Sustaining Change–An Overview

When Bob, Camila and I started talking in September 2010, I didn’t have a clear idea of what would result from our calls. We’re all connected through the Morris K. Udall Scholarship, an award for college environmental and tribal leaders.  From that, I knew we were all engaged deeply in various organizing fields, and yet we felt like something was missing from that work.

We’ve all experienced burn-out of some kind related to our activism, and I think initially that’s what drew us together. We know directly how important it is to be healthy as individuals when working towards a healthier earth. Saving the world is really freaking hard! Yet between the rush of the next project or fundraiser or political cycle, we felt little support or rejuvenation with our actions. We saw that neither ourselves nor our peers were thriving within the environmental and social movements we belonged to, and we weren’t sure why.  We recognized the limits on time and energy that impact organizing—so what could we do to make our engagement as effective and meaningful as possible?

We started by asking questions.  Fall of 2010 we hosted several calls with other Udall scholars to figure out if these feeling were widespread and get ideas on how to proceed. Do you feel supported as an activist? If not, what’s missing? How do we stay healthy, as individuals and as movements, so that we don’t dilute our impact? How do we work for sustainability of our communities and the planet without sacrificing our own self-sustainability?

In our first calls with Udall peers, we were validated that these feelings were wider-spread than just the three of us. People expressed worry about a Millenial epidemic of unhealthiness resulting from something lacking in our activist communities.  Especially outside of a college-organizing environment, there was a feeling of isolation and loneliness, a need for relationships that provided support and recognition, and little room for emotional connection and solace.  One call member said it was a relief to hear that others are sensing and facing these same obstacles, and that it’s a huge step in just acknowledging those deficits.  We agree.

Our early talks and the phone calls focused a lot on this problem space, on trying to define exactly what it was that we felt was lacking—which we were never quite able to do.  And we knew we wanted to do more than just acknowledge the problems and needs. We wanted to continue to have conversations, to actually connect with people in their ups and downs with more honesty, and try to create a space that filled those needs. And so we centered our work around the idea of being personally rejuvenated, healthy, and flourishing in order to be more effectively engaged, and the need for deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships to support that.  We centered around the name and ideal of Sustaining Change.

From this solution space, we’re exploring how we can create the kind of communities we envision, that view people as ends in and of themselves and not just as some instrumentally-valuable mean to an organizing end.  Sometimes, our talks lead to images of virtual fireside chats with friends, and then we laugh at ourselves.  Here we are promoting deep, meaningful relationships and vibrant communities across the tubes of the interweb!  Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron?  But, the reality of organizing is that much of it happens virtually now. However, even if separated, as Bob, Camila and I are, by distance, we believe we can build a learning network of friends to explore different stories, models, and resources for relationship-based organizing in the 21st century.  If we can set up a place of trust, honesty, and shared values, we believe it possible to create meaningful and lasting connections without meeting face-to-face.

We have visions in the future (far down the road) of community centers focused around social change agents—not change itself, or any one issue, but around an in-person community of activists. Until that day comes, we’re working with the space we have to try to bring purposeful care into our engagement, and to figure out how to model that for others.

Overall, our vision for Sustaining Change is this: “To be effective and healthy agents of social change, we believe it is essential to engage in a community that supports, rejuvenates, and validates both ourselves and our work.  Our community will use phone and web conversations to foster meaningful, lasting connections across distance based on shared values and needs.”

We are still working out how (and how quickly) this group will work out on a larger scale.  But for now, this blog, as a branch of Sustaining Change, is a place for us to share stories and thoughts, and more importantly, to hear from others and use that self-reflection to guide this group into the future. We view this as just one manifestation of the way change can be sustained—hopefully it provides a powerful space for support and validation that is meaningful to our communities, our activism, and ourselves.

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