Author Archives: Carl Zimring

About Carl Zimring

I study junk and talk trash. Author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

The Mountaintop 50 Years Later

MLK50_NYOn this day in 1968, Martin Luther King delivered his final speech in Memphis in support of the sanitation workers who had been on strike since that February. Tonight in Washington Square Park, the audio of the speech will be played in its entirety beginning at 7:30pm. On the other side of the country, Stanford holds a screening of the documentary “I am MLK Jr.,” performances, and comments by Professor Clayborne Carson beginning at 6pm PT. (April 4 update: In Chicago, 99-year-old civil rights activist and historian Timuel Black discusses Dr. King’s life and legacy at Rockefeller Chapel at 12:30pm CT.)

Memphis has been holding events since the start of the week relating to the speech and Dr. King’s assassination; Rev. Dr. Bernice King is participating in several events, and( the Commercial Appeal provides information on events on Wednesday’s sad anniversary.

A few resources on the speech and its significance:

Complete audio and transcript of the speech.

A 2008 NPR interview with the Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, who was present at the speech.

Memphis journalist Wendi C. Thomas’s account of how Mayor Loeb’s policies and his family’s business practices exacerbated racial inequality a half century ago…and since.

Michael K. Honey’s history of the strike Going Down Jericho Road, which contextualizes King’s involvement in the long struggle for recognition by the workers.

 

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Green Week at Pratt

Pratt_Willoughby_Main_GateIf it’s late March, that means it is time for Pratt Institute’s annual Green Week series of events. This year’s schedule kicks off with the Sustainability Crash Course this Saturday from 9-4:30pm. Admission is free, but registration is required. The schedule:

PRESENTATION SCHEDULE

9:00 – 9:15 am

Registration. Please sign in on the 1st Floor of the Engineering Building on Pratt’s Brooklyn Campus

9:15 – 10:00 am : Session 1

Session 1A: Sustainable Fashion is Personal: The Industry’s Impact on Workers, Communities and YOU

Alexandra P. McNair – Founder, Fashion FWD

Session 1B: Up Sh*t’s Creek: Creative Approaches to Organizing in Flushing, Queens

Cody Ann Herrmann – Artist and Grassroots Organizer

Session 1C: Green Roofs & Machu Picchu

Brent Porter – Adjunct Professor of the School of Architecture

10:00 – 10:10 am : Break

10:10 – 10:55 am : Session 2

Session 2A: Digital Storytelling: How To Create Authentic Content and Grow Your Business Online

Sam Dagirmanjian – Co-Founder of Storey Inc.

Session 2B: MAKING CONTACT… Music of the Plant

Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower – RN, Clinical Herbalist

Session 2C: Reimagining Waste

Josh Draper – Lecturer, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Principal, PrePost

10:55 – 11:05 am : Break

11:05 – 11:50 am : Session 3

Session 3A: What you wear tells who you are. Speak well.

Althea Simons – Founder/designer/CEO of Grammar NYC

Session 3B: Climate Futures, Building Futures, City Futures – Getting New York City Ready for Tomorrow

Richard W. Leigh – PhD, PE, LEED AP, Visiting Professor of Physics at Pratt Institute

Session 3C: Biomimicry: Interior Design Strategies and Examples

Tetsu Ohara – Pratt Institute, Interior Design Department

11:50 am – 1:00 pm : Lunch Break

1:00 – 2:20 pm: Session 4

Session 4A: Weaving Culture and Sustainable Fashion

Melissa Eidson – Director & Producer

Manfred Lopez Grem – Cinematographer (Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca)

Dana Schlieman – Editor

Session 4B: What’s in my Water?

