The Revolution Must Be Resourced

As a child of the seventies and eighties I have the pleasure of being born in the dancing days that followed the last big wave of the civil rights construction period. A robust cultural moment when many of the spokeswomen and men had already been martyred, mainstreamed, or made to mark time as literal prisoners of politics. The ideas they embodied took shape in the codification of laws, designed to draw lines around an evolving acknowledgement that the status quo could not be left standing. 

What emerged was an architecture of fits and starts that provided an outline of safeguards against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Other gains include prohibitions against discrimination in housing-related transactions, and extensions to familial status, and in recognition of the right to employment regardless of ability with a reasonable accommodation. The times even yielded some gains in the right to equal pay in labor, although the landscape is far from set and settled.

We can at least agree that these actions represented a power shuffle, if not a shift.  So, let’s go further and agree that the sharp edges of those gains came at the expense of basic comfort, and that its footprint doesn’t fully cover the landscape of needs as they appear now, or the ways they presented then. Like any hero would, the social and nonprofit sectors emerged as a force to backfill the layers of leadership that it takes to get to good governance, strong oversight and forge ahead towards the yet unfulfilled promise of the full franchise of America.[1]

The resulting architecture of laws, statutes, executive orders and policies were at least supported in part by philanthropists. Philanthropy bolstered campaigns and the organizing efforts of able and willing activists to seed social engineering amongst oppressed populations. They added to the efforts to combat a moral recession that endangered black lives, fortunes and voices.[2]  Black philanthropy is a part of that story, through donation, supplies and institutions of faith and community.

Protest 60.jpg

If we fast forward to the present day, we find ourselves in a parallel cultural moment.  Across the electronic divide of time and technology we are witness to a new onslaught of old terror, a disruption on the surface of civility, and the formation of virtual communities where networks are formed by ideology rather than geography.

These times are ripe for a massive intervention of the public spirit that meets the problem of entire systems of disrepair with dollars that can upend the dynamics at the root rather than pick off the proverbial fruit. To be clear, I am suggesting that in the decades since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Fair Housing Act of 1968, or in any act for Equal Pay the efforts did not go far enough.  We have not gone far enough in the development of policy, the design of programming, the expansion of greenspace, or the education of children impacted by leaded water and inundated with designer drugs, or otherwise underserved to death in neighborhoods carved into automobile airsheds, where we doubled down on poor outcomes by uninterrupted enterprise that includes failed food systems where we do not dare to transport fresh and healthful food through deserts of our own making. I say “we” because the collectively conscious benefit from the maintenance of these divides and we should at least be bold enough own our part of the problem.

As we face another wave of political regression that threatens the next generation, we would be smart to do more than issue a call for leadership. We must invest in systems to undo systems. And any call for leadership must also be a call for community, which by its very existence provides support that feeds the vision. This should look like dedicated planning, support and diverse evaluation that bends to the culture rather than remakes it. To operationalize outcomes that we can live with we will need to align race forward policy with structures that mirror cultural values and include an understanding of the unique challenges of ecosystem development for traumatized peoples with an eye for equity, restoration and leadership at the highest levels that emerges from those being served.

To accomplish this, we need to undo the comfort of philanthropy that designs around issues and confront them instead. And among the tools, black philanthropy must be tuned to the inequity of demanding change from structures that consistently look beyond impacted communities and the ways they operate to solve for big challenges. Its time to develop new models for shifting power, to move resources and the reins on strategy, not just implementation, for success in building new systems, in emerging sectors with cultural humility rather than mere competence.

The dancing days are all but done and now is the time for systems change to avoid systemic failure. Black Philanthropy is especially capable of financing with a view towards cultural anchor institutions that operate out of relationships built within the structure of community to raise up leaders rather than collect them.

[1] Federal Taxation: What Is a Charitable Organization? Herman T. Reiling, American Bar Association JournalVol. 44, No. 6 (JUNE 1958), pp. 525-529, 595-598.

[2]See Philanthropists Help Finance the Civil Rights Movement, http://www.historyofgiving.org/1930-1980/1960-philanthropists-help-finance-the-civil-rights-movement Accessed (Accessed, August 1, 2018).

 

Why Should You Care About Community Now, More Than Ever?

