To Talk About Power Is to Talk About Shame

Janisse Ray in conversation with Amy Wright

Photo by Raven Waters.

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To Talk About Power Is to Talk About Shame

Janisse Ray in conversation with Amy Wright

by Janisse Ray, Amy Wright
Southern Cultures, Vol. 25, No. 3: Left/Right

"[Activism] is rooted in the needs of a community, in the imagination, in the history of activists who serve as role models and inspirations, in art, in centuries of intellectual thought regarding power."

Amy Wright: Do you consider yourself a radical, meaning that you favor drastic political, economic, or social reform?

Janisse Ray: There’s no denying that I am a radical and that I favor far-reaching and extreme reform on many levels. We are at a place globally that requires drastic action. We need immediate action to mitigate the climate crisis, for example, and we need it on many levels, from global mandates and national policy all the way to personal agency.

However, the people who are spiking trees might not call me radical. The word implies activism. When I first began writing The Seed Underground, I interviewed a woman in Vermont, a seed saver named Sylvia Davatz, and she said, “I see in activism a kind of futility. The real action is in making broken systems irrelevant.” Sylvia was talking about protest when she used the word “activism.”

I’ve been a protester and will be again. That visible resistance is crucial for making change. But my life as a radical is quite different. I believe in radical sustainability, which allows me to be a kind of homefront activist working to make many broken systems irrelevant. Sustainability is a continuum, from extravagant and heedless luxury on one end to ethical, radical stewardship on the other. In my life, I want to always be moving—inching, if necessary—toward greater sustainability. We take so many resources for granted. We don’t even care that we use them up and toss them out, which is exactly what we’re doing to topsoil, forests, our atmosphere, wild species, oceans, girls, women, poor people, Latin[a/o] people. That throwaway mentality is what one has to counteract because it is not sustainable on any level. I’m trying not to live a throwaway life. >

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