The planet we share, the only home we’ve ever known, has its limits. Its resources, its ability to sustain all life, are not infinite—and every day we are bearing witness to the disastrous consequences of mortgaging our collective future on the false belief that they are. The path we are on now is untenable, something’s going to give. Whether it comes from us or for us, change is coming nonetheless.
As an ecologically and civilizationally sustainable alternative to an unsustainable global system driven by the economic necessity of infinite growth, “degrowth“ can mean many things and could take many practical forms. But “degrowth” is perhaps less useful as a prescribed solution, a blueprint for the future, than as a frame for thinking and acting differently in the present. “What does degrowth look like in practice? How are different people, in different parts of the world, already embodying and enacting degrowth in their daily lives?” These questions have no single answer, but posing the questions in the first place, and searching for the numerous potential answers, is an essential process that can help us better diagnose what is off balance in our world and what it would take to heal.
For the past year, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez has had the honor of participating in a fellowship program for The Maintainers, “a global research network interested in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.” In Part II of our special two-part episode produced in collaboration with The Maintainers, we meet some of the other members of The Maintainers team as well as the 2022 Maintainers Movement Fellows, and we take a deep dive into their cornerstone group project, “Embodying Degrowth.”
Featuring: Andy Russell, Co-Founder and Co-Director of The Maintainers; Lauren Dapena Fraiz, Project Manager for The Maintainers; Liliana Coelho, Community Outreach and Events Coordinator at The Maintainers; Rheanna Chen, 2022 Maintainers Movement Fellow; Tona Rodriguez-Nikl, 2022 Maintainers Movement Fellow; Sam Bennett, 2022 Maintainers Movement Fellow; Leila D. Behjat, 2022 Maintainers Movement Fellow; Maximillian Alvarez, 2022 Maintainers Movement Fellow.
Additional links/info below…
- The Maintainers website and Twitter page
- Dec. 15: Embodying Degrowth: An Event with The Maintainers Movement Fellows
- Working People, “What Could a Worker-Focused Just Transition Look Like? (w/ Megan Milliken Biven, James Hiatt, & Clarke)“
- The Maintainers: Andy Russell
- The Maintainers: Lauren Dapena Fraiz
- The Maintainers: Liliana Coehlo
- The Maintainers: Rheanna Chen
- The Maintainers: Tona Rodriguez-Nikl
- The Maintainers: Sam Bennett
- The Maintainers: Leila D. Behjat
- The Maintainers: Maximillian Alvarez
Permanent links below…
- Leave us a voicemail and we might play it on the show!
- Labor Radio / Podcast Network website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- In These Times website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- The Real News Network website, YouTube channel, podcast feeds, Facebook page, and Twitter page
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemusicarchive.org)
- Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song
Post-Production: Jules Taylor
Maximillian Alvarez: All right, welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you.
My name is Maximillian Alvarez, and I could not be more excited to present to you all today part two of our special episode highlighting the work of the Maintainers, a global research network interested in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human built world. As I mentioned in the introduction to the previous episode, for the past year I’ve had the tremendous honor of getting to work with the incredible Maintainers team, including the other members of the 2022 cohort of Maintainers Movement Fellows: Rheanna Chen, Tona Rodriguez, Leila Behjat, and Sam Bennett.
In the last episode, you got to hear one of the interviews that I conducted for the Cornerstone Group project that I and the other Maintainers fellows have been working on all year. And in this episode, you’re going to get to meet the Maintainers team and learn more about the program itself, the fellowship, and about the group project that we worked on together, which ended up bringing our vastly different interests and areas of expertise together to bear on the question of embodying degrowth in the age of climate catastrophe.
Now, as I also mentioned in the introduction to the previous episode, we fully understand that degrowth is a loaded term with many potential meanings, and it was not our mission to try to come up with a single all-encompassing definition, nor do we just take the term degrowth for granted. I mean, we spent all year interrogating it, probing it, talking to different people about what practicing degrowth looks like for them, even if they don’t call it that.
Before we get into the good stuff in today’s episode, though, just to make sure that you all listening have something to grasp onto and something to chew on and interrogate yourselves, I wanted to read this passage about degrowth by Giorgos Kallis, an ecological economist and political ecologist working on environmental justice and the limits to growth, and one of the foremost proponents of degrowth. So, Kallis writes, “Sustainable degrowth is defined as an equitable down-scaling of production and consumption that increases human wellbeing and enhances ecological conditions. Those of us who write about degrowth envision a future wherein societies live within their ecological means, with localized economies which distribute resources more equally through new forms of democratic institutions. Such societies will no longer have to ‘grow or die’. Material accumulation will no longer hold a central position in the cultural imagination. The primacy given to efficiency will be substituted by a focus on sufficiency. The organizing principles will be simplicity, conviviality, and sharing. Innovation will no longer be directed to new technology for technology’s sake, but to new social and technical arrangements that will enable a convivial and frugal living.”
Again, I really want to stress that I am not asking you to take Kallis’s or any other vision for a degrowth society at face value. Rather, as I and my fellow Maintainers have done for the past year, take this as an opportunity to think about the current disastrous link between climate change and our global economic order, which is premised upon and fueled by the need for infinite growth. Think about what it would actually take to break that link and to reorganize society around different principles and different needs. Think about what our world could look like if we organize life around those different principles and judge the success of our societies on their ability to meet those different needs. If nothing else, we, the Maintainers Movement Fellows of 2022, hope that our work for this fellowship will at least help others realize that imagining such alternative futures is more necessary, and building them is more possible, than we think.
The planet we share, the only home we’ve ever known, has its limits. Its resources, its ability to sustain all life are not infinite, and every day we are bearing witness to the disastrous consequences of mortgaging our collective future on the false belief that they are. The path we are on now is untenable, and something’s going to give. Whether it comes from us or for us, change is coming nonetheless. As an ecologically and civilizationally sustainable alternative to an unsustainable global system driven by the economic necessity of infinite growth, degrowth can mean many things and could take many practical forms, but degrowth is perhaps less useful as a prescribed solution, a blueprint for the future, than as a frame for thinking and acting differently in the present.
What does degrowth look like in practice? How are different people in different parts of the world already embodying and enacting degrowth in their daily lives? These questions have no single answer, but posing the questions in the first place and searching for the numerous potential answers is an essential process that can help us better diagnose what is off balance in our world and what it would take to heal.
As we have realized again and again over the course of this group project for the Maintainers fellowship, to even consider the practical possibilities of degrowth requires working with the acknowledgement that life on this planet is a complex web of inter-being in which the conditions for our ability to live are fundamentally intertwined. No model for planetary coexistence, growth-based or otherwise, can sustain itself if it does not attend to that sacred fact. Putting degrowth into practice, moreover, does not necessarily involve sudden, drastic changes on the individual or societal level to the way things are, nor does it require a robust, concerted, or even shared conviction about degrowth as such.
One may, and many do, embody degrowth by practicing traditional farming techniques and non-capitalistic approaches to commerce. Some may develop more ecologically conscientious approaches to engineering and maintaining the infrastructure of our built world, while others may find themselves engaging in sustainable practices just by laboring diligently to preserve what’s around us with care and minimal waste. Others still may be working in whatever capacity to make the transition away from the fossil fuel economy and the transition toward a planetarily sustainable economic system that more equitably distributes resources to serve the needs of all possibilities.
