Saving Florida by Leslie Kemp Poole: A Book Report

Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century by Leslie Kemp Poole (2015)

About the Author

Leslie Kemp Poole is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. A writer and historian, she achieved a PhD in History from the University of Florida. Prior to academia, she was a reporter for several newspapers and is also a freelance writer. Her interests are in the role of women in the environmental movement (the subject of this book).

Methods

Saving Florida is published by the University Press of Florida. As such, the book is very academic in nature, including endnotes, a bibliography and index at the back of the book. That said, the book is written for a popular audience; the text is accessible to readers with little background and the language is engaging. Poole includes plenty of quotes in her text, not solely from academics, but also quotes contemporary to her subject. She situates the events in the book with brief consideration of national events, such as pertinent national policy decisions and the activities of national organizations like the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Poole writes this book using resources gathered from historical societies, women’s and garden clubs, museum and college archives, newspapers, interviews and “formal oral histories.” The focus of the book is on women and the environmental movement, as such, much discussion of the role of men is limited and lacks strong discussion of the African American community, whose goals were oriented at improving quality of life rather than protecting the environment. These missing viewpoints are acknowledged by Poole in the introduction, as well as those of the state’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indian perspectives. The missing points of view reflect not just a lack of current literature on the subject, but also the deficiency with which state and local entities interacted and discoursed with those populations during the 20th century.

Synopsis

Poole centers her discussion around numerous female leaders within their communities. Oftentimes these women have political power before starting their environmental campaigns. For example, Katherine Bell Tippetts was a “well-educated widow of a foreign correspondent” who took control of her husband’s hotel and real estate when he passed and May Mann Jennings, married to a former governor of Florida and daughter to a businessman who was very involved in Florida’s politics. In the later half of the 20th century, leading activists like Diane Dunmire Barile, who earned a master’s in ecology, had an academic background in science. The fight for environment protections started out heavily in grassroots movements that necessitated large-scale organizing and petitioning of governments. This evolved, after many federal and state laws were enacted, into fundraising for legal battles; around this time the larger organizations dwindled as single-issue, locally oriented. This shift occurred as women were gaining political power on local scales across the nation and an understanding of ecology was forming.

At the turn of the 20th century, women had a well-defined role in “municipal housecleaning.” Women, at the time, “considered the home and garden their domain,” and engaged in women’s clubs, expanding their role to wider community issues. Poole argues that this instilled an idea that women were the moral voice of the community, and their responsibility extended beyond their home. They increasingly saw the environment as part of their domain, as they saw it as their duty to ensure they lived in a clean environment. They were initially driven to maintain the beauty of the nature that compelled them to reside in the state, and later in the century, when pollution was rampant, the frame evolved into women needing to clean up men’s mess.

Saving Florida is divided into three parts. Part I, “Working through women’s groups,” deals with the start of the conservative movement in Florida and the nation, covering the early 20th century. This section is valuable within social movement theory for Poole’s coverage of the tactics used by women’s clubs to force policy decisions at a time when women were disenfranchised and largely not taken seriously by men in power. This section highlights the strength of grassroots activism and framing. Framing comes into play as different messages are needed to convince women and men for the cause due to the gendered roles of society at the time.

Part II, “Operating in Female-Male Groups,” covers the middle to late 20th century, when the science of ecology is developing and women are defining new roles within the political sphere. A rise in the prevalence of science and lobbying is immediately evident. Poole goes into more detail on a number of big projects during this section than the previous. During this time, federal regulations are passed to combat pollution. Rather than using strength of numbers, as they had done in the early 20th century, women were in public office and positioned to have a voice in traditionally male-dominated circles.

Part III, “Women Take the Lead,” is largely a closing section, wrapping up with chapters on environmental justice and important women leaders not previously mentioned. The coverage within these chapters include more national context than the in the previous sections, and are included moreso for completeness. Poole uses these chapters to discuss the role of African American women and Florida’s Indian population during the time period.

