Home > Building Resilience > Talking Resilience with Ellen Choy: Justice isn’t Inevitable

Talking Resilience with Ellen Choy: Justice isn’t Inevitable

July 9, 2015

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Talking Resilience is a series of interviews with thought leaders and practitioners, discussing how to define, practice, and evaluate community resilience.

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Photo: Xiomara Castro

Ellen Choy is a member of Movement Generation’s staff collective, whose responsibilities includes communications, facilitating workshops and trainings, and working on the national Our Power Campaign with a focus on local connections in Richmond, CA. Ellen is an active member of HOBAK (Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans)–an anti-imperialist organization of young Koreans in diaspora in the Bay Area–as well as a community radio producer on KPFA, and a hiphop/soul/funk DJ.

Ken White is Post Carbon Institute’s Associate Director, a resident of Richmond, CA, and was a DJ back when vinyl was not retro-hip.

Ken: How do you define community resilience?

Ellen: What I really appreciate [about] Resilience.org is that there’s such a broad range of examples of resilience. [T]here’s such a cooptation of that word happening…it’s almost like “green jobs.” [W]e’re almost losing that in terms of the radical Left movement. I just found out that Oakland last year hired a Chief Resiliency Officer, something like that—the language is around earthquakes and droughts and natural disasters.

Ken: [As in,] “How do we build a seawall around Wall Street?”

Ellen: Right. Exactly. When I think about this the word “resilience” and how communities build resilience…a lot of our politics at [Movement Generation] is always asking, “For whom, and to what end?” The critical ingredient of that being a race-class analysis.

When I talk to young people, I don’t always say the word resilience, but yeah I ask them questions like: “What is your family doing to survive? How does your family save money? How do they get their basic needs met?”

Sometimes it’s just naturally flows into conversations about, “Oh I didn’t really think about it. but my Grandma—this is actually a true story for me—I learned how to save plastic bags because my Grandma would never throw them away.

There’s inherent things when you’re put in a state of needing to survive, whether you’re an immigrant family, or whether you’re living poor in Oakland. You have to make home wherever you are. You really understand what resilience is because you’re put into states of crisis already.

For us at Movement Generation [MG], this transition, this crisis, this ecological global crisis, has very deep impacts on human communities. That’s inevitable. We say “Transition is inevitable, but justice is not.”

What is that transition going to look like? It’s not going to be pretty, no matter what. What are the policies that will be implemented? What is governance going to look like? We’re all waiting to see what the government’s response to the drought is—other than declaring that it’s a drought.

Ken: And everybody except big agriculture has to cut back on their water use.

Ellen: Right. Let’s put it in the hands of the municipalities. That’s just not enough when Big Ag is using all this water, [along with] paper mills and golf courses. That family, those youth that I talk to who live in Oakland, who live in New York City, who live in Detroit, they’re really thinking about this ecological crisis…already hitting home [and] as it intensifies, what are we doing as communities so that we don’t have to rely on the government structures to do what they’re supposed to be doing already? Because they’re not.

For me and Movement Generation, resilience is about putting those decisions about things that impact our daily lives and our basic needs, back in the hands of the people, so that they can figure it out themselves.

It’s not just about this idea of bouncing back and surviving. It’s communities who have a relationship to the place they live in. To be able to build that relationship and to thrive in that. It’s really about relationships; it’s not about just individuals and the ecology that they live in. It’s the relationships we have to each other. Then to actually the places these young people are growing up in, and [in some cases] have known all their lives.

We’re in this serious crisis of disconnection, both to the people around us for many different reasons, but also to the ecology of our place. It’s really important for us to not see ecology separate from humans, from our cultures, from our labor. That ecology and the natural world is not just a metaphor for how we should live. It is how we need to live. That’s for us really key for building resilience.

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Ken: It’s interesting you mentioned relationship to place. I heard this from a Principal of a middle school in Visitacion Valley. It’s a three-year middle school. He was saying that of the kids who walk in the door the first day of school of sixth grade, two-thirds of them will not be there by the time they leave the last day of school [in eighth grade]. Two-thirds turnover of students in three years!

