RC, and Being an Activist

I joined RC more than forty years ago. I was in a deep personal crisis, and in spite of seeing myself as a “leftist” [as politically progressive] I did not connect my personal struggles with the structural oppressions in society. I was part of the women’s movement, and one of our slogans was “the personal is political, and the political is personal.” Still, I saw my crisis as strictly personal.

I eventually attended an RC introductory meeting. (I had pursued RC because I’d had a mini-session with someone who had seemed unworried about my crying and seemed to benefit from my attention and listening.) At the introduction we were told that using psychiatric drugs and alcohol was incompatible with Re-evaluation Counseling. So the night before my first RC class, I dumped all my drugs (thirty-seven pills a day) in the toilet—without consulting anyone, not even my doctor. I suspected they would tell me that it would be dangerous not to take them, and I didn’t want anything to get in my way of starting Co-Counseling.

Later I stopped drinking alcohol. I also stopped smoking cigarettes—on the day I got my RC teaching credentials (after two years of RC), because it says in the Guidelines that we cannot teach RC if we are smoking.


I still remember when I got the book Rough Notes from Liberation I and II. I didn’t speak or read much English back then, but I was so hungry to learn about RC that I sat with a dictionary and “read” the book word by word. It was a revelation. I saw for the first time the huge implications of RC. I saw that we were a liberation movement and that huge parts of my private struggles were rooted in classism and sexism. The link between RC and wide world change became visible and deeply meaningful.

Reading it also opened the perspective that RC was not another therapy. Its implications were revolutionary: I was not permanently damaged. I could reclaim all of me. It was not too late to discharge and heal completely—it was possible—and doing so would enable me to be much more efficient in my political and activist work.


In the beginning of my time in RC, I was a single mother with two sons. For many years I was unemployed, or employed part-time. At times I had three or four part-time jobs, some of them at night.

I had to make tough choices about building RC in Denmark, working to pay the bills, and being a mom. I think my sons paid a price for RC becoming well established in Denmark. My going to classes and workshops in other countries meant a sacrifice in terms of time and money for them. But I was determined. I think it is fair to say that the oppressive society doesn’t make it easy or even possible to make balanced choices.

Many years ago I read an article by Harvey Jackins, I think in Present Time, that said our re-emergence would benefit greatly if we would “walk on two legs”: engage in wide world change and also lead in RC. I could see that by doing both I would contradict early feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, and discouragement; I would get smarter and more efficient in my wide world change work; and my Co-Counseling sessions would be wild and deep because of the contradiction [to distress] of acting in the wide world.

I became active in women’s work, the anti-nuclear movement, my political party (I got elected to the county council), environmental and international work, and more.

A challenge has been to not sacrifice my health. I still haven’t cracked that nut [solved that], but I am on my way [moving in the right direction].

I was lucky to be invited to some of the first “going public” RC activities. I was part of the big No Limits for Women delegation to the United Nations Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 at which we offered RC tools to women and non-governmental organizations. What a challenge! So much to learn—and we are still learning.

Then I was part of the Healing from War delegation at the World Peace Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 2005. Next was the European Social Forum in 2009, followed by No Limits for Women at the Beijing+25 United Nations Women’s Assembly in 2015. Then I was with the Sustaining All Life delegation to the United Nations climate change conference in Marrakech, Morocco, in 2016 (COP22), and in 2018 I led the Sustaining All Life delegation at U.N. climate change conference in Katowice, Poland (COP24).


On February 1, 2019, I experienced how far I have come. I was asked to speak at a Strike for Climate demonstration near the parliament in Copenhagen, Denmark. The strike involved thousands of young people all over the country, and in other countries, too. It had been initiated by Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish woman. I was invited to speak because I had been a Sustaining All Life speaker some weeks before at the Extinction Rebellion (XR) event in Denmark. Some XR folks had been impressed that I, an older woman, had spoken with such power and spread such a good atmosphere in a group of mainly young adults.

At the Strike for Climate demonstration, there were about twelve hundred young people and young adults as well as some older people. The people who spoke before me were prominent and talked about the importance of young people.

I had thought a lot about what I wanted to say—I had a manuscript—but once I was standing on the stage with the microphone, I just spoke from my heart.

I have reconstructed my speech and translated it into English so that I can share it with you:


“Hello, everybody. It is great to be with so many of you. Thank you for being here!

“I remember a saying from my younger days that goes, Handling gir’ forvandling—‘Action creates transformation.’ Are we ready for action? Are we ready for transformation? I think so!

“I have come to say that I deeply appreciate your presence and I want you to know that I am with you. My generation and other generations have made this giant mess, and I will not leave it to you alone to clean up. I won’t do it without you, I will do it together with you, because we need all of us to stop this climate madness.

