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2014-05-22

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May 28, 2014 - 9:12pm

EnviroBlog: Stunted Activism

BY LINDSEY SCULLEN

Last Friday, May 23, activists marched in the March Against Monsanto around Ann Arbor’s Liberty Plaza. I, however, marched through it.

While I’m a co-president of the EnAct Club and the event specialist of the Permaculture Design Team, I hesitate to call myself an “environmental activist.” I hesitate to march in marches. I hesitate, because I don’t think “environmental activism,” as it’s commonly thought of, is working.

When I was younger I was fascinated by the 1960s, the Students for a Democratic Society, the passion to make change. I remember sitting in my seventh grade history class around this time of year, looking out the window at the dandelions and wondering if I’d have been a student activist or a flower child, had I been alive back then.

Then, I saw Across the Universe and BOOM, done. A student activist. My resolve grew so strong that I found myself regretting, superficially, that my generation didn’t have something as pressing, something as important to fight for. I craved a chance to act.

But here I am now, a student at the very university that housed SDS’s first meeting in 1960. Here I am now, living as part of a generation that’s blowing up mountains for energy, pumping CO2 out of pipes like its nobody’s business, dumping oil into oceans with a quick oops and genetically modifying our food, our seeds without worrying about the unknown effects. Here I am now, inactive.

I did try the student activist bit, I did. Freshman year, I joined clubs. I went to hear Bill McKibben and Maria Gunnoe speak. I committed to a Program in the Environment minor. My mom and I went to the Forward on Climate Rally in Washington D.C. Sophomore year, I ran for leadership positions. I organized little actions on campus. I went to PowerShift 2013 in Pittsburg.

I joined the environmental counterculture amidst the “Climate Change: It’s worse than the Bush Administration!” posters, “The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind” songs, the occasional “Frack You,” “Frack Barack” or “Don’t Frack Your Mother” pins, the “Earth: love it or loose it” chants. And somehow, as much as I didn’t want it to, it felt bogus and futile.

In my mind, the final, overarching goal of environmental activism is not to ward off The Man, but rather to join him and all people together in a common realization: that we’re all living in this closed-loop environment and that we’ll all benefit from protecting it. Who, though, is going to be convinced by people yelling “Frack You” in the capital? Who, other than already like-minded people, is going to consider taking this movement seriously?

While discussing Rae Langton’s article “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” in Professor Matt Evans’ Contemporary Moral Problems Philosophy class last semester, Evans noted that “speaking out against something will succeed (in preventing that thing) only if the speaker has the authority to do so ... to be deprived of this authority is to be silenced.” I’d argue that at times, we as a movement of student environmentalists are silencing ourselves. We’re depriving ourselves of authority. At times, our rowdy modes of activism are blasting our movement in the foot.

In my opinion, the notion of “student activism” hasn’t evolved quickly enough for our movement. We need to innovate, need to stop working off of Across the Universe clips, need to design a form of activism that’s built to stimulate concern for the environment, to stimulate camaraderie. Instead of silencing ourselves, we need to bring others to speech. Instead of inhabiting a counterculture, we need to mainstream environmentalism into the culture.

I’m not sure what ideal environmental activism looks like, but I know that we need to try to speak a more universal language. We need to think like those we previously thought of as our enemies, need to figure out how to make them partners. We need to mainstream and universalize our goals.

While yes, I hesitate to march in marches, and while yes, I hesitate to take on the “environmental activist” label and its present connotations, I recognize that action of any sort is far better than no action at all. I recognize the importance of today’s environmental activists.

Still, I think I’ll continue to walk through the marches instead of with them. I’ll continue scavenging for an evolved species of environmental activism.

Lindsey Scullen can be reached at lindsemi@umich.edu.