Author: Shannon M.D. Smith

Faith + Food Dialogues Series Registration is Open!

Faith + Food Dialogues ~ May 6th – June 3rd

A series of independent dialogues hosted by the Faith and Food Coalition to contribute to the United Nations Food Systems Summit.

Food sits at the center of our lives. From a meal on the go to a holiday spent around the table with family and friends, food not only sustains us but helps define who we are. It informs aspects of our religious identities and marks how we choose to interact with the world.

Globally our relationship with food and the systems we utilize to produce it are having alarming effects on the earth and its people. Nearly 2 billion people are food insecure while billions more are ailing from diet related health issues. Human and planetary health are suffering as a result of how food is grown and what kinds of food are being encouraged.

This Fall, the Secretary-General of the United Nations will be convening a Food Systems Summit which will bring together farmers, politicians, business leaders, youth groups and other civil society members to examine how our global food systems can be reformed to equitably and sustainably feed the world.

To contribute, the Faith and Food Coalition is hosting five independent virtual dialogues to critically examine the role faith based organizations can bring to conversations about our food systems. These dialogues will take place as part of the broader Food Systems Summit Dialogues.

These dialogues are being organized by the following coalition of leading faith-based organizations: Bhumi Global, Interfaith Public Health Network, Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Tzu Chi Foundation, World Evangelical Alliance, and the Center for Earth Ethics.

 

 

Check out our livestream preview from March 26th –

Join CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore, Sustainability and Global Affairs Program Director Andrew Schwartz, Original Caretakers Program Senior Fellow Mona Polacca and Director of Bhumi Global Gopal Patel on our YouTube Channel.

 

Join the Faith + Food Coalition Community! www.FaithandFood.Earth

Union Theological Seminary Climate Emergency Community Assembly

When: April 22nd and 23rd, 2021 2:00 – 4:30 pm
As you may have heard, Union has recently declared a climate emergency, being the first seminary in the world to do so. The declaration commits Union to adopting a climate mobilization plan with the goal of eliminating our school’s carbon emissions in the next ten years. The plan will recommend changes to Union’s facilities, curriculum, and community engagement.
Union has committed to a democratic process for creating the plan, which will take the form of a Community Assembly on April 22nd and 23rd. The Community Assembly will consist of 15 students, 5 faculty, 5 staff, and 5 alums.
Attached is a copy of the Emergency Declarationthe Assembly Itinerary, and a Google Form if you are interested in participating. All students should have also gotten an email with a slightly more robust explanation and access to all the links as well.

White House Announces Environmental Justice Advisory Council Members including Catherine Coleman Flowers

Today, the White House announced the members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The advisory council will provide advice and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how to address current and historic environmental injustices, including recommendations for updating Executive Order 12898.

The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) was established by President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad to fulfill his and Vice President Harris’s commitment to confronting longstanding environmental injustices and to ensuring that historically marginalized and polluted, overburdened communities have greater input on federal policies and decisions.

“We know that we cannot achieve health justice, economic justice, racial justice, or educational justice without environmental justice. That is why President Biden and I are committed to addressing environmental injustice,” said Vice President Harris. “This historic White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council will ensure that our administration’s work is informed by the insights, expertise, and lived experience of environmental justice leaders from across the nation.”

The WHEJAC members will represent a diverse set of geographical regions and will serve in a voluntary capacity.

• LaTricea Adams, Michigan
• Susana Almanza, Texas
• Jade Begay, South Dakota
• Maria Belen-Power, Massachusetts
• Dr. Robert Bullard, Texas
• Tom Cormons, Virginia
• Andrea Delgado, Washington, D.C.
• Catherine Flowers, Alabama
• Jerome Foster, New York
• Kim Havey, Minnesota
• Angelo Logan, California
• Maria Lopez-Nunez, New Jersey
• Harold Mitchell, South Carolina
• Richard Moore, New Mexico
• Rachel Morello-Frosch, California
• Juan Parras, Texas
• Michele Roberts, Washington, D.C.
• Ruth Santiago, Puerto Rico
• Nicky Sheats, New Jersey
• Peggy Shepard, New York
• Carletta Tilousi, Arizona
• Vi Waghiyi, Alaska
• Kyle Whyte, Michigan
• Beverly Wright, Louisiana
• Hli Xyooj, Minnesota
• Miya Yoshitani, California

“This is a historic moment that environmental justice communities have been working toward for decades. President Biden and Vice President Harris are, for the first time ever, bringing the voices, perspectives, and expertise of environmental justice communities into a formal advisory role at the White House,” said Cecilia Martinez, Senior Director for Environmental Justice, CEQ. “The advisory council builds off the important work of EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and will provide input and recommendations to senior leaders across government as this administration works to clean up toxic pollution, create good-paying, union jobs in all communities, and give every child in America the chance to grow up healthy.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) will fund and provide administrative support for the WHEJAC. The first meeting of the WHEJAC will be held virtually tomorrow, March 30, and will be open to the public. Please visit the U.S. EPA’s WHEJAC webpage for more information at:  www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/white-house-environmental-justice-advisory-council.

The WHEJAC will complement the ongoing work of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee established in 1993 to provide advice and recommendations on EJ issues to the Administrator of the EPA. More information about NEJAC can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/national-environmental-justice-advisory-council

###

Watch: Faith + Food Coalition opens dialogues with livestream

The Center for Earth Ethics is so excited about the Faith + Food Coalition Dialogue Series – we hosted a livestream conversation Friday, March 26th!

Check out our conversation with CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore, Sustainability and Global Affairs Program Director Andrew Schwartz, Original Caretakers Program Senior Fellow Mona Polacca and Director of Bhumi Global Gopal Patel on why we are convening faith groups to talk about food systems and the contributions of indigenous wisdom to solving these complex challenges.

Bring a snack to eat! Make a cuppa.

Join the Faith + Food Coalition Community at faithandfood.earth!

March 24th registration deadline approaching for Earth Day online training Faith Cohort!

The Center for Earth Ethics is kicking off Earth Day by co-hosting a Faith Leaders cohort at the upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training happening April 22 – May 2. We are teaming with The Climate Reality Project to create specific sessions that will help faith leaders from across traditions integrate climate activism into their work. Registration is open until March 24th!

 

FAITH COHORT REGISTRATION INSTRUCTIONS:

Visit the Registration link at Climate Reality. To register to be part of the Faith Cohort please answer the following questions in the registration form as outlined below:

  • Do you currently volunteer or organize with any groups focused on climate change or environmental justice? Please answer “YES”
  • Organization Name: Please write “Center for Earth Ethics”
  • Email Jennifer Fei at [email protected] and let her know you’ve joined the Faith cohort. This will help us ensure that you are given access to all of the faith specific events and tables.

REGISTER HERE

THIS IS OUR MOMENT FOR CHANGE. YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps Virtual US Training will feature four days of two-hour live broadcasts, with additional on-demand viewing and interactive sessions available between April 22 and May 2.

 

During the training, you’ll join broadcast sessions with some of the world’s leading climate experts and activists – led by former Vice President Al Gore – along with breakout sessions designed to dive deeper into the most important climate topics of today. Sessions will focus on three key themes in the fight for an equitable and sustainable future:

  • Stopping fossil fuel expansion
  • Accelerating just climate solutions
  • Driving federal climate action in the US

The Virtual US Training offers the chance to connect with other activists just like you and join a global network of world changers making a real difference for the planet when it matters.There is no cost to attend and our flexible online format is designed to work with your schedule. This is our time and your year to make a difference.

*Note on Scheduling:

We will offer the Faith Cohort option during the weekday training schedule. If the weekday schedule does not work for you and you would like to participate in the weekend training schedule, please let us know. Feel free to email Jennifer Fei at jen[email protected] with any questions or to discuss your options for participating in the Faith Cohort.

