May ’16 Update
It is difficult to believe that it has only been six months months since my last email update, as it seems so much has transpired. While I had hoped to send updates on a quarterly basis, the especially hectic nature of my March and April caused me to push the update back, leading me to combine the first and second updates for 2016 into the following email (a decision that has caused this update to be especially extensive – my apologies).
Despite having met so many amazing and influential people over the course of my life, I have done a poor job at staying in contact with many of you, and these updates are meant to rekindle these relationships and maintain the conversations moving forward (If this is your first email update from me, it means that I only recently had the pleasure of meeting you!). These emails will by necessity be introductory, surface level, and generalized, as for many this will unfortunately be the first time we have talked in months. However, I would love to make them more personal on an individual level if you are so inclined.
Concurrently, I’d really love to hear how you are doing; to discover any changes in your life, new habits, novel interests, etc. That being said, please feel free to email me back as frequently (or infrequently) as you like.
Finally, please do not feel pressured to read this! I am fully aware how busy each of you are, and would not be offended in the least if you neglect to look these emails over.
On December 31st, shortly after sending my last email update, I received a formal invitation to serve for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua! I will be moving to Nicaragua in August for 27 months to serve as an Environmental Education Volunteer. I will likely be living in a rural community of a few hundred people, teaching environmental sustainability in two elementary schools and helping to foster and develop an environmental ethic throughout the community.
My interest in joining the Peace Corps is two fold. First, as a white, cisgender, heterosexual, male human that grew up in an economically comfortable and overwhelmingly supportive family, my being is an embodiment of tremendous privilege. As such, I am excited to give back to a world that has given me so much, and dedicate the next two years of my life in humble service to a community upon the back of which much of my privilege has been built. Second, I am selfishly drawn to the opportunity as an avenue to facilitate increased personal development and maturation. The challenging five months I spent in India in the fall of 2014 helped to open my eyes to the world and myself, dramatically changing me in the process – I am excited to continue this path of self study and development in Nicaragua. As a facet of self development, I am drawn to serve in Nicaragua as an avenue towards becoming fluent in Spanish. Many of the social justice issues I am most interested in organizing around in the United States disparately impact Spanish speaking communities, and I believe that developing fluency is a necessary skill to be an effective ally to these communities the rest of my life.
I could not be more excited for this next chapter of my life.
The final two quarters of my undergraduate career are coming to a close. This Saturday, June 4th, I will be officially graduating from the University of Denver with a BA in International Studies (concentrated in International Political Economy) and minors in Sustainability and Business Administration. The last major deliverable I had to graduate was the completion of my thesis which I finalized a few weeks ago. The study was titled, “An Inquiry into the Relationship Between Economic Inequality and Climate Change,” and used a multivariate regression model to demonstrate that increased levels of economic inequality are correlated with higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions, higher levels of carbon emissions, and lower rates of renewable energy use in Europe between 2007 and 2011. Completion of my thesis was unquestionably the most intensive academic work I have ever put together, and (now that it is finished) I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take the project on. My thesis’ grounding in economic and environmental (in)justice, perhaps the two societal issues I am most passionate about, helped to deepen my understanding of the systemic causes of oppression, and has helped me to better articulate my passion surrounding each.
As I reflect on the trajectory of my undergraduate career, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the development and maturation the last four years have brought; concurrently, I am amazed how fast the past four years have gone. I have changed dramatically over the past four years, and am excited to continue this growth into the future.
As I briefly mentioned in my last update, my involvement in student orgs the past year has eclipsed my time commitment dedicated to any other facet of my life. The last two quarters I took a step back from many of the student groups I had previously been very involved with to more pointedly focus my attention on Divest DU, a group committed to advocating for climate justice by elevating the climate crisis within the narrative of the DU community and urging the University of Denver to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. In short, the fossil fuel divestment movement believes that climate change is real, it is anthropogencailly driven by the combustion of fossil fuels, and it is immoral for the University of Denver to profit from and perpetuate climate catastrophe through its investment practices. In recent years, the divestment movement has evolved into one of the foremost strategies for effectively combatting the climate crisis – if you are interested in learning more about the movement’s social theory of change, let me know!