All of these, we think, are examples of embodying degrowth, and we’d like to introduce you to a number of incredible people we spoke to about what doing the work of degrowth, or whatever you want to call it, looks like and means to them. We’d also like to leave you with this thought: none of these examples, of course, are enough on their own to bring about the total changes we need to see in the world in order to survive and thrive, but each one makes those changes more possible. The more we act and the more of us who act as if a better world is possible, the more possible a better world becomes.
Before we check in with the other Maintainers Movement Fellows and explore our Embodying Degrowth project, let’s get to know a little bit more about the Maintainers as such. I want to introduce you all to some of the amazing folks who hold the Maintainers organization up behind the scenes, and who provided us fellows with a truly heroic amount of support and encouragement over the past year.
Andy Russell: Hi, my name’s Andy Russell. I’m the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, New York. I’m also a co-founder of the Maintainers, and my background is in the history of technology, where I write about boring things like standards in infrastructure and maintenance.
Lauren Dapena Fraiz: My name’s Lauren Dapena Fraiz. I’ve been a part of the Maintainers since August 2020. I’m a project manager, and I support the team in an organizational capacity of development, community coordination, and I work very closely with the fellows, and my background is in nonprofit development. I worked in feminist education, also community health programs and research.
Andy Russell: I’d like to tell you a little bit about the Maintainers, where it came from and where we’re headed. We started in 2015 with skepticism about the term “innovation”. You can’t see me, but I’m using scare quotes. One of the predominant and really oppressive terms of our time, it had become overwhelming the way that people were using it, not only in contemporary technology and business, but in my subfields of the history of business and the history of technology. So, one day I got irritated with a new book called The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, and I expressed that irritation to my friends, Lee Vincellin and Brad Fiddler, in a joke. I said, hey guys, we’re going to be rich. We should write a book called The Maintainers, and it got some laughs. Then Lee was blogging in those days, so he blogged about it, and it landed. It really resonated with a group of scholars who we interact with in the history and sociology of technology and computing and related fields.
We got going with a happy hour, as one does, which we held at the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology in Albuquerque in 2015. Then Lee and I held conferences at Stevens Institute of Technology, where we worked at the time in 2016 and 2017. Not to put too fine a point on it, in the meantime Stevens decided to brand itself as the innovation university. The things that stand out to me from those early meetings are the collegiality and good humor of the gatherings, as well as the fact that it was mostly but not entirely people from academia. We were thrilled to get proposals from architects, from people who work in urban infrastructure, and from a guy who I had never heard of at the time, Kyle Wiens, who is the CEO of iFixit, a leader in the Right to Repair movement.
And these principles remain foundational for us: collegiality; kindness; care for one another; openness to different perspectives; eclecticism, because maintenance is everywhere; humor; and an appreciation for the challenges and profound importance of maintenance, care, and infrastructure. And to really make a difference, this requires us to reach outside of our typical roles, disciplines, and professional communities, and comfort zones.
So, we’ve kept that momentum going in our current Maintainers work since those early meetings include virtual events, we’re ramping up the content production machine and blog posts, Instagram, which Liliana does a great job at managing, social media and more, and we’re building alliances with like-minded people in groups, and notably, and most exciting for me, developing programming beyond our conferences such as fellowships.
Lauren Dapena Fraiz: The Maintainers Movement Fellowship is a year-long fellowship that centers maintenance, thinking, and action. This year we granted four fellow awards. We had three individual fellows and one duo, and they’re all practitioners whose maintenance, repair, and care work have substantial connections to the environment. We understand the environment in a very flexible, in a very broad way, from addressing the climate crisis to built environments to the way that these practitioners work in their local environments.
The fellowship started as an effort to decentralize the research coming from the Maintainers team or conference spaces and to translate that into public programs that centers practitioners. By practitioners we mean either people that are on the ground carrying out maintenance practices or community repair networks. We’re also interested in being accessible and inclusive of people that are public communicators, educators, and also inclusive of academics that bridge research and practice. Throughout the fellowship, we really want to honor and highlight the work of people that are already out there carrying maintenance-related work, and people that are exploring different ways to bring maintenance and care in their communities.
The fellowship is created as a space for convening. This is something that we’ve seen over and over again through the conferences. There’s value in putting people together in conversation that otherwise would not be, and we have seen how maintenance, or other concepts that are related such as infrastructure, repair, and care, take on very different meanings, and it always is contingent on people’s backgrounds and experiences. It is challenging to put people together in the same space when they don’t come from similar fields, but when we do so, we see that powerful ideas and actions often arise.
The fellowship is very intentionally interdisciplinary, but we want it to be interdisciplinary in a meaningful way. Our fellows are coming from different experiences, completely different fields, different personalities, different geographies, and have their own unique maintenance interests, but the richness of this fellowship precisely lies in the particular chemistry of the group. And we see that you have all taken a challenge, which is to find the common ground. In your case, it comes from the very complicated concept of degrowth, and it’s been really interesting and inspiring to see how you’ve taken on this term and connected to other themes, such as web of inter-being, local practices such as permaculture, or tying it to the idea of solidarity.
Through the fellowship, we see that there’s been a space of mutual care, honesty, and understanding that was generated and cultivated by the fellows. I think that is the number one characteristic of this group. In almost every meeting there’s been an acknowledgement or an understanding of the collective burnout due to hard political, social, and personal realities, and I think the fellows have always brought care for each other. They gave space to each other, and in every single meeting there’s been a check-in to see how everybody was showing up. And this happened in a very spontaneous way, and it incidentally served to shape the work that you all have been doing in your writings and also in this degrowth project. You’ve made something that is meaningful, that inspires you, and we are excited to see how it will inspire others, and hopefully bring people to explore degrowth practices and principles in their lives.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, speaking from experience, if you are looking to collaborate with a truly unique and intellectually exciting organization with lots of lovely, dedicated people doing important work, I highly recommend that you connect with Lauren, Andy, and the good folks over at the Maintainers. I mean, sure, I’m very obviously biased here, but to be honest, this past year being a Maintainers Movement Fellow has been a truly remarkable experience, a challenge in the best way possible, and I will always cherish the opportunity the Maintainers gave me to work with my awesome cohort of movement fellows: Rheanna, Tona, Leila, and Sam. I’ve learned so much over the past year from these brilliant people and from getting to work collaboratively with them on our cornerstone project: Embodying Degrowth.
Rheanna Chen: My name is Rheanna Chen, coming from the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean, and the Maintainers Movement was really an investigation into myself. I definitely struggled with not feeling like a caring person capable of repairing and maintaining a lot of the levels of my life, external and internal, so this opportunity really was a way to step back, to connect with other people in a way that was meaningful. My life is devoted to ecology, arts, and connection. That’s my lifelong commitment. You can find me in a four and a half acre botanic garden called Ajoupa in central Trinidad, which is a permaculture site for over 200 varieties of trees, flowers, birds, butterflies, really lovely. But on another note, I work as the regenerative project manager for two eco resorts: Asa Wright Nature Center and [inaudible], known for leatherback turtle conservation, and also working with birds along the tropical rainforest.
And then I work with what’s called Nudge Caribbean, a social enterprise, as their consultant in social innovation and food security of how we can help small and micro food and beverage businesses across the Caribbean in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Saint Lucia to access the next step in their business product lifecycle. So, that’s who I am in a nutshell. You can find me hiding in a hammock reading a [inaudible], oftentimes questioning the larger existential questions of life or what truly matters and why are we here and how can we make the world a better place.
Getting accepted into this program, I really did not have any expectations. It was my first fellowship I’ve ever done, but my hopes were to connect with some incredible human beings from different parts of the world to gain a glimpse into these other realities. So, it’s been a pleasure through Max, Tona, Leila, and Sam to really challenge the work that I do in a different multidimensional approach. I wanted to hold myself accountable, to almost have a barometer of checking back as to these three questions of care, repair, and maintenance. I felt it was like a personal and professional journey, as every time we came back together in a meeting, the hope really was the check-in with myself of where am I falling short, how can I show up with a little bit more presence, and hold myself in a light that I can be more caring. Or how can I bring a sense of repair and maintenance into the world of environmental conservation that I do, because sometimes these realms of activism aren’t always the most regenerative. So, this fellowship has been a way to anchor me in a way, to grow in the way that I need to to be of greatest service to this world.
Tona Rodriguez-Nikl: So, my name’s Tona Rodriguez. I’m a professor of Civil Engineering at Cal State LA, and I wear two hats, one of them technical, one non-technical. I always find that the technical hat is boring to talk about, so I’ll skip that. Not boring to me, but boring to most other people. The non-technical work revolves around the broader impacts of technology, philosophy of engineering, engineering ethics. I’ve done some work in systems thinking. I recently wrote a chapter in a book on post-work and the climate disaster. So, I like doing a lot of broad thinking about our society, how technology fits in, and where we’re headed.
I think that when I came into this fellowship, the intuition that was driving me was that I see unrestrained growth in our economy ending sooner or later, and I wanted to see what this meant for us as people, more particular to my field, what it meant for us as engineers, as developers of technology. And I feel like it’s an opportunity that we have to revisit our relationship with our things, and I wanted to explore these ideas. And I’m happy to have had, I think as Rheanna said, such a broad range of people to explore these topics with. It’s been fantastic.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, my name is Maximillian Alvarez. I am currently the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network in Baltimore, a nonprofit news network where we cover the stories and struggles of regular people fighting against exploitation in their workplaces, fighting against the terror of the police-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex, fighting on the front lines for a better world as climate catastrophe gets worse, as inequality gets worse, so on and so forth. I’m also the host of the podcast Working People, and in a past life, in my academic life, I earned my dual PhD in history and comparative literature at the University of Michigan, where I focused a lot on media as a form of infrastructure, as a technology that is essential for movement building and world changing. I was particularly looking at the ways that radical movements around the time of the Mexican Revolution harnessed emerging media technologies to grow the movement for revolution and the movement for a more just and equitable Mexican state in the years after the Mexican Revolution.
I’m also the author of a new book that came out this year, which I was actually working on when I decided to apply for the Maintainers Fellowship, and that book is a collection of 10 interviews that I recorded with various workers in the United States, and those interviews were recorded after the first year of COVID-19. I spoke to them about their lives, their jobs, their struggles, their experience of COVID-19 in that first pivotal year when the world itself seemed to break apart.
And so, the experience of applying for, and being a fellow in the Maintainers Fellowship program is, for me, intimately tied to the project of my book, The Work of Living, and the work that I do at The Real News Network and at Working People every week. I had spent so much time during the COVID-19 pandemic interviewing essential workers, both workers who were deemed essential by their employers, by the government, but also so many people who do essential work even if we don’t call it that or recognize it as such. Whether that is domestic labor, parenting, whether that is gig work, whether that is working in warehouses or other areas of the supply chain that we all depended on during COVID-19 and beyond.
So when I applied for this fellowship, I was very much in the mind space of wanting to continue to lift up the flesh and blood human beings upon whom our entire infrastructure depends, our entire economy depends, and so much else that we take for granted in this world depends. I thought it was essential for whatever kinds of discussions we, as a group of fellows, got into about the maintenance of our shared world, the built infrastructure and architecture of that world, the economic systems that drive and shape the world that we all inhabit. I wanted to lift up the voices and struggles and jobs and insight of the people who are actually making the world itself run.
That’s really what I came into this fellowship wanting to do, and I genuinely couldn’t be prouder of the work that we as a group have done together. And I think that I definitely had bigger ambitions for what I wanted to do coming into the fellowship, but it’s actually quite indicative of the work that we’ve all done together to say that, once we started getting into the thick of it, we realized, well, there’s so much here to look at that we should really zero in on one or two topics and really focus on those.
So for me, wanting to think about maintenance and care and infrastructure through the lenses of the lives of the working people upon whom our lives and economy and supply chains depend, I realized very quickly, you can’t just build from that without doing the patient work of talking to people and listening carefully to them, talking amongst our fellows about what we’re hearing from the different folks that we were talking to. So we necessarily had to slow down to focus on what was in front of us instead of trying to achieve more than any group possibly could in the span of a year. I’m incredibly grateful to the Maintainers for offering us that opportunity.
Leila D. Behjat: My name is Leila Behjat. My background is German-Iranian, and I’m a trained architect that, over the years, has moved into renovation with healthier building materials and a specific interest in circularity. Now we have a term for it. Since 2019, I’ve been a senior researcher at Parsons Healthy Materials Lab where I focus a lot on vetting materials towards their material health. The whole mission is to support the design and architecture fields, to make change and make spaces healthier, simply spoken.
I’m also a mother of two daughters, which is very important, because it is bleeding into my remote work life a lot. At Parsons Healthy Materials Lab is also where I met the most wonderful Sam. Sam Bennett is a designer and also an educator. She teaches at several schools including Parsons School of Design and Pratt. And because she’s not here, I get to say that she’s an extremely talented and devoted maker. She’s specifically an expert in repairing textiles. A shout-out to her Instagram handle is Little French Fry, so you can find her there and see some of her work.
It was really Sam who asked me. She had heard about this fellowship. She asked me whether I’d want to work with her on this topic of maintenance and care. My first impulse was to work with Sam. I really, truly adore this wonderful woman. And so, that was my first impulse. I would’ve said yes to anything. But then, diving into the topic, I realized that this is really something that I also truly am very curious about. Then, I think what we’re all saying at this point, just realizing that this is a fantastic opportunity to tap into different hearts and minds and different viewpoints of people from who knows where. That was such a wealthy opportunity that I didn’t want to miss out.
Then, in terms of the topic at the lab, Parsons Health Materials Lab, but then also within this work that we call… Within the built environment, this is a topic that’s almost orphaned and yet so crucial, the care, and the maintenance, and the upkeep. And to have the opportunity to think more about this, understand it through different eyes and also different occupations, that was one of the main motivations and it’s proving to be so enriching.
