That photo is courtesy of the members of Sustainable West Seattle, who gathered for a group shot outside Camp Long before their monthly meeting this past Monday night — a meeting like no other in their less-than-one-year history, because it’s the last one before SWS presents its first-ever Sustainability Festival, coming up Sunday, May 4, 10 am-3 pm in The Junction. A little while before that photo was taken, we sat down with three SWS leaders to talk about the festival (and how it’s not too late for you to pitch in, especially if you have some time this weekend) – read on to see why they, and many other folks around West Seattle, are so excited about it:
First, if you haven’t seen these bright blue posters around town yet — we even saw one downtown, at the Green Festival weekend before last — it’s less than a week and a half till the Sustainability Festival, which will be headquartered in the Wells Fargo lot right across from the Farmers’ Market (a “sustainability festival” in its own way, every Sunday), but won’t be limited to the booths and tables you’ll find at that location: As part of the festival, Sustainable West Seattle also has organized a Transit Forum at ArtsWest (check the schedule for participants and times), and guest speakers (see the same link for names and times) including former city Neighborhoods Department leader Jim Diers.
“We’re hoping for good weather to really make it a good day to engage with the community on these topics,” says SWS president Bill Reiswig. His group is less than a year old — the festival day falls just before its one-year anniversary — but as treasurer Dorothy Bosteder acknowledges, they really caught a wave of awareness, not just with the creation of their group, but the festival: “I’ve lived here for 10 years and haven’t seen any real connections (in this area), but the more I talked to people, the more I find they are on-board with it, and I didn’t have to work hard to get people to understand what this is about. They were looking for a forum to share ideas. People WANT to be there.”
Reiswig interjects, “Our theme is ‘creating connections, building community,’ and you’ll see that with all the groups that are participating.” (See the list online here.) “It’s clear we’re not the only ones in West Seattle interested in sustainability, involved in thinking about these questions. Being able to get these groups together at an event like this is really gratifying.”
“It breaks the isolation,” Bosteder adds. “And there’s no rivalry – it’s collaborative, not oppositional.”
“We’re discovering every group doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel itself, in coming together around these issues,” Reiswig says. And in fact, Sustainable West Seattle didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel regarding the format for the Sustainability Festival – it’s modeled on the successful event Sustainable Ballard puts on each year.
At this point in the conversation, SWS secretary Brian Allen arrives; he’s directly handling a lot of the organizational work for the festival, and he says, with his trademark energy, “My phone’s been ringing off the hook!” The deadline for becoming an official participant is past, but it seems some people are trying to wheedle their way in: “Everybody wants to get into it at the last minute!” Allen proudly describes how he’s managed to maximize the space available in every way possible — “we had an original layout for tents, then I started squeezing more in — the drive-thru, the alley” — and his fellow SWS officers joke there might even be exhibitors on the top of the Wells Fargo drive-thru canopy. Just kidding.
But it’s a genuinely pleasant surprise for them; as Allen says, “We didn’t know, going in,” that they’d have so much demand from prospective participants. “Our biggest concern was, what if (nobody wants to be part of it) — To know we’re turning people away, that was my fantasy!”
On festival day, though, they hope not to have to turn anyone away — there’s room for thousands to throng the area and to participate in the forms at nearby ArtsWest.
The festival may sound big, but it is really all about small steps to address concerns about the future of our resources, our lifestyle, our planet. Reiswig muses, “One of my original reasons for starting this (Sustainable West Seattle) was because I’d been thinking about these things, intensively, for the past few years — climate change, resource depletion — and they are such big issues, the only way people can solve them is to break them down to a community level and be engaged. Every community needs to have a voice for these ideas. Right now, sustainability is not an ethic in our culture — we’re not thinking 100 years ahead to what will be left … but you have to break down the problems into little things you can take action on.”
Allen adds, “Ultimately, it’s educational — people need to take responsibility — you can’t just trust officials to take action; there’s an aspect of this that’s begging for citizen involvement.”
Back to the festival. One way you can be involved on festival day, besides simply showing up, is to bring food bank donations (earlier today, we posted the latest reason why this is more important now than ever; Reiswig notes that part of the rise in food prices is tied to the skyrocketing price of oil, and our reliance on that fuel source).
Allen is particularly energized about the electric-vehicle display that is taking shape for the Sustainability Festival, with an electric sedan and at least two types of electric trucks. The festival will also do its best to accommodate those who show up on alternative forms of transportation, with a scooter parking area and “tons of bike racks.”
Last but by no means least, the forums are not the only festival events that will be taking place away from the Wells Fargo parking lot – tours of the sustainable new development at High Point will be offered too, with transportation to and from the festival site.
But before festival day arrives a week from Sunday, Sustainable West Seattle still has a ton of work to do. Allen is organizing volunteers and says they could use some help this weekend and next: “We need a bunch of folks especially this weekend to help make signs, help out tabling at the Farmers Market and to be the Polar bear for a little while on Sunday (!), and to help us set up the Festival on Saturday (May 3) in particular.” (The polar bear is a costumed character you’ll see during the festival itself, as well.) Brian adds that a full list of volunteer needs can be found here. And links to lots of other festival info can be found from the Sustainable West Seattle home page, which is currently festival central – also available there is a copy of the complete festival program (or get it here).