Susan Silber is a force of nature—an apt comparison as she has been working as an environmental educator for the past 30 years.
Stunned by the harsh reality of the climate change crisis as presented through Al Gore’s 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, Silber was forever changed.
“I was really alarmed at this thought that nature, which I had taken for granted, and our ecosystem could be unraveling. I thought, ‘I have to do more than simply introduce kids to nature. I want them to get into more of an advocacy role.’ I started learning more about community organizing and looked into how towns can shift away from fossil fuels with a community organizing approach.”
Since then, Silber has been awarded three TPP grants for environmental projects, including a grant for the Northern California Community Resilience Network, which supports grassroots groups using permaculture principles to build citizen-led, localized, self-reliant and regenerative communities that are able to withstand the shocks of climate change, economic instability, and resource depletion.
The Network also serves as a hub that provides leadership development, communication tools, events, and project support to permaculture guilds, transition Initiatives, and other community resilience groups and leaders working on small, but powerful projects like community gardens and Seed Swaps.
Community organizing comes naturally to Silber, who first learned about it during her time in Costa Rica with the Peace Corps in her twenties and later applied her skills and knowledge to organizing her own community in Northern California.
“Community organizing is really close to home for me. My neighborhood is pretty tight-knit. We get together for periodic gatherings, and that’s inspiring to me. A tighter-knit community feels safer—we have caches of emergency supplies…and we are working on building networks of sites so that during a disaster people will have solar- and battery-powered backup in case of a blackout.
These initiatives are so important to Silber, in part, because she feels a particularly close kinship with nature.
“I’m very passionate about being outside in nature and the feeling I get when I get out. It’s very healing to be outside and to experience feeling more grounded and connected with where I come from as a human being, I like going outside because I don’t know what’s going to happen next; it’s not scripted…I like the feeling of being self-sufficient. When we don’t have our phones, we can have real and deeper conversations and explore the human connection and our spiritual connection to where we came from.”
For Silber, then, the NorCal Community Resilience Network is a manifestation of both her love for nature and her commitment to community. The Network also supports community-based organizations through capacity building, funding workshops, peer-to-peer learning, strategic planning, and fundraising. “We need to broaden awareness that community-based solutions are something we really, really need to focus on,” Silber states.
As part of that focus, the NorCal Community Resilience Network launched a Resilient Hubs Initiative in the East Bay, which provided funds to support work parties that brought together hundreds of neighbors and community members to install rainwater catchment systems, drip irrigation, and other water conservation projects at seven different sites, including the Sogorea Te Land Trust, an urban Indigenous women-led community organization that facilitates the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to Indigenous stewardship.
The group collaborated with the Permaculture Action Network to bring together close to 200 people to prep the land for a large rainwater catchment system and to work on garden projects in October 2019; the work party also featured music, food, and workshops with social justice themes. The Network is expanding the Resilience Hubs Initiative in 2020 to include introductory workshops and more mini-grants for resiliency projects, thanks to funding it just received from Lush Charity Pot.
“[Such projects] build community, and people end up working together who might not otherwise have even spoken to each other—it’s really intergenerational. It builds connections and uplifts voices. When people become engaged in solutions, it helps their mental resilience and gives them strength to stand in solidarity with each other.”
As a multi-grant award recipient and a TPP grant advisor, Silber is an exemplar of TPP’s values in action. She knows the significance of grassroots initiatives and community-originated solutions to TPP’s vision for a better world. As part of our vision, we believe it is vital that voices from within the communities where projects take place are heard, so that we may share in the experience of changemakers who step up to address global issues with locally appropriate, grassroots initiatives.
Through these initiatives and relationships, we believe we are better equipped to weather the storms we face and together create resilient alternatives. Through her work with the NorCal Community Resilience Network, Silber supports and empowers communities to find and implement their own solutions to global problems. We are so proud to have supported her work.