Rheanna Chen: I’m really glad that the group does embody degrowth. On a personal level, I’ve been really touched by somatic therapy, of how do we as individuals feel trauma on a deeper level? That’s also part of a societal, collected trauma too, and the capitalism, this need of an alternative approach. When I think of degrowth, of course, there’s natural limits to everything. At what points do we slow down to rest or to choose another way of living?
I got excited, I’m with three couples, I’m on my island, the first [inaudible] and Tracy that live in a cottage at Ajoupa in the middle of the garden. One of the key pillars in their creative process, both as multidisciplinary artists, was the need to go into a portal. The need that, as much as you come out into the world to give of yourself, it’s the need to cocoon and go within. So whatever rest looks like, staying still, to enjoy nature, to have a quiet moment of solitude, that’s something I felt important, that we need to press the brakes to pause.
There’s no need to keep getting in this trance of busy and doing, and to actually say, what do I need in this moment so that I could show up more authentically? Then I moved down the road to Wa Samaki Permaculture which is a huge 30-acre estate with everything from citrus trees to donkeys to compost, worms.
I met this lovely couple, Malia and Ken, who are only in their 20s, and they’re building a tiny house of their own with natural [inaudible], and straw, and mud, and donkey manure. It’s really inspiring to see another young couple choose this life. But I think the reality is that there’s a lot of hard work, living off of the land. You can be out of the capital in Port of Spain and Trinidad, but still you have to wake up at sunrise to go harvest grass to feed the donkeys. They have a lolly popsicle company that they’re working at, that and working with the land.
How much do you take on, where it seems like too much? And what are the projects that seem to be the priority? So for them, that’s because of a foundation and shared interest of living a more organic lifestyle that they chose to build a house together, but sometimes I wonder, should we only take on that which we can continue to sustain? So being able to sustain something, you have to sacrifice. What will I be doing if I’m working and giving my life to this project, and what do I give up? So long-term sacrifice and short-term gratification.
And then the third couple, I was really excited, as I take you around my island. I was in the foothills of what is called Maracas Valley where you can see the clouds rolling in, after rain it’s a lovely rainbow, and this is Michael and Leia, who are chocolate makers. Not only do they have their own company, they train other farmers in the community. And Michael talked about… There’s two things that really stood out. This giant amoeba too, that, yes, we can keep accumulating all of these things, but what is the point? Things being material, but also be an intrinsic success where you don’t have the role of community to share with?
And when you go to the Latin word of [communitas], to belong, or that shared sense of humanity, it’s such an important role to feel this larger connection to other people, and how can you share those resources. And in the end of that interview, Michael got injured by a tree when he got into this [inaudible] task of to do anything he needs to do things on his own that he actually got injured and he had no choice but to rest and to ask for help from his neighbors.
So there is a value, yes, to pursuing our goals and dreams, but when you can open up to the vulnerability of receiving help, even from our neighbors, even in moments where we can feel alone, and especially coming out of a pandemic where we all struggled with grief, feeling alone, and that tenderhearted experience of sadness, that as we reopen as a human civilization, who can we lean on in those tough times? That as much as we celebrate the victory, soon in this capitalist society and accumulation, what is the point at the end of the day, and who are we choosing to share it with beyond family, friends, and greater geographical watershed?
So the question is what truly matters? And the three interviews really left me feeling a sense that the need for sacred [pause], to prioritize what’s important, and to share with communities in a way that feels meaningful.
Tona Rodriguez-Nikl: As this project got started, there were several different people that I wanted to reach out to, people from different aspects of my life, and two of them panned out. The first of these is a structural engineer who I know through my professional circles. His name’s Jim [D’aloisio], and his work is in carbon emissions. He works to reduce carbon emissions in the materials that are used in construction as well as building operations.
But what really struck me about him was his personal commitment. He lives in Upstate New York, we were meeting at a conference, I don’t remember where, but it was in the middle of the country, and he had taken a train that took him several days to get there. As you know, passenger rail in this country is really not fast at all. We were working in the sustainability committee of our professional association, and what struck me is that here’s somebody who really actually gets away from any kind of personal dissonance and puts his money where his mouth is and actually walks in his personal life what he’s saying he’s doing in his professional life. Of course, the rest of us had just flown there from who knows where.
This wasn’t a hardship for him. This actually was an opportunity for him to meet new people, to get some relaxed work done on the train, to see the country in a new way. So his commitment and his openness to seeing the alternative as positive, these were both very inspiring. So they led me to get to want to know him better as a person.
The other person that I talked to actually ended up being a family, but a colleague of mine that works at my university in the history department, Choi Chatterjee, has a homestead, just an urban homestead. And we’ve talked about it over the years, and I had a standing invitation to go see it. And I have interest in gardening, although you wouldn’t know that from looking at my garden. I have interest in this idea that everything works together, or everything can be made to work together, and it was interesting for me to see that firsthand.
So Choi and her husband Omer invited us to their homestead. They prepared us a nice home cooked meal with their homegrown ingredients. They served us quiche, nopal with tamarind, Indian style grape jam, pickled grapes, honey, grapefruit wine, and fig liquor. Most of the ingredients, the eggs, the nopal, the grapes, the honey, the grapefruit, the figs were all from their garden. Our kids played with their tortoises, and afterwards we sat down for a nice conversation.
So these are the two folks. One thing that stood out to me with both of them is that they both have a very open and positive approach to an unknown future. Jim is working on an industry effort to reduce CO2 emissions essentially down to zero. Of course there’s low-hanging fruit, things that we know can be done, but then there’s a big unknown out there. But that big unknown really doesn’t bother him. He says, as in any major endeavor, you take one step at a time.
There’s so much low-hanging fruit, you know you can cut down the carbon emissions of your building by 50% using off-the-shelf technology, without any additional construction costs. But in the future, what are they going to do in 20 or 30 years? I don’t know. Nobody does. But we can move forward in that direction. And his energy in the face of that uncertainty is really neat.
And then Choi and Omer, as they’re working on their garden and learning every year, and every year is different, they say, there was no blueprint. I think that’s the fun part. We’re constantly discovering things. Choi says, I never felt like, oh, I had it figured out. I get something random every day.
So again, this openness to reaching the future where it is, is something that was remarkable in both of them. What I appreciated about the conversation with Choi and Omer is that they pushed back against the idea of degrowth as they see it, and that was really useful. They bring in their perspective, being from India and from Pakistan, and Choi says, to summarize their point of view, Choi says, I don’t know if it’s correct of me to tell them to just keep being a peasant while I enjoy modernity. I think this caution that they bring towards this concept of doing with less is really important because it gets into issues of justice, it gets into the question of degrowth for whom, and it gets to this idea that whatever changes we make have to keep in mind all of the people that the change is going to affect.
Maximillian Alvarez: Honestly, I’m just so incredibly grateful for having the chance to get to talk to the folks that I talk to for the Embodying Degrowth project. I got to talk to oil and gas industry workers who are former workers in the fossil fuel industry who want to be part of the change, be part of the movement to transition away from the fossil fuel economy, which I thought was really incredible, because normally it’s precisely these kinds of workers who are held up as justifications by politicians and people in the media… They’re held up as the poster children for why we can’t move away from the fossil fuel industry. So I thought that was really powerful hearing the folks that I talked to say something very different.
