The hours of darkness rode in swiftly on December’s back. Having arrived in Seattle in the zenith of summer, I am still adjusting to this climate several latitudes north of my New England homeland. I am lucky when my class or work agenda takes me outside and I can see at least the sky, if not the sun.
Sometimes, the skyscape uncannily reflects our inner landscape. November 8th brought its own darkness to the future for many of us. Suddenly, the sun seemed so much farther from reach. The shift in political climate rocked the emotions of our cohort, a group of women and men of many colors, homelands and passions, who all care deeply about the health of people and of our planet. Some of us were shocked, some of us not as much. All of us are concerned about the future of our field.
We have just entered the academic map at the cutting edge, where Urban Environmental Education resides, and are drawing the edges as we push them. We seek to be a new kind of pioneer, however: a kind that draws on old and honored knowledge which has ridden the undercurrents for centuries, and on fresh new knowledge sparked from the minds of our future leaders. We strive to set the table with welcoming places for all communities to speak their mind. We envision a society built on systems that support and regenerate life of all kinds where all humans flourish because our ecosystems do.
And here we are. Front and center in a time when the progress to halt climate change is being threatened and the humanity of millions of people are disregarded – things that can only serve to divide us.
However, as a cohort, we are more determined than ever to continue our mission. We come to this work for many reasons, but all of us believe that urban communities deserve access to culturally relevant, educational experiences that connect them to their environment, whether that is their neighborhood, city, or region. We seek to empower groups of people who have traditionally been left out of the mainstream environmental movement, yet who have often been the most impacted by the reasons it exists. We know that knowledge is power, and that cities are diverse–and that makes them as beautiful as any rainforest, savannah, or coral reef.
While Bill Nye the Science Guy has been a champion for science education, we cannot rely on him alone to save our nation’s young people from the blinders that limit their exploration of their world. It may be an increasingly uphill battle, but we as pioneers will continue to strengthen ourselves and our cause. While our cohort is small, it is mighty in our commitment to each other. As the dark envelops, we draw closer. Through dialogue, self-care, and calls to action, we keep each other healthy and motivated to reach out across the divides.
The morning after the election, the sky was shrouded in gray and rain and as I commuted to work I was trying to calm my emotions. The mood in the office was similarly oppressive. At lunchtime, I went to an impromptu gathering at City Hall where the mayor, city officials, and progressive leaders confirmed their commitment to supporting the rights of all our communities and to sustainability. I saw leaders and city residents come together in solidarity. It strengthened me. And by the time we stepped outside again, the clouds had given way to a dazzling, brilliant sun.
Annalise Ritter is an alumni of the Urban Environmental Education program.