35: What does it mean to be 35?

By PHILIP EIL  |  November 20, 2013


Abel Collins , program manager for the Rhode Island Sierra Club

I am 35 years old, and I’ve packed each of my rides around the sun pretty full of experience, though my memories are mostly hazy with a chance of clarity. I can tell you this much: I am the father of four boys who range in age from five months to 12 years old, with twin three-year-olds in the middle. I have a stepdaughter who is 14 going on 40, and a wife, Amber, who is my backbone. My family and friends are precious to me.

I could, if I chose, spend all my time in Matunuck with them, scratching a living out of farming, writing books and articles and other sundry pursuits. It sounds like a relaxing and rewarding life, and I would never have a feeling like I’m missing out on my children’s fleeting youth.

But as our species tears this planet to shreds for a quick buck, relaxing with the feet up in Matunuck is just not possible. The beach is disappearing visibly each year. I look out over the ocean and know that in Japan radioactive waste is pouring in, and it’s only a matter of time before the next oil spill happens somewhere else. The financial system is a corrupt monster, trampling on people and crushing them with debt. The planet and the society that we are set to leave for our children are grim backdrops for their future lives.

I could spend five lifetimes on the causes I’m involved with and still feel like I don’t do enough. As an organizer working with volunteers, the time that I devote to causes like challenging corporate power with Move to Amend, preserving Rhode Island’s transit system with the Sierra Club, or fighting against the fossil fuel industry with Fossil Free RI often requires time away from my family. As a candidate for office, I met as many constituents in the district as possible, and the positive response from them was energizing. But there are always more doors to knock on.

Do I leave Amber with all the kids on the weekend to advocate closing a dirty coal plant? Yes. Do I miss dinner to talk to a town council about planning walkable, bikeable communities? Yes. Do I skip out on the informal lobbying opportunities at watering holes around the State House and at political fundraisers to brush teeth and read bedtime stories? Yes. Do I miss out on the camaraderie with fellow activists to help with algebra and wash the dishes? Yes. It is a delicate balance. As much as I am a dad, I am an activist.

The good news is that this is good for the kids. They can see that bedtime and academics are important to me, and also that the work of solving the problems of planet and society are worth working for. There are a lot of people on this earth and it’s my job to train my offspring to be part of the solution. Sometimes I am setting an example from afar, debating the establishment candidates for Congress on corporate greed, for example. Sometimes my activist wife and children are there by my side, marching for Occupy Providence or to advocate for peace in Syria.

People often ask me if I am going to run for office again and my unequivocal answer is “yes.” As distasteful as politics can be, I believe in democracy. I am a citizen of Rhode Island, and I am called to service. During this election cycle, I will not be seeking public office for myself, but my boots will be on the ground. When the time is right, I will run and win. In the meantime, look for me in the crowd with my kids.


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