By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin
Pick a Fire, Any Fire
It is February in America. Just weeks into a new year, when the national gaze is turned to the contributions, legacy, and value of the black experience to the culture, spirit, and finances of the republic. As an environmentalist and a woman, there is no shortage of challenge, disruption, or calculated dumpster fire upon which to aim my interest in interventions of equity and access on the path to justice. As a member of this community, I know that I am not alone in my concerns for the protection of the people and the planet.
If you are paying the slightest attention to the popular discourse, the practical implications of climate indicators or the totally nonpartisan weather pattern then you aren’t sleeping easily. So, you’ve marched, and the natural question is, what should you do next? With so much at stake it is not uncommon to feel whelmed by triggering events. Action and reaction can stir the sensation that one is hitched to the bandwagon of big ideas, big struggle and identity within that struggle without a map, and with little more than an inkling.
Marching to the Intersection, Heart in Hand
So, yes, you’ve marched. In and of itself, that is not an end. In my mind, the better, next question is: how does a well-meaning EcoWoman decide by what method, when, and where to enter the intersection of ideas to affect change? Or plainly put, how do you show up, when do you show up and who are you when you get there?
There are so many threats to the people, the air, the water, the flora, and fauna. As such, it is important to figure out your personal calculus for entry, into the fight for or against incursion, to increase your chances at effectiveness and to avoid burnout. If your long-term aim is justice for all, then now is the time to get smart. It is important to figure out what the stakes are, determine a measure of success, and plan to avoid numbness by staying engaged at sustainable levels.
As an example, my formula for action is closely linked to my intersection and privilege. I am collocated in my desire to save the planet as an African-American, a woman, a gen-Xer, and an environmentalist from a diversely populated east coast city. Therefore, I see the challenges to the health of frontline communities as a singularity connected to the fight against invasive species and the fight against seeing other human beings as invasive.
I am bound to the history of African people who entered this country as cargo and remained in it as chattel; who made it America through innovation and persistence in it despite unfettered and unceasing legal and illegal attacks. Thus, as I move about the planet I cannot ignore the planning and decision-making that under resources generations of urban people and literally moves them superfund to incinerator zone, and back to brownfield by way of policy and program. I have no choice but to see the matching struggle of rural poverty delineated by the same forces whether or not it’s dressed in overalls. So, you see, my work is “cut out for me.” I’m focused on the spaces where my skills can affect positive change and my energy supports me.
Food for Thought
As I write, I can assure you that I possess no magic for making effective change but I have hope. And I would love to see you turn marching into sustained support for equity and plain old liberty and justice for all.
If you want to stay sensitive and engaged in the intersection, here is a list of books you can read to support your engagement on matters of race, gender, sexuality, and environment.
Challenging Reads for Challenging Times
White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race by Ian Haney Lopez
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
Born Palestinian, Born Black by Suheir Hammad
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration by Tanner Colby
Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua
The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz
The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman
Tranny by Laura Jane Grace
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Removing the Sacred by Winona La Duke
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Bird of Paradise: How I became Latina by Raquel Cepeda
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
This Changes Everything: Climate versus Capitalism by Naomi Klein
Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on equity, access 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.