FOREST Circle: Our Diversity is Our Strength

Protecting our Southern forests and communities requires challenging the industries and corporate interests that threaten them. But it also requires building the relationships and solutions to create the world we want to live in.

The FOREST (Frontline Organizing Resiliency and Entrepreneurial Solutions Training) Circle is a network of activists, organizers, and community leaders.

The mission of the FOREST Circle is to provide a collective space that intentionally fosters creativity and sustainability, while preparing frontline organizations through power building, education, and resource sharing.

“Our diversity is our strength”

FOREST Summits are grounded in the needs and communities of FOREST Circle members. They provide an opportunity to develop and deepen relationships, a space for skills sharing, and a space to experiment with new solutions.

In December, 2019, members of the FOREST Circle gathered for our 4th FOREST Summit. The Summit brought together leaders from 3 different Southern states, representing rural areas and urban areas, and a wealth of knowledge and expertise.

This year, our gathering took us back to where we held our very first Summit – The Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, NC, a place with a long history of resilience, organizing, and entrepreneurial solutions as well as a dark history of enslavement and violence. In Whitakers, we were in the home region of many of our FOREST Circle members. Our FOREST Circle hosts reminded us that these contradictions abound in Eastern North Carolina today. While we took in the community, love, innovation, and incredible food of the region, we also explored the injustices that continue to plague eastern NC.

Many of our FOREST Circle communities are threatened by extractive, polluting industries ushered in with promises of job creation.

Eastern NC is home to wood pellet facilities, coal ash sites, industrial agriculture (CAFO’s), and the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Opposing these industries takes creativity and courage. Bobby, Belinda, Valerie, and Marvin gave us a first-hand glimpse into the realities of environmental activism with a local field trip. The work can be grueling, lonely, and dangerous at times. We are grateful for these brave leaders who resist systems of oppression and refuse to give up. Their actions are rippling not just through their local movements, but throughout the world as we face a global climate crisis.

“This summit is very important to the work I do in the community because I get to bring a more comprehensive lens to the work and get more impactful results.”

We know that resisting the bad is only half of the work. Our group explored what could be possible. What does it look like to strategically organize in our communities to build the kind of world we want? How do we develop the practical skills to feed and nourish our families and communities, to build cooperative economies, and to advance systems that don’t harm our communities or our environment?

We are re-imagining and recreating what is possible.

We are sharing knowledge on grassroots organizing around agriculture, learning how a small plot of land can nourish our whole community. We’re creating a mushroom cooperative to connect farmers and growers with markets. Our team learned how to use affordable and easily recycled materials to build a structure that could serve as a greenhouse or a chicken coop, even if all you have is a small back deck.

“I love that we are sharing our expertise with each other.”

And we are doing this in areas where extractive and polluting industries have tried to tell us that their way is the only way. We are re-imagining a world where we say “NO” to wood pellet facilities so that we can say “YES” to cooperative economies.

Protecting our forests, communities, and our environment, cannot be done in a silo. The challenges we face are not rooted in a single issue, but rather a consequence of a system that prioritizes profit over people and planet and that forces a false choice between a living wage and a healthy community and planet.

These challenges signal not just a threat, but an opportunity – to create new visions, systems, and institutions capable of bringing forth a more just, equitable, and sustainable world.

“I love the fact that everyone got a chance to lead. Some of us were new leaders.”

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