Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:00:00] Welcome to Black Earth podcast. I'm your host, Marion Atieno Osieyo. Black Earth is an interview podcast that's celebrating nature and the incredible black women leaders in the environmental movement. In today's episode, I am joined by Valerie Novack.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Valerie is a disability policy researcher from the United States. She's worked and researched at the intersections of disability justice, emergency management, and inclusive city design. In today's episode, Valerie and I explore what disability justice is and how it can help us re imagine the environmental movement.[00:01:00]
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So hi, Valerie. Um, welcome to Black Earth Podcast. Thank you so much for joining our, uh, our community and conversation. Um, I'm really, really grateful, um, for the opportunity to speak with you today. Um, Valerie, could you please introduce yourself to our listener community?
Valerie Novack: Yes, uh, hello, my name is Valerie Novack.
Valerie Novack: I am, uh, we'll say I'm a disability policy researcher. Um, I focus on discriminatory outcomes of policy in the United States. Um, I specifically look at disability, but as a, um, Black and Mexican disabled person, um, who is also a queer person. I try to be very, uh, intersectional about that. [00:02:00] And so, um, my work also often leads me to doing a lot and looking a lot into other kinds of discrimination.
Valerie Novack: Um, that also impact, uh, people with disabilities that have, uh, multiple, you know, multiple identities that are marginalized for some reason. And, um, it has led me to a very, uh, to be places like this, where, uh, it is quite radically, honestly, changed how I feel about, Um, global environmental justice and what and how we are caring for and, um, treating and kind of handling different beings that we consider less, regardless of whether or not they are human.
Valerie Novack: Um, and, uh. It kind of felt like a natural progression to get there. Um, but that I think [00:03:00] is how I kind of a high level sort of emotional way of how I ended up doing kind of focusing on, um, climate and and earth care in that work.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Valerie. Um, Valerie, how would you describe your relationship with nature?
Valerie Novack: The first word that comes to mind when I think about my relationship with nature is evolving. Um, in the last several years, I have done a lot more climate work and I have started to get sort of recognized as, uh, being an environmentalist. And I think the first time that that happened, I, I went to my spouse and I said, "Am I an environmentalist? I don't think I'm an environmentalist."
Valerie Novack: And he kind of laughed at me and was like, "weren't you the one that when you were a kid used to say you were part of the green party but you didn't know what that was? You just knew they cared about trees. Um, it's like I'm pretty sure you've been an environmentalist [00:04:00] like your whole life. You just didn't know that that was the word for it."
Valerie Novack: Uh, but I feel like I've really, um, Let's say I've started being active in that in a lot more of the recent years. I originally got into this work and we'll talk a little bit about that later, but started focusing on emergency management, usually in the aftermath of a climate disaster and that really got me to start looking at sort of our climate reality as, um, as the response to the way we we treat the environment. And I kind of came at it from this, uh, sort of reactive approach to what what climate was doing rather than a proactive approach as far as caring for the environment. And I think as I got more into this field, I started realizing in myself that.
Valerie Novack: The way that I was approaching the environment was very similar [00:05:00] to the way that I would critique, uh, like cities and policymakers of only ever reacting after the bad thing has happened, being very reactive in the approach and not proactive. And so I feel like really, in the last handful of years, I have really come into a more proactive approach in, um, earth care and thinking about the environment.
Valerie Novack: Thanks. There's a lot of things that, you know, I've, I've been told or have done for a good portion of my life. You do your recycling or things like that. But for example, I have built, uh, I started growing my first garden in the last couple of years. I'm in the process of, uh, I, I recently was able to buy a house.
Valerie Novack: And so we're in the process of changing over some of our planting and, uh, working communal spaces, things like that, that are more proactive in caring for the environment, than it is just responding on the other side, right? Um, or working in things like sustainability to decrease things like pollution.
Valerie Novack: And so I feel like my [00:06:00] relationship is ever growing. Um, but so is our environment. So I think that I think that works. We're growing together.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: That is really beautiful. Thank you so much, Valerie.
Valerie Novack: When I got my undergrad I felt very, I felt like I was constantly having to explain to people what I saw as a connection between urban planning and disability studies. I got a dual degree, uh, in both of those. And most people seem to not understand, like, how does urban planning have anything to do with disability?
Valerie Novack: We don't understand how these go together. And I've been fortunate to find little programs, like the program I'm at right now, uh, where they understand that a little bit. And so, part of this evolution has come from [00:07:00] starting at a realization that the environments we build do not necessarily support the people who live there.
Valerie Novack: And we see this in so many different ways, not just disability, but I happen to be coming at it from a disability, you know, point of view. And I thought, I want to study this. I want to figure out why. If we are making these decisions as, you know, planners, as architects, as designers, as policymakers, why we would make them in ways that discriminate against people, in ways that put, you know, house people together in areas where they're going to be harmed, in ways that actively create marginalization of people or separation of people, and started studying that.
Valerie Novack: And in the time that I started studying that I I had an internship with the city I was living in at the time with the ADA coordinator, that's the [00:08:00] person in our government who is supposed to be in charge of making sure that the local government is adhering to our disability policy, largely in like their city buildings, their employees, things like that.
Valerie Novack: And one of the tasks that I was given was to look over our city's emergency management plan. I had no interest in emergency management at this time. I thought I was going to go be like an urban planner and work on building these like great like 15 minute cities that were really accessible and really like sustainable.