There is no neat and tidy way to sum up my feelings about current events. Highs and lows abound for all of us who earnestly want to solve big problems or at least mitigate catastrophe, in the natural and built environment. As government regimes shift along party lines there is room enough for everyone to complain. As feminists, we are again bound to search our practice for true inclusion of marginalized peoples in the intersection of women and the environment. And we must look more deeply at our roles within those margins. As citizens, we will need to reengage our sectors, disciplines, and constituencies for answers and alignment. As women working in the environment, we must collectively move beyond the specter of a receding status quo and grope our dashed or diminished hopes for productive actions that will buck trends to ensure that the legacy of our generation is one of stewardship and justice. Viewed together, our work assails the banality of injustice through an unrelenting demand for increased access, inclusion, equity, and for plain old understanding, and that won’t stop now.

 

Connection begets Community

The environmental community is a one of diverse thinkers, strategists, planners, anglers, wonks, workers, and women.  Together we search for and find renewed purpose to meet challenges as they arise. Take a good hard look at us. We work for sustainable cities; promote agency for under-resourced peoples; plant gardens for food and righteousness; act as a safeguard for key species; write policy that influences behavior to combat climate change causes and effects; and bolster conservation in every environ. For those of us who desire an expansive form of social justice, circumstances require us to continue to push for the collective good, for the greatest number. We will fare better if we do it in community.

 

Engage Beyond the Echo Chamber

This is a time for strength. We have strength in numbers. In support of our mission to save the people and the planet, it is in our interest to continue to make room for divergent thought, support innovation in every direction and apply pressure to transform power structures so that they reach the greatest number. We won’t succeed in an echo chamber of agreement but by opening the ways and means by which we reach consensus.

Increasingly, environment and conservation actions explicitly bleed into issues of parity, representation, resource, burden, and benefit distribution. To make it meaningful, we will need to recommit as members of community to deeper engagement on the issues of our time, and in so doing leverage the power of the many to move the state for positive impact.

These are not the salad days. We are women at the intersection of climate, politic, and modernity. We are faced with compound challenges to our species’ survival. In this moment, I am hopeful that we have a chance to make gains out of conflict IF we can face the acrimony of behavior change, IF we deny the illusion of stand-alone issues AND connect the dots as women working for change in harmony with the efforts of other communities we are a part of.

As we close out the year, let’s turn our good intentions into action.  I challenge you (now) to change your relationship to what troubles you, and to get nearer to every challenge. And I ask you to set your intention to develop solutions with those formerly deemed “other” as partners rather than allies. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with alliance, except that it can normalize the perceptible space between what threatens each of us with what threatens all of us.

 

Strength as a Practice

As we brace for new norms we would do well to recall that as women for the environment, we are in this, whatever it is, together.

So, let’s pledge to start the new year as we would see it end, with justice at the fore of our approach to environment, and to see it through to the defense of our everyday liberty. If you plant trees, plant more trees. If you work on storm water reduction, then mitigate away. Advocate, agitate, intervene, and include all voices at the point of decision making, for yourself and for your community. We will need you now more than ever.

 

A version of this post was published on the DC Ecowomen Blog.

Why should you care about statements of solidarity?

 

IT’S ABOUT TIME

As of this writing it has been less than one week since police officers unjustifiably and unwarrantedly took the lives of Mr. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Mr. Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. And even fewer days amidst subsequent protests and the assassination of eight police officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge.

These killings occurred within weeks of one of the largest mass shootings in modern history, taking the lives of forty-nine humans enjoying a night out in Orlando, and on the heels of numerous other police killings of black men and boys.

Each incident entered the public consciousness through the intervention of technology which provided real-time, irrefutable accounts of the action. Often enough the depictions in these videos starkly contrast the official accounts provided by state actors.

As an environmental advocate focused on equity, access, and justice I have contributed to the public discourse on topics including intersectionality, equity, and community as a choice to explicitly include the cannon of environmental work in the context of larger social justice frameworks.

On the surface, it can often appear that campaigns for clean air, clean water, biodiversity, stewardship and meaningful engagement in the distribution of resources, benefits, or burdens are disintegrated and separate. They are not. In the silos of organization we address them as single issues. We do this in order to mount focused campaigns, to develop and gauge milestones, and to avoid the feeling that the big picture is too overwhelming to conceive of.

