Growing Activism at PICA

I haven’t lived at PICA for 5 years, yet it feels like yesterday. Probably because most of the people I communicate with are PICA alums still. Like that potluck yesterday, beer tasting last weekend, or the woman I live with now.  Likely because I loved PICA and everyone there, and I was loved back.


PICA holds such a special place in my heart because I grew so much there. Not just the bunches of kale, but me personally. I didn’t even know how to garden (I killed potted plants regularly), or how to cook (pasta with pre-made pasta sauce was a staple food of mine), or how to communicate effectively before I lived there. I actually wasn’t confident that I could learn those skills, but I really wanted to, and that desire was all I needed. Sure there was burned communal foods and mistakes along the way, but it was well worth it. I still remember when John Drips and I decided, in March or so, that what PICA really needed was to start community meetings to help encourage minor conflict resolution. Neither of us had run a meeting or facilitated non-violent communication before, but PICA seemed like the perfect time to learn by doing, and so we did. It was pretty awkward at first, but it got better. It was out of that spirit of wanting to create and help the community, that I was propelled to try anything at PICA, even if it meant failure, and that is what taught me the most.

Since being at PICA, I have primarily worked as an organizer. Community gardens equal a convenient transition to community organizing. Besides a couple of gardens that I created on the East coast, my work has rarely involved vegetables or compost.But it has required a lot of energy, and a willingness to try despite the possibility of failure, and regularly. The last two years, my most exciting times have been when failure loomed as a real possibility, like a press conference where none of the media could find the location, or a service day where we had 180 volunteers show up but only had planned for 80.  I poured myself into getting Congressional votes needed to pass healthcare reform and federal global warming legislation (ACES). Yet neither of these efforts went the way I’d hoped, and the compromises that happened along the way leave a lot of progressives feeling like “we” failed. But I don’t feel that way at all. I am extremely proud. We’re laying the groundwork. Our work is not done. If anything, these setbacks teach me that we need more people who are willing to put themselves on the line more. Thank you PICA for growing activism from the ground up. Keep doing beautiful, bold, inventive things, it starts here!

In honor of Maya Angelou coming to town soon, here’s a quote:

“Courage allows the successful woman to fail- and learn powerful lessons- from the failure-
so that in the end,
 she didn’t fail at all.”

Katie Roper, is the UCSC CALPIRG and Energy Service Corps Director. By teaching students how to organize and affect social change, she hopes to promote a community of activism.

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