Anne D. Burt relishing role as climate change activist
Anne D. “Andy” Burt has been a fixture in the state Legislature and at environmental gatherings around Maine for years, spreading the idea of social, economic and environmental justice.
For 15 years, she was the environmental justice coordinator for the Maine Council of Churches, helping Mainers shrink their carbon footprints. She also put herself on the line personally, protesting political decisions she believed would harm the planet. In 2011, Burt, who is a Quaker, was arrested at the White House for peacefully protesting the construction of the Keystone Pipeline.
In December, she left the Maine Council of Churches in order to throw herself full time into climate change activism. In a new film, “Down to Earth Climate Justice Storytelling Project,” she and videographer Charlie Hudson interviewed 13 Maine climate justice activists. “I wanted to find out, where do you see hope and what is the history of your values?” she said. “Where does who you are as an activist come from?
“I love the fact that it is a Maine-grown project that features Maine people living their values, willing to take risks on a lot of issues,” she said.
Here’s what we love: Burt tells us she’s saved every single edition of Source since the section was launched in 2014.
MAINE HOMECOMING: Burt grew up in Lawrenceville, N.J., daughter of a stay-at-home mom and a civil engineer who worked on the George Washington Bridge and the Holland Tunnel. She and her husband, Stephen, moved to Maine in 1969 as part of an earlier back-to-the-land movement. Stephen found work building boats and digging clams, and they bought 18 acres in Edgecomb. “It had been a hunting camp,” Burt said. “We actually moved out onto this land with a 2-month-old baby and camped and put up a timber-framed little cabin that we used in the summers for a long time. And then we would house-sit and do other things in the winter.”
The couple left Maine in 1972 so Stephen could study astronomy in graduate school – but they hung onto their land. They moved around over the next 17 years, living for a time in Indiana, Michigan (where Burt founded a homeless shelter) and Vermont. They returned to Maine in 1989, after their middle child – one of three – graduated from high school.
ROOTS OF HER ACTIVISM: One of Burt’s earliest memories of fighting injustice occurred in elementary school. She was part of a youth group at a Presbyterian church and wondered why her African-American friends attended a different church on Sundays. “I asked the minister why,” she recalled, “because it seemed like from everything I was being taught in the literature of the church that that should have been what we were doing. And he couldn’t give me a good reason. I got very disillusioned with religion.”
Burt wrote her senior thesis in high school on the black Muslim movement, and engaged in the anti-war movement of the 1960s. She “came back to the faith community” after watching Quaker friends take anti-war stands and work on social justice issues. In the 1980s, Burt worked for the American Friends Service Committee in Indiana, a Quaker organization that promotes peace and justice as an expression of faith, helping political refugees flee Central America.
“That was one of the places where I most profoundly understood how a story could really change people’s hearts and minds,” she said. Despite the state’s politically conservative atmosphere, “a number of churches reached back to their roots” in the Underground Railroad to inspire a modern-day sanctuary movement “that helped oppressed people from Central America to flee. A whole Salvadoran family lived in our meetinghouse.”
FAITH AND FOOD: When she went to work for the Maine Council of Churches, Burt created several educational programs about climate change that were designed to link people more closely with their impact on the planet. For “Be a Good Apple,” Burt worked with the late Russell Libby of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to create a “foods covenant program” that encouraged families to pledge spending at least $10 a week on local food. More than 100 congregations in the state participated.
“Maine Bean Suppahs” were just that – except participants were asked to use only locally grown ingredients in the traditional dishes. “Fishes and Loaves” connected Mainers with fishermen and created a study guide on ocean acidification and working waterfronts.
A STEP TOO FAR? At one point, Burt tried to convince Maine churches to use only local foods for communion. Only Maine grains should be used for the communion bread, she argued. Burt found a farm willing to make local grape juice, but there wasn’t enough to go around – so Burt pushed for switching to apple cider. The idea didn’t go over well. Neither did her suggestion that churches forgo the imported palm fronds on Palm Sunday for Maine pine boughs. “Ahh, heretic,” she said, recalling the general reaction. “A number of congregations did do it. I don’t think anybody ever used cider. That was a little too far. But I like to push the envelope.”
DOWN TO EARTH: Burt’s first Down to Earth film focused on divestment from fossil fuels and will soon go up on her new website. An 8-minute excerpt of the hourlong climate justice storytelling film is already posted. Burt says that in working on the project, she’s been struck by how the climate justice movement appears to be multigenerational and has been embracing other movements, such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Idle No More,” the mass protest movement of indigenous peoples in Canada.
“I also have a sense that the spirit of the early church is very much alive in the movement,” she said. “Even in the face of tremendous challenges to overcome what is happening to the earth’s environment, there is this sense of joy. It’s bringing out this human community that is really exciting. It sort of echoes back to the Civil Rights movement and the Red Power movement. In those movements, it was the young people who were really able to take the biggest risks, who said, ‘We need to ride into Mississippi on the Freedom buses.’ I see that very much in the climate justice movement, that it’s young people looking at what their future may or may not be and saying, ‘We need to act.’ ”
PRACTICING WHAT SHE PREACHES: Burt and her husband have state-of-the-art solar technology at their Edgecomb home. They heat with wood and drive a Prius. But she’s not a saint. Her guilty pleasure? Travel. While the Burts have friends who refuse to fly anymore because they don’t want to contribute to the CO2 emissions that cause climate change, the Burts still fly to Florida once in a while. “One of the pleasures my husband and I have had the last few years is going to the Everglades to do photography,” Burt said. “It is a pleasure, at age 71, to experience a little warmth.”
WHAT’S NEXT? Burt is working with two other women to gather stories for another film, this one featuring activists who live in Maine but promoted change elsewhere. “They are stories where people have played a role in history, but it is not something their neighbors know about,” she said. Another project will showcase “climate solutions” that are happening around the state.
WILL SHE EVER RETIRE? An emphatic no. Burt would like to go out of this life like her Aunt Evelyn, who was making lunch for a group of friends and went out into her garden to cut some greens. “She was 89, and they found her there lying in the garden, face up,” Burt said.
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