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Death of an Optimist

I began this year feeling eternal hopelessness. After spending the last year elbow deep in work (revolving primarily around antiracism) I found myself feeling completely burnt out. I found the hard way that naming something does nothing for you, you actually need to put in the work to help yourself. Even worse if you put off dealing with real issues long enough they continue to grow and playing an album that validates your emotions on repeat for two months straight is not a remedy. Don't get me wrong Death of an Optimist has some real bangers and it did help me a lot, but it was a band aid to issues I was not willing to confront.

One of my saving graces was that at the beginning of this year I enrolled in a class around transformational leadership. Had I not been enrolled in this class I would have ended up letting the cynicism consume me. I could write about all the negative thoughts that consumed my mind and made me feel hopeless or about the awful life events I had happened this year but I would not want to give more space and energy hashing those out. What I will say is that everything I believed came into question. Why did I start a youtube channel? podcast? website? Why did I choose the field of Environmental Science? What do I stand for and how firmly do I stand for it? If I chose to delete all of my work and dedicate my life to something else what would that look like? Why don't I just do that? If fighting for something comes at the cost of my own well being is it worth it? Am I just martyring myself? Why am I complaining when others have it so much worse?

Over the last few months I have put a lot of thought into my values and what I believe my purpose is. I don't know exactly what job position/title is in my future but I know I am going to do something great. I can firmly say that I stand behind everything I say but I now see it through a different lens. I believe that there is a middle ground that we can work towards on a lot of issues but there are also things that are not up for debate. I can acknowledge where someone is coming from and validate their views without agreeing with them. This class has really given me a lot to think about and I would like to share some of that. Below I have copy & pasted an assignment I wrote called "This I Believe". Though I can sit here and think about a million ways to make it better and details I could add to give more context; at the end of the day this is what I wrote and that is enough. You can think what you want but as of August 2022 this is what I believe...


This I Believe

When I was 7 years old, I remember learning about the different layers of the rainforest. From the insects and snakes on the forest floor to the birds that flew over the emergent layer and everything in between. I remember being fascinated by the different animals that could be found in what seemed like a mystical place. We made books with art projects about each of the layers and took pictures on the monkey bars that we cut out, so we looked like sloths on the canopy layer. At the end of our lesson, we were told that the rainforest was being cut down to make paper. All the animals we had just learned about were dying or being burnt alive and their homes were being destroyed. I remember thinking that there was someone out there that was going to stop it, if enough people knew they would stop it right?

Fast forward to 2014, the documentary Cowspiracy comes out and I fall down the rabbit hole of documentaries watching Forks Over Knives, the 11th Hour, Food Inc, and so on. I can no longer stand to consume meat, my entire life and the way I live is now a protest against the harsh reality that we live in. Climate change was not a new concept but now it had become something I knew too much about to ignore. I am applying to colleges, and I tell myself I’m going to be an environmental engineer because I need to do something. I can’t just sit around and watch what the world is becoming. I believe change is possible.

In Spring 2016 I take my first environmental science course and I learn more about the climate change denial campaign, the keeling curve, the air pollution in China, the plastic pollution in South Asia, and I think to myself if enough people acted, we could stop it right?

In Fall of 2018 I am involved in a plastic pollution research project where we go to Fred Meyers to survey the type of packaging of products. We survey isle after isle, product after product and find almost 80% of product packaging is non-recyclable material. The weight of the world feels heavy. How can you even begin to tackle a problem that is so deeply rooted in our everyday life? How do you live life normal knowing you’re unintentionally contributing to the degradation of someone else’s quality of life? I feel sick.

In 2020 I am hired to work for the Department of Environmental Quality, and I think to myself, I need to learn how the system works in order to change it. One month into my employment I am sitting [virtually] in front of the NWR Administrator as she welcomes me into the agency, and she tells me “This is no place for activists”. Over time it becomes apparent to me that they care more about public image and the potential to look bad in a public records request than they do about their employees' wellbeing. I sit with that and remember I am here to observe and learn how the government works. I begin to observe systemic racial discrimination in ways I had only heard stories about. I hear it come out of the mouths of the people in positions of authority, I experience it myself. I help create a safe space for those impacted to unload their frustrations, I am angry. I hear more stories and I become overwhelmed; how can you fix this? Can you even fix this?

In 2021 I set up a meeting with the director and I tell him Environmental Justice needs to be a priority for the agency. If we are in charge of protecting the environment for all Oregonians, we need to commit to helping the most vulnerable. I tell him I have the support of 70 people across every region, media, and job classification ready to do the work. I present to the Environmental Quality Commission and tell them we want to create an Environmental Justice screening tool to help allocate funds and resources to communities that need them the most. I tell them we need more than just empty promises under a government header, we need resources and real action. I have no idea what I’m doing but this seems like a good start. In early 2022 HB 4077 passes and we are awarded new positions and funding to move this project forward, though things have felt uncertain for a long time this is a big win. It feels like things are progressing.

I need to believe we can change what the world has become because I can’t accept the way things are. I believe in a level of change that I have never seen because I can’t imagine a world where someone isn’t fighting for something better. I believe that the collective will of the people is stronger than the minority in power. I believe that we need to dismantle the systems of oppression by the roots that keep them in place. I believe this will take a lot of courage and that not many people will be accepting of this change. I believe that to make great change we need to make everyone uncomfortable. I believe in continuing the legacy that was started by Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Dorothy Mae Stang, Robert Bullard, and all the other prominent environmentalists including those whose names were kept out of history due to the color of their skin.

I believe in the vision they held because I believe in something better.

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