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Working-Class Voices in the Environmental Movement

Why are there not more working-class people at care-of-the-environment workshops? We must have the voices of working-class people in the environmental movement. How can we working-class people find our voices and make them heard?

For the first time, I led a class on care of the environment at a working-class leaders’ workshop. I asked why more of us were not at a recent care-of-the-environment workshop. I did not know the answer and confessed that I myself had not done a lot of work in RC on the topic. I said that I wanted to challenge us to be more visible and vocal.

I counseled two people of the global majority in front of the group, asking them the question, “Where does your mind go when you consider the destruction of the environment by humans?” The sessions were powerful—with lots of discharge, information, and good thinking. Then we had long mini-sessions.

Hearing working-class thoughts on the environment seemed to help all of us be better able to think about it. We were more relaxed and felt good about ourselves in doing this work. It had a good, immediate benefit for me. Here is my success story:

I have long been part of the “birder” movement—people who love, watch, and study birds. The movement is largely dominated by First World middle- and owning-class white people. It is also somewhat dominated by competitive patterns, not unlike the patterns of colonialism and genocide that these cultures carry.

It is a strange paradox that sometimes birders’ activities contribute to global warming and the destruction of the environment, and even to the destruction of birds and their habitats. (In the beginning, birders shot birds to study them and stole the feathers or eggs of every species they could for their collections.)

Cornell University in the United States has a website that collects data from the daily bird sightings of birders all over the world. It is giving a more accurate picture of bird life than we have ever had. It uses a competitive incentive to encourage bird reports: a “Birder of the Month” is chosen at random from a list of “people who submit the most bird lists or reports” of a certain kind. You can see the white classist patterns of competition and consumption in the words of this incentive.

A long list of birds seen in your lifetime is considered a “good” list in the community. And if you see a rare bird, you are complimented for seeing a “good” bird. People travel using fossil fuels and spend a lot of money to “chase” a “good” bird.

I have long had the idea of writing an article that includes the good things about the birding community but also challenges us to look at the white patterns of competitiveness and consumption within it. I want to encourage us to make birding less an activity of consumption.

I was once very much in the middle of the U.S. environmental movement but was pushed out by the classism. At the workshop I acknowledged my responsibility for not doing the work to overcome that. I said that we cannot engage in blame, that we must acknowledge that we have not done the work to make our voices heard. And I said that I wanted us to do that work together.

I think because of the work we did at the workshop, I found my voice. I was able to think this morning while reading the bird reports online and submitted a suggestion for the Birder of the Month.

I suggested that it be drawn from the birders who submit only traveling bird lists for the month that do not involve using fossil fuels, or at least ten traveling lists that do not involve using them. I suggested the title “Green Bird Lists,” because the word green is now popular and attractive among this group of people. (Yes, I am manipulating their wish to feel like good people.)

I have not given up on writing an article challenging birders on their patterns of competition and consumption, and the connection of those patterns to the patterns of genocide that are destroying the earth. It will upset people and they will start an intellectual “war” on the issues, because that is what this cultural group does when it does not agree. But I am well connected to and respected by top people in the birding movement. I will not lose them, and the article will get some good thinking going.

I will be smart and not engage in the intellectual debate but rather listen and let my ideas do their work. I will not be stopped or intimidated by people’s bullying or condescending patterns.

The “Initiative on Ending Classism* that I’ve proposed within RC is much the same kind of strategic move. It is designed to limit intellectual debate and instead get people discharging on what seem to me to be, strategically, the key distresses that need to be eliminated. Its acceptance by and success in the RC Community is encouraging me to take further initiative in the wider world.

This is what the RC class is: We put out an idea we think is a good representation of reality and then encourage people to discharge. We do not tell people what to think; we encourage them to do their own thinking. We encourage thinking and initiative rather than criticize it.

I pointed out at the workshop that the patterns of intellectual debate and attack on people’s thinking are what this group of people acts out when scared, and that they probably have a great fear about the destruction of the environment. I said that our role is to help people like them discharge their fear and develop their thinking more fully.

I am excited by my first step in a long time to face, as a working-class person, the struggles I have had within a white middle- and owning-class-dominated segment of the environmental movement.

Dan Nickerson

International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People

Freeport, Maine, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of wide world change

(Present Time 182, January 2016)

* See “A New Initiative on Ending Classism,” on page 8 of the July 2014 Present Time.

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00