Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Wisdom from the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer

Today's post is outsourced to Brendan Mock who writes regularly about environmental justice issues at Grist.

... social justice groups of many stripes converged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. That was the courageous campaign carried out by black and white youth to get African Americans registered to vote under hostile Jim Crow laws. There, during an assembly titled “Climate Change and Environmental Justice: How Did We Get Here?,” attendees got an earful from Turkey Creek historian and activist Derrick Evans. He is the lead character featured in the documentary “Come Hell or High Water,” the story of how Mississippi attempted to erase the historically black Turkey Creek community to build shopping centers.

Addressing the Assembly, Evans explained how preserving Turkey Creek meant more than just upholding the Civil Rights Act, or any one law. Instead, the community had to converge a variety of civil society’s custodians — Sierra Club activists, Audubon Society bird watchers, Nature Conservancy conservationists, state wildlife biologists, faith leaders of black and white churches, civil rights lawyers, historic preservation officers — to protect it from reckless developers. This is where environmentalists found that they had more in common with social justice advocates, and vice versa, than initially recognized.

This starts a little slowly, but he sure gets going:

"... We get ahead of the curve. ....We never deal with it ... that big energy and the rest of them, they own legislatures, they own television stations, they own agencies ... You can't compete with that. I wouldn't try. .. what do we have access to that they can't possibly use? ... It's like using a tennis racket against the Williams sisters! It ain't gonna work! ...The one thing we do have that they don't is real people, in real places, with real stories... that school children can connect to ..."

1 comment:

Hattie said...

This is part of a long educational process. The key is getting control of the language. I'm thinking a lot about this issue in relationship to feminism and ageism. If you can't say what it is, it doesn't exist. It's just these people and what is happening in their community, and, as he says, it never gets out.
The stories are important, but they can be easily dismissed as local matters or anecdotes or even (god help us) local color. This leaves activists groping around to explain what's happening beyond the often important stories people tell. Theory has got to be there, too. Academics have a big role to play, to help develop the language that activists need to explain their position.
An example of an effective person in that regard is George Lakoff, who developed the "frames" which have helped the liberal cause so much.
We have people talking past each other here on the Big Island. The rhetorical style of Hawaiian activists is used against them to try to make them sound uneducated and stupid and belligerent. This allows people with the standard discourse under control to take over "their" causes and distort them to their own purposes.
Sounds complicated, maybe, but it's a complicated matter.

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