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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Footnote to "Death of Campus Sustainability"

A footnote to the "Death of Campus Sustainability" blog [posted below this blog] last month. 

A new report from a philanthropic watchdog group analyzed the ineffectiveness of the environmental movement--and placed the blame squarely on the same issue as we wrote of in the 'Death' blog: the lack of a social justice presence.

The report “Cultivating the Grassroots” was released in late February by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

At the root of the problem: “any push for environmental change which fails to prioritize communities of color is a losing strategy," the report says. And, "Until the broader concerns... of all communities are on the radar of environmentalists, it will be hard for environmentalists to be on the radar of all communities."

As Peter Montague writes in Alternet, “”The environmental movement hasn't won any "significant policy changes at the federal level in the United States since the 1980s" because the greens have favored top-down elite strategies [e.g. cap and trade] and have neglected to support a robust grassroots infrastructure.””

Bottom line: for me this report reaffirms the opportunity campus sustainability has to bridge town with gown, environment with social justice, and build powerful, people-facing sustainable communities.

Campus sustainability practitioners are uniquely suited to cultivate and support new leadership from within these communities by providing student-service capacity, knowledge base, linkages with allied groups, and the academe's legitimacy.

We can help enable leadership to rise up from communities of color--it won't work any other way anyway. 

"In movements throughout history, the core of leadership came from a nucleus of directly impacted or oppressed communities while also engaging a much broader range of justice-seeking supporters," the report notes. 

“In other words, successful movements for social change -- anti-slavery, women's suffrage, labor rights, and civil rights -- have always been inspired, energized, and led by those most directly affected. Yet these are the very groups within the environmental movement that are starved for support.”

They need funding—and they need the white environmental community to go to them and ask what we can do to support their efforts.

And that "asking" thing needs to start on campus.

For instance, I received many personal messages about last month’s “Death of Campus Sustainability”—mostly supportive. The comment that hit me the hardest came from a respected sustainability leader who remarked, “I suspect that most SOs [sustainability officers] go to the diversity officer and multicultural offices with 'asks' (how can we work together) and not 'gives' (what can my office do to help you meet your diversity goals?).  I hear a complaint that the diversity offices don't want to play with the sustainability offices.  I think the reason is that we ask for things but have not figured out what, if anything, we have to offer.”

Indeed. Mea culpa. I have had that very visit with my campus diversity officer very recently. I was chagrined to read those words as they are, for me anyway, very true.

Another comment I received that stings a little is along the lines of, “OK smart ass, what are we going to do about this? It’s not good enough just to throw stones. How can we prevent the fall?”

So, stay tuned. The next blog will hopefully move that question forward. I have some thoughts, observations, successes and many mistakes to share. But there’s a lot to know and I don’t claim to know it all. So, any help is appreciated.

However, the report profiled above offers some valuable perspective and ideas for change.

See you soon.

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