Tuesday, August 5, 2014

AAUF Urban Garden Initiative and Academia

In the Social Animal: The Hidden Source of Love, Character and Achievement by David Brooks, the author analyzes popular methods of thought, including the French and British Enlightenment. According to him, thinkers from the French Revolution imagined we are Rational Animals, distinguished from other animals by our power of logic. Marxists and others in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries imagined that we are Material Animals; shaped by the physical conditions of our lives. Furthermore, thinkers in the British Enlightenment depict us as Social Animals and emphasized the power of sentiments and affections to bind people together on subconscious levels. Ultimately, Brooks argues that intellectual history has oscillated between rationalist and romantic periods, wherein rationalist thinkers reduce human behavior to austere mathematical models while intuitive leaders and artists emphasize feeling and imagination during romantic periods. Sometimes imagination grows too luxuriant. Sometimes reason grows too austere.
While Brooks posits the philosophers of the British Enlightenment were correct, I believe we are a combination of all three: logic, material and social. As a result, social change is achieved when reason and empathy lead to persuasion. For instance, recently it was revealed that the lawyer who defended California’s gay marriage ban, Charles Cooper, is now planning his daughter’s same-sex wedding. He admits his views have changed and will be evolving over time. More Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage because of the activist that fought for legal recognition of their human right to express love from a place of personal experience and feeling that was operationalized on a larger scale.
I could expound more on the history of social change movements but I want to focus on what such change means to many activists. It means connecting with individuals and institutions to collaborate on programs, projects and issues that increase parity for disenfranchised populations, including formerly convicted and incarcerated people, youth, the aging, the mentally ill, the poor, women and LGBT. Finding what we have in common with each other leads to community, which lends itself to understanding and empathy. These personal feelings and emotional ties create collective actions that lead to persuasion and outcomes creating massive, popular shifts in thinking. Eventually, such shifts have the potential to change the material circumstances of our lives and create a better world for everyone.
However, before structural change can occur, the basic needs of disenfranchised populations must be met. At the African American United Fund, we believe that in order to create broad-based change, the individual, then the family, then the neighborhood and finally the larger community must be stabilized out of crisis. Basic needs must be addressed before systemic causes of oppression are ameliorated. Our urban gardening initiative adopts this approach by providing resources for the community, including access to fresh produce, recreational space and education.
AAUF and I personally was honored to support Leticia Garcia’s thesis paper which captures the connections between logic, material and social operating at the AAUF and other organizations in North Philadelphia who do work with marginalized populations including those with low income, the formerly incarcerated and senior caregivers by adding to the cannon of research at the nexus of feminist, queer and critical race theories. Marginalized populations are not homogeneous, that is formerly convicted, senior caregivers and low income peoples cross pollinate within distinct movements to reduce barriers to equity.
This research is important because it brings together, in a cohesive manner, the works of other noted scholars that focus on distinct subsets of environmental justice communities, defined by the federal government as, "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." This is important within the context of Philadelphia because such communities, including those created/sustained by the African American United Fund, are often marginalized socially, politically and culturally.
The outcomes of my working relationship with Leticia Garcia have been to re-envision methodologies employed by the African American United Fund while staying true to our mission by creating Community Economic Justice along side Environmental Justice programs. Through our EJ programs, we have developed relationships with multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-class communities and have found allies across disciplines in municipal planning, urban agriculture, community organizing and food justice/food sovereignty. This cross disciplinary approach has increased the reach of the organization and increased the impact of our work regionally, nationally and internationally by using our garden space as a model and participating in conferences and symposiums that address community control of land use. Additionally, Leticia used ethnographic fieldwork, participant observation, archival research and conducted a symposium in preparation for her thesis. Through such activities, this thesis research has informed and reflected our organization’s work, providing insight into how communities can use food and gardening as organizing tools to break free of Western, paternalist concepts of usefulness and by redefining what work  is and therefore what the value of labor is.

With support and encouragement, Leticia will continue to explore concepts raised in her thesis by finding ways to share the practical knowledge she gained by expanding beyond academia into the public sphere to help others make connections between land use, culture and community.
Read Leticia's research on the AAUF Garden and her full thesis at the link below...

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