Feeling jaded about the environmental movement? Want to remind yourself why activism is important and what it can achieve? Or do you just need to read some really good stories?
Then check out Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movement, published by the University of Mississippi Press and now available on Amazon. The title might sound generic, but the stories are anything but. The book's author, Peggy Frankland, herself a veteran of years of environmental action, insisted that the women tell their own stories in their own words.
And they tell complete stories. About growing up, what their parents taught them, how their children influenced them, how their friends and husbands supported them. There are plenty of Erin Brockovich moments, but they are situated in larger narratives about the women's lives. This allows the women's achievements to be seen less as solo victories and more as expressions of larger commitments to family and community.
I helped Peggy start this project and did some of the early writing and editing. In later stages, the text was ably augmented by Susan Tucker, whose own Telling Memories is another fascinating oral history text, one that inspired the bestselling book, The Help.
Peggy's book affirms both the value of activism and the grounded way these women went about it. Ultimately, their stories show, it's all about the ties that bind.
My approach to work is shaped by where I live—across the street from an ill kept New Orleans cemetery. Outside my front door I see plants sprouting over crooked gravestones. It’s a contradictory but grounding view, one that shows how beginnings and endings feed each other and create something new in the process.
Local geography drives the point home. There are spurs of relatively high ground in New Orleans, ridges a few feet above sea level where the old city flourished, and where homes stayed dry after Hurricane Katrina. Mississippi River floods built these ridges, laying down successive layers of sediment centuries ago. Floods creating dry land? Paradoxical but true.
Facts like these have altered the way I think about innovation, reminding me that sometimes the best way to make progress is to remember how things all began.
For essays on subjects close to home, see www.amyclippwriting.com.