And I got to talk to David Whiteside of the Tennessee Riverkeeper. He’s the founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper. They do incredible work, not just river cleanup, but they do a lot of legal work to try to hold big polluters accountable, try to keep the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River as clean as possible. David does such incredible work over there, and he’s up against such imposing odds. But I thought it was really, really beautiful to hear him talk about how he sees his environmentalism today as a continuation of his family’s amazing history of fighting for civil rights in the Deep South. Just really, really amazing people that I’ve had the honor to get to chat to for this project.
And of course it’s been tremendous getting to listen to all the great interviews that you guys have done for this project as well. So I just wanted to highlight one portion of one interview that really, really spoke to me. I had the tremendous honor to get to chat with Duane Chili Yazzie. Full disclosure, I’ve actually been able to interview Chili before, and that was for my book, The Work of Living, and when I talked to Chili about what it was like for him and other folks on the Navajo Reservation out there in Shiprock, New Mexico, where Chili lives with his family, what it was like going through COVID over there. Obviously we know that Navajo Nation was hit incredibly hard, as were so many Indigenous communities and reservations that have been under-resourced and deliberately disadvantaged and pushed to the brink of extinction through colonial violence, so on and so forth.
So I wanted this conversation for the Maintainers to be the next chapter in that conversation, because Chili had mentioned some things to me in the interview for the book that I really wanted to follow up on for this group project. Specifically, Chili… The man is just incredible. He’s had such an incredible life. Parts of his life story don’t even seem believable, but when you hear him talk about it, and you realize, oh yeah, this all happened to this guy, it’s really incredible to behold.
He was heavily involved from a young age in the burgeoning American Indian movement, the fight for Indigenous liberation. He toured with the Native American rock band Exit, so he was a rock and roller, badass guy in the ’70s and ’60s too. Then he served decades in the Navajo government, different positions, and serving his community. Then he retired recently. And when COVID hit, he and other local family farmers realized, even though they were incredibly grateful for the aid that was being shipped into Navajo Nation from outside, the food that was being trucked in during the early days of COVID, of course that was so essential for people there.
But they all realized that the quality of this food’s not great. There’s a lot of processed stuff. And also the obvious thing that Chili told me is that, watching this unfold during COVID-19 made him painfully aware of how dependent he and his people were on this supply chain that was bringing food stuffs and essential goods from outside of Navajo Nation into Navajo Nation, and if anything happened to that supply chain, they would be in a really, really awful spot. And that’s on top of being and living and farming in the American Southwest where the waters are drying up, the effects of climate change can be felt every day, and Chili does feel them.
There was a real sense of urgency in the conversations that I’ve gotten to have with Chili because he realized that, in working with other local farmers in the Navajo Nation to band together, collectivize their operations and form what was then called the Shiprock Traditional Farmers Cooperative, they pooled their resources, they helped each other to provide good, nutritious, organic produce for the local schools, for other members of their community, for the Pueblo communities along the border.
So it was this real incredible cooperative, a farming cooperative that grew out of the need that was felt during COVID-19, and it’s had tremendous success in the short time that it’s been around, and I really, really can’t wait to see what Chili and the other farmers over there are able to do with this. But the thing I wanted to highlight in this clip coming up is that Chili also, as he so beautifully and often does, he sees this type of farming, the organic methods that as he says, these are traditional, or they’re more in line with our traditional Navajo farming practices than the industrial farming, like the heavy machinery, the herbicides, the forms of mass production that Chili calls, rightly I think, colonialized farming. And he sees this type of collective, cooperative, more traditional and organic farming practice that he’s involved in over there, this is essential in more ways than one. Both to provide food for his people, and as he says Indigenous people, we can’t claim sovereignty unless we can feed ourselves. So there’s a really crucial imperative there to be self-sustaining, to be able to provide for one’s self and one’s people through these sorts of practices.
But what Chili also said is that the colonialized farming that he references, the industrial farming that has destroyed so many farmlands including in the American Southwest and on the Navajo reservations, this is what happens when capitalism and the priority of profit takes precedence over everything else. So you scale up, you switch to mono crops, you constantly turn over the soil, you really debilitate the earth’s ability to heal and replenish itself year after year. This colonialized type of farming, this farming that is driven by the capitalist need for profit, when that becomes the organizing principle around which everything else is done, then you get really destructive practices that lead to a dead end. Chili will say, we’re going to run out of good soil to use. We’re going to run out of water to use.
And so, this type of farming that is connected to a whole ethos, this whole capitalist mindset is quite literally killing the earth upon which we depend. And so I think that, as Chili puts it really beautifully in this clip that we’re about to play, the regenerative agriculture that they’re practicing down there with the Traditional Farmers Cooperative, the types of irrigation that they’re doing, the types of… Like I said, the organic practices. They’re not using industrial chemicals, all of that stuff. They’re trying to diversify crops. And all of that, there’s a real larger purpose to it. It’s, as Chili would describe it, a responsible stewardship of one’s role in the ecosystem, of one’s role in helping to maintain and preserve the balance of that ecosystem. And so that’s what Chili describes in this clip as part of the regenerative agriculture and the cooperative farming methods that he and his fellow farmers in Navajo Nation are working together on.
Chili Yazzie: The practice of our region farming, our [inaudible], is actually a return to our traditional practices of farming. It’s a new old kind of situation for us. And the way that I look at it is it goes farther back than just agriculture. It goes back to our roots, and where we maintain our original… To try to put in a modern context, to maintain our beginning, our original relationship with the earth. Where we know, it’s not speculation or anything like that. We know that the earth is alive, it has spirit, and it certainly takes care of every need that we have as human beings, as well as all other life on the planet. Our life comes from the earth. The life of the earth is our life.
And so in our Indigenous view, all things are connected. All of the life systems, all of the ecosystems, certainly, are intertwined with the spirituality of life itself. So there’s a oneness in the whole process of life. You can’t separate out any part of it and expect for it to work the way that it’s supposed to. So the way that we view region ag, is a return to that original design. And in that way, very definitely, we are protecting the life of the earth. We’re assuring the self-sustaining ability that the earth has. So, we look at it as our responsibility.
Maximillian Alvarez: Again, I can’t say enough good things about Chili Yazzie. Just a truly incredible human being, and I learned so much from him. But yeah, I think the reason that I wanted to highlight that clip is the way that he articulates that sense of balance, that deeply felt sense that he has of our role in a larger ecosystem, our duty to Mother Earth, which Mother Earth can give us everything that we need to survive and thrive. But if we keep taking advantage of the earth, of the resources, if we keep searching for profit at all costs, even if it means destroying those resources, destroying the life giving nature that we are a part of, then we’re going to destroy ourselves.
And so, I think that the way that Chili connected the practices of what we would call degrowth, in this regenerative agriculture and cooperative farming, the way he connected that to this sort of deep, existential sense of connectedness, that oneness he talks about, our connectedness to the spirit of the earth and our duty to participate responsibly in that ecosystem has really, really resonated with me. And I think that any definition of degrowth should include that in it.
Leila D. Behjat: Coming into this fellowship, Sam and I had obviously framed out what we would like to get from it. And as you were saying earlier, Max, in the course of these months, it felt way too big. And at the same time, in hindsight now I’m realizing that we fed all these questions to some extent. And particularly what I find, what I’m just almost flabbergasted by, is that this topic of embodied degrowth that we all now are hovering around is informing all these questions to some degree. And it’s different than I expected.
