“No permanent friends, no permanent enemies”: inside the Sunrise Movement’s plan to save humanity

A year ago, environmentalists were still struggling to get the political system to even mention climate change. Today, climate strikes are being held across the world, 82 percent of Democratic voters are listing climate change as a top priority, and the Green New Deal has become a progressive litmus test for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

So — what the hell happened?

The Sunrise Movement happened. Sunrise is part of a new generation of youth-led climate change movements that emerged out of the failure of the global political system to address the climate crisis. They’re the ones who made the Green New Deal a household term. They’re the reason CNN and MSNBC are hosting the 2020 Democrats for forums all about climate change. And they’re just getting started.

Varshini Prakash is the co-founder and executive director of Sunrise. I sat down with her on my podcast to talk about coming of age in the era of climate crisis — and the new approach to organizing birthed by that trauma. We also talk about Sunrise’s theory of change, why it’s a mistake to say you’re saving the planet when you’re saving humanity, Sunrise’s motto “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies,” the joys of organizing in the face of terrible odds, and, unexpectedly, the Tao Te Ching.

You can listen to our full conversation by subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you get your podcasts, or streaming it below. A partial transcript, edited for length and clarity, follows.

Ezra Klein

How did you begin working on climate action?

Varshini Prakash

I’m the child of two South Indian immigrants, so the tsunami that struck in the Indian Ocean in 2004 was a huge moment in my young life. I remember being transfixed watching these 30-foot waves crashing again and again and taking people and animals and trees with them. I remember watching the number of deaths on the TV screen rise from 50,000 to 100,000 to 200,000 and more, and being haunted every single night by the image of that.

At this time, I was about 11 years old and was just desperate to do something. I didn’t really have much at my disposal, but I gathered every single thing that I could to donate. I remember taking all these cans of food and dumping it in the donation box and thinking, dear God, this is not enough — I cannot save anyone in this moment. The next year, I think, I watched that same image repeat with Hurricane Katrina, the bodies floating on the water. That sheer sense of powerless has always stuck with me.

You can’t control an earthquake or a tsunami. There’s a lot of suffering that happens in the world that you can’t stop. But there’s a lot that you can.

Ezra Klein

I’m always fascinated by people’s formative moments in politics. For me, it was 9/11. I wasn’t interested in politics before that. But that made it clear that I didn’t get to choose. Politics and world events were interested in me.

I see something similar when talking to people in the climate crisis movement. The dividing line is often that they had a formative experience that made them recognize we don’t control nature; it controls us, we’re here at its pleasure, and if it gets angry, there’s not a whole lot we can do.

Varshini Prakash

That’s exactly right. People are always discussing stopping the climate crisis, saying “we need to save the planet.” But the planet is going to be here long after humanity is dead and gone. The people who are going to really suffer are going to be humans and the millions of species that are around us. We are really at the mercy of nature, and the more we try to control or act like we are above it, the more it’s to our own peril.

Ezra Klein

I love that point so much. I don’t want to call it a mistake, exactly, because it was done with the best of intentions, but the way environmentalism got framed as “saving the planet,” as if it was an act of altruism rather than an act of self-preservation, was a real error.

Varshini Prakash

Absolutely. And especially when we think about the issue of climate change. It’s so all-encompassing. It touches virtually every sector of society, every part of our life that is imaginable. It is the backdrop to all of it. And yet it feels like for the last 40 years it’s been gated to the realm of environmentalism. Like it’s about saving the environment or preserving the environment, not salvation for humankind more broadly and preserving our way of life.

Ezra Klein

I want to talk about this idea of “climate grief.” My sense is that there is a different emotional relationship to climate change among younger people. I’m wondering if you could try to explain that experience — that sense of growing up and believing that this story may not turn out okay. That seems to be a real difference from previous generations who tended to believe it would all turn out all right.

Varshini Prakash

I think my generation just hasn’t lived in a period that wasn’t tainted in some significant form by climate breakdown. I meet these young folks, many of whom have never experienced a year on this planet that wasn’t one of the hottest years on record in human history. You have kids growing up who are just 11 and 12 years old watching Hurricane Maria. I appreciate that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it a “climate bomb” that killed over 3,000 people. We’re really growing up as a climate generation.

