We are Resilient: A Raritan Story

Article by Anjali Madgula, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2020 Environmental Communications course.

Anjali’s article was written to be shared on World Ecology and Ecologists Day, celebrated annually on November 1. World Ecology and Ecologists Day reminds people of the importance of knowing and valuing the relationships that exist between living beings and their environment, and raises awareness among our people about the importance of maintaining a harmonious relationship with our environment. Anjali’s piece was inspired by the way The Overstory by Richard Powers describes people connecting with nature while being informative, and inspiring environmental advocacy. Narrated from the point of view of the Raritan River itself, this piece piece details the work of the local community along the Raritan and connections between the people and soil, species, and water of the Raritan Watershed.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

Richard Powers, The Overstory

On the Banks

They grew themselves amongst trees and concrete.  Painting and playing on both bark and pavement. The young ones running around the city, mapping out their neighborhood, smiling curiously at their happy natural counterparts: the ever growing trees and plants tracing along their route to school. The bright-eyed young ones are the future caretakers of this community but I worry about the uncertain future we will inherit together.

Loss

In 2012, 1 billion gallons of sewage overflow discharged into my waters. I cannot safely provide for my ecosystem or the creatures who rely on me for sustenance anymore. This has grave and dire consequences for our community. I’ve felt damaged, toxic, polluted, and dangerous for as long as I can remember. I saw firsthand the horrors of pollution and how endless the cycle of poisoning can be till living things die in the hands of each other.

Our Shared Ecosystem

But, then people began to organize, to investigate and empower. They are Streamkeepers, community leaders, volunteers, students, and creatures of this ecosystem leading not only towards restoration but a totally new and reimagined mode of coexistence and value. They have promised to never forget how easy it is to destroy ecosystems.

Education

In school, they now teach the young ones about me. They learn about protecting each other and preserving nature. They illustrate and recognize the most endangered species in close proximity to them- species like the Blue Spotted Salamander and Red Tailed Hawk. The educators and students have a big ask. To learn from the past and to in essence, relearn the relationship between humans and nature. They know that the implications can be incredible when we empower beautiful futures in classrooms.

Art

#Lookfortheriver! They wrote this phrase on pavements, on posters- they made art, and built solidarity around my persistence to live on. They made understanding of sea level rise and urban flooding accessible to all through their social movement. They built streamside sculptures and paid homage to the hidden streams and impacts of climate change on local floodplains. They asked the community to see for themselves to create their own perspective and become civic scientists. They organized clean ups and displayed the valiant act of human hands working together and removing pieces of trash through sculpture as a testament to our community’s stewardship.         

Resilience

               I feel visible again as people in their homes and streets dream of me and sing to me. They study me, and create visions of my strength and resilience. They anticipate the dangerous need to prepare for the impacts of climate change, sea level rise, and future storms as a coastal community. They build and build coalitions to change infrastructure and dream of clean accessible water and a world without pollution. We look to each other in doing so and promise to never pollute the world with hate and injustice, to let all living things be free and respected. We remember the past in order to create something better.

Effective communication about the environment is critical to raising awareness and influencing the public’s response and concern about the environment. The course Environmental Communication (11:374:325), taught by Dr. Mary Nucci of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills while introducing students to using communication as a tool for environmental change. Students not only spend time in class being exposed to content about environmental communication, but also meet with communicators from a range of local environmental organizations to understand the issues they face in communicating about the environment. In 2019 and 2020, the course applied their knowledge to creating blogs for their “client,” the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Under the guidance of LRWP Founder, Dr. Heather Fenyk, students in the course researched topics about water quality and recreation along the Raritan. Throughout 2020 the LRWP will share student work on our website.

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