Environmental Justice & Civic Conversation

“I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.  Simple, honest, human conversation.  Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings.  Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.”  — Margaret Wheatley

On January 17, 1971, John Francis witnessed a half-million gallon crude oil spill near the Golden Gate Bridge that altered his life’s journey.  About a year later, John gave up using motorized vehicles and started walking to raise environmental consciousness and foster world peace.  As he began walking around town, his friends started to question whether one person with a banjo could actually walk their way to change.  The constant bickering led John shut out all the distraction and spend one day in silence.  That day would turn into 17 years of deep listening–and the beginning of a new relationship with himself.

Dr. John Francis in Pittsburgh at Inspire Speakers Series, 2014.

John left the comfort of his Northern California home in 1983, and began a silent walking journey across the United States during which he explored his own connection to the environment as well as the many issues that people and organizations were fighting for or against.  During this time, the environment became more than just preventing oil spills and conservation.  He poses the environment as a holistic organism, encompassing human and civil rights, economic equity, and gender equality. In its most fundamental form, “the environment is about how we treat each other when we meet each other.”

John ended his 17 years of silence on Earth Day of 1990, pronouncing to the world, “Thank you for being here.” It is this simplicity and inclusivity that GBA celebrates with this week’s Inspire Speakers Series on Environmental Justice and Civic Conversation.  John will be joined by four amazing local leaders – Evaine Sing from GTECH Strategies, Khalif Ali from the Pittsburgh Foundation, Jason Beery from the Urban Kind Institute, and Joan Haley from the Pittsburgh Schweitzer Fellows Program – who will also share their journeys about creating change by connecting people and the environment.

Our two themes couldn’t be more timely as we face nationwide divisions across policies.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as:

“the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.  EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this nation.  It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

Civic conversations are inclusive, open dialogues that honor multiple perspectives on topics and values that matter most to us.  They allow for deep listening and everyone’s voice to be heard, and the opportunity to be open and learn.  It also creates a space where people can connect on aspirational hopes and values for their lives–and for the people and places they love.  Civic conversations help to create ripple effects of positive social and environmental change.

Join us as we share dialogue on Thursday between the speakers and audience about topics that matter like clean air, clean water, healthy children, a high quality of life, economic vitality, thriving communities, beautiful places, and more.

Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change – personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change.  If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive.  We share what we see, what we feel, and we listen to what others see and feel.”  — Margaret Wheatley

Learn more about this Inspire Speakers Series event on Thursday, April 20 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at inspirespeakersseries.com


If you’re interested in the idea of Civic Conversations, check out these great initiatives happening across the country.

If you know about others and would like to share, we would love to hear from you!

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