Posts Tagged ‘Black Lives Matter’

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by Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

February is Black History Month, and it couldn’t have come any sooner for your local chapter of EcoWomen. We are at a crossroads in Washington D.C., and the nation. Challenges for women in the environment are compounded by a hyper local tightening of political tensions, regulatory rollbacks, revised—and frankly regressive—policy decisions. What better time is there to engage in a month-long reflection on the contributions, struggles, and textures of American life through the lens of black people? I live my life through this lens, and as a leader, engaging the environmental sector on access, equity and justice, I am a lifelong student of the past, with my eyes trained on the present. History is in the making.

The past is full of policies that aimed to frame the appreciation of the biota as the province of men, white men, at the expense of the stories of women and humans of every background whose lives and livelihoods were diminished by force of law and violence. Recent history is silent on those missing voices of environmental work; as the ethos took those cues and turned them into a culture of exclusion and compartmentalized norms of melanin in absentia. (That’s a different blog post!)

Text that reads Black Lives Matter on a background of pink roses

So where are the heroes in technicolor? Here, here, here and here, for a start. They are everywhere. And I suspect that they always were.

The future looks bright for environmental organizations taking this culture correction to heart, as leadership and membership shifts to closer approximate the population, and include diverse access points and perspectives.  It is a great time to consider the unnatural paucity of milestones and connect the dots on the homogeneity of voices that have shaped the narratives, and ask, to what end?  

As the DC chapter of EcoWomen looks forward to its fifteenth year, we are wrestling with questions of our existence as a body, our presence in the District, and whether or not we are walking the walk on equity and inclusion beyond the benchmarks of diversity. Operationally, this means taking a look at the depth of our bench in programs centered around inclusivity of women of different ages, capacities, and stages of life. It also means we are examining who we choose to lead our panels and programs—including our monthly EcoHour speakers—and whether or not our choices reflect a bias towards any branch, specialty, or perspective on environmental issues. We are taking up the challenge of articulating our aspirations and charting their emergence in internal and external policies. We are reviewing our goals, mission, and programs with the awareness of heteronormative, gender based, and age targeted assumptions. We begin by making no presumption that we are doing it “right” or that we can exist as DC EcoWomen in community without some careful thought about who is in the rooms where decisions are made.

As we move through these considerations we plan to open the questions up to our membership—you! So, be on the lookout for opportunities for feedback including surveys, focus groups, or polls where we will request your input on how you might like to see us express our desire for a representative chapter on the way to meaning well and doing it too. We expect that after some thought we will articulate policies about how and why we work and any action plans that would allow us to make it a matter of praxis.

Thank you, as always, for your membership and continued support of DC EcoWomen.

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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

Blog- Jul 18, 2016

It’s about time

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 official accounts provided by state actors.

City

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

On the surface, it can 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 to mount focused campaigns, to develop and gauge milestones, and to avoid the feeling that the big picture is too overwhelming.

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 capital.

A great many of these moments have come courtesy of public statements of solidarity in the wake of tragedy. Statements from the environmental community which had – until now – languished in privilege which provided the luxury to avoid speaking out or declaring a position.

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.

nature-forest-trees-high

No time like the present

It is my hope that these public displays provide 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 EcoWomen, 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.

As such, I implore you to do the same here and now. Resist numbness (!) with an eye towards alignment with civil and social justice movements.

ForestNo one expects that we can halt the American contribution to climate change in one session of Congress. As such, we know that 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 them 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.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga.