Meet the faces who have supported the Campaign to Stop GE Trees. Here’s what BJ McManama had to say about her journey to working with us.
Every once in a while I get asked by people who don’t know me well, why I chose to be a full-time activist or, more accurately, a troublemaker. This question is usually followed by something like, what does it mean to be a campaign organizer? There is no easy answer to these questions, so I simply say that it’s been a natural progression since I can remember.
I was raised on a farm where we knew without question that we all depend on nature for our survival. If the rains don’t come or there’s too much rain, crops fail and we don’t eat well or at all. I was taught how to follow the signs of the seasons, when to prepare the soil for the next generation of crops or when it’s time to prepare the kitchen for canning or drying our food for winter time.
If a person is immersed in the rhythms of life, without distraction or separation from the natural world, it’s a given that we’ll recognize when things aren’t “right.” There were times growing up that my grandparents began to point things out, like when our community was told not to drink the water or eat the fish from the river. Or when a forest nearby, a huge tract of land we used for hunting and where my grandmother gathered certain plants, was clear cut. I saw and felt their sadness for these losses and clearly heard their anger directed at fools driven by greed.
Over the years I continued, as I was able, to do all the things that I was taught. I gardened, made clothes for my family, canned and preserved as much of our food as possible. Most of it was out of necessity and a keen sense of frugalness I was shown by people who lived through the Great Depression. But when the kids went to school, and I went back to school and then on to a job and a career, I became detached from my roots, as millions of others have too.
I can’t pinpoint the exact time I decided to use what I’ve learned in the business world for what I do now. Looking back, it’s because of my love, awe and a deep affinity for all life. Luckily, at just the right time, I found people or they found me, who are committed to protect as much of our natural world as possible.
I also have to take responsibility for some of the damage done. I’ve been complicit and even supportive in the past of the dominant narrative that capitalism perpetuates. My children’s father was a coal miner and he knew, we both knew, what the consequences were, but what choice did we have here in the heart of Appalachia? And when strip mining transitioned from flatlands to blasting the tops off mountains – well that was just too much to ignore – and so my journey on this road began.
It would take days to list all of the issues around the world that have led us here: 65% of the earth’s biodiversity lost in just the last 50 years; the terrifying reality that we have less than a decade to stop climate chaos that will result in a cascade of man-made natural disasters “IF” we don’t quickly transition to a regenerative way of life; and the pandemic caused in large part from decades of exploiting nature. Despite all of the evidence, toxins continue to be dumped into our air, water, and land.
Today, almost 30 years later, here I am, working with scientists, researchers, writers, and policy experts, with the international Campaign to Stop GE Trees. And this is another story for another day – stay connected to our campaign here on this website and others. You’ll be treated with more stories and life’s lessons from the most amazingly dedicated humans who care just as much or more than you or I about the monumental losses we’re experiencing and searching for real solutions to stop, reverse, and heal our precious Mother Earth.
BJ McManama is the Campaign Organizer for Save our Roots. She is a member of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees steering committee and works closely with both Indigenous and Front Line community organizations on forest protection, climate justice, and subsistence rights.