I first became immersed in Divest DU in January of 2015, and taking a step back, it is tremendously humbling and invigorating to see how much the organization has grown the past 18 months. Today, 1,700 students have signed our petition, 22 student organizations including the Undergraduate Student Government have officially endorsed our mission, 73 faculty members have publicly added their name to the Faculty Open Letter in support of Divest DU, and the Faculty Senate voted 3-1 to support fossil fuel divestment at DU. On April 14th, the University’s Chancellor and the Chair of the Board of Trustees invited Divest DU to present for an hour to the board regarding the issue of divestment; leading up to our presentation, we held a rally outside the meeting that drew in 100 students – a video recap of the action can be seen here. Following our presentation, the Board of Trustees decided to form as Task Force to seriously engage with the question, and has committed to voting on divestment at their January 2017 meeting. We are very optimistic about this development, as we believe it provides the most effective path forward towards victory.
Stepping away from Divest DU this week has been bitter-sweet. Without question, I have dedicated more time and energy toward Divest DU than any other dimension of my life over the past 18 months. That being said, taking a step back has felt strange, but I am excited to open up space for new things to come.
April 14th Board of Trustees Rally
Given the election year, I have had ample opportunities to stay civically engaged the past six months. While I began organizing for the Sanders campaign in the fall, things really picked up earlier this year, and I’ve really enjoyed engaging with the community via canvassing and phone banking. I am inspired by Bernie’s campaign and commitment to social justice, and am humbled to have worked for its behalf. The months of voter engagement climaxed on March 1st, when I had the opportunity to be a caucus captain for Bernie at my Precinct. While the disorganization of our caucus was a bit frustrating, the record turnout was inspiring, and Bernie’s powerful victory at my Caucus and across Colorado made all the time and energy put into the campaign feel that much more worthwhile.
I also had the opportunity to help organize a protest with Greenpeace outside of Colorado’s annual democratic dinner, an event attended by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. The purpose of the rally was to ask both candidates to sign a pledge to commit to refusing political donations from the fossil fuel industry (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bernie signed the “Fix Democracy” pledge the same day it came out. Unfortunately, Hillary has still not recanted the $4.5 million she has received from the fossil fuel industry this election cycle, and has still not signed the pledge).
On April 8th, I flew to Washington D.C. to join the Democracy Spring actions. On Saturday and Sunday, I joined hundreds of people for the final two days and 25 miles of the 10 day march from Philadelphia to D.C. Democracy Spring was meant to raise awareness about big money’s corrupting impact on our political system and demand a representative and just democratic process. Over the course of the week, 1,400 people were arrested for civil disobedience on the steps of our nation’s capitol to demand their voices be heard and for our representatives to represent them – this action became the largest act of civil disobedience at our nation’s capitol in the history of our country (Perhaps you are wondering why you did not hear about it? Few industries benefit more from unconstrained money in politics than the media industry, and as such, mainstream news outlets generally do not cover issues surrounding campaign finance reform). I began the sit ins on Monday and Tuesday, but did not risk arrest (I found out the week of the protest that being arrested would result in an automatic discharge form the Peace Corps, so changed my plans from risking arrest to serving on wellness team to support those being arrested).
My four days at Democracy Spring contributed to one of the most powerful and inspirational experiences of my life. Being brought together with hundreds of people from across the country during the march who share my convictions to the point of traveling to DC to act on them was empowering – sometimes organizing work can feel isolating and overwhelming, and the opportunity to connect with other dedicated and passionate individuals was a healthy reminder to the strength of the progressive movement. My feelings surrounding the sit-ins themselves are difficult to adequately articulate. It was difficult to watch hundreds be arrested for simply sitting on the steps of our nation’s capitol in a desperate plea to be heard. Watching people put their bodies on the line for social justice, and having the opportunity to serve them on Monday and Tuesday by providing water and snacks to the protesters, was as humbling as it is inspiring, and was a powerful affirmation to the path and direction I hope to dedicate my life.
Colorado Democrats Dinner
March Leading Up to the Capitol
First day’s sit in begins on the Capitol steps. Supreme Court and Library of Congress stand in the background.
As many of you may know, the majority of my organizing work is centered around climate justice. The framework of climate justice not only affirms that all humans, current and future, have an indefeasible right to live on a safe and hospitable planet, but is firmly grounded in the reality that environmental degradation disparately impacts marginalized communities. With this framework, the climate justice movement is actively working to to create a more intersectionally just and sustainable world
This May, I had the opportunity to help plan the Break Free Colorado actions, one part of the international Break Free From Fossil Fuels actions which marked the largest mass environmental mobilization in world history.