I remember a conversation I had with a 16-year-old during one of our training programs. She shared a story about how so many young people her age are dealing with depression and suicide that is related to the climate crisis and wondering if humans should even exist in the world. That is the level of depth to the thinking that kids are having to grow up around these days.

Ezra Klein

I think about how much the fear of annihilation of the Cold War — the sense that everybody could die — warped politics for generations. And now I imagine it’s not just climate having this effect, but Donald Trump’s election, constant school shootings, the financial crisis. I wonder what it will mean for politics to have a generation whose formative moments involved such dramatic failures in the institutions that surround us.

Varshini Prakash

I think a lot of people are making choices in this moment about who they are, and about what kind of country we want to be. I was talking to a friend of mine who had a family member deported. She recalls asking, “What kind of person will I be in this moment? Will I be the kind of person that turns away and retreats and gets small? Or will I actually face these people who are oppressing me and actually fight back?”

I think young people in Parkland are making that choice. I think young people who have seen their homes burned to rubble in Paradise in California are making the choice. The formative moments of my own life have come when I’ve been forced to make choices about the kind of person I want to be in the midst of all the potential death and destruction.

Ezra Klein

Let’s talk about some of those choices. The Sunrise founders came from different climate movements themselves, so where did it begin for you? What was your first experience with climate activism?

Varshini Prakash

When I was in middle school and high school, I was fairly apolitical. Growing up as a brown, skinny, short girl, I felt that the whole culture of politics and elections and the government reveled in my exclusion. It wasn’t until college that I fell in love with social movements. I was taking classes in environmental science, and one day when I was 19, I was asked by a friend to emcee a demonstration at my university against bringing fossil fuel infrastructure to western Massachusetts.

I agreed, but I was super nervous. I had never spoken in front of people before. I remember feeling nauseous and freaked out for days. The demonstration was on a cold day in December during finals week, and there were, like, a hundred kids outside of the student union. My friend handed me the megaphone, and when I walked out and I saw all those people, I almost burst into tears, because standing there, for the first time in my life, I finally felt like I wasn’t just this small person facing the climate crisis alone. I was powerful. I had people with me.

From that moment on, I started getting really active. I attended a demonstration in DC with 40,000 people in the middle of winter to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. I came back to my school and helped kick-start a fossil fuel divestment campaign. I loved organizing because it went beyond the realm of individual consumer choices. It was about changing politics and challenging the status quo.

Ezra Klein

I think this is something that people don’t talk about enough. Organizing isn’t just about changing the world; organizing also changes you.

Varshini Prakash

Absolutely. When I was in high school, I had low self-esteem. I didn’t believe I was powerful or smart or worth investing in. But, when I became part of a campaign, knowing that there were thousands of people like me out in the world transformed me. There was a time when I couldn’t talk about the person who brought me into the movement without breaking down in tears because I had just never had somebody who cared so much about strengthening my voice and my leadership.

Ezra Klein

I love the way you put that. And you made this nice point earlier when you said that it seemed like politics “reveled in your exclusion.” I think a lot of people who follow politics find it horribly ugly. So they infer backward from what they see in politics to what it would feel like to be part of politics, and they don’t want to get involved.

But the irony is that politics is ugly, but being involved in politics can often be beautiful. People talk about how terrible politics is, but I spend a lot of time talking to people who are involved, and for them, particularly those at the citizen and community level, it doesn’t feel that way. Being politically active — not just reading the news but actually working for change — can be a much more moving and and connecting and grounding experience than people often think it will be.

Varshini Prakash

Absolutely. You find the best of people in this work because you find people who have decided that every single day they are going to wake up and assert themselves to the mission at hand of creating a more just society. Those are incredible people to be around. I have learned a level of of compassion, a level of generosity, almost a necessary joyfulness. The fact that we are just steeped in painful topics means you actually have to create your own joy.

For so long when I thought of politics, I thought Robert’s Rules, history books, voting, campaigning, all of these things that don’t feel vibrant or inclusive in any kind of way. When I learned that the process of building a social movement is actually about practicing democracy beyond the realm of elections and political parties, it was almost antithetical to the way I had conceived of it growing up.

Sunrise’s theory of social change

Ezra Klein

How did the Sunrise co-founders find each other?

