Previous posts about this project can be found here, and my reflections on Environmental Engagement (which shaped this project) can be found here. From now on, I will document the progress of this environmental engagement project here!
Ok, onto the recap… This last week has brought with it some some major obstacles – but, we adapt! And what are obstacles, if not things that sometimes push you in the direction you’re meant to go?
Wednesday last seems like eons ago. Our team of now two (Walker and I), amid group structure changes, then felt as though solidifying goals of our project may need to come second to organizing the fast approaching Divest Fest. Our hope was that Friday’s event would shed some light as to what we hoped to accomplish. So, first – a recap of Divest Fest.
This event was initially arranged by SEED, with my heavy involvement in structural planning. It was meant to inform LC students of ongoing Divest efforts, provide a space for questions to be answered, and to garner support and signatures for the petition. This all was accomplished. My personal goal, separate from though explicitly supported by SEED, was to flesh out some of the arguments “for and against” divest in a small handout. I also provided some broad questions, to encourage people to think of and frame Divest beyond the particulars and practicalities (read: getting sh** done) of the movement on our campus.
What I found all too clear was that people were far more interested in talking of the practicalities – “will this affect our tuition? Why is there no transparency with the board of trustees? Lewis and Clark is so sustainable, surely they’ll give us what we want, in the name of our college’s values?” These are the questions that the students (around 50 students showed up!) wanted to discuss. My questions, at least of what I was able to see and hear, were largely ignored. It certainly wasn’t my place, given the vibe of the evening (celebratory) to try to encourage bigger picture, thoughtful discussion. This worried me, as I want to meet people where they’re at. But I simply don’t know enough about the campaign, nor have the desire, to fully commit myself so fully to something as specific and individual as divestment.
So I’m changing course.
Reroute (with a touch of reflection)
While still using divest as a part of the conversation, I am shifting my focus away from it slightly, though still maintaining the dialogue aspect. I think what I want now is to come away from this project being able to say something about activism on campuses – though this is vague right now (I will clear some of it up in the coming days), I know I will have been successful if by Festival of Scholars, I have a new set of goals for my next steps as an “activist” on this campus, as well as a foundation for an ongoing dialogic project regarding activism for the next generation of 295 students to pick up if they so wish – perhaps they will use what I take away by engaging in larger workshop settings about activism?
I feel content in shifting my focus away from Divest, as at times there is something off-putting to me about the campaign that I can’t put my finger on (perhaps I just can’t escape the notion its capitalist foundations? Or it’s too individualist? I did fall onto the “institutional” side of the EcoTypes Scale axis, after all…). Further, I think I’m beginning to have some reservations about an uninformed, “quick-to-act” nature of many a campaign. But, I also have never really considered myself an “activist” and haven’t taken any structured classes regarding it, so I don’t know how much I can say on the topic. I don’t want to be hypercritical – I know that there is room for all types of activism, but I guess I’m interested in where they all overlap and intersect. What I have come to understand from my studies and experiences as a human is that there is frequently a divide between thought and action, individual and institution. Steinberg (2015) criticizes these dichotomies, saying “the academic’s greatest asset as a participant in public debate is not mere expertise, but freedom of inquiry. To squander that freedom by erecting barriers between the worlds of research and action strikes me as counterproductive and, frankly, a disservice to the cause of well-informed democratic dialogue.”
My goal therefore, perhaps selfishly, is to see where people are at on this campus (and still perhaps other campuses) regarding their role in activism and if or how it is connected to their studies. I really don’t know much about what is going on, so I’m excited to listen and ask questions. By nature of what little time we have remaining in this course, it will be based on anecdotal one-on-one or small group conversations. I think now is a good time to have this conversation, as people have felt the spark needed to act. In fact, I’m fully convinced the new wave of LC’s Divest campaign was only made possible due to the new administration. From first semester to after the inauguration, interest and support from SEED went from two or three students, to roughly all of SEED’s members, including new faces. By gauging where people are at, I hope to set a ball in motion – start a conversation. This is almost what our goal for our Divest project was, all along! To make it about something more than Divest. And though it’s anecdotal, not ethnographic or systematically empirical, it’s still a start.
My next goals are to:
- Figure out who to talk to. Is this limited to environmental activism?
- Members of SEED, Reed’s Greenboard, other eco clubs (Cascade Climate Network?)
- ENVS and non ENVS students involved in enviro activism
- What types of questions? Here are the questions I posed at Divest Fest… Perhaps I can rework those so they can be targeted at different campaigns?
- Conversations should be finished by April 9, giving me time to reflect and pull together a poster or electronic documentation for FoS. How will I hand this off to the next generation of 295?
Steinberg, Paul F. Who Rules the Earth?: How Social Rules Shape Our Planet and Our Lives. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015.