When I came to one of the first Op-Ed Project seminars in Los Angeles 3 years ago, I was an experienced environmental attorney who had co-founded a non-profit called Plastic Pollution Coalition. I was already blogging about plastic pollution on Huffington Post and had a TEDx presentation on the topic to my credit. But on that long seminar day in a Westwood office building near UCLA, I discovered that I am more than my Juris Doctorate and my area of practice. Thanks to a brilliant presentation by Op-Ed co-founder Katie Orenstein, I learned that my expertise was a lot broader than I had acknowledged, even to myself! Hey, if Katie can have a prolific career as an opinionista on a wide variety of topics with her academic expertise focused on Little Red Riding Hood, I certainly could branch out from the niche I had carved for myself as an expert in legal policy solutions for plastic waste.
I have not abandoned my passion for solving the world’s growing crisis with plastic pollution in our environment, in our food chain, and in our bodies….far from it. Since I attended my Op-Ed Project Seminar, I have continued to write prolifically on this subject and thanks to the fine-tuning I got from my seminar and guidance afterwards, my writing improved and traveled more than ever before. I discovered that my Huffington Post pieces were being picked up by other sites such as Salon. One of my posts, Occupy the Environment even made it into a book The 99%: How the Occupy Wall Street Movement Is Changing America. In addition, thanks to my growing archive of articles on my core subject, I was invited to speak at conferences around the world, including the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro this summer, a dream come true for me.
But what really surprised me was the confidence I got from Op-Ed Project to write OUTSIDE my core academic niche. Op-Ed gave me the courage to write about my personal experience with Planned Parenthood when I got angry at how this nonprofit was being bashed by the Republican party. I experimented with form and wrote in verse, landing in news on small pacific islands and in on-line poetry journals. I utilized my old Art History and English majors and reviewed art and literature.
Furthermore, I started to read more opinion pieces, and this really changed my life. After reading a friend’s piece on the film Waiting for Superman, I joined my local school board and, of course, I wrote about it! After seeing a post about the L.A. River, I showed up to see boaters complete a historic journey of all 52 miles of the river to prove that it is navigable and therefore protected by the Clean Water Act. While I was there cheering on the boaters, I was interviewed for a documentary on the L.A. River that premieres soon called Rock the Boat. I have written about the L.A. River many times since that day.
I just saw a friend of mine who completed her Op-Ed Project training this month, and she thanked me again for the experience that has already resulted in a published opinion piece. I am sure that my friend Laura will discover, as the years go by, that Op-Ed is an ongoing gift. It helped me to find a bigger voice, to expand the range of my writing, to become a more active reader, and to become more engaged in the world. I share this gift by encouraging others to join the Op-Ed Project community to discover the joy of connecting with the world.