Where do I begin?
I feel like I am planning my graduation party, what better celebration than with old friends and new from across the state in my second home of UC Davis? This convergence is going to be different. It may be uncomfortable, fun, smelly, exhausting, inspiring, difficult, rejuvenating, enlightening, and certainly worth it. I believe that with any meaningful change there will be growing pains. There will also be a series of moments of realization, that we are at the forefront of revolution. I’ve asked the question of myself and others, what is the point? I’ve asked myself and my comrades, are we doing the right thing? Can a convergence really affect meaningful change? Is it worth it? I admit that at times I still hold these questions with me. We are our own worst critics right? Then I am reminded by a simple thing like a smile from a coworker on a hard day to the big things like the collective roar of energy from 400,000 climate justice believers all together on the streets of New York, finding out a local community is willing to host 50 students from across the state for the weekend, learning that organizing this convergence is changing how people connect, communicate, think about the world and teaching young activists how to do it better. I am reminded that it is in fact worth it and everyone deserves to be part of the process and enjoy the outcomes.
One of my main goals as Convergence Coordinator is to make the process and the programming as welcoming and accepting of all peoples as possible. I feel strongly about this aspect of convergence mostly because I have felt what it is like to be timid, feel unaware, unconnected, and a newcomer in a different environment. It wasn’t that long ago that I stepped my into my first CSSC meeting, heck my first Resource Fair the week before classes began. It was at that fair, which I attended alone because I had no friends, that I found the Campus Center for the Environment table. They all seemed welcoming and friendly. I liked that they had homemade signs and were smiling and laughing with each other. I identified as an environmentalist being from Santa Monica, and felt like it might be a good idea to try out their table. One of the students told me about a class they were offering, a student run seminar called the Field Guide to Sustainable Living in Davis. It seemed perfect, an introduction to sustainability on campus where i got to meet people and learn things. My mother gave me the best advice before leaving college, “Ask people about themselves and what they do, you are there to learn,” with that in my mind I stepped outside my comfort zone and took this class. From then on it was a whirlwind of stepping just outside my comfort zone and walking through the doors people opened for me. My hallmate told me about a retreat called “REACH” through the Cross Cultural Center which was January of my first year. I decided to apply, got on the waitlist. I got a call the day before from a woman named, Andrea Gaytan, asking if I would like to attend I said yes but that I couldn’t pay the $45, she welcomed me anyways and again I stepped out of my comfort zone onto the bus and OFF CAMPUS. Terrifying.
These, among many other memories along the way, like participating in this collective stomp/dance thing lead by my future friend and Intern Supervisor at the Campus Center for the Environment, Genna Lipari a the RFC Strengthening The Roots Convergence at UCSC in 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wwDuKRyzis are what keeps me believing in community spaces like these. CSSC convergences are part of a much larger picture of collective action, education and community building. I am so incredibly grateful to be able to share as much of what I have been so fortunate to glean from the organizing world over that past few years in undergrad (and honestly since high school maybe middle school… ) and put it into this convergence.
About the programming. THIS IS MY FAVORITE THING. This convergence will not only be different fundamentally from all others before it, it will shift the sustainability and environmental community. We are returning to some of our core values and changing the narrative of the sustainability community towards one that is centered on social justice at it’s core. Shifting narratives is key but we also hope to put in some work over the weekend (with some help from you all) to really challenge the way that we organize and think about ourselves, each other, and the world around us. I realize that having a speaker from Ferguson or someone working to care for the survivors of Human Trafficking or a panelist whose research challenges why the environmental (and EJ) community does not often recognize and address issues of disability or having multiple workshops on the Prison Industrial Complex or even to center a sustainability convergence around Climate Justice or just to have Identity based caucues given a full hour of dedicated time may confuse, or throw people off. This is not only true for the more traditionally environmental community but it is also true of many social justice groups because let’s face it, many issues and communities are seperated to this day in our minds and in our lives. At this convergence we are taking ownership of the history of the sustainability community as one that too often has been a white, male, upper middle class face in an incredibly diverse place. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of this convergence and I ask each person present for any portion to challenge yourself to recognize that each of us are at a different place of understanding, appreciation and acknowledgement of one another and of these very complex and intersecting issues. I ask for compassion, energy, and forward thinking.
I look forward to learning how we can all Act Collectively to Transition Together towards creating Systems for Justice with you November 14th-16th at my alma mater, UC Davis.
PS: don’t forget to register before November 7th at 11:59pm 🙂 http://www.sustainabilitycoalition.org/fall-2014-convergence/
Convergences and Crowdsurfing,
<3 Emili Abdel-Ghany
CSSC, Convergence Coordinator
CSSC Fossil Freedom Solidarity Organizing Program, Field Organizer
UC Davis Class of 2014, Community and Regional Development
Divestment Student Network, Regional Organizer CA
John Adams Middle School (Santa Monica), AVID Tutor