Valerie Novack: And, you know, we have big aspirations when we're young in college. Uh, and as I started to look, I realized, wow, there's not really anything in here that this is, you know, a really bad plan. So my boss at the time was like, well, can you go and see if you can find some best practices elsewhere? So I started looking at other cities, emergency management plans, and realizing that most of them pretty much just gave lip service.
Valerie Novack: They had a section that was like, remember that disabled people exist and you should do something about [00:09:00] that pretty much. Right. Um, and what I did find was several lawsuits about. About that exact issue cities being sued big cities, New York City, D. C. that we're being sued because specifically because they were not inclusive in their emergency management plans.
Valerie Novack: And I thought, oh, this is a really specific problem, and it's really dangerous because as somebody who, uh, I guess has always been a little bit of an environmentalist, I was very aware of the realities of what our future was going to look like, and, um, this was both eye opening, but also kind of terrifying to me.
Valerie Novack: This is a community that I'm part of. This is a community I love, and we are in a, a, a point in the US where we are about to are in the middle of going through a large demographic shift where are, you know, senior population is, it's massively increasing. We have a large generation [00:10:00] of people who are all becoming senior citizens at the same time.
Valerie Novack: And we're very unprepared for that right now on top of like the climate reality. Right. So I thought this is something I need to study because there's no way I'm going to be able to do the work I want of building these environments if I'm not paying attention to the climate reality. And so that was kind of how I started studying, um, emergency management and looking specifically at what they call vulnerable populations.
Valerie Novack: And I've always kind of rallied against that term. And I, I rather say, um, people made vulnerable because a lot of times they're only vulnerable because our systems aren't set to take care of them. Um, and so they're made vulnerable by decisions that, that we have made or not made in, in the way that we build our cities or the, the policies that we make and a big part of, of that was seeing how often.
Valerie Novack: Uh, like I mentioned before, solutions are coming up on the back end after people have been hurt, after [00:11:00] people have been stranded, after we've completely like degraded our environments. Um, and as I'm sort of doing, doing this work, which is both a passion work of mine, but also how I'm paying my bills, I am experiencing certain things in, in my personal life and realizing that.
Valerie Novack: You know, I am contributing to things that I don't approve of. I'm looking at, um, the way I'm spending my money. I am looking at the, the things I'm doing for fun and realizing that I am also acting in a sort of similar way. And so I, I feel like as my, I guess you can say my career sort of evolved to look at certain things and to look at, okay, what can we do on this front end?
Valerie Novack: What can we do as actual mitigation versus just response? I also started applying that a little bit to my life practices. How [00:12:00] do I practice? I don't know if there's a term for this. So I'm going to say like, I don't know, ethical mitigation or something. I don't know if I like that term, but I'm going to say it right now because it's just off the top of my head and really acknowledge where I can make changes.
Valerie Novack: And I think this was a little bit when you're in the, like, in the, like, industrial kind of complex of environmental work. Um, there is a lot of talk about, like, this individual versus corporate. And I did not want to, I knew that. This is not an individual problem. What we are doing to our environment and to our earth is not just individual, but I also knew that I had knowledge and certain kinds of privilege based on where I live, based on the fact that I got a paycheck every two weeks, you know, a lot of people don't, the fact that, you know, I don't have children, these different things that do allow [00:13:00] me to make different choices and, um, that.
Valerie Novack: If enough people in my situation were to make different choices, there might be a little bit of a debt made, right? Because we are the consumers, um, that are in part, you know, supporting this, this sort of industrial, industrial side. And so I think it was, it was both my personal and my work lives informing each other to find this balance.
Valerie Novack: Um, and so I sort of found myself now. Um, I'm, I'm working at a university. I had started my PhD program. Um, and I'm taking a bit of a break from that, but I'm still at the university doing research and I, I sort of ended up there because it felt like the place that I could. Be most intentional about that vision.
Valerie Novack: I had the most control over what I was researching what I was putting out Um versus working under somebody else to where I could kind of marry the this mitigation and proactiveness Um with with the way I was trying to live my life And so [00:14:00] that's that's a little bit how how I got got to where I was um, and so it was really just informed by the different things I noticed on the way, rather than, um, saying this is what I'm going to do and just kind of bulldozing through.
Valerie Novack: I really feel like I responded to where I saw need in my community and in my work and and just sort of let that direct me.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Valerie. Um, I really like when I heard you say. Allowing your work and your individual, like your personal life and your vocation or your work to find alignment, um, that is something that deeply resonates with me, especially within the context of earth care.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I think it'd be very difficult for me to do the work I do in earth care and live a lifestyle that is very [00:15:00] contradictory to that. Of course, there is no perfect way of being, perfection is an illusion, but harmony and alignment is very much possible. Yeah. And I also really appreciate what I heard you say now about being led by the needs of your community and responding to that.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I think that's something that's quite poignant for a lot of people who maybe can feel overwhelmed with the scale and the complexity of, you know, environmental justice and how to really realize these big visions that we have for the world, you know, where do I start? Um, what's the next step? And I feel that, you know, Thank you.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Responding to the needs of your community, whichever way you define community. It could be your geographical community. It could be a community of, you know, relationships around you, you know, in your school, for example. [00:16:00] Um, I think that can be a very freeing place to start when it comes to, um, doing work that feels meaningful and intentional and actually effective, um, in terms of responding to the changes that we all are in need of, basically.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I, I wanted to explore with you, um, the idea of disability justice.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I, I think it's a term that kind of creeps in and out of conversations around earth care, but I don't know. If I don't know if we go deep enough, basically, I'm gonna just put it out there.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I don't know if as a, as a collective community, which, you know, there's a lot of people around the world who are working on earth care. So I'm not, I'm not discrediting anybody's work, but [00:17:00] I'm just saying, um, I feel mainstream, for example, mainstream conversations around environmental justice. Maybe mention groups of people that are systematically affected by environmental injustice.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And then you kind of add a justice word at the end, but disability justice is a concept in a framework that when you do more research is actually really, really deep. And I think has some profound answers for the way forward in, in earth care work. So I wanted to take some time for us to explore that and also the connections with environmental justice.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, but yeah, so can we start with a conversation about disability justice? What is disability justice?
Valerie Novack: Yeah, I, I think, um, you have pointed out very much the same experience that I have had [00:18:00] sort of having a foot in, in both spaces, um, and I think one of the things that maybe as, you know, access for listeners that we can provide the 10 principles of disability justice as maybe a link.
Valerie Novack: Disability justice is a framework that was developed in the early 2000s by a group of queer disabled people of color who were all various kinds of artists and had really been aware of and experienced the ways that, particularly in the U. S., That's the ways that a rights framework really just mirrored the, the hierarchy and, and problems that, that we have broadly.
Valerie Novack: If you are a queer disabled person, or you are a [00:19:00] disabled person of color, disability rights really only gave you.
Valerie Novack: A partial benefit, because you were still this other, you were still queer or black or fat or whatever that was, uh, and so it was not, it was not necessarily a movement that was looking to change the systems of discrimination that we have, it was a system that wanted or was sort of aiming. I don't think intentionally necessarily, but to fit people with disabilities into an already dysfunctional system and disability justice and those who founded it did not want that.
Valerie Novack: We are looking for a different future. Right? I think there are sometimes what feels like a tension between environmental justice and [00:20:00] earthwork and care and disability justice, I think in part, in part, because of sort of activist rhetoric, a lot of times disability is used as the sort of negative outcome.
Valerie Novack: Right. To the way that we're treating our, our earth. Uh, we, we have a lot of issue here in the U S with environmental racism and the amount of disability that is created by the way that we structure our cities, by who we make to live by, you know, poisonous, uh, waters and by industry and factories and things like that.
Valerie Novack: And so in some of this rhetoric, disability is, is the bad thing that happens, right? And that, that feels like it's directly in opposition to a disability justice framework that, um, that celebrates. But I also think that, like, like you have mentioned, [00:21:00] when you look at disability justice, when we look at the 10 principles of disability justice, and even just the general framework that really, uh, I personally feel like disability justice could be or should be a sort of foundational framework to any environmental justice work we're doing.
Valerie Novack: Um, and if it's okay with you, I wanted to read from the Sins Invalid website, just. They have four points in one of their written pieces about disability justice that I wanted to read off because I really do feel like they speak to the human species side of environmental justice and how I believe that we need to remember other people.
Valerie Novack: But also just other animals in general, when we talk about caring for the earth and the way that we continue to make sure that, that in doing that work, we are not forgetting people, um, because of [00:22:00] a different way of functioning. And so, um, a part of the Sins Invalid writing on what is disability justice says a disability justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential.
Valerie Novack: All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them, and that all bodies are confined by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation, state, religion, and more, and we cannot separate them. I feel like those 4 points are really so important to understand to be able to do global environmental justice work without those understandings.
Valerie Novack: We are really just, um, we are really just looking at a future that maybe takes care of the earth a little bit better, but still allows it in us to pick who and what we devalue in in how we make those decisions. [00:23:00] So I think, um, yeah, I think that that intersection is, is not only helpful and informative, I think it's crucial.
Valerie Novack: Wow. Thank you so much. Thank you, Valerie, for sharing.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, just based off of the work you've done so far, um, what, what are some important, um, solutions or changes that you feel will enable disability justice in the way we think and design and act on earth care, [00:24:00] uh, which, you know, earth care includes environmental justice, climate justice. Um, conservation, but you know, that's a term that I have feelings about as a very loaded term. Let me just, I want to just explain.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, yes.
Valerie Novack: Um, I think this, this might seem kind of silly, but I, I really think one of the biggest, um, like, Lessons that can can be taken is around rest and sustainability, and I think that has multiple levels. It is rest and sustainability for the people doing the work for the longevity of the work, but also it's a very, very real.
Valerie Novack: There's a reason that we use the term sustainability when we talk a lot about [00:25:00] how to sort of balance needs and industry with sustainability. The Earth. Um, but sustainability is not, it's not a practice we are particularly good at. Like, by and large, I don't want to speak for all cultures, but I don't think I've met too many people from the U. S. or from elsewhere that are particularly good at sustainability, whether that's in their personal life, whether that's in a work life balance, whether that's in how they use resources, um, and sustainability sustainability.
Valerie Novack: When we look at it from a disability justice perspective, when we look at it from really a disability mindset in general, takes on a little bit more of a requirement. It's not a suggestion. It's not something that you mark off on, um, you know, on a loan form to make a new building or that you put in your HR handbook at work. When [00:26:00] you are disabled, somebody like me, I have to be very intentional about where and when and how I spend my energy because it might not be there tomorrow.
Valerie Novack: And that reality forces a change of mindset on the way you prioritize things, what gets done first, what is the most important thing, what can be put off till later, what can you trust somebody else to do for you, those kinds of decisions in your personal life, uh, and then sort of reflected in our community work are really necessary for avoiding burnout, whether that's of resources or, you know, actual earth resources or of people in order to best determine where people fit.
Valerie Novack: You know, part of that framework is that all people have something to offer. And I think sometimes we are Either scared that we don't have the right skill, or we don't [00:27:00] know where we're going to fit in, or we don't want to let other people take reins because we, we know the outcome that we're looking for, and we don't want to trust other people to do those things.
Valerie Novack: All of these things affect our ability to, to create sustainability and to find actual sustainable solutions. I, I remember all of the sort of wonder that was around in the summer of 2020 when things had slowed down so much to cope due to COVID-19 and people from all over the world are posting on like Tik Tok and Twitter and their various social media about the animals and the birds coming out that they hadn't seen and the air quality and it was just a short moment of rest. Almost right? It wasn't, it definitely wasn't restful rest. This wasn't like rest. People were excited about it was a very stressful time for a lot of us, but we slowed down as a as a globe [00:28:00] radically for a little while. And even just that little bit of a pump on the brakes had an immediate visual impact on our earth and on the other creatures that live on our earth, because we simply just slowed down.
Valerie Novack: And I think there is so much to rest and sustainability beyond the sort of catchphrases that they've become that, that if we were to really apply and internalize some of the principles and sustainability and rest that we could make real changes, even without, even if the corporations never listened to us, even if we still had people flying around in their private jets for 45 minute flights, if enough of us were like, you know what, we're just going to, slow down. We know and we've seen, even within the last handful of years, the way that that can so immediately cause change in what's around us. And one of the things that sort of quickly [00:29:00] disappeared, but that I remember thinking at that time was people were so, seemed so excited about these little changes.
Valerie Novack: They were saying, Oh, the sunset looks so beautiful. Oh, there's so many birds. I saw this kind of animal in the city and I've never seen that before. And I thought, are people going to fall back in love with nature? And is that going to push, push something? And it just seemed like people were so excited about it.
Valerie Novack: I thought, I think we're falling back in love with nature again. Uh, and I felt like it quickly kind of disappeared, but the spark was there. And so I know it is something that I think it's innate in us to respond to, but we live in a, in a busy world and it's always time to go, go, go, go, go. And. The more we go, go, go, the more we use, use, use and waste and destroy, um, whether or not that is our intention.
Valerie Novack: So, as sort of Small or something as it may seem, I really feel like the ideas of sustainability and rest are just huge on so many different levels [00:30:00] to how we get to where we're going.
Valerie Novack: Um, I think also the ability to learn. I have a, a friend who has done community advocacy and activism work for years and years and years. And one of the things he says he's always noticed is that people, particularly when they're volunteering their time, seem really hesitant to learn new skills or to do things that they are uncomfortable with. You know that I'm good at xYZ, you know, I'm good at talking to people. So if I'm going to go interview, it's going to be, or if I'm going to go volunteer, it's going to be doing something like going door to door and talking to people.
Valerie Novack: Uh, but I don't want to do phone calls because I'm really bad at phone calls. So anytime that's a need, I'm never going to do that. Right. And just this kind of walls that we put up rather than meeting the need where you're at. Uh, and that is a little bit. I talked about kind of following the need of my community and I've continued to try to do that because I have been told by people who have been doing this work so much longer than I [00:31:00] have how often things can be stalled because there's just no one to step in.
Valerie Novack: No one who's willing to say, well, I don't know how to do that. But if you need it. I'll learn. I'm willing to embarrass myself or make myself uncomfortable to make this thing happen. And maybe we'd have more people to do that if we had more sustainable practices, or we wouldn't need people who don't know how to do those skills because the people who have them wouldn't be burned out.
Valerie Novack: Right? So it kind of goes back to that sustainability, but also the flexibility to to go where you're needed. And that's a little bit easier for some people than it is for others.
Valerie Novack: But, um, one of the biggest things that I have internalized with a disability perspective and a disability justice perspective in particular is that codependence is, is not a bad word.
Valerie Novack: Um, at least maybe there's some psychological codependence that isn't great, but in general, it's interdependence. [00:32:00] Yeah. To be interdependent, we require each other. We require our land and our earth. We require, we are part of an ecosystem, whether that is our, our kind of global society, whether that is me and the people that live on my street, whether that is me and the deer and squirrels that eat my garden in the backyard. We We are sustaining not by ourselves, but with each other.
Valerie Novack: And so the flexibility to kind of grow in that partnership, I think is a really beautiful thing. And I think especially here in the U S or a lot of Western culture, really, uh, we are sort of taught as a bad thing. Like we should, we should be self sustaining and we shouldn't, you know, I'm an individual and I don't need anybody.
Valerie Novack: And I. No, that is a fallacy. That, that is nobody. You are not that person. Um, and, and I think, uh, kind of pushing that myth has really only [00:33:00] help to separate us when, when we really, we are interdependent and there's, there's not anything that is going to break that. So I think we should just kind of jump into that and hold hands and figure this out.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much. Um, yeah, interdependency is like one of the most essential features of any natural ecosystem. This is why, you know, just replanting trees in any type of forest isn't often the best way to make change happen because you have to understand what were the trees like before, you know, which, which bees and birds come here.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: How do they live off the land? Um, interdependency is, is, it's literally a core feature, essential feature of earth as an ecosystem, you know, as a community, earth is a community and Yeah, when I heard you say that and and [00:34:00] how to bring more of that into our earth care work, you know, how to bring more of that sense of it's okay to need each other.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: It's okay to, it's actually essential for us to need each other and to need each other's gifts and contributions and skills, whichever way they look like, right? Um, because everyone has something to contribute to this collective change that, that we're dreaming into reality. Um, I, so when I heard you say, talk about sustainability and rest, uh, you know, one of the core principles of the, the disability justice principle by Sins Invalid, which is really about pacing yourself so that you can, you can, um, be whole enough to be present and to, to give, to give what it is that you're able to give, you know, and then this, [00:35:00] idea of being interdependent, you know?
