Monday, April 21, 2014

Eric J. Fushs-Stengel: A Young Leader and Environmental Activist

By Kristen Andrada

“If there was a perfect way to do things, our problems would be fixed by now.”

Eric J. Fushs-Stengel, the executive director and founder of the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization (MEVO), reminded his audience of the difficulties of creating a sustainable world at the Expert Practitioner Series at Ramapo College on Thursday, April 10.

He said to embrace imperfection and face challenges head on. He introduced how MEVO came to be and the programs they do, but those details won’t be discussed here because MEVO has its own website that provides more detail:

Instead, this article will describe the values behind MEVO and re-iterate MEVO’s concepts on building a movement. Eric reminds everyone that every issue is interrelated, that finding the solution to one problem may relieve the difficulties of another problem. He believes that changing your values to join the environmental movement does not mean to change your shopping habits - he emphasizes that Americans need to reduce what we purchase because consumption is a root of many environmental problems. Eric supports collective action rather than the rally of “green” fairs because with collective action, people rally together to do cleans ups or plant gardens while green fairs, despite raising environmental awareness, still generate waste.

Eric provides the types of action within the environmental movement: advocacy, education, community service, politics, direct action, corporate greening, protest, and beautification. Rather than calling this an environmental movement, Eric states that these actions bring about change in society, an environmental revolution. He says that a person can choose an action and be proficient at it, because “it’s important to take action than inaction.” It is encouraged to address environmental problems in your own way and that could be expressed through many of these actions.

Activists are advised to engage with schools, government, and corporations, the “dark matter.” Eric reminds us that these institutions, this dark matter, created where we are and how we got here, to our present situation. “Insert yourself into dark matter. Agitate it.” In order for our environmental revolution to take place, we must interact with these entities and our influence will become their influence on the rest of society.

The young activist advises how environmental leaders and organizations can become successful. His first advice was to know what you can accomplish and adapt to changes. A person must be able to size up his challenges and be able to make do with the connections he or she has in order to make things happen. Second, start with no money. This actually startled a few people at first, but Eric explains that it makes it easier for an organization to start with no money because there are no restrictions and when an organization seeks to do something and asks for the cooperation with dark matter, he is certain that dark matter will provide the materials and resources you need.

His third advice was to be persistent through big wins and small victories. An example of this was his first MEVO clean up when no one else showed up, yet he still cleaned up despite he was the only person who attended the event. And now MEVO’s clean ups are as large as a hundred people in one place. Finally, his last advice was to dedicate yourself to it and others will follow.

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