Friday, September 16, 2016

Re-imagine Justice

All of my work centers around environmental justice.  I’ve been doing community organizing around environmental justice.  This week I was challenged to think of something that in many ways is an old topic for me in a new way using sensory clues.  I’ve been thinking about what does justice sound like.  Maybe it’s the sound of voices and music at a protest.  Maybe it’s the sound of the Anishinaabe hand drums and shakers as people learn about their culture for the first time – or remember old songs.  I can imagine seeing justice in new ways, I can feel justice in new ways.  But certainly I can’t TASTE justice…

This week my mind wondered as I was working to the image of O’keeffe’s teaching dissecting a jack in the pulpit creating a life long, almost obsession, for this artist and the details of flowers.  This scene was described in ‘Sparks of Genius’ as artists looked at familiar objects in new ways.  The flowers remind me of a Detroit community garden that’s in the North End on Oakland street that’s in my neighborhood.  I often take comrades from other cities and students here to show them part of the vision of what community resilience can look like.  Well – here I guess I could investigate what Environmental Justice - more specifically FOOD JUSTCE – tastes like...


Climate Justice activist from around the country at the Detroit Oakland community garden

The Oakland st community garden is the same distance from my house as a grocery store – King Cole.  I decided to take a walk to these two locations this morning with my taste-testing expert – my 5 year old son.  First we walked to the Oakland garden to see what kind of items were available for taste testing. 

We found some really lovely cherry and pear tomatoes, pears (they also just started a jamming and canning business on the street) and Kale.  We also bought some strawberry preserves from their new business ‘Afro-jam’.  Walking home we stopped by King Cole and bought almost the same items – regular beef tomatoes (from south Africa), a hard pear (from New Zeland) and some Kale.  They had smuckers jelly – strawberry.[1]





Now for the test – my son ate up all the cherry tomatoes and said – no thanks to the big beef tomato.  He liked both cut up pairs – but ate all the pears from the garden.  The response to the Kale was similar – yuck.  But when I put the community Kale in a smoothie with the pears his response was – this is delicious!  As for the jams – he like them both on toast.  I think I’ll stick to the afro-jam.

Thinking about creativity and justice my mind also wondered to some of my favorite movement artist – the BeeHive collective and their Just Transition work they have been doing for us that does appeal to the senses asking people to think differently…

BeeHive Collective Banner for Detroit's Just Transition work

 All in all – I have a good idea as of today what justice tastes like. 




[1] There is a lot to say about the difference between the ‘food-sheds’ of the two and the environmental implications of that – but I’ll leave that as a footnote for now!


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bringing the whole-self to work


I am writing this blog to share with you my experiences as a mother, eco-warrior, local activist and someone who is learning to live and lead from my “woman-ness” – or divine feminine.
To me, leading from the divine feminine means living your values, having authentic relationships, and loving and honoring earth and nature. I love to write about what I have learned in getting to this place in my life – and specifically the joys and challenges of living, loving, and working in Detroit.
Detroit can be a harsh place and it presents its own challenges to being your authentic self and living from a justice and environmental perspective.
Mostly I have learned to live some of my values (I am definitely not all the way there yet) – from switching cleaning products and changing diapers, to organization building and working with principles, and also how I measure what makes an authentic relationship in marriage and friendship.
For the first time I work in an environment where it is possible to be my whole self.
I have been trained, educated, and then retrained to believe that showing my emotions is a sign of weakness – both personally and professionally.
I am proud and humbled to now lead East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), an environmental justice organization in Detroit. I believe the organization has a significant role in Detroit given the number of children and families affected by environmental related illnesses.
I have also been told (and I agree) that EMEAC is an example of how women really can work together.
I talk a lot with my co-workers about true work/life balance … this means work in which you can be your whole self and not have to “code switch.”
Code switch is a linguistics term that has come to mean what happens when we change the way we talk, look or act to fit into white male mainstream culture – especially at work.
When we don’t do this code switch the work is already more balanced and we’re able to bring our softer, gentler “home life self” into the workplace.
About a year and a half ago some of our staff started referring to each other as family.  Six months later, in moving further away from my code switch and allowed myself to share these emotions with our staff –sometimes even at staff meetings.
I believe our society and our world would be so much better if the vast majority of us did not need to lead double lives professionally and personally.
At our organization we put an emphasis on cooperation over competition (a far cry from the white male mainstream culture).
Within our work, and in the ways we create our programs, there is a lot of emphasis on intuition, feeling, emotion, working together, grief, belief, spirituality, laughing and story telling.
This is what I specifically mean leading from your womanness in work!
We are mothers, caretakers – people who lead full lives and can bring themselves completely into their work. We are not these things in addition to our work – it is why we do the work we do.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Celebrating Earth Day by Organizing to Defend our Rights and the Rights of Mother Earth


