Building up community immunity

During High School I volunteered at a local food shelf and
was discouraged to see the same people for almost the entire year. It made me realize that much of my efforts were merely a small, cheerfully-printed band-aid on a pervasive wound that wasn’t just skin deep.  If anything it masked the true nature of poverty, which requires larger shifts in political and social norms.

Though band-aids can suffice in some instances, other problems need an alternative, more direct type of treatment.  What I’ve been learning this summer about community organizing for environmental justice can best be explained by Paul Hawken’s analogy about antibodies in his book Blessed Unrest.” Hawken relates environmental and social justice groups, like Summer of Solutions, to antibodies which are essential for our immune system.

They arise as a response to foreign invaders and systematically undermine threats to our bodies, like viruses and certain types of bacteria. Antibodies will collaborate with B cells to create a “blueprint” after they combat toxins, so that more antibodies can be created quickly if the same type of toxin returns. Also important to note is that “the immune system depends on diversity to maintain resiliency, with which it can maintain homeostasis, respond to surprises, learn from pathogens, and adapt to sudden changes.”

Summer of Solution’s is an antibody. It’s anti-oppression sessions and focus on social entreprenuership has challenged me to identify and address the root causes of social and environmental injustice in my community while being watchful of a “savior mentality.”

One of my projects this summer has been to work with Cooperative Energy Futures. CEF seeks to make insulation and weatherization more affordable and to educate people about other ways to improve energy efficiency. Their focus is to empower people to improve their home energy efficiency and generate savings.

I’m still figuring out what effective community organizing looks like, but like the immune system, it is diverse. It needs to draw on the resources available and be able to adapt quickly – and ultimately find a way to create homeostasis.

-Kirsten Theden

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