After nearly a year off from activist work, I was inspired to attend the University of Oregon’s (UO) senate meeting Thursday, November 11, 2010. Although I care deeply about dozens, if not hundreds of concerns in the world, this particular issue is in my own backyard and would directly and immediately affect me. To give a brief synopsis: the University of Oregon is planning to build a four-story office building and a vast parking lot next to the Willamette River in an area that is treasured as open space. This is a location that I have spent many hours enjoying. It is a perfect place to relax, breathe deeply, clear one’s mind, and generally take a break from the stressful life of being a college student. Whenever I take a walk or run in the area, I always say afterwards, “I really needed that!”
The proposed building is part of the Riverfront Research Park, a controversial enterprise between the City and the University established in the 1980s. The building would be for private use, not for students. Despite twenty years of overwhelming opposition by students and faculty, the University continues to move forward with its plans for development. The University is vulnerable however, because it has not complied with a contract requiring public involvement and review. Because construction could begin before the end of the year, a resolution was put forth before the senate to hold the University accountable to students and faculty concerns, (buying time in order for due process to take place).
The evening prior to the event, I received an e-mail from a fellow student in my Green Cities class informing me of all the details of the upcoming senate meeting. This is the first stop along my communication observation trail. I receive dozens of e-mails every week to participate in meetings, rallies, events, lectures etc. to show my support for various organizations and causes. If I had the time, I would love to partake in many of these requests, but I simply do not. However, something in this e-mail prompted me to attend, plus it fit into my schedule. The e-mail was passionate yet very clear, concise, and direct; mostly it spoke to the urgency of the matter, and pulled at my responsibility chord to partake in civil discourse.
When I walked into the meeting, the room was full of unspoken communication. I decided to wear blue to show my solidarity in the passing of the resolution, just as I was instructed to in the e-mail. Somehow, this effortless act made me feel truly part of a larger group/cause. What a simple way to communicate the sheer numbers of support your organization, business, or community group has towards a specific goal. In contrast, several individuals sported a cape looking accessory, obviously with the same goal as the blue attire message; however, I was not sure if it was successful. I immediately assumed they were a group most likely on “my side,” after all it was a CAPE, but I didn’t really know what the intended message was. Although the cape itself was highly noticeable, the message printed on the back was extremely difficult to read. It wasn’t until someone sat directly in front of me that I could see printed on it, “Climate Justice League.” Indeed, they were on “my team,” but they should have printed their design in a much larger font!
This made me think about the blue shirts even more. The only reason I felt a part of this unspoken message was because I was privy to the memo prior to the event. If I hadn’t been told to wear blue, would I have even noticed all the other individuals wearing it? This act would have been more effective if the presenter of the resolution acknowledged the gesture, which he did not.
Throughout the proceedings, I took note of the effectiveness of varying comments, questions, and presentations. What made me want to listen at the edge of my seat to certain individuals, and completely “zone out” to others? Here I would like to drive home an important point. When a group, committee, or organization needs to give a compelling presentation to persuade people to think, feel, or vote a certain way, it is crucial that individual has charisma. They should have a strong confident voice and feel comfortable in front of people. The presentation should be heartfelt as well as organized, and it’s okay to “wing” it a little if that adds authenticity, as long as it doesn’t appear unorganized.
I would argue that having a person grab and keep the audience’s attention through a passionate sound delivery is more valuable than having a person that knows the most about a subject. This is where knowing your group members strengths really comes in handy. The individual that has both the charisma and the knowledge is truly a gem in the toolbox!
After the presentation (that was well organized by the way), the floor was opened for questions and comments. I was concerned that a sea of hands did not immediately go up. I quickly resolved that I would have to speak on behalf of the cause if “my team” needed me, but I was concerned about my ability. I had not come prepared to speak; I simply wanted to be an extra number for support as well as gain experience from the proceedings. I thought about the sage advice I had been given the week before from my Green Cities professor Robert Young, about successful organizing, “coming in numbers, being creative and coming prepared.” How effective could I really be without doing my research, without having my talking points, without having a clear concise message, without practicing my comment? I quickly decided I had already let my “team” down by not coming prepared. Yet, instead of thinking of the ways I had “failed,” I decided to focus on what I could do. Number one, I was there and that spoke volumes of my concern and dedication. Two, we all have a story to tell explaining why we care deeply about a cause or situation. I may not have come primed with my facts, but I had a personal story, and I began constructing it in my head “just in case.” To my somewhat relief, hands started shooting up quickly thereafter, so it was not necessary for me to speak.
No one commented in opposition of the resolution and when the time came to vote, it passed unanimously. I felt so proud to be in the room at that moment, watching history unfold before my very eyes. Although the resolution is a tiny step of victory that buys some time, it was a great feeling to witness a “win” for our team. I left feeling empowered, and convinced that I should get back on that wagon and show my public support for the things that I truly care deeply about, just like I would encourage everyone to do!
For more information on the resolution and the proposed building, please visit: Connecting Eugene’s website.