I spent this Earth Day in Los Angeles California with the Bus Riders Union, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and the Labor Community Strategy Center for an evening connecting with organizers working at the intersection of climate, environmental justice and human rights from across the country. I was on panel about real community solutions to the climate crisis with Nikke Alex from Black Mesa Water Coalition and Sunyoung of the Strategy Center right after a panel about false solution to the climate crisis with Ash-lee Woodward with Mountain Justice, Bill Gallegos (CBE), and Tom Goldtooth with Indigenous Environmental Network. Below is my presentation about our solutions in Detroit.

(Transcribed)

Happy Earth day beautiful people! And this is a room of beautiful people. I feel like I’m at home. I am also from the Great Lakes region – which I was happy to learn from Tom is the center of the Universe. Good news for me.


My name is Diana Copeland and I am the Executive Director of the EMEAC. Last June we were one of the hosts of the United States Social Forum and we also held an action against the dirty Detroit incinerator June 26th – are the slides up there? The incinerator in Detroit is the world’s most polluting and children that live around the incinerator have 3 times the asthma rate as the rest of the nation. Due to the particulate matter, heavy metals at are released into the atmosphere as a result of the burning trash from the incinerator children miss out on school days and fun activities – cancer rates are higher - the quality of life among Detroit’s youth and community members is generally decreased. Keep in mind incineration is being touted as an “alternative energy” – these false solutions and framing are extremely dangerous to our communities.


The action was a powerful experience for the community because so many national partners came out to support us – like Grassroots Global Justice and the Ruckus society – they did a lot of the beautiful art for the action. It gave a platform for the affected community and put the community up front. The action had the demands developed by the local Detroit zero waste coalition:

- Stop the daily burning of over 2,000 tons of trash

- Begin citywide curbside recycling & recover materials for reuse

- Citywide composting as an industry

- Create new jobs & opportunities to attract green economies

- And we want full transparency of all waste contracts

City council and our former mayor had already agreed to this plan – but it has yet to be implemented.

The action was successful and the incinerator shut down as of last October – BUT - unfortunately it is almost guaranteed that the city will be burning the majority of its and surrounding communities, including Canada’s garbage for at least another 11 years, because of the deal with the new mayor for the purchase of the city’s incinerator in Nov. by a newly established energy consortium led by Connecticut-based Atlas Holdings.


As an organization we do work on strategic campaigns – like this obvious one against the incinerator but more than that we want to offer community based solutions as a real way to stop climate change and build community resilience. Moving away from the dirty incinerator and creating a city wide recycling facility is one (it is cleaner and would create many more jobs in the city).


Other Grassroots solutions – just to name a few

In addition to the disproportionate pollution – caused by the incinerator and hundreds of polluting industry, in the city of Detroit we are also up against a Right-sizing plan in the city proposed by the mayor– that would cut off services and force relocate many residents. We see this relocation effort and gentrification plan as an environmental justice issue - as a front line community we are demanding that the residents that have faced the worst of the ecological and economic crisis in the city receive priority on any incentives that would benefit the citizens of Detroit. The people’s plan is looking at scaling up local economies and strengthens community schools (while fighting off corporate charters and privatizations of natural resources).


Food justice/ composting – Detroit has over 1000 urban gardens and farms and we see urban farming as a solution to climate injustice by providing more green space in the city, creating more healthy foods inside the city and for its residents, creating new local economies, and dramatically cutting down on truck traffic that create harmful diesel pollution inside our city. As leadership of the food justice task force we are working to not only scale up the capacity for current farmers but also create new businesses in local foods marketing, local foods grocers, restaurants that serve local foods and create new businesses, curricula and emerging skill training inside Detroit schools. Just one example of the many schools we are working with, Nsoroma Institute located on Detroit’s far east side has:

- Community cooking demonstrations and cooking classes

- Aquaponics farm and curricula - to create healthy food for the neighborhood and a small amount of revenue for school projects

- Veggie stand – that 15 raised gardens with lots of squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, specialty herbs and much more!

- Worm composting – to reduce trash in at schools and to sell compost to supporting farms

The school is nestled among rows and rows of abandoned houses but the school is an absolute haven for students, parents and community.