REGISTER HERE

Looking forward to seeing you April, 22nd!

– The Center for Earth Ethics Team

Water, Sanitation and Inequality in the US – Catherine Coleman Flowers project with The Guardian

Help us Investigate Sanitation Inequality in the US

Categories: Public Programs & Events

We know that access to sanitation – just like access to clean air and water – is so often divided along race and class lines. But while there’s never been more awareness that environmental racism pervades the US, there’s not enough research detailing how – making solutions hard to come by.

For that reason, we’re excited to announce that Union is supporting a critical environmental justice project focused on sanitation inequality – one that every one of us can take part in.

We are joining with the Guardian newspaper and the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice in a project called “America’s Dirty Divide”. Led by the environmental justice pioneer and senior fellow at the Center for Earth Ethics Catherine Coleman Flowers, they have created this questionnaire to investigate how widespread this problem is. The project will investigate how many people in America do not have access to sanitation and sewage services – a problem endemic to many poorer communities and communities of color that has never been properly documented.

TAKE THE QUESTIONNAIRE

In particular, they’re looking for examples of sewage problems in homes or communities; poorly functioning septic systems; or poorly operating municipal sewage systems. Entire communities are living with sewage flowing into yards or homes, with terrible consequences for their health, economic stability, and dignity. Yet there is no sustained national effort to tackle this problem. (The Guardian’s first story since launching this project, about the town of Centreville, Illinois, is here.)

We would love your help in circulating the questionnaire to your contacts – clergy, other faith leaders, community activists, and anyone you think would be willing to respond or to take the questionnaire to their networks. The Guardian and CREEJ would also like to hear from you directly if you have experience with these issues, or familiarity with a community that you think they should look into.

If you have questions, suggestions, or ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Thank you so much for taking the time to spread the word. It’s our hope that by exposing the scope of this issue, we’ll be able to catalyze efforts to address it.

Restoring Brigid, Restoring Justice

Shannon Michaela Doree Smith.  Updated March 8th. 
This piece is re-published on International Women’s Day 2021 with gratitude to President Joseph R. Biden for his Proclamation on Irish-American Heritage Month, 2021 and a call for “all Americans to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Irish Americans to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs. The story of the Irish the world over is one of people who have weathered their fair share of hard times, but have always come out strong on the other side.”

“We sing a song to Brigid

Brigid brings the spring

Awakens all the fields and flowers 

And calls the birds to sing…”

In the rekindling of the sacred fires of early Christianity, a Celtic Christianity that was not afraid of earth based traditions, we pause at the cross quarter days of Imbolc to welcome Brigid – Goddess or Saint – as she brings spring back to the land.

Brigid (Brigit, Bhride, Brighid, Bríd) as Saint is Patroness of Ireland, she is also a triple Goddess figure of a pre-Christian time. She represents the aspects of Irish traditions and culture encompassing blacksmithing, animal husbandry, hospitality and justice. She holds the teachings of the elementals and of alchemy from the forging of iron and shaping of tools to the forging of words, philosophy and spirit into the prophetic bardic tradition of poetry.

It is worthy to note the perspective of the Brigidine Sisters, Catholic Sisters who to this day celebrate the qualities of Brigid as a woman ‘for our time’. She is emblematic of the call to care for the earth and a beacon in the work of justice and a guide for chaplaincy. From the Sisters: “A Life of Brigid” (Vita Brigitae), composed by Cogitosus about 650 AD, places great emphasis on Brigid’s faith, her healing powers, her hospitality, her generosity, her great skill with animals, and her compassion for the poor and the oppressed. Twenty three of the thirty two chapters tell of her extraordinary concern for the poor. Today that call for justice is strong. 

