Rebecca Dien-Johns

Chapter Coordinator

I was born and raised in north Wales, growing up in a place called Penmaenmawr, which translates into English as Head of the Great Stone. It is a small town, nestled in the foothills of that great stone mountain next to the sea. I had the 1980s childhood of freedom to roam, and we made the most of this freedom: exploring everywhere by foot, skateboard, or bicycle. It was a childhood of grazed knees and adventures. But it was also a childhood marked by environmental and societal worries.

The major employer in the villages was the granite quarry, and I grew up hearing the blasts and breathing in the dusty air. When it rained, there was often a gray sludge making its way to the drains. With advances in technology, fewer and fewer people were employed by the quarry, and unemployment was rife. Certainly nobody in power seemed to be concerned with such a thing as a just transition. In addition to the environmental concerns caused by the quarry, the fact we grew up near two nuclear power stations was keenly felt by our community. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 brought this into stark relief. In addition to the fear that something similar could happen to us, North Wales was directly impacted by Chernobyl as the particles blew across Europe and the heavy rain fell on our hills.

So; it was a childhood of contrasts. The beautiful countryside and nature all around us, of a kind that still tugs at my heart and gives me hiraeth today- yet we couldn’t escape the environmental concerns and the harsh economic realities for working class folk in Thatcher’s Britain.

I always knew my family, and especially my mother, to be motivated to make the world a better place. We went on protests- against nuclear, Maggie Thatcher, the poll tax, fox hunting, and the criminal justice bill. We joined Greenpeace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). We were members of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Cymraeg to try and protect our Welsh language and culture which had been denigrated for years. Sometimes we traveled to rallies on the CND bus- a single decker bus painted by fellow activists in a psychedelic fashion, complete with bunk beds and a wood burning stove inside and a chimney coming out of the roof. All this ensured I grew up with a sense that you didn’t just have to accept the status quo. You could push for change and engage in collective, collaborative, community action.

I left school early and attended a local college doing performing arts. I started writing poetry and songs at an early age, and formed my first band as a teenager. In the late 90s, aged 18, I moved to London and continued performing music. My first jobs were in the music industry- my tales from that period could form a whole other biography! Then in my mid twenties, I started working in the nonprofit sector. I continued to perform and release music, and was politically active especially in the areas of feminism, anti-racism, and equity.

In my early 30s I met my now-spouse, a fellow musician, and a Hoosier! We had a child, and a cat, got married, and in 2016, we decided to see what life would be like for us in the USA. We arrived in October 2016, back to his former hometown of Indianapolis. In November, Trump was elected. In December, I started work at the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter. You can imagine it’s been a busy time ever since!

Coming to work at Sierra Club has been like coming home for me in many ways. Here, I get to use my years of nonprofit experience and draw on my youth of activism. I can feel some of those same challenges I grew up with, here in Indiana. How do we ensure people have meaningful jobs, and protect our environment and natural world? How do we demand justice for those who need it most urgently? How can we come together, with all our differences, and fight on, in the face of so many adversities?

Here at Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, I haven’t found all the answers… but I have found the most wonderful, passionate, knowledgeable people. At our chapter, our groups and networks, our partnerships, and all the communities we work with and are part of.

That’s what gives me hope and strength - all of you. All of us.

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