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Who Will Speak for the Voiceless?

The forest sways in ripples of green. Wind sends the dappled sunlight sparkling through the branches. These are the things we forget in the heat of the political season. There are few politicians who will speak on behalf of all people . . . and even fewer who will speak for the beings that comprise the other 99 percent of the planet and are essential for human existence.

Sitting in the forests of rural Maine last week, I stared for hours at the swaying walls of green. Having lived too long in dry places, in landscapes of dust and drought, on concrete and asphalt flatlands, in the stench of exhaust, I had nearly forgotten the beauty of a forest deep in the verdant sigh of summer. As I sit here in a tucked-away section of woods between small farms and fishing coves, the forests return to prominence in my thoughts, replenishing . . . yet troubling.

More than half of the population of the United States has become urbanized. We live under the canopy of skyscrapers. Asphalt is the new green. Climate change is measured by increased air conditioning bills. For many citizens and public officials, nature is an abstract idea hanging like a wall calendar in our minds.

Even among the rural populace, many live in mono-cropped landscapes amidst thousands of acres of genetically modified soy and corn. How many rural voters believe the misinformation on screens rather than their eyes and lifetimes of experiences? Climate denialism still spouts from the mouths of many. The disconnection is severe and dangerous.

For most Americans, the holocaust of mass species extinction has already occurred within their neighborhood. Within our human-dominated landscapes, most of the native and wild species have long since been crowded out. The death of our fellow species is abstract because they died to our “world” decades ago. Why would an inner-city child mourn the death of a butterfly she’s never seen? Who in the suburbs realizes how sterile and deathly still their yards have already become?

How many more election cycles do we get?

The answer is not many. In November, millions of Americans will go to the polls, line up on concrete, wait in office buildings, and then tap screens of choices for political candidates. They will vote for the lesser evil, to make America great again, to put a woman in the White House, or in vain hopes of ousting corporatocracy, oligarchy, or big government out of power. They will vote on slogans, circuses, email scandals and celebrity hat tricks. They will vote on what the pundits tell them.

And all the while, the clock is ticking. Another day passes. The sun is touching the tips of the green trees across the meadow. The planet is heating. Where I live, the mountains are burning. The twisted pines of the desert forests are yellowing with disease and bug infestations. The rivers are shrinking. We normalize these things, attuning to the increasing heat levels, compensating for the lack of rain and humidity by drawing up more water from underground aquifers. A few years ago, a catastrophic forest fire nearly burned Los Alamos National Laboratory – and tons of radioactive waste and stored plutonium – into ash. That record-breaking fire was turned aside just miles from Los Alamos. It raged so hotly that the earth literally melted. Sections of the burn area still look like black moonscapes, even years later.

Who mourns these forests? Who remembers them? Who invokes these swaying giants of trees as they ride the subway? Who consults these leafy communities of being as they make public policies that affect our world? We have largely forgotten these things and our responsibility to them. Humans gather in windowless rooms illuminated by burning kilowatts of fossil fuels or deadly nuclear fission, amplifying a few voices to crowds of other human beings, declaring why this candidate or that should become the next president.

Outside, the trees outnumber humans. Voiceless, unable to travel to conventions or vote, without any hope of political representation, the forests, the Earth, and our fragile, interdependent existence have been left out of democracy. The forests transform the exhaust of our words, breath, cars, and factories into the oxygen we require for existence. And yet, who speaks for them from the podium? Who honors the gift of life the forests bring? Who acknowledges the heavy burden of responsibility we are faced with now?

I am sitting in Maine, in the forest, remembering the things that we seem to have forgotten as we traverse concrete and drought-cracked landscapes, dusty and grimy. My breath is slow and saddened as I watch the tidal sway of the trees rippling in the wind. The sun sets over the branches, shadows lengthen. No easy answers come. Election Day draws closer.

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Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

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