by Chuck Baclagon, 350.org

What can we learn from women who went through a form of activism in different parts of our history? What does feminism have to do with climate change? How does climate change tie-up with our history?

It is crucial that we keep these things in mind. As one of the speakers for the Alas ng Bayan exhibit, I would like to put focus on the importance of connecting the contents of this exhibit to the ongoing climate crisis, the biggest hazard to be endured by present and future generations.

On many occasions, I have been asked what 350.org is about. To quote philosopher Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message,” represents my usual response – our organization’s name is also our battle cry.

According to scientists, “350 parts per million (ppm)” pertains to the safe number of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that will enable life to thrive in its diversity. Unfortunately, we have gone way past 350 and have breached 400ppm. Our organization is working globally to demand climate action based on the realities of science and guided by the principles of justice.

Science and justice are two important elements of our work: Science provides the evidence and the correlation between cause and effect, while justice gives the moral imperative to pursue the common good and to safeguard the welfare of the oppressed and vulnerable in a society that is already facing intensified impacts of climate change at present.

Therefore, an understanding of the past must play a crucial role in the formation of climate activists.

The current ecological crisis we are now experiencing is a product of historical and material conditions. It is borne out of social, political, cultural and economic systems that commodified people and our planet where the powerful few who run industries and the apparatus of the state maintain their privileges out of the subservience of others.

However, history also tells us that the revolutionary force which has been far successful in challenging this hegemony of patriarchy has been the loving, passionate, courageous and at times angry women who rose up to speak truth to power. Women who have played their part in thwarting the domination of three empires, a tyrant and faced the forces of dirty energy development.

350.org recognizes that the climate crisis requires new ways of seeing things, new ways of doing things, but more importantly new ways of being in the world.

I believe that these artworks made by my friend, Johnny Guarin, gives us a glimpse of what it means to learn from the past; of what heroism means and entails; and what new ways of being are possible as captured in the lives and martyrdom of these women who resisted tyranny.

Alas ng Bayan shows paintings of five Filipina heroines in the form of sakla or tarot cards, which are used in games of chance. This reflects how taking chances is important in an oppressive society, because when you don’t take a stab in the game of life, there’s no chance of winning. Whatever challenge we may face, we must play and plunge to uncertainty.

Another thing to keep in mind is when you take a chance, you can play along different battles. In facing the climate crisis, one important aspect is intersectionality, which means that persecution towards humanity and the environment are connected. And in playing the game of life, you cannot win as individuals, you must play a part among organized individuals who have respective roles in one campaign, pushing for concrete and effective action leading to social change.

In all reconstructions of history, there is always a challenge to see lives as multi-faceted products of their respective contexts and to acknowledge our subjectivity and recognize the need for nuancing — which are also essential elements in tackling the intersectional nature of the climate crisis.

In the end, what we all aim for is a world that is not only socially just and ecologically sustainable — but one where we can defy stereotypes; defeat empires; exhibit beauty amidst strife; serve the people; and sing our own songs.

May these paintings help us find connections and glimpses of our place in the struggle to shape history amidst the climate crisis grounded on beauty, solidarity, and shared humanity.