The story of the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes sits as a stain for the Irish people. Irish Central reported in 2019, “The Magdalene Laundries, named after Mary Magdalene who was in earlier centuries characterized as a converted prostitute, existed from the early 1760s through the late 1990’s in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and the US. An estimated 30,000 women were confined.” The last laundry closed in 1996, just 25 years ago. The numbers of women and babies held was largely speculated but ultimately unknown as records of forced labor and imprisonment as well as records of pregnancies and forced, sometimes illegal, adoptions were not always kept. It has long been a sore reality of children now grown into adulthood not knowing their histories having been separated from their shamed mothers, some not even knowing their own birthdate.

The grievousness of this buried trauma came into painful focus when 796 children, most of them infants, were found in a mass grave on the grounds of the Mother and Baby home in Tuam that had been operated by an order of the Roman Catholic Church between 1925 and 1961. The bodies of the children were found conspicuously in the area of a sewage tank with no shrouds, no coffins. This horrible discovery begged the question, what else was hidden, what else was unknown about this terrible time in Irish history? 

In 2015, a federal commission was formed to collect survivor testimony with the intention to produce a report of what happened principally between 1925 and 1998. When the report was to be completed and released in the fall of 2020 in the midst of Covid, a series of missteps began to occur. Survivor testimony was reported lost, portions of the report were leaked, motions were passed in government at a moment’s notice seemingly without regard for the survivors themselves. These events compounded other issues. In January of 2021 the Mother and Baby Homes Commission reported 57,000 children being moved through these homes and over 9,000 infant deaths, however, only 18 out of over 150 homes were included in the report and the recommendation by the Irish Human Rights Commission to apply a human rights framework to the Mother and Baby Homes investigation had been rejected.

The image given to the public was one of a desire to rush through to the completion of the investigation without response to areas of concern and without consultation from survivors, those whose stories of abuse would be summarized, assessed and filed away. While the government leader, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, offered an apology, for some it has not been enough to bring justice to the wounds of the past. In his remarks, Martin said, “One of the clearest messages of the testimonies in this report is how this treatment of women and children is something which was the direct result of how the State, and how we as a society acted.” 

This statement inspired the daughter of a Mother and Baby Homes survivor, Laura Murphy, to write an extraordinary history as to what created the conditions that led to the mistreatment, humiliation and oppression of women and their children at the hands of both the church and state when from their collusion, ‘A terrible beauty was born’. In her declaration, “The Irish people were coercively controlled – indoctrinated  – through instruments of shame and fear to behave in ways that were contrary to our nature. Muintir na hÉireann did not give informed consent.” “Mná na hÉireann (the women of Ireland) did not give informed consent”, “the people of Ireland did not give informed consent”, separating the actions of the church and state from the will of the people (‘we as a society’).

In this clarion call for justice, her words speak volumes to the loss of Brigid for the Irish and descendants worldwide and to the potential watershed of healing as we acknowledge and repair the trauma of colonization and the ‘perverse’ religious narrative that was adopted and continues to perpetuate harm. 

Murphy writes, “Our society was the remnants of one invasion after another from the beginning of our history, the vestiges of a perpetual battle for the reclamation of sovereignty and the preservation of the spirit of our people and land. It was a miracle that we – a small, pillaged, broken nation – had any remaining energy or means to fight for and win our freedom. But we did. Irish women were pivotal in the winning of Irish independence. When Pádraic Pearse declared Irish independence, he addressed ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’. The promise of our proclamation was ‘equality, happiness and prosperity for all men, women and children’. We were a war-weary, exhausted, divided and vulnerable society. Women and children were written out and the Roman Catholic Church was written in. This truth needs to be understood, acknowledged and acted upon. Survivors need real respect, redress and support, not just lip service. As part of this I am calling for a new national holiday to mark Brigid’s Day. It is time to honour Ireland’s women, past, present. and future.”

In these days when the call to justice, not just recapitulation, is bold and strong we must heed the wisdom of those who keep their hearts and minds close to what is truly being called for. Black Lives Matter and Land Back movements are among those pointing the way. Justice does not come from tolerance, but from equity. Justice comes when we tell the truth about our history. Reconciliation only comes after the Truth.