On May 12th, 300 people came together to shut down the Bureau of Land Management’s auction of public lands to fracking companies. Not only does fracking pollute our air and water, but if the world has a chance at preventing climate catastrophe, it is imperative that fossil fuels on public lands are kept in the ground. Unfortunately, after delaying the meeting for over an hour, the police were able to break through the lines of protestors to allow the bidders into the room to start the auction, where all of the public lands up for auction were distributed to the fracking industry. Despite this set back, the action was still empowering. The social zeitgeist surrounding climate change and fracking’s role in its perpetuation is rapidly shifting, and seeing the turnout of 300 individuals on a Thursday afternoon helped to demonstrate the power of this movement.
On May 14th, we had the second action of Break Free Colorado – Frontline Fracking Defense. In the morning, hundreds of people came together in a public space for a festival in Thornton, CO, to celebrate the climate justice movement and the sustainable future we all dream of. That afternoon, we marched to a fracking well across the street from Silver Creek Elementary School, where there are plans to develop the well into one of the biggest industrial fracking sites in the country (literally directly across the street from the elementary school). Once at the site, we were told by police four times that if we continued the action forward, we would be arrested. Every time, we continued with the action; after our final movement to occupy the well pad, the police regrouped back into their seven vehicles and drove off – wow! The action’s victory was surreal – it was a direct indication of the power the movement has gained in terms of societal clout, and a powerful affirmation to everyone involved about the promising future of our movement moving forward.
It was immensely rewarding to see all the hard work that went into organizing these actions pay off, and I cannot think of anything else I would have rather dedicated those hours towards than the building of these actions. The movement is moving, and I am so humbled to be a small part of it.
For those who did not receive my last update, I completed my yoga teacher certification in December. The past six months I have maintained a relatively constant practice, and continue to feel markedly more grounded, open, and connected from month to month. A few months ago, I found an Ashtanga Studio (the school of yoga I was trained in) in Denver, and have thoroughly enjoyed my time there – the studio is a wonderful community, and is undoubtedly the environment I have most strongly identified with since being back from India.
From March 20-31, I participated in a 10 day Vipassana mediation course. Vipassana is the style of mediation said to have been rediscovered and taught by Gotama the Buddha, and has supposedly been passed down from him the past 2500 years. No talking or communication of any sort was allowed for the duration of the course (including eye contact, etc.). We began every day at 4am, and would spend 10 hours throughout the day in silent meditation. The retreat was more difficult than I could have imagined. Although the silence and solitude was less difficult than I had anticipated, the act of sitting alone with my thoughts for 10 hours a day was tremendously difficult and humbling. In addition to learning how unhealthy and scattered my brain is, I learned a tremendous amount about the patterns of my intellect and consciousness, and feel that I left the retreat with a much stronger understanding of my truth and true Self.
Practicing Acro Yoga with my Girlfriend at Yoga Rocks the Park
My final academic pursuit for the next few years will conclude with my taking of the LSAT on June 6th. At present, I hope to attend Law School following my tenure with the Peace Corps, with the hopes of leveraging a degree in Environmental Law towards being a more effective advocate of social justice issues the rest of my life. The LSAT score lasts 5 years, so it will be nice to have it in my back pocket moving forward, especially because I plan to apply to law school while I am still in Nicaragua the fall of 2018. However, I recognize that things may change in the coming years, and am open to where my path takes me.
On June 13th, I am headed to South America for 2 months, where I will be traveling through Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. My Spanish is not where I would like it to be (in regards to my service with the Peace Corps), and I am excited to immerse myself in the language for these two months.
The fact that it has taken me 6 months to follow up with my third update is an indication of my poor ability to stay in touch and in contact – I hope to be better moving forward. I will be sure to send out a follow up update the first week of August following my travels in South America and before my departure to Nicaragua to check in. I am unsure how I will be maintaining updates while in Nicaragua (whether it be via blog or emails), and will hopefully have a more reified framework for maintaining contact figured out by then.
In the mean time, I would LOVE to hear from you! The fact that you are receiving this email (and have read it to this point) is an indication of my desire to continue our conservation and relationship moving forward. As such, I’d really enjoy learning what you have been up to in recent months, and rekindle our conversation more generally. If you have updated your email or contact information please let me know so I can ensure my address book remains up to date.
If you have a Facebook – please feel free to friend me! If you have a LinkedIn – I’d love to connect!