Shout out to Detroit black community food security network


Digital justice and education solutions – media work is an emerging field and source of jobs in the city. As leadership of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) we are working with local businesses, schools with the Allied Media Projects. Every collaboration we work with is based on the Environmental Justice and we work with every group to create our own principles of working together. Central to the principles of the DDJC is creating healthy communities. The DDJC provides space where people can investigate community problems, generate solutions, create media and organize together to promote alternative energy, recycling and salvaging technology. As a coalition we value multiple learning styles and expand the process of learning beyond the classrooms.


In Detroit we are using a multi-pronged strategy to fight false solutions and create models or real solutions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mitten State: Beekeeping's subversive secret: These little trait...

I am re-posting Hugh's article because I enjoyed it so much and I thought you all would too!

Mitten State: Beekeeping's subversive secret: These little trait...: "The hive. Karen did the artwork. I’m in bee school. The wise old hands from the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association are teaching ..."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What is the Detroit People's Movement Assembly Process

I recently went to an excellent discussion about the state of Detroit's education at the Boggs Center. Over and over again it was emphasized that education often (maybe even mostly) happens outside of the classroom. As one of the anchoring organizations of the 2010 United States Social Forum I learned this lessons. Especially during the People's Movement Assembly (PMA) Process. In April we will have a city wide PMA in Detroit to create an alternative vision for land use were we will put into practice this style of community learning.

So what is the PMA?

We are a collective of community members that come together around shared principles. We look to the principles of environmental justice, the earth charter and the human rights for guidance. We hold each other and ourselves accountable to those principles with love. We are making our best effort to solve the most significant problems of the day. And in doing so we will spend more time building than attacking. The Detroit People’s Movement Assembly is a grassroots approach and we believe that self-determination should be at the center of the PMA and at the city’s foundation.

Our concerns with the Detroit Works Plan: Corporations cannot dictate the role of Detroiters and certainly not without involving them in the planning and real democratic decision-making related to their city. In this PMA process we presume that people have power, and that we are not victims. Together we are learning that the strongest solutions happen throughout the process, not in a moment at the end of the process. Together we are learning that the most effective strategies for us are the ones that work in situations of scarce resources and intersecting systems of oppression because those solutions tend to be the most holistic and sustainable.

We have a vision. We want to build on existing strengths and Detroit’s rich history. We know that when we look at the data that the mayor’s office is putting out and we read in the Huffington Post that the “only people left in the D are those that have no other options” that is not our living reality. Because when we look at their plan and when we look at our community capital of freedom schools, black owned business, community schools, youth organizing, community kitchens in churches, music and historical neighborhoods build by the people and made unique by its residence and we see two completely different analyses of a city. We made each neighborhood that is the tapestry of the city - we know we are the city.

We understand pain. We know there is a place for mourning and anger of the people that are being displaced, had their utilities cut off, even lost their children because their water bill was too high. We need a place to grieve and express our frustration. We honor this pain, and we don’t want to live there.

We are not the first to go through struggle and we are not alone now as we struggle. People throughout history have had to fight, struggle and articulate a better vision for what they need for their community and their sustainability. All of us are working in our particular and unique way but we do want to reflect that the PMA is not new but has been building up for a few years before the first USSF held in Atlanta in 2007. We do not just meet. We are creating plans. We want to be the ones telling the story and making the media.

We have been building as social movements from bottom up styles from community visions and desire. The PMA is our responses to this – a space to build our own narrative, our own plan, our own media. Even now through the people’s movement assembly process, we are connected to a national movement and to an international movement. The PMA process is something that Detroiters learned during the second US Social Forum held in Detroit. Over 25,000 people came to the city in June of 2010 to learn from Detroit’s leadership and the models of resistance we have created and are creating in the city. We built as a community during the USSF and have trained with our national PMA partners on how to build movement and facilitate a city wide visioning process.

We are connecting to others in the city who also have a vision – like Detroiters for Dignity and Democracy, the People’s Water Board, People and Energy, the Food Justice Task Force and the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (to name a few). We are lifting up the solutions that currently exist in the city, and we are a group that is finding solutions to the most critical issues facing our city. This is hard, hard work. We work hard but we need to take care of the tools, resources, love, passion and hurt that we all bring. We are learning to do this but it is not without its bumps and bruises.

We are sick of being asked if we “are a believer”, were we “imported from Detroit”, do we “Declare Detroit”?

We have a voice. We have a vision. We are connected.