Reflections on Stories from New Mexico: Part 3

Final Days & FinalStraw

(Missed Parts 1 & 2? Catch up before reading Reflection 3: click here for Reflection 1 and click here for Reflection 2.)

It is with mixed emotions that I rounded the corner for the last leg of my journey. Sunday brought another day of work back at the Airbnb my husband had found and rented for the project.  It was a small but lovely house outside of Albuquerque. I had been there every day since my arrival on September 15.  It was now October 11 and I was going into my last few days of interviews.  I had worked every day without a break – with no garden to tend to and no family I had spent my month hunkering down to work whenever I was not out in the world doing interviews for our documentary.

Today I was going to take a little break so I could watch my 14-year-old son play a hockey game that was broadcast online. A lot had happened for Wim since I left in September.  When I left, he had just completed his first week as a freshman at high school doing all of his classes online and ice hockey was starting up.  Sometime during my journey his hockey team started playing games and hybrid in-school learning began – two big life changes I had missed.  It was hard not to be there to hear about, and if needed to support, these big life steps for Wim.

My daughter, in her second year of law school, continued to meet up with me every morning on zoom so we could do our morning kettlebell workout together; keeping that daily routine and connection was nice, especially as I started to get more and more homesick.  But at the same time, I was talking with all of these amazing people in New Mexico.  It was quite a journey but I was looking forward to getting home.

On Monday, I got up early to do the long drive from Albuquerque to Las Cruces in order to meet with Senator Bill Soules – one of the legislators that was championing the New Mexico Green Amendment along with Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.  What a beautiful drive.  We met up at Senator Soules’ house; from there we drove to the base of the Organ Mountains to talk about the Senator’s work as a teacher, his love of the mountains, his concerns for the future of “my kids” as he lovingly referred to his students, and why he thought a Green Amendment would be a powerful driver for positive economic development and job creation in the state, as well as environment protection.  It was so awesome to see how efficiently the Senator’s car drove because, as he proudly explained, it drove on biodiesel fuel that he himself made from cooking oil he collected from local restaurants – the fuel in my car had two lives, first cooking the food we eat and then providing a clean source of energy to fuel my car … now that is a win win!

At the base of the Organ Mountains, we found a picnic table sitting off on its own.  We pulled it into the shade so we could enjoy our conversation on what was turning into a very hot day in October.  When talking about the importance of advancing clean and renewal energy options Senator Soules had a funny but eloquent and compelling comparison – the horse and buggy used to be state of the art, but when the car came along we transitioned to that newer and more efficient technology; well now we have a newer, more efficient and more effective way to create energy, we don’t need fossil fuels anymore because we have many cleaner and greener options and so it is time to transition. And with that change, just like when we changed from the horse and buggy to the automobile, we will create new business, new jobs and tremendous economic growth.

The Senator then talked about the power of New Mexico’s healthy environment as an economic driver – the many ways the beautiful mountains, stunning vistas, and unique natural landscapes support and drive job creation and an economy based on healthy nature.  Senator Soules lights up when he talks about New Mexico, its diverse communities and the tremendous beauty of the state.  “You can walk by the light of the stars they are so bright and the natural sites are so beautiful they “feed your soul””, the Senator proudly proclaims.  It is clear to Senator Soules that for many it is the beauty of New Mexico that inspires people to come from all over the nation and the world to live, spend and enjoy in New Mexico.  The Senator clearly understands that if we despoil the natural areas of New Mexico, not only do we lose the beauty of what brings so many people to the Land of Enchantment, but the damage will devastate many dependent local economies in the state.

While I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my visit with Senator Bill Soules, it was the end of our conversation that touched my soul.  I asked Senator Soules why he decided to become a legislator and why he was so dedicated to environmental protection.  In response he spoke about the powerful moments when his students expressed fear about their uncertain future due to the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. Bill’s eyes teared up, his chin crinkled, his face became red, the tears began to flow; he said: I have to protect them, I have to do everything I can to protect them, I need them to know that I did all I could to protect them.

