Gathering momentum

Environmental groups get together to gain support for local efforts following sustainability conference

Susan Tchudi helped organize the Environmental Coalition Community Gathering, meant to focus on local efforts following the broader-scoped This Way to Sustainability conference on campus.

Susan Tchudi helped organize the Environmental Coalition Community Gathering, meant to focus on local efforts following the broader-scoped This Way to Sustainability conference on campus.

Photo by Ernesto Rivera

Last Friday (March 25), on the final day of this year’s This Way to Sustainability conference, environmental organizations and community members packed the Chico Women’s Club to take the energy and inspiration of the conference and discuss how they can channel that to fight for local environmental causes.

“We need citizen voices. We need people to speak out and let our government and our agencies and everybody know how we feel about these issues in our environment,” said Susan Tchudi, who helped organize the event.

The Environmental Coalition Community Gathering, co-sponsored by the Butte Environmental Council and the Environmental Coalition of Butte County, brought together more than 25 local environmental organizations, representatives of which all spoke passionately about the issues they dedicate themselves to. Organizations included AquAlliance, Chico Tree Advocates, Frack-Free Butte County, the local affiliate and Friends of Bidwell Park.

For many, the gathering was a fitting end to the an annual two-day, student-run conference on the Chico State campus that often focuses on national or statewide issues like water resources, climate change and sustainable energy and addresses those issues with workshops and keynote speakers (for an interview with one of them, see “Power of the plot,” Greenways, March 24). The gathering afterward is a way to localize the conference’s big topics and introduce people to real ways to bring about local change.

“It brings it down to the roots of the community,” said BEC board President Mark Stemen. “If they’re the tree-top vision, we’re the roots in the ground. Each of these organizations is doing something and people get to see how much is going on and that’s often what we miss.”

Bringing these organizations together is an important way to build relationships among people who are fighting for common issues, said Tchudi, who is part of the Environmental Coalition of Butte County, a group of local environmental leaders, community members and students who stress the importance of working together and environmental issues. It’s composed of 30 nonprofit groups—including those that participated Friday—that advocate and support environmental issues. Getting together in an open settings helps organizations gain support and information, plus build a culture of collaboration.

“They’re here to share with the public and let them know what they do and what they’re working on,” Tchudi said. “Often, people duplicate efforts and two organizations may be working on similar things, but if we get together and support each other, then we have much more power and much more of a voice.”

Some of the biggest issues discussed at the event included water, fracking and environmental protection. Members of AquaAlliance discussed their fight to save local groundwater and prevent groundwater transfers; Frack-Free Butte County was there to shed light on the dangers of hydraulic fracturing; and the Sacramento River Preservation Trust was promoting healthy maintenance of the Sacramento River. Natalie Carter, the newly minted executive director of BEC, said the issue that took the forefront for her that evening was fracking, especially in light of the initiative to ban fracking locally that will be on the ballot in June.

“It’s not just what we need to do, but ‘this is what we’ve done,’” Stemen said. “The amount of activity that’s happening around these types of issues—sustainability, environmental justice, basic peace with the planet—is really vibrant in this community so having a night like this allows people to find out what’s going on and be re-energized. When you’re just one group, sometimes it’s a little lonely, then you realize, ‘No, I’m just one of many.’”

While the need for change was a recurring theme at every organization’s table, the energy at the gathering was overall positive. No one spoke with a somber, this-is-the-end-of-the-world tone, but instead an uplifting one meant to inspire the public and each other.

Of the 100 attendees, the event had a mix of seasoned environmentalists who have fought for local issues for many years and young people who will continue the efforts through the next generation. Katie Beeson, business manager for BEC, was working the bar during the event. She said she noticed many new faces eager to gain information and a surprising number of young people under 30, and even a few under 20, who came as interested community members.

“There are so many people giving so much energy—a lot of people are retired and a lot of them are young people who are really knowledgeable about the community and knowledgeable about our environmental needs,” Tchudi said.

Getting young people involved is an important part of outreach, Tchudi said, as many of these fights are fights that will last for decades.

For Tchudi, looking around the community gathering was a proud moment as she saw many passionate people making a commitment to helping and saving the environment.

“There’s so much energy involved with these issues and these are life and death issues,” Tchudi said. “These people are heroes, doing heroic work.”