Conflict is an integral part of any narrative because it is an integral part of any human. If we’re not fighting with someone else; in the case of Tracy Perkins’ Evolution of a Movement, it’s we the people in conflict with polluters; then we’re in conflict with ourselves. Here’s where Perkins’ book plunges pleasantly into very grey waters. She tells an important, life-or-death-by-pollution story – of conflict within those fighting polluters. By carefully observing (often on-site and in-person) some 40 years of the change within the environmental justice movement, Perkins draws a compelling, fascinating portrait of people using the powers they have to fight those who threaten their lives in a quest for profit. Even when all sides seem to, claim to, hope to, need to be working for the same goal, it’s a messy, human business.
The first three sections of the book set the stage, discussing the birth of the environmental justice movement from local anti-toxic waste disruptive tactics and following it through the changes that saw it professionalize from ragtag locals into crusaders seeking change from within. It’s a very well-told story, closely observed, assiduously documented and messily complicated by the “oh, the humanity.”
Having given readers a quick lesson on Environmental Justice History, Perkins then turns her attention to two case studies. In the first she looks at the case of Kettleman City, a pit stop on Highway 5. It was already – unknowingly to many residents – home to the largest toxic waste disposal site west of the Mississippi. Waste Management decided they would set up a toxic waste incinerator. What followed is an inspiring David-versus-Goliath Inc story, followed by years of human intrigue and complicated devo-evolution.
Perkins next looks at California Climate Change Bill AB32, where the action is all on the inside of the political-corporate machinery. It’s a tangled web, with action on paper, in meetings, and with huge legal battles hanging on the difference between “shall” and “may.” It’s gripping stuff; the life or death of the planet hangs in the balance. Capitalism and racism are shape-shifting, deadly foes. The battle is not over, but we can learn, not just from what is happening now, but, importantly from understanding what got us here, good and bad. Evolution of a Movement captures a very complicated capstone, one we can all learn to build from.
Tracy Perkins is as smart and straightforward as her book. Here’s the documentary evidence, or you can listen below.