Why am I an activist? Weeds from the cracks.

I could probably go on and on about why I am an edutainer (a word Jonathan Youtt though up, that aptly fits what we do with the Sustainable Living Roadshow’s Conscious Carnival). It’s something to do. It sometimes pays. It’s an amazing way to be involved in the conversations that matter. Many folks get confused when I tell them what I do, which can also be described as an environmentalist carny activist. Huh?

After working for Ben Cohen’s Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (in VT, IA, and NH… see the blog posts here) as a carny activist (“spokesperson”), I came back to San Francisco and plugged into Jonathan’s version of eco-themed games. We only had Toss Out Fossil Fuels at first, but then Jon added Recycle Swish, Eco-opolis, the GMO Freak Show, Seeds for Change and then the rest of the Roadshow.

But today, at BART’s Blue Sky Earth Day celebration, I have two clear examples of why I love bringing games with a message to the general public. One would think that San Francisco and the Bay Area is an educated place where we are all lefties that live the liberal dream of hybrid cars, organic food, and biking to work.

Today, while working Eco-opolis (The Model Green City. The city of tomorrow today.) a young woman came up to the game asking about GMO foods. She had NO IDEA what genetically modified foods were. She was shocked to find out that corporations like Monsanto genetically alter all kinds of foods and vegetable products (we do not eat cotton, but it is GMO). She learned that organic means, for the most part, not GMO, and that there is no law to label food as GMO in the USA (though this might change if California gets a proposition on the ballot for November). She learned to ask about where the food comes from and if it is GMO. She learned that local farmers markets are the places to go to talk directly to the farmers about their produce. And I personally learned that what I do with the SLR actually matters for those people who don’t keep up with this.

Secondly, a blue collar worker came up to the Eco-opolis game and started asking me questions about bike lanes. He was dressed as a carpenter, with another guy dressed the same way, wearing canvas overalls, big boots, and a work shirt. This guy lived in Hayward and biked to work every week via the dangerous frontage roads near the Coliseum BART station. He hated the commute but is a committed cyclist. He asked me how he could get bike lanes in Hayward and so we had a great talk about Bike Coalitions, Safe Routes to School, and organizing local cyclists to pool their resources and get the local government to direct funds towards safe cycling routes. I personally learned, once again, that you can never judge a person by their appearance. This is always a sweet lesson to receive again and again.

So why am I an eco-carny? Simple: because of these two people. In a matter of 30 minutes, I made a difference for these two folks. They walked away from my game empowered and more informed. I saw them walk away happy to be where I was and as passionate about what I do. I have a few analogies that I use to tell myself that I am helping shape the future. One analogy is about urban vegetation.

Where there are cracks in concrete and asphalt, weeds and flowers will grow. And, over time, those cracks widen and become more green. This is a simple way of staying optimistic for the future, and for the progress of humanity.