One of the things that we were interested in was different cultures and how different cultures approach upkeep, maintenance, and so on. And so, the list of people that we had intended to interview was a wild mix of cultures. We had people from Korea, and from Ireland, and from Albania, and the US, and Germany, Austria, Scandinavia. And it boiled down to three women in very different functions, all within the built environment. That’s where we’re kind of at home, Sam and I.
And so, these three women, one is Nicole De Fio. I pulled a quote from her that I will speak to later. Nicole is the Director of Design and Construction for Governor’s Island in New York City. In talking to her, it was fascinating to hear about the scope of tasks that’s all under her. She spoke in a very calm voice. And there was so much inspiration coming from her. There’s a lot that, it all kept coming together. So, Nicole.
Then there’s Manir Kukash, a superintendent of a 60-unit building in uptown New York. And I used to live in that building, so I knew Manir personally. And I’ve always been in great awe of her, both for her discipline and the way she is running this operation, this building, and also for her incredible gentleness and patience. And obviously also, her being a female super is just something you don’t see so often yet. So, it was of great interest for us to be able to speak to her and learn more about her viewpoints. Also non-academic, just down to earth.
And the third woman was Tahara Holmes, who is an architect and now works in preservation for the Federal State of Bavaria. She’s in Munich, in Germany. And there was an initial conversation with her. Tahara and I, we know each other way back, we did a so-called year of service together in Zambia, so we knew each other back from there. Then we both went through architecture school, and we find ourselves now, I don’t know, 20 years later, being fascinated around the same things of maintenance and circularity and so on. So, it was super interesting to talk to her.
And what I feel is so interesting with all of them is they’re all doing it. They’re all in this theme. They’re in the thick of caring for buildings and influencing the stories around it, around these buildings. And what’s still revolving around in me is this hands-on nature of their work. But so interwoven with what we often these days call emotional intelligence. In these conversations, there were frames or phrases or concepts like patina, and layers, dedication, the nature of time, and then a lot about acceptance. Accepting what is, accepting uncertainty. And then there’s of course these hard facts, budgets and requirements, timelines. But there’s always this gentleness to it when you listen to Tahara, Nicole, and Manir.
And I have to say, listening to everybody’s interviews, that goes for all of them. There’s such deep care in what they’re doing, whether it’s, for example, Tahara talking to the nature of plaster in the past and now, or the way Nicole speaks so lovingly about the different buildings on the island and what will be kept and what will change completely. And in Manir, who has such a high level of discipline and upholds such order and yet is so full of understanding and patience for people moving in and out and students doing laundry in the middle of the night, all these things. And so, that was just something that informed me that this concept of degrowth is, I dare say, so full of emotional intelligence and culture. There’s so much culture in there. And so, I wrote down one thing because I felt that I’m fascinated with the quality of heart I see in all of them. And that there is this serene acceptance, and that this work is hard. And then to see these people’s grit and power.
And just lastly, in terms of the clip that I chose for Nicole, she kind of magically brought it all together. In that clip, she talks about her observation of how the quality of how a building is made, the intention behind it, and then how it is kept and upheld, and how that then is passing onto the future. And that kind of sums it all up, what these three women do.
Nicole De Feo: This is the first time I’ve really worked in more of a preservation role. And it’s interesting to see how clearly, in a lot of ways, preservation overlaps with this idea of course of maintenance and sustainability and longevity. And if it’s built well from the beginning and you maintain it properly, that is the hardest part of the equation because all of these entities that steward these public assets are always vying for money and staff. And that’s the hardest part, I think, is the maintenance. But like anything, if you maintain it, if you’re on top of it and you don’t have deferred maintenance, you can really extend the life of the material and therefore the building system or whatever else it is a part of. If you don’t paint your wood windows, then they will deteriorate. You need to maintain and paint and scrape and maintain that moisture barrier. And so it’s hard to convey that to people who are seeing quite literally like, this is new, this is old. And they don’t have that framework.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right, gang. Well, this is kind of a somber occasion because it feels like one of our final Maintainers Fellows group discussions, of which there have been many over the past year. And again, I just want to really emphasize how incredible it’s been to be doing this work with y’all and to be working with everyone over at the Maintainers team, who folks heard on this recording in the first section: the great Lauren, Liliana, Andy, everyone over there. We really, really appreciate being welcomed into this space and being allowed to do this great collaborative work over the past year.
And so I wanted to offer this final space here on our wrap up podcast, for us to maybe share some final thoughts, impressions, unanswered questions that are going to propel future work after this fellowship is done. Or thoughts that we want to leave listeners with if they are investing in this subject and they want to explore it, if they want to practice degrowth in their own way, what can they pick up from our work? What sorts of issues should they be carrying on, that our work together can help with? So yeah, why don’t we open this up a bit and talk amongst ourselves about how our own thinking and approach to these big questions of care and maintenance and degrowth, how has our own thinking evolved on those topics over the course of the fellowship? And like I was saying, what do you think we can leave people listening to this from the work that we’ve all done together?
Tona Rodriguez-Nikl: I’d like to build off of two insights that Leila mentioned, because I think they’re very good lessons going forward. And lessons that I can learn from, things that I don’t do well. One thing that Leila mentioned was this idea of emotional intelligence. And I see, in the two people that I talked to, I see a focus on people. So Jim’s an engineer, and you don’t normally think of engineers focusing on people. But to tell you a little bit more about him, one of the things that he works against is what he calls big dumb buildings. Instead of just demolishing an old building and building something in his place, he wants to repurpose them, reuse them, use what’s there. He calls it the carbon burden, use what’s already been invested.
But when you do this, there are many more factors to consider, including knowing what the cultural context of the building is. You now need to move away from just the thing and move out towards a bigger web of people that are affected by the thing. This is a new attitude, really, I think among the engineering type that he embodies. And he shows us that we should be thinking about the problem more broadly. He also is very much into nurturing professional relationships, nurturing his new engineers, seeing the value in their way of seeing the world. Not trying to impose, oh, we’re the old engineers. What are we going to impose on you? You have to do it our way. He’s very open to their new way of seeing things.
Choi and Omer, for them, community is huge. Part of their garden is a community garden that any of the neighbors can come by and pick from their fruit. During the pandemic their place became a place of gathering. They had outdoor wine drinking to maintain community during this isolating time. Their homestead was a place of gathering for their family. It helped them build unity in their family, have an activity that everybody could participate in. Even through the teenage years, their kids’ friends used to like to come hang out at their place because there’s always something interesting going on. And so it’s nice to see how one’s actions can build community. And it was very beautiful to see in their case. And that’s very important, because as we go forward it’s really about what do the people need? What do all the people need? And both of these folks have shown us different ways of how they achieve that in their own context.
The second thing that Leila said is that the people that she talked to are out there doing it. They’re not talking about it, they’re doing it. And in particular, I wanted to mention something that Leila and Omer talked about. We got to talking about big global issues such as climate change, and Choi expressed some frustration. She said, let’s just do something. Let’s not just talk about it. I guess I’m just so tired of talking about climate change. We can do many things right now with our hands. And they are. They’re working in their own little corner, making it a better place for their community. Also working with their agriculture, with their natural system as best as they know how, learning from mistakes.