My route home took me to a check point with the border police – oh my gosh, “am I about to go into Mexico?” I asked the border patrol officer. I was frightened that my navigation had taken me the wrong way.  “Yes, the Mexico border and the Mexican police are right down the road” the officer said seriously. Then he started to laugh – he was joking.  I was relieved that I had not made a wrong turn.  I think I asked him 2 or 3 times if he was really joking – I was seriously worried that I had crossed the border with no passport.  After he assured me it was all a joke I got back on the road for Albuquerque.

Months before this amazing trip to talk with so many champions and leaders, a member of my team had done outreach to businesses to see if any of them wanted to learn more about the Green Amendment effort.  We didn’t hear back from any of the New Mexico outreach and so were a bit disappointed at the time but there was so much good stuff going on we had plenty to occupy our time.  And then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, Chap Grubb from the new startup business Rerouted called my team in response to that long-ago email – he had just found the email in his inbox.  After hearing more about our vision for change Chap was instantly excited to learn more.  I asked if he might be willing to come into town to talk on camera about why, as a businessman, he was so excited about the idea of constitutional environmental rights.  To my surprise and delight Chap was all in. We made a plan to meet up the next day.

I was intrigued to suddenly find two business leaders – Emma from Final, makers of FinalStraw and FinalSpork and Chap from Rerouted — eager to speak on camera and it was interesting that my carefully planned travel agenda was suddenly going to end with both of them.

It’s now Tuesday, my last full day in New Mexico, and I was thrilled to be meeting up with someone who has become a dear friend, Terry Sloan.  Terry is a Native American leader who wears many hats; all of them dedicated to advancing the rights of indigenous people in New Mexico, nationally and internationally, and all of them including a focus on environmental protection.  Terry is the Director of Southwest Native Cultures, is an accredited member of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and is the City of Albuquerque’s Intergovernmental Tribal Liaison.

When I first met Terry in the Summer of 2019, he was quick to see the value of a Green Amendment for Native American people, the environment and cultural protection and has been an outspoken advocate in every circle he can for this powerful pathway for protection.  We met Terry in the Sandia Mountains – we were supposed to meet up at a spot that is personally sacred to him – the place his mother took him as a child to explore, plan and connect with nature.  But we accidentally got turned around and ended up meeting at a more public meet up spot.  It was still beautiful and it was a perfect place to hear Terry talk about the sacredness of nature to Native American people and to him personally; to hear his concerns for the many ways native people had been sacrificed to environmental degradation; and to hear his vision for how a Green Amendment could change that and bring forth true environmental justice in New Mexico.

When we began our conversation, Terry proudly announced his heritage as a Navajo and Hopi Native American born to the Kinyaa’áanii – Towering House Clan and born for the Tó’aheedlíinii – Water-Flows-Together Clan and a hereditary descendant of Hopi Chief Loloma — to hear him introduce himself in his native language was beautiful.  He asked if he could start our conversation by sharing his vision of true environmental justice – true to form Terry’s vision for environmental protection and equity was inclusive, inspiring and amongst the best descriptions of true environmental justice ever shared with me.  But that is Terry, he is thoughtful, dedicated and always eager to share and connect people and ideas in ways that can shape, change and protect our shared earth and future.  Every week I get at least one text from Terry sharing a photo or message about an important effort he is involved in to provide needed food, protection, education or awareness for Native communities. I know few people who are so well-rounded in their dedication to helping communities.

When we were heading out after our interview, we did a detour so Terry could share with us his special spot – it was amazing and beautiful.

My last planned interview (but as you will soon learn it didn’t actually end up being my last interview) was a planned ending of my trip that would take me back to the beginning of my New Mexico Green Amendment journey… talking with Mike Neas.

Mike Neas was the first person from New Mexico to call me and urge me to come to the state to advance our Green Amendment movement. He had heard me on the Thom Hartmann radio show and called me almost immediately.  That was in the winter of 2019.  In that first phone call Mike sounded hesitant but determined – I have come to learn that is Mike’s way – he is thoughtful and deliberate in how he thinks through an issue and boy is he determined!  As Mike and I spoke over the phone in that first call you could tell that he had immediately seized on the power of a Green Amendment for environmental protection – Mike instantly saw how a Green Amendment could transform environmental protection for New Mexico.