In this space and others, I do my best to dismantle ideas about the utility of this kind of single track thinking. And in so doing, highlight the tendency of environmental institutions to avoid the social justice community out of a dangerous sense of impropriety, relevance, or lack of invitation.   

 

RESIST NUMBNESS

Despite the mind-blowing horror of these unceremonious executions and the implications of their frequency and occurrence, there have been moments of sheer human goodness, sacrifice, presence, and accord which have helped me to resist numbness. Each has helped me to withstand the urge to find a blanket, and retreat from my efforts to connect the dots for capital “J” Justice here in the nation’s capitol.  

A great many of these moments have come courtesy of public statements of solidarity in the wake of tragedy. Statements from places in and out of the environmental community which had until now languished in a form of privilege which provided the luxury to avoid speaking to these issues or declaring that they took any position whatsoever.

As an environmentalist, I have waited for a long time to meet my colleagues in this intersection and to see the parallels begin to register in a sea change in thinking and action.

STATEMENTS OF SOLIDARITY

I want to share some of the public actions in solidarity with the non violent movement for Black Lives in order to spread some of the positivity which has emerged around another ugly moment in our collective history. Check them out:

*Women’s Voices for the Earth

 The Sierra Club

Asian Americans Take A Stand: Black Lives Matter To Us, Too

Autism Women’s Network

In solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is a global cause

These Aztec Dancers Joined a Black Lives Matter Protest in Minnesota

A Statement of Jewish Solidarity by the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis (released previously)

NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT

It is my hope that this public display provides some solace which can inform the next stage of the grieving process, but more importantly I want it to act as ballast for what must happen next.

As an environmental community we have every capacity to act on behalf of our comrades in social justice (and ourselves) to address inequity, stave off violence, and fight for justice. We do it every day, in every medium the earth yields, taking on climate change and our role in it.  

As change agents, policy makers and activists, we must turn our collective gaze to organizing state level reforms to punch through the (national) illusion that big problems are insurmountable. We already organize, legislate, advocate and agitate every day for gains which won't be realized for generations. We continually rework the system to accomplish the greatest good.  So, do the same here and now. Resist numbness (!) with an eye towards alignment with civil and social justice movements.

No one reasonably expects that we can halt the American contribution to climate change in one session of Congress. As such we know that the problems of a prejudice, privilege and targeted undervaluation of black lives will not be solved overnight, or really ever made right.

Now is the time. Take up your voice, intellect, organizational skill, fast feet, slow cooking skills or plain wrapped freedom and put it into the collective space. Leverage yourself against the weight of all this wrong to realize more hope and less systematically designed hurt.

Get involved, in your neighborhood and community, as you are now.  No invitation required. It’s time to see the forest and the trees. 

 

###

* Disclosure – I am a Director on the Board of Directors of Women’s Voices for the Earth, but was not involved in the writing of the solidarity statement.

(Updated July 18, 2016)

Why should you care about community?

THINK BIG POTATO, ACT SMALL FRY

The conclusion of COP21 created much needed space for serious efforts to incite comprehensive, structural change for the planet and its inhabitants. By whatever means, we’ve got a critical mass that at least agrees that merely mitigating the most damaging effects of climate change isn’t enough. 

The next challenge is to break from the attitudes, systems, and assumptions that got us into this mess.  Huzzah! We are, at long last, looking at the scope of environmental questions through a lens of global, geo-political, inter and intra-governmental equity, and with no time to spare.
 
As we shift from old methods to new practices, we rouse the bulwarks of fossil fuel energy—coal, oil and natural gas. We take on a future filled with more people and considerably less time, natural resources, or room for error. And we look with no shortage of hope for technological advancement to make ends meet.  

It’s an awesome time to be alive!  Each of us has in her own way accepted the vexation of big environmental questions because we are Ecowomen, actively creating kinship, to face the challenge of our time: survival.
 
I propose that in contemplation of the big deal we draw our response to scale. Let’s take ownership of the future with our present day decisions.  As engaged Ecowomen, it behooves us to link grand efforts to ground level actions that support the nearest and most immediate form of power available to us, community.
 
