Deep Democracy With Riki Ott

Riki Ott lecturing at FLC in March 2012

Riki Ott lecturing at FLC in March 2012

At the end of March, I had the privilege of attending the Deep Democracy Workshop with Riki Ott. The workshop was an incredibly valuable opportunity to learn more about community organizing and social, political and environmental activism. Riki has a lot of experience organizing communities, and played an integral role in organizing communities to help deal with the vast environmental devastation caused by both the Exxon Valdez and BP Gulf Coast Oil Spills. She is both inspiringly motivated and full of energy, and works hard to bring about positive change.

During the workshop, many different issues and movements were discussed, as well as tactics and models of social movements that could be utilized to affect change. Among the topics discussed were the Occupy Wall Street and corresponding Occupy movements within the states and around the globe. Riki was highly enthusiastic about the revolutionary potential of the Occupy movement, as well as its peaceful, decentralized and diverse nature.

Riki also talked about the Transition Town Movement, which has also been spreading quite widely lately. Transition Towns are taking initiative and rebuilding their local economies, focusing on sustainability, interdependence and autonomy. Some Transition Towns have even gone so far as to draft their own Bill of Rights, oftentimes rejecting corporate personhood and proclaiming that sovereignty is for human beings, not corporate social constructs.

In terms of tactics, Riki was very adamant that peaceful coordination and nonviolence were key to creating movements with significant impacts. She argued that nonviolence gives movements a moral advantage and also brings new people into the movement. Nevertheless, she was equally adamant that civil disobedience is necessary to bringing about change, so long as it stays nonviolent. When injustice is law, it becomes a moral imperative that we disobey it. She gave the example of the Civil Rights movement, and tactics such as the sit-ins at lunch counters, even students peacefully getting attacked by police and dogs. By allowing themselves to be attacked and victimized by these unjust laws, people brought attention to the shockingly cruel nature of laws perpetuated by the state and civil authorities. Even the Transition Towns drafting their own Bill of Rights were a form of civil disobedience, as they are technically illegal and not recognized by the state.

Along with stressing nonviolent action, Riki also emphasized the importance of not only revolution but evolution. In other words, rather than just tearing down or reacting to systems and structures that perpetuate injustice, we need to have a vision of what we hope to replace them with. In other words, movements shouldn’t get too caught up in what they want to fight against, but what kinds of positive goals they hope to accomplish. She explained her opinion that times of great crisis, such as we seem to be experiencing now, also bring about the most potential for positive change and creative opportunity. Over all, one of the most powerful and encouraging messages she had to offer was the revolutionary power of creative and constructive thinking.

At the end of the day, we organized ourselves into two groups and created new teams to tackle issues in our community. We formed a committee to create a Free Health Care Clinic for LaPlata County Citizens in need, as well as a campaign to help bring more local foods into Fort Lewis and other schools in the area. We came up with a coherent action plan to help us solidify our goals and obstacles and to get these projects rolling. Hopefully these new initiatives will blossom into full-scale community programs, and we can implement our positive visions for the community.

Overall, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to attend this workshop. I took a lot from it, especially a new sense of enthusiasm for evolution and revolution, and it gave me hope to see so many other people passionate about creating change in the community.

~ Randy Newkirk

Making a Splash Upon… No Impact!?!

Animas River Cleanup

Participants of the Water Day at Rotary Park.

Hello there, campus community. Last week, a group of inspired faculty, staff, and students brought the No Impact Project to campus in a flurry of ‘trashion’ shows, river clean-ups, speakers, environmentally themed documentaries, energy conservation and activism. The week-long campaign of activities challenged each of us as individuals to embrace specific, impact-lowering shifts in our daily lives. The payoff to such actions as eating meat-free one day a week (who knew one day of vegetarianism would reduce your annual carbon footprint by 10%!?!) promised to positively affect each individual’s triple bottom line—people, planet…and personal happiness.