Ellen: Due to displacement?

Ken: Due to kids’ families having to move on due to family situations, looking for work, getting kicked out of their housing, displaced by gentrification, whatever the reason. I’m just wondering, how can we establish a sense of place when there’s so much mobility, particularly among people who are low income?

Ellen: I would start with a question of, “Why are people being displaced in the first place?” MG sees it as social inequities are a form of ecological disruption. Gentrification is a consequence of an economy that doesn’t work for us. An economy that’s destroying people and the planet at the same time.

Gentrification is a powerful example for us to talk about. Especially right now. Especially in the Bay Area. You’re talking about Vis Valley. I used to work with students in Vis Valley. We were just shutting down City Council in Oakland the other night for this parcel of land in east Oakland by the lake.

An economy that allows private developers and private interests to get land and displace people, or develops businesses in a way that increases rent, and doesn’t have systematized structures in place to keep affordable housing affordable, and to keep historical residents where they are, is also displacing people from their relationship to that community and that land. Bringing in people into that community who don’t know it, who don’t know how to care for it. It’s breaking that connection with those families where they have to resettle and find homes somewhere else.

If we’re talking about resilience, people have to be able to thrive where they are and build long-term relationships to it. For us to understand ecology, we have to live in places for a long time. We have to have respectful, reverential, reciprocal relationships to those places, to understand questions like, “Where does our water come from?”

I ask that question so much to young people. I didn’t know where my own water came from except out of the tap for so long.

If the ecological crisis intensifies, and we don’t have that understanding, then we’re not going to be able to be self-sufficient through this crisis. Displacing people has more than the consequence of people leaving their communities and leaving their families and their friends. Having to create new lives in the wake of instability is really hard, especially for people who don’t have the resources to do it, and find new jobs wherever they are. Also just that emotional connection you have to that home.

It’s not just those consequences, but it has a deep ecological consequence for our own future as humans. The same root cause that’s causing gentrification is destroying the planet and driving this extractive economy. It’s the same system that we have to actually overturn, and make sure people stay in their place while we’re doing that.

People are always asking, “How can I build resilience? How can we achieve ecological justice?”

For us it’s not just about maintaining your environment. It’s not just about ecology. Some of the best things you can do to restore ecology is to address race and class in your community. Those are all forms of the crisis.

Ken: I was talking to Doria Robinson last week, and she said something along the lines of, “Injustice is rooted in the destruction of resilience.” Which sort of implied that resilience is a pre-existing condition.

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Ellen: We all come from cultures that built deep resilience because we were able to exist in the place we lived for a long time. We call that cultural diversity. This evolved knowledge of place. In a way, we look back to our indigenous ancestral wisdom to see models of how people who got to live in one place for hundreds of years really knew how to take care of that place, that home, the best.

Resiliency is there. It’s in all of us. Again, if we’re disconnected from those lands like my family….

My grandmother went from living on a farm to being pushed out because of the traumas and impacts of the Korean War—moving over here to L.A. and working in a garment factory. Her labor, instead of actually being applied to take care of home and her community, ended up being taken out of that web of life, thrown into the chains of the market. [She had] to run that hamster wheel to work for a paycheck to feed her family. That’s disconnection to our own labor.

We also talk really deeply about restoring labor, so that we become tenders of our community again, and restoring our labor to meet our own basic needs. We’re looking at a model of organizing. We’re working with Urban Tilth [where Doria Robinson works] really deeply on that model. Resilience-based organizing.

For us that’s…the strategic form of this analysis. How do movements re-orient themselves right now in a pragmatic way? We’re looking at how have movements…see the bigger ecological crisis at hand.

I got my organizing chops coming up in the environmental justice movement, here in the States. A lot of it is about going to the City Council. Going to the Air Management Board. Knocking on their door and demanding that they implement so-and-so policy on Chevron, or so-and-so policy on a city environmental regulations. That[‘s] work we want to honor…

At the same time, we’ve got to stop knocking on the doors of people in power to ask for what we need. What we’re looking towards is models of people who have already have been taking their labor back into their own hands—meeting their own communities’ needs, [and] not just doing that in a way that feeds [only] their community. For example, what Urban Tilth is doing is really beautiful, also contesting for power.

