Monday, February 15, 2010

The Environmental Movement and the Civil Rights Movement

By Kevin L Barry

From the Black civil rights movement in America, we can learn something very important about the prospects of the environmental movement.

While the movements are obviously fighting for very different subjects, the parallels are easy to see. The green movement has powerful champions, such as Al Gore, Agnes Denes and Amy Balkin. Some of the most extraordinary people who have ever existed fought for civil rights, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Neither movement has simply sprung out of the ground, but instead were a culmination of centuries of work, of abolitionists such as W.E.B. Dubois or conservationists such as Henry David Thoreau.

So what can we take away from the fact that the movements are similar? One is that we need fighters (you can call them artists, if you like) with bold ideas. African Americans waited long enough for Whites to hand them their rights before bold people stepped up the plate with bold ideas. Boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and other creatively organized resistance delivered justice to Blacks in America in the end.

Their efforts succeeded in convincing government to see their point of view. Black leaders did not end racism, though. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated before he saw his vision of the world. The American Government did not end racism. It was not until our modern era, the 21st century, that race issues have finally started to fade. Why now?

It started with an idea. A genius government official took a doll of a white girl and a doll of a black girl and asked little black girls, "Which is better?" When the girls chose the white dolls, the world was moved. Segregation in schools was ended. A new era of school reform slowly took place. Every year since, the idea of tolerance has been more engrained in the mind of every student in the United States. Our generation in New York has had this idea (correctly) brainwashed into us: we are all equal. The result is a society with less racism as more generations are born.

People become hard set in their ways with age. It is during youth that ideas and preferences for life are fixed. The green movement needs to understand this. Changing the minds of adults is very hard, although necessary. Teaching kids if the most effective plan for the future of the movement.

From elementary school, kids need to learn how plants grow. There should be community or school gardens where children can experience this act of Creation on their own. They should learn the taste of their own fresh fruits and vegetables.

They should be taught in easy lessons how, with these gifts, a responsibility is given to them to take care of the earth. We can teach them to be disgusted by the idea of pollution. Their world will be cleaner than we can imagine and they wouldn't even understand how anyone could live another way. Can you emphasize with a slave owner, or understand why people would discriminate against a soft-spoken, well dressed black man? The idea is absurd.

This is my art project. It is in our schools that change must come. While we adults must do our best to lead a good example, it will all be for nothing if we don't start, today, teaching children how to love the world, and how to love the smell of growing life on a spring morning.

If you liked this and live in Ozone Park, head over to and eat pizza.

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