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Daily News Blog

07
Jun

“Sí, se puede”—Letter and Reflection From the Women of Beyond Pesticides

The women of Beyond Pesticides reflect on and celebrate women's leadership in the field—while offering wisdom to the next generation.

(Beyond Pesticides, June 7, 2024) This week, climate scientist and former mayor of Mexico City Claudia Sheinbaum shattered a proverbial glass ceiling, emerging as the first woman president of Mexico.  

The election of a woman with a background in environmental protection— who signed an accord promising Mexican farmers to uphold the ban on transgenic corn and replace glyphosate with safer alternatives this past April—did not happen in a vacuum. According to an article by CBS News, President-elect Sheinbaum shared the following wisdom in the middle of a downtown hotel as her polling lead became definitive: 

“I do not make it alone. We’ve all made it, with our heroines who gave us our homeland, with our mothers, our daughters, and our granddaughters.”

As the new president-elect steps into the leadership of a country grappling with the ravages of the climate crisis, we reflect on the leadership of women in advancing Beyond Pesticides’ mission to end the use of petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers. 

Leading the Fight for Farmworker Justice—Dolores Huerta 
 
Earlier this year, Acting Governor Eleni Kounalakis of California honored the lifelong efforts of 94-year-old social justice activist Dolores Huerta, joining Washington State in recognizing Huerta’s decades of leadership in the fight for farmworker justice.  

A schoolteacher-turned-activist and daughter of a farmworker, Ms. Huerta was inspired to action by the hungry farm children in her classroom, organizing farmers and farmworkers before cofounding the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO) and the Agricultural Workers Association. After meeting activist César Chávez, the team founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA)—the precursor of the United Farm Workers’ Union (UFW)—ultimately resulting in the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which “protects the rights of agricultural employees to make their own decisions about whether or not they want a union to negotiate with their employer about their wages, hours, and other working conditions.” A recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Huerta remains a champion of equity and environmental justice, despite ethnic and gender bias she faced throughout her career.  

In an interview with Civil Eats, Ms. Huerta described her theory of change for her foundation as building “leadership in low-income communities and organize people so that they can have a sense of their own voices and their own power… once they understand this process and they have the power to change policy—and politicians—they really feel empowered and they want to go on and keep organizing.

It’s wonderful. I call it ‘magic dust.’” 

“Magic Dust” and Leaving a Legacy 

In commemorating the legacy of Dolores Huerta and other environmental icons such as Rachel Carson, whose work exploring the effects of agricultural pesticides and government abuses sparked her seminal work Silent Spring, we—the women on the board and staff of Beyond Pesticides—would like to take a moment to spread, in Huerta’s words, “magic dust” and celebrate both the women who inspired us on our professional journeys and those who will follow in our footsteps. 

🌱 Who is a woman that planted the seed and inspired you to take action? 

What advice would you offer to the next generation that will carry on our work? 

Paula Dinerstein, Esq., President of the Board 

🌱 I have long been inspired by both Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall as women who were leaders in their scientific fields but also used their knowledge and insights to go beyond science to become articulate and compassionate advocates for the preservation of the natural world and the human beings who depend on it. Both recognized just how daunting the challenges we face are, and yet maintained a spirit of love, joy and hope. 

I would advise the next generation who engage in our work, which includes my own daughters, that the struggle we are engaged in, despite the difficulties and whatever the ultimate outcome, makes life meaningful and rewarding. Be proud of yourself if you can make even a small contribution, because it is not easy and we must each also preserve ourselves and our own health and opportunities to enjoy life. You will meet the best people who will provide support, inspiration and immeasurable enrichment for your life.

Terry Shistar, PhD, Secretary of the Board  

🌱 You have probably never heard of Ruth Fauhl. Ruth was a bird watcher and environmentalist in Lawrence, Kansas. She had a passion for water issues, as well as birds and plants. She grew up on a farm at the confluence of two (at that time uncontrolled) rivers in Southeast Kansas. Her mother’s piano was on pulleys so that it could be raised above flood waters. Their pigs were trained to climb stairs to get away from the water. One thing that struck me was that she never wasted water. If she needed to run the tap to get hot water, she filled jugs for watering plants. During the time that her life overlapped with mine, I learned a lot about birds from her and learned to appreciate her connection with the land, which provided a grounding for my activism. 

