Washington State and Iran

Moving to a new town halfway across the United States over the course of the summer, one really can see the massive cultural differences that stretch across this land.  Houston and Seattle are really as different as cities can be.  One is humid, hot, and filled with a people who would epitomize those Protestants described in Weber’s Spirit of Capitalism, yet filled with an intense desire to stay indoors.  The other is alive with the bitter scent of coffee, fairly cool, and whose people are laid-back, more to willing to enjoy themselves and spend significant amounts of time hiking or boating or various outdoor activities.  Unfortunately for an IGC member, to say that I clashed significantly with the new Washington culture was an understatement, and over the course of the entire summer I never was able to understand such a laid-back and relaxed view of the world.  Gradually turning inwards and focusing on matters such as work and reading, somehow this American grew to sympathize with a group of people halfway across the world who marched peacefully in the name of justice and liberty despite the fact that the cultural gap between Iranians and Americans dwarfs that between Texans and Washingtonians.

Being someone who has had an interest in the Iranians and their people, I somehow detached myself from my neighbors and those who surrounded me and paid constant attention to the protests waged in the name of a moderate reformer.  Susbstantial amounts of time were spent reading every detail, raging at cable news for their incredibly negligent coverage of the events there, and helping the Iranian protestors, both through word and deeds (some of which could skirt the lines between legality and illegality, but that is another story).  However, when unfortunately the protests, while not completely vanquished, had faded to some degree, it left me puzzled and amused with the fact that I had spent so much time caring about those halfway across the world with a culture that as observed above dwarfs the gaps between those from Texans and Washingtonians, and I came to puzzle about it.  Was it because as I didn’t know personally know Iranians, I could romanticize their cultures and stay from the negative realities of it in a way that I couldn’t with Washington, and was it simply an inherent prejudice that I had towards Washingtonians and not Iranians.  I’ll freely admit that I really don’t know the answer, and when it comes down to it, maybe something like this can help give an answer towards a better understanding of well, understanding others.

I guess that’s my story of the summer, and my major question that I learned from it out of the mundane life I generally held.  So what other stories are out there in the end?

A time for listening

This May I walked (barefoot of course) across a stage on Macalester’s front lawn and accepted a slip of paper representing an asset, a tool, no one could ever steal from me.  This is what freedom of opportunity feels like when it is placed in your hands; this is what I hope everyone has a chance at if they so desire. When I shook President Rosenberg’s hand, he looked me in the eye and said, “if you ever need anything, ever, you know where to go.” Yes, I will go to my roots and seek some of that ancient wisdom.  But right now, it’s time to fly.

Despite going to a college that touts international and domestic diversity, the most diverse group I’ve ever been part of was the 200 some people at my Americorps training committing their lives to Volunteering in Service to America (VISTA).  People were from every class, race, age and culture—a real slice of the US—and there we were sharing incredibly personal stories with one another after only a few days together.

The mission of VISTA is to wage war on poverty in America (I couldn’t help but wonder if they ever sent VISTAs to Wall Street to help alleviate some serious spiritual poverty).  The melting pot at this training was composed of recent liberal arts grads (me!), recently unemployed laborers, or people who had struggled out of poverty and now wanted to give back in some way. I looked around the room and said to myself, “People are just people.”

Sometimes I hesitate about moving forward, about stepping up. I’m afraid that my home, my culture, the people I identify with will regard me as a stranger when I return.  They will look upon me with misunderstanding or even contempt.  But I need to remind myself that this is the richest part of the American story. We are founded by people who took a chance and hopped the Mayflower to a strange land.  Thank God there are pioneers still willing to take that chance today and step outside their known world for a chance at opportunity of choice.  Our culture of fusion depends on this constant influx of new ideas, new language, and new connections. I personally plan to be an immigrant of life for as long I live.

I have a long history of advocacy and activism but I am looking forward to a year of listening.  It’s literally in my job description.  I am a collector and teller of stories: stories from volunteers, clients, staff, and donors at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas (CAFB).  These interviews will be turned into videos and written words that can be used to secure donations and volunteers for the organization.  I work in an office building attached to a warehouse that distributes food to over 350 local food pantries throughout central Texas.  I will admit, I choked back tears on my first visit to one of these pantries. Sometimes, people just want to be heard.

I am excited to be part of this generation of youth.  We are endowed with social networking tools and empowered by the need for change that we face daily.  So here I go: telling you my honest story and striving to fit it into the American story. Tell me, what is yours?

Solutionary summer and the road ahead

Well, summer is ending, and a semester starting. This is the last semester for me, so my past summer is particularly making me think about what comes next after I graduate in December. Like most things in these momentous times, the obstacles are awe-inspiring and the opportunities are dire.

I spent most of this summer helping facilitate the Summer of Solutions in St. Paul, as well as supporting the eight other Summer of Solutions programs that launched across the country this past year. if you haven’t heard, the Summer of Solutions is a summer program by and for emerging leaders (mostly college age) that helps them build skills in social innovation, sustainable entrepreneurship, and community organizing while working to develop cutting edge projects and programs that demonstrate the promise of a sustainable economy founded on clean energy, healthy food and industrial systems, strong locally-based job creation and economic development, and profound and creative community. Since helping launch the Summer of Solutions in Spring 2008, I’ve dived deep into the realm of non-profit fundraising, program development, and transformative leadership training around solutions for our pressing climate, energy, development, and social justice challenges. Its been a wild ride as the organization grew from a single Twin Cities program in 2008, to 9 nationwide this summer. Some of the press hits have been pretty cool too, like this one on Grist. If you want to learn more about what this is all about what happened this summer all across the country, check out our Solutionaries blog.

Looking ahead, I’m really excited as we start the process of launching even more great programs next year. I’m also excited to see the growth of the programs generated in the process, like Cooperative Energy Futures, the community-based energy start-up company that has emerged from the work of Mac students and community partners across the Twin Cities, and ongoing collaboration with national organizations like the Energy Action Coalition and campus groups like MacCARES. If you want to get involved, contact me at timothydht@gmail.com.

Zooming out, I’m starting to ask the broader question: not just how can I make a living by innovating, creating, and working for my values, but how can all people do the same? All summer, I’ve seen people light up inside when they find a space where they can do what makes them shine, where its most important, in a way that supports them to. As I join others in starting to create it it, I’m dreaming of a clean, just, and meaningful economy where that’s all we ever do. What if figuring out how to build that world and find your own niche in it was what being at Mac was all about?

Well, I have from now until December to complete the Mac journey and turn my work into something full-time that can support me. Better get back to it! I’ll keep you posted.

Mac Students and the Rountable

Hello from Blogalviews!

This week’s topic:

Reflect on Macalester’s Roundtable Discussion: In what ways can we as Macalester students embody the lessons learned and envision the goals of a sustainable future?

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