Dave Harris has spent his school year organizing for Earth Week 2000 at University of California, Berkeley, where he is a student.
Monday, 10 Apr 2000
It’s 5:45 in the morning. I’m possibly the only person awake in my eight-story dormitory. My roommate is definitely asleep. I’ve been up all night piecing together the final text of the program guide to Earth Week 2000, University of California, Berkeley. All 2,500 words will be sent to the graphic designer in a few hours to be laid out and printed by tomorrow evening. Eight thousand copies, 100 events in each 16-page booklet. If the hard labor I’ve put in over the last 10 months of my life can affect 8,000 people, it will all be worth it …
Or will it? I’ve been thinking about my approach to activism quite a bit lately, and recently I’ve come to see Earth Day organizing as the shotgun approach to making a difference in the world. Plan the biggest possible event you can dream up, get some celebrities, drop some names, drag in a few thousand people, show them a good time, freak out some politicians and businesspeople, and then … back to life as it was.
I’m willing to bet that more than a few of the people reading this have also spent a good chunk of time dedicated to creating an event not all that different from mine. I don’t mean to discourage anyone, but I do mean to get you to start asking some questions. Is it more important to change a lot of people in a little way, or to change a few people in a very big way? Will real change in the world ever take place if it takes a Leonardo DiCaprio to get people to listen?
Before I get into this any further, I should probably tell you a bit about myself. I’m a freshman at the UC Berkeley, and I used to think I was majoring in environmental economics and policy. I started an environmental club at my high school two years ago and I’ve been an activist since. I grew up in the boorish and monotonous suburbia known as the Silicon Valley (the land of the shallow and wealthy) and breezed my way through public education and somehow landed myself in a dorm room smaller than my dad’s cubicle, where I sit and type this morning.
I’m 19 years old and I’m afraid that I’m starting to look even older. The half dozen all-nighters I’ve pulled in the last three weeks are starting to take their toll on my demeanor. Being a full-time activist and a full-time student at the same time is difficult, but working double-time on both can be downright exhausting.
Because I need to contact working people in outside organizations, I spend every hour of my weekdays (when I’m not in a class) in my room making and receiving phone calls, and constantly playing catch-up. It seems like at the end of the day I’ve never finished everything I wanted to and I’ve got another dozen things to add to the list …
So. On with the show. Brought to you from the front lines of college activism, here at the place where it all started back in the sixties, Dave Harris, live at ground zero, contemplating the very nature of activism at the same time as he makes the final preparations for “A Weeklong Celebration of Environmental Education, Action, and Expression.”
As the week rolls by, you can look forward to more late-night pontifications, frustrations, tales of desperation, and reflections on what’s coming up next week: a former chief economic advisor to President Clinton, an environmental minister from San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, a Texas cattle rancher turned vegan activist, a U.S. Senate candidate, a world renowned tree-sitter, a poet laureate emeritus of the United States, a professional ruckus-maker, an environmental rapper, a handful of CEOs, dozens of PhDs, musicians, authors, students, artists, and activists. I’m also planning to confront the topics of race and class within the environmental movement, how issues of social justice are becoming increasingly united with environmental struggles, and where the environmental movement needs to go if it wants another generation to hop onto the bandwagon. If I’m in the mood, I may even share some of my art that I’ve been working on over the past semester, for your viewing pleasure.
The sun is up and I have to be in class in less than an hour. Wish me luck — I’ll need it! (Did I mention my two midterms on Thursday?) Bye for now.