The Green Movement
— Ruby Collette for EDN
The notice posted on the fence surrounding the house down the street from me says the family inside has given up their car. They have planted fruit trees and berry bushes and plan to live more simply. The address of their blog, where they write about this lifestyle, is printed on the notice. This is a trend now, for the educated white middle class in the green movement to move into poor and working class neighborhoods with the intention of inspiring and educating.
I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “middle class white women doing diversity work.” I was miffed; how unoriginal of me. How sincerely stupid I felt. But it was true; I fit the profile. I was so sure I had something to offer and so unaware of all I was taking with my self-importance. It’s admirable that many people choose now to give up their cars. I have been carless in the past, and I admired myself very much for it. But then I gave up having a house, and my van was the only home I could afford. Homelessness is not usually a voluntary choice, it wasn’t for me.
Voluntary and involuntary simplicity are vastly different experiences. When you lose your car because you can’t afford repairs or the repo man takes it, no one applauds or offers you a book deal. In fact, you may then lose your job and your home. The car may have been your home. There is no club for people who are carless accidentally, only for people who are carless on purpose. The values do not transpose directly from one class to the other. This is where the white middle class-dominated green movement loses its chance to build bridges, by believing that the learning goes one way. Here are people who have lived on little for generations.
How do they do it?
How different if the sign says: “We want to meet our neighbors and share our resources (surely that’s why you let us know you planted fruit trees). Please tell us what we, who obviously have more materially than you, can do to be a useful part of this neighborhood. We are trying to live more simply voluntarily, and we seek the wisdom of those for whom simplicity has not been a choice. Please come and introduce yourselves and have some tea.”
But don’t say it unless you mean it. Then get ready. Once I stopped believing I had so much to teach poor people, I finally began to learn.