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Moral Ground: Sustainability and Social Justice

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The Moral Ground Town Hall Meeting

Date: Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010
Time: 7 pm
Location: Spectrum Theater, 160 Fountain NE
This event is free and open to the public.
The evening will include live music from local folk/rock band Big Dudee Roo, brief readings from "Moral Ground" editors Moore and Nelson, and an open discussion with the audience. A reception and book signing will follow.

Event sponsors: GRCC, GVSU, and the City of Grand Rapids.
Visit: for more information.

Find other responses to the "Moral Ground" question from local leaders here.

/Melissa Baker-Boosamra

“Sustainability begins as a criticism of development."
~ Melissa Baker-Boosamra, GVSU Faculty

Melissa Baker-Boosamra has dedicated her career to the study of social and environmental injustice. She is an affiliate faculty member in the Liberal Arts department at Grand Valley State University where she teaches, in addition to other exploratory social classes, sustainability. Melissa approaches her classes with a focus on bridging the gap between academic learning and the practical world. Her students have worked with local organizations including Bloom and Earthkeeper Farm. Their studies allow them to experience sustainability in practice. She believes in equality between instructors and students which reflects her social perspective as well. Melissa believes that we cannot discuss environmental problems without addressing social injustices.

When Melissa was asked the Moral Ground question, “Do we have a moral or ethical obligation to protect a planet in peril?” she mentioned that she and her husband had been discussing the question earlier in the evening. The answer they came up with was, “Hell yes!”

“The answer is so obvious that this question is almost difficult to expand upon,” she said.

For starters, she believes that if we are going to tackle the question of sustainable practices we must first define sustainability. According to Melissa, “Sustainability begins as a criticism of development.”

Development is directly linked to economic power, she maintains. Likewise, sustainability is linked with economic power. Our local environment and the social injustices experienced by the majority are perpetuated to uphold the economic power of the few. Certainly social injustice has existed as long as there have been societies in which it can be carried out.     

Yet, Melissa views colonialism as having drastically altered the form and magnitude of the injustice that is directed towards indigenous cultures. Whereas indigenous cultures once contended with war, they are now facing corporate globalization. New markets opened up by NAFTA have pitted cultures against each other. Melissa explained that corporations do this by offering Group A, whose people are often in desperate need of funding, a deal that in turn allows these corporations to slash environmental regulations in the name of exploitation. Basically, they enforce indentured servitude. If Group A does not accept, often on the grounds of environmental servitude, the corporations threaten to go to neighboring countries and offer them wealth in return for environmental degradation. From this perspective we need to ask ourselves how we define success and who our policies are benefitting.

Secondly, Melissa understands that we must question our responsibility as individuals. On a foundational level we need to acknowledge that we participate, perpetuate, and stand by as we ruin the earth. According to Melissa, “We are killing ourselves. I do not mean we are killing ourselves in the form of extinction. We are killing ourselves spiritually when we stand by and participate in the ruin of the earth.” She continues, saying “We know, yet do not acknowledge, when we hear of forest depletion, oil spills, poverty, and starving that we, the privileged are living on the backs of the worlds underprivileged population.”

Melissa believes that the oppressors are benefiting at the expense of humanity and we are dieing inside because of it. We can see the death of ourselves in failed relationships, community health issues, and preoccupation with material wealth. From Melissa’s perspective we have an obligation to stand in solidarity with all living beings. In order for the two-thirds of the population that is poor to live fully we must live just and loyally for all people. “We must link sustainability to justice, earth, the natural world, and human beings.”

Melissa has hopes for future discussions regarding sustainability and human practices. In the past two years she has seen her students' comprehension of the subject evolve. Whereas it once took students an entire semester to begin articulating the problems facing society and the environment, they now come to the table brimming with ideas and contemplating solutions. Their perspectives have largely evolved as they recognize that society's current solutions are not working. Students seem to understanding that instead of focusing on individual choices we must address consumer behavior.

Melissa acknowledges that conversations centering around the idea of sustainability and social justice are not often heard or acknowledged by groups holding the economic power. Yet she believes that the air is shifting and many people are coming to terms with change, or at the very least, the idea of change. Melissa’s passion is to educate and participate in the fight against environmental and social injustice.

As she says, “All of the reasons I find myself engaging in the attempt to end struggle in environmental and social justice is because we are bound to life as sacred and are truly interconnected. I see and recognize the beauty of life and good in all beings.”

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