The power of activism: speaking out for clean water in the Hudson River

Earth Day 2018 is around the corner. What can we take from it this year, what can we repeat from the past, and what can we do differently? The story of the Hudson River presented by David Schuyler in Embattled River is a great place to start. An investigative narrative filled with lessons to be learned, it is a call to action for all of us who want to live in harmony with nature, and an example of how important it is to raise one’s voice when it comes to leading change.

My dirty stream

Named Mahicantuck (or “river that flows two ways”) by native peoples long before Hudson’s arrival, the Hudson River has been a key battleground in modern US environmentalism since 1962, when Consolidated Edison announced plans to construct a pumped storage electrical generating power plant at Storm King Mountain. But the pollution and bleak future of the Hudson River was as clear as water even before that, and by 1950, the impact of humans and our abuse of the river’s natural resources was evident.

Still waters

Still waters run deep, and a loose coalition of activists were ready to act and defend the river. Led by Scenic Hudson, and later joined by groups such as Riverkeeper, Clearwater, the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, the coalition won the first of many legal and publicity battles that would halt pollution of the river, slowly reverse the damage of years of discharge, and protect hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped land in the river valley.

As Schuyler shows, the environmental victories on the Hudson had broad impact. In the state at the heart of the story, the victory resulted in the creation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (1970) to monitor, investigate, and litigate cases of pollution. At a national level, the environmental ferment in the Hudson Valley contributed directly to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the creation of the Superfund in 1980 to fund the cleanup of toxic dump sites.

An ongoing battle

As a result of the Clean Water Act and some enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Hudson River is cleaner than at any time since the dawn of industrialization in the nineteenth century. But the presence of so many chemicals in the water and the flesh of the fish that inhabit it—many of them known carcinogens—makes the efforts of the river’s defenders an ongoing battle, and today the struggle to control its uses and maintain its ecological health persists.

An arm of the sea where salty sea water meets fresh water running off the land, the Hudson River plays a pivotal role in the emergence of modern environmentalism in the United States. Embattled River is proof of what can be achieved when environmental activists stand for nature, and the stories of the pioneering advocates told by Schuyler provide lessons, reminders, and the inspiration to celebrate this Earth Day.

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Featured event:

Join the Olana Partnership from Saturday May 26th onwards, and be part of its First Ever Facebook Book Club with author David Schuyler, to discuss his newly published book Embattled River.

 

 

 

Recommended song  for this post:

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is passionate about sustainability and the environment, and as a kid was obsessed with a book called Mi hermana Clara ecologista.

 

 

 

 

 

The power of activism: speaking out for clean water in the Hudson River

Excerpt: Sexual Politics and Feminist Science

As part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, please enjoy this short excerpt from Kirsten Leng’s Sexual Politics and Feminist Science.Leng

In Sexual Politics and Feminist Science: Women Sexologists in Germany, 1900-1933, I examine German-speaking women’s overlooked contributions to the rethinking of sex, gender, and sexuality taking place within sexology between 1900 and 1933. In so doing, I demonstrate that women not only played active roles in the creation of sexual scientific knowledge, but also made significant and influential interventions in the field that are worthy of rediscovery and engagement. Collectively, I refer to these women as women sexologists and as female sexual theorists, both to disrupt assumptions regarding sexological authorship and expertise, and to acknowledge the sustained intellectual energy these women dedicated to exploring, analyzing, and theorizing sexual subjectivity, desire, behavior, and relationships. Their sustained attention, focused textual output, intertextual and interpersonal connections to male sexologists, and international influence distinguish them from other feminist or female authors who wrote about sex at this time.

Of the nine women whose work I discuss, six were born and lived in Germany—namely, Ruth Bré, Henriette Fürth, Johanna Elberskirchen, Anna Rüling, Helene Stöcker, and Mathilde Vaerting; the others—Rosa Mayreder, Grete Meisel-Hess, and Sofie Lazarsfeld—were Austrian. Although this study focuses on developments within Germany, the close cultural, intellectual, and political ties between Germany and Austria in the early twentieth century allow for an examination of sexual theorizing taking place among Austrian women as well.

Several of these women, such as feminist intellectuals Stöcker, Mayreder, and Meisel-Hess, are well-known figures in German and Austrian women’s history, while others, like writer-activists Elberskirchen, Rüling, Vaerting, and Lazarsfeld, are only now being rediscovered. Regardless of their relative fame, these women were remarkably productive sexual theorists and researchers who wrote on a range of topics including sexual instincts and desires, homosexual subjectivity, gender expression, sexual difference, and motherhood.

At a time when sexual norms, ethics, and knowledge were unstable, contested, and quickly changing, these women sexologists saw feminist potential in the scientization of sex. They intervened in the discursive melee to articulate new understandings of female sexuality and same-sex desire, criticize hegemonic expressions of masculinity and male heterosexuality, investigate the effects of war on sexuality, and insist on the fluidity of gender. Their research and theories underwrote empowering representations of autonomous, active, female sexual desire, gender expressions that exceeded the masculine/feminine binary, and new forms of heterosexual relations beyond contractual marriage and prostitution.

Science was strategically valuable for women. Deploying the language of science enabled women to frankly and publicly participate in debates about sex and sexuality and not comprise their respectability—a precious political commodity for disempowered social actors, and one that, for women, was largely premised upon the presumption of sexual ignorance. Science could help women conjoin claims regarding somatic sexual needs and evolutionary imperatives with demands for economic independence and legally inscribed rights and freedoms. Moreover, couching their claims in what Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal have termed the “moral authority of nature” enabled women to assert that realizing their demands would improve not only individual but also collective well-being.

Yet the appeal of science was not merely strategic or rhetorical: treating sex objectively and rationally, as science claimed to do, further provided women with an alternative to religious frameworks for discussing sex, and broke with the conception of sex as sin. Many women insisted that gaining “objective” knowledge about sex was a necessary precondition for the formation of moral opinions, and for the proper governance of sexual life. As Johanna Elberskirchen put it, “As long as you rely on metaphysical arguments, which are elastic, a willing person with a good understanding of argumentation can confound you. That ends when you appeal to scientific facts, the results of natural history; they cannot be twisted or turned.” In Elberskirchen’s view, “The source of every higher ethic, every higher moral is the laws of life.” Many women like Elberskirchen believed that science exposed the integral roles women played in sexual and social life, and revealed that women possessed innate sexual needs and instincts-along with a natural, “biological” right to live as autonomous and self-determining sexual agents. On the basis of its revelations, many women hoped that sexual science would affect a break with the arbitrary authority of the past and resolve long-standing inequalities. By revealing the “laws of life” and replacing ignorance with enlightenment, science could place women’s destiny under their own control, and liberate them by opening up new vistas of existential possibility.

Excerpt: Sexual Politics and Feminist Science