, and the plane reverberated with murmured conversations about who had watched it, who hadn’t, who couldn’t bring themselves to. As if he too needed a mental break to digest the gravity of the day’s events, the flight attendant graciously lent me the mic when I asked for it.

“Who is going to the Women’s March?” I roared into the microphone. There was a milli-moment of stunned silence—and then, like a glass ceiling shattering, waves of cheering unfurled, coupled with what looked like a fast-forwarded NatGeo documentary of an azalea patch speeding into full bloom. The unveiling of pink pussy hats that in seconds blanketed the entire plane.

We were an #AllLadyPlane flying from the west coast to the east to protest Trump’s inauguration for the first-ever Women’s March, and together we were lighting the roots of a new era of the women’s revolution—one unknown to American women of my generation thus far.

As a 30-something American woman, I literally have felt the pit of my stomach leap into my heart innumerable times over the course of this past year. By watching women bring down from power those who have abused and oppressed. By raising my own voice and speaking out about how I, too, have been a victim of violence. And, this past weekend, by rallying with thousands of my sisters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to urge women to run and vote—and revolutionize the Capitol.

At the same time, as a climate activist and attorney, I have felt my heart drop to the pit of stomach more times than I can keep track of this past year. Trump and his cabinet have launched a blinding array of violent acts against our planet and the basic health of our communities. They have vowed to open our oceans to mass-scale drilling—the kind of oil and gas exploration that led to the devastating BP Deepwater Horizon spill and that threatens our most imperiled species. They have green-lighted fossil fuel extraction, removing protections from huge chunks of Bears Ears and other national monuments and the lands in the warpath of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines—threatening the health of thousands of American communities and undermining the sovereign rights of indigenous peoples. They have threatened to withdraw us, too, from the Paris Agreement—shirking the country’s moral obligation to fight the very climate crisis for which we are disproportionately responsible.

During these crisis moments, the intersection between what I do and who I am has never been clearer. The foe in both contexts is one and the same.

Ecofeminism is about identifying how the oppression and domination of women are the same oppression and domination of nature—whether it be our voiceless animals, our wild lands, our sacred air and waters. In this paradigm, women and earth are intimately connected because they are oppressed by the same male-dominant force.

Historically, men gave our planet a gender: female. Perhaps men coined nature Mother Earth because she seemed to be life-giving and ever-forgiving, as sometimes mothers are. But perhaps they also named nature Mother Earth because they felt that they could dominate her, exploit her and abuse her, and that she would be silent in response—or at least unable to fight back in immediate defense. These thoughts flooded my mind this past November, as ecofeminism manifested in an extraordinary woman I encountered in Germany during the international climate change negotiations.

I was visiting Hambach Forest, the 12,000-year-old ancient German forest that is now on the verge of being destroyed to mine the dirty lignite coal beneath it. The only physical barrier standing between the forest and the coal is a band of tree-sitters—hundreds of activists who have occupied the last remaining parts of the forest in protest despite forceful police evictions, One of these tree-sitters was a young woman who had dedicated the last four years of her life to live in and protect this primordial forest. She believed that putting her body on the line was the most powerful difference she could make to fight against her government’s exploitation of nature and the relentless extraction of the world’s most climate-damaging coal.

Physically, she had experienced the same type of violence that has already driven the destruction of 90 percent of Hambach Forest. She explained that, over the years, male protesters had carried out dozens of acts of sexual violence against women tree-sitters. Even men who condemn the German government’s exploitation of Mother Earth believed they had some right to violate women with the same violence and arrogant entitlement based on their anatomy.

I emerged from the forest that day renewed with a conviction that what I stand for as a woman is the same as what I stand for as a climate activist.
I carried it with me last weekend, as I marched to resist the common unjust thread of oppression and exploitation that fuels the resounding violence against women and Mother Nature herself.

The Trump administration is just the latest incarnation of the oppression and domination that have spanned human history. This past year has shed a bright light on the entrenched violence against women and nature—and immigrants, LGBTQ communities, people of color and so on. And so, too, has it birthed the most poignant women’s revolution of my generation—one that stands strong against all of our common and vicious, yet conquerable, adversaries of injustice.


Jean Su is associate conservation director and an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.