There is much to learn from the history of the Irish and Irish American people’s experience having been colonized on their own soil by the British; then emigrating, persecuted and punished; then assimilated into ‘American’ and other westernized cultures. Similar to other colonized peoples such as those indigenous to “the Americas” and “Australia”, the Irish, despite being white bodied, were also subject to beatings and humiliation in their post-colonial schools if caught speaking their native language. Their skulls were measured, some on their heads and some stolen from graves, by British researchers in an attempt to prove the Irish as the ‘missing link’ in evolution between monkeys and black bodied people. 

When the British came to Ireland they burned the trees to enforce their domination. It destroyed the shelter in which the Irish could hide from their colonizers and simultaneously destroyed a cultural connection to the land, terrorizing a free people away from their language and traditions which were rooted in the forests. For the Irish, their first laws and language emerged from the trees. Brehon Laws were passed to wisdom keepers by oral tradition until the monastic scribes wrote down what they could to preserve them. The Irish language formed from the Proto-Celtic Ogham alphabet where each letter was representative of a species of tree. This system of law and language for many is interwoven with their living indigenous forms of timekeeping which align seasonal, agricultural and archetypal calendars.

 

Image by Yuri Leitch, author, The Ogham Grove

When the Irish came to the shores of Turtle Island they were leaving under duress fleeing famine and persecution at home. As descendants of Irish immigrants in the Americas many of us learned a skeletal version of the story of the potato famine. As has been done with other genocides and actions against marginalized peoples, much was erased from our school books. Most of us were not taught how the English sent food that was growing in the nearly barren soil back to England, starving the poor and the hungry people native to the land all while burning their houses and their forests. Some report the most sacred Oaks were cut and used to build the stately homes of the oppressors.

We know that this was not the only instance of colonization enforced through the desacralization of trees as the British had also applied a similar tactic at home. Hawthorne trees, for example, are sacred to the Celts and pre-Celtic nations of many European lands. You will find them commonly beside sacred sites, especially holy wells, as one of the designated ‘guardians’ of these sacred openings into the womb of the Mother. The English co-opted use of the Hawthornes from their place in indigenous culture and turned them into shrubbery used to demarcate property – another design of the dominator culture to enforce ‘ownership’ of the land – a concept both foreign to original peoples. What we understand from this is that for colonization to take root and to thrive it is necessary to cut the relationship between the land and the people. And it is only by the enforcement of this disembodiment can the dominator maintain control. 

During the time of the Great Famine many Irish departed for foreign lands from a place called the Bridge of Tears in the north of the republic near Donegal so named because it was the place where families said goodbye to loved ones making far-away journeys. Those leaving did not know if they would ever be returning home – those staying behind not knowing if they would ever see their loved ones again. Some left for the likes of Australia or South Africa, others to Nova Scotia where Irish communities still exist, some co-mingled with Native American populations like the Mic Maq on Cape Breton. Some came through the gates of the ‘New World’. Into the twentieth century they may have faced the signs of racism “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”, or in London ‘to let’ signs reading “No Coloured, No Irish, No Children.”

Photo Credit: Hamil Clarke, ‘Two generations. One fight’: Black men talk about their experiences of racism in Ipswich’, ITV

Patrick became the Saint they carried with them – a Roma-British missionary from a wealthy family credited with the arrival of Christianity to Ireland and driving out the snakes. Patrick himself was brought to Ireland initially as a child under capture and ‘found God’. When he returned to Ireland as an adult he challenged the Druids – and drove the earth based traditions into the ground – a story told in the allegory of driving out the ‘snakes’. Brigid herself – Irish patroness, symbol of justice, love for the stranger, care for the earth and all her creatures was largely forgotten. While some describe Patrick as a figure who embraced the old world and the new, one can read the Catholic encyclopedia’s full story on Patrick’s battle against the Druids online here. The success of replacing Bhride with Patrick is evidenced easily by the popular parades each March 17th in the US, Ireland and all around the world. It is also noted by oral tradition keepers like John Willmont of Carrowcrory Gardens, stories of more subtle but enduring maneuvers, such as the renaming of holy wells to shift their dedications from Brigid to Patrick changing the course of local traditions and veneration. 

