Significant Concepts, Considered
The Buzz Words blog series explores concepts that are critical to the environmental movement, and to the world at large. This series does not offer definitions or proclamations. This is our chance to think about, and bring to light, some tricky and timely concepts.
Just the other day I saw this great interview with Macolm X's daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz. She was asked about an op-ed piece she published in the New York Times where she weighs in on what Malcolm would have said about today's Black Lives Matter movement. "He’d agree that 'Black Lives Matter,' indeed," she writes, "but also note that the uniformed police officers who disagree are not likely to be persuaded by a hashtag."
That's a pretty harsh critique for a movement that has gained significant traction over the past year and offered an inspiring and positive outlet for the rage people feel in response to the terrible realities of racial violence. But it makes sense for Malcolm, who famously argued that freedom and justice ought to be pursued "by any means necessary." He was, his daughter admits, a "results-oriented person."
In the environmental movement today, are we results-oriented people? I think the answer to that is a nuanced "sometimes." When it comes to things like fossil fuel divestment, transition to renewables, establishing local farmers markets, or carving out space for community gardens, the environmental movement has made significant headway in the last decade and continues to set ambitious yet achievable goals.
However, knowing what we know about the connections between racial and environmental justice, about the environmental costs of producing renewable energy, about the challenges looming with continued population growth, about the trouble with an economic system stable only in growth... do we have any reasonable goals for addressing those things? In other words, as environmentalists, as we aim to achieve our near-term goals, do we know that these are helping us play our long game? What's our long game, again?
Let us not be mistaken: we fight for nothing less than the long-term survival and just flourishing of human life on earth, knowing that this can only be achieved by cherishing and strengthening the deep interconnectedness among humans and between us and all other species on this little planet. That's a goal I'm willing to fight for, but boy, it's hard to know where to start. Sometimes it feels that the near-term goals we're obsessing over on a daily basis are separating us into competing camps and preventing us from developing an overarching consensus vision. So while we might think we're being impactful, are we actually taking one step forward individually and two steps back as a movement?
Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925 - 90 years ago this week. What made Malcolm such a powerful leader was that he saw the bigger picture and knew how to clearly define his goals. To honor him, let's take the occasion of his birthday to celebrate how far we've come, and think deeply about how our next steps will bring us bravely into the future.
- Tal Beery
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