Creating a Visibility Cloak for Invisible Issues
By Mikki Morrissette, founder MPLSGreen.com, host “Sustainable We” forums
Former Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who has been working toward Minnesota becoming the host of the 2023 World’s Fair, spoke recently about how our state has a legacy of collective power. “It’s how we do things,” he said. “Our collaborative nature is far beyond anything you might see in many other places.” Whether it is food, health care, energy, or storm damage, our roots as a farming community that has “only ourselves to rely on” means we care about the trees we plant for future generations, because we know what others have planted and built for us, he said.
He was speaking at the annual meeting of Cooperative Energy Futures, which is a consumer-led collective that expects to install its first community solar garden at Shiloh Temple in North Minneapolis this summer. Recruitment for an installation in Edina has begun. In all, CEF intends to have more than 12 sites serving at least 1,000 subscribers throughout the Twin Cities. CEF is uniquely working to include low-income communities, and requires installers to use job-training so underemployed Minneapolis residents can benefit from green jobs.
This social-minded business model is why roughly 80 people turned out for the CEF annual meeting, where Ritchie made his remarks.
The night before, I hosted a “Sustainable We” conversation between three Minneapolis women who are also building a collective model – in three very different ways -- to strengthen our future as a city.
“Social change happens when the marginalized and oppressed tap into their immeasurable strength as a collective.”
— Sarah Super
Linden Hills residents have long cared about improving the damage we do to our air, water and land. At this conversation, titled “The Visibility Cloak,” held at Red Stag, the conversation was about how to make more of us aware of entrenched issues that remain largely invisible. The discussion included Sarah Super of Break the Silence, who gives voice to rape survivors partly by telling her own story… Kathleen Schuler of Healthy Legacy, who works to reduce dangerous toxins in the home… and Shalini Gupta of Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, who reminds us that our country tends to foist pollution on marginalized communities. [Find audio clips of the conversation at MPLSGreen.com]
On Not Being Afraid to Speak Out
Sarah Super pointed out that 1 in 5 women is the victim of sexual assault. Women tend to not share stories publicly, especially about the 8 in 10 cases of non-stranger rape, because we prefer to believe as a society that men act badly and “snap” only because women enable themselves to be raped. Men are entitled to take, the mindset goes, because women are somehow ‘less than.’
In Super’s case, she was afforded the ‘privilege’ of speaking out because there was no doubt that the white, educated ex-boyfriend from an Edina family planned an attack that included breaking into her apartment, hiding in her closet, and raping her at knifepoint after she returned home. After she escaped to a neighbor’s apartment, he led the police on a high-speed chase before he was caught, convicted and jailed.
Without the shadow of doubt and victim-blaming in her case, Super realized that she had the ability to come out publicly with her story, without needing to defend herself in the process and become a victim all over again. By sharing her story, she says, it has enabled others to ‘come out.’ Hundreds of women in the past year have shared their story with Super, at her “Break the Silence” events or in private, including a close friend who had never told anyone about a group assault in a school bathroom. She has raised funds for a city memorial to rape victims and is raising awareness conversation-by-conversation.
On Being Bullied Into Non-Action
Legislatively, we have tended to have a weak system of enforcing public health, implied Kathleen Schuler of Healthy Legacy. With the American Chemistry Council wanting to protect the image and the profitability of chemicals overall, and the Chamber of Commerce wanting to protect the profitability of large businesses, policymakers and advocates generally face long battles in regulating toxic chemicals in our products. For example, even after 10 years of rule-making, the EPA was not able to regulate asbestos, despite knowing its public health impact, because rules favored minimizing economic impact on businesses, Schuler says.
There are still many children’s products in Minnesota that contain chemicals linked to adverse health effects. Recently Minnesota parents have raised concerns about the use of waste-tire mulch on playgrounds and athletic fields, that off-gases harmful chemicals into the air, impacting anyone from playground toddlers to soccer goalies. In addition to policy work, Healthy Legacy is part of a national Mind the Store campaign that encourages retailers to phase out hazardous chemicals in their products.
On Marginalizing Fellow Residents
Shalini Gupta says CEED data shows the “hot spots” in Minneapolis neighborhoods where industrial and vehicular pollution are impacting residents. Our right to clean air and water shouldn’t be a matter of “who can afford it,” she says. We need to start thinking like a community that wants all of its citizens to have common access to health. The difficult part is getting enough people to sit together to find solutions now that the data is telling the story — as it has in Flint, Michigan. CEED has been participating in the Green Zones initiative of Minneapolis, which is bringing diverse interests to the table to invest in healthier communities.
Collectively we need to become more attuned to how much value we place on products instead of people. And… how the voices of certain people are valued more than others. For Minneapolis to become truly sustainable as a city — beyond simply having a reputation as a progressive community — we need to own up to how we are all segregated in our approaches to the issues that plague us.
What Is Holding Us Back?
One “Sustainable We” forum participant, from Lynnhurst, asked why rape of air, land, water, and women are such entrenched factors of American society. “Objectification,” said Super. “Domination,” said Schuler. “Commodification,” said Gupta.
The general conclusion of this “Sustainable We” evening was that until we move more men, in particular, to understand that the planet’s resources, women, and children are not simply here for taking, dominating, and selling, we won’t have a sustainable community.
On the MPLSGreen.com website you’ll find local men and women who are telling compelling stories about innovative approaches to energy, waste, toxins, re-use and design.