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. 

 

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* 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 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

 

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