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I thought of a conversation we had last time we spoke around individual and collective action and the, the plastic straws quaffafle that happened a couple of years ago, which really brought to light, you know, I guess the ableism, the, uh, minimizing of, um, the experiences of disabled people and the way we're thinking about solutions.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Right. Um, so yeah, can you, can you speak more about that? Like, yeah, just some context around this plastic, which is an example of many other things. Right. But it's a very straightforward example. Right. Um, but then also that conversation about individual and collective liberation or collective work and how interdependency is actually the, you know, [00:36:00] essential
Valerie Novack: and I, I think that's as, as sort of frustrating of an example as that is, I think it's a really good one to point out when we're talking about the ways that. These movements can be made stronger with coming together and with acknowledgement of each other.
Valerie Novack: Because so the kind of background to that is a handful of years ago. I'm sure listeners will probably remember. There was a lot of talk about plastic straws and trying to switch over to different types of straws and for a lot of disabled people, straws are a very, very necessary thing. They don't just, you know, make it so that you don't get ice in your mouth when you're drinking something, but they, they need them.
Valerie Novack: Uh, and there was kind of this weird back and forth in it, and it goes much broader to sterilized equipment and just single use plastics in general. And [00:37:00] on the sort of environmental side, there was this very big push of single use plastics are bad. Flat out, we should not be doing this, uh, versus disabled people saying, well, I'm, I could die without like sterile single use.
Valerie Novack: I, I need my single use plastics. Um, and it, it was another one of those situations where it was like, oh, well, do, do disability and, and. our environment, is there a tension there? Do they not work together? Right? I am not at all, I give no credence to this idea that our earth is somehow eugenicist by nature.
Valerie Novack: I, I don't, I believe not only do we have what we need to make sure everybody Can be cared for. Uh, but I, I feel a little bit like it's, it's our responsibility, uh, to do that. And I [00:38:00] only want to work, you know, primarily with people who are looking at what we have now and how we can continue to support people in a way that then honors the earth that we come from.
Valerie Novack: Uh, and I think sometimes we, we look at what we think of as an immediate solution, something like we're going to stop using single use plastics, and we immediately just want to apply that to everybody with no context to how people live, no context, sometimes even what that means, how many, you know, how many different items are we talking about?
Valerie Novack: What are those items that we're talking about? Right? Um, and it shows a very, a lack of context, a lack of conversation, but I think more importantly, um, it's still very, very rooted in needing to function within the systems that we're in and processes the way that we're in. And I think part of that is the individuality piece.
Valerie Novack: You are making this decision. And because this decision overall harms the environment, you nor anybody [00:39:00] else should be able to make that decision. I am not sure. Maybe private jets might be the one thing that I'm like, I don't know. I don't know if anybody should be able to make that decision. But I think there's a few things that I think I would apply that to.
Valerie Novack: But even more importantly, I think it shows our point of view and our focus, right? Is our focus really is out there. On somebody who needs to use straws, uh, rather than a much bigger focus on maybe that process in general, right? Or maybe instead of focusing on the single use plastics here, our first focus is, well, how do we make sure these people who need these things are taken care of so that we can actually stop the problem rather than just removing the tool that they need?
Valerie Novack: Right. Um, but because I think a lot of our, our rhetoric around care for our earth is about personal responsibility. We look [00:40:00] at those things and those people and we say you person are bad because you are doing this thing that hurts the earth. Um, when I look at the ability to work as a community. I see the potential for one, creative solution making and support, which allow us to sort of by default of coming together as a group, reduce our burden on earth and our needs.
Valerie Novack: Um, in a way that does not rely on the sort of powers that be to do anything, uh, if they don't want to. It also gets us in conversation with each other to really understand what it is each person is needing and what it looks like to support and to make sure that those people have what [00:41:00] they need, uh, in a way that also matches the things that we need to reduce or change for our earth.
Valerie Novack: I also think it, it helps us and it helps us to have a much broader view on what it means to care for our earth. What it means to be an environmentalist, what it means to work in conservation, because one of the things that that became so impressed upon me, as I started doing this work in between environment and disability is how so much of the language and the mindset that allows ableism and that allows this kind of separation of people with disabilities, they can't, you know, they can't function this certain way, or they don't have, God forbid, you have like a low [00:42:00] IQ or, you know, something like that.
Valerie Novack: But those are the exact kinds of arguments we give that says, um, Well, what does it matter what I do to these fish or what does it matter if I am harming this, this type of insect? They're small, they're not strong, they don't give me anything. And I, I I sort of had this moment, it was not a moment, it was a period of time where I realized people like me, and honestly that's whether it is speaking about my disability, speaking about the color of my skin, or the way that I love, the rhetoric that is used to dehumanize in those instances is so similar to the rhetoric we use that lets us say, well, I'm human.