We’re actually butting up against local, state, and federal regulations that make it impossible or “illegal” for people to do that. We think that, “If it’s the right thing to do, we have every right to do it.”

It’s just about doing it in a way that’s actually contesting for land. For example, it’s growing gardens in a way that looks to the longer arc of the landform.

It’s challenging water regulations, like in Detroit, when water was shut off because people weren’t paying their bills. We had people who were learning how to turn their water back on, and people…coming just to deliver water. We were part of helping to build up the first “People’s Water Station” in Detroit. We looked to a lot of historical examples, but to build resilience we’ve got to take it into our own hands and then do it in a way that broadcasts its transformative narrative, so that we’re all aligned, and seeing it happen everywhere.

Ken: Tell me a more about the framework you use for community resilience.

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Ellen: It’s nothing new. That’s important for us to say. It’s learning from historical models. It’s just more like seeing a landscape of exciting things that are happening in this framework, and helping to put some language to it, and honoring work that’s happening. Also really pushing some folks who are already doing it and supporting them.

We’ve been developing this model hand-in-hand with Urban Tilth and also with PODER in San Francisco, who are doing resilience-based organizing from similar but also different viewpoints.

Urban Tilth is working on how do we use land to grow food and meet our own community’s needs through food. Also how do we shift our relationship to understanding public land and access to public land in a city like Richmond, California. They’re using it as an organizing model. They’re actually building people power and bringing people into their gardens and their space, and young people, and offering jobs. Also in a framework of ecological restoration, which is really beautiful.

PODER is actually doing a lot of “Next Economy” cooperative modeling with their membership through mutual aid economy, and time banks. We’re looking at models like that, and it’s really also inspired by historical models like the Black Panthers, for example, who were coming up against state power and state violence against black communities. They were saying you’re not meeting our needs, so we’re going to do it for ourselves. They started programs like the free breakfast program; they had community medical clinics.

They did that, and they were very clear about the political intentions of it. We’re doing this because you’re not doing it. The government’s not [doing] this. We don’t care if you think this is illegal or not OK. We’re going to do it anyways. That is a really important ingredient of resilience-based organizing, “We’re going to do it no matter what. We’re going to make changes by exercising our rights. Just doing it because we think it’s the right thing to do.”

Ken: I was in Oakland a while back. I was walking up the street and I walked past a property that had chickens and gardening going on. The family that lived there looked like they were probably relatively recent arrivals from somewhere in Central America. Four houses up on the opposite side of the street, there [was another house with] chickens and a garden, and the people living there looked like they were 20-somethings from someplace else.

I was struck by that: they’ve [both] arrived at a very similar place, and yet they came from very different backgrounds. I wondered how they might be communicating with each other. Cross-fertilizing.

Are you seeing things like that in your work? You talked about a next economy, not a new economy. Honoring where people are coming from. Are you seeing people starting to converge from different places?

Ellen: That’s a good question. We work with organizations who have largely immigrant, recent immigrant members. I’m thinking about the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. A large part of their membership is elder, immigrant folks in Chinatown and also in Richmond. Also we have been doing a lot of work with AYPAL, who is an Asian youth organization in Oakland. Really important organization. They just made a pivot from education justice. They want to focus on ecological justice. I talk to all of their members, whether it’s the elders or young people, whose parents and grandparents already do have these things at home. It’s funny because…they just do it, because that is what they brought from their homelands to here. That’s just how they know how to live. Luckily, they live in a city where it’s “legal,” [and] they just do it. Sometimes you see goats walking around East Oakland!

[W]e’re seeing people who are making those connections, and seeing this new somewhat trendy movement around resilience and survival. Also urban gardening and farming. Talking to immigrant folks who have been doing this, I think that could happen more, though. Those immigrant families never thought, “Because I raise chickens, that’s part of my social justice movement or work.”

