BELLA ABZUG, “WOMEN AND THE FATE OF THE EARTH” (17 MARCH 1990)
- Consider the speech text, context, and information provided about Abzug’s life and leadership in the essay accompanying the speech on VOD. How would you characterize her approach to political/social activism? What can we learn from her approach to advocating environmental justice?
- Abzug argues that women need to lead the fight for environmental justice. How does she make that argument in this speech? What does she say women and the earth have in common, and how do those commonalities support her argument about women leading the environmental movement?
- What do you think are some of the barriers that prevent people from coming together to address global issues like climate change? Do you think that Abzug’s advocacy of ecofeminism, or global feminist activism on behalf of the environment, is an effective way to overcome these barriers?
- What do you think is the most convincing argument in Abzug’s speech? Why? Get into small groups and compare answers. If you had different answers, was anyone able to persuade classmates to agree with their position?
- Did you notice any important omissions in this speech? Were there any topics Abzug did not cover in relation to women and environmentalism that you have heard other environmental leaders discuss? If so, what are those topics? And why do you think Abzug failed to discuss them?
- How does Abzug deal with the tension between women as “victims” of environmental injustices and her argument that women are the “thinkers, organizers, and activists” leading the environmental movement? Do you see any contradiction between those two views of the relationship between women and the environment?
- Connect the arguments in Abzug’s speech to climate change. Using Greta Thunberg’s speech to the world leaders at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, compare Thunberg’s and Abzug’s rhetorical styles. Do they make the same arguments? Do they speak with the same passion, using similar kinds of language? What other similarities and differences between the two speakers can you identify? You can find Thunberg’s speech on the PBS NewsHour YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAJsdgTPJpU.
- In 2017, The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) echoed some of the arguments Abzug made in this speech, arguing that women’s issues cannot be separated from environmental issues (see: https://nwlc.org/blog/environmental-issues-are-womens-issues/). They also treat reproductive justice and issues of bodily autonomy as inseparable from environmental justice. Can you identify other people or groups that make these sorts of connections between women’s issues and environmental causes? Explain what you see as the most persuasive arguments about the connections between these two topics.
- Pick a specific environmental issue, such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan or the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline led by Native American activists in North and South Dakota. First, research and explain the background of the controversy. Then, examine the coverage of the crisis in one or two popular media sources, like USA Today or Time Do you feel the media took the crisis seriously as a social justice issue? How did they explain the environmental issues involved in the controversy, and how did they portray those who led or participated in the protests?
- Briefly research the Green New Deal proposed by a number of progressive politicians and groups. You might begin here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html. How do you think the Green New Deal compares to the vision Abzug laid out in 1990 for the future of the environmental movement? Do you think Abzug would have supported the Green New Deal? Is the Green New Deal more radical, more far-reaching, or more comprehensive than Abzug’s vision?
- Research, individually or with a partner, how women are affected by environmental issues. Can you identify some specific environmental issues that disproportionately affect women? When people talk about the Environmental Justice Movement, do they mention issues or problems that primarily affect women? In recent years, have women become more involved in environmental issues, as Abzug envisioned?
- Bella Abzug advocated for many social justice causes: environmental justice, gender equity, gay rights, anti-war efforts, equal employment, and fair housing, among others. How does she compare to political candidates of today? Can you think of a particular political figure whose personality or positions on the issues remind you of Abzug? If Abzug were running for political office today, what kinds of voters might be drawn to her candidacy? Do you think some voters might be turned off by her style or her views? Why?
- Abzug argues that women should be the leaders helping to create a healthier planet. In this contemporary moment, do you think gender matters in the debate over environmentalism? If so, how? Can you identify any prominent environmental leaders today who, like Abzug, talk about the connections between gender and environmental issues?
- The organization Abzug helped found, WEDO, created an app in 2017 called, “The Gender Climate Tracker App.” It is supposed to provide experts, advocates, policy-specialists, and negotiators with the latest information on research, decisions, and actions related to gender and climate change. You can download the app here: https://wedo.org/tool-gender-climate-tracker-app/. After downloading the app, discuss how you think apps like this might be useful for advocates of environmentalism and other social justice causes. What sorts of information or new tools do they provide for social justice activists?
- The efforts of Greta Thunberg and the U.N. Youth Climate Summit suggest that young people are now leading the way in efforts to combat climate change. After reading more about the Youth Climate Summit (https://www.un.org/development/desa/youth/news/2019/09/youth-climate-summit/), discuss the parallels between Abzug’s arguments for women leading the environmental movement and arguments for youth involvement in the movement. What do you think led young people to get more involved in the fight against climate change?
- In “Women and the Fate of the Earth,” Abzug states, “Women are participating in large numbers at the grassroots levels, but in the overwhelming majority of nations, we still lack effective political power” (12). Do you believe that women still lack “effective political power?” Do you think “grassroots” political action can still make a difference, even if women still lack effective political power in some countries?
- If you can access it through your school’s library, read the following article from the journal Rural Politics: Jacklyn Cock, “The World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet” (https://www.jstor.org/stable/4065479?seq=1). How would you characterize Cock’s arguments about the causes of environmental degradation? Compare and contrast her arguments with those of Abzug.