Written by: Laura McAllister
The series of little rural roads that led up to the Lago Linda campground proved treacherous and stomach-churning, but the warmth, old friends, and vegan tacos that greeted me were well-worth the journey. After attending Catalyst this summer, the prospect of Fall Summit excited me, promising the same amazing atmosphere and lessons from which I benefited over the summer. At the end of the Fall Summit weekend, I knew that KSEC had created another fantastic event.
I slept in the dining cabin the first night, and woke up to the breakfast crew coming in to brew coffee. I enjoyed reconnecting with some of my friends from Catalyst while munching on a banana and peanut butter before we headed out into the freezing morning to establish norms and start training.
One of the things that has always struck me about KSEC events—and about the way that my campus affiliate, Greenthumb, operates––is the atmosphere of respect and inclusion, as well as compassion, that guides our time together. Learning about systematic biases and environmental injustice can be arduous and contentious, even among an ecologically-minded crowd, but our established norms allow us to carry on our conversations in a kind and safe way.
After setting norms, we read through KSEC’s literature, coming to better understand the way that we fit into the movement for a just transition (about which Cara Cooper gave an insightful presentation) in the commonwealth of Kentucky, and becoming more empowered to act. Other trainings throughout the day ensured that we had not only the motivation to act, but also the skills necessary to create meaningful change.
The blend of high school and college students allowed us to understand the stake young people have in our future, and I really loved interacting with people many years my junior who had done incredible things and were building conscientiousness much earlier than I ever had. It gave me a sense of hope, especially in the wake of a troubling UN report, to see all of these young people who were fighting for a change.
We worked through the Theatre of the Oppressed in the afternoon, facilitated by Tay Schulz. The activity, which encouraged us to use our bodies to talk about systematic problems and threats to our safety, summoned an indescribable emotion, making me feel loose and ready to take action. We came to trust one another more—even though I had never met most of the attendees before that morning—as we engaged in trust falls and developed images for the grassy stage. KSEC really has a way of bringing people together (and of providing vegetarian options that compel me to go back for seconds!).
Throughout all of the trainings and activities, we were given reminders to stay hydrated, take breaks when necessary, and enjoy snacks if we felt hungry. Over the course of the weekend, I felt like my needs were priorities for the people in charge and that I could take care of myself as I explored environmental justice issues that impact the lives of myself and many of the people I hold dear.
I also had the opportunity to speak on a panel on Saturday night. As I talked about Divest UK, an organization intent on pulling the University of Kentucky endowment out of fossil fuel investments, and listened to others telling the stories of their own success and strife, I felt a new sense of power, an immense urge to move forward even through the difficult moments. Sure, I spoke on a panel, but I was really there to learn from other student organizers and become more immersed in the coalition. Everyone who facilitated trainings attended others; everyone who spoke also heard. We were a group of young people working with each other, learning from each other, and lending one another our intentional, compassionate ears.
Sunday morning, a workshop in campaign planning put all of our new skills and motivations into practice. Greenthumb was able to develop a plan from the ground up, using some ideas we had touched on at Catalyst and giving them new life after our Fall Summit experiences. We packed up our bags and tents, not quite ready to leave, but certainly eager to return to our campuses and put our new education into practice.
I ended the weekend with a Fall Summit hike at Red River Gorge, which was about thirty minutes away from the campsite. There, we learned about how the Army Corps of Engineers had once planned to flood the area in order to create a zone for recreation, even though it is an internationally acclaimed spot for climbing and hiking with an impeccable landscape and immense cultural value. After trudging our way up the treacherous trails, we stood at the edge of the valley, perched on rock structures, and read the arches and the biodiversity that surrounded us. We headed back to ensure that we would not have to drive back in the dark. The cool dusk settling over the leaves soothed our souls and helped us move forward. From this excursion, I learned that the ecologically aware in Kentucky have been fighting to preserve its natural wonders for decades. In the twenty-first century, however, the fight is turning towards the basic health and rights of Kentucky citizens. As we move forward, as young people progressing into an unpredictably changing world, we must move strategically, but also with love, holding the land and its people in our hearts, listening as well as speaking, and creating a space for future generations so that we are the last people who have to deal with the treachery of their parents and grandparents.
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
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