That’s a connection that can be made more, and to honor that those immigrant families have that wisdom. I think it’s important for us to call out the difference too.

These immigrant families have come from cultures that were rural, that had relationship to land in a very different way. They got displaced from their land through colonization, and through war, and other things, and are remaking home [here] in the ways that they know. That’s really important wisdom for us to understand, too. There’s a gift of having such a big immigrant population that comes from that ancestral wisdom, here in Oakland. I think that’s really important to name.

Those folks who are new neighbors, who are younger folks…not all of them are privileged. Not all of them are white. A lot of younger [people] who are relearning, like myself. I consider myself a part of that. For me, farming skipped a generation. My grandparents came from rural areas. My parents grew up first generation here. Really acclimated to an urban setting and to assimilation. Now I’m reclaiming that connection to land.

We have to also honor what those immigrant families and cultures like that have to bring to the table. Whatever we do, whether it’s remaking our home in Oakland and Berkeley, how do we challenge concepts around gentrification and displacement when we’re in those places building urban gardens and farms?

Again the question is, “For whom, and to what end?”

Urban farms—you have to ask the question around race and class and historic residency in Oakland if you’re going to build an urban farm in Oakland. How are you also challenging gentrification? How are you throwing down for families who are getting displaced because of the banks? How are you engaging in fights [against] private developers, and also engaging in fights that open up affordable housing and making sure property values don’t go up in a way that displaces people?

It has go hand-in-hand. That’s the important piece about moving from a place of individualism and hyperlocalism…to a larger systems thinking around that, with race and class at the forefront. That’s something I’ve been thinking about. There’s some groups we think that are really doing really amazing work around that. Like Phat Beets Produce for example, in Oakland. Do you know them?

Ken: I do. I’ve eaten their pickled turnips.

Ellen: Oh great, yeah. [In] the North Oakland area,…there was a real estate developer who was selling homes in the area where they were growing [on] their farms. On [the realtor’s] website and in her selling video, she used their farmers’ market and their gardens as a selling point for these gentrifiers.

So they took that video and put their own subtitles to it and called out her BS. I think that’s really, really important. They’re working hand-in-hand with a lot of residents in that area….

What’s exciting to me—thinking about Phat Beets, and also about organizations that are throwing down both on the edge of what seems to be trendy resiliency work building urban farms, trying to create access of healthy food for communities—[is] also seeing that it’s a different side to the same coin to engage in anti-gentrification, anti-displacement fights…

Ken: You mentioned other organizations you wanted to call out.

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Ellen: We’re planning a “Permaculture for the People” course. For us it’s in our Earth Skills program, which is teaching people how to restore their labor in accessible, culturally relevant ways. It’s a two-week certified permaculture course. This is the second time we’ll be doing it.

We have four community partner organizations who have land access, and are building projects on that land. One organization that we’re partnering with is Full Harvest Farm in East Oakland. Beautiful urban farm that’s not just doing food, but it’s also raising livestock. Also holding ceremonial space. They also are starting a program to train formerly incarcerated people to grow medical cannabis. We just a put out a video called, “Marijuana, the Gateway Plant to Urban Farming.”

That’s the story of Full Harvest.

We’re working with Urban Tilth. Also Acta Non Verba urban farm in East Oakland. It has a lot of youth programs and it’s in the middle of deep East Oakland, and PODER, which is in San Francisco. These four sites are going to host the permaculture design process. Half of the participants in the course are going to come from those sites. There’s going to be long-term implementation processes after the permaculture of course.

It’s permaculture…with a really deep social justice lens on top. We call it, “Liberation Permaculture.”  We do it in partnership with Occidental Arts and Ecology Center.  It’s a full permaculture design course, so it does meet all the requirements of that institutional permaculture framework. Every single piece of the course we bring race and class into the conversation, and movement-building too.

Ken: I want to go back to a couple of things you said. You touched on…making the move from individual resilience to community resilience….I think that’s something that a lot of people get stuck on. It’s like, “I’ve got solar panels up. I got the backyard garden in. I got some food supplies tucked away. It’s me and my family.”