“We live in societies that treat us like we belong to different planets if we come from different groups—if we are of different ages, have a different skin colour or gender, come from a different part of the world, and so on. But we are all human beings, all of us. And no matter what has been done to split us from one another, to separate us, we need to unite, because this is bigger than any difference or separation.

“I was with a group of people in Poland at the COP24. We were part of a project called Sustaining All Life. There were eighteen of us—from eleven countries, in Asia, Africa, and Europe (East, South, West, and North). We were women and men and ranged in age from seventeen to seventy-four. Together we held workshops for activists about how oppressive policies have destroyed many parts of our planet and divided people from each other so that it looks more difficult to work together to end climate change. Our workshops gave voice to people so often not heard—young people; people from African, Asian, and South American countries; people from Central and Eastern European countries—ordinary people who shared their experiences and hopes and fears. Our group practiced reaching out to people from groups other than our own because we believe in the power of people uniting.

“I have a friend from one of the African countries who works in Denmark as a social worker. She is smart and powerful. And she has to endure racism and sexism on a daily basis. She deals with it in human and creative ways, but it is really hard. She has family in Somalia who used to be farmers. For some years there has been an extreme drought there. Her family could not feed their animals or give them water. My friend sent her family all she could spare of her salary so that they could buy food and water, but they had to give up; they were forced to live as nomads. Her story makes me sad and angry. Witnessing the suffering of other human beings is a wound in me, if I dare to notice the hurt.

“The climate change we’re experiencing is caused by humans, and the formerly colonized countries in Africa, South America, and Asia are suffering the most from it. They were colonized, and the colonizers stole their natural resources and many of their human beings. They stole the oil, polluted and privatized the water, cut the forests, dug the minerals, and more, which has left these countries more vulnerable to climate change. At the same time, the richer countries, the former colonizers, have built their “welfare” societies. This is racism—both historic and in the present.

“Because we in the Western countries are relatively rich, we have the option of buying the ‘comfort’ of consumption and overconsumption—a ‘luxury’ not accessible to those who suffer the most from climate change.

“Our economic system is based on a sick idea of constant growth to create more wealth. I don’t believe in that growth.

“I do believe in another kind of growth. I believe in the growth of love, solidarity, sharing, generosity, kindness, caring, community, and connection among people.

“Because you know what? One of the reasons so many people, especially of my generation, have a hard time facing the truth about climate change is that they feel discouraged, powerless, helpless—and alone. If we can face the hard things together, we know that we can change things. Shared joy is double joy. And shared fear and grief is half fear and grief.

“So turn for a moment to each other where you stand. Notice that there is somebody there, look into each other’s eyes, hug each other if you want. Notice that we are not alone here. And there are thousands of people meeting in other places today.

“Our biggest safety does not lie in more consumption of more material goods—a newer car, a better house, a nicer kitchen, or the latest gadget or thing. Our safety lies in the fact that we have each other, that we are not alone, that we will not accept any separation among us that could make us sacrifice another human being for shortsighted apparent benefit.

“Consumption is like a drug that numbs how we feel. But in order to change things, we need to feel. We can do that when we notice that we are not alone. When we can be there for each other—to listen, to care—we can bear the unbearable truths.

“You know what? We don’t need more pigs (Denmark produces thirty million pigs for export every year on bad industrial farms) or plastic. We need each other.”


After my speech the guys on the stage came and hugged me with tears in their eyes and the whole crowd started shouting my name many times. When I left the stage, I was surrounded by young people who wanted to thank me, hug me, and take pictures. Some said that my speech had given them hope, that there was power and hope in that I as an elder had not given up. Young immigrant guys said they were thankful that I had also talked about racism, and they hugged me and said hello fist-to-fist. Young white guys with piercings and tattoos wanted to hug me. Young women wanted pictures. It was overwhelming!

(An interesting incident happened: The minister for transportation and climate came and asked the organizers if he could speak. They politely said that it was a tight program and they did not want to take other speakers out, so he would not be allowed to speak.)

Several people told me that mine was a fabulous speech. The organizers wrote me thousands of thanks. They are pleased to know that for future events there is a speaker like me. Parents I know sent me messages that their son or daughter or granddaughter had been at the event and come home excited, saying that my speech was the best.

Thank you for reading this through. My experience last Friday reassures me that I cannot let “comfort” or how I feel in the immediate moment guide my actions. I have never felt ready for leadership. I have sometimes wished for an earthquake to happen before a speech or presentation. But on that day I knew it has all been worth it. I think it is similar to the happiness we experience as a very young person when we try and try and try and finally succeed at walking, or drawing, or anything else we want to accomplish.

Susanne Langer

Regional Reference Person for Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion
list for leaders of wide world change


Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00