Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Convention Goers Take Toxic Tour - and blog about it!

On Saturday 8th August I had the option to ‘get out of Disney World’ to go on a visit with the Farmworkers Association of Florida The flyer for this session said:

“The Farmworkers Association of Florida has a decades- long history of advocacy around damage caused by corporate farming including environmental poisoning, worker and community health and labor rights. Accompanied by staff and farm-worker members of the Association we went on a “Toxic Tour” to include some or all of the following: former farm lands, a Superfund site, a labor camp, Lake Apopka (one of the most toxic in the country), the community of South Apopka, (site of a landfill, medical waste incinerator and sewage treatment plant), and the Apopka family health clinic which provides services to the community.“

So onto an air-conditioned bus in the Central Florida heat/humidity we got (about 50 Management scholars!) meeting activist campaigner Jeannie Economos (awesome lady She schooled us in a range of shocking facts that I think we all need to become aware of:

1. In America their are two classes of workers who are not protected under federal labor laws – Farm workers and Domestic workers

2. Farm workers, sometimes known as ‘guest’ workers not only have no labor protections, they inhabit a role in the economy that has been likened to ‘rent’ slavery

3. Farmworkers are paid by piece rate not by the hour – needing to pack at least 100 boxes of oranges a day to make rent and expenses. Workers climb a 22 foot ladder with a bag on their back and fill it up with oranges (weighing 80 pounds) – each bag they get paid 75/85c

4. Working conditions include the relentless Florida heat and humidity, storms, thunder, lightning, snakes, wasps, insects and no/limited toilet facilities. Eye and hand injuries are common but with no access to medial assistance these injuries are pushed aside as the workers continue to make their daily target.

We were accompanied on our visit by ex-farm workers, including Linda Lee, and met a family from Latin America who are current Farm workers as well. The personal stories of the physical impact not only of the hard work, the impact of the pesticides on workers and their health and the health of their children is a incredibly sad. We heard stories of workers whom had been sprayed directly with pesticides whilst pregnant resulting in deformities in their new baby once born, cancers, asthma, mental illness, hip replacements just to name a few first person reports we were so honoured to witness and hear.

The number of funerals in the Farm workers communities are disproportionate to the general population. Families are burying family members on a monthly, sometimes weekly basis. This reminds me so much of Indigenous communities in Australia whom also have to deal with a high morbidity rate in their communities and families. Incredibly sad.

We were shown a few quite shocking places:

1. Strawberry fields where pesticides are inserted underneath rows of plastic to cleanse the soil. One particulary sad story was of a young woman who was not educated about the pesticides and sat on the plastic to have a break, not knowing it had just been sprayed with pesticides. She developed major blisters from her buttocks down her legs and was in such pain she was taken to hospital and remained their for two weeks. The Farm owner had promised to pay the medical bills and that her job was still there for her upon her discharge. Upon discharge she was sacked and burdened with a $50k plus medical bill.

2. I had never heard of ‘Super Fund’ sites – last Saturday I saw one. It looked like any other industrial space, lots of barrels and sheds etc… A super fund site is a site declared under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances. The law authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify parties responsible for contamination of sites and compel the parties to clean up the sites. Where responsible parties cannot be found, the Agency is authorized to clean up sites itself, using a special trust fund.

So these are the most toxic sites in America. The two most toxic sites in America are in Florida – made up of pesticides, mainly DDT, in barrels. There are reports that the pesticides are leaking into the artesian water table. Check out this clip from ‘Out of the Muck’

3. Where do you think this Super Fund site is a kilometre or so from? Lake Apopka – we visited the waters edge of Lake Apopka (you do not want to put any part of your body in there) even though the local Chamber of Commerce generated ‘Friends of Lake Apopka’ encourage swimming, fishing, boating etc… The waters of Lake Apopka, the muddy bottom of the lake and the surrounding vegetation is highly influenced by the toxic pollution over the many generations of use of pesticides. Here’s an excerpt from the Farmworkers Association of Florida’s website on this area:

“At the end of May, 1998, over 50 years of farming on Lake Apopka came to a halt forever. In the wake of the closing of the farms, close to 3000 farmworkers found themselves with no jobs to go back to, and those that had lived in the labor camps found themselves with no seasonal homes. In the winter of 1998-99, the former farmland was unseasonably flooded, attracting thousands of migrating water birds to the area and resulting in the largest Audubon Christmas Bird Count ever on the lake. However, the excitement was short-lived, when the birds began dying at alarming numbers. Eventually, the bird deaths, which totalled close to 1000, were linked to a very toxic pesticide, toxaphene, that had been banned decades previously. Hence, the farmworkers’ concerns shifted from jobs and housing to health and safety.

