SPOTLIGHT: Parker Millsap on Doing Better By the Earth and Its People
Photo by Monica Murray
EDITOR’S NOTE: Parker Millsap is No Depression‘s Spotlight artist for April 2021. Read our interview with him here, and watch him perform “The Real Thing,” from his new album, Be Here Instead, just for ND readers here.
I’ve been spending a lot more time outdoors, and it’s changed the way I perceive the world. I can’t see a highway without wondering about all of the plants that aren’t allowed to grow there anymore. The roads look like a place where animals, human and otherwise, suffer unnecessary stress and violent death. I can’t see a strip mall without wondering if a Native American ever performed a sacred ritual in that very spot. How many fountain sodas does it take to cancel a prayer? Manicured grass lawns drive me crazy now. How many vegetables, wildflowers, or trees could be growing there instead? How many people are hungry right now? What does it say about us, that we feel the need to “control” nature so completely, nearly always to the detriment of our fellow earthly beings?
I feel weird about buying brand new things now, including guitars, which I’ve never had an issue with in the past. What does the world need more of at this point: guitars or trees? I can hear the chainsaws over the music. How much stuff is enough? I think a lot more about the food I buy. Do the farmers practice regenerative agriculture? Does the store have an option with less packaging? Do the people who picked these veggies make a living wage? Does the grocery store clerk? Do all the other shoppers think I’m crazy for just throwing the vegetables straight into the basket without the little plastic bag? I’m gonna wash them off, people! What is this crazy machine of industry, and why does it need so much land?
I know that perfection is unattainable. I am a creature born into, and largely sustained by, unthinking injustice, and I don’t have the skills required to survive without some sort of dependence on it. So how do I go about doing my part? How can I give back to the Earth, rather than detracting from it?
I’ve planted some native wildflowers in my flower beds and grown some container veggies. I’ve planted lots (hundreds?!) of trees with the Root Nashville campaign, where my wife works. I rent the place I’m living now, but as soon as I can buy a house, you can bet I’ll be out there turning turf into forest and gardens. I’m driving less and buying less stuff. I’m eating a lot less meat. I’m learning the ways that environmental justice and racial justice are connected. For generations, racist people and policies have denied people of color access to their birthright: clean air, fresh water, and land to provide for themselves. Because of that, I’m donating to The Equity Alliance. I’m learning the ways that new land development is contributing to the decimation of biodiversity. Because of that, I’m donating to the Nature Conservancy.
I’m turning the lights off when I leave the room. I’m recycling and composting religiously. I’m voting for progressive candidates. I’m listening to the downtrodden, believing them, and looking for ways that are within my capacity to help. None of it is enough, but it’s a start. The problems we face will not be solved in our lifetime, but they can’t be ignored for another 300 years.
We have an opportunity, as a global generation with a shared trauma, to turn this world into a better place. We MUST turn this world into a better place. The soil and the streams are our flesh and blood. The beasts and the birds and the bugs are our next of kin. The flowers and trees are our heritage. The way that we treat nature, and people who are “different” than us, is in reality the way we treat ourselves. We are each others’ keepers.
White people have been doing a bad job of this for some time now. White supremacy has been maybe the greatest burden that the Earth and its less violent inhabitants have seen in about 65 million years. As such, I believe it is incumbent on white people like me to educate ourselves and try to repair the damage, to both planet and people, done by our ancestors: not as charity, but in solidarity. We must listen to the people who are hurting and give them what they are asking for. We must listen to the Earth and give her what she’s asking for. I am you are me is thee. And them over there? That’s still us, too.
What I haven’t figured out yet is how to apply what I’ve learned to my business plans. A lot of us rely on touring to make ends meet. The problem is, tour is hard on the Earth. It’s not great for your back either. The strange hours, the moving 70 mph for at least four hours a day, the cramped quarters, the time away from family, the water bottles, the countless gallons of gasoline, the hotel sheets that get washed every night, the long trail of guitar picks and coffee cups and lighters along the highway. It’s a lot to think about. Of course, the payoff is the celestial communion of the show, where everyone in the room becomes one being under the influence of the sound for a while. Live music has propelled my life thus far, and I feel it’s my sacred duty, if such a thing exists.
But I would love to NOT harm the planet and its living things in the process of moving all this air around. Going forward, I can partner with local environmental and racial justice organizations in the cities I visit. I can tour in a way that does the least damage possible. You can bet I’ll be taking bottled water off the rider, and getting an electric van as soon as I can. I can honor the indigenous people my ancestors have stolen from by doing proper land acknowledgements. These are things I haven’t done in the past, and I know now that I can do better. I am trying, and I can’t wait to fight for a better world with you.