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Rethinking Resilience: Super Guest Blog from Cecilio


It is a profound honor to introduce my first ever guest blogger, the person whose thinking and writing is deepening all of our understandings of resilience, of collaborative convergence, and the meaning of connectedness. Dr. Cecilio Ortiz Garcia is more than a professor of political science at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. His research interests focus mainly on environmental/energy justice issues, rural sustainability, governance in social and technological change. Among other works, he is the author of “Airs of Injustice: How Air Pollution Affects the Health of Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S.” (2004). Since then, Dr. Ortiz Garcia has connected in collaborative convergence a consortium of colleges and universities throughout Mexico, the US, and Canada to study and facilitate rural sustainable development, as well as to establish a community of collaborative researchers. On this model, in 2015 he co-founded the National Institute of Energy and Island Sustainability of the University of Puerto Rico. INESI is a coordinated effort across all disciplines and all UPR campuses to address energy issues in Puerto Rico. After Maria, it played a key role in supporting communities and universities to understand and access alternative energy sources. In 2018, Dr. Ortiz co-founded, with Dr. Marla Perez Lugo, The RISE Network-PR, which began as an extension of INESI and has grown since (and through two major conferences, one in Mayagüez and one in Albany), to connect over 100 universities and communities in a unity of effort to create climate change innovation and disaster recovery and resilience capacity through the transformation of relationships within and among higher ed institutions and convergence with various forms of co-created knowledge and practices. Dr. Ortiz has shared his insights as research fellow at a number of universities and made friends everywhere he goes. Cecilio and Marla bring joy and curiosity and wisdom to everything they do, and everyone they meet.


Here are Cecilio's remarks:

Dear Colleagues,

It has been a month since our last pilgrimage from State College Pennsylvania to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today after turning one year older I look back and still remember the calculations we made of how the New York Covid-19 situation could make us strategically start our journey west, to where at that time felt like relative safety. It wasn’t easy. We already miss our friends and colleagues at Penn State without whom last year’s push to establish the RISE Network would have been impossible. Tom, Erica, Lara & Chris, Paul, Seth, Ciara, Susan, Alex, Lisa, Cynthia & Jonah, and so many more that in less than a year became like family to us. Needless to say the special role President Havidan Rodríguez and the “Vince Delio Crew” as well as Michelle Wyman and the NCSE family for bearing with us and our “architecture of relationships.” We owe you so much! Our family, and I mean including all of you, has become an experiment on resilience. Not under the usual descriptions of “bouncing back to normal ,” or “building back better or stronger” we have so narrowly used in the past, but concentrating on the more encompassing mantra of “governance of uncertainty.” Who would have known that merely days after moving to a small apartment in Prospect Heights, the last thread of a well worn cloth would give, making the murder of George Floyd, the trigger to another disaster just a few blocks from us. The answer to that is now apparent. Many knew.


Not us, that just arrived with the best of intentions to capitalize on an opportunity given by Macalester (but cooked by a few good friends at the U...) to stay on course with building RISE. But others could feel it. A good friend, Alex Heid, landscape architect and co-designer of the RISE 2018 workshop could feel it. “Race relations in the Twin Cities are tense. Watch out for Minnesota police,” he said in an ominous way as if his radar meso net was turned on, trying to leave no blind spots for us as we drove into the city for the first time. This was a friend speaking. Utilizing the best mitigation and disaster preparedness system available, and one of the least used, local knowledge. How many times have we heard the President say, from Maria to the Coronavirus, to the current upheaval in the streets over the murder of George Floyd, “this is something nobody could have ever imagined.” Not true, local knowledge says “we knew,” or at least “we should have known.”


That same thread that was torn after the utterance of George Floyd’s last “I can’t breathe,” indeed runs through the lives of many. It defines the lives of central mountain residents of Puerto Rico that again face another Hurricane season dependent on a still vulnerable electrical system. It runs through the minds of those senior citizens that seeing their State economies reopen, wonder about the dangers returning to “normality” maneuvering through the imprecise science of the pandemic, and the threat of contagion. Finally, it lives in the way an African American, Latino or Native American citizen confronts each day with the prospects of an encounter with police brutality and structural racism. All these are vivid examples of how the governance of uncertainty is more precarious than others. And how this precariousness makes some more vulnerable than others. It shows how race, gender and ethnicity, income, level of education, and political power still have an enormous impact on the quality of the resilience you develop. Kwick (2014) calls this the difference between efficient vs non efficient resilience. They argue that “orienting boundary work (convergence) in collaboration to making connections supports efficient resilience, making it possible for systems to work even when they are disrupted or when resources are constrained.”


I would add another parameter, that of constructive vs. destructive resilience. The kind of resilience institutional racism shows in the face of time is truly remarkable, and obviously destructive. The resilience that the regime of police brutality in the Twin Cities has been developed very efficiently by a racist system. These institutions require degrowth including defunding, de-escalation, destruction. What role have we as Universities played in looking the other way or fostering regime continuance through a “color blind lens”? As this Juneteenth Day remembrance approaches, and the frenzy of political campaign threatens to bring conflict and confrontation to Oklahoma citizens, we hope for the best, but would be wise to plan, as we can’t deny the possibly explosive situation seems manufactured.


We feel and what RISE is trying to illustrate is that a different future is possible through collaborative convergence. When we focus on the local practices and knowledge, and share their benefits nationwide with examples from collaborative convergence, we move forward towards promoting efficient, just community resilience.


In this journey we have learned that if resilience is the governance of uncertainty, convergence is the governance of knowledge. True convergence needs to go beyond just scientific knowledge, and technological innovation. STEM is not enough, and moreover, STEM blurs the fact that the science of resilience, in fact disaster science is relational. No amount of insertion of renewable energy into electric systems, or the production of vaccines or PPE or the introduction of cameras in the law enforcement environment will help us transition to just sustainability. It is only with the realization that a new architecture of relationships is needed; a multi-disciplinary, multi-level, multi-sector, multi-perspective engagement based on heterarchical, extended peer community development that collaborative convergence can fulfill its PROMESA of an equitable and just sustainable future.


I have shared with you in previous wassup chats how I feel about what the response and interventions of Universities has been during these last few months of a pandemic, mixed now with a cry for the end of structural racism. It still reflects low levels of collaborative capacity, now when we most need it. I remain hopeful that through the continued sharing of our experiences, the strengthening of our relationships and engagement with our local knowledge the seed planted by RISE can continue to grow and develop to its full potential. Please let us know how we can help as you all try to govern the uncertainty tomorrow brings!

Un abrazo

Cecilio

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