The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 20, 2007

Direct Action, Part 1: Green Sangha

green_sanghaSunday morning, a week ago, I’m sitting in a cottage in Berkeley with nine other people, eyes closed, watching my breath as thoughts come and go. It’s a meditation retreat, yes, but it’s more than that, and I’m attempting to let go of the agenda I arrived with and relax into the moment. Twenty minutes later, the bell rings, and it is time to introduce ourselves, share food, and plan environmental actions, from a place of centered compassion rather agitation or anger.

The group is the East Bay chapter of Green Sangha, and this is my first time attending their monthly meeting. It’s one of the first moments of real calm I have experienced since I began my plastics project, and I can tell that this communion of like-minded, open-hearted people is what I need.

Green Sangha was founded in 2000 by Jonathan Gustin, who was “concerned about the subtle hostility he found in many peace groups and the ensuing burnout that activism based in anger produces, with the intention of having a group of people perform activism not as a reaction to what they oppose in the world, but rather from their love of the world.” (From Green Sangha’s web site.)

The web site goes on to explain, “Green Sangha chapters meet once a month to meditate, educate, and support each other, and to plan and perform direct environmental actions. Our time together is designed to help develop the qualities of calmness, lucidity, and awareness which we believe are vital to our work as spiritually-based environmental activists. We are non-denominational and find inspiration from the lives of non-violent leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., The Dalai Lama, and Julia Butterfly Hill.

“It is important to speak out against that which threatens our planet. We can add to the violence by attacking those we perceive as the “enemy.” Alternatively, we can embody the love and respect we want others to show the earth. It can be challenging to practice equanimity and love while the planet is being poisoned, yet it is vital to do so.”

During this August 12 meeting, Green Sangha is planning an upcoming beach cleanup action and also discussing their experiences while tabling at the Berkeley Farmers Market. A couple of members had given out cloth bags to shoppers with information encouraging them to bring reusable cloth bags back to the market instead of taking new plastic. I had come to the meeting hoping to organize a similar action at the plastic-laden Temescal Farmer’s Market, which I’d blogged about two weeks before.

The members are very open to the idea of broadening out their action to other farmer’s markets, and I am assigned the task of contacting the Temescal Farmer’s Market manager to get permission to come and table there.

In fact, I had already been contacted by Ron Pardini, the manager of Urban Village Farmers Market Association, in response to the e-mail I sent two weeks ago about all the plastic at the market. This was Ron’s reply:

“I’ve been increasingly aware of the amounts of plastic bags (and other containers/packaging) that are being distributed during each of our farmers’ markets we operate. We’ve recently printed the logos of each market on organic cotton totes, & are selling them for less than we purchased them for, to encourage purchases. I know this is just a start, now I need help to find a source so we can offer the vendors an alternative (& cheap) bag to use when selling their products. Can you help?”

What a great match! I left a message for Ron as soon as the meeting ended, and waited breathlessly to hear back from him. Unfortunately, my excitement and drive to get things moving doesn’t always match other people’s time tables. Ron is a very busy man, juggling many different tasks in keeping the Farmer’s Market organized. After playing a little phone and e-mail tag, we finally spoke to each other the following Saturday, and Ron gave permission for us to come and give out information about plastic bags the very next day.

Wow! Mad scramble! I had less than 24 hours to get a table together and see if I could also get some other Green Sangha members to join me. The information sheet, Don’t Think About A Plastic Bag (PDF file), is downloadable from the Green Sangha web site. I printed the flyer and made 2-sided copies on green paper at Copy Central. Because of the time factor, I was not able to find paper with the highest recycled content I would have liked. I’ll be better prepared the next time.

Additionally, Green Sangha has a Power Point presentation, Rethinking Plastics, which I also printed out at Copy Central. I made one black and white copy to put in a binder, which I planned to make available at the table for folks who wanted additional information about the issue of plastic in the environment. I also made 10 color copies of some of the more powerful photos in the document to display: a turtle with a plastic bag in his mouth, a dead Laysan albatross full of plastic, a plastic-strewn beach, etc.

I went to bed Saturday night with my head full of ideas about what I would do the next day, and wondering if I would have anyone to join me. As it turned out, it was too late to find anyone else able to come, so I was on my own. Tune in tomorrow for details of my day at the Farmer’s Market, my first direct action since the plastic project began.

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Beth Terry
15 years ago

Thanks for letting me know, Racinette. I’ve updated the link.


15 years ago

Hi Beth, I have just discovered your blog – through a link from Grist, I think – and love it so much I`m reading back posts. Thank you for doing this!

If you have time, I think a correction needs to be made to the link to the “don’t think about plastic bags” flyer, as I get some error when I click it. (but found a similarly named Green Sangha page with google)


Beth Terry
16 years ago

Hi Debra. I should have been more clear about the cloth bags. Green Sangha has given out cloth bags at other Farmers Markets, but at Temescal the manager didn’t want me to give out bags as they would compete with the canvas bags he is selling. So I was only giving out information.

Heather, I love the idea of furoshiki. So versatile. I may try it.

16 years ago

I talked about furoshiki, a Japanese cloth wrap that their government is encouraging people to use instead of plastic bags, on my blog today. I always use cloth bags for groceries, but only recently heard of smaller, thin cloth bags that can be used for fruits and vegetables. I’ll have to make some!
(And we’re thinking of starting a Green Sangha here in Vancouver.)

16 years ago

the farmers market that is in berkeley? is that the one you will be at? i’ll come say hi to you if you are there on saturday morning (if this is the same market im thinking of) and could even help out for an hour or two! the boyfriend and i make our way out to the berkeley farmers market almost every weekend for one real purpose only…flacos. *marika

16 years ago

Wow, Beth, what a great idea! I’ve been bringing my cloth produce and canvas shopping bags to our local farmer’s market this season, and everyone has been verbally supportive, but it never occurred to me to give out bags. How cool! Could you perhaps post info on where to get those canvas bags??