Running the Numbers…
At the week’s end, the numbers have been tallied and the impact of No Impact Week is just beginning to be seen. In total, our six theme days—Consumption, Waste, Transportation, Local Food, Energy, and Water—engaged over 875 student participants, saw collaborations between twelve different on-campus and community organizations, and pulled from the leadership of 85 student organizers. The scope of our campaign included activities, events, education & outreach, on-line platforms, social media, direct action, and assessment. The No Impact Experiment, a weeklong intensive carbon cleanse, provided a more robust experience for its 129 participants. While anecdotal, it was heartening to see a fairly diverse portion of the student body represented throughout all aspects of the week. Student participants came from the majority of majors on campus and represented both the traditional and non-traditional sectors.

How we are impacting Fort Lewis’ Commitments to Sustainability?
While the participation numbers and diversity of experiences reflect a highly successful No Impact Week, the question has to be asked: Successful at What?

In 2007, Fort Lewis College made sustainability an institutional core commitment by becoming a charter signatory to the President’s Commitment to Climate Neutrality. The campus’ Pathways to Sustainability campaign was born from this pledge and is currently being guided by a comprehensive Sustainability Action Plan (SAP). The SAP is a literal road map for how the college will move towards its sustainability and climate neutrality goals in future years. Some recent successes prompted by the Sustainability Action Plan have included:

  • Instituting a Green Building Policy in which all new buildings must meet LEED-certified standards
  • Participating in Performance Contracting geared at building retrofits and energy conservation. Over time, this will save the school money in operations and energy expenditures, in addition to significantly reducing our Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Purchasing and operating a state of the art Rocket A-900 Composter to divert 90% of campus dining wastes out of the landfill and back onto our grounds. In addition to keeping 167,000 pounds of food waste out of the landfill, FLC will have taken its first step to tackle the challenge of redefining our concept of waste.

And now for a hard argument… A recent audit of the Sustainability Action Plan identified that while we are doing a good job in allocating capital to infrastructure improvements, we have done little to address an equally critical area to achieving our sustainability goals: Working to foster a culture of sustainability that is an unavoidable part of the Fort Lewis experience. Such a charge is in many ways far more challenging to attain, because cultural shift is less tangible than a LEED-certified stamp, not to mention that its implementation requires the support of not just one decision maker, but of each and every one of us. To tackle this nebulous challenge requires not only a commonality in values, but also aligned shifts in behavior. As an example, if we at FLC made a conscious choice to value energy conservation and worked to build 100% compliance on simple energy conserving practices such as shutting off the lights when not using a room or unplugging our cell phone chargers when not in use, we could reduce our energy consumption by 30%—creating an annual savings of 1.05 metric tons of CO2 emissions per person or a cumulative of 4200 metric tons of CO2 emissions. To look at it another way, our collective energy efforts could have the same effect as planting 97,697 trees to sequester carbon over 10 years or removing 747 passenger vehicles from the streets for one year.

So, to answer the question, “Successful at What?”, it is incredibly inspiring to say that the No Impact Project campaign was successful at demonstrating to roughly 1/5 of our student body that sustainability is a core value of this community, that it was successful at showcasing some of the different ways that students can actively interact with that core value during their time here at Fort Lewis, and that through the collective efforts of individual behavior change and values identification, we as a campus-community have made a notable shift towards our goal of creating an FLC culture that houses sustainability!

Parting Shot…
The No Impact Week represents only the first step of what must be an ongoing, community effort. As a member of this community, each of us has the charge to act—What will you do to you shape our institution’s sustainability culture?

To learn more about Fort Lewis’ Pathways to Sustainability, visit our website at http://www.fortlewis.edu/sustainability/ or contact the Environmental Programs Assistant, Rachel Landis, at rllandis@fortlewis.edu, or the EC Coordinator, Rebecca Schild, at schild_r@fortlewis.edu

~ Rachel Landis