The first duty of love is to listen.        Paul Tillich

I enjoy going into nature to seek inspiration and insight into my life.  It is a time to be quiet and listen.  Saturday I did a Medicine Walk pondering my role in the Sonoma County Alliance.  I wandered down to Mark West Creek where I rested in the dappled light along her banks.  I’ve lived next to this creek for over 30 years.  The SCA Environmental Committee has worked to convene landowners and agencies to restore the pristine nature of this steelhead spawning habitat.  My passion for nature and love of Sonoma County are fed by times such as this.

Something dangling from a tree upstream caught my eye.  I wandered out of the clear path I’d entered to follow the game trail along the banks edge.  As I picked my way along this tiny trail, I was suddenly swarmed by yellow jackets.  I couldn’t get away from their stinging.  Exits were blocked by poison oak, blackberries and fallen cottonwoods entangled in vines.  I’ve been allergic in the past and wasn’t sure what the outcome of this might be.  I had trouble controlling my breathing and dropped to my knees to compose myself.  In time the insects stopped attacking me. My only way out was to walk the center channel of the creek back downstream to the opening I had entered.  As I waded through the clear water, fingerling steelhead rested in still pools.  What a tale of survival steelhead have to tell.  I once again remembered that I came to the creek for vision.
For days I have been processing this experience.  What painful and strange type of “medicine” might this be? Is my story a metaphor for the Sonoma County Alliance?  For almost 50 years SCA has enjoyed being a part of the Sonoma County landscape, a landscape that has changed.   Despite strategic goals and many good intentions SCA has not kept pace with this change.  Demographic shifts and growing polarization are creating an environment that must be navigated with a different eye.

Through our recent listening sessions, the Alliance received valuable feedback from members and the community.  Thank you to all who took the time to contribute.  We learned how strong the Alliance story of successful advocacy is.  Our work has built value in Sonoma County which must be maintained.  And we also heard comments that stung and surprised us.  We learned of members who do not feel included, which hurt.  Some guests did not feel welcomed.  That stung.  We were taken by surprise at concerns voiced by elected officials and by cancellation of memberships. A fairly significant population in our community see Take Back Our Community as offensive.  Yet if the first duty of love is to listen, we must listen, look, and learn.  This is a beautiful opportunity for honest self-reflection.  Like every other organization, business and leader, we have a responsibility to prepare for the future.  We must ensure the long-term health of the Alliance so that it can continue to promote a Healthy Economy, Healthy Environment, and Healthy Community for another 45 years.  As an organization we must continually evolve and do the on-going work of succession planning.

To that end, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force is working to establish goals and explore immediate, short term and long term actions that will move SCA forward in the current landscape of Sonoma County.  The Board and Organizational Development Task Force is looking at our structure and processes to recommend changes that will improve the Alliance to ensure an even stronger advocacy position for small business and the economy.

It is time to work to educate the business community as we educate ourselves.  We can be a positive force for change in our community.  This is a necessary part of evolving and being a responsible organization.  Every leader’s job is to help with the healing that’s needed in our society.  Each of us can lead our portion of the business community in a quest to do what is fair and just for all citizens.  Thank you for listening and being a part of the Sonoma County Alliance story.

It’s all we are in the end.  Our stories.    Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Marlene’s Message August 2020