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Planting seeds of change on Inauguration Day

Last Friday, at my final UCSC Sustainability Inter-Organizational Retreat as a planning co-coordinator, I facilitated a world cafe-style dialogue with a room full of students, staff, faculty, and alumni affiliated with sustainability and social justice organizations. We had just heard from UCSC alum mark! Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice about what it means to decolonize sustainability and focus a critical lens on the environmental movement in support of equity for those who have been most impacted by not only environmental issues, but also the conservation movement itself. It was a powerful talk that left some in tears, others stunned by what they had just learned, and many grateful for an honest presentation that was critical and real without any attempt to sugarcoat.

The world cafe consisted of two questions, which had been crafted by our planning team of students and staff. People at tables throughout the Colleges 9&10 Multipurpose Room had 20 minutes for each question. The first asked folks to reflect on what mark! had shared and consider how they would bring what they learned or re-affirmed into their work this year.

 mark! Lopez speaking to a group of UCSC students, staff, faculty, and alumni on Friday, January 13, 2017.

The second question, posed after most people had moved to another table to find new dialogue partners, was this: As 2017 brings change for our country, as well as for each of us personally as we begin another year of our lives, what challenges do you foresee or fear related to the work that you do in the world (as a student, as an activist, as a changemaker, as an environmentalist, as a citizen, etc.)? What are you most hopeful for in our world in 2017?

Understandably, the responses to this question varied widely based on the background and identity of each person in the room. After 20 minutes of dialogue, I asked the whole group to "harvest" from their two conversations what the deeper discoveries, themes, or questions were that presented themselves. The majority of the responses focused on optimism in the times ahead, which I do believe is important to carry as a tool when we really need it. However, I know for certain that many people in the room can't simply hope for the best or "stay positive" because they are carrying the burden and fear of the many threats and attacks on their identity that have arisen in our country--via Twitter, campaign speeches, and the actions of citizens emboldened by what they've seen our new president do and say. For so many reasons, people are understandably afraid.

I attempted to open the floor for people to share their fears, but my facilitation skills or the vibe in the room or countless other reasons left the many fears unspoken during that full group share-back space. In debriefing this activity with colleagues and friends, I learned that fears were most definitely shared in the small groups of the tables, which made me feel better in some ways to know that people had a space to share but also sorry and concerned that they hadn't felt safe enough to share those fears to the wider audience. As someone somewhat new to facilitating world cafe harvests, a lesson for me was that I need more practice in creating authentically safe spaces for large groups, especially if I'm going to introduce questions like the ones we explored.

I share this story for a few reasons. The first is that I hope it provides a glimpse into some of the conversations happening at college campuses today, as well as and perhaps more importantly, demonstrate that the voices you hear most vocally are never the only opinions out there. The voices you hear are most often reflective of those who feel most comfortable in the spaces you find yourself in, whether it's online or at an event or at a party. If people don't feel safe or spend time in the spaces where you feel safe, you will most likely not hear their voices. It doesn't mean they don't exist or that they're somehow invalidated for not sharing within your hearing distance. I think we forget this when we hear our own opinions validated by everyone around us. It can be easy to think that we must be right since we don't hear the opposing view shared by anyone in our own circles. None of us are immune to this feedback effect, particularly in today's world of social media, which makes it more important than ever to seek out sources of news and opinions that differ from our own.

Another reason I share this is in hopes that you might ask yourself the question I posed to the group: As 2017 brings change for our country, as well as for each of us personally as we begin another year of our lives, what challenges do you foresee or fear related to the work that you do in the world (as a student, as an activist, as a changemaker, as an environmentalist, as a citizen, etc.)? What are you most hopeful for in our world in 2017?

The question asks you to start with fear and then find hope, but hope doesn't always erase fear. We can hold both fear and hope simultaneously. In fact, I think we must if we are going to protect our people, climate, and natural world from the many threats that have risen to power in this country.

Like the seeds I plant in my garden, we can each tap into our potential for change and grow in ways that may seem impossible to us today.

When I woke up this morning, I wrote the following reflection, in hopes that maybe it will help inspire you (yes, you!) to identify your role as a citizen, as a human, as a force of spirit with such a short time on earth to do the work that you were brought here to do.

I believe we all carry a deeper capacity to create change in the world than we realize. Coming from a place of love and compassion for all life on earth, what do you wish were different today, on January 20, 2017? Share the answer to yourself in thought or written word, but convert your answer to the present tense, as though that world you wish were here today actually were here today.

Within that vision, what are the elements you most fiercely desire? In other words, which cause will you take up or continue to work toward in your life today so that when the time comes for you to leave this earth, you can rest knowing that you did all that you could to "be the change you wish to see in the world"?

The causes we can choose to take up are seemingly infinite, and so many have been elevated and intensified by the offensive, regressive, and often terrifying words and actions of the person taking highest office in our country today. Each of us need not tackle all of these causes if each of us can tackle the one or two that we feel most called to address.

For instance, think of the many people, those you know and those many others you share humanity's journey with, whose identities and freedoms have been threatened, ridiculed, and targeted in recent months on the national stage. Consider who has been appointed to oversee public education, energy, environmental protection, and many other positions that exist to supposedly protect people and planet. There's no lack of options to turn your creative capacity toward, and there's no better time to start than today.

Where to start?

Educate yourself on the issue that you've chosen to pursue. Reflect on it and talk about it with others you trust until you can talk about it with others whose reactions you cannot predict. Write about it. Find out what specific calls you can make or letters you can send. Attend an event and find out what existing organizations have been doing. Join them.

Remember to take care of your needs so that you don't become too depleted to do the work that needs doing by people like you (yes, you!) who care.

Keep going, and find others who care. Find those who don't care and talk to them. Keep learning. Resist injustices and also create and inspire new opportunities for justice. Use whatever training and skills you have developed in your life to determine how you can be most effective. Ask questions. Seek out the opinions of others and attempt to understand. Keep going. Don't give up.

Sunrise over the Village and Farm at UCSC. Every morning the sun rises and brings us light and warmth so that life on earth can keep thriving. What simple things can you do everyday to support life on earth?

In closing, something that has been a reassuring reminder and call to action for me is that our country is by and for the people. Words are powerful, and although our country has seen more than its share of injustices, these words are written on the preamble to our nation's constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." In our actions and lives as citizens of the United States of America, we have the power to uphold these words so that they aren't just ink on paper but reality. As citizens, we still carry power, especially when united. People power is what brings forth justice. And you, dear reader, carry power and capacity that you may not even realize you possess. What will you do with it, starting today?


P.S. You may have heard I'm moving to the UCSC Farm in April for the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. As a result, my Office Manager & Events Coordinator position in the UCSC Sustainability Office has been posted at and applications will be accepted until February 5, 2017. Learn more here, apply, and tell a friend!