Mike often claims that he is not the best front man, or the leader we need when it comes to advancing a New Mexico Green Amendment. But my experience with Mike tells me quite the opposite.  Mike has a clear, powerful and unwavering vision for needed change that shines every time he speaks about a Green Amendment.

Mike has helped make every connection we have in this NM Green Amendment movement.  Every important substantive, procedural or strategic question that has helped guide our New Mexico strategy has been asked and/or guided by Mike Neas.  It is Mike that has connected me with all key legislative leaders who are most interested in advancing a NM Green Amendment.

Mike is not the ordinary guy he seems, at first glance, to be.  Mike is a true environmental and Green Amendment champion and he is helping to drive and lead the movement in New Mexico.  In fact, we would not be where we are in New Mexico but for Mike Neas.

Talk about dear friends, Mike and his wife Pam have become very dear to me – probably more than they actually know.  Not only is Mike the reason our New Mexico Green Amendment movement is advancing, but Mike was one of the first people to just pick up the phone and call me about a Green Amendment and to ask me to come work in his state.  Mike’s relentless support for the Green Amendment movement has  been an inspiration to me.   Whenever I am feeling down or the hurdles seem too high – one conversation with Mike and my spirits were lifted. And so, it was sad to say good-bye after interviewing him for the documentary. But I had to get back to the Airbnb to meet Chap.

Oh my gosh, what a bundle of energy, vision, dedication and genuine decency!  That is Chap Grubb.

Chap was so excited to connect and when I asked him about his business, Rerouted, he was a proud Papa sharing the joys of birthing this new business.  Rerouted is really quite an amazing idea.  Rerouted is a way for people with used adventure gear – e.g. rock climbing, camping, water sports, snow sports etc. – to offer it for re-sale to those looking to get equipment at a lower cost.  But Chap doesn’t just have a way for folks to say what they are seeking and for others to say what they want to buy, he has developed a way to directly connect them, almost instantly!  It’s quite ingenious.  I have already told my stepson about the site as he is way into climbing but often laments the high cost of equipment.

While it was fun to hear about this much needed and novel business model, it was even more fun to hear Chap talk about why he started the business. Chap didn’t have an easy time in school, it was hard for him to sit still and focus, he is high energy.  Much like myself, had Chap grown up with different parents he probably would have been labeled as a child in need of drugs in order to successfully attend school (something Chap freely shared in our conversation).  But Chap’s parents saw how special their son was, they appreciated his high energy, and realized that he just needed another pathway for successful learning, one that involved a lot of outdoor time, enjoying and being challenged by nature. And as a result, Chap became a successful student, person and now the founder of a successful business.

Chap has translated his appreciation for the environment and the important role it has played in his own development as a person into a business that helps get others into the outdoors while at the same time reducing waste by ensuring unused adventure equipment can have a second life helping others to enjoy nature.  As a businessman, Chap expressed his support for a Green Amendment and the many ways it would help to protect the ability of other people like him to get out in nature to learn, enjoy and grow while at the same time helping to support his developing business and the economic vitality it adds to communities in New Mexico and across the nation.

After our amazing visit with Chap it was time to pack to go home – I was tired, sad and excited all at the same time.  It had been an amazing journey but I was eager to get home.  I genuinely and deeply love my husband, but I also really really like him!  I love the time we spend together, how we share our beliefs and interests, how we challenge one another and support one another – and so, as you can imagine, I really missed him.

But first I had to pack, do one more interview, and once again face my fear of flying to make it home.