Farmworkers had been exposed for decades, even generations, to the same chemicals that killed the birds and that years before had been implicated in alligator reproductive problems and anomalies in Lake Apopka. The class of chemicals, known as organochlorine pesticides, are now known to be endocrine disrupters and persistent organic pollutants. Scientific studies are discovering the chronic human health impacts of these types of chemicals.“

On returning to Disney’s Coronado Springs resort in shock, schooled about the human, environmental and economic realities of Central Florida. I felt completely upturned. Jeannie. Linda and the Farmworkers who shared their lives with us on the visit really educated me even more than anything i have learnt at the Academy of Management conference – they taught me about environmental justice – that the most environmentally toxic sites are inhabited by the poorest people on the planet. (And thanks to Sarah Stookey for organising the trip).

Pre conference conference on leadership in the Homelessness space
Posted on August 9, 2013 by michellemevans Standard Respond
Today I found myself navigating the ‘Disney’ travel system (bus to Hollywood Studio and ferry to the Swan and Dolphin hotel) to attend the Network of Leadership Scholars conference on Homelessness and Helpfulness – What does leadership have to offer? To be honest I was intrigued and slightly disrupted by the title so I was found myself keen to find out what leadership scholars were doing in this.

I was invited to join a table of Americorp Vista Volunteers who work in the Central Florida homelessness social service system – they told me one third of America’s homeless children reside in the state of Florida – I was stunned and I opened my ears and heart to listen to two case studies about community based leaders trying with different levels of success to address the critical issue of homelessness in America.

One of the speakers who was open and frank in her presentation was Cathy Jackson Executive Director of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida here’s a link to an interview with her so you can experience her excellent analysis of the systemic problems faced by homeless people in this state of Florida

One of the ideas that she spoke strongly to is how homelessness is quite different in ‘destination locations’ like Orlando and she spoke of the hotels that how been squeezed out by the Disney empire and now become shelter for families that are finding themselves homeless. Families find themselves living in a motel room for over twelve months unable to piece together enough cash to satisfy bond and first/last months rent to get back into the private rental market.

So as you can imagine I was completely moved by the important work of people like Cathy and the vista Volunteers and absolutely heartened that leadership academics like Thomas Bryer at the Uni of Central Florida are working in partnership with these important issues.

Check out 60 Minutes focus on these folks living in hotels and the children living in poverty – the largest section of the population living in poverty since the Great Depression
Emu head guide to America
Posted on August 8, 2013 by michellemevans Standard 1
I’m not much for buying things on eBay but I couldn’t pass up the impulsive purchase of a emu head to travel with whilst on my Fulbright American trip. I can tell you from trial one it’s a comfortable inner realm for my head and headphones. I love it! Not sure what anyone else thinks and guess what I really don’t mind if they think it’s silly or dumb!

I can’t wait to catch up with Amanda Lovekin on the next flight leg of this trip (Florida to Alaska) where we be a collective noun of emu heads!!! I will work out that collective noun and let you know.

What do you think of this economy class accessory? Day One – Lift Off!!
Posted on August 8, 2013 by michellemevans Standard Respond
Tuesday I began my journey to America – a three leg flight itinerary will have me landing in Orlando, Florida sometime tomorrow. The whole ‘going back in time’ and international time travel still does my head in and I’m not to ashamed as a phd to claim that I don’t get it – my body doesn’t get it, my mind doesn’t get it and my spirit needs to be settled in place connected to country rather than in the sky somewhere flying determinedly for a destination.

My friend Patrick described to me that the spaces in between locations, be they airplanes or airports, buses, or trains as they hurtle along at speeds we could not out run ourselves are liminal spaces. As a theatre maker we use this term liminal space to describe the theatrical space when audiences leave their individual realities and find themselves alive in a new reality of the story or the theatrical moment. It’s used in spiritual realms as well to describe the journey portion of the act of becoming or leaving who we once were or our old world views that no longer serve us but before the arrival moment of claiming a new space for our self.

Even writing this blog and thinking about this change process that is underway as I cross the Pacific Ocean high in the atmosphere I am apprehensive about what I may become in America – how will I be labelled or perceived? Will there be liberation in being outside of the Australian cultural norms; will I feel strange in the land of the brave and free? Will they understand my accent (I hear this a real concern to have)!!

What ever happens I know that I have the resources in myself to draw upon, I have the love of my family and friends (and puppies) and I have an open and curious mind. So from international transfer to international plane station to the Disney magical express to the hotel I will practice the zen of international air travel and surrender to the process of it all. Speaking at the Academy of Management
Posted on August 8, 2013 by michellemevans Link Respond
Speaking at the Academy of Management
My theory of social change for the MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass program
Posted on August 3, 2013 by michellemevans Standard Respond
Below is a speech that I gave this week at the Indigenous Business Australia staff conference:

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this beautiful place nunawal land, their ancestors and members of the nation today who continue to speak for country. To all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the audience I acknowledge you and all of our ancestors past, present and our young people as we will all be the ancestors of the future.

Second please let me thank IBA, specifically Kirsti McQueen, for the invitation to speak tonight and have dinner with such a vibrant group of people – IBA has been a critical sponsor of the MURRA program, something I will spend some time speaking about tonight, and for that we at Melbourne business school are very appreciative of.

