Sebastian Church
Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference Reflection
October 23, 2012

Rally at the Capital. Photo by: IDEAS UCF

Returning to the Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference (SSREC) was as thrilling, inspiring and meaningful experience as the first (which, in all honesty, propelled me into environmental organizing to begin with)… and then some! Many unique aspects of this year’s SSREC reverberated into a realization for this one young organizer that catalyzed the divide between the unattainable then and the ephemeral now: THE POOR, THE MARGINALIZED, AND ALL THOSE REPRESENTED AS “THE OTHER”* ARE AFFECTED DISPROPORTIONATELY BY ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION.

This intrinsic connection between social justice and environmental justice is so simply perceived, and yet so simply bereaved of cohesion by our personal cultures, by society at large, and by the Western paradigm of fragmentation. When we immerse ourselves in the working mainstream of advancement and opportunity – in universities, those factories of complacency, and in offices, those mills crushing deviance and deliverance from industrialism – we’re alienated from the Other*, oblivious of the disproportion inherent in the system. Harken those golden letters written in Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal”: white, black, or colored, they’ve got us all running now.

Think Tank session

Recognize we are desensitized to the Other* by the sensationalism of socially and environmentally insensible stories, tales exposing the depth and rootedness of the social-environmental justice connection. We all know these stories. We all know Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Instability are the narrators of these stories. These stories cannot be digested by the damned and shallow trickle of mainstream thought so they are regurgitated as tall, unconnected tales. Recognize we need to thresh the chaff from the seed.


That the conference was hosted by Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) – a historically black university – tilled the soil for these seeds of environmental and social enlightenment to sprout with cornucopic diversity. That the interactions, conversations concerning environmental issues, spontaneously held with students on the campus – students not attending SSREC – were so exceedingly positive, hope flowed like a dam blown away. That the action at the end of the conference culminated in the possibility of breaking the silence on climate change on a national stage, we know the walls between our brothers and sisters are crumbling from the compassion of our humanity.

So from this moment, I implore all the members of IDEAS to awaken to a new facet of this movement: the inherent connection between social justice and environmental justice. As you pass people advocating for the voiceless, the nameless, the Other*, salute them, support them, and elevate them. Evince camaraderie and solidarity with them, for their cause is also environmental stewardship, just as our cause is theirs. Let’s consolidate our efforts on all bottom lines, environmental, social, and economic. Let’s harmonize our voices until the whispers of a new human consciousness become the echoes of the environment and social existence we aim to restore. Let’s let the Other* know: we see the disproportion.

            “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told
you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a
spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the
Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to
overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death
and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.” (Ralph Ellison, “Battle Royal”)

*If interested in philosophy/critical theory, research Emmanuel Levinas, Edward Said, and Michel Foucault, cross-referenced with “the Other”.