“While [Rachel] Carson knew that one book could not alter the dynamic of the capitalist system, an environmental movement grew from her challenge, led by a public that demanded that science and government be held accountable. Carson remains an example of what one committed individual can do to change the direction of society. She was a revolutionary spokesperson for the rights of all life. She dared to speak out and confront the issue of the destruction of nature and to frame it as a debate over the quality of all life.” – Linda Lear, Introduction to the 40th Anniversary edition of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
On February 8, 2014, activists, clergy and concerned citizens will gather in Raleigh, North Carolina for the Moral March on Raleigh also known as HKonJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street). This march is threatening to be “bigger than Selma” and is part of the wave of reaction to a Republican minority driving the North Carolina government toward exclusionary policies that hinder opportunity for all the poor and primarily the largely Democratic people of color of North Carolina. These shocking policies, most specifically around voting rights, harken back, not just to the days of Jim Crow, but to the Slave Codes of the late 19th century. Although not related to environmental justice on the surface, the call to action is the same: we must fight back against short sighted public policies that serve to enrich an already wealthy minority while killing the larger population…and the time to fight back is now!
Silent Spring caused a firestorm of controversy around the use of pesticides when it was released in 1962. Penned by celebrated author and pioneering biologist, Rachel Carson, the book called into question the entire biochemical industrial complex. She made the powerful case for the toxic effects of biochemicals on all creatures, most of all on human beings, linking certain types of cancers directly to the production and use of chemical pesticides. This was despite popular scientific theory of the time that claimed humans had “tolerances” and “adaptabilities” that surpassed these toxicities. Her conjecture flew in the face of the greedy, ego driven, arrogant and entirely male dominated world of pesticide and chemical development. Initially she was dismissed as a “hysterical woman” with no real scientific foundation for her claims. But ultimately, when President John F. Kennedy took notice of her writing, things began to change. Eventually, through public pressure, the government was compelled to investigate her theories finding them to be an understatement of the gravity of the actual situation. Her work would lead to the creation of the EPA and domestic bans on DDT and other advances in the control, limitation and elimination of certain toxic biochemicals. Her battle was not just for the masses, but rather personal. Unknown to many at the time, while she worked on Silent Spring, she was battling breast cancer. She would die in 1964 before seeing the full fruits of her labor.
Today, we still wrestle with big business and government interest around the environment, our food supply and ecosystems. The battle for ecological justice is far from won, rather, it continues in earnest as the greed of a few continue to push Genetically Modified Organisms into our bodies and minds, with claims that they will be “better for us” in the long run. The struggle will continue as long as the powerful, wealthy few live in fear of losing their power and wealth. Sadly, it is the same with the state of civil rights in North Carolina and other localities that are feeling the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling on key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights act last year. But what is most shocking is the hubris of conservative politicians to assume that they are immune to the toxic political environment they have created. At the very least it is irresponsible, at its worst self destructive. Reflecting back on Carson’s perspective on the environment, Lear goes on to state that Silent Spring:
…proved that our bodies are not boundaries. Chemical corruption of the globe affects us from conception to death. Like the rest of nature, we are vulnerable to pesticides; we too are permeable. All forms of life are more alike than different.
Similarly, the restrictive public policies that the Moral March is highlighting ultimately bring down not just people of color and the poor in general, but all North Carolinians and ultimately all people of this nation. Like the rest of nature…we too are permeable to the pesticides of class and race politics. We are all susceptible to the poison of public policies that benefit only the very few. The benefits for those few will only last a short time; the illness and cultural cancers for the many will and have lasted for generations. Ultimately, greed multiplied by fear is the most toxic poison to the cultural soul.
But there is hope. We have seen the images from the struggle for voting rights in the 1960’s: black people…children going to prison, adults being attacked by dogs, or assaulted with hoses and brutalized by police. But there was also Unitarian Universalist minister and pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., James Reeb, a white man, who was beaten to death in Selma, Alabama for showing his solidarity with blacks in 1965. His martyrdom and the actions of all the Civil Rights activists, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and non-religious combine to inspire a new generation of leaders and community organizers who believe that equality is not just for people who look like one group of people or speak the same language or come from the same economic class. They believe, and the science of Rachel Carson and the science of nature itself, back this up: real social equity is something in which we all must make a deep investment. It is the only antidote to the poison that permeates the current political climate in North Carolina and it is the only real cure to stop it’s insidious spread to the rest of our nation and maybe even the world.
This spring in North Carolina will not be silent. March on, march on!
Update: The Moral March drew thousands on a cold rainy Saturday. Despite conservative media challenges, the movement is poised for much greater national action (READ HERE)
Historic Thousands on Jones
Standing on the Side of Love
America’s Tomorrow – via PolicyLink
Equity Blog – via PolicyLink