John Jackson - Nurturing Environmentalism

When faced with an environmental issue in their community, concerned citizens respond with meetings and public gatherings to understand how the issue affects them. As they begin to ask around for resources and support, they are often directed towards John Jackson.

No, he is not a scientist, a politician or a consultant on environmental issues. Rather he is an individual who has repeatedly demonstrated a commitment to relationships, to community participation, and to an unwavering belief in the capability of individuals to work together to create effective change.

He transforms this belief into action as he responds to requests for help, volunteering his knowledge and experience gained from years of community and civic engagement. This support role may result in two or three meetings or 15 years of strategy sessions, meetings, lobbying, potlucks and bake sales. It is for this giving of self, this generosity, and this commitment to the value of community participation demonstrated over the last 35 years that we honour John Jackson at the Twentieth Annual Mayors’ Dinner in support of the Working Centre and St. John’s Kitchen.

Practising simple living without the expense of a car, John admits that he is able to have a certain freedom to take financial risks because of his lifestyle. When he does work for income John lectures part-time at various Universities, and works as a Researcher-Writer for the Canadian Environmental Law Association and European Union, the Ontario Public Advisory Committee and Toronto Public Health. He also acts as a member of various advisory committees and environmental networks. Although this is John’s paid work, it is his inspired work outside of his employment that is so intriguing. After pursuing a degree in political science, he went on to work on a PhD at Berkeley from 1969 to 1970. Being present at such a significant time of civic activism and community action, John became an editor for an underground newsletter called ‘Gentle Strength’, which published articles on the dramatic changes that were taking place in the 60s. Individuals demonstrating their commitment to community participation and change such as Gandhi, Dorothy Day and the Berrigan brothers, influenced John, through their writings, reputation or personal connection.

When John returned to the University of Windsor as a lecturer, his commitment to active participation continued through his involvement with the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. As a part of OPIRG, he was contacted by a group of citizens who were concerned about the fallout from a nuclear power plant in Detroit. His energetic commitment to walking alongside this group started his reputation as a community resource for groups seeking strategies for change. John has since worked with over 50 community groups.

In 1981, John was contacted by an individual from the Niagara Region looking for some direction for a group of concerned citizens. The provincial government was proposing to build a hazardous waste and incinerator site in their community, and they were not certain that this would be in the best interests of the environment or their community. John began meeting with this group (including farmers and other community members) to discuss this proposal and learn about the environmental implications of this site. The initial phone call and meeting resulted in the establishment of the Ontario Toxic Waste Research Coalition and a 15 year relationship where strangers became friends. John’s role in this process was to bring knowledge gained from working with other groups, insight into strategies that failed and those that were successful, and hope when change seemed impossible.

Those 15 years of discussions, meetings, actions, and community educational events resulted not only in preventing the government from building a hazardous waste and incinerator site in a rural community but also in creating meaningful friendships and relationships. For John, this is really the meaningful element in this kind of work--the creation of relationships with individuals who welcome him into their lives and homes, learning together and walking together as they work to make real change possible. John also values the community and individual growth that occurs as people come together for the sake of the larger group and invest themselves in the livelihood of others.

It was this same vision of education and community involvement that led to John’s involvement in the establishment of Great Lakes United, an international coalition focused on the environmental health of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. This coalition initiates policy and educational programs and facilitates community action that will result in cleaner air, conservation, and a reduction of pollution in the Great Lakes ecosystem. This organization actively reflects the importance of relationship, collaboration and education in the creation of constructive and positive change in our communities.

Although a lot of his community work takes him outside of Kitchener-Waterloo, John has also been involved in local environmental activities. He is currently a member of the Ecological and Environmental Advisory Committee at the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and is a member of the Region of Waterloo’s Regional Growth Management Strategy/Light Rail Transit Public Advisory Committee. John received the Region of Waterloo Environmental Sustainability Award (2001) and the Grand River Watershed Conservation Award (2006). Requests for John’s involvement on many national councils, public advisory groups, and task forces, reflect his continuing influence and the significance of his commitment to advocating real change.

John Jackson is best known for his involvement in environmental issues. However, according to John, his commitment to environmental issues comes second to his passion for walking beside individuals in community groups as they discover their own capabilities by working together. Individuals will often call John asking for the name of a decision-maker who can actually listen to them and respond to their concerns. It is after they discover this strategy is seldom successful, he says, that the real learning begins. Then community groups begin to explore strategies, network with other organizations, and educate themselves regarding issues and policy development requirements. They begin to realize their capabilities, the value of persistence, the interconnectedness of issues and the importance of community involvement. It is the satisfaction of witnessing this process of discovery and empowerment and the realization by average people of how they can impact the health of their community that drives John to continue to respond to requests from those just beginning to deal with local issues.

Good Work for John Jackson is helping others live thriving lives. It does not include telling individuals or groups what they should be doing; rather, it helps them explore possibilities and get access to tools to transform their community into something better. For him, Good Work facilitates personal connections and is satisfied by witnessing others doing great things in their communities.

John Jackson has been a voice of encouragement for community groups and concerned citizens who are strategizing for ways to contribute to a sustainable environment and who are building healthy and strong communities. He has invested himself as a community member, educator and advocate for real change, and embraced the role of facilitator for communities responding to local, national and global environmental issues. This year, at the Twentieth Annual Mayors’ Dinner, we honour John Jackson for his commitment to the human community, for his openness to being affected by others, and for his persistent belief that individuals can actively care for their environment and their neighbours.

We invite you to join us at the 20th Annual Mayors’ Dinner to celebrate John’s commitment to community.

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