Part I: “Working Through Women’s Groups”

Poole starts the book talking about Audubon societies. Named after the ornithologist James Audubon, Audubon societies sought protection of birds. Women’s fashion of the late 19th to early 20th century included hats displaying feathers or bird parts. Because of this, birds were hunted aggressively across the nation as it was very profitable. Clara Dommerich, a wintering resident of Florida helped to establish the Florida Audubon Society (FAS) based on Audubon societies in other states. While protecting the birds was certainly on the mind of some members, many Florida residents moved there due to the beauty and nature of Florida, so loss of the songbirds directly impacted that aesthetic value. According to Poole. “women carried much of the organizational workload” within FAS. FAS distributed reports and leaflets throughout the state and had many success including establishing the first federal bird reservation in the United States through appealing to President Theodore Roosevelt (the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge).

One example Poole gives of the methods used by Audubon societies involves Katherine Bell Tippets. Tippets, with the help of other women, presented to the state legislature a seventy-foot long petition of signatures to convince an all-male legislature to pass a measure protecting the robin. Additionally, the members of societies like FAS or the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs (FFWC) worked closely with newspapers to publish articles and statements. In this way, they could educate the public or rebuke their opponents unfounded claims. Poole writes, “by contributing articles to local newspapers and women’s club publications, Tippetts kept her message at the forefront.” Other tactics involved sending letters and telegrams to congressional leaders — which would be very convincing with the large number of members within these women’s clubs. Another involved “invoking Lysistrata” whereby women threatened to withhold, in this example, pie, from those in the legislature until their demands were met.

There were many efforts at this time to designate certain plots of lands as state parks, and to preserve the state’s forests, that were disappearing due to unregulated logging. Even after winning policy and being granted funds, the women’s clubs often had to continue to fight in order to ensure that all of the funds were given to them. When presenting their argument, the women general gave two arguments: One focusing on the aesthetic value of nature, appealing to maternal senses, and another exhorting economic benefits in hopes to appeal to the male psyche.

This section concludes with a chapter on city beautification efforts. This chapter is one of the few points in the book where Poole acknowledges the African American community. She gives nod to Eartha M. M. White, for working hard to secure a playground in an era “burdened by Jim Crow laws.” An important reminder that much of the progress was won in white communities, and rarely extended to the disenfranchised African Americans.

Part II: “Operating in Female-Male Groups”

Poole makes it very clear in within this section that ecology is not well understood throughout Florida (or the United States) at this point in history. Having land set aside as a state park did not ensure that it was maintained as a natural environment with native plants. Drainage of swamps was considered acceptable; benefits of forest fires were unthinkable. This is an important realization, as what was a good conservation effort in the 1920s could be considered unacceptable nowadays and establishes the importance of the science of ecology. This section sees the rise of science in convincing legislatures to impose regulations and shifting public opinion, notably with the release of Silent Spring in 1966. Women are gaining political equity and further disrupting the dominant male hegemony.

Pollution is a major issue that arises in this section and threatened Florida’s aesthetic appeal, water supplies and health of residents. With Florida’s population booming only after the second world war, Floridians weren’t caught off guard as much as the big cities in the northeast and midwest were. Despite that, the phosphate industry was strong within the state and could devote a lot of money to lobbying, situating itself as a big opponent of the environmental movement. The phosphate industry resulted in eutrophication in many lakes and rivers, disrupting the natural balance within those ecosystems. Outside the phosphate industry, sewage dumping was very common. From Poole’s framework, women were key in changing public opinion, as the male-dominant government considered pollution as a side effect of progress. Much of the debate was conservation versus industry.

Marjorie Harris Carr was a persistent activist who sought to stop the construction of a canal through North Florida. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was constructing the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Carr used scientific knowledge, economic and legal research, expert testimony, a grassroots letter writing campaign and public education to warn the public of the dangers of this project, which was well underway by the time the public was concerned. Unconvinced, state officials voted to continue the project, and a furious Carr “turned her kitchen into  the campaign’s command center, complete with a whirring Xerox machine.” She sought support from news media and scientists. She portrayed herself as a housewife to catch politicians and engineers unaware and garner public sympathy and publicity. The media promoted an image of the mother versus a military bureaucracy, elevating the campaign to national attention. Carr became more aggressive, and with the political climate surrounding the Vietnam War, problems in the Everglades and other ongoing protests, eventually stopped the building of the canal after over $70 million had been invested in its construction.

The above is only one example provided in this section of a powerful display of women carving out a space within the public sphere. This section highlights the progress of women through the century, as opportunities for education grows.

