Valentine’s Day and Fossil Fuels

If you’ve ever been to a workshop on how to write an op-ed, you’ll know that the leaders spend a lot of time talking about the need for your piece to have a “hook.” This usually means finding a way to link what you want to say to some kind of timely news event. Most of these are fairly straightforward. On Mother’s Day, you publish your op-ed about the need for state-sponsored maternity leave. On Valentine’s Day, you write about worker abuses and pesticide poisoning in the international cut-flower industry. Or, for another Valentine’s Day idea, you write about fossil fuels.

Wait, what? How do fossil fuels go together with Valentine’s Day? Well, watch “Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels is Hard to Do” for an example of a masterful, if somewhat unexpected, media “hook.”

 

 

Then, use it in your classrooms!

  • For media studies classes, use it as an example of a media “hook,” as described above. Or use it after showing this video first. Then use both videos to analyze framing, strategic political communication, and how political actors respond to the messages of their opponents.
  • For environmental studies, social movements, or politics classes, use the video above and this video as a way to get students interested in the politics of climate change. Both videos tell simplified, politicized stories. What truth is there in both videos? What are the the different plans that already exist for lowering our use of fossil fuels? What political forces oppose these plans? How likely are the plans to succeed in the contemporary political moment? What would it take for them to succeed?
  • For gender classes, watch the first video and ask students, “How is gender being used in this vide? What does it mean that the “fossil fuels” character is female? That the narrator is female? That the story is tied to Valentine’s Day and breaking up? What stereotypes about women are being used to help make the point that we shouldn’t “Break up with fossil fuels?”

Thank you to Jean Boucher and Milton Takei for sharing these videos on the environmental sociology listserve of the American Sociological Association. Happy teaching!

New digital project in honor of Teresa De Anda

Today I released a new digital project to honor the memory of California pesticides activist Teresa De Anda, and to help educate the public about the problem of pesticide drift. In Her Own Words is an expansion of the blog post I wrote the day before Teresa’s memorial service last fall. It includes photography, new and previously published oral history, suggestions for readings to use with the website in college classrooms, links to resources to help address the problem of pesticide drift in community settings, and a short essay I wrote about Teresa.

Thank you, Valerie Gorospe, for allowing me to continue to work with your mother’s stories, and to share them with others so they might learn from everything she accomplished. Thank you also for your support Linda MacKay, Lauren Richter, Tracey Brieger, Sarah Aird, Tracey Osborne, Rachel Deblinger, Zoe Stricker and Evelyn Torres Arellano.

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With Teresa, in front of a photo I took of her, at an exhibit of my photography in Fresno. February 10, 2011.

Visual Activism Symposium organized by SF Museum of Modern Art and IAVC

This morning I finished putting together slides of some of my photography, uploaded a short bio to a shared dropbox folder and timed myself while going through my talking points. I’m ready for my eight minutes of fame!

I’m pleased to be participating in the Visual Activism symposium organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the International Association for Visual Culture this Friday and Saturday. Because the museum is closed for renovations for several years, the MOMA is organizing off-site events under the label of “SF MOMA On the Go.” This event will be held at the Brava Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. I’ve been told it is an “antique” theater originally designed for Vaudeville performances, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.

I’ll be on the first panel, “Environment, Justice, Inequity.” Come say hello if you see me there! I’ll show a few photos and talk about how I engage the following themes in the Voices from the Valley project about environmental justice activism in California’s San Joaquin Valley:

  • Making the invisible visible
  • Rethinking the rural pastoral
  • Everyday life, everyday politics
  • Tragedy and hope
  • Beauty
  • Recognition

Visualizing environmental inequality with Google Earth

My former student Mia Renauld recently sent me a link to a great post by Tim de Chant on his blog Per Square Mile. It features side by side aerial images of poor and wealthy neighborhoods in the same city. He got the images from Google Earth and invited his readers to do the same and send in what they came up with.  The result is a study in contrasts – the wealthy neighborhoods have dramatically more tree coverage than the poor neighborhoods.

I thought these paired images would be great to use in teaching environmental justice and inequality. Poor communities of color have a disproportionate burden of pollution as compared to wealthier, whiter communities.  They also have fewer environmental amenities like parks, sidewalks, and the trees in these photos.  See the photos from two neighborhoods in and next to Oakland below, or click on over to Tim’s post for more.

In an introductory class I might show both images without their neighborhood names and ask students to tell me which community they think is wealthier, and discuss why.  Or I might ask them to go home and bring in their own side-by-side images from other places to share. Or I might just add them to a powerpoint as a visual example of environmental inequality.

West Oakland

Piedmont

Community curators at the Museum of the American Indian

I recently visited the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. for the first time.  My favorite parts were the depictions of each tribe’s community curators.  I’d heard before going that this museum does a great job of portraying Native American culture and history from the perspective of Native Americans themselves instead of from the perspective of outside observers, as has so often been the case.  It reminded me a bit of one of the small town museums I visited in Mexico in 2006 that was part of the  Union of Community Museums of Oaxaca.  One historic photograph on display stood out in particular.  It depicted a handful of local residents in a large city, perhaps with rugs in hand, accompanied by a white woman.  The caption was an inversion of what one would typically see in a different setting.  Instead of naming the white woman and representing her as the discoverer of the local artisans, it named the locals and described how they took their arts out into the world, accompanied by a nameless white woman.  I loved it!

The community curator profiles at the Museum of the American Indian give some insight into how the exhibits came together, and did a nice job of personalizing the individual tribes.  It must have been hard to figure out which people, and tribes, to feature in such a high-profile space.


I was also intrigued by the children’s zone in the museum.  I love that the interactive features shown below teach children to understand Native Americans as multifaceted members of contemporary society by showing them in a variety of clothing styles that the viewers can mix and match. From what I saw they were very popular exhibits with the kids! On the other hand, turning Native youth into objects for viewers to play with made me a little uncomfortable.

Blast from the past

My friend Matt and I happened onto a vintage European poster store in Berkeley last week and had a great time looking through their collection.  All the posters were originals, and some had been made as long ago as the 1890’s.  Matt was interested in the war propaganda posters, but I found myself drawn to posters that inadvertently advertised the social problems of their time:

On racial stereotyping (right-hand poster):

On efforts to quell labor disputes – bottom right.  The scenery features a rainbow landing in a bucolic alpine valley  (“Let’s Clear the Air. Let’s iron out the trouble. You’ll feel better, work better, get farther.  You’ll be treated fairly.”) How creepy would this be to have hanging over your desk?

On the stigmatization of sexually transmitted infections:

On women’s subordinate status in the working world (“There’s a Man-Size Job For You in Your Navy”):

Part of what makes these old-time posters so great to look at is that the social messages embedded in them are clearer now than they would have been to most people at the time they were made.  Are today’s advertisements any less explicit?  In some cases yes, in others, no, but I imagine they are generally harder for people to decode because they are so much a part of our everyday life.