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As a college-age environmental activist, I’ve always felt a divide between the Green movement of my parents’ generation and that of my own. Celebrating Earth Day each April is almost an afterthought for the environmental student group at American University, though in 1970, it singlehandedly defined a movement and a generation. Going to Sierra Club meetings with my parents is always a little alien to me as well – the older, affluent, white attendees couldn’t look more different from the young people (from increasingly diverse backgrounds) that I see at protests in Washington, DC.

With this knowledge, it’s all too easy to forget that I’m asking many of the same questions and fighting many of the same battles today that my parents did 40 years ago.

Two weeks ago, I joined twelve other members of Eco-Sense, American University’s environmental sustainability group, at a screening of Earth Days. This new documentary looks back at the roots of the Green movement, using exclusive footage and interviews with America’s legendary movers and shakers to trace its evolution through the decades. From Rachel Carson, the first Dirty Dozen, and the ground-breaking 1970 Earth Day, you witness the development of a radical movement that has finally—for better or for worse—become mainstream.

Perhaps the most powerful message of the film is that change cannot come from a movement that is partisan, polarized, and exclusive. Wealthy and poor, Democrat and Republican, developed nation and developing nation, and black, white, and brown need to once again recognize their common interests in the Green movement. After all, the first definitive pieces of environmental legislation in the US—the Clean Air and Water Acts and the Endangered Species Act—were products of a bipartisan effort for change in the 1970s, largely forwarded by Richard Nixon.

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In the recent discussion “How are the US and UN Working Together to Combat Terrorism” former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Senior Advisor of the United Nations Foundation, Gillian Sorensen, discussed the necessity of strengthening the relationship between the US and UN. It is unfathomable that a single nation can address issues, such as terrorism that occur on such as grandiose scale. In her brief hour at American University, she touched on topics such as counter-terrorism, security, root causes of terrorism, and the current Iraq war.

Sorensen, when referring to US policy on the Iraq war stated that now is
“a time for tough love.” She was critical on the political decisions made by the United States post 9/11, affirming that the overwhelming international sympathy that the US received after 9/11 dissipated quickly because of US reaction. She stated that it is no secret that the America’s decisions have a larger than life impact, and that in making these choices the US should recognize the immediate and future impact of its actions and language.

Sorensen, as a clear believer in the policies of the UN, offered a unique perspective from an organization that focuses on resolution by means other than strong military action. While the increased international isolation of the US was due to factors including the controversial pre-emptive strike decision, refusal to listen to weapons instructors, Sorensen believes that the language chosen by the US was also a root cause of this international detachment. The Bush administration is known for its catch phrases: “get the job done”; “mission accomplished”; “stay the course”, etc. In the disarray that ensued immediately following 9/11 phrases such as “axis of evil” and “rogue states” were tossed around in an un-diplomatic fashion. This language ostracized potential relationships with students and activists throughout the Middle East and throughout the world. According to Sorensen, although talk may sometimes appear unavailing, talk is one of the more diplomatic options all nations can capitalize on – “talk always has potential.”

Like many us, when asked what our next option is in resolving the Middle East conflict, Sorensen slightly bowed her head and discussed a phased withdrawal. This is a “tragic mess of our own making” she said.

*The discussion “How are the US and UN Working Together to Combat Terrorism” took at American University’s Hughes Hall, in Washington, DC. It was co-sponsored by The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area Young Professionals for International Cooperation, Americans for Informed Democracy, American University Foreign Policy Association and Young Professionals in International Affairs.


August 2020

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