Tending the Garden: Social Justice as Environmental Justice

People march through San Francisco's Financial District during a climate protest on September 20, 2020. Eric Risberg, AP.
photo credit: People march through San Francisco's Financial District during a climate protest,
September 20, 2020, Eric Risberg/AP

Tending the Garden: Social Justice as Environmental Justice
Elizabeth Cameron, MendoParks Executive Director and CALPA Board Member
February 15, 2022

Recommended listening for this blog post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUkgfSCjfN0

Supaman: “Let Em Go.” Supaman (Apsaalooke Nation) is a Native American dancer and innovative hip hop artist who has dedicated his life to empowering and spreading a message of hope, pride, and resilience through his art.

I woke around 4:00 am on Saturday and couldn’t go back to sleep. My mind immediately turned to the biggest issues I needed to address on Monday morning: To-do lists, troubleshooting email communications in my head…. As I hoped to fall back asleep, I thought why am I pulled to do this right now?! My brain was practically on autopilot, working away when I should be sleeping.

Then I realized: I’m tending my garden.

My garden for survival is no longer outside in my yard or somewhere in nature that I have to get up in the wee hours to attend to. My brain’s understanding of survival is now in the community work I’m engaged in as a park-partner.

Across cultures and religions around the globe, humans have predominantly shared one basic instruction: tend to the garden that we call Earth. And when humans have done this carefully, patiently, and consistently, we see the evidence of its success: an abundance of what both humans and non-humans need to just to survive but to THRIVE.

Perhaps the brain is still wired to work in the wee hours for survival. This makes sense, a sort of instinct since the beginning of time: we must get to work before the sun rises. But rather than tending to livestock, gardens, hunting, fishing, or carrying water in the wee hours, my survival is dependent on how I tend the “garden” that is my desk job, because it is my desk job that helps support biodiversity as well as social justice by creating park spaces that are safe for, and tended to, by EVERYONE.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with park partners & social justice? Well, our roles as successful park partners incorporate both: tending the garden of our beautiful parks, and simultaneously, tending the garden of community by supporting social justice through our environmental work.

As we work to ensure parks are equitable, I hope we begin to see the divide between social and environmental work fade away, and embrace the philosophy that as we heal the land, we heal ourselves— and society.

I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet” by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson gets to the nuts and bolts of it. As Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) continue to fight for basic survival, rights, and recognition, the further we all get from tending the garden that’s central to the survival of all our relations, human and non-human, on this beautiful planet we all call home:

“Black people don’t want to be protesting for our basic rights to live and breathe. We don’t want to constantly justify our existence. Racism, injustice, and police brutality are awful on their own, but are additionally pernicious because of the brain power and creative hours they steal from us. I think of one Black friend of mine who wanted to be an astronomer, but gave up that dream because organizing for social justice was more pressing. Consider the discoveries not made, the books not written, the ecosystems not protected, the art not created, the gardens not tended.”

So, where are we as park-partners? How are we supporting social justice through environmental justice? And how are embracing the concept that these two justices are the same?

And with that, I’ll leave you with a final thought: If I’m white and sick of racism then imagine how People of Color (POC) feel. How are we going to care for the planet when we can’t even care for each other?

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