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

Community is a combination of persons with shared aims, interests, or ends. 

Functionally, community is a living thing, composed of living things, organized by choices. It performs as a series of relations characterized by the raising up and pulling down of interpersonal boundaries, replicated in reality. Consequently, community is a construct of our experience and our making.


COMMUNITY AS A CREATURE OF PROXIMITY


Last year, I heard Bryan Stevenson speak on the subject of pursuing justice.  In his conclusion, he issued a challenge that struck me as an entirely elegant mode of approaching problems.  He dared the audience to get into proximity with the things we find most uncomfortable.  In discussing the tragic folly of mass incarceration, he implored us to “find our way to justice" by avoiding the temptation to sidestep problems that seem too big or scary to handle. 

So, let’s start there. As Ecowomen we unite in concern for the health of our planet. We nourish our bodies with foods on the low end of the food chain, choose glass over plastic, and conserve resources to diminish our ecological footprint. Collectively, we a force for sustainable economics, politics and bionetworks. We begin with people we know and increase capacity in our spheres of influence plying our individual skills and abilities in the places we work, live, and play.
 

MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME

In the District we don’t need to look too far to find the makings of community. There are truly local environmental concerns of every stripe within the 68.25 square miles we call home.
 
•    There are trash transfer stations in the Fort Totten, Brentwood, and Langdon neighborhoods that cause residents to question the effects of commercial activities on their long term health.  

•    In recent years, the Capitol Power Plant was at the heart of local debate on coal fired plant conversions and the changeover to natural gas. 

•    Months ago, residents of Northeast’s Ivy City took up the fight against pollution clustering from a planned bus depot, and won.  

 
COMMUNITY AS A CREATURE OF NECESSITY

The national news is flush with stories about communities of necessity.  Groups who may be friends or neighbors who transcend those associations when faced with out-sized danger, from ecological events or man-made forces. 

Communities of environmental concern stretch across borders and boundaries because they are forged by the power of empathy.  Its members arrive as strangers drawn together to address a common plight.

Whether the cause is contrived deprivation, or rising tides, those who are able go where needed to join with vulnerable peoples fighting corruption and the unfettered evil of scarcity or degraded resources

There is strength in amalgamated capacity. It supports transformation or avoids catastrophe in the making. When the need arises, community comes together as quickly as is dissipates. And it has, in Virginia, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and North Carolina, among others. 

As change agents, we should add our voices and leverage the strength of whatever agency we possess to tackle local, regional, and national environmental issues because we see ourselves in the plight, the fight, or the solution. And we don’t need permission to do it.

The larger environmental movement is an aggregate of the actions we take in community. Our level of engagement aides our sophistication and colors who we see as victims or victors, what we see as wrongdoing, and our response to the call. So, what are you waiting for?

The issues are the invitation.

Originally published on the DC Ecowomen blog at: goo.gl/9UiNde

Why should you care about equity over equality in environmental work?


Among other things, the EcoWomen Community is a network of change agents and activists who take on the cause of healthy and balanced society. We convene to learn from one another, support individual development and sustain a growing community of professional women.

As a member of the DC chapter, I have firsthand knowledge of our collective skill in developing relationships for lasting growth, power and access for women across sectors.

This post compares two conceptual frameworks we apply to the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges that underlie our pursuit for a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. To reach these noble aims, we must scrutinize our individual perspective by looking more closely at the ignoble status quo.

We all think we want equality, right? To avoid zero-sum outcomes we must look at the currency and costs for everyone involved. And that requires us to opt for equity instead.

 

Equity and Equality: do they mean what you think they mean? 

Equality is the quality or state of being equal; the feature or status of having the same rights, social status, etc., whereas equity is demonstrating fair treatment of people within relative circumstances. Superficially, the ideas seem virtually identical– honorable, proper, even moral. However, in real life, the difference can contribute to detrimental outcomes for vulnerable people.

Let’s agree to think of equality as fairness, based on a presumption of sameness. It aims for equal treatment through equal access to a tool, medium or a resource. Whereas, equity is akin to justice, a more contextualized form of access; it considers the circumstances and background of everyone involved, exercising deference to each.

