WALLA WALLA — The Network for Young Walla Walla expanded this weekend as dozens of community and youth activists gathered for the organization’s first summit. Centered on shaping an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable future, the summit embodied the NYWW’s mission of establishing a system of cross-community collaboration between Walla Walla’s young leaders and activists.
Camila Thorndike, a senior at Whitman College and founder of NYWW, said she felt young activists in the community needed a way to come together and use each other’s talents, ideas and resources to make positive change.
"The network started with my concern that our generation isn’t bringing our voices to the decision-making table on many fronts of huge problems in our society," she said. "And people quickly jumped on board. It’s been so successful and relatively easy to organize because the need was actually quite apparent for this cross-community dialogue and a neutral space for students to come together for the purpose of students coming together."
The network began the academic year with kickoff events at each of the colleges in the Walla Walla area, and many students expressed their interest in connecting with others around the community. With a growing staff of 22 students from all three campuses, the network saw the potential for a bigger event to bring even more people together to talk about the issues most important to them.
After months of hard work and planning, the summit opened on Friday night at the William A. Grant Water and Environmental Center at community college with a speech by Walla Walla city council member Barbara Clark. She emphasized the need for changes in the United States’ use of energy, the value of developing Valley transit as a key component in making Walla Walla sustainable, and the importance of sustainable communities overall.
"Sustainability requires that we met our own needs, without sacrificing those of future generations," Clark said. "It is a deeply moral concept … with two essential convictions. One: that the interconnected life on — or with — earth is good … And two: that we have a responsibility to treat others as we wish we would be treated ourselves."
She congratulated the attendees on their dedication to local activism and their passion for a brighter future.
"Locally is where the action takes place that collectively changes larger — or national — behavior," she said. "And it is very important that you, the future generation, participate in the discussion when decisions are being made … Congratulations to you all on forming this network and the new infusion of energy you bring to the issues that are important to all of us."
Clark also noted that collective work and activism require flexibility and leading through example; she challenged the participants to face these tasks head-on.
"Envision a sustainable community and work toward it...with nimbleness and adaptability when looking at the future," she said. "Live the changes that we believe have to happen."
After the keynote address, participants socialized over a homemade dinner.
The events continued on Saturday with a session on college activism, a skills workshop and a panel on bridging the gap between generations of activists in Walla Walla. The inter-generational discussions inspired the young participants to see themselves as leaders, and ended with a mutual standing ovation for the panel of older activists and the young activists attending the summit.
"It was so inspirational to listen to people who have a track record of getting things done in their community tell us that we’re the next people to be doing things," WWCC sophomore and NYWW member Logan Thies said of the inter-generational conversations. "The fact that they are inspired by us, just further inspired us."
After a day of sessions, participants went to dinner at local restaurants and concluded the evening with salsa lessons and an open dance.
During the final day of the summit, attendees planned potential projects and discussed the future of NYWW. More than 30 participants expressed interest in becoming part of NYWW. The network’s staff was thrilled to see an increasing interest in its programs and emphasized their openness to any and all.
"(We’re) not exclusive," said William Newman-Wise, a first-year at Whitman and the summit event coordinator. "Whether you’re 18 or 81, it’s about whether you identify as young … and you’re excited and engaged in the community."
"Or excited about making a difference for the next generation," Thies added.
After a long weekend of hard work and endless activity, the staff of NYWW was not burnt out, but exhilarated by the weekend’s collective energy. Ultimately, the summit was a great success in accomplishing the its goals of bringing young people together to work collaboratively and to get to know one another.
"(The summit) fit for exactly what we were trying to accomplish, by collaborating all three colleges: getting people together, expressing their ideas, getting to know one another and looking at the future," Thies said.
"(We were) trying to create a forum for issues to be discussed and for us to realize our collective power, and our responsibility to take those issues on together, respectfully, effectively and sustainably," Thorndike said of the network and the weekend’s summit. "No one is going to do it for us, and it’s our future that we can steer in a direction that we choose, if we organize."
Lara Goodrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.