Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition

Unifying the voice of a generation in environmental solidarity

Plans for Action Around Fracking Developing in MI

From Mariah Urueta, CMU Student and MSSC Steering Commitee Member
Interested in joining a MSSC working group? Check out the anti-fracking one!
We’ll be having our first call very soon!
This past weekend, about 45 people representing different environmental organizations from across the state gathered in Delton, MI. The goal was to get the next steps moving to stop fracking in Michigan. This event was a unique and really great builder for Michigan fracktivists. There were many different tactics presented throughout the weekend. Every strategy from legalities, ordinances, deepwater testing/watchdog, organizing, and direct action were all discussed! While skeptical at first if any real steps would be taken (because there was so much information presented), I was pleasantly surprised when I left the weekend with many options of steps I could take against this destruction of land, air, and rights. There has been ideas floating around about a statewide coalition being formed and upcoming fracktivist convergences which I plan to keep everyone posted about! Personally, I will be working on the Mineral Right Lease Auction protest for May! I feel that this event was a great step for Michigan in trying to fight fracking. I am excited to bridge the MSSC and this event to gain more momentum for action! That is what I am hoping this working group can bring to the MSSC! Options for students to pursue other avenues of action, but ultimately a collective effort!
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More Success for CMU Take Back the Tap!

From Mariah Urueta, Vice-President of CMU Take Back the Tap

Take Back the Tap at Central Michigan University is seeing some great feedback from their campaign that has been ongoing for 2.5 years. Presented legislation for a gradual phase out of bottled water on CMU’s campus passing through the Student Government has been TBTT’s main goal. As of last semester, the legislation passed through both the House and Senate of the Student Government after being OK-ed many times in the house, but passed for the first time in the Senate! So after a successful first semester the students planned a meeting with the Director of Purchase and Contracting. The students compiled all of the work from over the years; approximately 2,000 petition signatures, student government support, efforts to get retro-fit kits installed on campus, collaborative efforts with the university to get free reusable water bottles to all on campus students, and more! Unsure how he would take the presented information, it went better than they ever could have expected. Take Back the Tap at CMU still needs to gain additional faculty support, but the Monday following that meeting, the Director or Purchase and Contracting called CMU’s Pepsi and Coca-Cola representatives and told them not to plan on CMU buying bottled water in 2015! If that wasn’t enough, the week after, Take Back the Tap was able to complete their visual with the help of the awesome MSSC students at the statewide summit!
If anyone from their university is interested in starting a Take Back the Tap on our campus, we’re here for any advice and help we can give. We know that one for GVSU is in the works!


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Protect MI Biodiversity

Unsurprisingly, Michigan’s legislation is about to make yet another decision that will march our state backwards in terms of the environment and the economy. Tom Casperson, a republican member of Michigan’s State Senate from the Northern part of the state (district 38), has recently introduced and passed a bill through committee that will remove the DNR’s responsibility to protect biodiversity and redefine our concept of conservation. Presumably, Casperson’s intent is to limit the power of Michigan’s central government and open up more land to economic development. Not only will this threaten many of the things we love about our state, but it could lead to more oil and gas development.

This blog hopes to give you the tools to take action on this issue with many other MI students to let Governor Snyder know that SB 78, the “anti-biodiversity bill” is not something that we stand behind, but is something that will directly impact and harm our futures.

Some of you may remember writing letters to Snyder or Casperson about this bill at the summit. Unfortunately, since then the bill is no longer something that has just been proposed, but is something that will be voted on in our Senate soon. Stephanie, a GVSU student, attended the recent committee hearing and this is what she had to say on the MSSC’s Facebook page:

“So yesterday was my first time speaking in front of the Michigan Senate; The Natural Resources Committee… 19 people (including myself) spoke out against senate bill 78, and one person was for the bill from the UP. After four hours of testimony from students, scientist, different organization, and concerned citizens the senate approved the bill so it will now go the senate floor.

The link below is a government summery of the bill; This would move Michigan backwards when Climate change is upon us and action needs to be taken now. It would also open the doors to industry (fracking; logging) because the DNR would now have to “balance its forest management activities with economic values.”

