My book is coming out soon!

The book that I’ve been working on in one form or another for a long, long time is coming out soon! Evolution of a Movement: Four Decades of California Environmental Justice Activism will be published by the University of California Press in January. Here’s the blurb that will go on the back:

Despite living in one of the country’s most environmentally progressive states, California environmental justice activists have spent decades fighting for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and safe, healthy communities in which to live and work. Evolution of a Movement tells their story – from the often-raucous protests of the 1980s and 1990s to activists’ growing presence inside the halls of the state capitol in the 2000s and 2010s. Perkins offers a new lens for understanding environmental justice activism in California, tracing how shifting political contexts combined with activists’ own efforts to institutionalize their work within nonprofits and state structures.

Drawing on case studies and 125 interviews with activists from Sacramento to the California-Mexico border, Perkins explores the successes and failures of the environmental justice movement in California. She shows why some activists have moved away from the disruptive “outsider” political tactics common in the movement’s early days to embrace traditional political channels of policy advocacy, electoral politics and working from within the state’s political system to enact change. But while some see these changes as a sign of the growing sophistication of the environmental justice movement, others critique their potential to blunt grassroots power. At a time when environmental justice scholars and activists face pressing questions about the best route for enacting meaningful change, this book provides insight into the strengths and limitations of social movement institutionalization.

The book is available for pre-order now, and could be assigned for mid-semester or end-of-semester reading in the spring of 2022. See the beautiful cover below!

New DC-based publications: part 1

Publications from the work I initiated in Washington DC during my time at Howard University have just started coming out, even though I’ve now moved to Arizona for a new job at Arizona State University.

When I moved to DC in the summer of 2015, I started to nose around to get a sense of what kind of environmental justice work was happening in the area. I met Parisa Norouzi of Empower DC, Katrina Lashley at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Lesley Fields at Sierra Club, Mike Ewall at Energy Justice Network, Michael Dorsey, who was then at the National Academy of Science, Rhonda Hamilton from Syphax Gardens near DC’s Buzzard Point, Fred Tutman of Patuxent Riverkeeper, Kamita Grey in Brandywine, and more. It was a pleasure to meet a whole new host of people doing important work locally and nationally. Many meetings and a few protests later, some potential synergies became clear between my role as an educator, Katrina’s work preserving the stories of people along the Anacostia River with the Anacostia Museum, Rhonda’s activism on the redevelopment of Buzzard Point, and Empower DC’s efforts to support affordable housing and people’s health, both of which were threatened by the Buzzard Point redevelopment.

During my second year in DC, we built a plan around our overlapping interests in which the students in my Environmental Inequality class would conduct oral-history interviews with Rhonda’s neighbors to document their history in the near-Buzzard Point neighborhoods, interaction with the Anacostia River, and current experiences redevelopment. Buzzard Point was undergoing a transformation from an industrial site to a mixed residential and commercial space, and the nearby residents were experiencing the resulting impacts: dust from the construction, rats that relocated from the construction site into their homes, and potential displacement from their homes.

I was pleased with how the project worked out in terms of what the students got out of it. They were introduced to research skills: the first year of the project, students practiced and conducted oral history interviews, and during the second year the next batch of students coded the interviews for cross-cutting themes. We also went on field trips to the Anacostia River and to Southwest DC. Many reported that talking to people struggling with the real-world problems we were reading about in class added a new level of gravity to their understanding of environmental inequality. The archival objectives of the project have also been largely met. Transcripts of the first round of interviews we conducted with Rhonda’s neighbors in Syphax Gardens are held by the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, while a second round with residents of broader Southwest DC conducted by graduate student Jesse DiValli (formerly Card) are available at the DC Public Library. However, as often happens, we can’t say that any particular improvement in the material lives of the people we interviewed came out of the work.

Still, we are hopeful that the project was valuable not only for the students and myself, but will also in some small way help raise the visibility of the challenges faced by residents impacted by the redevelopment of Buzzard Point.

Here is the first piece to come out of that work, a profile of the indomitable Rhonda Hamilton, long-time resident and elected representative of her neighborhood in the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission:

Rhonda Hamilton: Community Leader and Public Housing Advocate in Southwest D.C.

Rhonda Hamilton, talking with my students in Southwest Washington DC. September 9, 2017.

 

Two other prior blog posts about the class project:

New job at Arizona State University

This week I began a new position as an Assistant Professor in the School for Social Transformation at Arizona State University. I come to this position after working for five years as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Howard University in Washington DC.

My time at Howard went quickly. When I drove cross-country to DC with my luggage and my cat in May of 2015, I was excited about many things: having a job with benefits, a new role as a faculty member after many years as a graduate student, new opportunities for learning at Historically Black University, and starting a new life in Washington DC. The transition from Santa Cruz to Washington DC went smoothly. Even though I’d never lived anywhere more than an hour away from the San Francisco Bay area for more than five months, life in Washington DC wasn’t hard to adapt to. People are people, after all. I (mostly) got used to the fact that it rains in the summer, gloried in the fireflies, tried to adopt the more formal dress-code and mode of address (“hello, Dr. so-and-so”), and then settled into a middle ground between Santa Cruz and DC professional standards. I met wonderful new friends and quirky, smart colleagues, got to know dedicated students, and developed what I believe will be a lasting interest in Black Studies.

I drove back across the country to Arizona this spring a little older and a little wiser. A few things were different this time. My cat and I were accompanied by my partner, I was six months pregnant, and we drove a rented RV to minimize our exposure to the coronavirus pandemic that had exploded in the US a short time before. The pandemic restrictions got looser and looser as we traveled west from DC. When we arrived in Arizona hardly anyone was wearing masks, and the host of our RV campground referred to the virus making scare quotes around the term with her hands as she talked (“virus”). Soon after, George Floyd was murdered. Protests across the nation, including here in Pheonix, have brought longstanding anti-black police violence more forcefully into the national eye. The resulting conversations led to working with my partner Vernon Morris, my tech mentor Allen Gunn and several of Vernon’s colleagues on a public letter to address systemic racism in the academy. It was one of many such letters, the results of which are still unspooling.

I miss my friends at Howard and in Washington DC, but I’m looking forward to new adventures here in Arizona. My position in the School for Social Transformation promises many new and interesting colleagues, even if it will be a while before I meet them anywhere other than on Zoom. The coronavirus pandemic, soaring temperatures in Tempe and a newborn at home mean I have rarely left the house since arriving. But the weather will cool off eventually, and I look forward to exploring the desert and the mountains that surround Phoenix when that happens. I’m grateful to have stable employment and health care in these troubled times – so far, ASU has not announced any layoffs or furloughs.

Going forward, please contact me at my new ASU e-mail address.

First siting of saguaro cacti as we drive West, as seen through a very dirty windshield.