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Sustaining All Life, in Boston, USA

I am a female of African heritage, raised Christian, and born in the United States. On Sunday, March 13, with a fabulous diverse team of Co-Counselors in the Boston (Massachusetts, USA) Region, I led a Sustaining All Life* workshop at the Local Environmental Action 2016 Conference. Elizabeth Saunders, another RCer and the Massachusetts Director for Clean Water Action, had made the connection and coordinated with the conference.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

Here’s how we presented the workshop in the conference program:

Title: Eliminating the Effects of Racism in the Environmental Movement

Time: 11:00 AM ­- 12:15 PM

Presenters: Jean Charles, Jenene Cook, Nazish Riaz, Elizabeth Saunders

Description: Racism causes deep pain and divisiveness. Understanding and healing its damaging effects is critical for creating a movement that can end climate change and toxic pollution and restore our environment. Sustaining All Life—a grassroots organization dedicated to ending climate change and the oppression of all people—is presenting this workshop. Participants will get an overview of the history and current expressions of systemic racism; examine the effects of racism on our individual lives, relationships, and the environmental movement; and learn about the unique tools of “Re-evaluation Counseling,” which can be used to overcome the effects of racism and improve the effectiveness of organizations dedicated to saving our world.

WHAT WE DID

Even though there were nine other quite impressive workshops, such as “Lead in America” and “Big Developments in Climate Change,” our workshop was packed, with standing room only. About sixty people came, and over ninety percent were white.

Five Co-Counselors from the Greater Boston Communities had helped decorate the room and invited people into the workshop. They also created a welcoming environment, kept track of timing, participated in three-way mini-sessions, and collected contact information at the end. So although I led the workshop, it was a team effort from start to finish.

We broke the workshop up into four parts:

1) Who we are: Sustaining All Life and Re-evaluation Counseling

2) RC theory and practice

3) The impact of environmental degradation on people of color and the impact of racism in the movement

4) How to work on racism

I talked about how the theory and practice of RC can move the work of environmental justice forward by increasing our capacity to listen and get close to people who are different from us or don’t share the same views. And I said that racism, in particular, gets in our way. We, as individuals and USers, often do not know best (even when we think we do), and fortunately or unfortunately we cannot end climate change alone. Therefore, understanding where we’ve been hurt around racism, and learning to listen better and get close to as many people as possible with backgrounds (and opinions) different from ours, is exactly what is needed.

After explaining how to do a mini-session, I asked the participants to take two minutes each in three-ways on the following question: “Where do you feel hopeful and/or discouraged about environmental justice?” Afterward I asked for a show of hands from people who thought that the mini was useful, and almost everyone’s hand went up. It was exciting to see the level of interest and how quickly people engaged with the process.

Following the mini-session, Jean Charles and Adam Sazama, another Boston area Co-Counselor, spoke about the work of Sustaining All Life in Paris. Then Jean and Nazish Riaz gave powerful examples of environmental racism—like oppressive World Bank policies and practices, and U.S. wars and drones in the Middle East. Following that, Elizabeth Saunders talked about how she had worked on racism as a white person.

(I had also wanted to do a demonstration with someone targeted by racism and have the participants do a longer mini-session, but because we only had an hour and fifteen minutes, we had to cut these out.)

The flyers The Work of Sustaining All Life and Tools for Ending Racism in the Environmental Movement were available for participants, and we sold copies of the Sustaining All Life pamphlet.

PARTICIPANT QUESTIONS

We had a few minutes at the end for questions, and there were some good ones: “How do you use this individual emotional healing work to make big changes in systems and institutions?” “Do you work with young people, especially in middle school and high school?” “Have you established partnerships with organizations in the environmental justice movement to help them work on racism and then connect with people of color?”

A GOOD RECEPTION

Overall, the workshop was very well received. Thirty people signed up at the end for additional information. Almost everyone understood that racism was impeding the work of environmental justice and were able to admit that they were clueless about what to do about it. A lot of people stayed afterward to share appreciations and make connections with the team. I am so pleased with what we were able to do together!

Jenene Cook

Dorchester, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 184, July 2016)


* Sustaining All Life is a project of the RC Communities in which Co-Counselors bring what we’ve learned in RC to people working or wanting to work to stop climate change and the degradation of the environment.


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00