February, 2008 Archive

An email to Eban

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Eban

Here’s a sample of the kind of responses we’ve received
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To the organizers of Focus the Nation:

I just wanted to congratulate all of you who worked so long and hard to put together the Focus the Nation event. I must say that in the 25 years I have been at Cal Poly, this was the most impressive, relevant, important, professional, and well coordinated student run event I have ever seen on our campus. You are all to be congratulated for an amazing job – the energy and passion you brought to the event was truly inspiring. Thank you for advancing the message of sustainability to our faculty, staff, students, community, and political leaders. And thank you for the opportunity to participate and share some of the things going on within Facility Services. Kudos!

Thanks,
Dennis
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I want, personally, to pass on some of this gratitude to you.

The first time I encountered you was in the elevator in the motel across the street from ASU November 2006. It was late at night and you were pulling your suitcase. No words were exchanged but I got a sense of being in presence of a furious intensity that made me both curious and uncomfortable. When I heard you introduce Focus the Nation at the AASHE conference the next day, I got it. That suitcase was carrying a time bomb of an idea. Of all the enlightening and inspiring material shared at the conference and the energy it stirred up, yours was the only outlet, the only immediate action item. At the organizing meeting you called afterwards, I had mixed feelings. I wished that you had offered more to rely on: financial backing, a staff, a sense of irresistible power like David Orr or Ray Anderson’s, but instead it was only a perfect name, a practical idea, and an agonized personal urgency that said you were going to give all you had to make it happen. The rest was up to us. From the small-scale experiences I’ve had of starting things up and getting people going, I recognized that this was what it takes.

Over the intervening months, my confidence in the progress of the project lagged, but my sense that it was the right thing to do didnt falter. After returning from Las Vegas with our Cal Poly delegation, the sense that it was up to us was even stronger. Regardless of what happened nationally, we were going to make it happen at Cal Poly. We presented the idea first to a group of faculty who said yes, came to a few meetings and drifted off. At the same time Chad and Matt, the two students who were in Las Vegas, decided to take more initiative. They invited their friends and took over calling and planning meetings. They got it: this is about action, not deliberation. The claim that to me seemed a bit overblown–“the largest teach-in in American history”–became their warcry. They were going to add a job fair, poetry slam, rockband, carshow, art exhibit, expensive dinner for decision makers, zero waste organic lunch, landscape installation. I offered some practical suggestions of who, how, and where, got early necessary arrangements out of the way, and urged the necessity for organizing strategy and program design. As a last resort we opted for sticking as close as possible to the exact models that you had devised. As we followed them in succeeding months, my appreciation steadily grew. At a certain point, I realized that you had this figured out to a T from day one.

In late Fall 2007, the national organization started looking more substantial, despite the absence of any serious media presence. But the idea that we could get a significant number of political figures involved seemed a pipe dream, let alone have any influence over the presidential primaries. Though our congresswoman Lois Capps was amenable, and so were local officials, where were the big endorsements? By the time they started flooding in, after the New Year, we neither expected nor needed them. But the unexpected flurry of national support toward the end must have been incubating for a long time, and I suspected that behind the scenes you’d been making it happen all along. That surge elevated the last stages of organizing to a level of joyful confidence that I never dreamed of when we first started.

Where this will go next remains to be seen. But I now have an easy confidence that you will lead it there.