I absolutely love the purpose of the sustainability movement. It has fuelled my activism and honestly has enabled me to be the person I am right now. It feels really humbling to be apart of a movement that is fighting for the long-term health and stability of our planet. A fight that has any connection to our earth to me feels worthy and out of necessity. As sea levels keep rising. Animals are going extinct faster than we have ever seen before. Fresh water is dwindling. Air pollution cakes over cities so thickly, people have no choice but to wear masks as they walk outside their homes. Food has become more and more industrialized, that we can’t even recognize half of the ingredients on packages. We’re so up in our heads in waste, housing developments are being built on top of landfills. Not to mention, prairies, wetlands, forests and other significant ecosystems are close to being eradicated. When reflecting on this, huge, ambiguous, environmental crisis we are in right now, it often feels like there is nothing else for me to do but fight for the planet.
Those things listed above all pertain to our environment, but where are the people and where are their voices? Whose voices are loud enough to be heard and whose are not being represented? What stories are being amplified while others are marginalized?
Throughout my heavy involvement and experience with sustainability groups in Cincinnati, I’ve come to realize white people are dominating environmental groups. It’s the voices of mostly wealthy, white men that I am hearing. And while their stories, like my own and many others are important, they are not the only story.
In fact, there are thousands of stories that we never even hear because of how white people dominate environmental groups. For an example, black communities are more likely to have landfills put in their backyard than white communities. Or what about indigenous people and their land being colonized, stolen and exploited for oil drillers and corporate land grabbers?
This is why I believe intersectionality needs to be a primary focus for the environmental movement. We need to move beyond what the environmental issues are and be more critical of who these environmental issues target and harm first. We need a better understanding of white privilege in order to combat environmental racism and environmental injustices whole-heartedly and strongly.
This is why I am writing this, a call to action. For white people to stand down in environmental issues, and create space for people of color, women, and queer, trans people to be heard. We need to be incorporating more strict boundaries on how to be inclusive and welcome people from all different backgrounds in our circles, or their stories will only continue to be marginalized. Otherwise, the rhetoric of the rich, white college student who got involved because they realized how violent industrial agriculture was for innocent animals will be the only story.
We need to be more critical. And we need to know our history, our roots in white supremacy and make sure we are not perpetuating this. We need campaigns that tackle the roots of colonization, capitalism and exploitation of people inequitably, not more recycling bins. We need to hold ourselves accountable, and our university.
We need to acknowledge that white people are not the leaders of this movement and that indigenous people have been fighting for the planet since we (settlers) came onto this land. We need to learn from them. We need to understand their stories. Amplify their voices. Not our own.
Without justice, there is no successful environmental movement. People experience injustice in all different forms according to their own lived experience and identity. Incorporating more intersectionality in environmental circles will be a beginning to an environmental movement that is full of justice. And that’s the kind of movement I want to be in.
Mary Gorsek is a first year WILL member and graduating senior studying sociology and horticulture. She has her certificate in Urban Agriculture and is currently serving as the Interim Co-Director for the Office of Sustainability for UC.