Valerie Novack: I'm big, bad apex predator and earth is going to do my will. And it's, it really started to inform my idea of what community was, because if the only thing that is separating me as a [00:43:00] disabled person from other people, just a hundred percent, not caring is the fact that I happen to be human and not some other kind of species. That's a, that's a very dangerous line that I don't know if I want to go through because we, especially as black people know how easy it is for people to just decide you are not human either.
Valerie Novack: Right. Um, if that is what, if that's the distinction we're relying on. It's too small of a distinction because we've already through our human history, very, very much time and time again learned that we're also very good at determining who we want to be human and who we don't.
Valerie Novack: Um, and so learning about your community, at least for me, helped me to realize that it is so much more vast than just other humans, and also that other humans have needs that I could not have even imagined when I was over here talking about [00:44:00] what we need to do and what we need to change. But also they have solutions that I've never even thought of because they've had to live also trying to do this work.
Valerie Novack: Uh, and the solution that's down there that has never been brought up at your, you know, at the group meeting you have once a month at the library, um, has been sitting there the whole time and you didn't know because you never went and talked to, you know, the, the autistic kid that lives down the street.
Valerie Novack: Or, or what have you. Um, and so there's also just so much mutual learning that can be happening about living in the world differently because the people who are living in the world differently are the people who have disabilities, are the people who are neurodivergent or, you know, um, who aren't, who aren't taking cars everywhere.
Valerie Novack: One of the things that I feel like I can suggest to people sometimes that I think can really just be very eye opening to the world we live in is to go a few days without your car. Walk around your neighborhood. [00:45:00] What is there? What do you see? What kind of, what kind of critters do you see? What kind of people do you see outside?
Valerie Novack: Do you see people outside? Do you even have sidewalks to do that safely? Right? We are so separated from what it means to be in community. So much so that at least like in the US there are people who stay in their house, they get in their car, they go to another building, they leave that building, they get in their car, they go back to their home, and the connection to Earth, to space, to land in general is just as far as where their tires can take them.
Valerie Novack: From one building to the next. And, uh, I think it's really easy to find tension where it doesn't exist when your, your view has been so narrowed in that way.[00:46:00]
Marion Atieno Osieyo: You know, as I, as I heard you speak now, uh, something came up for me around community. Like when you're living in community, abundance is possible, but when you are living like, as an individual, abundance is never enough, um, and, and I, I also found so profound that your expansion of community to our relationship with other species and how they are also part of our community.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And I, I feel that is, like, such an important frontier in terms of [00:47:00] earthwork. It's going into that understanding of our relationship with other species on this planet and how they can form part of this big community we're dreaming of. And at the same time, I feel that can be very difficult for a lot of people to even process because some parts of the human community still don't have dignity and rights, still don't belong to our community.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: So the idea of even now extending it to like, you know, other, other species and our relationship with other species can feel so much, you know.
Valerie Novack: I think there is a lot there, but I do want to speak on one of the things that I, I try to point out when I have this conversation, um, because a lot of people hear that and they think that's that's very, I don't know what the [00:48:00] official like word is for this. I want to say woo woo because that's my culture, but very, you know, um, not, not set in reality to think that people are going to experience, uh, or that it's, it's too much to ask. But I don't know how many times we hear about the office that everybody takes care of.
Valerie Novack: Or every year on social media, when the winter comes, I will see a million different ways to make warm boxes for stray cats to go into, or something like that. People that put food out, everybody knows that dog that's always hanging. We do this, but in the same way we do it with humans. We are very selective about who we determine and what we determine as part of our community.
Valerie Novack: And I think because of the way we use the word, when we start talking about extending it to people or extending it to other species, it becomes this hard thing when we really don't realize we do this all the time. We just do it when it feels like it affects us, [00:49:00] right? And I think that's kind of the lesson that I, I learned in, in looking into discrimination in particular, is that this is, this Redefining of what it means to be human to be a value of value to your community or to your species or to whatever it is that you're looking at is consistently redefined to fit whatever that situation is.
Valerie Novack: And that is both why. We can have, you know, Wikipedia articles dedicated to dogs that have been huge community members, but have entire countries of people that we don't care about. Um, and we are using the same language and the same ideas of productivity and value to weigh a lot of those things. And so I think when we look at it at face value, we say, okay, we don't even treat humans like humans.
Valerie Novack: There's no way we're going to treat [00:50:00] animals like humans, but we do both back and forth all the time when it fits us or when it feels good to us. Uh, and so I, I think that's a very real point of view. I think a lot of times though, it's sort of reactionary and because people don't really realize how frequently, we do this all of the time. We just don't do it at a grand scale and we don't do it consistently.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you for sharing that. Um, I totally hear you and the element of like conditionality of who and what gets to be a value, um, gets to have inherent worth, um, and how much that really has led to some of the injustices we see in the world.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, above and beyond kind of environmental degradation. Um, that conditionality of what is worthy of being, um, is, well, it's a real [00:51:00] problem. I'll say that.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: It's a real problem. It's a real problem.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And I feel this is why delving into disability justice, it really deepens our work in earth care. Um, first and foremost, because it's about centering and, and honoring the experiences and the needs of disabled people. And in addition to that, it, it, it leads us to think or explore some of the, the real cultural shifts that's needed as a human species in order to be able to manifest the earth and the world that we want and need, you know? So, you know, things that we've spoken around um, interdependency, um, moving from kind of individual to communal, which is hard. I lived in an intentional community for a year and oh my gosh, [00:52:00] I was tested. I was so tested.
