Today started early with a trip uptown to meet Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man. Thankfully we never arranged to rent bikes for the trip (due to people feeling uncomfortable riding in the city) because it poured. Colin did not speak extensively about his own project, which was fine because we were supposed to have been quite familiar with it already through reading his book and watching the movie. Instead he focused on activism and individual action.
He spoke a lot about the interaction between an individual’s personal life and the political and social involvements they undertake. He emphasized the importance of this link through a reference to Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD). As Colin says, these mothers do not dedicate themselves of this organization out of an innate need to serve. Rather, they get involved because they have a personal stake in the matter. This is an interesting take on things, especially considering the student apathy here at Gettysburg College. And this carries over to the real world too…how many people only pay attention to politics when something they care about is threatened?
Colin is a gifted speaker, and one of the things I enjoyed hearing him speak about was his inspiration. He trumpeted the unsung heroes who live their daily lives and work towards social goals as his inspirations. I’ve heard this many times before, but the way presented his case was quite powerful. I was thinking about people like my mom and my best teachers, people who simply inspire through their daily lives. They’ve never been famous, never been rich, never made huge, easily visible world-changing contributions to society. They simply lead lives of love, sincerity, and honor. People like these are truly inspiring, for they seek little and ask for little but give so much!
On another personal note, Colin spoke about his “spiritual center” that keeps him afloat when his efforts seem futile. This center maintains optimism even when failure is imminent. It represents a personal commitment to a cause, no matter how small in magnitude. Commitment, follow-through, and success: they go hand-in-hand. As he said, you must recognize the small successes if you wish to be effective. After all, the world is vast an it would be foolish to think one average person can change the entire world. But you can change yourself, and from there begin working to change others. Colin would be a good person to have come speak at Gettysburg College. His ideas were sound, his experience broad, and his voice effective. He enticed me to reflect upon the important relationships in my life and come to appreciate them more thoroughly.
After meeting Colin we met a handful of other activists working in the city. First was Lisa Sladkus of Transportation Alternative, a community organizer/urban planner working on the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance campaign. The group works to transform the streets of NYC into safer, more pedestrian friendly avenues. Their pilot project on Columbus Ave shifts from highway-sized 12 foot lanes to smaller, city-friendly 10 foot lanes. This tightening of lanes slows traffic, increases driver awareness, and allows the street to maintain three lanes while introducing a bike lane and “buffer zone.” The system sounded excellent, and I began thinking this might be something I would like to work on in the future. I will definitely be looking into an internship with this organization, and apparently a Gettysburgian by the name of Katie Lemanczyk had a position with TA a few years ago.
Next we met with S.W.I.M. project director Kayte Zidar who explained to us all about the storm-water drainage system in NYC. Honestly, it is quite disgusting. Due to the extensive sil cover most rain runs off into the drainage system where it mixes with sewage. The system cannot handle this huge influx of water, and when it rains mildly hard the system overflows. That means that all the sewage, street trash, and oil in NYC ends up in the Hudson. No wonder it is disgusting.
Here’s a couple of other random thoughts I had:
> S.W.I.M. – “Minds in the Gutter” Project (http://mindsinthegutter.org/)
> NYC City Green Infrastructure Plan – Available from NYC DEP (Depart. Env. Prot.)
> Have the last day of No Impact Week correspond with the Day of Service? All about giving back…