I dreamt of Climate Journey one night sitting by my wood stove at Chewonki, where I worked this past year in Maine. I taught Environmental Issues and Energy Solutions as part of a four month immersive experiential education program. I lived in a little cabin beyond the apple trees alongside the eighty-three weird and wonderful students of Semesters 53 and 54. On this journey I had the chance to be on campus once again with Garrett, and show him a little of the physical place during a wild and windy June storm. That visit inspired this reflection on my year teaching at Chewonki, and a reminder of why I am currently bicycling, not in the classroom. Words in italics are from my students.
After Chewonki I feel I finally understand that the connection between environmental injustice and social injustice is not just theoretical – the two are actually completely connected.
Chewonki is a place where each day starts with scrubbing toilets, feeding pigs, tidying classrooms and mopping floors. It is a place where each day ends with five to eight students around a woodstove, laughing, thinking, arguing, challenging one another to be their best selves. Real responsibility plus authentic human connection makes Chewonki a school, a community, a tiny revolution.
Chewonki showed me that, though many issues plague the world, one doesn’t have to just accept them. It is possible to make a change.
Inside the classroom we built tiny passive solar houses, explored our environmental worldviews and discussed Aldo Leopold and John Mohawk, Thomas Friedman and Naomi Klein. We compared and contrasted the People’s Agreement from the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth with the Charles Koch funded Heritage Foundation’s statement on climate finance. We took on roles to temporarily shoulder the human impacts of climate change and fossil fuel extraction, convening a tea party at which Kandi Mossett shared biscuits with Roman Abramovich and Yeb Sano offered milk to Rafael Correa.
I don’t avoid thinking about the scary realities of climate change anymore. I feel much more empowered to look at them straight on and take action.
Outside the classroom we wired finicky data loggers for each student cabin and shaped wind turbine blades that would end up winning the Maine Wind Blade Challenge. We shared each meal, following food from soil to plate, carnivores becoming vegan, vegetarians eating meat for the first time. We held challenging meetings in which students and faculty doubted one another’s ability to break open the hierarchical divisions between us. Thirty-one of us traveled to the state’s capitol as part of Generation Climate Rising, marching to demand an end to the fossil fuel era and a clean energy future for all. Many of us marched once again in Portland, the state’s largest city, homework done early to #March2Justice because #BlackLivesMatter.
Earlier today, I went to a protest asking LA city council members not to build more railways for oil trains, as doing so could have a disastrous effect on low-income communities and on the local environment.
My favorite moments of each week were checking the students into their cabins at night. We dreamed together, sang together, cried together. They asked me if I’d ever been in love, I asked them whether they are hopeful for the future. We talked about the meaning of life. We danced to High School Musical. We vowed to fight for intersectional justice. We held multi-colored flashlight raves. It was in these moments, the ones in which they invited me into their safe spaces, that we dared to form the kind of community needed to weather these times of crisis.
Next week, I’m going to a week-long grassroots environmental activism training conference, and I plan to do my big senior research project on climate justice.
It felt giddy and soulful to teach for eight months, to eat and sleep and think and speak with two groups of insatiably curious young people. Yet I spent each night alone, emailing and conference calling, my mind going out to other corners of the world, spending more time on fossil fuel divestment than I ever had the chance to as a student. I left Maine many weekends, called to far off cities to speak or protest or march or pilgrimage. Torn between change-making on different scales I made the choice to embrace yet another, and here I find myself writing from Moncton, New Brunswick, halfway between classroom simulations of COP21 and walking into the real thing.
I’ll see you soon, out there, by your side. We have a lot of work to do, but we got this. Together, we will change the world.
I’m here because of scribbles like this one in my Chewonki yearbook, reminders that I was teaching not to build the next generation of changemakers but to recruit allies in the present moment. While I smiled to read the “you inspire me”s and the “I learned so much”s, it was these promises of thanks yet to come, to be borne out not in words, but in action, that moved me to tears.