Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Reflections on Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day.

There was a time in my life when that day would be synonymous with the end of an incredibly difficult period of organizing, planning, and discussion around the Earth Week celebrations at Macalester. For the past six years holistic environmental work has consumed me. The group I worked with, E-F√ľnk!, was dedicated to examining the environmental movement and looking at the class and race-based sanctions and assumptions the movement made. We educated ourselves about race and class and made the activities and programs we planned accessible for all income levels and pertinent to multiple communities. Our most successful Earth Week was one where we discussed the “isms” of the environmental movement, the history of “back to the land” movements that pathologized native peoples and women, the racist sexism prevalent in scientific studies that leave the work done by women out of environmental degradation equations, and the lack of collaboration and listening done between predominantly white college-educated environmental leaders and the communities most affected by environmental degradation - poor communities of color.

There was a time when I was incredibly invested in the way people spoke about, organized, and viewed the Earth. In the last two years, however, environmentalism has caught on and anyone with money who is hip to the consumer market is focusing on technological changes to improve the “greenness” of their building or company. Now that being green is synonymous with success any interest in collaborations between mainstream environmental organizations and communities of color or shifting the focus of environmentalism away from the idea of consumer choice is no longer appealing. With that I went out the door as well choosing to focus my work on allying myself to LGBT organizations, feminist organizations, and anti-racism/anti-white supremacy organizations. While I still make an effort to buy locally, compost, recycle, and reuse, I no longer spend time agonizing over mainstream environmental movements such as those chronicled in last weekend’s NYT Magazine.

Instead, this Tuesday instead of participating or organizing Earth Day celebrations I spent time with my friends, almost all of whom work for non-profits through the organization Avodah.* Although not Jewish, I was invited to celebrate Passover with a Liberation Seder that reminded us to remember the history of the liberation of enslaved peoples and to celebrate our abilities to speak for what we believe and to struggle alongside others. What I love so incredibly much about Seder is the constant reminder to not celebrate or ignore the pain of others - we take out a drop of wine for each of the ten plagues placed upon the Egyptians to symbolize that we do not enjoy the suffering of our oppressors. Also, there is recognition of the suffering still prevalent in the world today and wine was taken out again for the plagues of racism, sexism and homophobia, xenophobia, poverty, gentrification, war, and many other issues. This Seder inspired me in the holistic way these young Jewish activists viewed their work and their collaboration with the communities they participated in. Despite the fact that many Seders do not look like this one these activists continue to celebrate identity while recognizing current suffering and historical oppression and approaching these issues from a prospective of positive change. I was inspired to reevaluate my interactions with environmentalism and to give myself a new Earth Day Pledge.

This Earth Day pledge is to continue my work – writing, advocating, teaching – in a holistic manner that address multiple identities and issues never placing one above another. I also will continue to point out instances of environmental advancement that continue to benefit a privileged few while marginalizing the majority of U.S. peoples. However I will not defame the importance of environmentalism in that our interconnectivity depends on caring for the Earth as well as for each other and supporting all movements for liberation and civil rights which includes the right to be healthy and live in a healthy environment. I will not allow environmentalism to represent only the privileged few nor will I allow environmentalism to be denied as unimportant in the places where I work and live.

Happy Earth Day and Happy Passover!

*I don’t know anything about Avodah except that everyone I know who works with them is incredibly happy and fulfilled. I’d be very interested in hearing other reader’s remarks on experiences with Avodah.

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