We need this bill to fail; So I am proposing that we bombard governor Snyder with emails, phone calls, and letters asking him to not pass the bill. He has responded to public input in the past and we need biodiversity protections now more than ever. I am asking students from different Universities around Michigan to join GVSU in raising awareness; set up letter writing tables, contact your biology department and profs. A healthy ecosystem depends upon biodiversity… this bill is a travesty.

I would also like to let everyone know that Senator Hood was the only person to vote against this bill and he deserves some thank yous. I thanked him for actually listening to the people. ”

Thanks to Stephanie for attending and representing the student voice, and also for calling us to action! We have a lot of momentum after the summit and our trip to DC, so let’s use it and exercise our network to come together around this one, straight-forward task.

Step 1: Get in touch with Governor Snyder and tell him that you, as the future generation of this state, do not support Senate Bill 78 for all of the various reasons why it is so horrible. Click here to get his contact information and click here to send him an email. 

  1. Tom Casperson is clearly just a big government fearing conservative who believes that lowering our standards to help rich corporations get richer is the way to run our society. Check out the League of Conservation Voter’s legislative score card and take a look at the recent bills Casperson voted on….no stricter than federal regulations, weakening our natural resources extraction ordinances, remove shoreline protections, etc. While not everything he has done is bad, I do think that a 33% overall score would mean he fails and it’s pretty clear that this bill is just another one like the string of those before them aimed at dismantling MI’s environmental protections.
  2. It doesn’t seem like the DNR really wants this legislation to pass. So far they haven’t come out with any statement that really advocates for it. I also found a few pages on their site that might tell us how they really feel (because biodiversity was allocated to them for a reason in the first place!): This page justifies their “living legacies” program that is specifically geared towards biodiversity, and the one that Casperson wants to cut specifically, and this page is a nice description about why biodiversity is so important in MI (in which they call biodiversity the “spice of life”!). Clearly science has been done around biodiversity and the DNR protects it for a reason, a reason that should not be pushed aside for the sake of ideology and corporate convenience.
  3. I’ve heard that Michigan has the second highest amount of biodiversity in North America, just behind California. In this case, protecting biodiversity will be beneficial for Michigan because biodiversity is what allows us to produce so much food and materials for others to use. While large scale farming is not a best practice for maintaining biodiversity, we cannot take economic advantage of the biodiversity of our state without acknowledging the importance of this biodiversity and caring for it in critical areas.
  4. OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT, LIKE FRACKING. If the government isn’t protecting these lands anymore, they may sell them to oil and gas companies (like they did with 195,000 acres of land in November). This is particularly scary at this moment why hydraulic fracturing is becoming a more regular practice, directly threatening our drinking water and public health.

Step 2: Get more students on your campus to write letters and make phonecalls! This effort will only make an impact if we can engage the grassroots. Hold a tabling event at a high-traffic area on campus, ask to speak in front of your class, or just get all of your friends to make the phone call. Use the points listed above or below from MEC to come up with sample letter or email templates, or create talking points for people to use. The letter only needs to be 2-3 paragraphs in length, and make sure you include your address so that he takes you seriously as an MI citizen. Anything you can do to get more people on board with add momentum to this effort!

Here is an email I sent to Senator Casperson about the bill you can use as a reference:

Dear Senator Casperson,

I am very concerned about SB 78, a bill you are currently sponsoring to limit the DNR’s ability to protect biodiversity within our state. Biodiversity is, in fact, very important to Michigan’s economy. Michigan has the 2nd highest amount of biodiversity in our country, meaning that we are one of the state’s with the highest capacity to produce a broad variety of agriculture and materials. Perhaps more important, however, is the biodiversity of our natural areas. As a native of Michigan’s west coast, I know firsthand the beauty of our natural areas, but also the amount of business that these areas can bring to small towns in those areas. De-regulating biodiversity will directly affect Michigan’s economy and the ability of our citizens to thrive within in.
Even if you only intend to impact the DNR’s “Living Legacies” program, the changes you propose will impact the DNR broadly because of the definition changes included. We cannot redefine “conservation” or “biodiversity” without significantly impacting how our DNR cares for our forests and lands.
Please, consider the implications of what you are proposing and their benefit to our state. I urge you to stop this bill and do what is right for Michigan.
Elizabeth Starke
Ypsilanti, MI

Here is a little more specific language from the Michigan Environmental Council on what the bill actually says and why it’s bad for MI. Its great and very thorough, and they also have a really useful  blog post linked to it at the bottom:

What is SB 78? Confusion With DNR Biodiversity Stewardship Areas (BSA) Program

At the recent committee hearing and in the media, the lead sponsor and author of SB 78, Sen. Tom Casperson, has repeatedly claimed that the intent of his legislation is to stop implementation of a very specific program — the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area, or “BSA”) program.

While this may the sponsor’s intent, we as advocates and concerned citizens must deal with the actual bill language that has been introduced. 

The bill being voted on would completely redefine “conservation,” the concept of “biodiversity,” and restrict or remove the ability of the DNR to even consider “biodiversity” or “restoration” when managing state forests. It is not NOT SPECIFIC to the DNR’s BSA/Living Legacies program, but a set of sweeping changes to the scientific principles that guide all state land management. Specifically, it amends Part 355 (Biological Diversity Conservation) and Part 525 (Sustainable Forestry on State Forestlands) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994 to do the following:

  • Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.
  • Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either (the only portion specifically targeting the proposed BSA program).
  • Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
  • Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
  • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.
  • Repeal several sections that articulate the purpose of the original law, specifically deleting references to the Joint Legislative Working Committee on Biological Diversity (dissolved on December 30, 1995).

In addition to undermining Michigan’s commitment to common sense, science-based natural resources management, MEC analysis suggests the legislation may also endanger other core DNR programs, including our forest certification efforts, and put at risk areas that have long enabled people to see and appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural assets. Places such as Hartwick Pines, Haven Hill and others are managed and designated at least in part based on biodiversity values, but are also popular places for wildlife viewing and as places to experience Michigan’s history and cultural icons.

Please see our blog at http://www.michigandistilled.org/ to read MEC’s full commentary on these bills.

Please let me know there is any support I can offer with this effort! Email me at starkeel@gmail.com

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MI Students at the #ForwardOnClimate Rally

This past weekend Michigan students stood in solidarity with 40,00+ people asking President Obama to take immediate action on climate change, starting by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. With support from the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, the MSSC was able to take 55 students to this event in DC, representing Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, and Ferris State University.

After a 12 hour bus ride, we arrived in the city to start the rally near the Washington Monument. We heard from speakers such as the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune and Chief Jacqueline Thomas from the Sai’quz First Nation, and then proceeded to march around the White House with the crowd to demonstrate our power and size.

Here are some pictures that capture our time in DC!

CMU Students with their signs

CMU Students with their signs


Photo from Luke Dzwonkowski, MSU Student

the MI student parachute- photo by Anna Daves, GVSU student

the MI student parachute- photo by Anna Daves, GVSU student

Check out some more great photos from the Energy Action Coalition here! Will Jones, one of our students from EMU, was also featured on NPR yesterday, calling on President Obama to “man up and make a decision”

Perspectives and Thoughts:

Being from Michigan, most of us know first hand of the devastation that tar sands oil can bring. After spilling over a million gallons of tar sands in to the Kalamazoo River in 2010, Enbridge is still trying to clean up this mess. In addition to this clean up, they’re also trying to increase (double, actually) the amount of tar sands oil that flows through MI via a series of underground pipeline networks. All of us agree that pipeline regulations and safety standards are nowhere near where they need to be in order to protect our state from another spill, and these pipelines pose a huge threat to the Great Lakes.