Valerie Novack: Um, I have not done that yet. I have looked and, um, visited several and yeah. You have a fortitude that I have not.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: It was a lot, you know, you think you care until you live in an intentional community. You're like, wow, I'm really, this individual mindset is deep. Um, but then there's, there's other values to like, um, designing for diversity, right?
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I think in recent years. If you've been around this diversity and inclusion agenda has just Wow, it's been a lot. Um, and, but I still feel like the D& I agenda approaches that work as if diversity is like an anomaly and like, we're trying so hard to reach for [00:53:00] that, but actually diversity is innate to life on earth, you know, human diversity, cultural diversity, um, biodiversity, the name biological diversity that is literally like, it's like the essence of life on earth.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And so disability justice really inspires me to, to think about how can I design for diversity as opposed to like that reactionary thing of like. Okay. Design for inclusion instead, you know, um, and also this, um, um, there was an interview I did, uh, with an amazing, uh, woman, um, called Ife Afriye and we were exploring the values that we need to transform our world.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: And one of the things we, well, she spoke about was, um, uprooting hierarchy [00:54:00] and how hierarchy is, is one of the values that we really need to move away from if we are intentional and serious about, um, earth care work. And I've heard you speak a bit about that in terms of the conditionality of human and interspecies life and how interchangeable that is.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, but also hierarchy as it, as it manifests in terms of like normativity, like what is normal, you know, um, and I feel that comes up a lot within the context of the way disabled people are described, um, as kind of like alternatives to this idea of normality, which we never really know what it is, but so it's just here.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, And so all of those things kind of need to, we need to move away from that if we're really serious about doing the work of liberation and earth care. So, um, yeah, I [00:55:00] just, I I'm, I'm very, um, inspired.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: I'm very committed to understanding, um, you know, my place as an able bodied person, how, how to, uh, create a world where all people and especially disabled people feel their inherent worth and value to this world that we're manifesting and really creating space for their gifts to shine and their gifts to, um, illuminate us also, right?
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Because there are many things that we don't know and it's only by being in relation with other people you get to understand. Um, the value of what you know, but the limits of what you also know and how other people, other species bring, bring newness and vitality and depth to our understanding of, of the human [00:56:00] species, but also life on earth.
Valerie Novack: Um, absolutely. And I think it's also just, there's a freeness about it. I don't know. I don't know that I quite realized until more recently, how afraid, how many of our decisions are made because of how truly scared, like deep down scared, I don't mean like scary movie scared, deep down scared people are of becoming disabled.
Valerie Novack: I think COVID kind of let me see a little bit into a different type of perspective from what I've had. And part of that fear, I really believe is the whether it's subconscious or conscious understanding that our world is not set up right now to support you if you do not function a certain way. And so it is very, very scary to people to think about [00:57:00] losing certain kinds of function or having a child who, who is a certain type of way, or who has a deformity or, or something like that.
Valerie Novack: There are some people who the scariest thing they could imagine is having a child that's not quote healthy. Right. Um, What happens when we start to create worlds that celebrate, that truly celebrate and are made for all the diversity that the human species has, and that, that just really looks at that as, like you said, it is innate, it is natural, it is the way that biology works, and it is a beautiful and wonderful thing.
Valerie Novack: Suddenly there's a whole lot less to be afraid of, because if something happens and I get a spinal cord injury and I can no longer walk. It's just another phase that my body is going through the same way as my body had started menstruating, or my hair might start going gray. It is not this thing [00:58:00] that needs to be avoided at all costs.
Valerie Novack: And I feel like that is a there is, there is something truly freeing about that. And, uh, it is a journey I have taken personally myself as somebody who got sick a little bit later in life. You go through a period of like, well, I don't, I don't want to have to use a cane. I don't want to do this. You know, this is not, this was something that, that, um, it doesn't happen to healthy people, is not supposed to be the case or, or what have you.
Valerie Novack: Um, and I've actually gotten to a point in my life where it's like, well, you know, If I lose my legs, I guess it's not that big of a deal. Like, I've already, I know people with no legs and they have very full and wonderful lives, even in the system we have right now, right? Um, and I think there's just, it allows for a completely different way of thinking about being in this earth.
Valerie Novack: And It is automatically because it is, it is so different and because we do have societies that are so, uh, built around this normative idea, [00:59:00] it's almost automatically counter cultural to, to the ways that we are taught to behave, to embrace specifically a disability justice mindset is completely, uh, like counter cultural to a lot of our cultures, but even just, Uh, a more celebration of what disabled body minds are able to offer our society, um, is, is a pushback against the things that we are taught to value that we also know often are, are way more intention and in conflict with earth care than disability is.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: There was a piece that you did with, uh, Daphne [01:00:00] Frias, uh, who is another amazing, uh, disability and climate justice activist. Um, and in that piece you, you said justice work requires considering the wholeness of people as well as the systemic issues they face. Um, which I feel is so central and core to what I've encountered when I am reading up or learning more about disability justice.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I wanted to ask you what expressions of, um, wholeness, um, has your disabilities allowed you to experience? Um, because I think one of the, uh, which we've touched on in our conversation, one of the myths, societal myths, is this idea that disabled people are they're [01:01:00] not whole.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and what I love about that statement that you wrote and, you know, within the disability justice framework, uh, by Sins Invalid is that affirmation that everybody has inherent worth and everybody's inherently whole. Um, and our work is to configure spaces and configure relationships where we can all show up whole.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, So yeah, I wanted to share that question and see where it lands with you
Valerie Novack: Um, I think a big thing for me is Slowing down, I'm, I'm very, uh, what do they call it? Type A. Uh, I don't, you know, I, I need to do things. It needs to be right. And I, I do think that's a very, for me, anyway, a very destructive way of being, but we already talked a little bit about kind of rest and sustainability.
