Finding a place (or not?) at Powershift
This is a guest post by Dane Verret, a junior from New Orleans.
Is there a place for me (Dane Verret) in the Green Movement?
Short answer: Yes, but not yet.
On April 15th, a Friday, around 230 Midd students shot down to Washington, D.C. in a caravan of coach buses and cars to participate in Powershift 2011. [Campus coverage of Powershift.] For those who’ve never heard of Powershift, the event is an international conference for activists, lobbyists, innovators, leaders, and community members who aligned with the goals of the Green Movement. It’s also a conference for those who want to stretch and bend the boundaries of the movement past clean energy and Green jobs into something more holistic. I was among this group.
The focus of this year’s conference was environmental justice and community leadership. From Friday to Monday, April 18th, over 10,000 people of all ages and places participated in training workshops that focused on engaging and mobilizing their communities—be they on the frontlines of corporate pollution, discrimination, or in more privileged places—around the campaigns of the Green Movement. The three day training session culminated in a huge, 5,000 people strong rally and march against BP, Gen On, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Participants included peers from Middlebury, residents of Grand Isle [Lousiana] (one of the hardest hit areas by the Oil Spill), a French street art collective, women from mining towns in Appalachia, inspiring minds from Detroit, scientists from Japan—and the list goes on. More importantly, what united us was not a single cause but a mass of them.
In my eyes, it was a rally against corporate/ political neglect and disrespect of human beings.
Powershift 2011 undoubtedly left participants lionized against environmental injustices—I’m among them. However, it still leaves me wondering, where is my place as a Person of Color, specifically a Black male, in this movement?
I don’t want to generalize a single experience for People of Color, or anyone for that matter. Understand, as you follow me on this idea, that a life of marginalization or privilege is singular to one color, one race, one people. However, in my understanding and experience, an overwhelming amount of People of Color live in areas where pollution, governmental neglect, and discrimination intersect. These communities usually first experience the impact of a disaster—which seem to be increasingly man-made disasters—or of crime, or of a countless variety of ills.
In that sense, my role in the Green Movement is extremely important. I experience these things directly. But, the focus of the movement has not yet placed a premium on ME or YOU. The Green Movement is not yet conscious of the fact that People are a crucial part of the environment. The Green Movement has not yet figured out that a paying a light bill is, sometimes, more important than a rally for clean water. The Green Movement has, in my eyes, not yet matured into a Movement that speaks eloquently for all people affected by climate change.
As a Black Male, then, is it my role to preach the Green Ideology to Black people? Or is it my role to teach people what I’ve learned, to mobilize myself as well as others? Or do I just sit back and let the change occur without me? In order, No, Yes, and the changes will occur with or without me. And perhaps that’s the problem: it’s hard for me as a Black male to feel invested in this movement when there are other, more community- and human-based problems that I want to tackle. This is when I remember that a movement does not push solely in one direction at one time. A Movement is instead a multi-faceted thing that unites people around a cause. This Green Movement requires participation by people on every level of society to be successful.
But I don’t yet believe that the Green Movement and I are working towards the same thing. I instead feel like the Narrator from Invisible Man at a Brotherhood meeting. I mean to say, while my presence and diversity is appreciated, the best interests of my community are not at the heart of this movement. I feel that I would be made into a tool by this movement. And when the movement was finished, and I went home to my neighborhood, we could be discriminated against by the government in cleaner air.
As it is right now, the Green Movement is a collection of affinity groups. Said another way, it is a collection of tribes, some better off than others. And until direction of the movement focuses on those tribes on the frontlines, the Green Movement will remain a movement for the privileged—those with access to political policies, businesses, money, automobiles, and so on.
Someday this movement will mature and it will better address to the causes I fight for. Till then, we’ll just have to work in tandem from opposite ends of the spectrum. If the leaders of the Green Movement want to truly diversify its membership and evolve, they will have to expand their campaign to combat the institutional discrimination which causes most of the disparities between its members.
I remain hopeful. This movement has boundless potential to truly create progress on a scale never before seen.