When I first looked at the above image, one word filled my mind: isolation. There is something profoundly lonely about a lighthouse that sits disconnected from the rest of the land. The immediate negative connotation I initially saw when looking at the image probably had a lot to do with my frame of mind after a lonely and stagnant few years. I have spent a lot of time sitting by myself staring at a screen. Sitting at home for two years has been an incredible privilege and provided me with a level of safety that millions, if not billions, across the world can only dream of. I recognize what an incredible luxury it is to not have suffered any death or serious illness in my family while living through a pandemic. However, in being so lucky to live my life from the comfort of my family home, I have found myself increasingly disconnected from the rest of the world.
A few weeks ago, Glasgow (my home city) hosted COP 26. In the run-up to the COP, everyone was buzzing with excitement about the potential for our city to host ambitious new climate deals that set humanity down a new, more hopeful path. I sat and watched as world leaders, academics, and activists alike emphasized the importance of COP 26, each speculating on what might be achieved. However, after the first few days, it became apparent that the summit was going to be a disappointment. Leaders from the industrialized ‘Global North’ seemed to give endless speeches; meanwhile, those from the most climate affected countries begged and pleaded for greater action, exposing how targets that had been set years ago had still not been met, how money that had been promised to them never appeared, how these talks were not about money or climate science for them but were about saving lives. I sat and cried with my mum about the seeming hopelessness of the situation; if the thought of children going without food and water was not enough to galvanize action, what would be? ( The summit itself was disappointing, world leaders from the ‘Global South’ reminded us of the promises that have already been made and broken by the most polluting countries, pleading for action instead of more empty words.
On the 6th of November, my family and I joined around 100, 000 others, and marched the streets of Glasgow to demand climate action. Before leaving my house that morning, I felt deflated. I was nervous about the super-spreading potential of the massive crowds and wasn’t sure that there was any point in going to the march. However, when I returned home that evening, I felt invigorated and inspired.
Marching along to the drum beats, singing chants in unison with thousands of others, seeing different communities from different countries and backgrounds coming together – gave me a sense of solidarity and hope that I have never felt online. I marched alongside student activists, farmers, Indigenous groups, different political parties, and groups from across the globe. We all came together in a rare act of solidarity, we fostered a real sense of togetherness. While I will never meet most people who marched alongside me, we are part of a community. On that cold and rainy Saturday, we walked the same route and yelled the same chants and ultimately, demand the same things.
When I look at that image now, I see something hopeful. Lighthouses exist to offer welcome to those emerging from the darkness, to beckon them towards the safety and community that can be found on land. Over the past few years, I think we have all been navigating the choppy sea of our broken world alone. As much as we have tried to foster strong communities online, they can never replace our innate human need for face-to-face connection. No man is an island; what we feel and the injustices we face as individuals are never isolated experiences. We exist in complex social webs. We need one another.
For anybody who needs a bit of inspiration to push them to get involved, I recommend watching ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film is based on a true story and follows seven people from different backgrounds and with different interests, who united in opposition to America’s war in Vietnam. They are on trial after their peaceful protest turned into a violent clash with the police. The injustice these activists experience on account of exercising their legal right to protest is infuriating to watch. It doesn’t romanticize the struggle that comes with fighting to make the world a better place. But it’s also an important reminder that the best thing we can do to shape the world that we want to live in is a foster community, encourage cross-group alliance, and create united movements that are fighting for the needs of everyone. We are always strongest together.