Sunday, November 13, 2016

Thoughts on Reorganization

Photo by ACP at the Morton Arboretum
Note to the reader: this won't be a polished blog entry, because my thoughts are too raw and unformed as yet. This is a therapeutic exercise I am undertaking as I try to figure out where I and others like me fit in within this radically changed landscape. 

"Change is the only constant in life." - Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher

I have devoted my career to sustainability and resilience. For the first ten years, I used this as an architect, and for the last five it has been as an advocate and educator. I had optimism that even though my goals were large, complex, and long-term I was helping people to see their challenges in a different way. I thought that by helping people to think differently, I could help create a movement that moved our society and our world toward a more environmentally and socially just existence.

And then November 8th happened.

That night, I began to realize that I have been living in a bubble. My privileged existence of contemplating large scale, long-term change cannot be realized when people are hurting and worry for how they will exist the next day. I remember hearing Wangari Maathai say that people would cut down the last tree to burn so they can feed their children. And my mentor, Dayna Baumeister, telling us that we cannot appeal to rational solutions when people are hurting, our brains simply won't allow us to process future thinking when we must deal with today's survival.

I am beginning to realize more and more that environmental justice cannot occur when social justice is so far from our reach. It is sad for me to think that we as a nation and as a global community are not as evolved as I thought we were. Misogyny, racism, and elitism are far more wide-spread than I had thought they were. And as someone who heeds the warning of 99% of the scientific community that we are headed for global disruption at a scale we have never seen, I am horrified that we need to refocus - AGAIN - on short-term triage rather than long-term solutions.

So where does this leave us? Where do we go from here? Here are my thoughts as of this writing.

Task #1: Build Bridges for Social Resilience

I will start with helping to heal my local community. We are as divided as any other community in this country: red vs blue, rich vs poor, white vs non. We all live in bubbles of our own making by the news we read, the friends we have, and the places we live. We need to find ways to build bridges, not walls and to stand up for those that feel unsafe in this changed landscape. True community resilience can only occur when we hold each other close and focus on what we have in common more so than what divides us - even those we disagree with.
"It is better to light a candle rather than curse the darkness." - Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Task #2: Refocus Environmental Resilience, Locally

It is now clear that we cannot rely on outside forces to shape our destiny. We cannot rely on the federal government to make the changes we need to see - we can only rely on ourselves. As a community and as a bio-region, we must take charge of our own destiny and focus on how we can sustain ourselves and our communities as conditions change. Local governments, industries, and activists must work together to build and sustain initiatives that will help all of our citizens work together to create a socially and environmentally just place for all of us to thrive. Women and minorities (as well as our male allies) of all generations must empower each other and organize to collectively ensure the rhetoric, actions, and policies of this toxic campaign are not normalized.

The forces of injustice and unsustainability have been emboldened. It is up to us to stand collectively to fight for our way of life and the future our children will inhabit. We can be a beacon of light in the darkness and others will follow our example.

Task #3: Continue to Learn from Nature

Now, more than ever, we need to learn from our mentors. Those organisms and ecosystems that have survived here for millennia - through countless disturbances far greater than the ones we face now. They have learned to not only survive but THRIVE in this place, and we can do this too.

  • We can learn from the lowly dandelion how to change ourselves to fit the conditions in which we find ourselves - so that when we land in less-than optimal conditions, we can grow and set seed quickly so that our information survives when we cannot. But regardless of the conditions, we will still grow, but it will be different.
  • We cannot wait for a charismatic leader to show us the way. That ancestral tribal thinking of dividing us vs them empowered the Trump campaign to victory, but it has also lead to social unrest on the scale we haven't seen for a generation. We must begin to look to new models of collective action, like the collective animal behavior of birds, bees, and bison. Through information transparency, simple, system-wide rules, and thresholds for action we can begin to self-organize and move collectively in a common direction.
  • We must also look to ecosystem models of diversity, redundancy, and multi-scale reinforcement as the mechanisms upon which resilience emerges. By welcoming all types of diversity - not only racial but also a diversity of thought, strengthening our numbers, and forming multi-generational, multi-regional coalitions, we can begin the process of building bridges and healing. 

When a tornado rips through a woodland, the destruction is catastrophic and the standard way of life is temporarily halted. But slowly, the forest rebuilds. The Hindu God Shiva, the God of Destruction, opens the path to rebirth. Young trees feed off the nutrients of those that have fallen, creating a multi-generational canopy that is more resilient in the long-term than it would be had the disturbance never happened. Our strength is in our diversity, and true resilience can emerge after catastrophic events. But we must begin to reorganize now.

I am deeply saddened by the turn our country, as well as many parts of the world, has taken. And while I mourn, I also see this an opportunity for mobilization of grass roots activism on a scale that is unprecedented. Now is not the time to run, it's the time to stand and fight for our country as well as be open to the changes this type of reorganization will bring. I will always believe that we are "Stronger Together" and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute my talents toward creating a better world for everyone.

We can do this. Together.

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