Pink and Green

This past June, 20,000 other activists and I (including binaryfairy), ended up in Detroit at the US Social Forum. And one of the things that experience highlighted for me was how little we talk to each other cross-movement. Binaryfairy pointed out that there was little understanding of queer issues from non-queer organizers of the USSF, but in the queer community we tend not to reach too far outside our own borders either. Although I'd like to hope that most of us who identify as queer or feminist activists have at least a basic understanding of how those struggles tie into race and class and worker's rights, even that's probably overoptimistic. Right now, though, I'm going to jump past those obvious allies and talk about what queer/feminist movements and the environmental movement can learn from each other.*

My first exposure to activism was when I was 11 or 12, working with a volunteer organization to restore local forest preserves to health, which included cutting invasive brush as well as planting seeds, and so on. A small but vocal group of concerned trolls calling themselves “Trees for Life” (I know you're thinking, WTF, anti-choice trees?) got worried about the children (are we teaching them to kill trees?) and the 'racism' of weeding out non-native plants, and convinced the county to put a moratorium on the work we were doing. I testified before the county board, helped my dad start up a counter-organization (Citizens for the Responsible Use of Public Land, with the unfortunate acronym of CRUMPL), and wrote letters calling out sloppy, biased reporting and challenging a particularly self-righteous columnist to a plant ID contest to demonstrate his (lack of) authority on the topic. The columnist never responded to me, but I learned something anyway: when the world around you is wrong, channel your anger into action.

So maybe I'm speaking from my own biases when I say that the environmental and queer movements could learn a lot from each other. And maybe I'm being unnecessarily pessimistic when I predict that unless we figure out how to tackle environmental issues like global climate change and resource depletion, all our other struggles aren't going to mean much. But that's the way my brain works: I make connections, I throw together unlikely bedfellows, and I wonder why group X is trying to reinvent the wheel if group Y already has something workable. In other words, I want to see a unified, cohesive Left working for an all-around better world for all. I know, I'm a dreamer.

One of the best panels at the USSF was on "Race, Gender, and Climate Change", organized by the brilliant Nia Robinson, Director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative (EJCC.) I spent the first half-hour talking with a small group of mostly women, mostly of color, about our various experiences of the intersections between those three axes.

“It makes me angry that it's poor neighborhoods, Black and Latin@ neighborhoods, that always get hit with the worst pollution,” said one participant.

“As a woman, I feel like the environmental movement is always telling me to buy things and spend money,” said another. “Especially as a mother, I'm made to feel like a bad parent if I'm not buying all of these products I can't afford.”

Look at the mainstream Western environmental literature, and it's full of line-dried laundry, and bushels of fruit home-canned at the heat of summer, and home-cooked meals, and cleaning methods that trade harsh chemicals for time and elbow-grease. Unless these activities are decoupled from femininity and women are no longer responsible for the “second shift”, women will bear the brunt of the “green living” movement. Yet the predominantly white, male figureheads of mainstream environmentalism don't seem to consider that feminism falls within their purview.

Most of the small farmers in the world are women. So when conservationists talk about saving the rainforest from encroachment by farmers, it's mostly women's livelihoods that are threatened. But when “green jobs” are created as park rangers and eco-tourism guides, who do they go to? Gold star if you guessed “men.” And this doesn't even touch on the heteronormativity of both of those models.

On the other hand, queer movements could learn something from the transition towns initiative and the success environmental activists have had in building communities from the ground up. There are strong networks of people who are living the world they'd like to see, engaging in skill-shares to train each other and creating micro-infrastructure such as local currencies, community gardens, or food co-ops. Environmental legislation that surpasses any national effort has passed relatively easily at the city or county level due to effective local organizing. If the environmental movement has perhaps bought a little too heavily into the idea of individual responsibility (um, even if we all replaced our lightbulbs and carried reusable water bottles, we still wouldn't save the planet), the queer and feminist communities have gone the opposite way. I'm not denying the need for massive systemic change, but it is our own actions that define the world we live in, and we can build a queerer world starting with what we already have.

So what, you ask? Here's where I see the overlap. If we want to reduce our footprint on the planet, environmental activists have a vested interest in promoting systems that support all sorts of cohabitation. At the same time, working toward a work culture that gives more time off to (all) people allows people to rely less on environmentally costly “convenience”, and tends to foster investment in meaningful activities rather than quick-fix consumerism. There's a lot of room here for environmental activists and queer folks to work together on both of these goals, and in the process to create a society that encourages doing more with less and distributing resources more equitably.


*I certainly don't want to imply that the feminist movement is entirely queer-friendly (it's not!), that all queer movements are feminist, or that any of these movements are monolithic entities. I'll try to highlight the splits – between mainstream environmentalists and environmental justice activists, between GLBT organizations and queer organizers, or between traditional second-wave feminists, third-world feminists, and womanists, for example – whenever they're relevant, but you'll have to forgive me for speaking in generalities.

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