Last weekend Bob and I joined Matt and Lyle for a trip to the shore to join a group of writers and activists at Orion’s Grassroots Network Southeast Regional Conference in Columbia, NC. Over our two days there, we enjoyed a good mix of idea exchange, campfire, hiking and birdwatching.
Our group of twenty-six nature loving, intelligent idealists (is that an oxymoron?) brought stories of the battles they have fought or are fighting for change. We talked about the words we use to put labels on people and how those people are all basically the same.
We discussed the implied meanings of words like Hope and Industrialists. We talked about how overpopulation, over consumption, corporate personhood, politics, the plantation mentality, willful ignorance and the military industrial complex all contribute to the destruction of Southern wetlands and compromise the health of the people of the South.
There were many wonderfully articulate speakers with great ideas but I was extremely impressed by one participant in particular. Virginia Townsend, a retired teacher who lost at lease nine members of her family to the polluting industries in her community and who has since put her shoulder to the wheel to educate her neighbors and enforce anti-pollution restrictions. She was the only woman of color in the room but she didn’t let that stop her from speaking from her heart about her experiences.
All my life we’ve had to play a game, being black. You know your place and you’d best stay in it. Labels can be draining, embarrassing. But labels — knowing who a person is — is helpful. To acknowledge differences between people isn’t necessarily wrong. Everybody has a right to be who they are. We’re all different and that’s to be respected.
Con men study the people. The first person to come into the room and say something smart will find followers. That’s how so many get over on people. Basically corporations go in and study the people before they put a plant in.
Writers have a great advantage. Writing is a great medium. I’ve read books that gave me a completely different view of a person. Like the essay the other night. When people read those words, I can’t see how they’re not touched. Sometimes a simple play changes the face of the world.
You can’t get to where you need to go, if you don’t know where you are. If you want to keep a people down, you’ve gotta stay down with them.
All in all, a good time and a nice opportunity to connect with Lyle and Matt. We also took note of birds during the day and by the end of the weekend had identified 43 different species, including the Tundra Swan who come by the thousands to Lake Mattamuskeet.