Varshini Prakash

We all have different stories, but we had almost all been activated on climate in the Obama years. During that period, we saw the Paris climate accords being signed, but at the same time, we were also seeing IPCC reports beginning to sound the alarms with increasing urgency. Many of us couldn’t hold back the sinking feeling that the movements we were building weren’t enough — that we didn’t have the scale or political power to stop what we perceived as the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes. What really kept me up at night was that millions of young people felt just like us but didn’t have a real political vehicle to vocalize their fear and frustration.

A lot of people know our organization from our 2018 sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office. But our story actually started in early 2016, even prior to the Trump election, when all these friends in the climate movement started coming together to strategically plan for a new movement led by and for young people to stop climate change.

Ezra Klein

I want to ask about that. So you’re in these movements and you come to the conclusion they’re not enough. They don’t have enough power. Waxman-Markey — which was the Obama administration’s big climate push — had failed. I think a very easy thing at that moment in time to do would be to say “we’re doomed.” So how do eight or nine young people take the step from “nothing has been enough” to “I bet we can fix that”?

Varshini Prakash

I think it was a deep grounding in the stakes of what we were up against. We saw the crisis of legitimacy emerging in our media and our political institutions. At the same time, we were witnessing the climate crisis genuinely worsening, and nobody had a plan. So for me to be pessimistic about the situation was simply not a good enough excuse. It’s our duty to figure out a plan to solve it.

Ezra Klein

So I know that the strategy of Sunrise has changed over time, but in that first moment, what did that plan look like? What was the initial theory of the case?

Varshini Prakash

From the beginning, we knew that to achieve transformations on the scale of stopping climate change, it would take decades of massive government-led action at every level of society. We also knew it would take a movement unlike what we’ve seen in probably half a century to build enough power to govern for enough time to get us there. So during our strategic planning period between 2016 and 2017, we developed a strategy centered on three key ingredients.

One was people power: a large vocal active base of public support. There’s a scholar named Erica Chenoweth who has studied social movements throughout history that have overthrown dictators. She found that if 3.5 percent of a population gets active on a particular issue — which means they are voting, donating, out in the streets and talking to the neighbors on this issue — that movement inevitably wins. 3.5 percent of the population in America would be about 11 million people.

We understood that there’s this supermajority of Americans who understand climate change is happening and want the government to do something about it. So we have a ton of passive support for this issue. Now we need to translate that into active support — people who are actively participating in our movement.

Ezra Klein

Tell me more about what active means here. You mentioned voting, but clearly it’s more than just voting. How is “active” defined?

Varshini Prakash

Active support is a whole range of things. It includes people who are voting on the issue, who are donating to institutions and organizations that are working toward a solution, who are active on social media, who are signing pledges and participating in call-in days, and in other creative ways. Giving your time, whether it’s one hour a week or 50 hours of your week, toward the broader of trying to solve the climate crisis.

For Sunrise, we actually need people to donate whatever they can, however they can, to the movement in order to sustain us. So we have moms and dads who cook for our retreats and our organization, who support our movements with volunteer housing so our volunteers can live and eat for free in their homes. So being active looks like a whole number of things.

Ezra Klein

Okay, so the first plank is people power. What are the other two?

Varshini Prakash

The second plank is political power. What we mean by political power is a critical mass of enthusiastically supportive public officials who back up [their support] with action. [Politicians] who are ready to fight tooth and nail to make this a reality.

The defining moment for us was when we saw Trump win the presidency. We saw the House and Senate go to a climate-denying GOP. Within days, we heard that Donald Trump was appointing Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, as secretary of state. We saw [former Secretary of the Interior] Ryan Zinke opening up federal lands to lease to oil and gas companies. We saw coal lobbyists leading the EPA.

This is how we recognized that people power without political power will not suffice. We realized we need allies in office — because otherwise, we’re just railing against a group of people who aren’t accountable to our values or our communities.

The other side to the political power plank is being really honest about where things are going in our politics right now. Right now there’s a real debate within the Democratic Party about whether to embrace broad social programs that uplift the most vulnerable among us. We think the outcome of that fight will affect the direction of climate policymaking in the United States.

Ezra Klein

I want to come back to that in a minute, but let’s get the third plank.