Then there’s that question of how to make that move to community resilience.

Ellen: A framework like that, “I’m just going to protect my own family….” I think my parents have that orientation in some ways. It’s funny, they started to build rainbarrels at their house. They live in a suburb of L.A. I’m like, “That’s great. Maybe you can donate some rainbarrels to the folks in the community who can’t afford it.”

I think it’s also asking, “Can I do this because I’m in a place of privilege, because I have those resources?”

Even if it doesn’t come from that place, the truth is the ecological crisis is going to call on all of us to have deep relationships to each other. Sometimes that survivalism, that individualism, comes from a root of fear. A fear of the crisis but also a fear of, “I’ve got to protect my shit from these other people when it’s a moment of scarcity.”

That’s actually not the right framework to build resiliency for yourself. It’s actually why don’t you talk to your neighbors, something we don’t do anymore.

Organize your neighbors. Do a resource assessment of who knows what skills. We think that it’s…diversity and redundancy. Diversity in skills and ability and resources of people who can play multiple roles in your community.

Also, resiliency is built when one person is in need and doesn’t have something to offer, that there’s other people to step up and support. The health of the web of your community is just as important as you taking care of yourself, so you can support that web and be supported by it. It’s always not just the individual. We think the smallest element in an ecosystem is the relationship.

Ken: Let me be a little bit provocative here. We were looking at a Google Street View of somebody we were going to visit. It was easy to pick out their house, because there were all these perfectly manicured lawn. One after the other in Suburbia. Then there’s this one house that had this wild profusion of a garden going on. It had rainbarrels. [Every other] house had a perfectly manicured garden. I’m just imagining your parents maybe live in an environment like that?

How do you build community resilience in a place where everybody seems to buy into the conventional story, and you’re the one that sticks out because you [don’t]?

Ellen: Great question. To me, that’s an organizing question. To me, that’s what is the conversations look like that you’re having with your neighbors. Sometimes that conversation doesn’t start with, “Hey, that fake lawn is messed up! You’ve got to get rid of that.” Sometimes the conversations starts with, “How are your kids doing?”

Building deep relationships with people. Building trust with your neighbors. The conversation is…creating a path of least resistance. To me, it’s just a matter of organizing folks, and also understanding that organizing takes time and investment in relationships.

My Dad has thought about [this]…because I just learned how to install these rainbarrels, and this is a skill that not everybody knows. I might start doing some workshops with people to teach them how to do it. Things like that.

Another phrase we use is, “What the hands do, the heart learns.”

When you actually get people building something together, it’s a deep organizing experience. They start to love it. You laugh while you do it. It builds community. I would…say those conversations aren’t impossible, and they’re necessary.

Ken: You used the phrase very early on in our talk. [When] you talked about the future, you said, “It’s not going to be pretty.” Do you want to say more about that?

Ellen: Yeah, I think in the movement we’re pushed. When I was coming up as a younger person [in the movement], they’d always ask you, “What’s your vision for your community”?

Just to be real, we do that all the time, because we do think it’s important for us to have a deep understanding of what our vision is to move towards it. A lot of times our vision has to be beautiful, because that is our vision.

[But] we can’t romanticize what the future’s going to look like, and we don’t take enough time in social movements to grapple with how scary the future could be and to grieve about it.

At MG we do a retreat in two parts. One weekend where we talk about the state of the crisis and the possible future. We have participants spend a month apart, and then come back for a second weekend around solutions and strategies. That’s intentional for us to have them sit with that reality.  To understand that visceral experience, and also to process what it means. We don’t take enough time to understand that. I think that’s real, because if we’re going to address the crisis in a real way, we have to understand that it’s very serious. A lot of people won’t survive through the crisis. That’s also part of what we mean by transition is inevitable.

