Just to get it out of the way:
I’ve never been a very engaged person. In some ways, I’m clinically disengaged, and it dramatically affects my college experience. I don’t pick how or when or to what extent I engage with people and things. So I knew that environmental engagement would be hard for me. But that probably means it was even more important that I took the class.
In preparation for our February reconnaissance trip, we did readings relating to the different organizations we were about to visit and their current projects. The readings were good on their own but were instrumental when we actually sat down to hear from the different organizations. They all gave us explanations of what their respective groups did, and while much of it was the same information as the online research we had done, there were small differences in phrasing, and everything seemed more casual. Somehow the act of stepping into their private space of ideology added a new element, some type of agreement between us as acquaintances rather than just students observing an organization from afar. When the speakers gave their talks, they threw sideways glances at us whenever they mentioned something that they felt was especially ridiculous. I remember Barb Iverson from The Wooden Shoe Tulip farm giving exaggerated facial expressions whenever she mentioned some ridiculous regulation imposed by the FDA concerning CBD. The speaker’s personalities shown through in both their mannerisms and ideals; all of them were very different people, but they also stood very firm in their beliefs. While this loyalty to one’s beliefs is admirable, it was also the supposed problem that we set out to remedy.
Environmental engagement sets out to solve the problem of lack of engagement across ideological boundaries, even minor ones. What do you do with incredibly different people whose main common trait is that they hold their beliefs very tightly? This puzzle is more important than ever, as we exist in a divided nation. You can even witness a miniature version of the division here in Oregon, as the city dwellers of Portland and the more rural people of Southern Oregon clash over very different political beliefs.
I should mention that at this point in the course, I was mainly just trying to listen. Sometimes I’m a bad listener.
After meeting all our partnership organizations, we paused to talk about effective action and effective altruism. Vox’s Future Perfect describes effective altruism as “vague, but usefully vague.” I personally feel like the term falls into the category of “big words” and is just another facet of equity. But obviously, for some, the idea of equity is hard to grasp, so maybe a different word helps.
At this point, my groupmates and I were officially assigned a partnership with the Oregon Farm Bureau, represented by the previously mentioned Barb Iverson, who also owns and operates Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm and Red Barn Hemp. One of our first posts about the OFB looked at their actions in terms of effective action and altruism. If nothing else, the OFB is very active and effective, but I’m at odds with their altruism. The OFB fights diligently for family farmers in rural Oregon, but what would benefit them as business people would be harmful to the rock that these farms lean on: migrant farmworkers. In this Pandemic, these workers have been acknowledged as essential, despite suffering poor or abusive conditions and existing under the constant threat of deportation. The OFB does not include farmworkers among their members, and opposes paid family or sick leave for their workers, as well as raising the minimum wage. This sentiment is not as evident in our original post, because sometimes engagement requires holding back your judgments to allow for conversation.
As the class moved to talk about polarization itself, we took a look at resources such as The Hidden Tribes of America, which reflected our likely differing opinions between our partner organization and us. Like I mentioned before, so many of our interactions are set in front of the background radiation of division. Our post following up our study of the “Divided Who” is more reflective of our group’s general disagreement with the OFB, which I feel was a more valuable learning experience than if our opinions matched up. Regardless of our differing views, we were going to connect, which is the most productive kind of engagement there is.
I wanted to pair our look at the Post-Truth World and dialogic models of communication since both of those topics combined brought something into focus as I had never seen it before; everyone thinks they are right, and that their truth is the truth. In reality, that is just not possible; I know from personal experience that what you might think is normal is actually so not normal that you can get a diagnosis for it.
I hit a wall here. I already mentioned that I am not engaged, and I’m not a good listener. I also have a hard time expressing myself or regulating my emotions. But this time I was able to step outside of myself to admit that on either side of an argument each side knows something the other does not. Maybe the Oregon Farm Bureau doesn’t know that the real enemy is predatory loans and an unfair market. But I know that they know much more than me in other regards. I mean, all I do is grow lettuce in fish tanks.
Scattered to the Santa Ana Winds
Now that I find myself straddling a wall between actual engagement and my habit of going completely silent in any conflict, everything has gone to hell. The Pandemic is asking us to both disengage and engage with each other like never before. I write this from back home in Los Angeles, hundreds of miles away from any Oregon farm. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the moon.
I want to close out my reflection with an email our group received from Barb Iverson, asking her if we could continue to communicate despite everything keeping us apart:
Sorry about the delay. We have trying to sell potted tulips and make enough to pay our bills. The coronavirus has been devastating to our farm and couldn’t have come at a worse time. We have also had to let employees go which is heart wrenching. That being said, being a highly diversified farm will at least let us continue for another year.
Now, to your project. How can I help.