Editor’s Note: In 2022, The Beachcomber will continue its partnership with the Whole Vashon Project to present regular commentaries from Vashon’s environmental leaders.
Perhaps our biggest problem in addressing the climate crisis is that our allegiance is misplaced.
In a time of existential threat to the “natural world,” and therefore, ourselves, our allegiance might better be pledged to the Earth, the transformer of the Sun’s energy and provider of all we need to survive, and not to those human forces and institutions that are destroying it.
Or perhaps we should pledge to support those institutions that maintain equality of opportunity, equal rights, health and safety to all humans — within the parameters that nature provides.
Our traditional Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag has the weight of tradition and familiarity, but closer scrutiny shows that it is vague, misleading, and, for some, worse. Is it a flag, a piece of land, or an idea that we pledge to?
A “republic” doesn’t necessarily mean that all people get to vote. “One nation” —what does that imply in a diverse society? “Under God”— atheists don’t belong? (This was added to the pledge in 1953). Is “with liberty and justice for all”an aspiration or accomplished fact? And what does that mean? Often, one person’s “liberty” comes at the expense of another’s.
At a recent Vashon-Maury Island Community Council meeting, a motion to recite the pledge before each meeting was voted down for the second time, mainly out of concern that it might offend or alienate members of our community. Voting against the Pledge of Allegiance makes some of us feel unpatriotic — as if we don’t believe in anything that this great experiment in democracy has accomplished, or appreciate the sacrifices made in its name.
Many revisions have been suggested that might more clearly pertain to ideals and how we conduct ourselves, seeing these as aspirations we strive to realize. Here is one example:
“I pledge fidelity to the democratic principles of the United States of America, based on the freedoms of thought and expression without arrogance or self-righteousness and with tolerance and respect for all.” — Robert Olin Butler, novelist.
Butler’s pledge is for human affairs. What if, instead, we prioritized or at least acknowledged our vital interdependence with the web of life? If you think about it, you will realize that 98% of our human efforts and ingenuity go to struggling for control and power over each other and the resources that nature offers us free, but for the taking. With such an acknowledgment, perhaps then we wouldn’t be destroying that which we depend upon for existence.
We are Nature’s artificers, but by narcissistically considering only our own human affairs, we have abandoned our true role as guardians of the natural ecology that the earth has honed and perfected over billions of years. It is our job to love, respect, and protect that legacy above all else. This should be where our allegiance lies.
The following lovely pledge, by Janina Lamb, nicely mirrors the cadence of the existing American flag pledge. Given that it is an aspiration and not an accomplished fact, it gets my vote for the pledge we could be reciting to anchor us in today’s challenging times:
“I pledge allegiance to the Earth and all the life that it supports, one planet, in our care, irreplaceable, with sustenance and respect for all.”
What would you put in a pledge to the Earth? Would reciting a pledge before a meeting set the tone for a respectable, constructive debate? We would like to know what you think. Join a discussion on the Whole Vashon Project Facebook page, at Facebook.com/groups/wholevashonproject.
Terry Sullivan is a longtime island resident, active in community projects, and the author of the long-running column, “Road to Resilience.”