Conversations about peace, justice and sustainability

From July 11-14, 2013, members of the WNPJ Outreach team hosted community dialogues that asked the simple question: what are we doing well in our pursuit of creating communities of peace, justice and sustainability? We put out a call to WNPJ members, and what resulted were three events, two in Milwaukee and one in Verona with over 40 people participating.

In this blog entry, we will summarize what happened at each event to the best of our memory and from our notes,* linking to projects and ideas that participants mentioned. Our hope is that these connections will serve as a basis for more conversations around the state and more momentum for those who are working for peace, justice and sustainability. For more information on how to organize an event in your community, you can contact WNPJ at 608-250-9240 or diane@wnpj.org.

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013, Urban Ecology Center, Milwaukee, WI

Co-sponsors: Interfaith Earth Network, the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin

We want to extend many thanks to Huda Alkaff, who enthusiastically responded to our call and organized the first event. This was a meeting of the Faith and Ecology Interest Group of the Interfaith Earth Network and roughly 25 people in addition to the three facilitators (Liz Bruno, Karma Chávez, and Dena Eakles) attended. This was a lively meeting and terrific amounts of information were shared. We also attempted to honor Milwaukee’s Power Down week by convening without lights in order to reduce our energy consumption. At the end of the meeting, which was held during the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan, participants were invited to break the fast with water and dates that Huda generously provided.

Among the exciting projects that participants discussed, included:

  • One woman mentioned a project called matireal, where the creator wanted to find solutions to help underprivileged Milwaukee neighborhoods and remove old tires. After soliciting input from neighbors in the areas, the tires are put to several uses, including the creation of a 'creational’ trail, connecting the Beerline Trail at Keefe & Richards to an extension of the Oak Leaf Trail beyond Hampton Avenue and addressing food desert issues.
  • We also learned about the Unitarian Universalist Divestment Movement, which is part of 350.org’s push to get organizations to divest from holdings in fossil fuels. Through a lot of grassroots effort, the Board of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee is the first in the nation to vote to divest.
  • Another exciting happening in Milwaukee are the Interfaith Earth Network and Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee Eco-Spirit tours, which take people around the city to show spots of urban decay and urban renewal. The tours reveal how even the smallest local initiatives can have a huge impact.
  • A lot of time was spent talking about the fantastic urban gardening that various groups in Milwaukee are doing. One of those is Alice’s Garden, a 2-acre urban garden, and another is the gardens at All People’s Lutheran Church.
  • Many local schools in Milwaukee are also doing fantastic sustainability and garden projects. Greendale Public High School has a 12,000 square foot garden. Riverside University High School is doing a number of currently uncoordinated projects with regard to service learning, wellness and gardening. One exciting project there is through the work of a retired secretary who opened an after school “snack shack,” which provides cheap and healthy snack options for students. New Horizons, a charter school in Shorewood High School requires students to be out in nature as a part of the curriculum. One participant also told us about the fantastic time he had while studying for a semester at Conserve School in northern Wisconsin, which is a school focusing on environmental stewardship. The Islamic Environmental Group also works closely with students on many environmental projects.
  • Many people expressed gratitude for having a space to share information and ideas, and someone mentioned that Marquette University’s Project for Community Transformation also hosts conversations to talk about important community issues.

Many people also spoke to the importance of connecting with nature, the outdoors, and each other to stay well and be available for community work. Thanks to everyone who participated!

 

Saturday, July 13, 2013, The Farley Center, Verona, WI

Co-sponsors: The Farley Center

Many thanks to Susan Corrado of the Farley Center who helped to organize and host a wonderful discussion at the Farley Center. Around a dozen people attended this discussion overlooking the Center’s beautiful country landscape. Susan also made delicious yogurt and granola parfaits with fresh berries picked from the farm. Liz, Dena, and Karma facilitated this conversation. While our first conversation generated a lot of connections among disparate people who are working on specific projects, this discussion also had an information-sharing component, but it centered more on the ethics, struggles, and approach to be taken in doing community work.

Some of the insights gathered, included:

  • One participant talked of the need for intentionality in doing the connecting work within our communities, and another mentioned that while Americans are often figured as selfish, that most of us exist using an ethics of accommodation in our relations with others. This kind of ethics helps us to relate and connect as communities.
  • One participant mentioned the significance of thinking and working through our internal struggles, mentioning debates over tactics and approaches being taken with regard to the fight to protect the Penokee Hills from mining.
  • The importance of silence also emerged as a key theme—finding spaces to sit in the awkwardness and learn from it can be an important part of community growth.
  • Groundwork, Madison’s white anti-racist collective, has taught some of the participants the necessity of healing and self-care for being able to sustain community work.
  • Realizing the power of people was also a theme that emerged, as one participant mentioned the learning that has happened with regard to emergency meetings in order to challenge attempts to limit access to the Wisconsin State Capitol, a move targeting the Solidarity Singers, who sing in the rotunda every weekday lunch hour. People are starting to realize that the people are the government, not that the government is some abstract entity.
  • Exciting projects with regard to housing have also been happening, as one participant discussed the development of co-op housing for homeless people of color, in conjunction with Operation Welcome Home and Take Back the Land. The participant also mentioned the development of a community garden in Brittingham Park for low-income people, particularly for Hmong elders, in Madison.
  • In thinking about building communities of justice, one participant discussed the need for people to be able to design their own lives. She mentioned how inspired she was by a recent trip to Peru to work with communities on art and permaculture through the Edgewood Sustainability Leadership Program.

Participants discussed many other ideas, including whether they believed in the possibility of seeing communities of peace, justice

and sustainability in their lifetimes. Most agreed it was a great space to feel safe sharing and learning with others.

 

Sunday, July 14, 2013, The Islamic Society of Milwaukee

Co-sponsors: Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin

Huda Alkaff graciously organized a second Milwaukee event, this one held at The Islamic Society of Milwaukee, which is also home to the Salam School, the 2nd largest Islamic school in the United States and one of the fastest growing. After the noon prayer, which Huda invited facilitators Dena and Karma to observe, a small group of about seven people from the Muslim community joined the facilitators for a conversation about what is going on in Milwaukee’s Muslim community. This conversation had its own character, as did the other listening sessions, as participants dialogued about an array of issues. Education in many forms was a key and persistent theme.

Some of the participants were teachers at Salam School, and they mentioned the work they are doing to provide for students with disabilities, even as they have limited resources. Others mentioned the search for community garden space that the school can use for students, as it has often done in the past. This would allow for community members of all ages to interact together, strengthening their bonds and helping to teach people of all ages about good food and shared activities.

We also learned of the community contributions of the Muslim Women’s Coalition, which engages in educational outreach, dispelling myths and educating the public about Islam through interfaith dialogue and informational programs.

One participant also discussed the value of small contributions to the environment that can go a long way in educating others, like bringing reusable plates and silverware to events. Another discussed the necessity of learning about environmental issues, as the environment is integral to our pursuit of justice and peace.

As with our previous outreach events there was a warmth and happiness to share in our commonality and to recognize each other’s efforts towards peace and justice. With all three events there were essential themes: for our relationship to the earth to flourish, for the production of good food and clean water for all, and improved communication among us. We look forward to continuing to learn from our new contacts and to support their efforts as well as to continue to reach out throughout the state finding organizations and communities that are successfully working towards peace, justice and sustainability.

* If we have something incorrect, or you’d like to supply more detail, please contact WNPJ at diane@wnpj.org.