Why is this important especially in these times? 

In a time of great upheaval, and in the US, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and a wholly unacceptable number of black brothers and sisters in the United States, white descendants of immigrants (and sometimes of the original colonizers themselves) have been asked or rather tasked with a sometimes uncomfortable demand – to go back and wrestle with the truth of our own heritage and the sins committed both by and against our ancestors. We are tasked with undoing the inculturation of white supremacy – of all forms of supremacy – to relieve our black, brown, yellow and red brothers and sisters of the burden white supremacy has placed on them. To relieve the burden the doctrine of domination has wrought upon the earth. There is no question that in addition to the burdens placed upon our colonized ancestors, there was a moment when the old world’s stories were put to the side to rise within the new society where one’s ability to conform and willingness to compete, paved the way for acceptance and material success. But now what? 

White bodied people in the US are instructed not to culturally appropriate from the traditions of others in our ‘melting pot’ of diversity but what, if anything, does that leave? With churches seeing record numbers of losses in membership and systems of privilege, capitalism, and patriarchy under fire for abuse, where does that leave so many people? On defense? With shame? An unending apology? Reparations? – yes. But if we can look at the shame that is exposed and make that sincere apology we can begin to make equitable amends and to retrieve our own cultural and spiritual identities. 

So this year, we can begin. Begin by honoring the ways of your ancestors. Begin making relations with the land you are on and the waters where you reside, but also, begin to research, to study, to understand, and even to practice what it was that your ancestors did to offer their gratitude, to pray, to connect to the earth. To honor the cycles and the seasons – just begin.

As social justice innovator Sonya Renee Taylor offers, there are some questions to ask, and a quest to fulfill:

“White people cannot escape the violences of whiteness without reckoning with their history. Without reckoning with their ancestors…The history of whiteness is a trauma on the whole world, and every day people of color have to deal with the trauma of whiteness. The problem is white people have been trying not to deal with the trauma of whiteness in their own lives.

And the only way to do that is to actually go back and heal –

  • To heal the relationship with your ancestors
  • To grieve the loss of their humanity through their violent acts
  • To learn what it was that it made them
  • To seek who they were before they became white 
  • To see what can be salvaged from that place that is within your own culture 
  • and to account for that which was done in harm to gain power.

That’s the only way to move from whiteness…

It is in the cultural mindset of whiteness to figure out how to not have to sit in the discomfort of that history. Be clear I’m talking about an indoctrination in whiteness (not the color of your skin). You actually have to become really clear about how whiteness operates as a system and where it operates as a system. And then the work is to not only remove it from yourself, but to remove it from the systems and structures in the world where it continues to wreak harm.”

Sonya Renee Taylor – Being Assigned White at Birth – Complete Video

 

This is our call to the Both / And. 

Not the both / and that asks us to give equal airtime to the oppressors and the oppressed. This is the both / and of both dismantling the broken system of white supremacy – and beginning to sow new roots in the culture and traditions we have been uprooted from.

Just for today, just for now, remember and recognize that your people, wherever your ancestors are from, were connected to the earth. No matter how far back you have to go to find it. They prayed with the fire and the water. The forests were sacred. They still are: a realization and a revelation of our time on Earth “When we come to it,” as Maya Angelou says again and again as a mantra of awakening in ‘A Brave and Startling Truth’.

As President Biden writes in his address for this month of Irish-American History, ”Everything between us runs deep: literature, poetry, sadness, joy, and, most of all, resilience. Through every trial and tempest, we never stop dreaming.” In beautiful confluence with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, let us join in a chorus for Brigid to raise her into our consciousness again with the goal to bring forth justice.

Lady, from winters dark,

Star of Imbolc, rise

Dance around our threshold,

Scattering warm laughter,

Seeds of hospitality, forgiveness!

Return again to the folk;

You the spring we yearn for!