Part III: “Women Take the Lead”

This is the shortest section of the two.The first chapter addresses the inequalities faced by African Americans and the local Indian population. The aboriginal Floridians vanished in the early eighteenth century as a result of imperialism. The tribes residing in Florida at the time were Seminole and Miccosukee Indians who migrated from Alabama and Georgia. Their populations within the state were small, however, as many of the Indians were relocated to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. Those left lived in the surrounding areas of the Everglades. A few women rallied for support of the Indians; although, the support was often what was deemed appropriate from the white perspective, as the natives were never consulted. The lands they were granted were often not suitable for their lifestyle, or they were transplanted without consideration of their preferences. There were some women, such as Harriet Mary Bedell who directly interacted with the Miccosukee people to support them and preserve their culture, including a trip to Washington, D.C., “to prevent Japanese imitations from being sold in America.” Rightfully distrustful of the state government’s interests, the Miccosukee Indians hired legal help to fight the State of Florida on tightening pollution requirements.

Poole’s also discusses African Americans, and their propensity to live near hazardous waste (Florida Superfund) sites compared to whites. Her discussion on the issue and related transgressions are unsatisfying, however. Including the discussion in the next chapter on the Civil Rights movement, this issue isn’t addressed as thoroughly as in similar examples in Parts I and II. Nevertheless, she accurately captures the systematic pollution of African American communities with a couple of detailed examples.

Lastly, Poole talks about activists in the farmworker community. The farmworker community, she explains, is often forgotten by the public seeking local interests or overlooked in government policy. Poole paints this activist community as relatively young, citing work as recent as 2011.

Her last chapter, titled “Women Leaders,” takes another look at the progression of women in the public sphere from a broader perspective than that explored within the rest of the book. “We are the beneficiaries of [early female activists’] gritty determination,” Poole concludes. Saving Florida is certainly worth the read for understanding the efficacy of grassroots organizing and the role women played at shaping society in the 20th century. This report is certainly not exhaustive of the topics discussed.

Discussion Apr. 13: Tactical Media

Guest:

Alessandra Renzi, https://camd.northeastern.edu/artdesign/people/alessandra-renzi/

A key writer and theorist of tactical media, in addition to being a practitioner and media creator. She has studied tactical media activism in Italy, which is the focus of discussion for this class.

Tactical Media

Tactical media does not have a clear definition and is constantly being redefined by its actors and contexts. Instead it is marked by transience, a sense of defiance, and an ad hoc creation. Tactical media is often about the short term and seizing a creative moment. To having a lasting effect, it can be situated within a strategy, or longer term plan, often including and connecting many tactics together.  Tactical media can be effective at grabbing attention and can be used as a tool progress a larger campaign. Many things may start tactical, and when they are successful, they can be turned into a more sustainable project, becoming a strategy rather than a form of tactical media. However, one of the most valuable pieces of conversation, coming at the time when “The ABC of Tactical Media” (1997) was published, is that not everything has to become a larger project, and that a tactical medium employed can be abandoned and still be effective.

Telestreet (early 2000s)

Telestreet (http://imaginationforpeople.org/en/project/telestreet) is a network of pirate television stations in Italy that began in June 2002. Around this time, the prime minister of Italy controlled >90% of the media. Telestreet formed as a different mode of media production and dissemination to provide alternate stories and perspectives to the state-sanctioned ones. Using home-made transmission tools, Telestreet employed a network of micro tv-transmitters to broadcast on a street or in a neighborhood. This is an example of tactical media being disruptive and seeking to subvert the dominant narratives.

Telestreet occurs at a time where tactical media has been in existence and Telestreet ties into a lot of other projects around the same time. Many people within the movement had a media background. It is a good example of how social media movements and technology are co-dependent. A lot of the technologies that Telestreet employed they needed to develop themselves. They developed technologies for a means of indiemedia, as well as a peer-to-peer network for horizontal communication and sharing videos. For the video sharing network, they had to work on codecs to read the files and create a method for circulating media online. These are examples of tactical media intervention, and were soon institutionalized and became strategic. It is also in this context of co-evolution of social movements and technology that there is a sense of a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) character of tactical media.