Maybe it is because of our knowledge of this destruction that several students were struggling with the overall tone of the rally. Although we all thought it was necessary to pump people up (and warm them up!) with exciting music and speakers, some were confused as to why Eve was chosen to perform, and mainstream music was played throughout the event. Admittedly, after hearing two speakers from First Nation groups in Canada talk about how tar sands is literally killing and sickening wildlife and children, it did feel a little strange to participate in such a celebratory event. For many of us, this fight is far from over, and being so jubilant felt a little at odds with all the work we have left to do and the seriousness of this issue. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since leaving DC, and I’d like to offer a perspective on why I think the rally was organized the way it was.

I think that the organizers of this event really wanted President Obama to feel like he is on the winning side by rejecting the KXL pipeline. Instead of framing ourselves as a group of protestors on the fringe, it may have been a smart move to align ourselves more with the mainstream and give this event a tone of victory so that Obama feels he will be supported in this decision. I think that by appealing to the mainstream, this event can be seen as more powerful, as it’s no longer just a few “crazy college kids”, but an overwhelming group made up of families, youth, professionals, farmers, ranchers, native peoples, musicians, religious groups, a wide array of non-profits, and people representing many different social issues connected to climate change.  Hopefully President Obama will review photos and footage of this event (as he was in FL golfing with Tiger Woods that day…) and see an amazingly diverse and energized movement of people that are serious about climate change and confident in his ability to make a positive impact. I do, however, think that the organizers of this rally could have done a better job of communicating the intended tone to the people who were there.

They also did take time to set up a more serious and somber action- this past Wednesday 48 people locked themselves to the White House gates and were arrested there demanding that President Obama take action and reject the KXL Pipeline. Included in these arrests were top leaders from environmental organizations, individuals impacted by Sandy, farmers and ranchers from TX where KXL is being built, indigenous leaders from Alberta, Canada where tar sands are being mined, and many others. Hopefully this was an event that  can create a seriousness that perhaps the rally did not emphasize, and the combination of the two events can represent our well rounded and serious movement.

If anyone else has thoughts about how this event went or what it said about our movement, please comment to continue the discussion! But regardless of how it all went down, its clear that our movement is at its largest and most momentous point.  I read a really great article by CNN today about how the grassroots are absolutely necessary if we want to win this climate fight, so I’m confident that the actions we are taking today will make our future a better place.

Overall, this was a very inspiring and uplifting event for many students involved. Marissa Solomon, a student leader from the University of Michigan says that “marching in solidarity with 50,000 people of different cultures, parties, and backgrounds was the best feeling ever. This weekend showed me that no matter where you come from or what you believe, we can all agree that the climate matters.”

The MSSC will do all that we can to continue this work and take action around many serious issues. If you are interested in working with other students to make this happen, please sign up to join one of our working groups!

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The Summit: A Student Perspective

Here’s a few thoughts on our weekend from a student, Ian Seager at MSU. Leave a comment and share how you felt about the summit!

As I said in my farewell at the summit, last weekend was the most fun I have ever had outside of a music festival. That is true, but what I meant to say was that it was more fun! I learned so much about the things I can do to help make a difference and I had so many great conversations with wonderful people about things I never get to talk about; things that are really important to me. I’ve begun to understand how a community of strangers can become a family. My motivation and moral are as high as they have ever been. I was so jacked up after the first day that I couldn’t sleep so I stayed up and did tai chi and yoga for a few hours. Combine that with the excellent cuisine (mostly), and great atmosphere and I even feel physically healthier than I have in years. I can’t wait to spend more time with all of you in the future while we continue our work to change the world for the better. “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”-J.R.R. Tolkien


Here’s Ian at the summit, showing off some sweet skills.

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The Summit!!

After many posts working up to the summit, I am so excited to post that our 2013 Student Statewide Summit was a huge success! We were joined by over 100 student activists from 11 different MI campuses to engage in a weekend of training, knowledge sharing, and so much fun! Read more about it in this great article by CM Life.  Here’s a picture of us being awesome:

MSSC Student Summit 055

We started our day on Saturday by getting right in to some trainings- students could choose to attend a series of 3 workshops around either fracking, tar sands, campus sustainability, or divestment. During these trainings students were able to learn more about their chosen issue and engage in some brainstorming about how we can take action around these issues as a state. A lot of great ideas happened during these sessions, and I’ll be posting all of the notes taken around each issue very soon! For now just know that the MSSC will be re-launching its working groups so that students have a chance to participate in state planning for action around all of these issues.