I hope there will be a next generation to carry on our work. My advice is to “think globally and act locally”—globally not only in spatial terms, but also in terms of our mission. Environmental, social, and economic problems are all connected to a worldview that views the Earth as belonging to humans. 

Caroline Cox, Treasurer of the Board 

🌱 I would like to mention three women. Carol Van Strum is a Pacific Northwest activist who took on both the U.S. Forest Service and Monsanto regarding the hazardous herbicide 2,4,5-T and its contaminant dioxin. Bonnie Hill surveyed miscarriages in her community which led to the emergency suspension of 2,4,5-T in the 1970s. Norma Grier was a founder and longtime director of the first community-based pesticide reform coalition in the U.S. as well as a Beyond Pesticide board member for many years. 

The pesticide industry is wealthy and politically powerful, but together we can and are making progress towards better solutions. 

Melinda Hemmelgarn, Board member 

🌱 Easily, my mother. She was a role model for advocacy and had an adventurous spirit.   I learned from her actions. She joined organizations and volunteered to work on issues that mattered – from funding the arts to supporting fair elections. She wrote letters to legislators, joined the League of Women Voters and the PTA. She taught me to take a stand – I recall marching together against the Viet Nam war.  She also modeled honesty, kindness and empathy, and taught me to put myself in another person’s shoes.  In her mid-sixties, she even pasted a bumper sticker on her front door that said: “If you don’t vote, don’t bitch.” 

✨ Find what you are passionate about.  Seek out organizations who share your concerns; then use your unique skills to make a difference. There is power in working together. 

Jocelyn Cordell, Director of Operations 

🌱 I was raised in New England within a family of fiercely independent and resilient women—from my Italian great-grandmother and single-parent grandmother to my psychotherapist mother and linguist twin sister—whose collective passion and dedication despite the obstacles in their path inspire me every single day. The legacy of their love and progress, in collaboration with the incredible mentors of both genders I have met throughout my journey, has set the stage for the person and professional that I choose to be.   

In the seminal work When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing and Reconciliation, Angela Jill Lederach with her father describes this incredible ability to heal and reconnect—as a transformative practice— via the nonlinear experience of creating music. This may be the musician in me, but I find the themes inherent speak to how we as a movement and as human beings can make a positive difference: finding our voices to speak (or sing!) that which is unspeakable and traumatic amid escalating crises, building safe spaces for compassion that validate lived experiences, and resiliently innovating spaces of interaction that nurture meaningful conversation alongside purposeful action. This is all possible if you treat yourself with the trust and compassion that you would extend to those within your orbit and remember, at the end of the day, you are not alone in the pursuit of a livable future. 

Rika Gopinath, Community Policy and Action Manager 

🌱 One of the many women who have inspired me is Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and eco-feminist from India. Dr. Shiva’s dedication to promoting organic farming, seed sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture and challenging the dominance of agribusiness has shown me the power of individual actions in addressing environmental challenges. Her work emphasizes the power of small-scale, grassroots initiatives in creating positive change 

To the next generation continuing this work, I humbly offer this advice: Stay resilient and persistent in the face of challenges, knowing the road to change is long. Prioritize self-care to find joy in the work as well as the impact, recognizing there’s no finish line in our collective effort. Foster collaboration, build strong networks, and seek diverse partnerships. The environmental movement is stronger when we work together, share knowledge, and support one another. Seek out partnerships with diverse stakeholders, including communities, scientists, policymakers, and grassroots organizations, as well as reaching out to other individuals to educate and empower action. By joining forces, we can amplify our impact and create lasting change. 

