The vision of ‘transcommunal’ global community I have suggested necessarily must begin with local community building and networking, in which my experience at U.C., Santa Cruz is grounded. My experience has been a progression of social experiments in organizing that culminated in my involvement bringing a ‘transcommunal’ approach to the “Collaboration Network” of a collectively student/alumni organized undergraduate course entitled the “Education for Sustainable Living Program.” This 2- and 5-unit course is structured as a student organization whose yearly objective is to organize a speaker series and several Action Research Team (ART) community projects based on social and environmental sustainability. As stated in the course’s mission statement, “the Education for Sustainable Living Program is a collaborative interdisciplinary effort to realize sustainable community throughout the University of California…” (www.eslp.net, emphasis added). Upon entering the organization, my critical perspective brought two basic questions based on my background with Transcommunality, to be discussed below. First, what is exactly entailed by a ‘collaborative effort’? Who exactly is collaborating with whom? Is it a collaborative effort only among the environmentalists? Which brings up the second important question: What is ‘sustainable community,’ and again, for whom? What does ‘sustainability’ mean for different organizers and educators? These questions became central to the organizing of the course for Spring 2006, not only in speaker and Action Research Team topics, but in the processes, strategies, and tactics that the Collaboration Network developed to invite and involve participation from a wide range of students, faculty, campus organizations, and organizations from the greater Santa Cruz community such as the Brown Berets and Barrios Unidos. The Brown Berets is a Latino community empowerment group based in Watsonville, and the Barrios Unidos is a social justice and educational empowerment organization whose national headquarters are in Santa Cruz. Hence, not only is the course collectively organized and coordinated by students at four other UC campuses besides Santa Cruz (Los Angeles, Davis, Santa Barbara, Berkeley) and Santa Barbara City College, the newly emerging concept of social sustainability was explored by attempting to join forces with representatives from the social justice organizations with whom we were connecting. These initial lines of communication laid the foundation for the bridges which were constructed, opening the pathways for these organizers to integrate their understanding of the work to be done within a newly conceived and all-inclusive “sustainability movement” that their groups, our students and faculty, and other participants were, and are, actively involved in defining through the multi-dimensional understandings of ‘sustainability’ and knowledge that were, and continue to be, collectively explored in this student-directed course.
A Brief Background with Transcommunality
Upon entering the organization of the Education for Sustainable Living Program, I brought with me a brief experience with Professor Childs’ concepts of “coordinated autonomy” (49, 51), “constructive disputing”(60-63), and the “engaged/disengaged flexibility of transcommunal associations” (66-69) that had been impacting the campus environment intriguing student organizers and faculty alike. As an academic assistant for the Kresge College Core Course in the Fall of 2003 with W. Stewart Cooper, I led discussions and workshops with First Year students about how Transcommunality, the closing text for the course, could make up a framework for the reconciliation of the various Culture War themes we explored, from Japanese-American discrimination during WWII to the struggles of impovershed and working class Americans today from all backgrounds, building on our study of ‘Third World citizens’ struggle for survival. In our weekly discussions, we explored transcommunality not only as a concept in respect for all people, diverse in their variously rooted “emplacements”(26) and outlooks, and as a guide for constructive social interactions among them, but as to how this concept could be put into practice through the educational process that we attempted to employ, in which disagreement and diverse outlooks were welcomed as a way to gain a deeper understanding of the material we explored through open, non-domineering small group discussions.
The following Quarter, in Winter of the 2003-04 academic year, Professor Childs worked with the Student Union Assembly of UCSC to launch the ‘Connect the Dots’ series of inter-organizational networking dinners at College 9/10, at which he spoke about transcommunality and the importance of “coordinated autonomy” in the presence of over 50 student organizers. This, and our experience in the Core Course, propelled myself and other Kresge Academic Assistants and our students to organize ourselves in a call to our local Kresge community to branch out to the many ethnic, social and environmental organizations on campus, many of which were represented at the first ‘Connect the Dots’ dinner. Our new group, called “the People” or “the People’s Community Movement at Kresge” developed as a networking hub from which our core members became what we called ‘spiders,’ creating webs to connect our small community with the larger causes and actions on campus and further into the Santa Cruz community. John Brown Childs came to speak to our group of initially 25 students from the Kresge community, giving the background of his work with Transcommunality and his support for what we were attempting to accomplish. Hence, we became the original ‘bridge builders’ in our local community, whose purpose was to become liasons to the organizations which we were individually interested in, be they the Student Environmental Center, Students Against War, the Santa Cruz based ‘Action for Political Engagement and Empowerment Project (APEEP), or the Student Worker Coalition for Justice, in which my liasonship was based. We attended meetings to meet people and make new contacts and alliances, offered support from our end (such as hanging banners at Kresge College announcing an upcoming action and spreading flyers and word of mouth to our friends and the Kresge faculty), and most importantly brought continuous updates back to the “People’s” regular meetings to heighten awareness and inspire participation in the work being done. Through this process we compiled what would become The Inter-Org Contact List, with contact information for initially over 30 campus and community organizations and growing, which was collected from campus publications, online resources, and the Student Union Office. The Inter-Org Contact List was an integral tool for establishing the first communication with these organizers through email and/or telephone contact, introducing ourselves and our purpose, and attempting to visit meetings to learn more about the organization and its people. Although establishing ourselves as this new type of networking organization based on flexible alliances and liasonships was a long process in meeting new people, gaining their trust, and maintaining consistent relationships, overall the ‘experiment’ was a success for the time that our organization survived. We created bridges with many causes while maintaining our own identity based on a group of students interested in various causes for justice, working together to stay connected with a broad range of diverse people, communities, and organizations that surrounded us at U.C., Santa Cruz.