Personal Environmentalism

By Katie Beth Halloran

University of Michigan

“I’ve been going to protests since I can remember,” Marion Berger, age 20, says around a sore throat. Zhe’s nursing a huge water bottle sporting an equal rights sticker. Zhe goes on to explain how zhe went zer first war protest with zer mom in third grade. And after that, it was rallies with Amnesty International. “I really only got involved in environmentalism freshman year of high school.”Image

Since entering the University of Michigan, Berger has been working in the environmental activism scene. Berger is the Environmental Justice Coordinator for Power Shift at the University of Michigan. Power Shift, an international organization, supports a range of environmental causes including anti-fracking, re-divestment of fossil fuels, and environmental justice. Berger is also active in Divest and Invest, an organization campaigning to reduce the University’s fossil fuel consumption and raise awareness about environmental justice.  “I think I can safely say that just about every hour I’m not spending in class I’m spending thinking about or working on environmental justice issues or issues of oppression and privilege,” says Berger.

However, zhe says that there is still “really a general lack of understanding about privilege – especially at the University of Michigan.”

“I think we need a better fundamental understanding of racism, sexism, genderism, and white privilege and how that all ties in to place at this University and in this society.” Berger says.

“[Marion] is somebody who always tries to take action.” Corey Walsh said. Berger and Walsh met a year ago at a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. “[Marion]’s very passionate about social justice, especially environmental justice and equal access issues.”

“The most important quality in a white environmental justice activist when we’re discussing environmental racism . . . . is that they acknowledge that they are always learning, and seek out every opportunity to learn.” Marissa Solomon, the PR Co-Chair of Divest and Invest says. “This can be incredibly draining, but Marion never shies away from these learning experiences.”

Berger says that when zhe was younger, zhe was in it for the polar bears. But then zhe realized that the environmental movement was not reflecting zer community. “It was a very white movement.” Berger says. “And a privileged issue. Having time to care about the polar bears is a privilege.”

Berger is from Detroit, Michigan, zip code 48216. The neighboring district, 48217 is the most toxic zip code in the nation. “I love sleeping with my window open, and that’s not something I can do there.”

Berger was raised in east side Detroit, and zer family moved to Groesbeck, Michigan during high school.  But when the housing bubble collapsed and zer family looked for homes in Detroit again, zhe realized that zer options were either backed up against the freeway or directly in line with corporate dumping grounds. “[They] were the only places we could afford.” Zhe says. The Tarsands Oil Refinery, roughly a mile from the new house, was importing heavier forms of oil from Canada. The process for refining this oil created a toxic byproduct dubbed ‘petcoke’.  Petcoke is “really dense, oily, and hard to scrub off. . . . they were dumping it right by the house, it was blowing into people’s houses. When it rained, it would run down the storm drains into the river.”

As of August 29, 2013, the Tarsands Oil Refinery ceased dumping petcoke, thanks to the community’s protest efforts. However, a nearby incinerator continues to release pollution into the air.

“Whenever I go home, it smells bad and it makes my lungs hurt.” Berger says.

When people are worried about putting food on the table, they can’t fight back as much, Berger believes. And that’s how they get exploited.

“All systems of oppression are interrelated  – race, gender, sexuality, the environment.” Berger says.  “We cannot be an isolated movement.”

In regards to future activity, Marion says, “Protests, while great, aren’t really my thing anymore.  Frankly, I’m sick of asking [those]often old, white men in power for justice.”

“I’m more interested in fostering communication on campus and in my community about privilege and racism and the intersectionality of all social movements. . . but I’m not quite sure what that will look like yet.”


About katiebethhalloran

Hello! I am a student at the University of Michigan, interested in creative writing and environmental writing. I'm new to blogging, but so far it seems like a great way to find other writers with similar (or vastly different) styles and interests.

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