“25 Stories” grows up!

This month I proudly released an expanded, updated version of the 25 Stories from the Central Valley website.  Please meet…. Voices from the Valley!  In addition to the original photo exhibit and teaching aides, it includes these new features:

  • An interactive photo and oral history collage
  • San Joaquin Valley environmental justice news coverage
  • Slideshow of our playback theater events with Kairos Theater Ensemble
  • Environmental justice syllabus collection
  • A map of the San Joaquin Valley towns where we’ve taken photos and collected stories
  • An expanded list of groups working toward environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley, and links to their social media
  • Suggestions for how you can volunteer

Lots of people helped make this relaunch happen, but the project is especially indebted to tech wizards Tyler LaGue (formerly of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis), Allen Gunn and the rest of the team at Aspiration, and Grant Kinney of GMK Design. See a full list of the people and organizations involved with this project throughout its history here and here. I continue to be honored to know the environmental justice activists who have so generously shared their stories with me over the 6 years since this project began.

Read on for some of the thinking behind the changes…

Cumulative impacts: One of the concepts that environmental justice advocates regularly invoke is ‘cumulative impacts.’ People are exposed to multiple pollution sources as they go about their daily lives, not just one at a time.  However, our regulatory structure is largely inattentive to this reality, and often grants permits for new pollution sources by assessing them individually rather than assessing their contribution to the cumulative burden of pollution already felt in that area. Needless to say, poor people and people of color bear a higher cumulative burden of pollution than the rest of us.  The new Voices from the Valley website has several features intended to support this framing.

  • News feed/archive: By collecting news sources about all environmental justice issues in the Valley in the same place, the news feed underscores the multiple, intersecting pollution problems in the region.  This comes across particularly well when you navigate to the archive view and look at a long list of headlines from the year. I could using a screenshot of this page in a classroom setting when teaching cumulative impacts.
  • Collage: The collage features photos and first-person quotes/stories.  They can be sorted and viewed by theme (ie ‘water,’ ‘air,’ ‘pesticides’ etc), but the default view is to have all of the categories show at once.  (However, I think this feature still needs a little work to be more user friendly – suggestions welcome!).
  • Map: The map provides a way to visualize where all of the communities featured in the project are in relation to eachother.  Clicking on many of the town names opens up a pop-up window with photos from the photo exhibit. In the future, I’d love to enhance this feature to include data on the various pollutants felt at each of these locations.

Multiple learning styles: The new site is designed to work with as many different learning styles as possible.  It features slideshows, interactive collages, oral history, activity and lecture ideas for the classroom, and a searchable news archive that includes articles, videos, radio, television and digital multimedia projects. (When the first version of Voices from the Valley launched 5 years ago, we also did several interactive theater shows with Kairos Theater Ensemble. See this post for a description).

Social media: Advocacy groups are increasingly using social media channels to get their message out. The new site’s list of relevant organizations in the San Joaquin Valley now includes links to their twitter and facebook channels, as well as a way for viewers to subscribe to all of their twitter channels at once. We also now have our own Voices from the Valley twitter and facebook accounts. The folks at Aspiration have been a big help in thinking through how these accounts can promote the project’s goals.  I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with how to use them to engage in public conversations and connect to like-minded organizations.

New name: ’25 Stories from the Central Valley’ was a great name, but inaccurate in a lot of ways. The original name was built around the 25 interviews I did with women environmental justice leaders in the Central Valley. The idea was that I would edit each of their interviews into stand-alone stories for the website… hence ’25 Stories.’ Only thing is, that was a much bigger project than I realized when I picked the name, and I never made it happen.  So then I decided that if the photo exhibit was made up of 25 photos, that was close enough for the name to still work. But it got tiring explaining that to people, and eventually I also wanted more flexibility in the number of photos I could include in the  exhibit. Also, when I started the project I thought it would cover the entire Central Valley, but the environmental justice movement is at its strongest in the southern half of the Central Valley (the San Joaquin Valley), and all the women I interviewed lived there or got started there. The more familiar I got with the area, the more I realized how distinct the San Joaquin Valley is from the Sacramento Valley (together they make up the Central Valley), and how the project name needed to reflect that.  ‘Voices from the Valley’ got around the problems associated with the last name, and is a broader platform for growth in the future.  Talking all of this through with the folks at smartMeme was a big help!

