The instructions were simple: talk about yourself for one minute. After frantically scrawling notes during a short brainstorming period, we then cleared the a stage at the head of the room. One by one we shuffled to the open space and turned to face the blinking eyes of our YEA! MN peers. Nicole started the timer and we launched into our monologues. Although many of us (not me) looked perfectly at home in front of the crowd of 22, I’m sure that we were all taken aback by the assignment. When was the last time you were asked to talk about yourself without an agenda? I sure don’t count the glossy version of me you’ll find in my college applications. People took the instructions in all different directions. I learned about career aspirations, history behind first names, and the evolution of vegetarianism (pigs are cute! to the meat industry is a major polluter!) There was nervous fidgeting, confident eye contact and of course, several rounds of affirmative snapping.
Sharing and receiving stories is going to be crucial to our year. The slightly frightening opening activity was a practice is vulnerable story telling, which is imperative for mobilizing people. Telling stories in addition to objective analysis helps to communicate emotional aspects of identity that are often lost in environmental activism. Including personal stories shines humor and empathy into a conversation that seems bleak (like the future of the planet.) But most importantly, stories preserve the integrity of the movement by promoting self awareness. During our time together, Nicole introduced us to the principle of relational organizing, which is going to be the cornerstone to our work. In my limited understanding of what it means, I think that it obligates the YEA! MN group to have a deep self awareness of our stories as individuals, and also as a collective. YEA!MN lacks significant racial and socioeconomic diversity. This is extremely important to note when thinking about stories. Our stories, which are written by all kinds of privilege, represent a tiny sliver of the experience of our broader community. How do our backgrounds inform our understanding of our environment? To start to hack away at this question, we practiced asking each other elicitive questions. Elicitive questions provoke in depth, personal responses. They are especially useful for talking with people with whom you disagree, or don’t share the same experience. We are building community capacity by workshopping skills that will help us to be perceptive to the needs of our local community.
Monday, September 13th was my second YEA! MN meeting. As we closed with a check-in, I reiterated that I wish I could preserve this feeling of purpose to carry it with me through the rest of the week. Taking time out of our hectic schedules is a sacrifice, but so far I’ve left the meetings feeling more composed than I did when I walked in the door. I never knew activism could be so plush! I wish that every young person could belong to an intentional community like this where your story is not only interesting, but a vital part of the work.