March 11, 2013
I know that you don’t know me personally, but we are family in the sense that we are part of a broad and wonderfully diverse movement to improve the conditions we find ourselves in and to make the necessary changes in ourselves and in public policy to change this world for the better. Because we are family, I am sending my love and encouragement, my respect and best wishes to you all.
In the course of my organizing on the outside, there were several times when the needs of the workers and the concerns of environmentalists and peace activists seemed to be at odds. Not always, not every time, but at least a few times we were able to find a way to respect the integrity and dignity or the working folks involved in the dispute and the altruistic vision of the folks who were attempting to preserve this planet. It is possible to do, has been done and can be done in this instance, I am sure.
A long time ago, I had a conversation at an environmental conference with the president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic workers union. He’d been invited by Greenpeace as a representative, but felt unsure of whether a genuine coalition was being built there. He stated that the major impediment to workers joining forces with community members when there were chemical accidents or nuclear hazards detected – was that the workers felt that by and large, their needs would be abandoned when it came down to the wire. If the environmentalists/peace activists were able to close the factory or shut down the workplace, then they would leave the rest of the fight to the workers alone to solve what would happen to them. We shook hands and I promised to always see these issues not just as an environmental justice activist, but also as a worker in solidarity with other workers. Because, of course, I was always a worker as much as an activist.
Another instance when it was possible to build an alliance, and the opportunity was lost – was when Greenpeace actively broke a union organizing drive. I was mostly familiar with the Canadian folks. The campaigners were working with us on an incinerator issue in Detroit. Several of the good folks who were risking their lives doing actions to raise the media awareness of the waste and toxic issues associated with that world’s largest incinerator – were fired during the campaign for trying to be represented by the IWW. Campaigners were regularly told they could not take scheduled vacation or be given minimal medical insurance, and that they should dust be happy to be able to get a little pay and do the social justice work they wanted to do. They were told this by a board of directors who were and still are mostly wealthy white men. But the damage of treating the folks who fight so hard for all of us so poorly is terrible. We lose talent, we lose energy, we lose commitment and focus – as wonderful young people (and older folks who do not need to make enough to support families) are burned out routinely, used up as an exploited resource.
This is not a respectful way to treat such good people who give so much of themselves to all of us. This can hardly be the world that we envision or want to create. While it is only reality that there will never be as many resources devoted to protecting the world as there are to destroying it, at least not under this current economic system – surely there is enough to share honorably and fairly with those who make that protection possible, those who help support all the wonderful volunteer work that transitions in and out of the movement as they have time and resources to donate.
The ends does not justify the means, as it has often been said. We cannot create a just and fair world by running roughshod over those who are fighting with us. Please consider what appear to be two sides of an issue to be actually two sides of the same coin. We have to build sustainable movements of resistance to create positive, long-lasting change. This means respecting each other, not using each other. I hope so very much that you will consider each other, as I do – as family. Please talk this through. I have the greatest faith in your capacity to be good to one another.
In love, respect and solidarity, Marie Mason