The Power of Connection

By Frankie Beesley

Alice Walker once wrote:

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. 

I remember the day that everything changed for me. I was eighteen years old and a first-timer to the mountain town of Flagstaff that I have called home for six years now. In 2010, destiny saw me involved in home weatherization efforts, bringing low-income community members into a program provided by the city. One of our outreach efforts involved a group of six of us (undergraduates, graduate students, and professors) door-knocking in a predominantly Latina/o part of town. Many of the homes were trailers with missing windows, roofs caving in—living conditions that can be harrowing during our short but bitterly cold months. We were face-to-face with different community members as we spoke to them on their front porches. Many told us they did not have the means to pay their utility bills. One woman was in tears as she recounted how her family was unable to make ends meet and unable to heat their home during the winter.

Hearing people’s stories and seeing them eye-to-eye caused my brain to make certain connections that day. I realized that I needed to take action to address social injustices. I made connections as to why certain people are more impacted by climate change in the long run over others. I realized how socio-economic disparities can be visceral. They’re happening anywhere if you’re willing to see them. Personal stories connected all of this for me. Seeing someone face-to-face was all that it took for me to vow to spend my life addressing climate justice issues.

Collective power becomes clear when you’re in a group of people or collecting stories with a few other folks to make you realize the agency and collective power that we all have. Stories are what connect all of us and they are the fodder for creating beyond needed change within our communities. Flagstaff isn’t the only place where this happens, but it was the first place where I saw this taking place in real time, in my life. Change is a hard process. We live in daunting times of social and environmental upheaval, where public input and participation are falling to the wayside. For some, our very homes are threatened due to poor planning and the ever looming threat of climate change.

Flagstaffians at city council, fighting a student housing project that would displace low-income families.

Flagstaffians at city council, fighting a student housing project that would displace low-income families.

Fossil Free NAU student organizers calling on President Rita Cheng to divest NAU from fossil fuels.

Fossil Free NAU student organizers calling on President Rita Cheng to divest NAU from fossil fuels.

The Colorado Plateau, in particular, is one of the threatened and precious places that this is happening to. With all of this happening at once, it’s hard to realize that there are things that can be done to address and alleviate them. It’s hard to even get out of bed some mornings. But it does not have to remain this way. More and more people are gathering and planning every single day, even here on the Plateau and in our mountain town. And many of these people are young and innovative, thirsty for change and driven by a passion. This passion feels like deep anger and love at the same time. Many of these people have grown up in a world where climate change has always been real, where economic situations aren’t getting better, and where many of our elders have lost most of their faith or have for some reason begun to place some of the blame on us, the youth--the ones that we are all counting on. 

In late August, youth from various backgrounds of the Colorado Plateau will gather just outside of Durango, CO, in efforts to share their lived experiences within this region, to listen to the work that others are doing to fight against climate injustice, and to create action plans to protect these sacred spaces and irreplaceable people that we call home. Uplift, which has a planning team made up solely by youth and for youth, is changing the climate conversation. We’re envisioning new ways of addressing the world’s biggest problems and we are doing this through an important means: by the collection of narratives, the connection of story, and by the tenacity to create action from these combined stories. 

It’s easy to forget the power that we have in times like these. It’s easy to become complacent and to expect only the worst. And yet, amidst the chaos of our daily lives, there is nothing like the feeling of gathering together; like the feeling of connecting; like the feeling of creating action to protect and preserve the places that we love and the people that we call home. There’s nothing quite like knowing what it means to truly be human and to truly have the power to create lasting change. 

We invite you to gather for a community meeting at Firecreek Coffee Company on Thursday, July 21st at 5:00pm to discuss your connection to the Colorado Plateau, why you personally feel it is an important place to save, and how we can collectively work to continue preserving and protecting it for generations to come. 

Flagstaff Speak Up meets at Firecreek in 2014.

Flagstaff Speak Up meets at Firecreek in 2014.