Varshini Prakash

The third plank is what we call political alignment. Political alignment is a grouping of social, economic, and political forces that are able to define a shared agenda for society. We’ve basically had two major dominant alignments in the US in the last 80 years. The first was the New Deal alignment of FDR that lasted through the ’60s and ’70s. It was defined by an active government passing massive social policies that helped elevate and support working Americans. The second was the Reagan alignment, which was a new set of values that focused on government as the problem and the market as solving our problems.

Ezra Klein

Something I would add to that, because I think it’s underplayed, is the Cold War, which is crucial for the Reagan alignment. When he’s saying things like “the scariest words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” part of the context is communism. Look over there, that’s what happens when you have a truly huge government. I think people just forget that’s what gave a lot of that rhetoric its power. And among the things that I think we’re starting to recognize is just how different politics is when the Cold War is no longer the context.

Varshini Prakash

I think this all comes after the recession in 2008, and we began witnessing real anger at the Reagan alignment for the horrific levels of inequality it had permitted. We saw it in the Occupy movement, but also the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. People on both sides of the political aisle are pissed off at the political establishment and want something new.

So we think there’s actually a new opportunity at this particular rupture for a “people’s alignment,” where movements, institutions, think tanks, businesses, and unions are organized around a new set of values aimed at building a government and an economy that actually works for all people.

Ezra Klein

A lot of mass movements don’t like to operate within the constructs of political power. They see political institutions as corrupt, and worry they will have to make painful compromises. For instance, Occupy did not want to deal with political power at all. At the same time, there are a ton of pressure groups that focus entirely on trying to wield political power. How do you think about the tension between those two?

Varshini Prakash

It’s a great question. There have been many movements in the past that have completely sworn off politicians, but we approach it from a different angle. We have this principle that we employ: no permanent friends, no permanent enemies. That is to say, we need to engage with politicians for us to actually address climate change, but at the same time, even if we are allied with somebody like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in this instant, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will in the future.

We see it as essential to engage with the political system, but we also see Sunrise’s role as being on the vanguard of the movement ecosystem writ large.

Why the politics of climate change have shifted so rapidly

Ezra Klein

I want to go back now to this question of political power and use Waxman-Markey as an example. For people who don’t know, Waxman-Markey was a cap-and-trade bill, which was one of the major pieces of legislation in Obama’s first term. It passed the House and then failed in the Senate.

The debate around Waxman-Markey is sometimes framed like it was put forward by people who didn’t actually want to solve the problem. But Markey is the same guy now who’s co-sponsoring the Green New Deal. The reason he and other Democrats were pushing the 2008 bill was that they thought it was the only way to get someone like Evan Bayh from Indiana, who represents a bunch of fossil fuel extractors, to sign on to a bill.

My point is that sometimes you need incremental pieces of legislation to overcome the institutional inertia. But now on the left, there seems to be very little patience for that view. I’m curious what you think about this. What were the proponents of Waxman-Markey misunderstanding at the time that is understood better now?

Varshini Prakash

I was honored to be Sen. Markey’s guests to the State of the Union earlier this year, and I asked him about the difference between 2009 and 2019. His answer was that the biggest difference is that we actually have an army of people outside of the halls of Congress who are fighting to stop climate change.

When you look at how the Waxman-Markey bill was crafted, it was insider meetings between some of these green organizations, industry representatives, and political elites. There was actually this big divide between the people who were crafting the policy of Waxman-Markey and grassroots, everyday people who were bearing the brunt of the crisis. There wasn’t a social movement or social disruption taking place during that time that could cultivate the political conditions that would make it impossible for something like Waxman-Markey to pass. It’s amazing to see Ed Markey go from 2008 to being the co-sponsor of this resolution that attempts to ensure that racial and economic justice is part and parcel of how we solve the crisis writ large.

Ezra Klein

I think that’s right. Politicians operate in the context of public sentiment. In the context that Ed Markey was in in 2008, Waxman-Markey looked like the best bet. Now, with a different context, the Green New Deal looks like the best bet.

But this can also create a different dynamic. One way you can imagine it is that inside and outside players operate in a symbiosis where both of them need to do their jobs really well for anything to happen — if the outside players haven’t created the context, the inside players can’t pass big legislation. However, what I often see happening instead is that the two hate each other because the outsiders think the insiders are creating the obstacles by not dreaming big enough. Meanwhile, the insiders think the outsiders just don’t understand political realities. So the people who seem like they should be partners constantly end up in opposition when the rubber hits the road. I wonder if that’s something you all think about in the context of “no permanent enemies and no permanent friends.”