And they don’t view themselves as the vanguard of a huge movement. They realize they’re working in their own little corner, they’re not at the forefront of a huge movement. But that humble approach, and at the same time humble but also active approach of just getting in there and working on making things better on a given day without worrying too much about how that’s going to fit into the bigger context is also really important. Doing what you can do today and letting tomorrow be what it is and discovering what we do with tomorrow, tomorrow.
Maximillian Alvarez: I think, yeah, that’s so beautifully put. And I wanted to pick up on that, because I feel like this really speaks to how my approach to these questions and my thinking on these questions has changed over the past year. Because the obvious fact is that I imagine most people listening to this, most people who aren’t living under a rock understand that we are in a sustained crisis on this planet. Of course, there are always going to be people who deny it until the very end, but I think by and large a lot of people have recognized that the climate is changing. It’s having disastrous ripple effects that we can’t entirely predict or control. And it feels like the entities, whether those be private corporations, whether those be national governments, whether those be elected political representatives, it feels like the entities with the most power to do something about this are firmly committed to not doing enough while the rest of us sit and deal with the fallout. And so that, of course, prompts a lot of what I guess we call climate despair, eco despair, and I think it’s another thing that’s made me really proud to be a part of this group is doing that work to investigate how we can somehow cut a path out of this suicidal arrangement for humanity’s global civilization, how we can get on some other path and how we could keep the hope alive that we are heading towards a future that’s still worth living in.
I think it’s been, honestly, very great that we can come to these meetings and be open with the fact that I’m really going through it. I don’t really have the strength to make it through this discussion today because I’m feeling very hopeless and I know that all of us have felt that way at multiple points throughout the course of this fellowship. I know I have. And I will say that the work that we’ve done together, conversations that we’ve had, have played a crucial role in helping me get through those moments for reasons that speak to what you were just saying, Tona. What became apparent in the interviews that we did for our collective Embodying Degrowth project, right.
Because when we’re faced with the daunting reality that I just described, when the obstacles in the way of change seem so immovable, it can feel not just hopeless on a day-to-day level, but it can also feel like the only way we’re going to get out of this is through something massive. Through a worldwide revolution, or war, or I don’t know, an asteroid hitting the earth. It feels like something that can actually adequately address the magnitude of the situation is going to have to be unfathomably big.
And I think that that is the cumulative reality. But I think one thing that really spoke to me throughout this project, and it’s become a tagline on my show, Working People, where we say no one can do everything, but everyone can do something, right. And I think that that’s really essential. Like you said, the humble work, Tona, of you don’t have to bring down the oil industry yourself, but you can do what you can where you are with what you’ve got to contribute to the larger effort of creating a more sustainable world for humanity and for human life and non-human life on this planet.
But the last thing I’ll say on that that I think is really, really important and hopeful and that comes through in Rheanna’s amazing interviews, in Leila and Sam’s interviews and Tona’s interviews and my interviews, is that we shouldn’t be so sure to when we say, oh, that’s not enough to fix the world. What folks are doing to practice sustainable farming in this part of the country, that’s great, but it’s not enough.
Of course it’s not enough. Again, none of these things on their own is enough, but we got to think about them first in the aggregate. And also we have to have the humility, to borrow a term, have the humility of recognizing that we can’t actually predict the ripple effects that will come the more people who engage in practices of degrowth. Because just like mutual aid, this is the underlying philosophy of mutual aid, that people practicing mutual aid is never going to be a full-on substitute for, say, the state.
But part of what makes mutual aid so powerful is that when you receive it, when you give it, when you participate in the process of mutual aid, you yourself become a different person. You become more the kind of person who is willing to do more mutual aid. The kind of person who is not just a capitalist subject who gets everything they need at a supermarket. And it breaks that mental vice-grip that our growth-based economy has locked all of us in. And I think that changing who you are by what you do and thus thereby becoming more the kind of person who wants to do more of that and who can bring more people into that struggle, that is the catalytic response that we can’t predict.
But, I mean we’ve seen it in so many instances. We’ve seen how one protest after George Floyd is murdered by the police creates a tidal wave of protest across the United States and even around the world. You can’t predict what that spark is going to do, so we shouldn’t proceed with so much confidence that we know how this is all going to shake out, but we have to do the work.
Leila D. Behjat: Choi and Omer, Malaya and Ken, and Chili, they all had the sense of very clear reading of reality, I feel, and still some joyfulness to it. What I really appreciated, very sober and still finding joy, finding a sense of beauty, such grace. That’s very inspiring to me.
And when you were just talking, Max, I realized that maybe that is also part of this community effort, that it’s almost service to each other. We all go in waves and the certitude about things rises and falls. But as I’m doing my thing, as I’m shining my little light, when I have an up moment, I can share it with others and get them back on track.
And I loved listening to everybody’s interviews because that’s the sense I got. I don’t even know the people you guys interviewed, but I felt very close because of these qualities and because you get all in identifying them and making that accessible to me, and now soon hopefully to many more people. And so that’s just so gorgeous, I think, and I didn’t see that coming when we started into this fellowship.
Rheanna Chen: My main takeaway from this project is that at the end of the day, we only have 24 hours. And if there’s anything that the pandemic taught us was that we’re all going to get in touch with our mortality, and how do we choose to live is how we die. And not to end on a sad note there, but there’s a need to take the philosophical to the practical, that as we examine care, repair, and maintenance in this larger humanity, how are we also treating ourself? How can we address climate change or policy design or even to look after our family?
When we look at pillars of health from sleep to the food that we eat to the relationships with our loved ones, it can be easy to be overwhelmed. I know at least I’m guilty of that, that this fellowship has allowed me to have a greater light shine on where we may think that we live in a broken world, but also what are the parts of ourselves that we may be avoiding through chronic anxiety, stress. As we see disease on the rise too, but what’s happening inside of us? So I’ve been really fascinated by the internal landscape just as much as the external right now, of where can there be greater reciprocity, and given that we receive, and how can we widen those circles of compassion and care?
And this is an anecdote, this past year at the same time with this fellowship, I moved into Ajoupa, this 200-year-old house, and it’s been fascinating of what goes into maintaining the electrical, to a door, to termites, and the list goes on. And even with having a four-and-a-half acre garden, it’s not that you just grow a giant tree overnight, but some things take time to tend to. Every beautiful garden takes time. And the couple that own it at Ajoupa, [inaudible], they just celebrated their 50th year anniversary.