My name is Michelle Evans, I am a koori women born and raised in the hunter valley of NSW. My home town is Cessnock where my sisters and niece and nephews still live, my parents are in Newcastle and my extended family scattered between the central coast and the hunter valley.

I trained as an improviser and theatre maker in my undergraduate on the land of the wiradjuri nation in Bathurst at csu. I credit this training for a lot about how I approach situations with a mind that is open, tries not to block offers and opportunities, takes risks and invests in building relationships.

Today I work for the Melbourne business school as the program director of the MURRA indigenous business master class program and as a research fellow. Tonight I will outline the MURRA program and how it’s being experienced by Australian indigenous entrepreneurs; talk to you about the research I and my colleague Professor Ian Williamson are conducting on Australian indigenous entrepreneurial leadership; and I will finish with a few tips that you as IBA staff can think about when working to support and develop indigenous business in Australia.

There is power in the words we use and the ways we describe our activities in the world. This is really the foundational research interest I bring to this space, and let me explain why. Using the word leader, leading, leadership signifies a whole range of ideas, people, activities and values about individuals and organizations. In fact if I were to ask you what is leadership the diversity of thoughts and definitions we would hear would be so interesting. If you google leadership you get 67.5 million Web hits, the academic literature on leadership is immense, the public domain is obsessed by it (especially here in this delightful capital city) yet perhaps we don’t really know what this ‘leadership’ is.

What we do know from the literature, I am betting from your personal experience, is that it is about influence and it’s seen as a relatively positive thing, it’s about power and it’s something that happens in between people – it’s relational. So bringing words like leadership and entrepreneurship and speaking about Australian indigenous business people as leaders and entrepreneurs really does signal a different conversation.

This conversation is founded in the values of high expectations and being possibilitarians (N.Nissley) by claiming or being granted this roles I have noticed that indigenous business people are conceiving of themselves in ways that challenge the tall poppy syndrome and constraining indigenous cultural norms. Hence the tension and challenges indigenous people in any profession face when they step up and back themselves and their work.

MURRA is about developing individuals business acumen (their human capital) as well as expanding their social networks (social capital). Through six two day master classes in strategy, marketing, finance, human resource management, negotiations and leadership individuals develop a language for the experiential know how they already possess – they encounter the theoretical knowledge acts as a scaffold for their experience. This is powerful stuff. Imagine you are sitting there and a professor starts talking about the research and theory of hiring people and you can not only see your experience reflected you get a process for going about doing hiring that will more powerfully achieve your goals of hiring excellent personnel – this can change the landscape of a small business.

We have noticed that there seem to be three, possibly four models of Indigenous business in Australia – those businesses that trade from a cultural knowledge base; those that broker information and resources between indigenous and non-indigenous spaces; and those that are purely commercial entities. There is possibly a fourth, a truly indigenous business model – a commercial business that has a culturally embedded business model like those that base their annual cycles on the seven seasons for instance.

So as you work together tomorrow on building the foundation of a great IBA team I want you to consider what is your theory of social change and how do you see it impacting future generations? For me, the theory of social change around the MURRA program and the research I do can be summarized in five key steps:
• By enhancing the business acumen (human capital) and the networks (social capital) of Indigenous entrepreneurs/organisations/leaders
o They will be more successful at recognizing and exploiting opportunities for their businesses/organisations
• This will lead to greater business/organisational growth
• This in turn supports Aboriginal job creation, wealth creation and economic security
o Which over time increases in the overall wealth of the Aboriginal community leading to greater economic independence

We need to grow our businesses, we need to diversify our businesses and we need to reinforce a high expectations culture as the norm. Thank you.
Post navigationOlder postsRecent Posts
Fairbanks Alaska we have arrived
Get me out of Disney World – Toxic Tour of Central Florida
Pre conference conference on leadership in the Homelessness space
Emu head guide to America
Day One – Lift Off!!
•Meeting with #uaf School of Management faculty this morning #fulbright 7 hours ago
•Meeting the Australian Consul General to USA based in LA today here in Fairbanks Alaska - talking points #Election2013 #uaf #fulbright 1 day ago
•RT @BeCardenas: The Smith's family reaction to Miley Cirus' performance is PRICELESS!! #VMAs2013 #VMAs" / @LaThAnYaC… 1 day ago
•RT @_RuthHopkins: Top Indigenous Women You Should Be Following on Twitter @UrbanNativeGirl @DelSchilling @ChiefElk @christibelcourt http://… 3 days ago
•@AKU_MATU Great to meet you today Allison - love to catch up when I visit Anchorage mid September and would love to interview for my study 3 days ago
Blogs I follow
Leesa Watego – bit journal, bit rant
Bindi Cole
Anita Heiss
Steven Rhall – Photographic artist
Sandy O’Sullivan
Sandra Phillips
Chris Sarra
Janice Tanton – Full time human being
The Critical Classroom
The thesis whispher
Celeste Liddle – Utopiana
Emeretta – likes to be called M
Melissa Birks
Start – A journal of Arts and Culture
Blog at The Fanwood Light Theme. michellemevans Blog

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