Varshini Prakash

I think the last eight months alone have been a lesson in real time. I’ll give you some examples. We did the action in Nancy Pelosi’s office and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined us. There were, like, 5,000 articles that were written about climate change in a Green New Deal within 48 hours. It immediately skyrocketed to becoming one of the most important issues in our nation’s politics, especially for Democratic voters. We saw the national political conditions shift drastically, and in that new rupture, political possibilities that were previously thought of as impossible became possible.

One example of how the political realm and the social movement realm came together was we endorsed and supported Chloe Maxmin to run for office in the state of Maine. She turned a district blue for the first time in American politics running on clean air, clean water, and green energy, among other things, in rural Maine. Within six to eight months of getting elected, she was able to pull together labor and environmental partners to pass a Maine state Green New Deal that would get the state of Maine to 80 percent renewable energy by 2040, which is incredible.

Something similar just happened in New York, where grassroots organizations helped Democrats win back the state legislature, and now [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo has signed one of the most ambitious climate policies in America. So we need these different parts of these institutions to work together.

Sunrise sees itself as an organization moving the politically possible into the politically inevitable. We are grounded in what it actually takes to solve the issue of climate change — not what feels politically possible in this moment, but what it actually takes.

[At the same time], we know we’re going to have to compromise. We know there are going to be disappointments. We know it’s not going to be perfect. But if we hold our ground, maybe we’ll get a lot further than we would if we started by trying to get Republicans on board.

Ezra Klein

One other big change here is there was a dream in the 2000s that you could get Republicans on board. John McCain was the first presidential candidate with cap and trade in his presidential platform, and in the Senate, you had an effort with Lindsey Graham to get Republican support for cap and trade. That’s just gone now, and I really think it changes the context. We’re moving from a period in American politics where bipartisan support was a plausible way to get things done to a period where you can’t get any bipartisan support. Nowadays, if you’re going to get anything done, it’s going to come through mobilizing your own side, which really changes the underlying incentives.

Varshini Prakash

That’s exactly right. Something I’ve learned in the process of creating and working with Sunrise is how permeable the American political system is to corruption. In the 1970s, the best scientists at companies like Exxon Mobil were sounding the alarm about climate change. Then in the ’80s, scientists testified in Congress calling the climate crisis an existential threat to human survival and our society. Then in the ’90s and into the 2000s, fossil fuel corporations began waging an all-out war on the science — even retooling some of the tactics from the tobacco industry’s public campaigns to sow massive public confusion about whether climate change is happening or caused by humans.

So there was a period where it seemed like there was an opportunity for “bipartisanship” on the issue of climate change. But in the last 10 or 15 years, it has completely dissolved.

Ezra Klein

Have you ever seen the Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi on the couch commercial?

Varshini Prakash

Yeah, I have! It’s crazy. There are these moments where, as you said, John McCain, even George Bush are talking about the effects of the climate crisis, and then we have Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth.

Ezra Klein

I actually think that’s what kicks off the polarization of the issue. I feel bad because I think Al Gore was doing the lord’s work there, but Inconvenient Truth is the beginning of the end for bipartisanship, simply because of how the right treated it. Maybe it was inevitable, but that seemed to kick off the move toward climate change becoming a functionally symbolic issue in politics.

Making the case for climate reform — and a Green New Deal

Ezra Klein

Something that’s embedded in a lot of Sunrise’s work is a view that the public is generally supportive of action on climate change, and the problem is corporate interests like Exxon Mobil and the Koch brothers spending their cash to confuse and obstruct.

But another way of looking at this is that the public might want action on climate change in theory, but they don’t want to pay carbon taxes or see their gasoline bill go up. I’m curious how you conceptualize the public here, because among DC people who have been around this issue for a long time, they worry about how you build a bill big enough to actually solve the issues without activating the public’s fear of sacrifice and change.

