"Resist" cover photo credit to Tim Gouw
Activism is ramping up in the good-old-boy town of Bishop, California. To the outdoor industry, Bishop is a climber haven where white college bros flock during spring break to put down their beloved projects like the “Iron Man Traverse,” the softest V4 of the Buttermilks, as well as to gape at “The Mandala,” the world renowned V12 problem first climbed by Chris Sharma in the spring of 2000. This area has seen much energy recently from the women of climbing as well, since Shelma Jun of Flash Foxy catalyzed the first women’s climbing festival in March 2016. It seems that the climbing community (the majority of which are middle and upper class white Americans), pays rare attention to the history of the landscape or the politics of the rocks they touch, but community members like Jasmine Amara, Jolie Varela, and Alan Bacock are here to change that.
On Friday June 23, 2017, Amara and fellow photographer and poet, Jen Fedrizzi, hosted their first “About Water” exhibition in Bishop, California. The event took place inside Sierra Shanti yoga studio off Main St. where many attendees slipped off their shoes and learned about the tragic abuse of water in America. Two local water protectors, Jolie Varela of Payahüünadü, and Alan Bacock of Big Pine, shared their stories and wisdom.
Inspired by their relationship with water, and the knowledge that Los Angeles is draining the Owens Valley, Amara and Fedrizzi teamed up to create conversations about living harmoniously with our planet’s most precious life source. The work includes images from Payahüünadü, or the Owens Valley, which is one of L.A.’s main water sources today, as well as images of food trucks and concrete landscapes that contribute to water decimation.
Events like “About Water” make it clear how many people are ready to shift into a world of sustainability, although it will take sacrifice. The poets and speakers throughout the evening encouraged the audience to think about their relationship with water and their consumption with questions like, “How many times do you shower?” Or, “How much water do you use throughout your day?” Alan Bacock, a Big Pine tribal member and Water Program Coordinator for the Owens Valley, described how water can be a powerful force carving the Grand Canyon, or soft, like a swirling eddy. Ultimately, Bacock describes how water can hold impressive weight when it comes together, much like when community members gather. Through teary eyes, Bacock spoke of loving the people of Los Angeles because it is tragic what they are facing. Los Angeles is in a water crisis and the take home message of the evening was that adopting sustainable practices in our everyday lives is crucial.
Jolie Varela talked about expressing gratitude and thanking water whenever she encounters it. As an avid hiker, Varela often details her expeditions on her Instagram through thoughtful and heartwarming videos and posts. On a mission to turn the outdoors into a more inclusive space for native youth, Varela is currently working on a cultural revitalization project in Bishop. With deep compassion, Varela told the story of a local Bishop woman who stood up at a recent event and admitted to living in the valley for 43 years and never having known about the water issues or the native history of the land. After being on the frontlines at Standing Rock, Varela has been actively working towards changing the script around the unknown history of Payahüünadü. Often speaking of bringing the torch home from Standing Rock and keeping it burning, Varela’s rising voice is something to be reckoned with. Frequently speaking up for people of color at Inyo 350 meetings, Varela’s perspective and input is sought after. For all of her physical, intellectual, and emotional labor, it’s about time she receives payment from these organizations that desperately need her help.
“We are all water protectors,” Varela reminded the community. The yoga studio was full of community members who gathered to support Amara and Fedrizzi during their inaugural event to raise awareness about water. “At this time it feels increasingly important for me to use art, music, and poetry as an avenue for healing, informing, and resisting,” reflects Amara on her personal website. Amara is also an intuitive who provides her services as an Intuitive Consultant, offering guidance and insight toward personal empowerment, self-love, abundance, awareness, and fulfillment. She has been using art for spiritual transformation and ecological activism for 15 years and currently offers art sessions as a means of healing at Wild Iris Crisis Center in Bishop.
Jen Fedrizzi, Amara’s creative partner in the “About Water” project, grew up in Los Angeles and has been inspired to talk about water ever since finding out about the violent reality of how her hometown obtains water. Side by side with Amara, Bacock, and many others, Fedrizzi participated in Walking Water, an organized pilgrimage that invites people to journey the waterways, natural and manmade, from Mono County to Los Angeles.