[It’s true] whether you believe that on an ecological, physical, material, or even spiritual way. A lot of spiritual leaders are saying we’re in a spiritual transition, and people who aren’t grounded in spirit or understand what that means, might not make it through. It’s scary to say. We don’t always lead with that. It’s a really serious forecast and reality to name for people. Especially people who are already fighting every day to survive. That’s why it’s so important for us to step up as social movements [with] connections to poor, working class communities.

For us to fight and also be for those communities to be at the forefront of leading the solutions right now. Because justice is not inevitable like the transition is. Making sure that whatever gets implemented it’s not just protecting a few wealthy privileged folks, but it’s flipping how the whole system works for everybody so that more people can survive and thrive and it’s equitable.

Ken: Can you outline for me what you think are the dimensions of the crisis or the drivers of the crisis. What’s the cause, or how do you see it manifesting?

Ellen: The root cause of this crisis is this extractive economy. It’s the extraction of our own labor and our resources from having regenerative relationships to the web of life, and how that economy takes us out of that web of life, and puts us into a destructive positive feedback loop that does not put people and planet first. It puts profit first. We call that capitalism. People call that other things.

The extractive economy is definitely the root cause of that. It’s all the governance structures that uphold that economy. It’s the top-down leadership. It’s the governance structure that doesn’t allow us to be a part of the decisions that impact our own lives. It’s a system that’s based on a racist history and a racist policy. That’s driven by white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.

Those are what we see as the root cause. It’s just starting from the wrong place. This economy starts with, “How am I going to make a buck off of it?”

For us, the starting place should be, “How are we building a sustainable future? How are we putting people and planet first and taking care of people?”

If we truly ask that question first, then the economies, depending on where you live, would look different. It wouldn’t be just one global capitalist economy. First of all, it would look different in different places. Second of all, it would look a lot more like direct democracy, and it would look like us governing ourselves. Everybody having roles in their community—not jobs [just] to get a paycheck.

Ken: What does that crisis look like?

Ellen: The global crisis? The ecologic crisis? It has many faces. It definitely has the face of climate catastrophe. The face of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, to Hurricane Sandy, to a drought in California.

We talked about shocks, slides, and shifts at Movement Generation. There are shocks that are acute moments of disruption like Typhoon Haiyan. There’s also slides. The drought is in some ways a slide. It’s a crisis that extends over a period of time. We also see gentrification as a slide. So how are we harnessing the shocks and slides to create the shifts we want?

I think the crisis also looks in the form of all these social inequities that we’re seeing. The war on Black people in the United States is a form of an ecological crisis. Not in a metaphorical way. Though the only way that this economy can maintain order and continue the profit of a few is to repress and oppress the black folks and communities of color and poor folks. The way that’s happening is hyper-unnecessary policing of Black communities, and a conditioning of a police force through a racist, classist lens.

We’ve engaged in #BlackLivesMatter, as a movement, as an organization, because we see that as a key face-front of the ecological crisis…..The crisis has many faces.

Ken: You said you don’t lead with that: talking about the crisis. [Yet,], it seems an important part, an integral part of your work. I was talking earlier today with someone about how we might engage the rising generation in learning experiences and learning opportunities around systems thinking, around building community resilience, sort of the common analysis that you’ve been doing. Traditionally, [education and training] programs have focused on, “You do that, and then in two years or four years you get a degree or a certificate and that leads you to get a job, and that leads you to opportunity, [etc.]”

The positive reward on the other side of that hard work has been something related to a growing economy and the expectation of a job, more money, things like that. How do you have a different conversation, where the reward is not necessarily those type of things?

Ellen: Just a clarification: I think we do start with the crisis, but we don’t always start with the dystopic, “It’s going to suck for everybody.” Just as a point of entry into the conversation.

That’s a really interesting question, because working with young people, we talk about the framework of “Just Transition.” I’ve started to really ask and explore deeply, what does a Just Transition mean for young people who are coming out of high school and want to make career choices. I had this conversation with my partner who just got hired as a college counselor at a youth center. He’s like, “How do I promote college, when I don’t think that’s always the best option, knowing that we’re going to need people with hard skills?”

