Opportunity to Unite

We Continue to See Opportunity to UniteHappening Hour

Happening Hour Series – Part 1


By Bobby Cochran, Lea Wilson, and Paulina López


In the news, we hear regularly about frontline healthcare workers, and we are recognizing just how essential, essential workers are. Thank you to all of you! 

We hear less about the frontline community-based organizations. This is where everyday people are organizing for emergency food relief and advocating to local and state government for COVID-19 responses, all while trying to continue their usual roles as partners, advocates, and boots on the ground for rural economic development, farming good food, and cleaning up toxic pollution. Last week, we took an evening to pause with three such community leaders to ask what the conservation community can do to support an equitable recovery from COVID-19.

It was the first of our Happening Hours, a time to reconnect and share stories during this time of social distancing. Tina Tamai with the Hawaii Good Food Alliance, Paulina López with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and Nils Christoffersen with Wallowa Resources shared how COVID-19 is impacting their communities in Hawaii, Seattle, and Northeast Oregon.


The Discussion

The concept of an equitable recovery is not unique to this pandemic. Our guest speakers represent communities that face inequities in the social, economic, and environmental landscape every day, and many are still trying to recover from previous economic downturns. For example, rural parts of Oregon still have high unemployment from the 1990s, made worse by the 2008 Great Recession. Now, COVID-19 measures are having a major impact on the local economy despite low case numbers in the community.

Tina, Paulina, and Nils all spoke about the need for connection in this time of social distancing. Tina talked about how rural communities in Hawaii are coming together to strengthen their food sovereignty by growing food and helping their neighbors access it. Paulina mentioned the need for committed allies. Community leaders have seen their work triple this month, and there is a need for additional resources and support. Nils reminded us how much rural and urban parts of the country need each other, and that divisiveness is a significant threat to resiliency and recovery of our land and communities.

30+ conservation leaders in the Happening Hour heard what Nils, Paulina, and Tina have experienced, shared with one another what they’ve seen in their own communities, and brainstormed how they could support equitable recovery. Some of those ideas included:

  • Center indigenous voices and values in our institutions, reflecting on the concepts of self-determination, connection, and planning for multiple generations;
  • Find pathways to reconnect with people who are different than us — recognizing we all live in shared places with a lot more in common than we realize;
  • Strengthen the links between groups that have a grounding in nature with groups that have a grounding in community — each has something to offer the other; 
  • A broad suite of supply chains were disrupted, including those in wood products and farming. We need to reimagine our supply chains to be more flexible; and 
  • We need to insert conservation expertise into the dialogue of economic recovery in order to catalyze more sustainable business practices and elevate social and economic values in conservation work to increase equity and durability.

In his closing remarks, Nils said, “We continue to see opportunity to unite.” We also see that opportunity and issue a call for all of us to actively find ways to unite, across differences, for more equitable recovery. Join us for the next Wednesday Happening Hour on May 6 from 4-5 pm Pacific Time. We’ll be talking more about what the principles are for an equitable recovery and how those principles might inform actions by local, state, and federal governments.

Continue to Connect

Want to support and further your conversation with our speakers? Reach out!

Nils Christoffersen, Executive Director, Wallowa Resources

Paulina López, Executive Director, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition

Tina Tamai, Coordinator, Hawaii Good Food Alliance

Join us for the next Happening Hour – “Don’t Rebuild the Systems that Broke”

Bobby Cochran led Willamette Partnership's work around building community resilience and innovation. He is passionate about supporting community leaders to move resources from dumb stuff to better stuff - especially when that means clean water, better health, and economic inclusion. Bobby is now with the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. He received a Ph.D./M.A. in Urban Studies/Conflict Resolution from Portland State University.


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