To think about it abstractly, equality is like the golden rule and equity is more like the platinum rule, if such a thing exists. Equity treats people how they would like with the understanding that resources, benefits, and burdens are meted out based on culturally derived and defined differences.

Metaphorically speaking, equality gives everyone a boat, whereas equity ensures that each boat, based on its location, is able to make it to shore in light of the conditions facing it.

 

Why should you care about equity over equality in environmental work?

Umm…to avoid silos. Environmental work does not occur in a closed universe, but in interrelated systems. As such, we work on improving the quality and impact of specific efforts to protect the whole environment and we do it as women of intersection, bringing our entire selves to the site of our resistance (air, conservation, oceans).

In order to make substantial impacts, we must see one another beyond silos in the context of our American life – in light of our intentional, persistent and inglorious history of unequal distribution. 

In the rush to save the planet, we should avoid greenwashing the past, which is full of poor land use decisions, wasteful, destructive, polluting activity, and excessive burdens stacked on vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. We must look at it all, in policy and practice, in order to make it together into the future.

What does equity look like?
 

Acknowledgment, assessment and dismantling of privilege.

Equity as a practice involves habitual refocusing on those persons, communities, and groups at risk in a given action. It means taking steps to provide relative access to a right or a benefit that may be available to all, with the knowledge that all things are not equal.

 

Equity demands recognition of systematic privilege created for the benefit of some and a willingness to address the corresponding burdens for those that are not privileged. The disenfranchisement accumulates at the same rate as the advantage for those the system of privilege is designed to serve.

 Further, equitable practice means engaging the past. It means re-balancing norms that perpetuate present and continuing harms. And a sober assessment of policies that protect privilege and create inequity followed by corrective actions that dismantle the systems that safeguard the inequity.

Equity in green spaces

So, what does equity look like in our work? Program and policy initiatives that seek to understand the lived experience of disenfranchised groups and communities. This includes analyzing the current array of economic and environmental health, programs, as well as land use and transportation decision-making strategies.

Equity forces us to question the present day make up of advocates for under-served groups, and it takes cues from affected people when targeting issues of concerns on their behalf. Resulting methods should incorporate community knowledge into the baseline factors that determine where to allocate our dollars, what problems to address and who is employed to respond to identified problems. And all of this must come with a conscious excising of bastions of privilege and redistribution of resources as a matter of economic policy aimed at offsetting wrongs.

Environmental equity looks like parity, in processes that determine who bares the impacts and burdens of an action, project or an undertaking. It takes shape in policy, in the development and enforcement of legal boundaries that actively protect against shifting pollution or hazards from one group onto another.

In effect, it is environmental justice.

Equality in green spaces

To be clear, equality isn’t malevolence, it’s just not enough. Access, even equal access, can be a well-meaning and sincere disservice.

Unless it is coupled with equivalent ways and means, we cannot realize the dream of unfettered, healthy contact with nature. Unless we create space for environmental work that reaches the under-served, as they exist, and not as we would make them we waste our efforts developing climate justice tools, education and policy.

Otherwise, the work has no effect in spaces beyond our present influence. We run the risk of deepening injustice, and miss the opportunity to affect positive change. And isn’t the point of social justice work: to reach a future where we achieve sustainable access for everyone?

For more information and resources on these topics check out the following resources on privilege, and equity.

Originally published on the DC Ecowomen blog at:‬ http://bit.ly/1PdbScH

Why should you care about intersectionality?

 

As a DC EcoWoman, I am a member of a community of women that inspire and encourage each other to do the work necessary to create a healthy and equitable society. Like many of you, I wear several hats inside and outside of the DC EcoWomen community – analyst, policy wonk, jargon translator, and general problem solver. Each of us brings our experience, understanding, and perspective into the spaces we inhabit, the spheres we influence, and which actions we elect not to take.

This blog post concerns a grey area; between our thoughts and actions, where the frameworks, lenses or viewpoints we apply to difficult questions determine the trajectory of our involvement in creating solutions. This precious mental space is where the greatest challenges to any community lay.

I consider how these structures interact, and discuss their impact on the ways we show up as members of coalitions involved in environmental work.