Sara Grantham, Science, Regulatory, and Advocacy Manager 

🌱 I have been lucky throughout my education to have had strong female mentors who have shaped my experiences and directly impacted my growth and goals as a female scientist. My initial inspiration came from a project on Rachel Carson in sixth grade that planted the seed for me to pursue a science education. This seed was able to blossom due to an enormous amount of support and care from my AP Environmental Science teacher, Laura Dinerman. In a historically male-dominated field, I was fortunate to feel uplifted and inspired in my journey to become the female scientist, and change-maker, that I am today. 

✨ All youth, regardless of gender, should embrace the power for change that they hold. Every voice is capable of making a difference, so be confident and brave in the face of adversity and stand up for what you want the future to be. It truly is in your hands – what is actually possible and sustainable for this planet is in your control, so make sure you use your voice and actions to create a positive change. 

What is the legacy we will leave behind for the next generation? 

In reaching to pass the baton to the future generations of men and women leading the transition to a world free of petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, what is the future that we envision and are working to achieve? Is it a legacy of rampant toxics use, protected by the petrochemical industry, resulting in weak federal, state and local regulatory standards that leave farmland poisoned, public spaces destroyed, and pesticide residues with lingering health and environmental effects in the soil for decades due to drift, runoff, and leaching?  

No. 

We envision: 

  • an organic community where local parks, playing fields, and greenways are managed without unnecessary toxic pesticides, children and pets are safe to run around on the grass, and bees and other pollinators are safeguarded from toxic chemicals; [Parks for a Sustainable Future Program]  
     
  • a workplace with fair wages and benefits for farmworkers, without discrimination or coercion, disrupting the disproportionate burden and occupational risk in communities of color from the use of harmful petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers; [Agricultural Justice] 
     
  • a future rooted in indigenous practices and protections for equitable land and resource access—recognizing the impacts of colonialism—and cultivating resilience led by grassroots activists to meet the social, economic, and environmental needs of local communities; [Hawai‘i] 
     
  • the widespread adoption of and broad-scale marketplace transition to organic management, under continuous improvement from public input, to protect pollinators through a systems-based approach that is protective of health and the environment; [BEE Protective] 
     
  • AND, the growth of organic agriculture as the only acceptable and foundational form of land management while protecting the integrity of the standards and enforcement of USDA-certified organic. Organic Agriculture / Keeping Organic Strong 

However, this future would be impossible without the raised voices of our incredible network. The saying that we need to “feed the soil to feed the plant” is at the very heart of organic, and by working in concert with the grassroots, we are sowing the seeds for the very future we are striving to achieve.  

Thank you—to the women who came before us, the women who work in partnership with us, and the women who will continue the charge—for your commitment to a world free of petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.

In the spirit of Dolores Huerta, “Sí, se puede.” 

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides. 

Sources: 

Brito, J.L. (2024) Sheinbaum Ofrece terminar con el uso de glifosato, Aunque Paulatinamente, Proceso. Available at: https://www.proceso.com.mx/nacional/elecciones-2024/2024/4/10/sheinbaum-ofrece-terminar-con-el-uso-de-glifosato-aunque-paulatinamente-327028.html (Accessed: 05 June 2024). 

Claudia Sheinbaum elected as Mexico’s president, the first woman to hold the job (no date) CBS News. Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mexico-first-female-president-claudia-sheinbaum/ (Accessed: 05 June 2024). 

Greenaway, T. (2019, July 2). Dolores Huerta is still fighting for farmworkers’ rights. Civil Eats. https://civileats.com/2017/11/09/dolores-huerta-is-still-a-force-to-be-reckoned-with/ 

Michals, E. by D. (n.d.). Biography: Dolores Huerta. Dolores Huerta Biography. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/dolores-huerta 

Newsroom (2024, April 10). Acting Governor Eleni Kounalakis Proclaims Dolores Huerta Day 2024. Proclamation. https://www.gov.ca.gov/2024/04/10/acting-governor-eleni-kounalakis-proclaims-dolores-huerta-day-2024/ 

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