The California Student Sustainability Coalition hosted its three-day Spring Convergence 2014 conference “Coalitions: Connections for Change” last weekend, featuring speeches, workshops and panel presentations discussing global green issues like social justice, sustainability and community planning.
From Friday until Sunday, the conference invited California college students to explore the field of environmental sustainability and strengthen connections with fellow students, faculty, staff and their surrounding community. The event is hosted annually by the CSSC, a network of student sustainability organizations throughout California managed by students and alumni who work to implement programs of ecology, economy and equity.
Keynote speakers included George Lipsitz, a black studies professor at UCSB, Molly Hammond, a former writer for the Earth First Journal and an organizer of direct action campaigns and Bekah Hinojosa from the Tar Sands Blockade, a campaign seeking to stop construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL southern tar sands pipeline.
Panels discussed the building of international, national, state and local coalitions, and workshops such as “Fossil Freedom Track” and “The Intersections of Food, Economics and the Environment” drew focus to environmental habits and ideas like sustainable eating and living.
Unique Vance, Environmental Affairs Board member and first-year environmental studies major, helped plan the event. She said it allowed students from across the state come together and tackle green issues.
“Overall, CSSC is a convergence to bring students across California together to work on environmental issues and social issues and see what we can do as students to do our part and make solutions to these problems,” Vance said. “It’s also a chance to really share our ideas and get to know each other and network.”
Vance said EAB brought its members to the Convergence conference at Humboldt State University during the fall season before bringing the same event to UCSB.
“They took us up to the Humboldt … and said, ‘Hey, we want to do this here.’ We wanted to make sure everyone could take something away from it,” Vance said.
According to Vance, this year’s Convergence was designed to emphasize the interconnectedness of social justice and environmental movements, a fusion that Vance said might be unfamiliar to certain individuals.
“Because this is more social justice-themed, some people feel that the environmental movement is getting to more into the social parts of it than they are used to,” Vance said. “A lot of people like the kind of conservation or preservation parts of it, which [are] great, too, but to get into more of the social and racial aspects is a new thing for some people.”
Hammond said it is important for students to recognize how issues across social justice and environmental movements work together and reinforce each other. Because the conference focused mostly on coalition-building, Hammond said, “acknowledging territories” is the first step in “building coalitions with indigenous people and validating their ancestral rights to protecting the land.”
“Coalition building involves mobilizing many different causes to unite and win by finding the common struggle,” Hammond said. “These coalitions can only truly be effective in ending problems when we are united around what is creating them.”
According to Hammond, mass production, globalization of multi-national corporations and capitalism as a whole are “intertwined forces driving the destruction of the planet.” He said there is a tendency in the environmental and sustainability movement to focus on singular issues such as fracking and climate change. In reality, however, Hammond said these issues are just “symptoms” of the system.
“To create a solution, there must be an assessment of the root causes of these problems,” Hammond said. “By drawing out what connections occur between these forces, we can begin to strategize around closing and weakening those connections.”
To solve major issues, Hammond said the best tactic to go through is direct action, which she said consists of “cutting out the middle man” and “solving problems for yourself rather than petitioning the authorities or relying on external institutions.”
“Direct action can plan a public garden in an abandoned lot or defend it by paralyzing bulldozers,” Hammond said. “Whenever you show up to a demonstration, you risk arrest and physical attack by the police, but these demonstrations demonstrate to the world that when our letters are ignored, our arguments are mitigated [and] our legal appeals are denied, we will still refuse to accept the accelerated destruction of the earth.”
During a Saturday workshop entitled “Understanding and Overcoming the Corporatization of Higher Education,” students joined to discuss some of the core issues surrounding institutions of higher education. According to Ben Manski, director of the workshop and founder of the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, topics discussed included tuition, student loans, the value of college degrees, governance, campus sustainability, lack of resources and lack of community.
Manski said higher education in America is becoming corporatized and not privatized because there are “no private individuals that are gaining from this on a large scale.”
“The institutions are being maintained,” Manski said. “The community colleges, the public universities are still being funded and subsidized, but they are being taken over and transformed in how they operate to meet the corporate model.”
According to Manski, when colleges are given grants by corporations to do research, corporatization is also contributing to a system he said is the “internal marketization of the university,” in which certain majors and programming are prioritized because of the amount of money they can bring to the school.
“Being able to bring in extra money is looked on favorably by the chancellors and the regents. It skews the research priorities,” Manski said. “Our tuition begins to subsidize them, which drives up tuition costs. Social work, sociology education fields have been shutting down across the country.”
Manski said student organizing means “going out and actively engaging” every student, never allowing the student governance to become “some elite institution,” but rather fostering an organization of student unions and higher education unions in which students, faculty and staff come together on one basis.
“It’s all the same struggle …We are all in this together in terms of dealing with corporate power [and] corporatization, and that this is a democracy movement,” Manski said. “So what happens here cannot be in isolation of taking on the corporatization of the prison system or agriculture or the military, and that it’s actually in our interests as students and staff to unite with those movements.”