Walk to a well, a river, a stream and tend to the waters in reverence. Return among the trees. Be a Brigid of hospitality to a friend, a family member, or a stranger who needs it. Do the work of justice on the inside. Let that guide you in the work of justice without. Be in community. Take care of one another. Alchemize – metal into fire, words into inspirations, poetry into action.

Support the establishment of Brigid’s Day as a National Holiday in Ireland beginning in 2022 and for Irish Americans to stand in solidarity with our kin.  #BrigidsDay2022.


*Author’s Notes: the Irish daughter of a Mother and Baby Homes survivor Laura Murphy penned an Open Letter to the Taoiseach in response to the recent controversial 3,000 page report. In her letter she addresses themes and issues brought forth here, and suggests the designation of Brigid’s Day, February 1st as a National Holiday in Ireland. Please read her letter linked above and support #BrigidsDay2022.

You can learn more by watching Ms. Murphy’s Feb 26, 2021 interview with Carrie Ford on One Boat International Chaplaincy for Covid Times. “The Friday Conversation with activist Laura Murphy discloses a terrible history of shame, cover – ups, lost lives, workhouse conditions, silencing, traumatised lives, and over 9000 documented infant deaths in the recent revelations of the twentieth century experiment of social control exercised by the Catholic Church and State in the first century of the Republic of Ireland. And opens up a pathway for healing and hope.”

**This piece was researched and compiled in cooperation with Karen Minchin, Bean Feasa.

Resources:

The Irish Famine: Complicity in Murder, The Washington Post

Saint Patrick in the DIB, Royal Irish Academy

When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis, History Stories, Christopher Klein

St. Brigid, Irish Chaplaincy

Mother and Baby Homes report: 9,000 children died amid high infant mortality rate, The Irish Times

Mother and Baby Homes Commission Report, Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation

‘Two generations. One fight’: Black men talk about their experiences of racism in Ipswich’, ITV

2021 Online offerings for Brigid this Imbolc – Solas Bhride Centre & Hermitages

Sonya Renee Taylor: Videos including Bodies of Resistance

John Willmont of Carrowcrory Gardens

Old Cork Waterworks, Cork City

Our Patroness, Brigidine Sisters of Australia

St. Brigid of Ireland, Catholic Ireland

Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Wikipedia

Bigotry against Irish alive and well in the Uk in 2020, The Irish Times

The last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland closed its doors in 1996, Irish Central

Catherine Flowers and her fight for environmental justice in Alabama

In parts of the American south, many homes don’t have access to working waste treatment – something activist Catherine Flowers is fighting to change

 How to listen to podcasts: everything you need to know

The environmental activist Catherine Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama. It’s an area that was once home to plantations, and today is still known for its rich soil. But that soil also poses a challenge for waste management: 90% of households in Lowndes County have failing or inadequate water systems.

This means they have no way to manage the raw sewage from their homes. It’s a problem that exists across the state, but one that disproportionately affects the African-American population.

The lack of public sanitation in Lowndes County can be explained by government neglect, Flowers tells Rachel Humphreys. And because the cost of installing private septic tanks is more than many residents can afford, they have been punished with threats of prosecution for failure to install sanitation systems.

Catherine Flowers
 Photograph: AP

The Stench of American Neglect

by Caroline Fraser for The New York Review

In her new book, the activist Catherine Coleman Flowers chronicles her efforts to expose criminally deficient sanitation in her home county of Lowndes, Alabama and around the US.

February 25, 2021 issue

In 1941 Walker Evans, a photographer, and James Agee, a journalist for Time and Fortune magazines, published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, their idiosyncratic Depression-era volume of photographs and reporting about a 1936 trip to Alabama’s so-called Black Belt, a region that was, as Booker T. Washington had pronounced, “distinguished by the colour of the soil.” The book would eventually become one of the most famous nonfiction accounts of poverty in American history, comparable in influence to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. In it, Agee yearned to forswear words entirely in favor of the essential stuff of life:

If I could do it, I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth…phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement…. A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.

