Today, in class we started off by reading an article about the use of, methyl iodide, a toxic pesticide carcinogen that is used in fields near public schools in Ohlone, Watsonville. The pesticide is produced by a Japanese chemical company called Arysta LifeScience and has been associated with attention span problems, chronic breathing problems, and hyperactivity among students. The pesticide was first approved for use by the EPA in 2007, an action with strong public backlash. The major players fighting against it are: the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, The California Department of Pesticide Control, students groups, local unions, the Pesticide Action Network, and the United Farm Workers. These groups are all concerned about the health of the children attending the local school, who also get exposed to methyl iodide through their parents, most of whom are seasonal farmhands. Lately, a decision has been made by Alameda County Supreme Court Judge Frank Roesch to ban the pesticide in California on the grounds of it violating the Birth Defect Prevention Act.
We used this case study as a launch pad for discussing campaign strategies, theories, and targets through which we can reach our goal. We worked in groups to construct power maps of influential people we knew and could use to get in contact with Secretary Rodriquez, head of the EPA who might approve industry exemption from the methyl iodide ban. One group took an educational approach while another group took a business pressure approach.
After eating yummy mochi (thank you Grace), we transitioned in the larger ethical questions regarding community service and social change. Specifically, we looked at the power dynamics inherent in campaigns between special interest groups and powerful fund providers. We applied this theory to our own Stanford background, noting the potential dangers behaving like entitled Stanford students who know better than everyone else what should be done. We also discussed the problems with privileged disengagement, which basically refers to someone only dedicating a few hours into a project without really caring about the result because they have nothing at stake. In the example of the pesticide issue in Watsonville, we realized the importance of having accountability between the organizations with powers and funds and the actual people how live in those communities and breathe in the fumes everyday, but have no money or power. In this way, we learned how to use our social capital (a sort of “title” that comes from graduating from a university like Stanford) to affect positive change that is sensitive to the needs of the receivers of aid.
Finally, this related to the broader issues of ablesim, or discrimination in favor of able-bodies, and “allyship,” which refers to bring mindful of social hierarchies that form naturally as a result of gender, sexual orientation, race, or religious differences; and lending true, un-pretentious support to groups that don’t have the same democratic rights that you hold. This was an entirely new point for me, and one that made me think about times when I was in a position of power, and vice versa. When we help someone, we need to be mindful and sensitive of what they actually want, have tried, is important to them instead of just applying what we believe will best suit their situation (major take-away for the trip!).