Created by the community, for the community ...
Hope Magazine, www.hopemag.com, Summer 2001, no. 27, p. 37. "Joy in the streets," by Janisse Ray.
Excerpts from "Joy in the streets", by Janisse Ray (author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, published by Milkweed Press). This article originally appeared in Orion Afield, titled "Dancing with Moose." Orion Afield www.oriononline.org, Winter 2000-01, p. 10-13
Across the country wildlife festivals are springing up, and the greatest of them is the Procession of the Species... Olympia, Washington. They carry painted flags, streamers, giant puppets, batik windsocks. Animals drum and dance magnificently in the streets.
"People are far more willing to protect that which they create than that which they consume," says organizer Eli Sterling. I met Eli at the National Watchable Wildlife Conference in Florida, where he lectured on the Procession--a talk that stimulated activist Dale Crider to organize a first-time Procession that wound through the Florida Folk Festival at White Springs. These spin-offs prove the Procession is capable of many variations.
Most environmental education in the past two decades has involved traditional methods--brochures and teacher workshops and booths at fairs--aimed at dispensing information. This kind of outreach, we are realizing, has not worked quickly enough to stem the startling loss of habitat and functional natural systems. So we look inward, to examine how human transformation takes place. Something has to change inside a personís heart for him or her to desire to accommodate other living things.
Eli believes that creation is a powerful antidote to the destruction we see around us. So with the help of collaborator Jeannette S. and...volunteers, [ they ] find a vacant [ building ] and set up a community arts studio, stocked with recycled and donated supplies. "The important exchange is not the day of the Procession," he says, "itís the weeks in advance."
I ask Eli a hard question: How can participating in the Procession be environmental education? "It places little kids and adults in the context of observation," he answers. "They have to figure out things like, are the ears of a moose in front of or behind the antlers?" Perhaps more important, people talk to each other. They talk about what they are going to make and how they will make it. "The Procession creates a conversation about our human connection to the natural world."
Though rooted in the present, the procession is a forward-looking celebration. "In 20 years, we hope to affect the hearts and minds of one generation," says founder Eli Sterling, "a whole generation of thought."
Eli is adamant that the Procession be a cultural exchange between the community and the natural world, not an entertainment event. Entertainment means consumption, he says, and the primary energy exchange to come out of consumption is discardment. Creativity, on the other hand, is rooted in imagination and leads to sharing.
A giant speckle-bellied tree frog glides down the street. The two people holding its light-green back legs extend them and then fold them again, as if the frog were leaping. Wings, ears, snouts, feathers, fur. A four-foot-long papier mache crocodile cruises by. An otherworldly bird on five-foot stilts stretches its filmy surreal wings. All the colors of the earth.
Why in the face of environmental ruin should the humans be dancing? We are in essence animals, and that part of us is always looking for a way out of the cage.
Volunteer art workshop coordinator Leslie Gerritz says spectators have typical reactions to the Procession. "They want to join it, or they start crying. It literally moves people to tears."
Says Sterling, "The Procession is a festival in design, and a ceremony in its creation of a spiritual place. That ceremony brings the community together to say, we are a people of nature. It places them in the context of creation, thus responsibility."