Dear Southeastern Seniors,
My name is Doug Miller. I am now 25, and was born in Tallahassee Florida where I now live. I graduated from New York University in May of 2012, and became an organizer with the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network in May of 2014. The fossil fuel industry and college administrators are waiting for student organizing to subside as you graduate, but I am writing to affirm my commitment to you and to our movement for the long haul. I’d like to ask you to do the same.
I never felt at home in Tallahassee—a mid-sized southeastern city—and I left when I turned eighteen. I gained some organizing experience at New York University, and would have stayed in NYC (where I felt more comfortable being gender deviant), but had to return home to support an ailing family member. For almost two years I felt powerless; I could not help her or the movement that had come to mean so much to me. Imagining the fear and desperation of friends living in NYC during Hurricane Sandy was particularly difficult.
During those two years, the Fossil Fuel Divestment movement grew in the Southeast. A very good friend from my college years linked me in with the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network (DSN), and eventually I joined the National Power Building Initiative working group. I loved what I did with the DSN, but the burdens of working full time and organizing through the DSN quickly proved too great. My heart wasn’t in my day job, and my work for the DSN was suffering. A chance popped up for me to receive a four month stipend from the DSN to ease my transition into part time organizing. There was little guarantee that, at this early stage for our organization, it would be renewed. I really wasn’t’ sure what to do.
Thankfully, I had a community that helped me look, see and tell the truth about my situation. I had enough savings to organize for a while; there were allies in town who might fund me, house me, or help me find part time work; my family generally supported me. What stopped me was fear: fear that my anxiety problem would stop me from being a great leader; fear that others would look down on me because my work was atypical and not “productive,” and fear that I would fail. My friends and comrades asked me: “will you let these fears stop you from living your most authentic life?” The answer, I said, was “no, I won’t.” So I left my job, and started organizing full time, with a small stipend from the DSN.
That was one of my life’s most powerful moments, and I’ve been rewarded everyday since by an organization that challenges me to go deeper and fight harder for climate justice. During my time I’ve also met some Southeastern organizers like myself, who have the aptitude and interest to continue organizing after college, but are struggling to be willing; and often, the gap between their dreams and their willingness is rooted in fear. If I had the capacity, I’d have sit down with each of you and help you look, see, and tell the truth. But for now this letter will have to do.
I hope you’ll stay in the cause. It was so tempting for me to give up after I came back, because it seemed like there was no Southeastern movement community. We can build up that community, one person at a time, by choosing to stay organizing. What is keeping you out? Is it fear? And is it worth the cost of power?
With Palms Joined,