High Meadows is taking a hard look at the role of equity, power, and privilege in our work. As part of this effort, we’ve added a question to our grant proposal guidelines that asks grantees to articulate how they are approaching the issue of equity in their projects. The response from the Green River Watershed Alliance (GRWA) particularly sparked our thinking on this subject. Reflecting on a storm impact meeting organized by GRWA and led by road foremen (which we wrote about earlier this year), Emily Davis articulates the issue faced by many Vermont communities in a way we find compelling:
One thing that the GRWA has learned about its communities … is that social class and economic inequality is a source of tension in the area. The conversations around proposed regulations, zoning, and land protections has also become about class and socioeconomics, since generally speaking lower-income families live in floodways and floodplains, and those properties are therefore subject to more regulation.
Furthermore, many families that financially sustain themselves from the working landscape may see that land use restrictions and zoning regulations unfairly impact their livelihoods as opposed to others. To exacerbate this, many of these families have persisted in the area for generations, and have often had to weather economic downturns and market volatility by selling pieces of their family’s historic land. So, it would be easy to see how resentment can be created among these different demographics, where those who have invested in their community for generations may be subject to more rules and regulations that disadvantage them economically than those newer families, who may have the luxury to prioritize conservation, recreation value, and environmental protection.
The GRWA has been aware that these social tensions are an important layer to consider when engaging with our communities and hosting conversations around landscape protection. We aren’t sociologists or mediators, and so these aren’t issues that we feel equipped to fully take-on directly.
However, the idea of creating and sustaining connections between people that may not otherwise intersect is powerful. Through our suite of public events, we aim to provide a platform where people can hear about the authentic land-based experiences of each other, and in turn begin to develop empathy and connection within the community. In a divided and isolated world, the GRWA steering committee is one group of people that sees value in building more and more connections, with the trust that these connections may heal both natural and societal wounds. We acknowledge this may be a relatively small impact, but one that continues to remain a priority.