by: Eva Malis
This past weekend (Nov. 14th-16th) over 550 students gathered at UC Davis to learn, grow, and build. The theme Act Collectively, Transition Together – Systems for Justice pushed the boundaries of a sustainability movement towards confronting the intersections of social justice with those of the sustainability community.
On Saturday morning, keynote speakers Gopal Dayaneni, Stephanie Hervey, Alyssa Bradford, and Julia Ho touched on strategies for building movements through social justice examples such as Ferguson and human trafficking. Their speeches were met with loud cheering from a crowd of mostly students devoted to sustainability and environmental problem-solving.
Convergence coordinator and UC Davis alumna Emili Abdel-Ghany expressed that she was “so grateful everyone had received the keynotes so well, and for how radical and meaningful the conversation was”.
“Some main things that our speakers advocated for was throwing down for other forms of justice! Keeping within environmental lens is not always the right thing for the times [and it is] sometimes important to put the work you’re doing in perspective!” proclaimed Emili.
Following the morning speakers, students were able to choose from around 40 different one-hour workshops with a large variety of topics including zero waste, sustainable food systems, fossil freedom, oil by rail, clean energy, the convict lease system, peace corps, nonviolent communication, and much more! Over the duration of the weekend, attendees were able to select three workshops from five tracks: Transition: Fossil Freedom and the New Economy, Transform: Changing Our Models, Systems for Justice: Intersecting Movements, Closing the Loop: Systemic Solutions to Global and Local Issues, and Together: Creating Change and Community.
“My favorite workshop was the Sustainability in Science one which focused on two researchers that were able to make their lab ‘green.’” asserted Patrick Stetz, CSSC Newsletter Editor. “This workshop was a great example of the activism I like. It not only addressed the problem of resource/energy waste in labs but showed how someone can change that.”
CSSC’s Students Against Fracking and Fossil Fuel Divestment campaigns hosted a handful of workshops throughout the weekend where students from across the state were able to learn how to start chapters on their own campuses. Both campaigns were able to hold visioning conversations to strategize within the battle for fossil freedom.
Youth Climate Justice Panel on Sunday morning. Left to Right: Facilitator: Shoshanna Howard
Speakers: Ethan Buckner, Kristy Drutman, Jake Soiffer, Julia Ho, and Jason Schwartz -Photo Credit: SERC
Throughout the weekend, organizers held caucuses and break out groups that addressed topics such as identity (race, gender, class), anti-capitalism, intro to CSSC, and climate justice. Closed and open spaces were held for people to engage in productive conversations surrounding some topics that are not often easy to talk about or historically not included in sustainability conversations.
“I thought the API caucus was a great space for conveying and working through important struggles specific to that identity that are difficult to reflect on with others I know or on my own,” stated Lucy Tate, student of Society and the Environment at UC Berkeley
There were also three panels on Saturday evening: the Intergenerational Lessons Panel, the Research for Social Change Panel, and the Levels of Action Panel.
On Sunday afternoon, 400+ attendees gathered in a circle on West Quad, clasping hands to participate in an art demonstration led by Ryan Camero of the Beehive Design Collective. A scroll of art was passed along the enormous circle which told a story of environmental justice scenes from around the world while the circle hummed a united tune and Camero sung a song titled It’s All the Same. As the scroll moved around the circle, students broke out into spontaneous dance which eventually escalated into a massive group hug towards the end of the activity.
“At the end of convergence when we were passing around the scroll, I was standing with Kevin Gong and he just started dancing and smiling a lot… Just that moment I was feeling like we had just accomplished something really great, and I had felt it several times throughout weekend—just realizing the magnitude of what we’ve done.” commented Emili Abdel-Ghany.
On the same moment, planning team member Madeline Oliver described, “It was amazing how the visual artwork and music united everyone to the point where the whole group organically moved towards the center to end the weekend in dance and song.”
Students enjoy lunch on West Quad -Photo Credit: SERC at UCB
Other students felt similar sentiments regarding the success of the weekend.
“My favorite part of the convergence, besides the amazing speakers, workshops, and events, had to be the opportunities to connect with people from across the state,” says Jacob Elsanadi, a second year UC Berkeley student. “I met so many wonderful people and created new connections with students from schools across California… It was a truly unique experience. I highly recommend anyone even remotely interested in sustainability attend this wonderful event.”
Kevin Gong of the planning team states, “Given the fact that this was the first time the planning team had any experience organizing something of this scale, I feel like the event reflected how much work (a ton!!) we put into organizing, and hearing such positive face to face feedback from attendees definitely made Convergence worth planning.”
Abdel-Ghany summarizes, “Everyone’s doing something important, but sometimes we need to rally around things together and make sacrifices. What I hope people got out of this [is that they] are at least ready to have conversations about how to be better allies.”
For those inspired by this event, there are many ways to get involved with CSSC. Students can apply to be a council member representative of their campuses or apply to work on the Operating Team. For those looking to become a part of CSSC leadership, the Winter Leadership Retreat will be held on January 16th-20th in Dancing Deer Farm in San Luis Obispo. The location for next semester’s convergence has not yet been determined, so feel free to contact Kevin Killion if interested in organizing the Spring 2015 convergence at your campus.
Students can transform what they learned this past weekend into action by pursuing more involvement with CSSC, forming Students Against Fracking or divestment chapters in their schools, and strategically building the movement from within their home institutions. They can also apply for a Zero Waste Mini-grant to promote the sustainability of their school and local community.
Convergence Group Photo – Photo Cred: CSSC