In the Windows: Syracuse Portraits of Earth Justice Activists

September 10, 2022 to October 29, 2022

Ethan Tyo – Mohawk Food Entrepreneur, Plant-based Home Chef, Urban Gardener, Cookbook Creator, and Educator – Photographed at Pete’s Giving Garden on Syracuse University’s South Campus

Photography by Marilú López Fretts
Biographies by Lindsay Speer

View the Virtual Exhibition Here

Successful movements depend not just on one person, but many. These portraits highlight local activists who deserve our gratitude and thanks for their efforts to make our community better, healthier, and more just, understanding the intersectionality of environmental and social justice. These are people who are often not the ones out front, but roll up their sleeves and consistently get the seemingly little things done that keep a movement moving. In short, they are representative of the “culture of engaged citizenship” inspired by people like those in Robert Shetterly’s portraits, and who in turn inspire others themselves. They too are representative of so many more without whom successful environmental justice campaigns would not be possible.

Darlene Medley – Families for Lead Freedom Now! – Photographed at her home in Syracuse

The commitment of each of these people to work closely with and listen to their communities, often those typically not represented in mainstream environmental movements, and build coalitions and connections empowering everyday people, have been key to the success of their campaigns. Many of the people represented here are the grassroots communicators, consistently sharing information among their networks. Together they focused on practical action, kept track of decisions and decision-makers, and were not afraid to tell those in power what to do… or if they were afraid, they did it anyway.

This project was a delightful opportunity for me to reconnect with old friends after many years apart, and get to know others better. To ask, what got them involved in the first place, and what keeps them going? When asked about their origin stories, those moments of their lives that made them the activists they are, themes emerged of family traditions of social justice activism, interaction with gardens and woods and fields and forests as a child or teenager, education by others in their lives and communities, and seeing injustice and refusing to let it be perpetuated.

These portraits capture an important snapshot of the local environmental movement, representing the next generations of activists emerging, and elders whose stories we need to learn and share. The importance of this was underscored by the sudden passing of one of the elders, Joanne Stevens (1949-2022), within a week of her interview. No words are truly adequate to express the bittersweet gratitude felt for that one last opportunity to speak with her, and be part of telling her story. She is remembered.

-Lindsay Speer, interviewer and author of the biographies