Kayla Fennelly – Project Coordinator NYPIRG

Session 4C: Citizen Enforcement Can Eliminate Vehicle Idiling

George Pakenham – Filmaker

2:20 – 2:30 pm : Break

2:30 – 3:15 pm : Session 5

Session 5A: Field notes: The Global Organic Textile Standard and Sustainability

Ely Battalen – Sustainability Consultant and Educator

Session 5B: Take Back the Tap

Jennifer E. Telesca – Assistant Professor of Environmental Justice in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute

Rebecca Welz – Adjunct Professor – CCE, Adjunct Professor – CCEFoundation Art, Industrial Design

Ira Stern – Chief of the Natural Resources Division for the NYCDEP Bureau of Water Supply

3:15 – 3:25 pm : Break

3:25 – 4:45 pm: Keynote Panel: THE TRUMP EFFECT: Women, Weapons & Weather

Brenna Cohen – NYC District Environmental Coordinator for Patagonia

Debera Johnson – Executive Director, Brooklyn Fashion +Design Accelerator

Susan Lerner – Executive Director for Common Cause NY

Mireia lopez – Creative Director and Founder of Milo Tricot

Nantasha Williams – Women’s March

The opening reception for Green Week will take place Tuesday at 12:30pm in Higgins Hall. We’ll have music, food, and beverages, and details about the several events taking place during the week.

I will speak as part of two Green Week events. On Thursday at 12:30 in ARC E-02, several faculty will present Pecha Kucha style presentations showcasing Environmental Awareness/Sustainability integration in their classes, and I will discuss field events in one or two SSCS-housed Sustainability seminars.

At the end of the week (March 30-31), Pratt’s Global South Center holds the Archipelagos and Aquapelagos conference in the Alumni Reading Room from 11am to 5pm. About two dozen scholars from all over the world will discuss the prominence of water in the shaping of contemporary cities. Several members of Pratt’s Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies will present; my own presentation will investigate several ways waste informs the past, present, and future of Newtown Creek.

Those are just a few of the events taking place this week; consult the full schedule at the Pratt Sustainability Coalition website.

Discussing Environmental History in Philadelphia and St. Louis

The end of winter has dynamic meetings and discussions of environmental history, and 2018 is no exception – though the format departs from my usual routine of ASEH meetings. I had the pleasure to visit a couple of exciting programs the past couple of weeks. At the end of February, I was a guest in Scott Knowles and Chuck Haas’s City of Systems course as part of Drexel University’s new Urban Strategy M.S. program.

Drexel_talkThe program is a cross-disciplinary approach to urban problems and solutions, and the course is team-taught by a historian (Scott) and environmental engineer (Chuck). As part of their module on waste, they assigned Clean and White, so I agreed to join them for a public talk and conversation with the seminar about the social and cultural dimensions to municipal waste management. The program is the kind of exciting mix of social sciences, engineering, and public policy that Carnegie Mellon in general (and Joel Tarr in particular) exposed me to during my graduate training, and I suspect the Philadelphia region will benefit greatly from its students in the years to come.

WUSTL_posterOne week later, Washington University in St. Louis hosted me as part of its Mellon Sawyer “Wastelands” Seminar. Like Drexel’s program, this seminar focuses on a set of issues investigated by scholars working in and across several disciplines. After an exciting set of rescheduled flights due to Northeastern weather, I made it to St. Louis in time for my public lecture on establishing the long history of environmental racism based on the chronology of Clean and White. That was my second event of the day; immediately after stepping off the plane, I was able to make it to campus in time for an engaging conversation with Heather O’Leary’s Environmental Anthropology class.

The following morning, I got to workshop my current research project on Newtown Creek, getting terrific feedback from the participants. Particular thanks to Nancy Reynolds and Heather O’Leary for inviting me and contextualizing my work in the seminar’s activities, Waseem-Ahmed Bin-Kasim for our conversations about urban sanitation, and Vasiliki Touhouliotis for both cogent comments on the Newtown Creek piece and handling logistics for my visit.

I particularly value these discussions because this year is a departure from my annual routine: I am missing the ASEH meeting in Riverside this year. While I am heading to California, I will be in the Bay Area for the Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law’s symposium and related events honoring Franklin Zimring’s career in criminology. Paraphrasing the Haggadah, “next year, in Columbus!” I look forward to resuming the routine in 2019.

Reg E. Cathey

About 4 1/2 years ago, our late and much-missed dog Hudson landed a role in an independent film called Nasty Baby, which Sebastian Silva was filming down the street from our apartment. This led to a few weeks where Jen and Hudson spent long hours on the set, and I would sometimes visit briefly while staying at home with our frail older dog Chloe.