Squats as a site for tactical media development

Another important aspect to tactical media is the face-to-face interaction. Many Telestreet stations occurred in squats, or abandoned properties that were repurposed by those who moved in. Squats are often key cultural hotspots that act as zones of innovation or cultural experiments. People working on tactical media projects, like that of Telestreet, can remain close and live outside of authoritarian influence. Additionally, squats are the sites of hacklabs where helpful software is developed to distribute among those who needed it. One notable example is Dyne:bolic (https://www.dyne.org/software/dynebolic), which is distributed freely and can be run on low-end computers, designed with digital resistance and privacy in mind. Another example of such software is Reamweaver (http://amy-alexander.com/projects/artisticactivist-software/reamweaver.html) which allows for quickly parodying a website in real-time.

Naples Garbage Crisis (2008)

Another instance of tactical media is within the city of Naples, Italy in 2008. Government works were refusing to pick up trash, which then piled up along the streets. In response to public outcry, the government decided to dispose of it improperly and negligently. The populace of Naples, who studied EU laws on waste disposal, decided to fight back against their negligent government. The citizens gave visitors tours of the garbage mounds and improper dumping sites. They recorded where and how much the garbage piled up, and videos of the improper disposal.

This was ongoing before the proliferation of smartphones and easy-to-use recording devices. Many groups had to organize trainings and obtain cameras for people to use so that they could capture a lot of the ongoing transgressions. Because of these workshops, and the large amount of video recording, all of these groups collaborated to create a documentary. The documentary was highly collaborative and crowdfunded. The documentary was viewed at guerilla screenings where new spaces were created to talk about the garbage crisis, as the government was tightly controlling discussion of the topic. This was all possible due to the networks formed in the beginning from organizers encouraging everyone to record the garbage sites and speak out against their negligent government.

Tactical media in the present day

Some recent examples of tactical media include the check-in at Standing Rock, Facebook page. It was effective in raising a lot of awareness of the situation and garnering public support. Another example from 2017 is the national park alternate twitter accounts that arose to protest a temporary media blackout. Additionally we discussed the overpass light brigade and it’s efficacy as tactical media.

Are memes tactical media? There is some overlap between meme warfare and tactical media. For example, in Puerto Rico, a fake Facebook account was created as a satirical page about duplicitous government decisions that was successful. However, meme warfare tends to concentrate on content and rarely extends beyond the online sphere, where tactical media mostly resides. Alternatively, effective tactical media that occurs in the offline world can create a powerful image that will be circulated online. This is because we can take for granted the access many people have to social media. Twitter itself started as a tactical media project and is conducive to circulating information due to its responsiveness. Before social media, the most important thing to do was to get into the mainstream media or go viral to draw attention to a specific keyword to change the understanding of what is ongoing (branding). Going viral nowadays can be achieved through an effective hashtag or compelling image. Tactical media can be used to set an agenda, for example Ferguson and reporting on Twitter instead of through mainstream media.

Tactical media can also be inward facing, not necessarily designed to grab attention. On tactical media’s current relevancy, Renzi commented that it’s about realizing “you can tweak the system,” “get creative, weav[ing] different media together” and “recogniz[ing] what others are doing.”

Additional Discussions

Disaster capitalism is a term for when certain policies are presented and progress that otherwise would be rejected due to a catastrophe that has caused chaos. One example is after Hurricane Katrina, lands were rezoned, displacing people and benefiting those who were given the land. It’s the premise that companies are prepared to turn any crisis into an opportunity, by bypassing normal democratic mechanisms. In this instance, tactical media would be very useful. The tactical media arising could distract and raise awareness to examples of disaster capitalism and help prevent inequitable policies from being approved. Often in a state of chaos, it requires being creative and flexible to ad hoc designs, which is why tactical media can play a crucial role.

Also discussed, in light of the recent backlash against Pepsi for “trivializing” ongoing social movements, was the co-opting of tactical media by ad agencies. Corporations now have the resources and time to search the web and incorporate tactical media into their campaigns. For example, many alt-right organizations are able to expand in ways that grassroots organizations don’t necessarily have the means to. However, Aziria commented, “Even though there’s often a space which gets co-opted, that doesn’t mean that what has been does loses its effect. So there’s still reason to press on in this space, as there’s room for negotiation and the tactic hasn’t lost it’s value or use in political discourse.”

