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Students host sustainability talking circle with mayoral candidates
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: November 30, 2011

Instead of the typical aggressively-charged political debate, Portland State students offered mayoral candidates the opportunity to slow down and consider the voices of those around them.

On November 28, students facilitated a traditional Native American talking circle about politics, sustainability, and social equity at the PSU Native American Student and Community Center. The circle was open to anyone who wished to participate, including four mayoral candidates—Charlie Hales, Eileen Brady, Jefferson Smith, and Max Brumm—and about twenty students and community members.

After a brief opening ceremony, participants passed a ceremonial talking stick around the circle, from student to politician to community member.

“The talking circle invites us to practice slow, deep listening skills,” said Judy Bluehorse Skelton, whose Leadership in Sustainability course facilitated the event. “There is no beginning and there is no end.”

Participants were asked to describe how they incorporate sustainability into their personal lives. Responses ranged from transportation and food choices to reducing consumption and recycling. Hales discussed his connection with wilderness as an important factor in his decision-making, Brady sited her support of local food systems, and Smith admitted that when it came to personal sustainability measures, he did “not nearly enough.” Brumm, the 19-year-old mayoral candidate and student at Clackamas Community College, discussed a lack of transit options to his suburban school.

The next question focused in social equity and creating a healthy dialog between community members and politicians. Both students and candidates discussed the need for transparency, engaging underserved communities, and demanding that every voice be heard—many of the benefits offered by this kind of forum.

While Brady encouraged one student to never lose his self-proclaimed idealism, Hales discussed the importance of setting a tone that participation matters.

Brumm spoke of the political hindrances of the campaign financing system, saying “We don’t need money to have a voice, we have a voice already.”

Smith suggested that we need to consciously engage the public more—make pubic meeting notices as appealing as Nike ads—and reminded us that the people make up our democracy. “We’re the government,” he said, “and if we’re not, then that’s the problem.”

In an hour and a half long discussion, the candidates only spoke about two issues—but they heard a lot from their community.

The event was jointly sponsored by United Indian Students of Higher Education and the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions.