Earth Day Celebration in Portland
Portland’s Earth Day celebration is in a large park with a long, curving asphalt path running through it. Booths are lined up along either side of the 10-foot path, facing each other. As we’re setting up, I realize I’m directly across from a midwife’s booth. Twenty photos of freshly born humans grace the top of their canopy. In the same place on my canopy, the “Thank you for not breeding” banner normally hangs, but I placed it on the back side, so it can be seen from a wider area. Bumper stickers on my table with that slogan were enough of a contrast.
I talk with the midwives and we joke about our ironic placement. I find our common ground: if they’re going to breed, they may as well do it right.
“If I strike out, I’ll send them over to you.”
I explain VHEMT to a midwife and her husband, who had stopped by. They’d decided to not procreate and are delighted to receive the Meritorious Service Award. Two other midwives had also decided against breeding, one coming to that conclusion half way through midwife school. Another was wrestling with the decision: giving birth is something she really wants to experience, but she knows what the ecological implications are.
“Well, you’re thinking about it, that’s the main thing. If the only children who are born are wanted it would be a huge improvement.”
To get a photo of their booth with two midwives posing, one has to back up into my booth. I suggest holding the “Thank you for not breeding” bumper sticker in front of them.
“Oh, you’re bad for business,” she half-jokes.
Many visitors fully agree that there are too many of us, if not that we should go extinct. The idea of us not existing is troubling to a few, and they aren’t comforted by my suggesting that thousands of other species are going extinct because of us—we’re just one more.
People who had chosen to not procreate are happy to find someone they can tell their story to and be congratulated instead of the usual negative reactions. The 20 acres of potential wildlife habitat they saved for 78 years by not creating another US resident is useful information.
A man tells me that he’d come to the VHEMT booth on Earth Day in 2008 and our conversation prompted him to stop waffling about getting fixed. I ceremoniously present him with the Meritorious Service Award.
I usually get one really negative reaction and this time it’s also one of the strangest. A young man and woman with a child about nine, too old to be theirs and of mixed ethnicity, look quite seriously at the Why Breed? chart. By their expressions, I can tell they don’t like what they’re reading. Admittedly, it’s not the best introduction to the VHEMT concept for most people. I’m busy with others and don’t get a chance to engage them in conversation. They leave, and return later with controlled righteous anger and semi-prepared confrontation. The girl gives me a folded note and I thank her as I drop it into the cash box, assuming it’s meant to be read later. I still haven’t read it because I’m afraid it will reveal that she was erroneously made to feel badly about me and the VHEMT message—maybe that I think she shouldn’t have been born.
The trio fronts the table and the guy begins his speech while the girl and young woman glare at me.
“As an identified white male, I have to ask, how can you... I mean, this comes from a position of privilege. What about all the minorities who don’t... who are struggling every day just to by? I’m just asking the question.”
This is taking a lot of courage on his part and his voice wavers slightly. He’s shaking barely perceptibly and I’m trying not to internalize his feelings. I can tell he’s not ready for an answer, so I nod and don’t interrupt.
“What about the woman who gets raped and now has a baby, or the trans woman?”
He goes on a little while defending the defenseless against the tyranny he perceives I represent. Whatever they had read at the table triggered some deep feelings, perhaps reinforced in group-think while they were gone.
“I’m just putting the question out there.”
“Yes, but your question comes out of misconceptions.”
“I’m just asking what makes you think you have the right to present this information?”
“I have an obligation to present this information.”
He allows me to explain that we’re voluntary and stand for reproductive freedom. That when there are fewer of us we can take better care of everyone who’s already here.
It’s the woman’s turn, and the girl’s glare is holding strong. I feel sorry for her more than the adults, who seem to have acquired a heavy dose of honky guilt for their white privilege.
“There are people who are aware and intelligent, good people who should be having kids.”
“Eugenics? Are you saying that some people have more right to breed than others?” I try to not sound judgmental.
“No...” I don’t think she had thought of it in those terms.
I speak calmly, presenting VHEMT in social justice terms, and rejecting thoughts like, “It’s ’cuz I’m white, isn’t it?” I allow breaks for them to talk but I may have defused their hostility and they’re quiet. They don’t decide to become VHEMT Volunteers, but at least they aren’t angry as they leave.
It’s true that we’re privileged and the two billion humans who are barely scraping by aren’t likely to think about Homo sapiens ceasing procreation to go extinct for the good of Earth’s biosphere.
People capture images with their phones of the “Visualize human extinction” cartoon, the stack of books, and footprint information on the “Preserve Wildlife Habitat” board. Fast way to share information.
One of the bumper stickers on display is “Vasectomy prevents Abortion,” which generates conversations. A boy about 10 asks what it means.
“A vasectomy is an operation a man gets so he won’t get a woman pregnant. An abortion is an operation a woman gets if she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be.”
A man with a huge white beard tells me he decided not to get a vasectomy when he saw what it did to the guys he knew who got it. I asked what happened to them.
“They lost all their desire to compete.”
“Wow, I’m going to promote it even more now—side benefit!”
As he moves on, he looks back at me with a puzzled expression.
While talking with a guy in agreement, another man walks up and the conversation turns to vasectomies.
New guy says, “Vasectomies should be given where they’re needed the most.”
“Like, in the balls—that’s best,” I say with as much seriousness as I can feign.
First guy agrees, nodding with a sly smile.
“No, I mean India and South America.”
“We’re the most overpopulated. Our impact is a lot bigger than people living there, so this is where it’s needed the most.”
A middle-aged woman tells me “One of the first things I want to know when I start dating someone new is if they’ve had a vasectomy. So many guys won’t do it.”
“Why should I? She can just take the pill.”
“Yeah, really, isn’t that awful?”
She recounts being told she’s selfish for not having children.
“I’ll be so glad when I stop bleeding.” The change they are a timing.
A Swedish-American woman is surprised by the idea of us going extinct voluntarily.
“It’s so much nicer than the involuntary human extinction we’re working so hard to bring about, don’t you think?”
She’s open to the idea, and introduces her adopted son, who’s about 10. Later she brings her husband, a native Hawai’ian, who understands the concept right off. He tells of the extinctions which befell Hawai’i after Europeans arrived, nearly including the native people. She’s shivering as the temperature drops ahead of the rain, so I offer the propane heater behind the table. While she’s warming, he jokes, “She’s a Viking and she’s cold.”
I’m one of the last ones to break down and load up. Everything is just about ready for me to load when a man and a woman come up, and he tells me “I just got a vasectomy, what do I get?”
“Congratulations! I wish you all the happiness in the world for the rest of your life!”
I bring my car up and as I’m loading, I realize he was expecting the Meritorious Service Award. Word gets around. Too late now. Maybe in 2015 he’ll be back to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement booth.
Okay, I finally feel ready to read the note:
Dear Mr. mean man. I just wanted to say that me and my best friends do not agree with your idiotic idea. What we should do is go on with our normal lives and the earth will survive. You made me feel like it’s a crime that I want to have a kid when I grow up. I have many more things to say but I don’t want to. Thanks for reading.
9 year old.
That’s not as bad as I was prepared for: she wasn’t made to feel badly for her existence, just for her culturally induced desire to follow the default life. In some ways it is a crime to create another of us today, or more than ten years from today in her case. It’s a crime against Nature, against the existing children who need care, and a case could be made that it’s de facto child abuse to sentence someone to life in the world we’re leaving for them. I would have presented it less harshly, of course. I hope she takes a different path with her intelligence and writing ability as she grows older.