There’s been a lot going on lately. A lot going on that is sad, frightening and stressful. It really doesn’t matter where you are on the Earth or what brand of politics you buy into or what motivates you to join in the conversations, 2018—overall—has been a pretty hard year for most of us. The other night watching the news, I was convinced people everywhere are either running from violence and natural disaster or running to a possible sanctuary or place to help—from Florida, to Indonesia, to Nicaragua to Pittsburgh. Actual peace was nowhere in sight.
I’ve spent a good deal of my time lately standing up for causes I am passionate about—testifying about the dangers of continued reliance on fossil fuels and advocating for the sound science behind a move to 100-percent renewable energy; protesting for the rights of those who have no voice because of poverty, threats of violence and/or racial and gender discrimination; and working with a marvelous group of friends to attempt to pass an ordinance to reduce single-use plastics in our town in order to do our part to stem the ballooning problem of plastic waste in the global environment. I’m busy, and that’s ok because I’m involved.
I often wonder if the next generation will take up these causes because, let’s face it, I’m old. This Earth and these rights I’m fighting for belong more to the next generation than they do to me at this point. So when my friend Sasi asked if I would share my activism with his Environmental Anthropology class, how could I refuse? Of course, the first thing I did was bake up some Granola Bar & Pumpkin Pudding Squares because food closes the generational divide pretty quickly, in my opinion.
Then I began to worry a bit. I mean, what was I going to say to them: “I quit my job and became a food and environmental activist who writes a blog that makes no money and you should too?” No. These people are just beginning their journeys, not finding a way to complete them. Further, I wasn’t even sure they cared at all what I thought—I’m not an expert on environmental issues; I’m not a scientist; and I’m not trained in nutrition or farming. But a promise is a promise.
So on a beautiful fall day, I arrived at the Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome, located on the southeast side of the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where I just happened to have been a student many moons ago. The dome is home to The Center for Spirituality & Sustainability, whose mission is to promote humanity’s sacred connection to the Earth and each other. Sasi just couldn’t have picked a more perfect spot for his Environmental Anthropology class because the dome’s translucent “miniature Earth” ceiling is a beacon for global unity, providing a place for connecting the world’s cultural and spiritual traditions through their common concern for the planet.
I was the first to arrive (Actually, I was usually the first one in class throughout college.), but the woman who manages the Center was gracious and welcoming. We had a great chat about the benefits of ditching clothes dryers, growing your own food and giving up capitalism. But she was my age. Over her shoulder, I watched the steady trickle of students coming to class—young, preoccupied and confident. My nerves were in high pitch; I was near tears. So….how about a pumpkin square?
Once we gathered in the Center’s small kitchen, Sasi arrived and I passed around the treats. Aii smiles. And then we were sort of down to business, and right away I could tell that there was an easy discourse between professor and students, conversation that allowed questioning, healthy debate and trust. (God, I loved college.)
Sasi introduced me to his class and suggested the students look up my blog so that they had an idea what I do with some of my cantankerous energy. Note that this was really easy since they all had phones and the Internet was everywhere. Then I started telling them about why I marched in Washington, D.C. in 2017 to draw attention to climate change, why I’ve been to multiple hearings to testify against EPA rollbacks for fossil fuel giants, why I make a nuisance of myself at City Hall during council meetings, and on and on.
I really expected them to drift away after a bit—or just never leave their phone screens–and worried I would lose them if I kept enumerating my loud and angry activities. But, you know what? They listened—they TOOK NOTES, they cared and wanted to respond with stories of their own. They knew all about environmental justice communities, about climate change, about the plastic problem, about food deserts, about the dangers of consumerism and waste in hyper drive, about some stuff that was new to me. They got it and they cared. I was near tears.
These young people are—all clichés aside—a ray of hope. Sasi has created this amazing class of “being the change” instead of one where his students simply memorize facts and the ideas of others. For Sasi, success in his class is finding a passion, making a difference, helping those around you, seeing the important connections between past and future, as well as the dangerous disconnect between modern society and the very Earth we inhabit.
“I want my students to make positive change in their world, not just learn a bunch of facts,” he tells me. And he has done such a great job attaining this goal. I left the class and the beautiful dome feeling we all had a chance—there was a ray of hope—that life will go on, that the next generation can be the change we all need. Yes, I was near tears, once again.