Seeing Rebecca Solnit


On Monday, Amanda and I went to see Rebecca Solnit’s talk, titled “Hope and Emergency.” As some of you may remember, we watched a video of Solnit speak at the beginning of the semester. That was well before my project had any direction, so I thought it would be interesting to hear her again now that I my project is taking shape. I was a little nervous to see her speak because I was worried that her calm demeanor would not make for an interesting event. But this was not my experience.

Seeing Solnit speak in person was very different than watching her on my computer. When I watched her on video, I thought she was hard to follow and her voice seemed to drag on. What she was saying was interesting, but it was difficult for me to follow along. But seeing her in person was much easier for me to understand. Sure, maybe I was just able to focus better because she was standing in front of me and there weren’t internet and other computer distractions. I’m not sure what it was, but I felt I understood her speech and train of thought much better in person.

That being said, there was one point that she made that has stayed with me since Monday. Among other topics, she spent a good amount of time talking about Standing Rock and the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is something I have been following for months now and I was happy that she brought it up given the recent progression in its construction. Personally, I’m with the protesters. And so is Solnit. I couldn’t tell where she was going with her points besides describing the current situation and current examples of activism.

Instead of calling for more action or a desperate hopeful cry for something extraordinary, Solnit admitted that it looks like the pipeline will be built. I hadn’t heard anyone who is against the pipeline say that before. I thought it was strange that she would be admitting defeat, but then she continued and I realized she wasn’t. She said that although this pipeline would likely be built, more pipelines probably wouldn’t. The delays caused by protesters cost billions, making future construction a less lucrative investment. Just because this one couldn’t be stopped doesn’t mean the protests and activism was a failure. Even though the goal was not technically reached, the movement was still a success.

I thought this was an incredible piece of advice that can be applied to almost anything. For the capstone project, for other classwork, for career goals and for personal goals. Maybe my capstone won’t end up exactly as I intended, but that doesn’t make it a failure. Something is bound to go wrong and I will have to make changes in my plans. As these challenges come up, I will remember Solnit’s words of wisdom and keep working.


Shannon Vail

I am a senior Art History major who thoroughly enjoys cooking, traveling, beagles and Buffalo sports.

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