The antagonist in the film was played by Reg E. Cathey. If you see it, he plays a frightening and belligerent character. Proof he was a splendid actor, because he was the most warm and charming presence on the block with the cameras off. Kind to our dog, and friendly to me when I would drop a dog bed off during a long shoot. Meeting him was a highlight of our experience with the film, not because of his impressive acting resume, but because he was such a nice man.

All this made news of his death last week particularly sad in our household. He leaves behind some terrific performances and, no doubt, many, many friends.

On an error in my New York Times essay: Where the “death every day” mistake originated.

The online version of my New York Times op-ed on the perils of waste work has been corrected and eliminates the error discussed below. I owe the readers, the Times, and all involved in waste handling occupations context for the original error that was corrected.

In my essay on waste work in the Saturday Times, I made an error obvious to sharp-eyed readers: 31 deaths of refuse and recyclable material collectors in 2016 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) does not equal one death every day. The error is inexcusable but has an explanation: my research covers waste-related work in several occupational categories ranging from janitorial services and laundry work to salvage yards, and in my notes I used in developing the essay I consulted BLS data for the larger category: “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services.” The number of deaths in that category (including the refuse and recycling workers, and also related categories including janitorial and cleaning work — excluding maids and housekeeping cleaners — and hazardous waste remediation, among other occupations such as landscape maintenance and pest extermination) in each of the years between 2013 and 2016 range between 360 and 458, a number that sadly meets the death-per-day rate as expressed in the published essay. Among the 2016 deaths within this category included the following subcategories: 16 in janitorial work and 67 in waste management and remediation services.

(Outside of that broader category, but pertinent to discussions of the hazards of waste work, BLS reported 64 deaths of building cleaning workers, 19 deaths of recyclable material merchant wholesalers, 8 deaths in laundry and drycleaning services, 8 deaths of first-line supervisors of housekeeping and janitorial workers, and 6 deaths in sewage treatment facilities in 2016.)

In my mind, I was thinking of all of these workers when approving the final wording of the essay. However, that thought remained only in my notes and my mind: I made no reference to the above data in the essay or sources I gave the Times (nor did I provide distinctions in the “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services” category between waste-related occupations, and, for example, landscaping services). Responsibility for this error is mine and mine alone.

I regret the error because it detracts from my point that we must recognize and protect the often-overlooked workers who handle wastes. In doing so, I myself obscured the deaths of the workers who perform the various waste-related tasks described in this letter, while presenting an assertion that did not match the data for refuse and recyclable material collectors. I write this letter to recognize those workers in the conversation that no doubt will be generated by my error.

New York Times essay on the hazards of waste work 50 years after the Memphis Strike.

We have entered the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis Strike, and I wrote a piece for the New York Times about the hazards of waste work then and now.

The hazards facing people in this line of work have a long history — they inspired the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike of 1968. That walkout was set off in part by the deaths of two Memphis sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death by the hydraulic press of the truck they were riding on one rainy winter evening.

The strike, whose organizers demanded higher pay, the recognition of the workers’ union and safer working conditions, is often associated with the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis the day after delivering his “Mountaintop” speech in support of striking sanitation workers. But when we think about the strike, we should also remember that half a century after his death, the work Dr. King was focused on in the last days of his life remains unfinished.

Thanks to Jenee Desmond-Harris and Clay Risen for giving me space in the paper, and Chris Kindred for the accompanying illustration.

The Dirty (and Racist) Origins of Donald Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Slur

Heck of a way to celebrate an anniversary. For the one-year mark of the Trump Administration, I look at President Trump’s rhetorical choices when discussing immigration policy with senators in my essay for the Washington Post’s Made by History blog.

President Trump didn’t choose his xenophobic slurs in a vacuum — his use of shithole or shithouse reflects the vicious racism that swept him into office and, as in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, portends tragic, inhumane, racist, exclusionary policies related to people he equates with excrement.

Thanks to Brian Rosenwald for editing and Alexandra Filindra for suggesting the piece.