Me showing Emma all my Final Straws

My last interview was one I had been looking forward to – the founder of Final, the company that makes FinalStraw.  I had first learned about FinalStraw in 2018 – I was looking for a reusable straw that was portable, cleanable and would help avoid the single use plastic straws wreaking such havoc on our environment, along with many other single use plastic items.  I was doing an online search and there it was – FinalStraw, a collapsible and portable reusable straw that fit easily into your pocket, backpack or handbag.  I ordered one for each member of my family right away.  I must admit, I was a bit disappointed when I realized I would not get them right away because this was a Kickstarter campaign – but you know what? It was worth the wait!  I love my FinalStraws and so too do my family.  I have one in my handbag, my backpack, my computer bag and my car.  And so, it was going to be fun to meet the founder of this great idea.

Emma Rose Cohen arrived with her white, well-behaved, and super sweet rescued dog.  Emma was poised, elegant and down to earth all at the same time.  We had a fun seat set up for her, rather than the usual folding chair, there was this really cool seat at the park where we met, kind of like a throne, we put a blanket on it and that was her “hot seat” for the interview.  She loved it.

I had great fun pulling out the FinalStraws I had in my handbag and backpack so she could see I was genuine in my support for her work.  But then we got serious and started to talk about how companies were so quick to put profits before responsibility. We talked about the importance of thinking about products from cradle to grave and that it was not just the plastic and the straws themselves that were the problem, but it was the fracking and industrial activities that were required to provide the fossil fuels necessary to make the plastics and the straws.  Emma and I talked about her efforts to get other companies to consider their role in environmental degradation and protection, and about how doing things the right way from a corporate responsibility perspective was a money maker, not a job killer.

Emma, like Representative Rubio, also reflected that if you oppose a Green Amendment then you must come from a place of privilege when it comes to water, air, and the environment – it was quite a moment for me to hear this insightful perspective for the second time in a week.

It was so magnificent to end my week talking to a powerful woman who took her knowledge, connections and power and dedicated them to environmental protection.  Emma could have taken her success and used it entirely to serve her own personal desires and goals but she hasn’t, she has remained true to her commitment to environment and community protection.

I think a fun example of this was our casual conversation about the great outfit she was wearing which was purchased, 100%, from thrift shops as part of a personal choice to re-use as much as possible, whenever and wherever possible.  It actually reminded me of my conversation with Chap, they were both dedicated to reducing the corporate footprint in a way that expressed leadership, supported jobs, and enhanced economic development and at the same time they were living their beliefs.  That is a true mark of leadership…you have the ability, power and money to use in any way you choose without regard for others, and yet you make a conscious choice to only use your success to protect, defend and to try to inspire others to join you on the path of care and protection!

As we said good-bye, Emma generously offered each member of my team one of the new FinalSporks that were just coming out, or a FinalStraw if they preferred.  My FinalSpork will be a gift for my daughter who has been such a great volunteer for our Green Amendment work and herself a FinalStraw fan.

See the Final Straw???

I got in the car and headed to the airport.  I was excited because I knew that I would be home within 12 hours.  It had been 30 days of amazing!

Over the course of 2020, COVID-19 had definitely impacted our efforts to reach out and educate about the values of a Green Amendment for New Mexico; but what this trip and my many conversations had shown me was that the pandemic had not stopped the Green Amendment concept from inspiring communities, activists and organizations to want to rise up and secure this new level of environmental and justice protection for New Mexico.

Everyone we spoke to saw the value of Constitutional Bill of Rights Green Amendment protection for the enforceable right of all people to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments.

Will New Mexico be the first state in the modern era to have such an amendment advance to the people for a vote?  We will see.

But whether it happens in 2021 or later, the people of New Mexico are key partners in advancing our Green Amendment movement and I am so honored by the amazing and growing support and partnership.

Among the organizations already joining voices in support are:

Adelante Progressive Caucus, Albuquerque Wildlife Federation, Aldo’s Silver City Broadband of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Common Ground Community Trust, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Indivisible Nob Hill, New Energy Economy, National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, Retake Our Democracy, Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens, Rio Grande Valley Broadband, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Rio Grande Waterkeeper, Southwest Environmental Center, Southwest Native Cultures, Think like a Bee, Water-Culture Institute, WildEarth Guardians, 350 New Mexico, 350 Santa Fe.