That is the hard question. What’s wrong about our education system and just the system in general, is that it uplifts the type of education and skills that just feed into the economy. I do think that there need to be more career pathways. In the transition, we need people to be able to get paid for those hard skills, and we need job creation in those hard skills.

The Just Transition is a very labor-intensive process. To re-tool our communities to—for example—going from a really excessive waste economy to a zero waste economy. There’s been a study done that shows more jobs will be created to do that. It’s not driven by profit, so it’s not a system that’s getting uplifted right now. I think what’s important is to name that.

Jobs need to be created. [While] we’re still working for that dollar, the vision is that we won’t need to worry about that paycheck, that [we’ll soon be] taking care of ourselves without money exchanged. [But] while we’re in this current system, we need…to create pathways for young people to show that job creation in restorative careers like zero waste, growing food, carpentry, building, and even community organizing. Those kind of careers that are ecologically regenerative and restorative. We need to have the access to them, and we need to show that the Just Transition is about job creation too. Also have a really good, nuanced analysis around labor.

I think the dichotomy between jobs and environment has been created because there hasn’t been enough acknowledgment from the environmental perspective that there are some real jobs at risk. It’s pathways for young people coming out of high school building new careers, but it’s also people who are already in those industries re-imagin[ing] their roles, and use the skills they built in those industries…to work to build resilient communities.

Ken: It sounds like you’re saying making gradual transition from jobs to roles. Is the training is leading to short-term jobs or medium-term jobs or long-term jobs, that also prepares people for roles? Is that fair to say?

Ellen: Absolutely.

Ken: One of the questions we like to ask people is: “Other than the obvious, which would be scads and scads of money from the existing economy, what form of support would most help with the work on building communities resilience?”

Ellen: We acknowledge that…we exist in the system, so we’re in a Just Transition, you know? This framework when implemented, actually does challenge some key parts of our current economy. It puts the government on blast. It puts corporate power on blast. It’s not an easy one to put out there.

I think support for Movement Generation’s analysis on resilience needs support for grassroots organizations who are doing the work. To uplift them as models, and to direct funding to the places it needs to go. To politicize and to reorient funders to see that the grassroots community organizing in a grassroots sense is the solution. It’s broadcasting this transformative narrative of resilience-based organizing. Not repressing the stories of that really radical change that’s happening in some communities. And supporting folks on the ground.

When we were involved in “Occupy the Farm,” so many people said, “What can I do to support ‘Occupy the Farm?’” We started saying, “Take land where you are.”

It’s not just about us. We can’t be the only ones that are doing it. It’s getting that narrative out there in a bigger way. It’s also about getting the funding there too.

Ken: I hand you a magic wand, and that magic want enables you to make one social/political/cultural shift. You wave your hand and what happens?

Ellen: That’s a big question. [Pauses.]

We can erase all the root causes of this crisis. Could we do that? Could we destroy the current governance structures, and put governance in the hands of the people? Can we get rid of white supremacy and patriarchy in the world? That would be a pretty awesome magic wand if it could do those things!

Ken: We’ve got a turbo one in the back! What are the things that you found was helpful, whether it’s books, or videos or other resources?

Ellen: The brilliance of my co-workers. I’m the youngest one here, and I learn so much just by going through our own training. When you asked that question I pulled up a couple of things from MG….We just wrote this article last year on resilience-based organizing. Those are two pieces that I think ground us around resilience.

Ken: Who else should we talk to? Who else is out there?

Ellen: Talk to Doria [Robinson]. She’s amazing. I would encourage you to talk to Full Harvest Farm in East Oakland. I think they’re really important.

Through the Climate Justice Alliance and the Our Power Campaign, we’re trying to build this model in a national sense though these other communities what we call Our Power communities, like the Black Mesa Water Coalition.

Ken: Detroit.

Ellen: Detroit, I think, is really important. Also Jackson, Mississippi. They’re a new Our Power community. They’re all really good models,…on the forefront of different [facets] of this.

Ken: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you want to talk about that we didn’t talk about yet?

Ellen: I don’t think so.

Ken: Thank you.