June 29, 2011

Brothers and Sisters

I grew up with only one sibling, and he and I shared a room for thirteen years. It was a slog at times, and as brothers do we often ended up beating the crap out of each other, but I am who I am today in part because I always had him there as a child. It’s been a long time now since we shared a room, but if you were to spend any time around us you’d know without even asking how long we’d spent together. Because when you share a space with someone—a space where eventually every side of yourself comes out—you both end up with a bit of the other as part of yourself.

I bring this up because I’ve spent the past two weeks living in a house with seven other people as part of the Summer of Solutions program here in Oakland, where we’ll be working on local projects dealing with clean energy, food justice, community connectedness and wellbeing, and transformative media and storytelling. Housemates weren’t matched by similar interests, dietary habits or lifestyle compatibility: we just all needed a place to stay for the program, and we ended up here. I knew only one of the seven prior to moving in, and then only for two months, so it’s not a stretch to say we all had no idea what to expect.

For almost two weeks now we’ve spent at least eight hours a day in a room with thirty-odd others, where we’ve covered everything from anti-oppression training, effective fundraising techniques and conflict resolution to slam poetry, the art of improvising effective cake frosting and the philosophical significance of the pug-dog. The past twelve days have, in other words, been absolutely packed. Not a night has gone by without a feeling of intense and immediate exhaustion—I can hardly remember a single dream I’ve had since the program began.

And yet I’m comfortable here—I wouldn’t trade that beaten-down, exhausted feeling for all the lazy afternoons in the world. Because the others are here for the same reasons as me: they’ve seen that the world needs to change if we’re to have anything like a secure future, and that if we don’t rise to the challenge ourselves it’s not going to happen. They’ve heard the politicians’ excuses for inaction on climate change, for clinging to fossil fuels like life preservers on the Titanic, for the inequalities festering and growing unchecked at the heart of our society—they’ve heard and rejected them as insufficient, and they began searching for another way.

The college musician who changed majors after discovering the works of Bill McKibben. The young lady whose sister dragged her along to an environmental club meeting where she inadvertently discovered how strongly organizing for a better future made her come alive. The sexual and reproductive health rights activist who understood the connection between the world’s sexual habits and its environment too well to stay silent. Each one of us came here through different circumstances, and yet all are united by a common understanding: the future is now, and it’s time for us to act.

We know that one summer won’t be enough to turn the world around, but we also know that we have to start somewhere, sometime. And we know that on the long journey to a just, equitable future, we have each other.

And that’s what made me think of sharing a small room with my brother. It’s only been a short time together, but already I feel like I’ve found a second family here. We’ve spent a lot of time around each other in the past week and a half, and there’s a lot more to come—that means unavoidable frustration, irritation, and conflict. But more than anything those years of living with my brother taught me that when you’re in something together—when you’re family—you get past those issues. You get sad, or angry, or upset, and then you come together again, because if you don’t have each other, you have nothing.

Hatred makes no sense in a world where a group of strangers can grow into a family in less than two weeks. If such a thing is possible—and I’ve seen that it is—I suspect that we as a people may be capable of far more than we’ve so far suspected. I don’t know what that means, exactly. Perhaps it’s that the seeds of our world’s salvation lie in something as simple as getting to know our neighbors.

I don’t know what form our work in Oakland will ultimately take with Summer of Solutions. But there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here with my family.