I moved to California in the fall of 2010 to attend UC Berkeley. By spring, I had found CSSC.
It’s actually a funny story.In the spring of 2011, Energy Action Coalition held its third ever Power Shift conference in Washington DC. I had gone to Power Shift in 2009 when I was in high school since I grew up in the area. But out in California, I decided I couldn’t justify the carbon footprint of a cross-country flight to go to an environmental event (since then my views on purposeful airplane travel have fluctuated). I didn’t go, and all through the weekend of the conference, I was so bummed out that I wasn’t there, as I tuned in to the exciting updates on social media. But that very weekend, I received an email from the Berkeley Sustainability Team list serve. It advertised something called a “convergence” hosted by the California Student Sustainability Coalition, happening in about a month at UC Davis. A chance to meet activists, get inspired, see a different part of the state, learn? Knowing close to nothing, I registered that night.
As the event neared, I began to wonder how to get to Davis. I had never been before and I only kind of knew where it was. Not long after I began wondering, I received an email from a woman named Tia. “Do you need a ride to the Convergence?” she asked. Yes! My first CSSC carpool. Convergence weekend came around, and I took the BART to El Cerrito to meet Tia. Another Berkeley student, Chris, met me there. We got in the car with Tia, Kayla, and Dominic to drive to Davis.
That weekend was a whirlwind. I heard amazing keynote speakers (Tim DeChristopher, for one) and attended thoughtful workshops. I had never heard of permaculture or aquaponics before! There was an epic Saturday night bonfire and jam sessions sprouted up through the cracks of the agenda all weekend. I met people from all corners of California, corners that my east-coast self had never heard of. Faraway places like “Butte” and “San Luis Obispo.” The people I met were different, special. They dreamed big, acted real, and were so open to new ideas and people that every conversation opened up a new world. I had participated in sustainability events before, but none that felt like this, none that were so community-oriented. I left feeling dazed, overwhelmed, and determined to find my way to the center of this clearly wondrous organization.
It took me a little while, but I found my way in. I am proud to say I served as the Online Content Manager on the Operating Team for over two years, but my connection to CSSC runs so much deeper than that. It’s my family.
Managing the website and blog may have kept me behind the scenes, but looking back, my position gave me an unforgettable opportunity to connect people from all over the state of California and beyond. I stepped into the shoes of storyteller, and the stories I witnessed and broadcasted constantly kept me inspired and grounded in what truly is the grassroots movement. From “big” things like Power Shift and UC-wide divestment, to smaller things like grilled-cheese funkraisers and water-saving technologies, I found myself in tune and in touch with a spider web of greatness and power.
When I started, I didn’t know anything about WordPress or websites. As writer Annie Dillard put it, “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” And that’s something very special about being part of a grassroots and student-run organization: anyone with passion and interest is given great power and stake. The only thing that limits what one student can do in CSSC is their own prerogative. No one tells you no.
By being a part of CSSC, I feel that I feel lucky to have grown into a progressive belief-system and culture. Not all organizations are keen to discuss and incorporate the intersections of social and ecological justice, how institutions like classism, racism, and feminism fold themselves into environmental issues. It is a privilege to spend time with organizers who are deeply committed to justice of all kinds, who earnestly hunger for solutions that are deep, honest, and beneficial to all people. The people I’ve met in CSSC are on the cutting edge of the sustainability movement, and I think they’re on to something.
Four years later, I feel Californian. Thanks to CSSC I have traveled all across the state: to Davis, Chico, Humboldt, Santa Barbara, Fremont Peak, the San Jacinto Mountains, Sacramento, and more. As Development Director Zen Trenholm likes to put it, “CSSC is the best couch-surfing network in California.” I feel incredibly lucky, because I don’t just know the places I’ve traveled to in California for their landscapes and cities, but for their best and brightest student sustainability activists. I know Los Angeles for its DIY dumpster divers, I know Butte for its epic jam sessions and radical thinkers, I know Humboldt for its farmers and alternative techies, I know Shasta for its urban lettuce growers. The California that I know and love is the best of the best, thanks to CSSC. In creating an intentional community, this network organization is the change it wishes to see in the world.
For giving me power, wings, and so many incredible friends and partners-in-crime, I am forever grateful to the California Student Sustainability Coalition. I’m passing along the website and the blog, now, to some fantastic new folks. But don’t worry: once a sustainabilibuddy, always a sustainabilibuddy!