Almost 3 months to the day since I arrived back home in Omaha, NE from school out East and started working on the Summer of Solutions Omaha with my great friends Lance, Tyler and Matt. I was a wide eyed visionary, believing I would change the face of my fair city with my bold and organized climate activism. I believed I would engage hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens and neighbors, empower them to create real climate solutions and establish a kick ass organization that would have me leaving the summer wiping my hands on my jeans, brushing my shoulders off and whistling dixie at having solved climate issues in Omaha. I expected to hop on a plane to head back east at the end of the summer and see solar panels on every roof, smile at the wind turbine production factory in low income North Omaha and notice waves of native prairie grass being grown for sustainable bio-fuel production. In short, I expected to make the sort of drastic changes that usually take years if not decades.
Needless to say this didn’t happen. But a lot of things did happen.
A lot of really positive things that, while hard to quantify, are truly beautiful if realized in the right light. For instance, my personal project has been conducting a listening project in the South Florence area of North Omaha, a primarily low income neighborhood where the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) burns coal to provide the city of Omaha with electricity. South Florence is the location of the Omaha Public Power District’s North Omaha Coal Station, a 645 MW coal plant first built in 1954 and located directly on the Missouri River. For the past month and a half I’ve been biking all across North Omaha with my little video camera, hearing people’s stories, talking about the effects of coal on communities and meeting with community leaders to try to gauge community interest in staging a fight against this dirty plant that in 2006 emitted 4,065,696 tons of CO2 and in 2005 emitted 216 pounds of mercury into the surrounding community and the Missouri River. This listening project has been inspiring for me, not to mention motivating. I see now how Omaha fits into the larger coal infrastructure of our nation and after hearing the stories I’ve heard, I am passionately empowered to work with community members to transition the North Omaha Coal Station off of coal and onto clean, renewable power that provides citizens with desperately needed jobs.
Zooming out to a more macro level now, I want to reflect for a second on how Summer of Solutions Omaha went down as a whole. The second rule of Open Space Technology, “whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened” has inspired some of my reflection on the Summer of Solutions Omaha program. There are several things about this statement that spark thoughts in my head. We’ll start with the most obvious. Using this philosophy, I am able to reflect on our program and say that while we were not the most organized folks, the things that did happen were beautiful and they happened because that is what we as organizers and people needed to happen. I wasn’t necessarily ready to launch a full blown program with 40 participants, like our good friends up in St. Paul. However, working out group dynamics between the 4 of us in Omaha was exciting, and we did create some real, solutionary change. As Tyler, one of our organizers, said beautifully , “It’s not what we did… it’s what we inspired others to do and if you ask me there is not enough of that in the “youth climate movement.”
Also, due to keeping the second rule of Open Space in mind, I was able to treasure the small moments of beauty in our program. I was able to treasure walking to the corner store to buy eggs to make breakfast for our housemates, able to treasure the awkwardness when we met with a local weatherization business, and able to treasure and love the various character traits and habits of my fellow Omaha solutionaries. I treasured the office that St. John’s Church so graciously donated for our use and the space we created in it…often working late into the night and sleeping on the hard, carpeted floor. In essence, I was living the solutionary lifestyle: creating solutions to problems in every aspect of my daily life and feeling, feeling, feeling those around me in a way I never had before and in a way that allowed me to make connections as a fellow human, not just as an organizer.
In conclusion, I just have to say that there is no conclusion to this sort of work. Our program may be called the Summer of Solutions, but it is so much bigger than June, July and August. This solutionary work is not over, and that’s the true beauty of it. We didn’t establish sustainable groups that could weather our leaving Omaha nor did we make the right connections to continue our work while were gone, but we did meet and make close friends with dozens of our neighbors, we did inspire people towards a certain different way of thinking and we definitely formed strong personal bonds with each other. So, sure we’re all leaving Omaha and going back to school: Lance and Matt to Minnesota, Tyler to Washington and me to France, but that doesn’t mean a thing. Because next summer, next year and five years down the road, I’ll still be here in Omaha, fighting the solutionary fight, building the solutionary structures that empower neighbors to fight climate change and continually feeling, feeling, feeling those around me!!!