Varshini Prakash

I think the answer lies in the exact way you worded the question. For so long, we have framed solutions to the climate crisis as taking something away from people. So I think we need to change how we talk about solutions. What I explain to people is that the Green New Deal is not only about tackling the climate crisis. It’s also about providing people with tens of millions of good jobs. It’s about trying to reinvigorate an economy and put money back in the hands of working people. It’s about alleviating inequality between different groups of people. It’s about ensuring we have clean air and clean water.

I think the problem is we talk about the climate crisis like it’s something middle- and working-class people need to take on the brunt of when it’s been 100 corporations [since 1988] that have contributed to 71 percent of emissions.

So when we’re talking to people whose wages have stagnated for the last 40 years while an increasing amount of the enormous wealth of the United States goes to people at the very top, they’re right in asking why should I pay for this? We cannot solve the problem without talking about labor, without talking about jobs, without talking about health and equity. We should talk about those because those are the issues that people care about right here and right now.

Ezra Klein

I think that’s a good bridge to the Green New Deal. The argument I hear on this is that when you attach an expansive climate agenda to a jobs guarantee and Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, you’re amplifying the amount of potential opposition. The fear is that by bolting a bunch of controversial things onto an already controversial thing, you magnify opposition, because people just tend to be more afraid of change than they are desirous of it.

Varshini Prakash

I’ll start out by saying that the strategy we have been employing over the last couple of decades clearly hasn’t been working, so why not try something different?

Yes, we live in an extremely toxic and polarizing media environment. I also think that there are tons of people who are really inspired by the Green New Deal in this moment. A poll just came out showing that over 69 percent of self-identified moderates support a Green New Deal alongside 64 percent of independents, 55 percent of rural voters, even 40 percent of white evangelical Christians. For young people of both parties, it’s 77 percent.

So what are y’all afraid of? The base that you should be getting out to vote for you, that will support you in these elections, is excited about the Green New Deal and wants to see you support it. These are really popular ideas. We need to get away from this idea that they are not; these are extremely popular. I think if we lean in, it could actually be a winning vision for America.

Ezra Klein

What surprised me about that poll is that they also polled a tax on emissions of carbon-based fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Generally, whenever you put the word “tax” into something, support falls to zero, but that polls at 50 percent support and 44 percent opposition, which is not bad.

The other thing that strikes me about the Green New Deal framing is that it might work for this polarized era of politics. If it’s no longer true that politics works by appealing to the other side, then the only way for a policy to work is if so many people on your side want it that it generates enough force to hit the top of the priority list when your side has enough power to pass things.

And if you want that, then you have to have something that people can see benefit from. If all climate policy does is take things away from you, then even if you have a Democratic president, Senate, and House, they’re going to focus on something like an earned income tax credit or a health care expansion as opposed to something that [voters] will just hate. So the idea of bolting it onto things that might actually be supported seems resonant with the actual political moment we’re in, which is different than the one that people plausibly thought we were in 10 years ago and that we were certainly in 30 years ago.

On wrestling with failure and finding hope

Ezra Klein

Something that everybody who covers the Sunrise Movement mentions is the prevalence of singing. Can you talk about the singing as a tactic and why it’s so defining for the way you all organize?

Varshini Prakash

I think singing for us carries a few different tools. In our movements, we use song to build joy. We use it in times of fear or intensity, as a way to show solidarity with one another and show our strength. We use it in times of sorrow or pain to give voice to our feelings. We use it in moments of anger. Like many movements throughout history, we use song to bring people together and give voice to what we’re here to do.

Ezra Klein

Given the stakes of this moment, how do you deal with the fear of failure?

Varshini Prakash

We are certainly intimate with the idea of our own failure. It sits really heavy on us. Of course, if Sunrise navigates this political moment poorly, millions of people could die. My homeland is underwater. Really dire stuff.

But if Sunrise navigates this moment well, millions of people are elevated out of poverty, billions of people are saved, and we protect human civilization as we know it. There always will be the fear, but I also think there is the knowledge that something is more important — a deep spiritual calling toward doing something to better people’s lives. The only failure would be to do nothing at all.

I look to texts for wisdom and guidance in this moment as well. One of my favorites is actually the Tao Te Ching. There’s this one verse that says something like “do your work and then step back and it is the only path to serenity.” So the way I see it, if we are constantly striving and we are constantly working and putting every ounce of ourselves to make this life better, that to me is a life worth living.