About 100 students from across the state gathered at Loyola Marymont University last weekend for the California Student Sustainability Coalition’s Spring Convergence. The theme for this assembly was “Strengthening Connections: Thriving Together,” and whether the interest was vegetarianism, permaculture or to protest fracking, attendees worked to find common ground.
Cal Poly Pomona was well represented with members of the Cal Poly Green Team, the Food Justice Club, regenerative study minors and students with an interest in sustainable issues in attendance, Daniel Yuhasz from the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies gave a presentation about sustainable food systems.
“We need to stop thinking in terms of linear processes,” said Yuhasz. “Each of these [sustainability issues] is a cycle and in order to have significant change, we need to change the entire system.”
The weekend started on Friday evening with keynote speeches from Brian Treanor, an LMU philosophy professor who talked about the concept of hermeneutics – applying philosophical texts to real-world situations – and avoiding evil while doing good. Edgar Perez, an elder of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, spoke about indigenous local history and current issues.
The CSSC Convergence packs a lot of activity into one busy weekend. After the keynotes, the students joined one of five breakout groups that were offered on topics ranging from building a statewide climate action network to vegetarianism. Afterwards, students were offered the option to stay with local hosts or sleep on the floor of a nearby church.
Saturday morning started bright and early with an orientation, which included discussion of community standards, and more breakout sessions. These workshops were facilitated by a range of experts from visiting professors to community leaders to students sharing their research topics and interests. For the first session there were nine workshops to choose from, and in the 10:45-11:45 time slot, there were 12 competing topics.
Andrew Pedroni and Erik Pinuelas are environmental engineering students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who started the campus polyponics club. Polyponics describes many ways of creating intentional ecosystems – sustainable ways of growing food and maintaining environments – chief among them aquaponics, a blend of hydroponic and aquaculture techniques which the students are using to grow fish and vegetables in a self-sustaining cycle. The two presented a variety of intentional ecosystems that are being developed in their experimental garden. “Resist-adapt-survive,” said Pinuelas with a smile. Change is inevitable; destruction is not.
CSSC organizers kept the price down so that as many students as possible could attend. Registration was only $25 and included vegan meals. Carpools and accommodations were free.
After lunch, which included an impromptu dance circle, participants could choose from two panel discussions on the topic of strengthening connections. The speakers represented diverse interests to demonstrate that even those with the most disparate interests can find common ground.
One included Conner Everts, a representative of the Environmental Water Caucus; Valerie Love, a No Tar Sands campaigner; and Somi Ali, whose No Tears Project provides assistance for human trafficking and domestic violence victims. The second panel featured Melanie Winter of Water LA; Dave Campbell, a representative of the United Steelworkers union; and Robert DePinto, whose startup, Northern Rift, sponsors contests to gather the best ideas and match them with people who have the skills and experience to develop them.
The panelists offered advice for forming coalitions and developing community ties. “What we think of as a health and safety issue,” said Campbell, “is frequently an environmental issue.”
DePinto was even more direct. “If there’s no blue [water] there’s no green [money].”
Everyone was pleased with Saturday afternoon’s sudden cloudburst, but the students quickly broke into identity caucuses to discuss social issues followed by another round of workshops. Dinner and a movie, “Cowspiracy,” about commercial meat production, and “The Future of Energy,” were the two cinematic offerings, and for those sturdy few who still had the stamina for it, an open mic talent show. Pedroni has been honing his ukulele talents for the occasion, proving that there is more to life than organic tilapia.
Sunday was more subdued and began with yoga and a group photo. Friendships built over the weekend, and in many cases over several convergences, were evident. A panel discussion on the topic of “Thriving Together, a Call to Action” featured young professionals working in fields of social and environmental justice. Another round of breakout groups and a spiral hug of solidarity completed the weekend’s activities.
Karn Ashimyan, a graphic design major at Santa Monica College and one of the event programmers, was effusive in summarizing his experience. “It took a great deal of collective effort putting this event together and I hope it inspired each of you to do something with people you connect with in the next several months. All I have to share from my experience is do your best and the rest will fall into place. You will surprise yourself.”