The book was devoted almost entirely to the lives of white sharecropping families. Evans’s unsparing images closely scrutinized every hollow stubbled cheek and watering eye, lingering on the slack, filthy folds of feed-sack dresses, half-naked children, and a woman’s bare bandaged foot. Agee, too, left nothing out, noticing a woman’s “manure-stained feet and legs,” saying the odors were “hard to get used to…hard to bear.” He rifled a family’s bureau drawers when they weren’t home, and his traumatized prose probed the calamitous housing, room by room: the broken windows stuffed with rags, the verminous bedding, the “privies” outfitted with “farmer’s toilet paper”—newspaper, pages from catalogs, or “corncobs, twigs, or leaves.”

Yet for all that scrutiny, a whole part of the region’s population went unobserved in Famous Men. Then as now, those rural counties of Alabama were also inhabited by Black farmers or sharecroppers who made up more than half of the people who lived there. Of dozens of photos in Famous Men, only a single one shows them: four Black men sitting in front of a barbershop. One Sunday morning, Agee, accompanied by a white landowner, was driven out to see the man’s Black foreman and tenants. Agee, who was from Tennessee, was anguished about the encounter, admitting that the landlord’s tenants “were negroes and no use to me”: Fortune magazine, which had originally assigned Evans and Agee to the story (and never published it), had requested that the article cover whites, not Blacks, whose “plight,” according to a later account, the magazine did not consider “newsworthy.”

Agee nonetheless recorded a menacing scene of the white landlord crudely commanding a group of Black men, dressed in Sunday clothes, to approach and sing for them, “to show us what nigger music is like.” Chagrined, Agee was “sick in the knowledge that they felt they were here at our demand.” Later, he approached a young Black couple on the road to ask about photographing a nearby church. Petrified by his intentions, the woman clenched her body like “a suddenly terrified wild animal.” Seeing her fearing for her life, he “wished to God I was dead.”

Fifty years later, Dale Maharidge, a journalist with The Sacramento Bee, returned to Agee’s families. Some of their descendants had prospered, yet many were still afflicted by poverty and illness, living in mobile homes. His 1989 volume, And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South, accompanied by a new series of photos by Michael Williamson, won a Pulitzer Prize, sticking fairly close to the three white families Agee had written about. Among the grimmest living conditions Maharidge found were those of the widow of a man who had been one of the naked boys in Evans’s photographs. Her home was a shack she rented for $10 a month, with no running water or electricity. He commented:

In thousands of miles of travel across the rural South, blacks were often found occupying such dwellings; it’s rare to find whites in such “little country homes,” the preferred euphemism when whites occupy them.

Maharidge did locate the Black community of Parson’s Cove, “at a point on the map that seems as far from anywhere as any visitor to Alabama should be,” and spent time with Frank Gaines and his family. They were “landlocked by white landowners on all sides” who were still refusing to sell land to Blacks. Maharidge, who is white, alluded in broad strokes to the Gaineses’ housing—a few hot rooms illuminated by bare bulbs, walls insulated “with cardboard and newspaper.” Water was piped from a spring; nothing was said about sanitation. The writer admitted that he found it hard to penetrate the deep mistrust, or even to start conversations in Parson’s Cove, “one of the blackest places in Alabama.”

Now, decades after Agee and Maharidge, a Black writer is telling the story of the Black Belt. Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up there, and her new book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, contains no photographs, but it doesn’t need any. It deals directly in images as redolent as Agee’s clods of earth and phials of odors. The “dirty secret” Flowers urges readers to confront is the racial and economic injustice of rural American subsistence, including but not limited to the South, and the degradation it entails. She chronicles the lives of friends and neighbors coping with criminally deficient housing and a lack of sanitation so horrific that raw sewage bubbles up in sinks and toilets, floods the floors of run-down and collapsing trailers, and lies reeking in backyards and lagoons. She widens her gaze to take in similar crises from California to Florida and beyond, but she begins in her own backyard.

Read on…