Social change came slowly to America after World War II. Despite a new generation of Americans living an unprecedented good economic times (Lecture 35), many social groups were quite dissatisfied with a government which to them did not respond to their needs. They saw a bureaucratic society where institutions and organizations were impersonal, they saw the structure of authority move farther and farther away from individuals, and they saw a society that seemed not to be cognizant of the inequalities of so many in America (Lecture, 35,37,41). Some individuals felt that they existed in a dehumanizing society (Lecture 40), felt they ahd distorted souls (Lecture 37), were on a spiritual quest (Lecture 35), were alone (Lecture 41), were living an unsatisfying life (Lecture 37), and even living a life where the government conspires against them (Lecture 35). Many saw that the government that was designed to protect their rights was not actually doing that. They had no access to democracy and the government was failing them (Lecture 37). One of those groups was African Americans who wanted equal educational opportunities, an end to the unjustified harassment and lynchings, to end discrimination throughout society, and a desire to have the same human rights accorded to the majority of society. Another group, women, shared their concerns for equality. They wanted an end to sexism and an end to marginalizing women, and end to being treated as inferior to men. They wanted to gain the legal and political changes that would provide gender equality. However, the environmental movement was distinctively different from the individual and class inequalities in the expected impact of inaction, justification for attaining those rights, and, in who or what created the inequality or lack of protection.
According to evironmentalists, the impact of inaction related to environmental issues would be immediate, pervasive, and on-going (Lecture 42) and this made the movement different from the desire for social justice demanded by women and blacks. Rachel Carson, a pioneer in environmentalism, argued that contamination would change the nature of our world and possibly bring destruction to the planet (Lecture 42). This possible destruction placed and urgency on environmental issues not found in the lack of social justice denied blacks and women. In her book Silent Spring, Carson maintains that the chemicals being used would take generations to cycle through nature, that they were as threatening as nuclear war, that the contaminates accumulated in the tissue of plants and animals, penetrated te germ cells and altered the material of heredity threatening mankind. She says that contamination by humans has distasrioius consequences and only gets worse over time (Lecture 42). They are irrecoverable and for the most part irreversible (Silent Spring, pg. 1). She makes a case for immediate action if we are to save the planet and mankind. However, inaction for blacks and women has been an issue for both groups have dealt with for years. While both groups believe in an immediate action and are frustrated by the slow pace of change and not being taken seriously (Lecture 35, 43), neither group can make the same compelling case that environmentalists make in stating that the planet and mankind are threatened if nothing is done. The entire earth with be impacted, everyone on earth could die, and th impact of pollutionis now and will only get worse. Social groups cannot argue that the existence of humans is in any immediate peril if social justice is denied. This sense of urgency separates the environmental movement from the groups seeking social justice.
The environmental movement also differs greatly from the equality issues of women and blacks in that environmentalists justify their desire for change in the intent of the founding fathers and the spirit of the Constitution ( ) while the women and blacks justify their view based on the fact that the Constitution and court cases prove the equality being denied. Rachel Carson argues that the only reason there isn’t a direct statement in the Constitution guaranteeing protection against man-made poisons is that “our founding fathers could not have perceived of that possible problem and therefore te protection should still be given” (Lecture 42). She believes that it is unconscionable that those seeking to protect America like our founding fathers would choose to sit by and watch us poison ourselves. If that possibility had ever existed in the minds of our founding fathers, Carson beliees that something would hae been done. So she believes something should be done now. However, most women and blacks argue that their desire for equality is directly stated in the Constitution and in the case of blacks backed by decisions of the Supreme Court, like the case of Brown vs. Board of Education which reuled segregation in public schools illegal (Brown vs. Board of Education, pg. 4). Martin Luther King believed tat those protections came not only from the Constitution, but from other documents like the Declaration of Independence ( ) and from our core deomocratic principles. He believed those rights also sprang from Judeo-Christian thought and western philosophers, rights like equal protection of the law, all men being equal, and self rule (Lecture 37). Malcom X, a more radical civil rights leader, would say that the rights sought are provided to all of humanity in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a document signed by all nations in the United Nations (Lecture 37). He would maintain that all people are given human rights by God and they can’t be taken away, but when a nation violates those rights a redress of grievance can and should be taken to the world court in the United Nations (The Ballot of the Bullet, pg. 7). While Malcom X points out that human rights trumps civil rights and blacks need to look to the world stage to redress against discriminatory practices in the United States, Martin Luther King would contend that we need only search our historical background and documents to justify attaining equality and women, like blacks, would agree that the basis of gaining equality is already stated in our Constitution.
Who or what created this lack of equality and protection also differs between women and blacks and environmentalists. Rachel Carson, the environmentalist, believed that the poisons which are contaminating our planet came primarily from a society and scientific community that did not take a holistic view of our earth, but rather viewed the earth through specialized lenses. She blamed humans for poisoning the ecosystem stating that in many cases they were totally unaware of doing so. She blamed scientists who were too technical and took little responsibility for the consequences of their actions and discoveries. She blamed the specialists who were more concerned about making money than protecting the earth (Lecture 42). She wanted people to see that there was an interconnectedness to the ecosystem, that pesticides added to water in one place could actually affect the water everywhere and therefore we needed to see the world a bit more holistically (Lecture 42). She fought to protect our planet from ourselves. However, blacks and women saw the need for a different kind of protection – not protection from ourselves, but protection and enforcement of equal protection already granted in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Both Malcom X and Martin Luther King placed most of the blame for the lack of rights on the inaction of our government, but Martin Luther King did lay some blame on the bitterness and hatred among African Americans themselves, while Malcom X felt strongly that it was that state that failed blacks (Lecture 37). He railed against white politicians who would lie against the Deomcratic party in the south that would not take action against the Dixiecrats, and the entire Democratic Party when it placed civil rights way down on the list of priorities even though the Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress (Lecture 37). He had little faith in the present political system. He noted that Lyndon Bates Johnson did nothing for blacks in Texas so he has no reason to believe he’ll do anything as president (The Ballot of the Bullet, pg__). He knows the government has failed blacks. Women tended to blame their inequality on the power structure which was primarily white male. Because men benefit from the structure because men propagate an aura of supremacy, it was men who dominated and denied women equal rights. If women were to gain equality, it then becomes necessary to change men by exposing the sexist foundation of all the institutions which they mostly run (Lecture 43).
Environmentalists, women, and African Americans had many things in common related to their fight for social justice. The desire for change, the desire for the government to take a more active role, the kind of leadership needed for change, and a fairer society are but a few. However, social groups like women and blacks are noticeably different than the environmental group. Blacks and women cannot argue that their need for change is necessary due to its impending impact on the earth as environmentalists argue. Blacks and women do not use the same justification for change. Blacks and women primarily cite specific parts of noted American and international documents while environmentalists cite a possibly less convincing concept of intent or spirit of the law. Lastly, blacks and women generally cite the government as the fault for their inequalities while environmentalists say the fault belongs to certain segments of the population who tend to be specialists and may have an overriding monetary motive to overlook the negatives of their actions. These differences may have had an impact on the speed with which the government acted to make those changes.
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