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We also had some fun skill building trainings! Students could choose to learn more about grassroots tactics, leadership development, sustainable gardening, strategic direct action or arts and activism

Demonstrating some grassroots outreach!

Demonstrating some grassroots outreach!

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Making signs for CMU’s Community Garden

After a total of 440 hours of training (4 hours per person!) we had some great evening activities planned!

We skyped with 350.org’s Bill McKibben and got to hear about some of the most important work being done in the world- the work to limit the power that fossil fuel companies have to pollute freely and buy our politics. We also got to ask him some good questions, like what we think Obama will really do about the climate crisis and what our world would look like if we take serious action.

The part of our summit that everyone was most nervous about turned out to be wonderful! In order to keep costs down, we opted to have a student talent show for Saturday evening’s entertainment, and then we all spent the night in a nearby gymnasium.

Our talent show was a huge hit and we got to discover how many talented and brave activists we have in our midst! We had 10-15 people perform, and we ended up raising $60 to donate to help Highland Park install solar street lights. This was such a special part of the summit for me, because it truly showed how much love there is in our movement. We were able to create an extremely safe space in which everyone felt comfortable performing, and everyone who did perform was cheered on and celebrated by everyone in the audience.

Jordan Lindsay, MSU, sharing some poetry about taking responsibility for your food choices.

Jordan Lindsay, MSU, sharing some poetry about taking responsibility for your food choices.

Traven Lawrence, CMU, playing the Native American flute

Traven Lawrence, CMU, playing the Native American flute

Brian Smigielski, GVSU, playing the guitar and singing

Brian Smigielski, GVSU, playing the guitar and singing

Talent show finale- Alysha and Mariah (CMU) led everyone in Batuka!

Talent show finale- Alysha and Mariah (CMU) led everyone in Batuka!

And if you’re wondering what its like to spend the night in the gym with our movement, some great things happened! Including music making, yoga, parachute games, and igloo building!



More on that igloo…while there we helped CMU’s campaign to ban the sale of bottled water on campus (Take Back the Tap!) construct a visual that they can put on campus to help spread awareness about the issue. In a daring new feat, we helped them create an igloo made out of water bottles that they had found on campus. It turned out really well!





After a great Day 1, we all returned to CMU’s Bovee University Center (without too many complaints from sleeping on a  hard floor!) to engage in a day of networking, knowledge sharing, and brainstorming about how we can apply what we’d learned. We came up with a statewide calendar of events, and got to build the relationships that will allow us to move forward with continued collaboration and communication. We also created a banner that says “Destruction Knows no Borders” to carry with us at our upcoming trip to DC for the climate rally!

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MSSC Student Summit 063

Overall it was a wonderful weekend filled with wonderful people! For all I believe this was a great source of inspiration, we don’t always get to see and hear the people that are working alongside us in the fight for climate justice and a better world. I know that many students left this summit with plans to collaborate more on their campus or get more involved with the MSSC!

For any students looking to continue working with your statewide movement, join one of our working groups to get started on planning for more statewide action! Any and all students can also feel free to contact me for any support that myself or the MSSC can offer. I hope to be on campuses supporting student work a lot this spring! Email me at starkeel@gmail.com or give me a call at 616 212 7443

With that we’re on to our next adventure- 55 of us will be attending the largest climate rally ever! Look forward to some more posts about that. I also hope to publish some thoughts about our summit from the students who attended- stay tuned for more good stuff!

Love to all of our supporters and students!

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#ForwardonClimate MI Trip to DC!

***UPDATE*** Our bus is officially full!

We all had a great time this past fall travelling to DC to participate in the Do the Math tour and Keystone XL action, so its time to go back! But this time it will be for the biggest climate rally EVER, like 25,000 awesome people big.

Here are a few details so that you can know what to expect before you sign up!