Additionally, we experimented with NewsJack (http://newsjack.in). Similar in concept to Reamweaver, but it isn’t real-time and designed to be more accessible.

Readings

Tree Stewardship Organization and Distribution in Hillsborough County, FL

Trees provide many benefits to the communities that embrace them. Several organizations exist to encourage communities to grow and take care of trees in their neighborhoods, a process known as reforestation. These organizations also provide educational resources and assistance to the public. Most of the work done by these organizations to spread the habit of reforestation occur from printed newsletters and attending meetings of local neighborhood associations. Recently, groups are turning to Facebook as a way to increase access two-way communication. The increased two-way communication is designed to help increase volunteer retention, as tree stewardship programs require sustained activity to be successful. This is also a good platform from which to share information regarding reforestation and the native flora, as many organizations express that their main concern is the lack of public knowledge on the subject. For my project I plan to look at the engagement of tree planting organizations and the public on social media such as Facebook for their effectiveness at raising awareness and volunteer retention. Additionally, I will look into the communities that they are engaging with to assess the extent that low-income communities are included within the program. I will assume an environmental justice lens to address how tree planting programs can improve low-income communities.

Research Questions:

  1. What are effective ways of recruiting volunteers and retaining interest using social media sites?
  2. What communities are strongly engaged in these programs? Are they primarily richer neighborhoods, or low-income communities?
  3. Has social media enabled tree stewardship organizations to address their concerns about public awareness?

Case Selection:

For this project, I am focusing on tree stewardship programs near the greater Tampa Bay area of Florida. There are a handful of non-profit organizations that have partnered with many communities, universities and municipalities to spread the interests of tree planting. By focusing within a restricted area, it is easiest to focus on the communities that are affected or unengaged with the effort. As well as makes it easier to determine the impact that tree planting has on the environment.

Methods:

  • Studying Facebook activity.
  • Mapping distribution of tree stewardship programs, both spatially and socioeconomically.
  • Comparison of online media use to that of traditional media use by these organizations.

Work Schedule:

Mar 23 – Preliminary research on potential organizations and framework for the project.

Mar 30 – First read-through of literature regarding volunteer retention and motivation, impact of trees on the community, and familiarization of tree stewardship programs/organizations within the area.

Apr 6 – Familiarity with associated Facebook pages and organizational newsletters. Highlight what is emphasized within these as important to their respective communities. Record public engagement.

Apr 13 – Mapping of communities that have undertaken tree stewardship programs. Overlay map of community income levels. Record updates to social media pages.

Apr 20 – Preliminary analysis of tree planting program distribution, social media engagement.

May 4 – Final read through of appropriate literature. Record Facebook engagement. Analysis of community involvement techniques.

May 11 – Finalization of analysis and clarification conclusions. Rough draft of paper and presentation.

May 18 – Final presentation and paper completed.

Annotated Bibliography:

Joshua Summit and Robert Sommer, “Urban tree-planting programs — a model for encouraging environmentally protective behavior”
– Studies nonprofit tree planting organizations practices

Christine Moskell, et al., “Examining Motivations and Recruitment Strategies for Urban Forestry Volunteers,” Cities and the Environment.
– Studies motivations of volunteers participating in tree planting programs, acknowledging best practices for long term commitment from volunteers.

Project report and recommendations
– Analysis done by City of Tampa on tree stewardship projects.

 

Intro: Garrett

Hello! I am Garrett Watson, currently a junior here at MIT studying Physics and a likely minor in CMS. I grew up near Tampa, FL, though I have family in South America (Suriname) and Europe (Netherlands, mainly). I’m curious about how social movements organize and use the internet to their advantage. For instance, translating a large online audience into a march down city streets. The ways in which activists spread their message and connect with other groups is something I’d like to understand to have practical knowledge to contribute to organizations that I may work with in the future. I am interested in looking at the environmental movement as part of this class. Issues such as the standing rock or keystone xl pipeline to study how they organize and work to protect the environment. Alternatively, I may look at environmental justice groups based in Florida, and look into conservation efforts near my home. Protecting the environment and wildlife is one of the things I care about most.