The gallantry of respectful persistence

  • Jim Slusher

    Jim Slusher

Posted4/22/2021 1:00 AM

It is Earth Day 2021, and I find myself thinking of one of my favorite poetic stanzas. It's from Emily Dickinson: "To fight aloud is very brave, / But gallanter I know / Who charge within the bosom / The Cavalry of Woe." (Whether she meant "Cavalry" or "Calvary" may depend on the volume in which you find the poem. The linguistic quibble involving the two words is something best suited for the domain of our Grammar Moses, but, wonderfully, either word works for my purposes.) What brings the poem to mind today is a small group of climate activists, many of whom serve in community chapters of a national movement called the Citizens Climate Lobby. Through letters to the editor and op-ed essays, I see them from time to time toiling away in polite but determined near obscurity hoping to persuade their fellow men and women of the importance of acknowledging climate change and doing something about it.

In today's edition, we conclude a series of five essays the group produced for the Daily Herald in conjunction with Covering Climate Now, an international media effort to draw attention to the issue. As with virtually every encounter I have with the group, the op-ed and the series evoke a tone of sustained and sincere respect. These are people with a cause, and they fully appreciate the urgency of their mission, yet they steadily -- yes, gallantly -- soldier forth with the aim of changing policy by changing minds.


It seems to me that much social and political activism puts the priority the other way around -- aiming to get policies changed under the assumption that doubters will come along eventually once laws and rules are in place. Of course, the CCL activists are pressing for meaningful policy and legislative actions on climate issues, too, but I am always moved by the stalwart decency with which they press their case.

Don't get me wrong. Producing change requires the big headlines inspired by those who "fight aloud" -- the occasional defiant scolding of a Greta Thunberg, for instance, or the soaring oratory of a Martin Luther King. But gallanter I know are some of the smaller headlines, if the work even makes headlines at all, produced by the many, many souls who, as Dickinson describes, "win, and nations do not see, / Who fall but none observe."

Dickinson's poem is not about climate change, obviously, nor for that matter is it overtly about political or social activism of any kind. But on this Earth Day, as I reflect on the op-eds we've published this week and last and the calm, persistent efforts of tens of thousands of committed grass-roots climate die-hards, I'm flush with the desire to call attention to them and their approach as much as their cause itself. As they march "Rank after rank, with even feet -- / And Uniforms of snow," theirs is not the usual standard in today's scorched-earth social media environment, but it deserves to be appreciated. And in the long run, it is the only path to sustained, widely accepted policy change.

• Jim Slusher,, is deputy managing editor for opinion at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.

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