With help from the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and a nice individual donor, we are able to book a bus to drive us all there. The cost for students will be just $20 to cover the remaining costs, and we have 55 seats available.

The bus will most likely leave from East Lansing at midnight Sunday morning, and make a pick-up in Ann Arbor at 1:30AM. This pick-up will be at the park and ride off of 23 at Plymouth Rd.  We will drive to DC, attend the rally, and leave 8 hours afterwards (so our bus driver can get some rest!). We are scheduled to arrive back in MI sometime very early Monday morning.

When we get to DC we will meet just north of the Washington Monument at noon to hear some great speakers, and then we will assemble on constitution ave. From here we will march to 15th street, and then form a giant human pipeline! This pipeline will represent KXL and our dirty energy systems of the past, but will eventually transform into a symbol of our renewable energy economy of the future. In 350.org’s words, “tens of thousands strong, we’ll form the largest symbol of hope for a safe climate future that this country has ever seen.” 

I can’t wait to stand in solidarity with thousands of people from across the country, and over 200 people from our home state! If you’re not convinced yet, come to our summit and hear Bill McKibben speak, and I promise you’ll be fired up and ready to take action with us.

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Summit Workshops Update

With our summit just 4 days away, here’s some more accurate descriptions of the workshops we will be offering. Student can pick 1 issue based track to participate in, and 1 skill building workshop. These issue based tracks will each feature 3 workshops about the issue, running from 1:00-4:00 on Saturday afternoon. The skill building workshops will directly follow, taking place from 4:00-5:00.

We have asked that you indicate which issue based workshop you’d like to participate in upon registration, but if anyone would like to make a change just send me an email at starkeel@gmail.com.

These issue based workshops aim to educate you about the issue, train you around a few key tactics, and immerse you in a dialogue of statewide power and momentum building.

  • Anti-Fracking: Join this group to learn about hydraulic fracturing, a harmful natural gas extraction process that is taking place in MI and across the country that can threaten our water sources and public health. These workshops will feature trainings around a few key tactics in the fracking fight, as well as a panel of fracking activists in MI who can answer any questions and offer a well rounded perspective on the issue and various strategies.
  • Anti-Tar Sands: Learn about how importing tar sands from Canada is not only destroying vital Canadian forests, but trampling the rights of people in MI and elsewhere. Participate in a discussion about how students can best engage with this issue and play a role in holding our state and tar sands companies responsible for their actions and pipelines. This is a fairly new campaign that will require some good brainstorming and creative tactics!
  • Divestment from Fossil Fuels: Discover more about this growing national campaign to limit the political power that fossil fuel companies have by asking our campus institutions to divest their money from these companies that impede climate action and pollute freely. You’ll learn about what divestment is and how to start an effective campaign on your campus!
  • Campus Sustainability: Participate in this discussion about what campus sustainability really means and learn more about how to negotiate with your administration for what your campus needs. These sessions will also offer useful insight as to how you can best start or move forward with sustainability projects on your campus.

When you check-in on Saturday morning we will ask you to select which skill building workshop you’d like to participate in. Check out these descriptions now so you’re prepared to choose on Saturday!

  • Grassroots Organizing: Start with the basics and learn more about the power of the grassroots and how you can help build it. Engage in a training that will help you convey your message effectively to any audience.
  • Leadership Development: Explore effective leadership qualities and learn more about the importance of diversity and creativity in organizing.  Help our movement survive by learning how to develop new leaders.
  • Strategic Direct Action: Discuss the philosophy of direct action and its uses, as well as explore the impact of cultural violence, power, and privilege on society.
  • Arts & Activism: Start thinking about how you can use your art as a powerful advocacy tool  that can speak to the masses in a way that conveys a deeper sense of human compassion and meaning. Discuss how we can integrate art with our activism more often to elevate the narrative of our work.
  • Sustainable Campus Gardening: Do some hands-on service work to support CMU’s Campus Grow, a group dedicated to organic farming and community development.

If anyone has any questions, please let me know! Again, all of these workshops will be lead by experienced student leaders, so get excited for some student power and knowledge building!

See you all soon!

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