The concept of intersectionality was introduced to the collective consciousness some thirty years ago in a thunderous paper by Kimberlé Crenshaw. She advanced a cohesive theory that articulated the energy and effect of legal and political invisibility for women of color. She gave a name to the angst of not being seen and made it a cognizable body of work on identity and its connection to power structures.

Of Crenshaw’s articulations, the two definitions I find most helpful for understanding intersectionality are:

  1. It is a process of recognizing what was formerly perceived as isolated and individual as social and systemic, and
  2. It is a way to register the fact that there are multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.

Crenshaw looks at intersectionality as it applies to systems that interact with women’s bodies, define their political rights and cultural roles. I warn you, Crenshaw’s paper is heavy stuff, and it hurts to read because it breaks down some of the most personal parts of public life and the ways we are socialized to avoid complication for the sake of expediency.

As a shorthand, I like to think of intersectionality as an act of intention, a purposeful application of the whole self to dynamic problems. If we endeavor to employ it, we have the chance to dismantle silos of class, race, education, belief, sex, gender, culture, and age in favor of a more realistic accounting of our investment in resolving harms and identifying problems.

To avoid silos.

As EcoWomen we combine our talents, interests and perspectives to address large scale problems that include climate change, environmental justice and equity, conservation of natural resources, oceans, sustainable agriculture, ecology and the built environment, among others. We do this in our personal and professional lives, and in order to be successful we should avoid intellectual and emotional silos that limit our ability to use the power of combination to develop multifaceted approaches.

As proponents of change, we work against staid systems in order to develop sustainable answers to the questions of our time. We do this in a context of social transformation, and increasing knowledge of our destructive and redemptive power and ability.

An intersectional lens welcomes the breadth of our present working identities as women, and more, and avoids direct or indirect exclusion. It is an aide to conscious development of considerate problem analysis and solutions that increase our capacity as a body, enhancing our total range, representation and reflective power, which in turn enhances the quality of actions that result. 

Intersectionality looks like full expression, critical thinking applied to challenges. It looks like the recognition that systems of benefits, resources, privilege, and oppression overlap and that multiple public identities yield to situational arrangement. It looks like dynamic feminism followed up by consistent action towards those ends.

In green spaces, intersectionality looks like environmental campaigns, policy, and programs rooted in inclusion rather than marginalization. It looks like associations based on the premises that the standard is an enhanced alliance of individuals, groups, and cohorts working within intercultural and intracultural spaces as peers and partners. It avoids the implication that there is an inherent value or supremacy in the knowledge, assets or position of one group over another.

Intersectional frameworks aim to develop the capacity of all voices to address real time issues of resource allocation, the distribution of burdens, benefits and responsibilities for externalities. We all have a stake in the outcome and as such we must all have a voice.

Practically speaking, intersectionality looks like women who are free to show up as their full selves (as a member of a particular culture, gender, race, class or ethnicity etc.) without fear of owning up to the overlapping nature of their identity. It looks like a coalition of women who function as members of several systems operating simultaneously.

For me, intersectionality means showing up as a New Yorker, an African American, a woman with a specific legal, environmental and political education, of a certain age, and urban sensibility with the understanding that it’s all good because it’s all here, present and accounted for.

  •  Develop policies that reflect our intention to fully function even when that means we come to it from differing places and perspectives with opposing means and ends.
     
  • Intentionally seek out alignment across program areas and silos into shared power structures for richer political engagement.
     
  •   View our feminism as a multi-dimensional practice and ask questions as often as we seek to provide answers with a mindfulness of our multiple identities.

Because we are a community of EcoWomen who come from other communities. And as such we are in the business of fashioning sustainable solutions to big problems.

Greater intersectionality makes sense for our work since it precedes more responsive policies, timely organizational priorities, and more effective strategies; because it presents problems to be solved with more accuracy, sets the stage for access to more view points, and widens the scope of the challenge.

If we are going to try and change the world, we should do it as ourselves. We should stop playing nice, greens and start getting real.

For more resources on this topic check out this backgrounder as a primer.

Originally published on the DC Ecowomen blog at:  http://goo.gl/rG8P3V

 

© 2018 Tamara Toles O'Laughlin All Rights Reserved