"Some 'we's weren't part of we:" Inclusion and exclusion in environmental justice activism

Authors: Ellen Kohl*, St. Mary's College of Maryland
Topics: Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Environmental Justice, Black Feminist Thought, Intersectionality, Place-based Activism, Scale
Session Type: Paper
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Environmental justice activists are often motivated by their lived experiences of injustice. While these injustices stem from systemic intersectional oppressions, they are lived through place-based experiences. While these experiences motivate activists, different conceptions of “we” can also erect barriers between groups whose micro-scalar focus of survival is different. In this paper, I draw on participant observation and semi-structured interviews with members of the Newtown Florist Club, a social and environmental justice organization that has advocated for their neighborhood in Gainesville, Georgia since 1950. I use Black Feminist Thought and intersectionality to analyze how activists and city officials use the term “we,” colloquially a term of inclusion, to simultaneously make distinctions about who is and is not included and to eliminate differences by homogenizing the experiences and opinions of the broader "we." I argue that while discussions and lack of specification of “we” may seem benign, it represents processes of defining who belongs and who is excluded from place. In doing so, it reinforces existing power structures that perpetuate places of environmental injustice. In conclusion, I reflect on how intersectionality is one tool that can be used to rethink the conception of “we” in micro-scalar politics of place.

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