Valerie Novack: I think the other thing that I want to [01:02:00] pull out in that, especially because I think a lot of cultures do see this as a deficit, but is sort of, um, sadness as as a young person growing up. I had a lot of trauma, um, a lot of mental health issues, a lot of depression. And these, especially when you're young, are things that seem like detractors.
Valerie Novack: They are negative. People just want you to smile and be happy and be, you know, things are good and everything's fine. And finding a disability community and a disability justice mindset allowed me to look at wholeness that also part of that wholeness. Is things don't always feel good. Things are not always fine.
Valerie Novack: And I think sometimes that [01:03:00] is a side of the conversation, especially when we're trying to do work like this. And it is exhausting. We are on an uphill battle with a million rocks. It is exhausting. But we don't necessarily want to talk about that part of the wholeness. And the part where you just want to sit down and cry because it is exhausting.
Valerie Novack: You can't do this fight anymore. I have found so much of myself, of the people around me, in being able to say, you know what, this really sucks, and it's not fun, and I really wish I wasn't doing this right now. I might need to, but it's okay for me to feel those things right now. It's okay for me to be angry right now.
Valerie Novack: Sometimes it's even necessary maybe for me to be angry right now. Um, and It is hard to explain in words, especially [01:04:00] succinctly, how, how much that has changed my relationship with what would be considered like activism type of work, um, and having patience with myself and with those around me to meetings.
Valerie Novack: Thank you very much. The ebbs and flows that people have in trying to do this work. Um, and, and if I'm going to be really honest, it has made me a lot more gracious to people who say, I appreciate what you're doing, but I can't do that. I cannot hold that. I. I know myself well enough to know, especially when I was younger and kind of first coming into my, like, awareness of environmental issues, I think a lot of us go through a sort of radicalization where we're sort of hardline, right?
Valerie Novack: Like, I cannot believe you don't care. You are an awful person for not caring. How do you not care that this is happening, right? Um, and being [01:05:00] sort of, you know, and, and, Recognizing that that is part of the wholeness of people in their experience too, and because we are all experiencing these different systemic issues, I don't know what somebody else is carrying as part of and recognizing that and holding space and appreciation and patience for that is part of recognizing the wholeness of that person as well.
Valerie Novack: Um, whether or not that's a piece of them. I like, I think this also goes to our organizing sometimes not everybody but. I, I think in environmental issues are one of the few issues I feel like so many different kinds of people can agree on, but we let sometimes differences outside of that issue have a separate from each other and we don't want to take the wholeness of people in our organizing in in our work, it's if you don't align with me on all of these things, we [01:06:00] can't Align together for the longest time I did, you know, transportation.
Valerie Novack: I still do transportation work and I could never understand why we were not such a powerful group when income is related to transportation, pedestrians who bike riders people with disabilities. I mean, the. Different types of communities that all rely on things like public transportation is so vast, but they don't agree on a lot of other stuff.
Valerie Novack: So they all work in little silos, right? To try to get these, um, take the whole person and sometimes that might mean there are parts of them that you really don't like. There are a lot of people that I get to work with on a daily basis that I would never be caught hanging out with outside of that space.
Valerie Novack: We don't get along. We don't, we both care about this thing. And so I'm going to take you with that and we are going to work on this thing. And maybe the only thing we ever talk about is, you know, monarch [01:07:00] butterflies, because we cannot agree on anything else but that, but I am going to take you for who you are and we are going to save these butterflies.
Valerie Novack: So I think for me, it was finding that my sadness did not make me less of a person. My exhaustion did not make me less dedicated or less caring and that. The things that I did not like or agree with in other people did not mean that I should pick them apart either because on these things we can work together and maybe we can deal with the other things later.
Valerie Novack: I say that with a bit of an asterisk. We have some people with some views, but you know, for the most part, um, I think that's part of, of, of that wholeness and both recognizing this is a whole person and they are facing issues that maybe I can't even imagine. So let's respect that and just work on this issue that we can together right now.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Thank you so much, Valerie. Um, Valerie, how can we support [01:08:00] you? How can we support your work?
Valerie Novack: Um, I think right now, you know, I want to make sure that people, uh, if you're listening, you check out sinsinvalid. org. They have a ton of resources. Uh, the principles are up there and are great. For anybody to follow, even if you are not disabled, um, just really like some, some foundational work for how to live your life.
Valerie Novack: Um, I do have a website. I will get that to you because I, it is still in work, but it is just Valerie Novack dot me. Um, I am not really on twitter slash X anymore. Um, but I am there as well. So you can find me there and I'm currently working at Utah State University. I love hearing from people. I love working on projects with people.
Valerie Novack: Um, so please reach out if there's ever something that, uh, that you want me to look at or, or that you want me to support. And I, I just really appreciate this time and being able to talk with you. I just feel like there's so much, uh, community and like mutual understanding between us. So it's always really nice to [01:09:00] have, have these kinds of conversations.
Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Valerie. I am deeply grateful for, uh, your presence and your being and your time today and, um, I'm just really excited and looking forward to supporting you in your evolution. So thank you so much. Thank you.
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