I entered the Interdependence Project (IDP) meeting at their Bowery location on No Impact Day with a sense of anticipation. IDP joined an initiative to rid New York City of plastic bags. As someone who has been following them online, I was glad to see that they were hosting events on the weekend when I was visiting New York City for my sister’s birthday. As we went around the room sharing one word about how we felt, I was comforted to learn that I wasn’t the only one who felt anxious, excited and curious.
IDP hosted this event in collaboration with Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man. Colin emphasized that it was the folks in the room who organized the day of action and not him. He stressed that we shouldn’t be attached to particular outcomes, but should pay attention to how people react to us and how we react to the experience. After he got things rolling, he handed things over to the group and left the room.
The participants included a range of experience in social service and activism. One woman who works at an alternative school considered how she could get her students involved. She wanted to win and she was eager to get out and take action instead of just talking about it. Another woman shared a wealth of experience from Green Peace organizing. My partner turned out to work in development at an old settlement house.
There was a certain vitality and freshness in the room. There was open space for everyone’s contribution. I shared some ideas from my experience canvassing against George W. Bush in 2004 and people welcomed them, even though I plopped in after they had been preparing for at least a week.
We came up with last-minute strategy tweaks to the existing plan of going out in pairs of two and requesting store clerks and managers to consider switching from automatically offering customers plastic bags to asking first if they are needed. If appropriate, we asked if the store would consider taking steps towards eliminating plastic bags altogether- a major campaign embraced by IDP.
Hitting the streets
The fear and anxiety was quickly transformed into exhilaration and with every uninterested or hostile comment, I was ready to learn, smile and move on, just like my days canvassing. The first woman we talked to (pictures) was friendly and sympathetic and invited us to leave fliers.
Coming back, we shared our experiences. A few people’s descriptions really reminded me of the ethos of what we call a Bearing Witness Plunge at the Zen Peacemakers. Colin noted that we developed a palpable conviviality between us. Thanks IDP!