New article out

The article based on the master’s research I began at UC Davis many moons ago was finally published this week!  Here’s the abstract and citation.  To read the full article, you need to connect to the journal’s website through a university server.

Abstract:

This article explores women’s pathways to participation in environmental justice advocacy in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Many scholars find that women become environmental justice activists according to a common set of experiences in which apolitical women personally experience an environmental problem that launches them into a life activism to protect the health of their families. Although a small group of the 25 women the author interviewed fit this description, overall the interviews reveal a much more diverse array of paths into environmental justice activism. The author’s data complicate the idea that environmental justice activism is the first political activity for most women environmental justice activists and that they are motivated to become activists primarily in order to protect the health of their families. The author discusses the significance of these findings and concludes with a call for scholars to revisit the question of women’s pathways into environmental justice activism.

Perkins, Tracy. 2012. “Women’s Pathways into Activism: Rethinking the Women’s Environmental Justice Narrative in California’s San Joaquin Valley.” Organization & Environment 25(1):76-94.

Photos showing at the Fresno Regional Foundation

I got word today that the photos in my 25 Stories from the Central Valley collection have been hung and are already generating good conversation at the Fresno Regional Foundation.  I haven’t seen how they look yet so if you are visiting their offices while they are on display over the next six months, snap a photo of them and send it to me!

Visions of the San Joaquin Valley

I spent time yesterday looking at Barron Bixler’s photographs of agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley.  He’s arranged his photos into a beautiful slideshow set to music called A New Pastoral: Views of the San Joaquin Valley.  I’ve formed my own vision of the San Joaquin Valley over the last few years, and it’s fascinating to see how someone else views and presents the region.  Some of Bixler’s photos depict scences familiar to me – stark  landscapes of row-crops, orchards with factories in the background, agricultural machinery, railroads and storage facilities.  I loved seeing these familiar places through his eye. Others show places I’ve never been, like the inside of an industrial milking facility.

Bixler’s photos are entirely devoid of people – they depict industrial agriculture through the landscape and built environment it creates.  Matt Black’s photos, on the other hand, center on the immigrants and farmworkers living and working in the San Joaquin Valley.  They are entirely human. I enjoyed checking his captions to see if the small towns he has depicted were places I’ve spent time in too (mostly not).  He has also created a powerful digital project about the birth defects in Kettleman City.

David Bacon’s work doesn’t focus on the San Joaquin Valley per se, but he has a number of photo collections of farmworkers, immigrants, and UFW advocacy set there.  See his work here and here.

Finally, Ken Light’s new photographic book, Valley of Shadows and Dreams, will be published soon by Heyday Press.  I saw some of his work on this project when I took his documentary photography class several years ago at UC Berkeley, and can’t wait to see the finished product.  Check out the photo on the book’s cover, it’s gorgeous.

And, here’s a link to my own humble efforts to photograph the San Joaquin Valley.  I try to show the grave environmental health problems facing this region, but also the hard work being done by its residents to change things. I also try to convey my sense of this under-appreciated part of our state as beautiful in its own right. An updated version of this collection will be online soon, as well as a nifty new collage that combines new photos with oral history.

Participatory action research for environmental justice

The UC Davis Center for Regional Change launched their newest report yesterday: Land of Risk/ Land of Opportunity: Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The report documents how exposure to environmental pollution tends to go hand and hand with social vulnerability, creates maps that visually depict this relationship, and provides several case-studies.

This report was created by the authors with partners from the San Joaquin Valley through the San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project.  I attended one or two of the group’s earliest meetings several years ago and have tracked their progress through conversations with the lead author (my former advisor Jonathan London) and the environmental justice advocates that are part of my own research.  I also donated a few of my photographs for use in the final report.

When I give guest-lectures on divisions between campus-community divides, I often use this project as an example of ways that scholars and activists can work together productively.  In particular, I find it helpful to show students the detailed agreements that the group worked out ahead of time to guide their collaboration.  Because the work of scholars and activists are judged in different ways, these kinds of guidelines can go a long way toward anticipating and resolving the tensions that often come up.  You can see their agreements (shared with the lead author’s permission), in this post.