And I know for me, at least, I didn’t come from that background at all. So I’ve had this duality of, wow, as we discuss these concepts together as a group and I’m left to simmer on these thoughts, how can I show up to embody? And I know I’ve challenged the term degrowth before because I fundamentally believe we’re all meant to grow towards the light. Yes, there’s the shadow aspects, but how do we embody these interviews and the assignments now within our own everyday in a way that we can each show up with a little bit more humility, with more presence so that we can learn to care first for ourself so that we’re full, so we can best serve the rest of the world. Because I think the world has enough inflammation right now, so how can we tend and soothe and nurture from that place of radical care and acceptance? I think those conversations are what’s checked the way that we exist and most importantly choose to exist.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, as always, Rheanna, your words are beautiful and stunning and very, very true. And I thought that was just so powerfully put. Again, this is a bittersweet occasion as we close out this recording, close out our year together as fellows at the Maintainers. But I wanted to pick up on that in this final round around the table and ask if we had any parting thoughts that we wanted to leave listeners with. Any thoughts about how we ourselves are going to carry on the work that we began here together as part of the Maintainers, or any thoughts we want to leave listeners with for how they can carry on that struggle and how they can contribute to the effort to build a more sustainable world for everybody.
I would just say going back to how I introduced myself in the earlier part of this episode, it became very clear to me interviewing working people during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think what became clear to me, became clear to everyone, was we realized the system was forced to admit how much it needs us. When you’re a working person who’s been told most of your life that you are worthless, that you are replaceable, that you are expendable, and then suddenly when a global pandemic hits and the CEO of your company runs off to hide in their second or third home and says, no, no, I need you out there on the front lines to keep the world from falling apart, that stays with you. You don’t forget that.
And I’ve talked to so many workers who, I think, have carried that understanding of their own essential position in our economy and our society. I think that that has, in a lot of ways, motivated the number of strikes that we’ve been seeing, the unionization efforts, the record numbers of people quitting their jobs or asking for raises.
It’s just confronting your mortality like Rheanna said, and realizing that you are worth more than this system has trained you to believe, that leads you to be a little more confident in asserting yourself and your value and your needs. But where I’m going with this is just by talking to so many folks doing “essential work”, it became so clear. The truth was always there, but it just became clear that it’s people, it’s working people who hold the world up.
And I think that the ways that we are able to do that already in this system, the solidarity that we show with one another, the care that we show our coworkers on the job so that no one gets hurt. The steps we take to ensure that ourselves and our coworkers are safe on the job. That we’re providing the highest quality of service, so on and so forth. The services that we provide that if you’re delivering food to an immunocompromised person, they depend on that.
So there are so many ways that working people already are responsible for the maintenance of our modern world. And I believe that the more that we understand that, the more that we see that and honor that, the more that we can feel empowered to build our way towards a future worth living in. But I think we just need to start by recognizing that it is us. When we talk about changing the system or maintaining this or that, we’re talking about people, we are talking about the people, you and me and everyone around the world who keeps all of this afloat. And so if we are able to hold the world up through all that humanity has experienced up until now, I believe truly that we can do so in the 21st century and beyond.
Tona Rodriguez-Nikl: I would say that in closing, it’s important to focus on maintaining yourself as well. And this is something that’s come out in what we’ve talked about, about the interviews, but it’s also come out in our fellowship. Most of you’ve striven to meet deadlines and we’ve been tired, I think. We’ve talked about this. And this isn’t selfish. It’s necessary for you to maintain yourself to then be able to take care of others. You can’t take care of others if you’re not first taking care of yourself. It’s a little bit like the oxygen masks on airplanes, right. First put your own on and then put it on your kids.
And this came out in the interview with Choi and Omer, and Omer said about going out in the mornings and taking care of the animals, he said it’s fun. I mean really, it’s almost self-indulgence, he says. I get up at 6:00 and I can’t wait to get out there. The first 45 minutes of my day is essentially with the animals and it’s just something new every day.
Maybe that particular act isn’t for you or for me. But what I take away from this is, I think the lesson is to do good in a way that also maintains you. And the challenge for each of us is to find that thing. I think, if I am honest, I don’t know what that is yet, actually. And it is a big challenge. I mean, I don’t want to come out here saying that I think I have everything figured out, but I really appreciate that point of view and I appreciate the challenge.
Leila D. Behjat: My heart is really full, Sam. There’s so many things. And I’ve become so curious about this concept of culture and time. In my profession I’ve been challenged by that, Tona, absolutely agree on that. And it’s fascinating to me. For example, that’s something I feel like, Rheanna, you always brought into our spaces so beautifully, the sense of timelessness.
And also, there’s no bottom line right now for me. It’s just that I’m noticing that I keep coming back to that. That there is a different sense of time to these aspects, that as I’m trying to apply many tiny little steps in my own life, that my sense of time and necessity of time changes. And I don’t know where that’s going yet. And yet I enjoy this very much.
And I wanted to just point one thing out, in a completely different context. I had come across two word pairs that I feel like I really appreciated and are helping me with all this. So in this concept there was what today we call possession, was put next to relationships. So relationships instead of possessions. And then the other thing was, today we think about acquisitions, and what was put next to it was responsibility.
And I’m not trying to open a whole new box of Pandora, but that just, as I was listening to us, I was looking through my notes to find this because I felt like, oh yeah. Because again, there’s different priorities in that. And I have to say, I’m really almost heartbroken that we can’t keep learning together.
Rheanna Chen: I’m so grateful for this fellowship. And the question that comes up for me is when our world feels like it’s fallen apart, what truly matters? Because we all know that feeling of being overwhelmed or stressed, especially in a world of capitalism that prizes productivity and going all the time, that I think the most radical act that we can take is a practice of pause, where there is a sacred art to knowing how to pause. One of my favorite practices is just the saying that there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. And when we’re able to recognize that we need to take a long deep breath, nice filling our lungs and a nice inhale and then an exhale, letting it all go with a good sigh, that’s something I find helps me a lot. And while we were doing this recording there was this huge storm that just happened, and I’m watching the sea right now, but it’s a practice I’ve called RAIN. And R, like I said, to recognize. A, to accept. I, to investigate. And N, to nurture.
So in these seemingly hard moments that we all go through, as we stop to pause, then we can proceed from this place of being humbled or more calm, because maybe that’s what the world needs, is for us to be a little bit more caring for ourselves first and then everything else grows outwards in this beautiful mycelium network, that now after the final step that we’re all connected somehow, when we’ve all impacted each other in positive ways. And I think that’s really special.
And I think something Max said, the fact that this conversation is happening, this was a few months ago, that’s the most important. The coming together in that liminal space and learning from each other, to proceed from there. Thank you, everyone.
Liliana Coelho: Hi all, Liliana Coelho, the Maintainers Community Outreach and Events coordinator here to give you an update on some different ways that you can stay involved with The Movement Fellows as well as with the Maintainers. If you’re curious to keep the conversation going, you’re cordially invited to join the Maintainers Movement Fellows at our upcoming Embodying Degrowth event.
This will celebrate the end-of-year collaborative work together, as well as provide space to reflect on the podcast that you just listened to. The event will be at 2:00 PM Eastern Time on Thursday, Dec. 15, and you can register by checking out the events page on our website, www.themaintainers.org. You can also stay up to date with the Maintainers by checking out our Twitter @the_maintainers, our Instagram @themaintainersnetwork, and make sure to sign up for our quarterly newsletter and community listerv by clicking on the connect tab on our website, www.themaintainers.org/connect.
If this work resonates with you, we also encourage you to submit your perspectives to the Maintainers via our Maintainers Spotlight blog post series, where we invite folks like you to highlight the work of maintainers and maintenance efforts in your community. We’d love to hear from you.